Pope Francis on the Renewal of the Church

The following paragraphs are from Pope Francis’s address to the young people of Korea and Asia. He gives a vision for rediscovering the heart of the Church.

That heart is in love: love of God leading to love of neighbor, and God’s love for us. True love of God causes us to draw close to one another, and close to those who are most in need of God’s love. We cry out, “Lord, help me,” and as we receive his love, we learn to reach out to those who cry out for help.

This doesn’t mean setting aside beautiful liturgy, hard moral teachings, or anything else that marks “conservative” Catholicism. It means finding the heart of those things, which is in love of God and love of neighbor. Love draws us to worship. Love draws us to live the fullness of the moral law. But fancy worship and stern moralism without love simply isn’t Christianity.

Let us attend to the details – but also to what is essential.

pope francisAs young Christians, whether you are workers or students, whether you have already begun a career or have answered the call to marriage, religious life or the priesthood, you are not only a part of the future of the Church; you are also a necessary and beloved part of the Church’s present! You are the Church’s present!

Keep close to one another, draw ever closer to God, and with your bishops and priests spend these years in building a holier, more missionary and humble Church – a holier, more missionary and humble Church! – a Church which loves and worships God by seeking to serve the poor, the lonely, the infirm and the marginalized.

In your Christian lives, you will find many occasions that will tempt you, like the disciples in today’s Gospel, to push away the stranger, the needy, the poor and the broken-hearted. It is these people especially who repeat the cry of the woman of the Gospel: “Lord, help me!”. The Canaanite woman’s plea is the cry of everyone who searches for love, acceptance, and friendship with Christ.

It is the cry of so many people in our anonymous cities, the cry of so many of your own contemporaries, and the cry of all those martyrs who even today suffer persecution and death for the name of Jesus: “Lord, help me!” It is often a cry which rises from our own hearts as well: “Lord, help me!”

Let us respond, not like those who push away people who make demands on us, as if serving the needy gets in the way of our being close to the Lord. No! We are to be like Christ, who responds to every plea for his help with love, mercy and compassion.




17 AUGUST 2014

St. Vincent Ferrer on Living Poverty

Pope Francis has called for a Church that is “poor, and for the poor.” Somehow that comes across as liberal, when in fact it is profoundly traditional.

The following is an excerpt from St. Vincent Ferrer, the great Dominican missionary of the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries. In this chapter, he is discussing love of neighbor – and somehow all of his points come down to an embrace of poverty.

His words are so provocative, I hardly know how to introduce them. In short, he teaches us we should be much more worried than we typically are about how materialism gets in the way of love. Materialism that makes us focus on things rather than people, and materialism that view people in terms of their things – so that we Americans are strangely unwilling to preach the Gospel to anyone but the rich and powerful.

I should add that he lived at a time of horrific poverty: no one who can read these words on the internet can dare to tell St. Vincent that we need to make sure to take care of ourselves.

st-vincent-ferrer-preachingFour dispositions are needed:

1. To consider yourself a stranger on the earth, so that whatever you possess therein may appear to you to belong to others rather than to yourself, that you may feel no more attachment to them than you would to the possessions of a person who lives far from you.

2. To regard a superabundance of things for your own use as hurtful to you as the subtlest poison, and to view it with as much alarm as you would a rocky sea on which it is difficult to escape being shipwrecked.

3. To accustom yourself, in the use of things that are necessary, always to feel the effects of poverty and want, poverty being the mysterious ladder by which we safely ascend to heaven, to be possessed of eternal wealth.

4. To shun the pomp of the rich and powerful ones of the earth, without, however, disdaining them, and to let it be your glory to associate with the poor, your joy to remember them, to see and converse with them, however denuded of everything, neglected, and despised they may be, since, by these very circumstances they are the living expression of Jesus Christ; they are kings, whose society should be to you a special honor and a subject of great joy.

-St. Vincent Ferrer, OP (1350-1419), “On the Dispositions that We Ought to Have in Regard to Our Neighbor,” in Treatise on the Spiritual Life

Ratzinger on the Importance of Words in the Liturgy

Pope Benedict XVI is often assumed – on very little evidence – to be in favor of a wholesale return to liturgy as it was before Vatican II. But to the contrary, his words below are the strongest argument I have ever read for vernacular liturgy.

To be sure, some like to drive a wedge between “early” Ratzinger (this is from 1966) and a supposedly more conservative later Ratzinger – but he has always denied this distinction, saying none of his views have fundamentally changed. As Pope, his abundant promotion of Biblical spirituality is built on the insight expressed below.

It should be added that, in the same article, he argues that Latin has some role in connecting us to the earlier tradition – just as the Hebrew Amen, Alleluia, Sabbaoth, and Hosanna, and the Greek Kyrie Elieson remind us of our even earlier history. And already in this article he is arguing for the value of ad orientem liturgy. But he rejects arguments against the central importance of vernacular in the liturgy. A truly Ratzingerian liturgy, I think, would be ad orientem, but in English.

cardenal4“Against the movement towards the vernacular it is urged [by people Ratzinger disagrees with] that it is only right that the element of mystery in religion should be veiled in a language all its own and that this has been the practice of all religions known to mankind. . . .

[But] We can easily prove that the argument about the element of mystery in religion is not a valid one, any more than is the argument about retreat into the silence of individual piety, not to be disturbed by the community at worship; in fact, both these arguments stem from a basic failure to understand the essence of Christian worship. . . .

The essence of Christian worship is that it is the announcement of the Glad Tidings of God to the congregation bodily present, the answering acceptance by the congregation of this announcement, and the whole Church talking together to God, though this latter is closely interwoven with the announcement of God’s message.

For instance, the announcement of that which Christ did for us at the Last Supper is, at the same time, praise of God Who willed so to work in us through Christ. It is a remembrance of the salvific deeds of God in our regard and at the same time a cry to God to fulfill and complete the work then begun, at once a profession of faith and a profession of hope, at once thanksgiving and petition, at once announcement of the Good Tidings and prayer.

Thus the liturgy, viewed solely from the linguistic structure, is built on an intermingling of the “I” and the “you”, which are then continually being united in the “we” of the whole Church speaking to God through Christ. In a liturgy of this kind, language is not for the purpose of concealment but for the purpose of revealing, it is not meant to allow each one to retreat into the stillness of his own little island of prayer but rather to lead all together into the single “we” of the children of God, who say all together: Our Father. It was therefore a decisive step that the liturgical reform took when it released the word from the fetters of ritual and gave it back its original significance as a word. . . .

It is not the purpose of liturgy to fill us with awe and terror in the presence of sacred things but to confront us with the two-edged sword of the Word of God. Neither is it the purpose of liturgy to provide a festive and richly-adorned setting for silent meditation and communion of the soul with itself, but rather to incorporate us into the “we” of the children of God, that God who by His Incarnation has emptied Himself and come down to our level and become one with us, the lowliest of his creatures.”

-Joseph Ratzinger, “Catholicism after the Council,” 1966

Pascal on Entertainment

Blaise Pascal (1623-62), was both a great mathematician and a great spiritual writer and very devout Christian. Now, he was a heretic – part of the Jansenist movement, which, though it never exactly left the fold of the Catholic Church, was condemned for a far too negative view of human nature – so if you don’t like what he says here, you are free to disagree with him.

But I think he has a point, and an important one for us today. The danger of theater, he says (and, far more, the danger of television and the movies) is not that it portrays evil, but that it portrays the good in such a shallow, easy way. The danger is that we leave thinking life is that simple – and do not realize the great struggle that goodness is.

I think we could apply this to many simplistic things people say about “good and evil”: if a movie has good guys and bad guys, we are supposed to think it’s basically Christian. But life is not that simple: Pascal would warn that these movies do not challenge us enough. And even more, he says, when the movies portray love: if only love were so easy! The danger is that, in thinking goodness is easy, we will not take our own spiritual development seriously.

In this quotation, do not miss the element of seduction. Pascal is portraying the innocence of theater not because he thinks it is innocent, but because he thinks its false innocence is dangerous.

pascalAll great amusements are a danger to the life of the Christian; but of all those which the world has invented there is none more to be feared than the theater. It represents the passions, so natural and subtle that it awakens them and brings them forth in our hearts; above all the passion of love, especially when it is portrayed as very chaste and honorable.

For, the more innocent it appears to innocent souls, the more apt are they to be moved by it; its vehemence flatters our self-love, which straightway develops a desire to produce the same effects which we see so well represented. At the same time, we develop a conscience founded on the honorable feelings portrayed, which reassure pure souls who fancy that a love so apparently moderate cannot injure their innocence.

So we leave the theater with our hearts so full of all the beauty and tenderness of love, our souls and minds so convinced of its innocence, that we are ready to receive its first impressions, or rather to seek occasion of awakening them in the heart of some one else, so that we may experience the same pleasures and sacrifices which we have seen so well depicted on the stage.

-From “Pascal’s Apology for True Religion” (part of the Pensées)

St. Augustine: “Late Have I Loved You!”

Last week we celebrated the feast of the incomparable St. Augustine of Hippo. In our anti-intellectual age, he sometimes gets dismissed as too complicated. But previous ages considered his thinking to be rooted in the deepest mysticism, and his place in the Catholic intellectual tradition has always been among those who emphasize that God is infinitely above human thought.

Today, just one burst of poetry, from the Confessions. Augustine shows that all the beautiful things in the world are just distractions, unless they lead us inward, to the greatest Beauty, which is God.


st-augustine-of-hippo-2So late did I love You, O Beauty, so ancient, and yet so new! So late did I love You!

For behold, You were inside me, but I was outside, and sought you there. I, unlovely, rushed heedlessly among the things of beauty that You had made. You were with me, but I was not with You.

Things kept me far from You, which would not have been, if they had not been in You.

You called, and cried aloud, and broke open my deafness. You gleamed and shined, and chased away my blindness. You breathed out odours, and I drew in my breath, and now I breathe heavily for You. I tasted, and now I hunger and thirst. You touched me, and I burned for Your peace.

–The Confessions, Book 10, chapter 27

Benedict XVI on Making the Bible our “Staple Diet”

The following brief quotation, from Pope Benedict XVI’s opening address to the Latin American bishops gathered at Aparecida, nicely drives home the centrality of Scripture in Catholic spirituality.

We cannot live or preach the Gospel, he says, unless we know its “content.”  Christian faith is not just a general attitude.  It has content.  We have to know its richness and its wholeness.  And though the Catechism is an invaluable summary, Scripture itself is the Word of God.  Indeed, notice how he pairs the “content and spirit” of the faith: you cannot know the spirit of the faith without also knowing its content

And according to Benedict XVI – and Vatican II, and the Tradition, the Fathers of the Church and the medievals – there is no other way to know that “content and spirit” then to learn “to read and meditate on the word of God,” and so attain “profound knowledge of the word of God.”  This, he says, is “indispensable.”

Are Pope Benedict’s words elitist?  Does he make it so only intellectuals can know the faith?  No.  Scripture is for everyone.  To know the Tradition and read the lives of the saints is to discover that the simplest, from Antony of the Desert to Thérèse of Lisieux, found in Scripture not an obstacle, but the food of faith, their “staple diet”.  The real elitism is to refuse to “train people to read and meditate.”

POPEAt the beginning of this new phase that the missionary Church of Latin America and the Caribbean is preparing to enter, starting with this Fifth General Conference in Aparecida, an indispensable pre-condition is profound knowledge of the word of God. To achieve this, we must train people to read and meditate on the word of God: this must become their staple diet, so that, through their own experience, the faithful will see that the words of Jesus are spirit and life (cf. Jn 6:63). Otherwise, how could they proclaim a message whose content and spirit they do not know thoroughly? We must build our missionary commitment and the whole of our lives on the rock of the word of God.

-Benedict XVI, Inaugural Address of the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean, Aparecida, Brazil


Thomas Aquinas on the Incomprehensibility of God

St Thomas AquinasIt’s good to be reminded that God is beyond us – that what makes him God.  It’s even, says St. Thomas, a way of knowing God: to know him as the one you cannot fathom.

 It’s also good to be reminded that someone like Thomas Aquinas glories in God’s unknowability.  That is, you don’t have to be anti-intellectual in order to rejoice in the unfathomable depths of God.  To say either you like to think or you appreciate mystery is a false dichotomy.  Indeed, I think St. Thomas would say we can appreciate God’s unfathomable depths best when we try to fathom them.

Here’s St. Thomas, in the midst of talking about different ways to know God:


But some come to knowledge of God by the incomprehensibility of the truth.  For every truth which our intellect can contain is finite – for, as Augustine says, everything known is within the limits of the knower’s comprehension.  Thus it must be that the first and highest truth, which is above every intellect, would be incomprehensible and without limits: that is, God.

So in Psalm 8 it says, your magnificence is lifted up above the heavens, that is, above every created intellect, angelic or human.  And this is because, as the Apostle says, he dwells in inaccessible light (1 Tim 5:16).  Isaiah says, I saw the Lord setting upon a thrown, high and lifted up.  By lifted up he means, above all knowing of created intellects.

And John reminds us of this incomprehensibility when he says, No one has ever seen God.

-From the commentary on the prologue to John’s Gospel

The Curé of Ars on Lukewarmness and the Battle for Heaven

One more excerpt from that homily by St. Jean Vianney on Lukewarmness. The spiritual life is a battle, a struggle – if we love, we want to be better. This is how we are meant to approach Confession, our examination of conscience, our prayer, and our fasting. We should never say, “I won’t go to hell for that.” We should say, “how can I run towards heaven?”

vianney2A lukewarm soul will go to Confession regularly, and even quite frequently. But what kind of Confessions are they? No preparation, no desire to correct faults, or, at the least, a desire so feeble and so small that the slightest difficulty will put a stop to it altogether. The Confessions of such a person are merely repetitions of old ones, which would be a happy state of affairs indeed if there were nothing to add to them. Twenty years ago he was accusing himself of the same things he confesses today, and if he goes to Confession for the next twenty years, he will say the same things. A lukewarm soul will not, if you like, commit the big sins. But some slander or back-biting, a lie, a feeling of hatred, of dislike, of jealousy, a slight touch of deceit or double-dealing — these count for nothing with it. …

He does not want, of course, to have distractions during prayer or during the Holy Mass, yet when he should put up some little fight against them, he suffers them very patiently, considering the fact that he does not like them. Fast days are reduced to practically nothing, either by advancing the time of the main meal or, under the pretext that Heaven was never taken by famine, by making the collation so abundant that it amounts to a full meal. When he performs good or beneficial actions, his intentions are often very mixed — sometimes it is to please someone, sometimes it is out of compassion, and sometimes it is just to please the world.

With such people everything that is not a really serious sin is good enough. They like doing good, being faithful, but they wish that it did not cost them anything or, at least, that it cost very little. They would like to visit the sick, indeed, but it would be more convenient if the sick would come to them. They have something to give away in alms, they know quite well that a certain person has need of help, but they wait until she comes to ask them instead of anticipating her, which would make the kindness so very much more meritorious. We will even say, my brethren, that the person who leads a lukewarm life does not fail to do plenty of good works, to frequent the Sacraments, to assist regularly at all church services, but in all of this one sees only a weak, languishing faith, hope which the slightest trial will upset, a love of God and of neighbour which is without warmth or pleasure. Everything that such a person does is not entirely lost, but it is very nearly so.

The Curé of Ars on the Workweek of the Lukewarm Soul

Here is more from the sermon we looked at last Tuesday: St. Jean Vianney discussing the zeal that ought to characterize our spiritual life.

This week’s reading emphasizes the relation between work and prayer. We hear often that our work can become prayer, and that is an important point. But the Curé of Ars reminds us that work is not automatically prayer. Without really turning our mind to God, really offering our work – and really embracing the Sabbath – our work can quickly become an idol.

vianney2In the morning it is not God who occupies his thoughts, nor the salvation of his poor soul; he is quite taken up with thoughts of work. His mind is so wrapped up in the things of earth that the thought of God has no place in it. He is thinking about what he is going to be doing during the day, where he will be sending his children and his various employees, in what way he will expedite his own work. To say his prayers, he gets down on his knees, undoubtedly, but he does not know what he wants to ask God, nor what he needs, nor even before whom he is kneeling. His careless demeanour shows this very clearly. It is a poor man indeed who, however miserable he is, wants nothing at all and loves his poverty. It is surely a desperately sick person who scorns doctors and remedies and clings to his infirmities.

You can see that this lukewarm soul has no difficulty, on the slightest pretext, in talking during the course of his prayers. For no reason at all he will abandon them, partly at least, thinking that he will finish them in another moment. Does he want to offer his day to God, to say his Grace? He does all that, but often without thinking of the one who is addressed. He will not even stop working. If the possessor of the lukewarm soul is a man, he will turn his cap or his hat around in his hands as if to see whether it is good or bad, as though he had some idea of selling it. If it is a woman, she will say her prayers while slicing bread into her soup, or putting wood on the fire, or calling out to her children or maid. If you like, such distractions during prayer are not exactly deliberate. People would rather not have them, but because it is necessary to go to so much trouble and expend so much energy to get rid of them, they let them alone and allow them to come as they will.

The lukewarm Christian may not perhaps work on Sunday at tasks which seem to be forbidden to anyone who has even the slightest shred of religion, but doing some sewing, arranging something in the house, driving sheep to the fields during the times for Masses, on the pretext that there is not enough food to give them — all these things will be done without the slightest scruple, and such people will prefer to allow their souls and the souls of their employees to perish rather than endanger their animals. A man will busy himself getting out his tools and his carts and harrows and so on, for the next day; he will fill in a hole or fence a gap; he will cut various lengths of cords and ropes; he will carry out the churns and set them in order. What do you think about all this, my brethren? Is it not, alas, the simple truth?

The Curé of Ars on “The Dreadful State of the Lukewarm Soul”

We often hear about St. Jean Vianney, the great parish priest of the small town of Ars in nineteenth-century France. But we rarely hear his words.

Here he is on passion in the spiritual life. Notice that he begins with passion in our heart of Scripture. But passion too in the desire to love better, a passionate embrace of the crosses God sends, and passion in facing hostility. Zeal is the heart of the spiritual life.

 vianney2I think, brethren, that you would like to know what is the state of the lukewarm soul. Well, this is it. A lukewarm soul is not yet quite dead in the eyes of God because the faith, the hope, and the charity which are its spiritual life are not altogether extinct. But it is a faith without zeal, a hope without resolution, a charity without ardour….

Nothing touches this soul: it hears the word of God, yes, that is true; but often it just bores it. Its possessor hears it with difficulty, more or less by habit, like someone who thinks that he knows enough about it and does enough of what he should. …

It is like someone who is envious of anyone who is on top of the world but who would not deign to lift a foot to try to get there himself. It would not, however, wish to renounce eternal blessings for those of the world. Yet it does not wish either to leave the world or to go to Heaven, and if it can just manage to pass its time without crosses or difficulties, it would never ask to leave this world at all. If you hear someone with such a soul say that life is long and pretty miserable, that is only when everything is not going in accordance with his desires.

If God, in order to force such a soul to detach itself from temporal things, sends it any cross or suffering, it is fretful and grieving and abandons itself to grumbles and complaints and often even to a kind of despair. It seems as if it does not want to see that God has sent it these trials for its good, to detach it from this world and to draw it towards Himself. What has it done to deserve these trials? In this state a person thinks in his own mind that there are many others more blameworthy than himself who have not to submit to such trials.

In prosperous times the lukewarm soul does not go so far as to forget God, but neither does it forget itself. It knows very well how to boast about all the means it has employed to achieve its prosperity. It is quite convinced that many others would not have achieved the same success. It loves to repeat that and to hear it repeated, and every time it hears it, it is with fresh pleasure. The individual with the lukewarm soul assumes a gracious air when associating with those who flatter him. But towards those who have not paid him the respect which he believes he has deserved or who have not been grateful for his kindnesses, he maintains an air of frigid indifference and seems to indicate to them that they are The Curé of Ars on “The Dreadful State of the Lukewarm Soul” who do not deserve to receive the good which he has done them….