Vatican City, Jul 6, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The theme of light is pivotal in the first Church encyclical written by “four hands.”
“Lumen Fidei,” or “The Light of Faith,” is the first encyclical issued by Pope Francis. Released July 5, it draws on work drafted by former Pope Benedict XVI before his resignation.
The document reveals the continuity between the previous Pope and the current one. Why is light so important for both Pontiffs?
Benedict XVI’s pontificate was wholly aimed at showing that we cannot be content with the smaller lights of reason, and that we should reasonably reach for the bigger light of faith.
Pope Francis’ pontificate is intended to carry that light of the faith to the peripheries of the world.
At a general audience on June 12, Pope Francis said that “if in a stadium – say the Olympic stadium in Rome or the San Lorenzo in Buenos Aires – on a dark night, if someone turns on a light, you can barely see it, but if the other 70,000 spectators turn on their own light, the whole stadium shines.”
Turning on their own light means, in fact, re-turning to God. This was a main goal of Benedict XVI’s pontificate.
One of the roots of this goal came in Joseph Ratzinger’s 1994 visit to Specola Vaticana, the Vatican Observatory, which is an astronomical research and educational institution supported by the Holy See and held by Jesuits.
For centuries, Jesuit Fathers went up to the telescope in the observatory in Castel Gandolfo, and from that privileged point of view they looked at the sky, trying to catch a sense of the heavens.
Now, the Vatican Observatory in Castelgandolfo is a museum. Although its tools and instruments still work, the lights of Rome – and all of Europe – are so bright that it is practically impossible to observe the stars. As a result, a new observatory was built in Mount Graham, Arizona.
Joseph Ratzinger – who would become Benedict XVI – was so impressed by the Specola Vaticana that he spoke about it in his homily during the 1994 Christmas Eve Mass in Berchtesgaden.
In that homily, he compares the observation of the sky to the search for God, as a type of metaphor.
And he concludes that “the lights of men, the lights we produced, hide the light of sky. Our lights hide the stars of God. It is almost a metaphor: because of the too many things we created, we can barely recognize the traces of the Creation of God, and the Creation itself.”
This is a crucial point in the first of Pope Francis’ encyclicals, based on a sketch by Benedict XVI.
“There is an urgent need, then,” Pope Francis writes in the document, “to see once again that faith is a light, for once the flame of faith dies out, all other lights begin to dim. The light of faith is unique, since it is capable of illu¬minating every aspect of human existence. A light this powerful cannot come from ourselves but from a more primordial source.”
That source is Jesus Christ, because “since Christ has risen and draws us beyond death, faith is also a light coming from the future and opening before us vast horizons which guide us beyond our isolated selves towards the breadth of communion.”
Taking over the former Pope’s encyclical and his words, Pope Francis carried forward Benedict XVI’s ambitious program of returning the Church to God.
How will this be done in a Church that suffers from the gangrene of careerism and is perhaps excessively deferential to the media? How will it be carried out without trivializing solemn occasions and liturgies?
Following the example of Saint Benedict in his cloister, Benedict XVI aimed at a new civilization, using his speeches as the building blocks of a cathedral, moving attention away from gestures and actions and focusing instead on a deeper thought and theology.
Now that the doctrinal cathedral has been built up, Pope Francis can show the light of faith to the world from the loggia of the cathedral.
In the June 12 general audience, Pope Francis said, “Let our lives together be the one light of Christ; together we will carry the light of the Gospel to the whole of reality.”
This is Pope Francis’ ambitious program that draws from that of Benedict: to proclaim the light of faith, and to let it illuminate the world.
The encyclical can be accessed in CNA’s resource section, found here.
Detroit, Mich., Jul 6, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - A federal judge has blocked a Michigan law barring domestic partner benefits for public school and local government employees, citing the Supreme Court ruling that struck down portions of the Defense of Marriage Act.
U.S. District Judge David Lawson’s June 28 ruling said it can “never be a legitimate purpose” to deny health benefits to the same-sex partners of public employees. He said the plaintiffs who lost benefits or had to pay for more expensive private health insurance have a “plausible claim” that the law violates the U.S. Constitution.
The 2011 law ended same-sex partner benefits for a few school districts, the counties of Ingham and Washtenaw and the cities of Ann Arbor, East Lansing and Kalamazoo, the Associated Press said.
Defenders of the law said it was passed in the spirit of a 2004 constitutional amendment that defined marriage as a union of a man and a woman. That amendment won 58 percent of the vote.
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder said the law was intended to ensure “fiscal responsibility and stewardship.” He said domestic partner policies can be written “without real parameters” and the law helped address “the spiraling costs of health care for the benefit of our state’s taxpayers and all Michiganders.”
CNA contacted the Michigan Catholic Conference for comment but did not receive a response by press time.
Judge Lawson cited the Supreme Court Case Lawrence v. Windsor, which struck down provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act that defined marriage for federal purposes as the union of one man and one woman.
The 5-4 court decision contended that the law violated equal protection guarantees because it aimed to “impose a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages made lawful by the unquestioned authority of the States.”
Justice Anthony Scalia in his dissent said that the law “did no more than codify an aspect of marriage that had been unquestioned in our society for most of its existence – indeed, had been unquestioned in virtually all societies for virtually all of human history.”
Another federal judge in Michigan is also considering challenges to the state amendment defining marriage as a union of a man and a woman.
Vatican City, Jul 6, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - In his July 6 homily, Pope Francis encouraged the faithful to be open to the renewal of the Holy Spirit, both in their own lives and in the “structures” of Church life.
“Christian life is not a collage of things” or a “collection” or activities, such as Mass attendance, the Holy Father said.
“It is a harmonious whole, harmonious, and the Holy Spirit does it!” he explained. “He renews all things: He renews our heart, our life, and makes us live differently, but in a way that takes up the whole of our life.”
“You cannot be a Christian of pieces, a part time Christian,” the Pope cautioned, because Christianity requires a renewal of the entire person.
“Being Christian ultimately means, not doing things, but allowing oneself to be renewed by the Holy Spirit – or, to use the words of Jesus, becoming new wine.”
Pope Francis delivered the homily at daily Mass at the Santa Marta Residence, where a group of Swiss Guard recruits were present.
The Holy Father said that the essence of being Christian is not “doing things,” but “allowing oneself to be renewed by the Holy Spirit.”
The Spirit, who brings new life, renews even the “ancient structures” in the life of the Church, he said, and we should not be afraid of this renewal.
Jesus is the one who makes all things new, the Holy Father emphasized.
He explained that Jesus brings a “true renewal of the law, the same law, but more mature, renewed.” The requirements of Jesus are greater than the requirements of the law, he observed. For example, the law allows us to hate our enemies, while Jesus demands that we love them and pray for them.
Renewal within the heart is central, he said. In addition, the newness of the Gospel also “renews the structures,” he continued, referencing Jesus’ statement about needing new wineskins for new wine.
“In the Christian life, even in the life of the Church, there are old structures, passing structures: it is necessary to renew them! And the Church has always been attentive to this, with dialogue with cultures…It always allows itself to be renewed according to places, times, and persons.”
He recalled early discussions in Church history on whether it was necessary for Gentiles to carry out all of the Jewish rituals to become Christian. Ultimately, it was decided that this was not necessary, and the Gentiles could be baptized into the Church.
The Pope referred to this as a “renewal of the structures.”
“And so the Church always goes forward, giving space to the Holy Spirit that renews these structures,” he said. “Don’t be afraid of that!”
Carried forward by the Holy Spirit, we see “the liberty to always find the newness of the Gospel in us, in our life, and even in our structures,” he said.
Pope Francis also referenced the role of Mary, noting that she was there with the disciples at Pentecost.
“And where the mother is, the children are safe! All of them!” he said. “Let us ask for the grace of not being afraid of the newness of the Gospel, of not being afraid of the renewal that the Holy Spirit brings, of not being afraid to let go of the passing structures that imprison us.”