Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Benedict in Washington

Two things that I noticed about the Pope's day in Washington.

The Pope made one thing very clear: he does not view faith as a private matter. During the question and answer session with the bishops, he was asked about "a certain quiet attrition" caused by Catholics distancing themselves quietly and gradually from attendance at Mass and identification with the Church. His answer was pretty interesting. I've given you the full answer, which makes this a pretty long quotation (and post), but I've highlighted the "money quotes."

Certainly, much of this has to do with the passing away of a religious
culture, sometimes disparagingly referred to as a "ghetto", which reinforced
participation and identification with the Church. As I just mentioned, one of
the great challenges facing the Church in this country is that of cultivating a
Catholic identity which is based not so much on externals as on a way of
thinking and acting grounded in the Gospel and enriched by the Church's living

The issue clearly involves factors such as religious individualism and
scandal. Let us go to the heart of the matter: faith cannot survive unless it is
nourished, unless it is "formed by charity" (cf. Gal 5:6). Do people today find
it difficult to encounter God in our Churches? Has our preaching lost its salt?
Might it be that many people have forgotten, or never really learned, how to
pray in and with the Church?

Here I am not speaking of people who leave the Church in search of
subjective religious "experiences"; this is a pastoral issue which must be
addressed on its own terms. I think we are speaking about people who have fallen
by the wayside without consciously having rejected their faith in Christ, but,
for whatever reason, have not drawn life from the liturgy, the sacraments,
preaching. Yet Christian faith, as we know, is essentially ecclesial, and
without a living bond to the community, the individual's faith will never grow
to maturity. Indeed, to return to the question I just discussed, the result can
be a quiet apostasy.

So let me make two brief observations on the problem of
"attrition", which I hope will stimulate further reflection.

First, as you know, it is becoming more and more difficult, in our
Western societies, to speak in a meaningful way of "salvation".
Yet salvation -
deliverance from the reality of evil, and the gift of new life and freedom in
Christ - is at the heart of the Gospel. We need to discover, as I have
suggested, new and engaging ways of proclaiming this message and awakening a
thirst for the fulfillment which only Christ can bring. It is in the Church's
liturgy, and above all in the sacrament of the Eucharist, that these realities
are most powerfully expressed and lived in the life of believers; perhaps we
still have much to do in realizing the Council's vision of the liturgy as the
exercise of the common priesthood and the impetus for a fruitful apostolate in
the world.

Second, we need to acknowledge with concern the almost complete
eclipse of an eschatological sense in many of our traditionally Christian
societies. As you know, I have pointed to this problem in the Encyclical Spe
Salvi. Suffice it to say that faith and hope are not limited to this world: as
theological virtues, they unite us with the Lord and draw us toward the
fulfillment not only of our personal destiny but also that of all creation.
Faith and hope are the inspiration and basis of our efforts to prepare for the
coming of the Kingdom of God. 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.

Let me conclude by stating the obvious. The fields are still ripe
for harvesting (cf. Jn 4:35); God continues to give the growth (cf. 1 Cor 3:6).
We can and must insist -- even in our own time and for our own time -- as the
late Pope John Paul II did, that God is preparing a new springtime for
Christianity (cf. Redemptoris Missio, 86). What is needed above all, at this
time in the history of the Church in America, is a renewal of that apostolic
zeal which inspires her shepherds actively to seek out the lost, to bind up
those who have been wounded, and to bring strength to those who are languishing
(cf. Ez 34:16). And this, as I have said, calls for new ways of thinking based
on a sound diagnosis of today's challenges and a commitment to unity in the
service of the Church's mission to the present generation. Thank you.

Emphasis mine. There's a pretty strong challenge from the Pope, don't you think?

The second thing I noticed was the choice of music for the liturgy - "The Battle Hymn of the
Republic." In particular, consider the final verse:

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword
His truth is marching on!

[chorus]Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! His truth is marching on.

I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps;
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps.
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps;
His day is marching on!


I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel
"As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal;
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel,
Since God is marching on."


He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat;
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on!


In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in his bosom that transfigures you and me;
As he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.

I think there's a challenge back to the Pope in that particular musical selection, no? I will be very interested to see how Benedict responds.


Gino said...

the battle hymn: wasnt that written for the War Of Northern Agression?

Mike said...

Looking at the lyrics again for the first time in years, I can't believe it was a tradition at my high school for graduating seniors to sing that song at the graduation ceremony. It did end shortly after my class graduated. I think the class after mine was the last to do it. With all those references to God, I thought it would have ended long before I graduated, given I went to a public school.

I don't really have much to add about what Pope Benedict said. Let's just say it hit home for me.