New Insights on the Gospels

March for Life 2012

Evil triumphs when good men do nothing - Edmund Burke

Thursday, January 20, 2011

From Leo XIII’s encyclical Humanum genus, of April 20, 1884

Just as a perfect condition of the body results from the conjunction and composition of its various members, which, though differing in form and purpose, make, by their union and the distribution of each one to its proper place, a combination beautiful to behold, firm in strength, and necessary for use; so, in the commonwealth, there is an almost infinite dissimilarity of men, as parts of the whole. If they are to be all equal, and each is to follow his own will, the State will appear most deformed; but if, with a distinction of degrees of dignity, of pursuits and employments, all aptly conspire for the common good, they will present a natural image of a well-constituted State.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Small Symptoms of a Great Transformation

(The following commentary is by Dr. Plinio)

It used to be that the only uniform the Civil Guard of Sao Paulo wore was a jacket, pants and cap of navy blue wool. Later, a summer uniform of grayish linen was introduced, generally following the same pattern of the former with the exception of the white helmet worn while directing traffic. Still later, a new uniform was adopted for daily use which reduced the uniform to mere pants and shirt by eliminating the jacket. Thus, the three sketches on this page illustrate the history of one Brazilian institution over several years.

In this newspaper column, we always seek to look beyond the evident transformation of the forms and colors. We look for the more subtle transformations in mentalities, attitudes and values that are symbolized and expressed in forms and colors. Thus, analyzing the three uniforms shown here in this light, we reach the following conclusion.

According to the doctrine of the divine origin of power, those who legitimately exercise functions of authority do so in the name of God. The legitimate holder of authority, whatever his title or position, does so because of a power that comes to him from on high. This power transcends man himself and dignifies those who command and those who obey. However, this transcendence should be expressed in a perceptible form. Therefore, the symbols of power should be appropriate to inspire respect. And when the position employs the use of a uniform, it should have the distinction corresponding to the function of whoever is wearing it.

This concept obviously applies, par excellence, to the supreme magistrates. However, it also applies to a lesser degree to offices that participate in public authority even though in a very secondary way.

This view of authority is contrary to the exquisitely revolutionary doctrine of popular sovereignty. This holds that since the power comes from below, it does not confer any superiority upon the person holding the office. Thus, those who exercise power should use symbols and, if it be the case, uniforms that manifest their absolute equality with those below them.

Because of its seriousness, distinction, and sobriety, the first uniform of the Civil Guard of Sao Paulo, obeys the first principle cited above. The second uniform already reflects an obvious concern towards attenuating the marks of superiority of the first. And, finally, the third uniform goes yet farther than the second in increasing this tendency. Thus, we see a small manifestation of the large gust of pagan and egalitarian naturalism that, in these cataclysmic days, is sweeping the universe.

Invoking the Gift of Full Communion

In his general audience, held this morning in the Paul VI Hall, the Pope dedicated his catechesis to the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which is taking place from 18 to 25 January and during which "all those who believe in Christ are invited to come together in prayer, so as to bear witness to the profound ties that unite them and to invoke the gift of full communion".

The Holy Father remarked on "the providential fact that prayer is at the centre of the journey to unity. This", he said, "reminds us once again that unity cannot be a product of mere human efforts, is its above all a gift of God. ... We do not 'construct' unity, God 'constructs' it, it comes from Him, from the mystery of the Trinity".

Benedict recalled how the theme chosen for this year's Week of Prayer "refers to the experience of the first Christian community in Jerusalem, as described in the Acts of the Apostles: 'They devoted themselves to the Apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers'".

This quotation identifies "four characteristics defining the first Christian community of Jerusalem", he said, "which still act as pillars for the life of all Christian communities, and constitute the solid foundation on which to continue to construct the visible unity of the Church".

Commenting on the first of these characteristics, the Pope noted that, "even today, the community of believers recognises the norms of its own faith in that reference to the teaching of the Apostles. All efforts to build unity among Christians must, then, involve increasing faithfulness to the 'depositum fidei' handed down to us by the Apostles".

The Holy Father then turned to the second element, "fraternal communion, ... the most tangible expression of unity between disciples and the Lord, especially for the outside world. ... The history of the ecumenical movement has been marked by difficulties and doubts, but it is also a history of fraternity, of co-operation and of human and spiritual sharing, which has significantly altered relations among believers in the Lord Jesus. We are all committed to continuing this journey".

On the subject of the third characteristic, "the breaking of bread", the Holy Father noted that "communion in Christ's sacrifice is the pinnacle of our union with God and, therefore, it also represents the completeness of the unity of Christ's disciples, full communion". In this context he noted also how "the impossibility of sharing the same Eucharist ... also gives a penitential dimension to our prayers. This must be a reason for ever more generous commitment on everyone's part so that, having removed the obstacles to full communion, the day may come when it will be possible to gather around the table of the Lord, together breaking the Eucharistic bread and drinking from the same chalice.

"Finally", he added, "prayer was the fourth characteristic of the early Church in Jerusalem ... Prayer also means opening ourselves to the fraternity that stems from our being children of the one heavenly Father; it means being ready for forgiveness and reconciliation".

"Like the first Christian community of Jerusalem, on the basis of what we already share we must offer a powerful witness - well-founded spiritually and well-supported by reason - of the one God Who revealed Himself and speaks to us in Christ, in order to be bring a message which guides and illuminates the path of modern man, who often lacks clear points of reference. It is important, then, to increase our mutual love every day, striving to overcome the barriers that still exist between Christians, in the knowledge that true inner unity does exist among people who follow the Lord. We must collaborate as much as possible, working together on outstanding questions and, above all, aware that we need the Lord's help on this journey. He must still help us a lot because without Him, alone, without 'abiding in Him', we can do nothing".

Monday, January 17, 2011

The laity in the Church

The laity in the Church

The laity form a living, active and responsible part of the Church, and this accords with the will of Jesus Christ, who wished his Church to be open to all.

Suffice it here to recall the behaviour of the owner of the vineyard in the very significant and thought·provoking parable told by Jesus. Seeing some unemployed people, the owner said to them: 'You go to my vineyard too' (Matthew 20:4). 'From that distant day,' comments the 1987 Synod of Bishops, 'the call has never failed to resound throughout history, it is addressed to every person who comes into this world ... The call not only concerns Pastors, clergy, and men and women religious. It is addressed to everyone, lay people as well are personally called by the Lord, from whom they receive a mission on behalf of the Church and the world' (Christilideles laici, 2). All are invited 'to let themselves be reconciled with God' (2 Corinthians 5:20), to let themselves be saved and to co·operate in universal salvation, since God wants everyone to be saved' (I Timothy 2:4). All are invited, with their own personal qualities, to labour in the Father's 'vineyard', where each has a personal place and a personal reward.

The laity's calling entails their participation in the Church's life and consequently their intimate communion in Christ's own life too. It is a divine gift and at the same time a mutual commitment. For didn't Jesus ask the disciples who had followed him to remain constantly united with him and in him, and to let his own living energy burst into their minds and hearts? 'Remain in me, as I in you. Without me you can do nothing' (John 15:4-5). As for priests, so for the laity: true fruitfulness depends on union with Christ.'

The church is holy and all her members are called to be holy. The laity share in the holiness of the Church, being full members of the Christian community: and this sharing (which we may call ontological) in the Church's holiness is translated, in the laity's case, into an individual ethical commitment to sanctification.

In this capacity for and vocation to holiness all members of the Church are equal (d. Galatians 3:28). The degree of personal holiness doesn't depend on the position one holds in society, least of all in the Church, but only on the degree of charity one practises (d. 1 Corinthians 13). A member of the laity who open heartedly welcomes God's love into his or her heart and life is holier than any priest or bishop who only welcomes it half·heartedly."

The prayer life of every Christian, and therefore of all members of the laity, cannot thrive without participation in the Liturgy, recourse to the sacrament of Reconciliation and above all the celebration of the Eucharist, where sacramental communion with Christ is the source of that kind of mutual immanence between the soul and Christ which he fore tells: 'Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in that person' (John 6:56). The eucharistic banquet assures the Christian of that spiritual nourishment which makes it possible to produce much fruit. So the Christilideles laici are also called and invited to an intense Eucharistic life.For them sacramental participation in Sunday mass should be the source of their spiritual life and also of their apostolate. Blessed are they who, besides Sunday Mass and Communion, feel drawn and prompted to frequent Communion, recommended by so many of the Saints, especially in recent times, when the apostolate of the laity has been developing more and more.

The Christian laity as children of the promise' are called to bear witness in the world to the greatness and fruitfulness of the hope they bear in their hearts: a hope based on the teaching and work of Jesus Christ, who died and rose again for the salvation of all. In a world which, despite appearances to the contrary, is often racked with anguish over the ever renewed and disappointing experience of the limitations inadequacies and even emptiness of many structures created to ensure human happiness on earth, their witness of hope is particularly needed to direct spirits in their quest for a future life beyond the relative values of the things of this world. In this, the laity as workers in the service of the Gospel 'through the structures of secular life', have a special relevance of their own. They show that Christian hope does not mean shunning the world, nor renunciation of a full realization of earthly existence, but an opening of it to the transcendental dimension of life eternal, which alone gives this existence its true value.