Tag Archives: Pope Benedict XVI

What Is the College of Cardinals?

27 Feb

cardinalsThe college of cardinals refers collectively to the cardinals of the Catholic Church. “College” comes from the Latin word collegium, meaning “society,” from which we derive English words such as “collection” and “colleague.”

Cardinals themselves are the highest ranking Catholic prelates under the Pope himself. Therefore, it is fitting that the cardinals, coming together as a body or “society,” are given the important task of selecting a new Pope in the event of a vacancy in the See of Peter.

According to Church law, the Pope freely selects those who are to serve the Church as cardinals. They are usually bishops or archbishops, though priests are also eligible for this office. In recent times, Cardinal Avery Dulles (1918-2008), a distinguished Jesuit theologian and priest, is an example. Those selected as cardinals are “especially outstanding for their doctrine, morals, piety, and prudence in action” (Code of Canon Law, canon 351).

Since cardinals are created by a decree of the Roman Pontiff, no new cardinals may be added to the college during a vacancy in the papacy.

For more on the demographic background of the current college of cardinals, click here. For reliable responses to some common misconceptions about the upcoming conclave, click here or here.

Holy Terror?

25 Feb

Nostra AetateThe next item in our survey of the documents of Vatican II during this “Year of Faith” is the Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate). It’s the shortest Vatican II document, containing only five numbered paragraphs. Schematically, it is a bridge between the Decree on Ecumenism, which pertains to fostering the unity of all Christians, and the Decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church, which pertains to bringing the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

Woe to the Church if she ever fails to proclaim Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 9:16), yet the Church recognizes that we must build on points of agreement with other faiths and work for the common good. In this regard, Nostra Aetate singles out Islam (no. 3) and Judaism (no. 4) for special treatment. The Declaration affirms that all people must be treated with respect, and the Church reproves any unjust discrimination based on race, color, condition of life, or religion as being foreign to the mind of Christ (no. 5).

The following quote in paragraph 2 aptly summarizes the approach of Nostra Aetate:

“The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in [other] religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men. Indeed, she proclaims, and ever must proclaim Christ ‘the way, the truth, and the life’ (John 14:6), in whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to Himself.

“The Church, therefore, exhorts her sons, that through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, carried out with prudence and love and in witness to the Christian faith and life, they recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among these men.”

Discussion of Nostra Aetate reminds me of the time that a student of mine asked me to explain how terrorism could possibly be justified as doing “God’s will.” I think that’s an important issue for us to consider at its root.

Obviously this issue arises in the context of Islam, since at least some adherents of that religion support—and act upon—the notion that terrorism can be justified as an act of jihad, or “holy war.”

Pope Benedict XVI addressed this complex issue in his widely publicized 2006 lecture at Regensburg University in Germany, in which he embodies the principles of Nostra Aetate. The Pope stressed Christianity’s view that God is intrinsically linked to reason. The Greek word for reason, rationality, and intelligibility is logos, which is commonly translated as verbum (Latin) or “word” (English) in Scripture. In fact, Christ is presented as the eternal Word of God incarnate. We see that point clearly made at the outset of the fourth Gospel:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (Jn. 1:1, 14).

I should clarify here that the God of Christianity is not mere rationality personified, but rather is more fundamentally a Father who acts in the objectively best interests of His children. Christ is the eternal Son of God who came to reveal the Father’s saving love for us.

Islam, on the other hand, stresses God’s absolute transcendence. The God of Islam immeasurably exceeds our limited human comprehension. That’s certainly true, as we all can agree that God’s ways are not our ways (cf. Is. 55:8-9). But the Muslim people do not see in Christ God’s incarnate love for man, which has led God to make Himself known to us. Instead, according to the Holy Father, Islam teaches that God’s “will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality.”

The risk of this image of the divine is that the irrationality of violence can potentially be justified if someone believes it is “God’s will” or the “will of Allah.”

So the question boils down to whether God can and does act irrationally (or super-rationally). We say no, but Islam says yes.

As Pope John Paul II stressed in his book Crossing the Threshold of Hope, at the heart of the fall of Adam and Eve is the rejection of God’s fatherhood. Pope Benedict, in his Regensburg lecture, was trying to explain how all this has played out on a philosophical level. He offers Christianity as a means of bridging the gap between an “extreme” faith without reason (“fundamentalism” or “fideism”) and “extreme” (and often impoverished) reason without faith (“materialism,” “secularism,” etc.).

Without some common ground, there simply is no basis for Islam and the secular West to understand each other and work toward the common good.

For the secularist, the rejection of God’s fatherhood is a rejection of God altogether, though such rejection is typically accompanied by idolatry (e.g., consumerism, hedonism, etc.) and diversions (e.g., TV). The former seeks to fill the void left by God, the latter seeks to ignore the emptiness.

For the Muslim, God is not a Father but rather a tyrant or task master in the sense that His sovereign will is not tethered to rationality or “the good.” God is so far removed from man that it’s offensive to Muslims even to suggest that that God may be our “Father.”

That’s the amazing thing about our faith. When Christ teaches us to pray, the first words out of His mouth are “Our Father.” And when He sends His Holy Spirit into our hearts, we instinctively call out “Abba, Father!” (Gal. 4:6) and become participants in God’s inner life (cf. 2 Pet. 1:4).

Muslims need reason. The decadent West needs God. And all of us need Jesus Christ, who shows us the way to the Father.

Chair-man of the Board!

22 Feb

Pope seatedToday the universal Church celebrates the feast of the Chair of St. Peter. When I first returned to the Church way back when, I thought this feast sounded really strange. I was okay with celebrating events from the life of Christ, and even with celebrating feasts in honor of special saints. But a chair?

Then I read that ever since the fourth century, the feast of the Chair of St. Peter has been celebrated in Rome as a sign of the unity of the Church founded upon that apostle. Hmmm. There must be more to the story . . .

One thing I learned early on is that the word for “chair” in Latin is cathedra. And so when the Pope teaches authoritatively in the area of faith and morals, he is said to speak “ex cathedra,” or “from the chair,” indicating the binding nature of the teaching on the Christian faithful.

And because cathedra literally refers to the established seat of the bishop, the “mother church” of a diocese that contains this seat is known as a “cathedral.” The chair or seat of a bishop symbolizes his authority as a successor of the apostles, and in a special way it symbolizes his “magisterium” or teaching office, in that he called to guard and proclaim the deposit of faith for the benefit of the local Church.

As Pope Benedict teaches, “When the bishop takes possession of the local Church that is entrusted to him, he, bearing the miter and the shepherd’s crosier, sits on the cathedra. From that seat he will guide, as teacher and shepherd, the journey of the faithful in faith, hope and charity.”

The first “seat” of the Church was the Upper Room where, in all probability, there was a special place reserved for Simon Peter as they awaited the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 1:13-15).

From there the “seat” of Peter moved to Antioch, the city where “for the first time the disciples were called Christians” (Acts 11:26), as Peter became that community’s first bishop.

From there, providence led Peter to Rome, where his service to the Gospel was crowned with martyrdom.

In this way, Rome came to be known as the “See” of the successor of Peter and the home of the Pope’s “cathedra,” which represents the mission entrusted to him by Christ to shepherd His entire flock. Incidentally, the Pope’s cathedral church as Bishop of Rome is not St. Peter’s, but St. John Lateran Basilica in Rome, identified as the “Mother and Head” of all the churches in the world.

Rome’s significance as the See of Peter is attested by the most ancient Fathers of the Church. For example, St. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons (c. 200 A.D.), described the Church of Rome as “greatest and most ancient, known by all; . . . founded and constituted at Rome by the two glorious Apostles Peter and Paul . . . With this Church, because of her outstanding superiority, the universal Church must be in agreement, that is, the faithful everywhere” (Against Heresies).

In celebrating the “Chair” of Peter we recognize its spiritual significance: It is a special sign of the love of Christ who, as one form of the penitential rite at Mass provides, came to “gather the nations into the peace [and unity] of God’s kingdom.”

During this time of papal transition, let us make our own the words of St. Jerome: “I follow no leader save Christ so I consult the chair of Peter, for this I know is the rock upon which the Church is built!”

Electoral College

13 Feb

cardinalsThe papacy will be vacant at 8 p.m. on February 28, as Pope Benedict’s resignation goes into effect. The conclave in Rome to elect the next Pope must begin within 20 days of his date of resignation.

Over the coming days we will examine difference issues pertaining to this historic election. Today, let’s look at those who, with the special guidance of the Holy Spirit, will elect the next Pope: the college of cardinals.

At the outset, we should note that not all cardinals will participate in the election. Only those cardinals who have not reached their 80th birthday on the day the Pope leaves office may vote for his successor. There are currently 209 cardinals, but only 117 will be eligible to vote in the upcoming conclave. Most of these cardinal-electors–67 of the 117–have been appointed by Pope Benedict himself. According to rules re-established by Pope Benedict in 2007, the conclave must achieve a two-thirds majority to elect the next successor of St. Peter.

At the last conclave, in April 2005, 115 cardinals voted. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected the Supreme Pontiff on the fourth ballot and selected the name Benedict XVI.

In the upcoming conclave, 10% of the cardinal electors (11 of the 117) are from the United States. Here is a list of the American electors, their age, and their current position:

  • Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, 64, Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura at the Vatican (former Bishop of La Crosse and Archbishop of St. Louis
  • Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, 63, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston (former Bishop of Sioux City, IA)
  • Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, 63, Archbishop of New York (former Auxiliary Bishop of St. Louis and Archbishop of Milwaukee)
  • Cardinal Francis E. George, 76, an Oblate of Mary Immaculate, Archbishop of Chicago (for Bishop of Yakima, WA and Archbishop of Portland, OR)
  • Cardinal James M. Harvey, 63, Archpriest of the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside-the-Walls in Rome (originally a priest from Milwaukee, for many years served in the papal household)
  • Cardinal William J. Levada, 76, Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (former Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles and Archbishop of Portland and later San Francisco)
  • Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, 76, Archbishop Emeritus of Los Angeles (former Auxiliary Bishop of Fresno and Bishop of Stockton)
  • Cardinal Edwin F. O’Brien, 73, Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem (former Archbishop of Military Archdiocese and Baltimore)
  • Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, 68, Archbishop of Boston (former Bishop of Fall River and Palm Beach)
  • Cardinal Justin F. Rigali, 77, Archbishop Emeritus of Philadelphia (former Archbishop of St. Louis and Vatican official)
  • Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, 72, Archbishop of Washington (former Auxiliary Bishop of Seattle and Bishop of Pittsburgh)

The Infancy Narratives

14 Dec

birth of JesusIn light of some of the controversy surrounding recent media coverage of the Pope’s new book on the infancy narratives (Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2), I thought it would be good to offer our readers (at least those who don’t have the time to read the Pope’s book!) a good summary of the Church’s teaching as we prepare to celebrate the Birth of Jesus in the coming days. To that end, check out this tract, published by Catholics United for the Faith.

In short, some secular commentators have taken statements from the book out of context, suggesting that the Pope does not assert the historicity of the biblical accounts of Jesus’ birth. That surely is not the Holy Father’s view.  In fact, Pope Benedict XVI concludes his reflections as follows: “The two chapters of  Matthew’s Gospel devoted to the infancy narratives are not a meditation  presented under the guise of stories, but the converse: Matthew is  recounting real history, theologically thought through and interpreted,  and thus he helps us to understand the mystery of Jesus more deeply” (p. 119).

Mary, Our Model for the Year of Faith

11 Dec

crowning of maryAt the conclusion of his 2011 apostolic letter Porta Fidei (“Door of Faith”), in which he called for a “Year of Faith,” Pope Benedict XVI writes: “Let us entrust this time of grace to the Mother of God, proclaimed ‘blessed because she believed’ (Lk 1:45).”

In his 1986 encyclical Redemptoris Mater (“Mother of the Redeemer”), written approximately 2,000 years after the birth of Mary, Blessed John Paul II provided us with a profound meditation on Mary in the mystery of Christ and His Church, holding her up as a model of faith for all Christians. He noted that the faithful not only venerate and invoke Mary, “but also seek in her faith support for their own” (Redemptoris Mater, no. 27).

Taking to heart these words from our last two Popes, let’s use St. Luke’s Gospel as our guide for tapping into the richness of Mary’s faith. Continue reading

Are You Fully Conscious?

13 Nov

During the “Year of Faith,” Pope Benedict has asked us to take a fresh look at the teachings of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), which he and Bl. John Paul II have called a “sure compass” for the Church at this crucial moment in human history. Therefore, over the next several weeks, we will post reflections on key teachings from the 16 documents of Vatican II, and will also provide references and resources for further study.

We will first turn to Sacrosanctum Concilium, also known as the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. It was the first document promulgated by the Council, and it is one of the four “constitutions.” The constitutions are considered Vatican II’s most significant documents. And of course, given the dramatic liturgical changes that came from the Council, it is important to understand the mind of the Church as reflected in this pivotal document.

Today I want to focus on paragraph 14 of Sacrosanctum Concilium, which provides, in part:

“Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy. Such participation by the Christian people as ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people’ (1 Pet. 2:9; cf. 2:4-5), is their right and duty by reason of their baptism.

“In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy, this full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else . . .”

The Council clearly teaches that all men and women are called to a “fully conscious and active participation” at Mass. As one of the aims of the Council was to reinvigorate the faith of the people, the Church desired to make the sacred liturgy more accessible, but without sacrificing substance or the overarching sense of reverence we must have in the face of this sacred mystery. Fifty years later, we still recognize the need for a “new evangelization,” a “new springtime.” Therefore, fostering greater participation at Mass–what Vatican II called the “source and summit of the Christian life”–continues to be a significant objective for the Church (see Pope Benedict XVI, Porta Fidei, no. 9).

But this needs to be understood properly. Continue reading

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