The post immediately below is a long one and includes a lot more of what the Pope had to say today, but I'd like to return in this post to what I thought was a key theme of his visit today.
This is what Benedict said:
In Christianity, there can be no room for purely private religion: Christ is the Savior of the world, and, as members of his Body and sharers in his prophetic, priestly and royal munera, we cannot separate our love for him from our commitment to the building up of the Church and the extension of his Kingdom. To the extent that religion becomes a purely private affair, it loses its very soul.
As an American Catholic, I see this as a huge challenge. My sense has long been that those who are especially public about their faith are viewed with great suspicion in some quarters. While we have wide religious tolerance in this country, we aren't very tolerant of religiosity. In our society, it usually isn't cool to be Christian.
I was thinking about all this as I was driving over to St. John's tonight to teach my last faith formation class of the year. I've had the privilege and challenge of trying to help 8 second graders grow in their faith, including my daughter. Second grade year is a big one for Catholic kids in our diocese; they receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation in the fall and then prepare for the Eucharist in the spring. My students will be receiving their first communion this weekend, as a matter of fact.
Since it was the last class of the year, I wanted to try to sum up everything we'd discussed over the previous months, to tie it up into a nice little package for the kids, but in a way that they might understand. So I turned to two of the most familiar passages in the Bible, Psalm 23 and John 3:16. And I talked about sheep.
Kids understand sheep. I talked about the Lord being our shepherd and what that meant. But I wanted them to think about what it means to be part of a flock. Calling someone a sheep is usually a pejorative term, but I wanted them to think about what sheep really are. And the word I came up with was "useful." I tried to get the kids to understand that they are called to be useful, too, to serve others, that as Christians we are called to witness our faith through the work we do for others.
The Church assumes that kids at this age have reached the age of reason. When you're trying to get a bunch of second graders to pay attention, it's easy to doubt that is true. But I hope that if I taught these kids anything this year, it is to be useful in the world, to bear witness, to share their faith. It was heartening to have Benedict underscore that message today.