Paris, France, Sep 13, 2008 (CNA) - At 7.15 p.m. on Friday, at the Cathedral of Notre Dame, Pope Benedict presided at the celebration of Vespers with priests, religious, seminarians and deacons. During his homily, the Pope encouraged greater efforts to be made to enhance the beauty of the liturgy and exhorted clergy to let the Word of God transform them.
Speaking to Catholic priests, seminarians, deacons and representatives of other Christian communities, the Pope based offered his reflections on Psalm 126: "Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain."
"Who is this Lord, if not our Lord Jesus Christ? asked Benedict.
“It is He Who founded His Church and built it on rock, on the faith of the Apostle Peter." St. Augustine asks "how we can know who these builders are, and his answer is this: 'All those who preach God's word in the Church, all who are ministers of God's divine Sacraments. All of us run, all of us work, all of us build,' yet it is God alone Who, within us, 'builds, exhorts, and inspires awe; Who opens our understanding and guides our minds to faith'."
As he did in his speech at the College des Bernadins earlier on Friday evening, Benedict then turned to the Word of God as the source of inspiration, strength, and “marvels.”
"What marvels," he exclaimed, "surround our work in the service of God's word! We are instruments of the Holy Spirit; God is so humble that He uses us to spread His word. We become His voice, once we have listened carefully to the word coming from His mouth. We place His word on our lips in order to bring it to the world. He accepts the offering of our prayer and through it He communicates Himself to everyone we meet."
Liturgy was also a point of reflection for Benedict XVI as he remarked on the Cathedral of Notre Dame. “Your cathedral is a living hymn of stone and light in praise of that act, unique in the annals of human history: the eternal Word of God entering our history in the fullness of time to redeem us by his self-offering in the sacrifice of the Cross.”
“Our earthly liturgies, entirely ordered to the celebration of this unique act within history, will never fully express its infinite meaning. Certainly, the beauty of our celebrations can never be sufficiently cultivated, fostered and refined, for nothing can be too beautiful for God, Who is Himself infinite Beauty. Yet our earthly liturgies will never be more than a pale reflection of the liturgy celebrated in the Jerusalem on high, the goal of our pilgrimage on earth. May our own celebrations nonetheless resemble that liturgy as closely as possible and grant us a foretaste of it! Pope Benedict exhorted.
The Pontiff’s reflections on the liturgy naturally led him to speak to the priests gathered in Notre Dame. "Even now the word of God is given to us as the soul of our apostolate, the soul of our priestly life. ... Throughout the day, the word of God becomes the substance of the prayer of the whole Church, as she bears witness in this way to her fidelity to Christ."
The Holy Father encouraged the priests not to be afraid "to spend much time reading and meditating on the Scriptures and praying the Divine Office! Almost without your knowing it, God's word, read and pondered in the Church, acts upon you and transforms you," he told the priests.
Turning to address seminarians, he said: "You are called to become stewards of this word which accomplishes what it communicates. Always cultivate a thirst for the word of God! Thus you will learn to love everyone you meet along life's journey. In the Church everyone has a place, everyone! Every person can and must find a place in her."
To deacons he said: "Without seeking to take the place of priests, but assisting them with your friendship and your activity, may you be living witnesses to the infinite power of God's word!"
Benedict XVI also had some words for men and women religious, and all consecrated people, telling them that their "only treasure - which, to tell the truth, will alone survive the passage of time and the curtain of death - is the word of the Lord. ... Your obedience is, etymologically, a 'hearing', for the word 'obey' comes from the Latin 'obaudire', meaning to turn one's ear to someone or something. In obeying, you turn your soul towards the One Who is the Way, and the Truth and the Life. ... The purity of God's word is the model for your own chastity, ensuring its spiritual fruitfulness."
Finally, Benedict XVI greeted the representatives from other Churches and Christian communities who "have come to pray Vespers together with us in this cathedral."
"I implore the Lord to increase within us the sense of this unity of the word of God, which is the sign, pledge and guarantee of the unity of the Church: there is no love in the Church without love of the word, no Church without unity around Christ the Redeemer, no fruits of redemption without love of God and neighbor, according to the two commandments which sum up all of Sacred Scripture!"
Kansas City, Mo., Sep 13, 2008 (CNA) - The bishops of Kansas City have issued a joint pastoral letter on the voting responsibilities of Catholics, explaining the need to weigh candidates based on their support or opposition to policies that would enable “intrinsic evils.”
Calling the dissent of Catholics in public life concerning these evils “particularly disturbing,” the bishops exhorted all Catholic voters to form their consciences properly and vote in the upcoming election to “limit evil” when it cannot be eradicated.
Writing in a pastoral letter dated September 9, Archbishop of Kansas City in Kansas John Naumann and Bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph Robert Finn explained that the Catholic bishops’ practice of never endorsing political candidates. This practice was not instituted to escape regulations for tax-exempt organization, but rather, is traced back to Archbishop of Baltimore John Carroll, the first bishop in the United States.
“The Church in the United States realized early on that it must not tether the credibility of the Church to the uncertain future actions or statements of a particular politician or party,” the bishops wrote. They then referenced the teachings of the Second Vatican Council that the Church is “not identified with any political community nor bound by its ties to any political system.”
However, the bishops insisted, the Church in the United States has insisted on its right “to speak to the moral issues confronting our nation,” acting with the understanding that her role is to form properly the consciences of the citizens of a democratic society.
Archbishop Naumann and Bishop Finn wrote that Catholics should care about policies that “promote a just and lasting peace,” welcome and defend immigrants, enable accessible and affordable health care, and show a “special concern” for the poor. Continuing their list, the bishops praised policies that protect the rights of parents to educate their children, create business and employment opportunities, and foster stewardship of the earth.
They also urged support for policies that reform the justice system through helping crime victims, rehabilitating inmates, and eliminating the death penalty.
Legitimate disagreement is possible on such issues, the bishops wrote, saying they are the objects of “prudential judgments.” Such judgments, the bishops explained, are circumstances in which people can ethically reach different conclusions.
While Catholics can disagree about the best policies and the most effective candidates related to such issues, the bishops insisted:
“Catholics have an obligation to study, reflect and pray over the relative merits of the different policy approaches proposed by candidates. Catholics have a special responsibility to be well informed regarding the guidance given by the Church pertaining to the moral dimensions of these matters.”
Archbishop Naumann and Bishop Finn then noted what issues can never be justified, which they said included: “legalized abortion, the promotion of same-sex unions and ‘marriages,’ repression of religious liberty, as well as public policies permitting euthanasia, racial discrimination or destructive human embryonic stem cell research.”
“To vote for a candidate who supports these intrinsic evils because he or she supports these evils is to participate in a grave moral evil. It can never be justified.”
The bishops wrote that any Catholic who deliberately votes for a candidate “precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia” would be guilty of “formal cooperation” in evil and should not present himself or herself for communion.
When it comes to issues of intrinsic evil, a properly-formed conscience “must give such issues priority even over other matters with important moral dimensions,” they explained.
In an ideal situation, there would be a choice between two candidates who both fully oppose policies that involve intrinsic evils.
However, when both candidates advocate policies that support intrinsic evils, the bishops wrote, “the appropriate judgment would be to select the candidate whose policies regarding this grave evil will do less harm. We have a responsibility to limit evil if it is not possible at the moment to eradicate it completely. ”
According to the bishops, a voter would have “insufficient moral justification” voting for a more permissive candidate, but could justifiably vote for a write-in candidate or abstain from voting at all in such a case because of a “conscientious objection.”
Explaining that “remote material cooperation” by voting for a candidate who supports intrinsic evils is permissible for “proportionate reasons,” Archbishop Naumann and Bishop Finn questioned whether consideration for a candidate’s position on prudential issues could outweigh considerations regarding the candidate’s support for intrinsic evils.
“What could possibly be a proportionate reason for the more than 45 million children killed by abortion in the past 35 years?” they asked. “Personally, we cannot conceive of such a proportionate reason.”
Claiming that Catholic influence has “never been greater” in U.S. politics, the bishops cautioned: “It would be wrong for us to use our numbers and influence to try to compel others to accept our religious and theological beliefs.”
However, they add, “it would be equally wrong for us to fail to be engaged in the greatest human rights struggle of our time, namely the need to protect the right to life of the weakest and most vulnerable.”
Lamenting Catholic dissent in public life, they wrote: “It is particularly disturbing to witness the spectacle of Catholics in public life vocally upset with the Church for teaching what it has always taught on these moral issues for 2,000 years, but silent in objecting to the embrace, by either political party, of the cultural trends of the past few decades that are totally inconsistent with our nation’s history of defending the weakest and most vulnerable.”Concluding their statement, the bishops called for committed Catholics in both major political parties to insist upon respect for human life, support for the institution of marriage between a man and a woman, and religious liberty.
Washington D.C., Sep 13, 2008 (CNA) - Senators John McCain and Barack Obama have addressed issues of both general interest and of special concern to Catholics in two separate e-mail interviews with the magazine U.S. Catholic. The interviews, published in the October 2008 edition of U.S. Catholic, show the candidates’ stands on pro-life issues, health care, the environment, immigration, war, and the place of the United States in the world.
The interview began with questions about the pro-life issues of abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and the death penalty.
McCain said he is proud of what he called his “25-year pro-life record in Congress.” Professing support for the reversal of the Supreme Court pro-abortion decision Roe v. Wade, he added that its reversal is “only one step” towards ending abortion.
“Once the question is returned to the states, the fight for life will be one of courage and compassion—the courage of a pregnant mother to bring her child into the world and the compassion of civil society to meet her needs and those of her newborn baby,” McCain wrote.
Obama claimed that “no one is pro-abortion,” but said he “strongly” supports a “woman’s right to choose.” Saying “people of good faith will disagree on this issue,” he expressed commitment to reducing the numbers of abortions by addressing the “underlying factors” he believes drive women to abortion. To reduce abortions, he advocated programs of “comprehensive health- and age-appropriate sex education,” but also increasing pre- and post-natal care, parental counseling, and support for adoption.
Regarding stem cells, Obama said he was sorry that President Bush “has fought this potentially life-saving research,” apparently referring to Bush’s restrictions on embryonic stem cell research funding. He professed his belief that such research should be conducted with “the highest ethical standards,” explaining that he had co-sponsored U.S. Senate legislation requiring that donors provide written consent and that such research use only embryos “that would otherwise be discarded.”
The Illinois senator also told U.S. Catholic that he supported research into the viability of adult stem cells and cord blood.
McCain said stem cell research offers “tremendous hope,” adding “The compassion to relieve suffering and to cure deadly disease, however, cannot erode moral and ethical principles.” He did not mention his own support for funding embryonic stem cell research.
McCain did voice his support for capital punishment for “heinous crimes” when circumstances warrant it. Obama said he had worked to ensure that capital punishment is administered “fairly and justly,” saying he believes there are crimes “so heinous” that they deserve the death penalty.
Regarding poverty, McCain pledged to prioritize the eradication of poverty through programs like domestic oil drilling and higher fuel economy standards to lower the cost of gas. He said he would “overhaul” unemployment insurance to gear it towards worker retraining, while he also endorsed strengthening community colleges and technical training.
Obama said his work as a community organizer helped him witness the hardship of struggling Americans. Endorsing tax credits for those in need, he also pledged to create a universal mortgage credit and a fund to help homeowners avoid foreclosure.
On environmental topics, Obama pledged to make the U.S. a global leader on climate change by creating a Global Energy Forum and rejoining post-Kyoto treaty negotiations. McCain called climate change the “single greatest environmental challenge of our time,” endorsing the Lexington Project to increase “dependable” energy resources and to clean up the environment.
Turning to health care, McCain told U.S. Catholic that health care plans should be made more “portable and affordable” through “generous” tax credits, “direct refundable” credits worth $2,500 for individuals and $5,000 for families to offset the cost of insurance.
Obama similarly said health care should be portable and affordable, saying his own health care plan would reduce costs by $2,500 for families. Saying no one would be turned away because of pre-existing conditions, he claimed that his plan includes “reasonable” premiums, “comprehensive” benefits, and “simplified” enrollment and paperwork.
On immigration, Obama said undocumented workers should be “brought out of the shadows” by creating a “pathway” to legitimate citizenship.
“They should pay a fine, pay taxes, and learn English,” he said, adding that he supports secure borders, a streamlined citizenship process for legal immigrants, and an improved legal visa system.
McCain lamented the failure of recent immigration reform legislation, saying Americans needed more reassurance about border security before they could support immigration reform. Calling for “practical, fair, and necessary immigration policy,” he endorsed the creation of a system to check a worker’s identity using a “limited set of secure documents that contain biometric data and are electronically verifiable.”
War and Terrorism
Regarding the war in Iraq and terrorism issues, Obama said the U.S. should use the withdrawal of troops to strategically “increase pressure on the Iraqi political leaders to come to a political agreement.” Saying war is a decision that must not be made lightly, he said the U.S. should use its “military, economic, diplomatic, and informational power” to advance its security.
According to Sen. McCain, defeating “radical Islamist extremists” is “the transcendent national security challenge of our time.” He similarly said he would use all “instruments of national power” to defend the U.S.
Were there to be a second terrorist attack on U.S. soil, McCain said he “would not rest until the perpetrators were captured or killed,” pledging that the planners of such attacks would be “rapidly targeted.”
“There would be no sanctuaries and no mercy,” he added, saying the U.S. should ensure there are no “safe havens” for terrorists.
McCain professed great optimism about the historical position of the United States, saying “We have a chance in our lifetime to raise the world to a new standard of existence.”
He added that the U.S. cannot “lead by virtue of its power alone,” saying Americans must demonstrate the “virtues of freedom and democracy,” defend the “the rules of international civilized society,” and create new international organizations to advance peace and freedom.
Obama told U.S. Catholic that global political or economic progress should not be made a “zero-sum enterprise,” saying he supported significant increases in global anti-poverty efforts and trade deals that include “binding labor and environmental provisions.”
Rome, Italy, Sep 13, 2008 (CNA) - The Archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, said this week the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to France to mark the 150th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Lourdes will show that the Gospel is a transforming strength for the world.
In an article published by L’Osservatore Romano, the French cardinal said the Church in that country is confronting some challenges such as the growth of Buddhism and Islam, as well as the decrease in religious and priestly vocations.
Faced with this situation, he continued, “The Apostolic visit of Benedict XVI will be an important moment in the journey of our Church. It will operate in three directions, each inseparable from the other. First it will be a great testimony of Christian faith through the different celebrations led by the Pope. He is not coming to attend meetings. He is coming to celebrate faith in the Risen Christ.”
In addition, the Pope’s visit “will be a time of intense communion with the French bishops, not only at the celebrations in which they will participate in the one liturgy of the Church, but also in the encounter that will unite us all in dialogue,” the cardinal added.
Cardinal Vingt-Trois went on to say that in the midst of the prevailing secularism in France, the Gospel’s message of hope “goes against the temptation of fatalism: humanity is not destroyed despite the risks it faces.” The Gospel’s message of love “goes against the law of ‘to each his own’ and invites us to foster solidarity in our country, such as in relations with countries with heavy immigration.”
The cardinal also pointed out that the message of truth of the Gospel also goes against “the illusion that all opinions are equal” and its emphasis on the dignity of man goes “against using human beings as instruments and the attacks on his dignity from conception to natural death.”
“This word of truth, love and hope we have received from our Christian tradition. It is our task to put it into practice and pass it on to future generations,” the cardinal said.
The time has come ‘to respond to anyone who asks a reason for the hope that is in you’,” the cardinal said, quoting St. Peter’s first letter. “It’s time to respond to the aspirations of our contemporaries and proclaim the Good News in which we believe,” he said.
Paris, France, Sep 13, 2008 (CNA) - Shortly after concluding Vespers on Friday evening, Pope Benedict walked out of Notre Dame cathedral to be greeted by 10,000 young people. The Holy Father told the youth that he and the Church have confidence in them and entrusted to them the treasures of the importance of the Holy Spirit and of the mystery of the Cross.
“This evening,” the Pope began, “I would like to talk to you about two very closely related matters; they represent a real treasure to be stored up in your hearts.”
“The first has to do with the theme which was chosen for Sydney… I am referring to a passage taken from the Acts of the Apostles, a book which has most appropriately been called the Gospel of the Holy Spirit: "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you: and you will be my witnesses."
“In Sydney,” the Holy Father reminded the youth, “many young people rediscovered the importance of the Holy Spirit for the life of every Christian. The Spirit gives us a deep relationship with God, who is the source of all authentic human good,” he noted.
“All of you desire to love and to be loved! It is to God that you must turn, if you want to learn how to love, and to find the strength to love. The Spirit, who is Love, can open your hearts to accept the gift of genuine love. All of you are seeking the truth; and all of you want to live in truth! This truth is Christ. He is the only Way, the one Truth and the true Life. To follow Christ means truly to "put out to sea", as is said several times in the Psalms. The way of Truth is simultaneously one and manifold according to the variety of charisms, just as Truth is one while at the same time possessing an inexhaustible richness. Surrender yourselves to the Holy Spirit in order to find Christ. The Spirit is our indispensable guide in prayer, he animates our hope and he is the source of true joy.”
The Pope then went on to invite the young "to meditate on the importance of the Sacrament of Confirmation ... which leads you into a mature faith life. It is vital for you to understand this Sacrament more and more in order to evaluate the quality and depth of your faith and to reinforce it. The Holy Spirit enables you to approach the mystery of God; He makes you understand Who God is. He invites you to see in your neighbors the brothers and sisters whom God has given you, in order to live with them in human and spiritual fellowship - in other words, to live within the Church. By revealing Who the crucified and risen Lord is for us, He impels you to bear witness to Christ."
Pope Benedict then insisted that the young people share their encounter with Christ with everyone they meet.
"You need to speak about Christ to all around you, to your families and friends, wherever you study, work and relax. Do not be afraid! Have 'the courage to live the Gospel and the boldness to proclaim it'. ... Bring the Good News to the young people of your age, and to others as well. They know what it means to experience difficulty in relationships, worry and uncertainty in the face of work and study. They have experienced suffering, but they have also known unique moments of joy. Be witnesses of God, for, as young people, you are fully a part of the Catholic community. ... The Church has confidence in you, and I want to tell you so!"
The Holy Father then drew the young people's attention to another subject: "the mystery of the Cross."
"Many of you", he said, "wear a cross on a chain around your neck. I too wear one. ... It is not a mere decoration or a piece of jewelry. It is the precious symbol of our faith, the visible and material sign that we belong to Christ."
"For Christians, the Cross signifies God's wisdom and His infinite love revealed in the saving gift of Christ, crucified and risen for the life of the world, and in particular for the life of each and every one of you," he taught the young people.
The cross "is not only the symbol of your life in God and your salvation, but also ... the silent witness of human suffering and the unique and priceless expression of all our hopes."
"The Cross in some way seems to threaten our human security, yet above all else, it also proclaims God's grace and confirms our salvation. This evening, I entrust you with the Cross of Christ. ... Paul understood the seemingly paradoxical words of Jesus, Who taught that it is only by giving ('losing') one's life that one finds it, and Paul concluded from this that the Cross expresses the fundamental law of love, the perfect formula for real life."
Having concluded his meeting with the young people, the Pope traveled to the apostolic nunciature where, having had dinner, he appeared at the balcony to greet the faithful gathered below.
"Your warm welcome is most moving for the Pope!" he told them. "Thank you for waiting for me here with such enthusiasm, despite the lateness of the hour!"
"I am glad to be joining the great throng of Lourdes pilgrims tomorrow to celebrate the Jubilee of the apparitions of the Virgin. Catholics in France have greater need than ever to renew their trust in Mary, recognizing in her the model of their commitment to the service of the Gospel. ... I am counting on you and on your prayers for this visit to bear fruit. May the Virgin Mary keep you safe!"
Paris, France, Sep 13, 2008 (CNA) - Over 200,000 people gathered at the square surrounding the Les Invalides complex in Paris this morning for Mass with the Pope. In his homily the Holy Father urged his listeners to “shun the worship of idols,” including the idea that man can bring “about the kingdom of eternal joy on earth.”
"In the First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians," Benedict XVI said, "we discover ... how much the counsels given by the Apostle remain important today. 'Shun the worship of idols,' he writes to a community deeply marked by paganism and divided between adherence to the newness of the Gospel and the observance of former practices inherited from its ancestors.”
"This appeal to shun idols," he added, "is also pertinent today. ... The word 'idol' comes from the Greek and means 'image,' 'figure,' 'representation,' but also 'ghost,' 'phantom,' 'vain appearance.' An idol is a delusion, for it turns its worshipper away from reality and places him in the kingdom of mere appearances."
"Now," the Pope asked, "is this not a temptation in our own day - the only one we can act upon effectively? The temptation to idolize a past that no longer exists, forgetting its shortcomings; the temptation to idolize a future which does not yet exist, in the belief that, by his efforts alone, man can bring about the kingdom of eternal joy on earth!" In the same way, "have not money, the thirst for possessions, for power and even for knowledge, diverted man from his true destiny?"
Yet "radical condemnation of idolatry", said the Pope quoting St. John Chrysostom whose feast day falls today, "is never a personal condemnation of the idolater. In our judgments, must we never confuse the sin, which is unacceptable, with the sinner, the state of whose conscience we cannot judge and who, in any case, is always capable of conversion and forgiveness."
"Never does God ... ask man to sacrifice his reason! Reason never enters into real contradiction with faith! The one God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - created our reason and gives us faith, proposing to our freedom that it be received as a precious gift. It is the worship of idols which diverts man from this perspective.”
"Let us therefore ask God, who sees us and hears us, to help us purify ourselves from all idols, in order to arrive at the truth of our being, in order to arrive at the truth of His infinite being!"
"St. Paul asks us to make use not only of our reason, but above all our faith in order to discover Him. Now, what does faith say to us? The bread that we break is a communion with the Body of Christ. The cup of blessing which we bless is a communion with the Blood of Christ."
"Over the last twenty centuries," the Holy Father recalled, "the risen Lord has given Himself to His people. ... Let us give the greatest veneration to the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of the Lord, the Blessed Sacrament of the real presence of the Lord to his Church and to all humanity."
"The Mass is the sacrifice of thanksgiving par excellence, the one which allows us to unite our own thanksgiving to that of the Savior. ... The Mass invites us to discern what, in ourselves, is obedient to the Spirit of God and what, in ourselves, is attuned to the spirit of evil."
Hence, "to raise the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord, is that not the very best way of 'shunning idols'? ... Every time the Mass is celebrated, every time Christ makes Himself sacramentally present in His Church, the work of our salvation is accomplished. ... He alone teaches us to shun idols, the illusions of our minds."
Yet "who can raise the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord in the name of the entire people of God, except the priest?", the Pope asked and he made an appeal, "confident in their faith and generosity," to young people "who are considering a religious or priestly vocation: do not be afraid! Do not be afraid to give your life to Christ! Nothing will ever replace the ministry of priests at the heart of the Church!"
"Hope will always remain stronger than all else! The Church, built upon the rock of Christ, possesses the promises of eternal life, not because her members are holier than others, but because Christ made this promise to Peter: 'You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it'."
Pope Benedict finished his homily by invoking the hope of the promises of Christ to the Church.
"In this unfailing hope of God's eternal presence in the souls of each of us, in this joy of knowing that Christ is with us until the end of time, in this power that the Holy Spirit gives to all those who let themselves be filled with Him, I entrust you, dear Christians of Paris and France, to the powerful and merciful action of the God of love Who died for us upon the Cross and rose victorious on Easter morning.”
“To all people of good will ... I say once more, with St. Paul: Shun the worship of idols, do not tire of doing good!" the Pope exclaimed.