Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Pope and prayer

Benedictine monk Fr. Hugh at Douai Abbey reflects on Pope Benedict's comments about prayer in Light of the World:
I have just begun reading the recently-released book of the interview Pope Benedict gave to Peter Seewald during the summer, entitled Light of the World. Not too far into the interview Seewald asks the Pope how he prays.
In light of the fact that the Pope is, and has been for decades, a first-rank theologian, I was half expecting a weighty and perhaps even complex approach to prayer. Instead he is as direct and to the point as it is possible to be, and reveals a beautifully simple and authentic prayer life. To the person familiar with his writings both as theologian and as Pope it becomes clear that the spirituality of his theology is distilled to its essence in his prayer, which is situated right in the heart of the Church as the communion of saints, and its rich and profound traditions, focused on the Lord with whom he relates as “by old acquaintance”.

"Papal infallibility—or, the prisoner of the Vatican"

Phil Lawler reviews Light of the World at
Reading Light of the World, the book-length interview in which Pope Benedict XVI reveals so much about himself, one is frequently reminded of the title that Pope Gregory the Great preferred: The Roman Pontiff is the servus servorum Dei: the servant of the servants of God. 
Secular commentators look upon the Pope as an absolute despot, who could change Church teachings if he wished, with just a stroke of his pen. Not so.
The Pope has considerable authority, to be sure. But he cannot use that authority to enforce his own preferences; he can only teach what the universal Church teaches—what the Church has always taught.
When a gently smiling Joseph Ratzinger walked out onto the loggia of St. Peter’s basilica on that fateful day in April 2005, to be introduced to the world at Benedict XVI, servus servorum Dei, he was accepting a task that allowed him less freedom than he had previously enjoyed, not more. Light of the World drives home that truth, in ways both big and small.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger on the term "People of God" and...

... the real meaning and purpose of "hierarchy", from Salt of the Earth: The Church at the End of the Millennium, by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, an Interview with Peter Seewald (Ignatius Press, 1997):

We Are the People of God

The term "people of God" is understood today as the idea of an autonomy vis-à-vis the official Church. The motto is "we are the people", and what the people says has to be done. On the other hand, there is also the expression "vox populi, vox Dei". How do you understand this term?

If we are theologians and believers, we listen first to what the Bible says. In other words, we ourselves can't invent the major concepts: "Who is God?" "What is the Church?" "grace", and so forth. The gift of faith consists precisely in the fact that there is a prior given. The term "people of God" is a biblical one. The biblical use is thus also normative for how we might use it. It is first and essentially an Old Testament term; the term "people" comes long before the era of nations and is connected more with the clan, with the family.

Above all it is a relational term. More recent exegesis has made this very clear. Israel is not the people of God when it acts simply as a political nation. It becomes the people of God by turning to God. It is the people of God only in relation, in turning to God, and in Israel turning to God consists in submission to the Torah. In this sense, the idea of "people of God" in the Old Testament includes, first, the election of Israel by God, who chooses it for no merit of its own, despite the fact that it is not a great or significant people but one of the smallest of the peoples, who chooses it out of love and thus bestows his love upon it. Second, it includes the acceptance of this love, and concretely this means submission to the Torah. Only in this submission, which places Israel in relation to God, is it the people of God.

In the New Testament, the concept "people of God" (with perhaps one or two exceptions) refers only to Israel, that is, to the people of the Old Covenant. It is not a concept that applies directly to the Church. However, the Church is understood as the continuation of Israel, although Christians don't descend directly from Abraham and thus actually don't belong to this people. They enter into it, says the New Testament, by their descent from Christ and thereby also become children of Abraham. Thus, whoever belongs to Christ belongs to the people of God. One could say that the term "Torah" is replaced by the person of Christ, and, in this sense, the "people of God" category, though not applied directly to the new people, is tied to communion with Christ and to living like Christ and with Christ, or, as Saint Paul says, "hav[ing] the mind of Christ" (Phil 2:5). Paul goes on to describe the "mind of Christ" with the words: "He became obedient unto death on the cross." Only when we understand the term "people of God" in its biblical usage do we use it in a Christian way. Everything else is an extra-Christian construction that misses the real core and is, in my opinion, also a product of arrogance. Which of us can say that we are the people of God, while the others perhaps are not.


Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger on the Dogma of Infallibility and the Truth of the Gospel

From Salt of the Earth: The Church at the End of the Millennium, by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, an Interview with Peter Seewald (Ignatius Press, 1997):

Referring to criticism of the Church, you once spoke of a classical "canon of issues": women's ordination, contraception, celibacy, the remarriage of divorced persons. This list is from 1984. The "Petition of the People of the Church" of 1995 in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland shows that this canon of issues hasn't changed one iota. The discussion seems to be going wearyingly in circles. Perhaps a few clarifications would help get beyond this impasse. It seems to me that many don't know exactly what they're talking about when they speak of the papacy and priesthood, that they actually don't know the meaning of these terms.

I would stress again that all of these are certainly genuine issues, but I also believe that we go astray when we raise them to the standard questions and make them the only concerns of Christianity. There is a very simple reflection that argues against this (which, by the way, Johann Baptist Metz has mentioned in an article on the "Petition of the People of the Church"). These issues are resolved in Lutheran Christianity. On these points it has taken the other path, and it is quite plain that it hasn't thereby solved the problem of being a Christian in today's world and that the problem of Christianity, the effort of being a Christian, remains just as dramatic as before. Metz, if I recall correctly, asks why we ought to make ourselves a clone of Protestant Christianity. It is actually a good thing, he says, that the experiment was made. For it shows that being Christian today does not stand or fall on these questions. That the resolution of these matters doesn't make the gospel more attractive or being Christian any easier. It does not even achieve the agreement that will better hold the Church together. I believe we should finally be clear on this point, that the Church is not suffering on account of these questions.


The Salt Lake Tribune on George Wiegel and Two Popes

The Salt Lake Tribune has an in-depth article about George Wiegel, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI.
Five years into the papacy of Benedict XVI, biographer George Weigel is struck by the continuity of mission between Benedict and his predecessor, John Paul II, both of whom pursued activist papacies engaging an often-skeptical general culture.

Both popes are products of early 20th-century European Catholic culture, John Paul in Poland and Benedict in Germany. Both were deeply influenced by World War II and its aftermath, and both were partly shaped by Vatican II in the 1960s.

Both popes preach “the centrality of discipleship,” both seek to spread the gospel — Benedict, especially, in Western Europe — and both believe in outreach to the young, Weigel said during a stop here to lecture on his newest book, The End and the Beginning.

Weigel, John Paul’s biographer in 1999’s Witness to Hope, also wrote the forward to Light of the World, a new book-length interview on a range of topics Benedict conducted with German journalist Peter Seewald.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Bishop Thomas Tobin on Light of the World, condoms

From News Channel 10 in Providence:
Tobin said the pope's comments were misunderstood.

"It's a very highly nuanced, a very refined theological position, but one that is very difficult to explain in the public sector. It doesn't translate well easily into headlines," Tobin said.

Tobin said that the pope's comments are not a reflection of a change in the church's stance against condom use, but that the comments reflect moral awareness.

"It's still wrong. It's still evil. But if a person uses condoms to prevent the spread of disease, at least there is some kind of humanity there, some kind of decency, that the pope referred to as the first step toward moralization," Tobin said.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

R.R. Reno: "The Pontificate Of Continuity"

At First Things, R.R. Reno reviews Light of the World:

I’ve never met Benedict XVI, but I feel as though I have. Or at least I think I have a pretty good sense of how his mind works: clear, to the point, and earthy. OK, maybe not D. H. Lawrence earthy, but for a German university professor very direct, concrete, and capable of a memorable turn of phrase.

These qualities are very much in evidence in an extended interview of Benedict by Peter Seewald, recently published under the title Light of the World: The Pope, the Church, and the Signs of the Times. Seewald is a sympathetic interlocutor, and this new book is his third published interview with Benedict, with the previous two taking place when the present pope was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for Doctrine and the Faith. The topics vary, but one theme is clear throughout. This papacy wants to italicize and underline and put into bold one word: continuity.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Love and the Law

Father Raymond J. de Souza writes:

To follow the law is to be under a burden, to be compelled, to be constrained. To love, on the other hand, is to embrace the capacity to choose, to be creative, to be liberated.

In his recent book, Light of the World, Pope Benedict considers that way of thinking as having wrought catastrophic damage in the life of the Church. The opposition of love to law, as if the former required an abandonment of the latter, is an error widespread in society too, with similarly deleterious consequences. The context for the Holy Father's comments was the sexual abuse scandals.

"The archbishop of Dublin told me … that ecclesiastical penal law functioned until the late 1950s; admittedly, it was not perfect – there is much to criticize about it – but nevertheless it was applied," Benedict said. "After the mid-'60s, however, it was simply not applied any more. The prevailing mentality was that the Church must not be a Church of laws but, rather, a Church of love; she must not punish. Thus the awareness that punishment can be an act of love ceased to exist. This led to an odd darkening of the mind, even in very good people."

Even those with a rudimentary knowledge of canon law were aware that severe penalties existed for clergy who were guilty of sexual misconduct of all sorts. Yet the punitive sanctions of the law were not applied. It is true that today there are stricter laws and more severe punishments, but what has principally changed is that the Church's law in such cases is being more vigourously enforced.
 Read the whole piece at the Catholic Education Resource Center.

Bloomberg News reviews Light of the World

Catherine Hickley reviews Light of the World for Bloomberg News:
Even as a lapsed Protestant, I was engrossed by the book’s rare insights into a leader who usually appears impossibly aloof -- an elderly, white-robed patriarch viewed from afar, waving to crowds and speaking Latin. (He wears the cassock even at home, he says. No sweaters for him.)

Often seen as a dry academic steeped in dogma, Benedict is better known for the things he did before, rather than after, his election as supreme pontiff in 2005. In his 24 years as John Paul II’s doctrinal enforcer, he helped oust priests who diverged from orthodoxy and asserted the superiority of the Roman Catholic Church over other Christian religions. His hard- line stances on homosexuality, women priests and birth control won him enemies, both within the church and without.

Though there’s plenty here to make non-believers balk, his clarity on complex issues is compelling. If nothing else, the book succeeds as a public-relations vehicle for a pope who has had his share of PR disasters. 

Sydney Morning Herald on Light of the World

Gerard Henderson reviews Light of the World for the Sydney Morning Herald:

The Vatican, apparently like God, works in strange ways.

A series of official meetings at the Holy See last week served as a reminder that, in its governance function, the Catholic Church is very bureaucratic. Yet Pope Benedict has just done what few government or religious leaders would do. He gave six interviews of one hour's duration each to the German journalist and author Peter Seewald.

The product of this conversation is contained in Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times (Ignatius Press), which has just been published. In the Western world, which is increasingly subsumed with sex and celebrity, media attention has focused on the Pope's answers to two questions about HIV/AIDS in Africa and the church forbidding condoms.


Monday, December 6, 2010

William Oddie on the secular media and condoms

At the Catholic Herald UK, William Oddie analyzes the impact some Catholic commenters had on the secular media's reaction to the condom issue.
Francis Philips got it dead right in her last blog; the pope’s gripping, highly readable and indispensable book The Light of the World (and if you haven’t read it yet you really should) is about a great deal more than just sex.
The extraordinary distortion by the secular Press of his passing remarks about condoms is now generally seen for what it was: a sign of the fact that papers have to have splash headlines; that’s the way they’re designed: hence the Sunday Telegraph’s declaration of a “historic U-turn by [the] Catholic church”. So the secular response is understandable: journalists need stories; it’s not so much that they don’t care about the truth, but that they really aren’t necessarily equipped, in a story about the Church, to recognise it when it’s staring them in the face.

But parallel to this kind of understandable secular distortion, there was a jumping on this particular bandwagon by some Catholics who really didn’t have that kind of excuse. Perhaps the most informative example of the “historic U-turn by Catholic Church” syndrome among Catholic journalists was the Today programme’s “Thought for the Day” on the morning after the Sunday Telegraph splash headline, uttered from on high by Clifford Longley, the BBC’s token “authoritative” Catholic and the elder statesman of the Tabletistas.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Catholic Media Review on "Light of the World"

Julie D. at Catholic Media Review gives her reflections on Light of the World:
As most people know by now, Light of the World covers questions about modern times including, but not limited to, the sex scandals, relativism, the Church and Islam, ecumenism, global warming, contraception, AIDS, women priests, homosexuality, and relativism. In other words, if there has been bad press about it lately, Seewald asked about it.

The Holy Father gives honest and candid answers. If any reader ever wanted to ask the Pope questions ripped from the headlines, then this is just the book for them. More than anything I was impressed with the Pope's realism. He answered in a way that let us know he is completely aware of what people think about various issues for the most part. As he continually pointed out, he does not exist in a vacuum, and has meetings every day with people from around the world.

Bishop Paprocki on Condoms, Light of the World, and Catholic Teaching

Bishop Paprocki's December 5, 2010 Column from Diocese of Springfield in IL on Vimeo.

ZENIT: Light of the World a Must-Read

Elizabeth Lev, writing for ZENIT, reviews Light of the World:

I'd like to thank the New York Times and other secular media for helping me get my priorities straight. I had no plans to read right away Benedict XVI's new book-length interview with Peter Seewald, as I was buried under final exams. I was saving the book for quieter times.

But between the international headlines generated by the New York Times and Associated Press reports, I stopped everything I was doing and picked up "Light of the World." It was the best thing I did this semester, as his message of hope in the face of tremendous challenges offers calm amid chaos.

Not surprisingly, the secular media got the Pope's message wrong. One would think with all the expensive educations milling around these news conglomerates, someone might have taken a class in reading comprehension. Ironically, the Associated Press claimed: "Pope's remarks on condoms sow widespread confusion." I would have gone with "Journalist illiteracy wreaks pandemonium."

The point of contention is in Chapter 11, when the Pope speaks hypothetically of a prostitute using a condom as a sign of an awakening of his moral conscience. This tiny paragraph has now spawned novels -- proving the Pope's point in the preceding lines, that "concentrating on condoms alone banalizes sexuality."

His remarks make perfect sense, the only mystery being why Catholics would look to the secular media for interpretation of the Pope's teaching, especially those outlets that had spent most of this year trying relentlessly yet unsuccessfully to accuse him of complicity in the sex abuse crisis. Why not read Cardinal Raymond Burke, or papal biographer George Weigel, or a moral theologian such as Father Thomas Williams? Better yet, why not just read the Pope himself?

One thing is for sure -- reading "Light of the World" will be more satisfying and fulfilling than any pundit's pronouncements.


Thursday, December 2, 2010

Fr. Robert Barron on Light of the World

"Misrepresenting Benedict’s Bravery"

Matthew Hanley, author of Affirming Love, Avoiding AIDS: What Africa Can Teach the West, writes about the Pope and AIDS at The Catholic Thing:
Pope Benedict XVI’s remarks about condoms and AIDS – or rather confusing manipulations of those remarks – are reverberating around the world. But they do not represent the change in his thought or Catholic teaching that the media have vigorously claimed, however much progressive or dissenting theologians, and perhaps even some papal aides, wish otherwise. And they are not a vindication of public health authorities who have, for decades, unsuccessfully advocated technical means of battling sexually transmitted epidemics, while refusing to emphasize the kinds of behaviors that would avoid infection altogether.

The New York Times tells us the pope’s words, in the newly published book Light of the World, were received with “glee from clerics and health workers in Africa, where the AIDS problem is worst.” The pope as anachronistic obstacle to global health has long been a fashionable narrative. But consider: decades of robust condom promotion (and other technical interventions) utterly failed to curb Africa’s AIDS epidemics, and common-sense changes in sexual behavior accounted for Africa’s handful of AIDS declines. Is one misrepresented remark from the pontiff now to do what lavish and sophisticated condom campaigns couldn’t? Public health leaders should be carefully scrutinized. They, not the pope, are explicitly charged with containing epidemics.
Read more... 

"The Pope believes that dialogue with Islam is crucial"

Francis Phillips writes in the Catholic Herald UK about the Pope's urgent message of the necessity of dialogue with Islam--and why "dialogue does not mean we have to water down what we know to be the truth."
But “dialogue” does not mean we water down what we know to be the truth; it means that, guided by the Holy Spirit, we first of all enter into a relationship of charity towards Muslims and treat them as our brothers and sisters, men and women made in the image and likeness of God, rather than as our antagonists. Of course, Muslims do not always treat Christians thus; but as ours is the religion of love par excellence it is we who have to show them that this is the better path.


Fr. Robert Barrron reviews Light of the World in the Washington Post

Fr. Robert Barron reviews Light of the World on the Washington Post "On Faith" site:
Over a period of about 15 years, in the 1990's and early 2000's, the German journalist Peter Seewald conducted a number of interviews with Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, then the prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. The edited conversations appeared as two rather lengthy books, The Salt of the Earth and God and the World. Seewald's pointed questions dealt with fundamental matters--God, creation, Incarnation, redemption, sin and grace--and Ratzinger's answers--clear, succinct, illuminating--were marvels of the teacher's art. Perhaps the most extraordinary fruit of these encounters was Seewald's conversion from an unfocused agnosticism to a full embrace of the Catholic faith.

In the summer of 2010, Seewald sat down once again for a lengthy discussion with Joseph Ratzinger, but this time he was dialoguing, not with a curial Cardinal, but with Pope Benedict XVI. The only slightly edited version of that six-hour conversation has appeared as Light of the World, and one is happy to see that Ratzinger's elevation to the highest office in the church has not tempered the dynamic quality of their exchange. No question seemed to have been off-limits, as Seewald presses the Pope on everything from the sex abuse scandal, to women's ordination, to AIDS and condoms, and to his personal reaction upon being raised to the throne of Peter. Throughout, Benedict's mien is calm and his responses are models of clarity, concision, and insight. However, those who are looking for substantive information about Benedict's psychological and personal life are going to be disappointed. The Pope seems far more comfortable expatiating on matters theological and cultural than exploring his own motivations and inclinations. 


"Why Are the Media Fixated on Condoms?"

Dr. Janet Smith asks the question and responds to it in an essay for ZENIT:
Most people remember their grandmothers at some point telling them that pointing a finger at someone means that three fingers are pointing back at you. The media are obsessed with the issue of the Catholic Church and condoms because they seem to believe that condoms are the solution to preventing the transmission of the HIV. Might it be time they began to think about other organizations, such as themselves, that might bear some responsibility?

Who can deny that if people were living by the Church's teaching on sexuality, if people were having only married heterosexual sex, there would be no problem with the HIV (and a host of other problems)? Certainly, in this fallen world, that is not going to happen everywhere. But why doesn't it happen more often? Why does it seem that so many people think sex outside of marriage and homosexual sex is perfectly acceptable? That people should be allowed to have whatever kind of sex they want to have? Benedict XVI calls this the "banalization of sexuality."

I have been teaching on sexuality for many decades. When I started, nearly three decades ago, even though promiscuity was in full swing even then, I could generally count on young people agreeing with me that sexual intercourse was meant to be an expression of love. In fact, "making love" was a euphemism for "having sex," but who says that anymore? When I would speak about "sex" they would naturally think of an act performed by spouses. Some argued that if you were in love and intending to get married, it could be moral to have sex before marriage. Even so, there was also fairly widespread agreement, that if you weren't ready for babies, you weren't ready for sex. Few were arguing that it was moral to have any kind of sex.

How things have changed since then! Now, when I speak of "sex" people think of a profoundly pleasurable sexual act that has no connection to love, commitment or babies. Young people are a bit surprised when I maintain there is a natural connection between sex, love, commitment and babies.


A "Reluctant Sinner" reviews Light of the World

The UK blog "A Reluctant Sinner" reviews Light of the World:
I popped into the St Paul's bookshop yesterday, to buy a copy of Pope Benedict XVI's interview with Peter Seewald, Light of the World: The Pope, the Church, and the Signs of the Times. It is both a fantastic and a fascinating read! In fact, I haven't been able to put it down since I bought it!

It's so refreshing to read the words of a world leader who does not shirk away from reality. The Holy Father's answers to the questions posed by Seewald are honest, humble, erudite and rational. He is the antithesis of a modern political or global leader - he has his feet firmly in the Shoes of the Fisherman, and his mind in the scholarly works and books which he calls his "advisers"! His heart, of course, if firmly fixed on Christ, with whom he is "united simply by old acquaintance." 

Dr. Deal Hudson, 'On Condoms: More Dostoevsky, Less Catechesis'

Dr. Deal Hudson weighs in on the "condom controversy":
There is, of course, no new rule about condom use: The Church still teaches that contraception during intercourse between a man and woman is forbidden, even in the case where one or the other is HIV positive.

What Benedict actually said is much more interesting than what is being wrongly reported by the media. The Holy Father was probing into an imagined individual's moral psychology, rather than rehearsing a new item in the next edition of the Catechism.
 Read more....

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

"The Church and Condoms"

Fr. Roger J. Landry provides another clear-sighted analysis of the Church's teaching on contraception and Pope Benedict's comments on condom use:
Last weekend, headlines focused on how Pope Benedict was apparently changing the Church’s teachings about the immorality of the use of condoms. The comments, excerpted from a book length interview of the Pope with journalist Peter Seewald, led many news outlets, like The New York Times, to claim that this was “the first Vatican exception to a long-held policy condemning condom use.” Many Catholics were confused. The controversy revealed widespread misunderstandings of the Church’s teachings with regard to the use of contraception. It’s therefore worthwhile to read what Pope Benedict said in context and then to make some important clarifications. 

"Benedict XVI: Christian Radical"

Samuel Gregg at the Acton Institute reviews Light of the World:

...perhaps the interview’s most revealing aspect is the picture that emerges of Pope Benedict as nothing more and nothing less than a Christian radical.

Those accustomed to cartoon-like depictions of Joseph Ratzinger as a “reactionary” might be surprised by this description. But by “radical,” I don’t mean the type of priest or minister who only wears clerical garb when attending left-wing rallies or publically disputing particular church doctrines.

The word “radical” comes from the Latin radix, meaning “root.” It’s in this sense Benedict is radical. His pontificate is about going back to Christianity’s roots to make, as Benedict says, “visible again the center of Christian life” and then shining that light upon the world so that we might see the truth about ourselves.

From Rome, new words on the clergy abuse crisis

Catholic San Francisco reports on the Vatican reforms regarding the handling of abusive clergy. Also coming up for comment are the comments that Pope Benedict XVI made in Light of the World regarding the abuse crisis and the response to it:
Also on Nov. 20, the depth of the pope’s grief over the abuse crisis, and the complexity of its causes and of the response to it, came to light when the Vatican newspaper published excerpts from journalist Peter Seewald’s book-length interview, “Light of the World.”

Seewald asked: “It is not only the abuse that is upsetting, it is also the way of dealing with it. The deeds themselves were hushed up and kept secret for decades. That is a declaration of bankruptcy for an institution that has love written on its banner.”

The pope replied: “The Archbishop of Dublin told me something very interesting about that. He said that ecclesiastical penal law functioned until the late 1950s; admittedly it was not perfect –there is much to criticize about it – but nevertheless it was applied. After the mid-1960s, however, it was simply not applied any more. The prevailing mentality was that the Church must not be a Church of laws but, rather, a Church of love; she must not punish. Thus the awareness that punishment can be an act of love ceased to exist. This led to an odd darkening of the mind, even in very good people.

“Today we have to learn all over again that love for the sinner and love for the person who has been harmed are correctly balanced if I punish the sinner in the form that is possible and appropriate.”
 Read more, including comments from Cardinals Levada and Burke.