Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Some Really, Really Interesting Words From Benedict. Really

Workmen put finishing touches on stage from which Benedict gave the sermon John Allen quotes in this piece.

Pope’s antidote to secularism: saints, not structures
by John L Allen Jr May. 11, 2010
Christianity’s love-hate relationship with secularism is a core theme of Benedict XVI’s four-day trip to Portugal, and this evening he asked an especially evocative question: In a social context in which basic Christian belief can’t be taken for granted, is the church too worried about structures and power and not enough about the fundamentals of the faith? (It just might be that Cardinal Schonborn's interview was the first salvo concerning a change in Vatican direction.)

The pope raised that query, without quite supplying an answer, during an open-air Mass for an estimated 80,000 people in Lisbon’s Palace Square. It’s certainly an evocative spot to contemplate the demise of Europe’s once-intact Catholic cultures: It was here in 1908 that the penultimate Catholic monarch of Portugal, Charles I, was assassinated in 1908, with the erection of a secular republic not far behind.

Coming into his Portugal swing, many observers expected Benedict to challenge a gay marriage law recently passed by the Portuguese parliament and currently awaiting action by President Anibal Cavaco Silva. So far, however, the pope has resisted being drawn into specific political debates, focusing instead on the deeper question of how to keep the flame of the faith alive in a secular world. (It doesn't seem to help keep the flame alive to keep constantly harping on gay marriage and abortion, using them to fuel a war with secular politicians, which then gives the appearance of Catholicism being bought and paid for by socially regressive right wing political groups.)

In his homily this evening, Benedict seemed to propose a focus on the fundamentals: forming passionate Christians one-by-one, rather than trying to sustain huge bureaucracies or waging power struggles. In a sound-bite, the recipe offered by Benedict for life in a secular world turns on saints rather than structures.
“Often we are anxiously preoccupied with the social, cultural and political consequences of the faith, taking for granted that faith is present, which unfortunately is less and less realistic,” the pope said. (It could also be that people have few problems with Faith but many with religion.)

“Perhaps we have placed an excessive trust in ecclesial structures and programs, in the distribution of powers and functions,” he said. “But what will happen if salt loses its flavor?” (Benedict is definitely seeking some response to his questions. This is not the attitude of a man who still thinks he has all the answers.)

To prevent that, Benedict suggested a new vigor in proclaiming the death and resurrection of Christ – “the heart of Christianity, the fulcrum and mainstay of our faith, the firm lever of our certainties, the strong wind that sweeps away all fear and indecision, all doubt and human calculation.” (Proclaiming the death and resurrection would be a wise move, if this proclaiming stayed far away from all the "add ons".

From that bedrock, Benedict seemed to argue, the priority ought to be individual formation.
“This faith needs to come alive in each one of us,” he said. (It will come very alive, if it's not killed by attempts at thought control.)

“A vast effort at every level is required if every Christianity is to be transformed into a witness capable of rendering account … of the hope that inspires him,” he said. (I think Christianity is a typo and Benedict actually said Christian. Other wise this is another barn burner of a statement.)

Benedict pointed to the example of the saints to underscore the point, saying that today’s pastoral priority is “to make each Christian man and woman a radiant presence of the Gospel perspective in the midst of the world, in the family, in culture, in the economy, in politics.”
Ever the realist, Benedict nonetheless conceded that not everybody in the church exactly fits that description: “We know that she also has quarrelsome and even rebellious sons and daughters,” he said. (A description which happens to fit a lot of canonized saints.)

Benedict XVI also paid tribute to centuries of Catholic history in Portugal, saying that it has gained “a glorious place among the nations for the service rendered to the spreading of the faith: in all five continents there are local churches that owe their origin to Portuguese missionary activity.” (This is not all the Portugese brought, but I guess Benedict decided to leave out the slavery part.)


My interest for the rest of Benedict's trip is really peaked. If he continues this line of thinking he is essentially dropping the whole political activism agenda in favor of Opus Dei's other strategy of sanctifying work in the world. While I agree with this sentiment--the work place could certainly use a far more ethical approach--if Benedict's thinking also includes a thoughtless emphasis on obedience, it isn't what I have in mind. A person isn't saintly when they obediently engage in every unethical thing they are told to do. This just happens to be one of the major lessons Benedict should be taking from his own time as JPII's loyal and obedient subject.

There's no question in my mind something is going on in the Vatican. If all of a sudden there are concrete actions which back up the statements of Cardinal Schonborn, Archbishop Martin, and now Benedict, it could very well be the winds of the Spirit are truly moving. Whether he does, or does not bring up Portugal's gay marriage law will be an indication of where things might be moving.
The Portugese bishops are betting that Benedict will most certainly bring up the gay marriage law, but it could also be that Benedict will refrain from moral cultural issues in a Portugal which is far more concerned with a potential economic collapse. Bringing hope might be the more Christian thing to do. Besides, Caritas en Veritate is the best thing Benedict has written as Pope (in my opinion) and it makes far more sense to emphasise the points in this document than harp on the 'same ole, same ole.


  1. The proof of the pudding will be the kind of priests that are made bishops and the kind of bishops that are given prominent dioceses or set up to head major offices in the curia. If he continues to promote bishops such as Rode, Burke and Law...then all his talk is empty.

  2. Which Saints will be promoted will also be a telling sign of the direction of the entire Church which is at a crossroads to salvation or death.

  3. You both make good points. Another good sign would be Burke staying silent and in Rome, and Chaput dropping all his political connections and associations with the New Apostolic Reformation.

    I also wonder if Benedict isn't making connections between the loss of authority in the USCCB and their failed political opportunism with health care. That is an embarrassing loss which will have a serious negative effect on their voice for immigration reform.

  4. .... or if Chaput would leave the Catholic Church and join the Apostolic Reformation.

    ..... also, if the Legionnaires and Opus Dei are exposed by Benedict and put out of business.

  5. Butterfly, I've been expecting an evangelical facsimile of Catholicism to come out of the U.S. fundamentalist Protestant movement for some time.

    Basically, a church analogous to the religious right's messianic Judaism.