Saturday, 2 August 2008

What the Pope said in Australia Part 5 - Preparation for Mission

I thought I'd better get on with my second last piece in this series, about how Pope Benedict XVI suggests we prepare ourselves for the task of building up the Church and converting the world. In a way it is all summarised in this paragraph from the Welcoming Ceremony:

“Grounded in the Apostles’ teaching, in fellowship, and in the breaking of the bread and prayer (cf. Acts 2:42), the young Christian community moved forward to oppose the perversity in the culture around them (cf. Acts 2:40), to care for one another (cf. Acts 2:44-47), to defend their belief in Jesus in the face of hostility (cf Acts 4:33), and to heal the sick (cf. Acts 5:12-16).

An ideal

One of the inspiring things about the Pope’s talks to young people in Australia was the way he set a high ideal and challenged them to aspire to it. Rather than pandering to ‘Gen Y’ mentality, he challenged them to aim to build a better world:

"Is it not true that when presented with high ideals, many young people are attracted to asceticism and the practice of moral virtue through self-respect and a concern for others? They delight in contemplating the gift of creation and are intrigued by the mystery of the transcendent." (Mass at St Mary’s)

In this way they give witness:

“Dear friends, in your homes, schools and universities, in your places of work and recreation, remember that you are a new creation! As Christians you stand in this world knowing that God has a human face - Jesus Christ - the “way” who satisfies all human yearning, and the “life” to which we are called to bear witness, walking always in his light.” (Welcoming ceremony)

The importance of priests and religious

Too often today we here claims that this is ‘the age of the laity’ (usually code to mean we don’t want or need priests or religious). And so especially important was his emphasis on the importance of vocations (to the religious life and priesthood):

“I address this plea in a special way to those of you whom the Lord is calling to the priesthood and the consecrated life. Do not be afraid to say “yes” to Jesus, to find your joy in doing his will, giving yourself completely to the pursuit of holiness, and using all your talents in the service of others!” (Randwick Mass)

Why do we need priests and religious?

Priests and religious have a vital role to play in building up the Church:

“Like the young Israelites in today’s first reading, they are a sign of hope and renewal for God’s people; and, like those young Israelites, they will have the task of building up the Lord’s house in the coming generation. As we admire this magnificent edifice, how can we not think of all those ranks of priests, religious and faithful laity who, each in his or her own way, contributed to the building up of the Church in Australia. Let us rejoice in their fidelity and perseverance, and dedicate ourselves to carrying on their labours for the spread of the Gospel, the conversion of hearts and the growth of the Church in holiness, unity and charity!” (St Mary's Mass)

These are, to use Pope John Paul II’s terminology, ‘a higher call’, requiring considerable sacrifice:

“He calls us, as the priestly people of the new and eternal covenant, to offer, in union with him, our own daily sacrifices for the salvation of the world. In today’s liturgy the Church reminds us that, like this altar, we too have been consecrated, set “apart” for the service of God and the building up of his Kingdom.”

and

“…You have committed yourselves, in different ways, to accepting Christ’s invitation to follow him, to leave all behind, and to devote your lives to the pursuit of holiness and the service of his people."

The challenge to be true to one’s vocation

Living up to one's vocation is not easy:

“The Lord also calls us to walk in the light (cf. Jn 12:35). Each of you has embarked on the greatest and the most glorious of all struggles, to be consecrated in truth, to grow in virtue, to achieve harmony between your thoughts and ideals, and your words and actions. Enter sincerely and deeply into the discipline and spirit of your programmes of formation.”

In this way, dear young seminarians and religious, you yourselves will become living altars, where Christ’s sacrificial love is made present as an inspiration and a source of spiritual nourishment to everyone you meet. By embracing the Lord’s call to follow him in chastity, poverty and obedience, you have begun a journey of radical discipleship which will make you “signs of contradiction” (cf. Lk 2:34) to many of your contemporaries.

Model your lives daily on the Lord’s own loving self-oblation in obedience to the will of the Father. You will then discover the freedom and joy which can draw others to the Love which lies beyond all other loves as their source and their ultimate fulfilment.

Never forget that celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom means embracing a life completely devoted to love, a love that enables you to commit yourselves fully to God’s service and to be totally present to your brothers and sisters, especially those in need. The greatest treasures that you share with other young people – your idealism, your generosity, your time and energy – these are the very sacrifices which you are placing upon the Lord’s altar. May you always cherish this beautiful charism which God has given you for his glory and the building up of the Church!"

How to grow in holiness

The Holy Father’s prescription for growth in virtue are, I think, broadly applicable to us all:

“Walk in Christ’s light daily through fidelity to personal and liturgical prayer, nourished by meditation on the inspired word of God.”


He gave a particularly beautiful image of lectio divina:

“The Fathers of the Church loved to see the Scriptures as a spiritual Eden, a garden where we can walk freely with God, admiring the beauty and harmony of his saving plan as it bears fruit in our own lives, in the life of the Church and in all of history. Let prayer, then, and meditation on God’s word, be the lamp which illumines, purifies and guides your steps along the path which the Lord has marked out for you.”

Daily mass will not be possible for everyone. Still, making it occasionally during the week, with this admonition in mind, is worth considering:

“Make the daily celebration of the Eucharist the centre of your life. At each Mass, when the Lord’s Body and Blood are lifted up at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer, lift up your own hearts and lives, through Christ, with him and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, as a loving sacrifice to God our Father.” M19



To challenge the world
The point of it all, of course, is not just our individual salvation, but to convert the world:

“And in obedience to Christ’s own command, they set forth, bearing witness to the greatest story ever: that God has become one of us, that the divine has entered human history in order to transform it, and that we are called to immerse ourselves in Christ’s saving love which triumphs over evil and death. Saint Paul, in his famous speech to the Areopagus, introduced the message in this way: “God gives everything – including life and breath – to everyone … so that all nations might seek God and, by feeling their way towards him, succeed in finding him. In fact he is not far from any of us, since it is in him that we live and move and have our being” (Welcoming Ceremony).

And to bring about the social reign of Christ:

“Men and women are endowed with the ability not only to imagine how things might be better, but to invest their energies to make them better. We are conscious of our unique relationship to the natural realm. If, then, we believe that we are not subject to the laws of the material universe in the same way as the rest of creation, should we not make goodness, compassion, freedom, solidarity, and respect for every individual an essential part of our vision for a more humane future?” (Interreligious Meeting)



The limits of what is achievable

Perhaps one of the most important messages of his catechesis on this topic, though, is the reminder that ultimately, what happens here and now in this world is not really what we are trying to build:

“What is our response, as Christian witnesses, to a divided and fragmented world? How can we offer the hope of peace, healing and harmony to those “stations” of conflict, suffering, and tension through which you have chosen to march with this World Youth Day Cross? Unity and reconciliation cannot be achieved through our efforts alone. God has made us for one another (cf. Gen 2:24) and only in God and his Church can we find the unity we seek. Yet, in the face of imperfections and disappointments – both individual and institutional – we are sometimes tempted to construct artificially a “perfect” community. That temptation is not new. The history of the Church includes many examples of attempts to bypass or override human weaknesses or failures in order to create a perfect unity, a spiritual utopia.” (Vigil)

Traddies, are I think, particularly prone to utopianism, idealizing particular eras in the past (such as the 1950s!) and rejecting anything short of perfection as unworthy of acceptance. Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that we must resist the temptation to seek false utopias:

“Yet religion, by reminding us of human finitude and weakness, also enjoins us not to place our ultimate hope in this passing world. Man is “like a breath, his days are like a passing shadow” (Ps 144:4).. (Interreligious meeting)


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