ADDRESS TO THE CATENIAN ASSOCIATION
Community: To Obey out of Love
We have lived through some extraordinary months. At the time I agreed to speak to you, none of us anticipated them. In the aftermath, I’m happy for this opportunity to come to Devonshire in Southwest England to speak with you. This is a special time in the Church.
After several years of uneven health, on Thursday evening, March 31, 2005, Pope John Paul II was taken mortally ill at the Vatican. He made the decision that he did not wish to be taken to Gemelli Hospital, but to remain at the Vatican. He died on Saturday evening, April 2, 2005. After millions of mourning people came to Rome to take part in his obsequies and funeral, his body was buried near the tomb of St. Peter on Friday, April 8. The first Conclave of the new millennium began formally on Monday, April 18, 2005. On Tuesday afternoon April 19, 2005 the College of Cardinals elected Joseph Ratzinger as Pope. He accepted the election shortly thereafter in the Sistine Chapel taking the name of Benedict XVI.
Quickly he elaborated on the reasons for his choice. “[It is] a link to the venerated Pontiff, Benedict XV who guided the Church through the turbulent time of the First World War. He was a most courageous prophet of peace who struggled strenuously and bravely, first to avoid the drama of war and then to limit its terrible consequences. In his footsteps I place my ministry, in the service of reconciliation and harmony between peoples, profoundly convinced that the great good of peace is above all a gift of God, a fragile and precious gift to be invoked, safeguarded and constructed, day after day with everyone’s contribution.”
The Pope also referred to St. Benedict of Norcia, the founder of Western monasticism and co-patron of Europe together with Sts. Cyril and Methodius. He described the influence of St. Benedict as “a fundamental point of reference for the unity of Europe and a powerful call to the irrefutable Christian roots of European culture and civilization.”
You recall the immense impact of the Order founded by St. Benedict upon the United Kingdom. The remains of the monastic community of Tor Abbey founded in 1196 are nearby on this beautiful bay. Moreover, four English Benedictine abbots and Archbishops of Canterbury, St. Augustine (†605), Lanfranc (1089), St. Anselm (†1109), and St. Thomas Becket(†1170), have had a centuries-long impact upon English faith and culture.
So during these past weeks, we have witnessed events of an epic nature. All of these began to unfold when the unprecedented numbers of peoples came to pay tribute to the dead Pontiff. The media-professionals were caught off guard. Among the throngs of people who made their way to St. Peter’s Square, they saw millions of young faces and young legs. The Fourth Estate discovered that the Church is alive. The Church is young.
Instead of being the ‘mouthpiece for the inquisition redivivus’, the people of the world are discovering that Pope Benedict XVI is a man who radiates a quiet joy. Equally significant is the fact that his mother-tongue is the language of Martin Luther. He proclaims the Catholic faith with a German accent. Luther’s 16th century translation of the Bible has been the standard for classical German. Yes, Pope Benedict may find that some ecclesiastical bureaucrats are not sympathetic. On issues like abortion, artificial contraception, divorce/remarriage and the Eucharist, there is a chasm between many central Europeans and the German Pope. However, I remain convinced that Pope Benedict XVI will be a sign of contradiction to his countrymen. The German Pope will continue to contribute substantially to the discussion on the Christian origins and meaning of Europe. With their adamant denial of anything with a Christian gene among those roots, European politicians today, contrary to many of their postwar predecessors, live in a world of virtual reality.
I will focus briefly on one of the motives which prompted Benedict XVI to select his pontifical name. The name, ‘Benedict’, recalls the importance “of peace and reconciliation,” he has said. “I place my ministry in the service of reconciliation and harmony between peoples, profoundly convinced that the great goal of peace is above all a gift of God, a fragile and precious gift to be invoked, safeguarded and constructed, day after day with everyone’s contribution.” I place before you a reflection on this theme of ‘peace’ for reflection during the current renewal of the Catenian Association. The Pope’s theme of peace is in keeping with the prayer said by the priest in the Mass before communion, “Lord Jesus Christ, you said to your Apostles, I leave you peace, my peace I give you.”
The following will be a brief elaboration of the history of the theme of ‘peace’ in the thought of Joseph Ratzinger over the decades. As a young priest in 1954 he did a study on the work of St. Augustine of Hippo (†430) entitled “People and House of God by Augustine, Teacher of the Church.” He concentrated on the seminal teaching of the Doctor and Father of the Church of the first millennium.
Later, in 1959, he published another study entitled “The Theology of History by St. Bonaventure”. On that occasion he dealt with another great theologian (†1274), the Seraphic Doctor of the second millennium. He concluded his study of Bonaventure with words which reveal how long and profound his reflections on the theme of peace have been. “At the vanishing point of his theology of history we find the very same word which Augustine had used at the close of his City of God, which itself is so different from the work of Bonaventure (i.e., the latter’s “Collationes in Hexaemeron”). That word is peace: ‘And then there will be peace’. But for Bonaventure, this peace has come closer to earth. It is not that peace in the eternity of God which will never end and which will follow the dissolution of this world. It is a peace which God Himself will establish in this world, which has seen so much blood and tears, as if at least at the end of time, God will show how things could have been and should have been in accordance with His plans. Here the breath of a new age is blowing; an age in which the desire for the glory of the other world is shaped by a deep love of this earth on which we live. But despite the difference that may separate the work of these great Christian theologians, still there is a basic unity; both Augustine and Bonaventure know that the Church which hopes for peace in the future is, nonetheless, obliged to love in the present; and they both realize that the kingdom of eternal peace is growing in the hearts of those who fulfill Christ’s law of love in their own particular age.”
In the last phrase the future Pope insisted on the close connection between peace and practical love. “Eternal peace grows in the hearts of those who fulfill Christ’s law of love in their own particular age.” Here we find the chief characteristics of the morality of the New Testament and the very soul of the early Christian, love and peace. I will add another element so characteristic of the person of Pope Benedict; that is the gift of joy, of happiness.
St. Paul mentions these three characteristics constantly together with the virtues. “What the Spirit brings is very different: love, joy, peace” (Gal 2, 22). His Letter to the Philippians gives the same priority to love, joy and peace. “I want you to be happy in the Lord; I repeat, what I want is your happiness..... and that the peace of God which is so much greater than we can understand, will guard your hearts and your thoughts, in Christ Jesus” (4, 4-7).
What is the relevance of all this for the Catenian Association. In light of the dependence of peace on the practice of charity, you should be asking yourselves this question, “Through their attachment to the Catenian Association do members learn to love out of obedience or do they learn to obey out of love?”
Allow me to explain. The Catenians were born within the bosom of the Church and have been nurtured there. You recall the role that Bishop Louis Charles Casartelli had in founding the “Chums”, afterwards called the Catenians. By his guidance he helped to create for Catholic professionals and businessmen a community in which they practiced mutual cooperation. Your association, founded in 1908, finds its identity within the heart of the Church.
Jesus Christ established his Church not to place upon his disciples further obligations of the Law. The Catenians, consequently, should understand themselves in the same way. He founded his Church to bring happiness to all mankind. His public life began with a long sermon that opened with an implicit question. What is happiness? And he replied with the proclamation of the beatitudes to the multitudes gathered at the base of the mountain. He described the characteristics of those who are blessed, i.e., who are happy. The word, “blessed” comes from the Latin word “beatus” which means “happy”. The Greek original in the New Testament, “makarioi”, refers to the distinctive religious joy which comes to persons from their share in the salvation of the kingdom of God. Jesus invited men and women to seek the way to happiness through the Beatitudes.
You recall the Beatitudes:
Every man who is considering membership in this Association is a man who is seeking to deepen his happiness. St. Augustine did not hesitate for an instant about the reasonableness of his opening thesis, “Everyone wants to be happy. There is no one who will not agree with me in this, almost before the words are out of my mouth.” Thus the leitmotif of Christian life in Christ is the offer of the highest happiness available to the human being. Members of the Catenian Association seek to find within the Church a way which will contribute to their deeper charity, joy and peace. James P. Kelly, in his earlier address today as your President, described his understanding of the attraction of the Catenian Association by using a rich metaphor to convey the appeal of the association. He said that it is built “around concepts of the family: first family in its original sense, then the family of our association, and finally the family of our Church.”
The beatitudes are the foundation of Christian life and friendship. These three go hand in hand. The family of origin is naturally where we first experience friendship and learn about true happiness. Friendship in marriage and in the family first reveals the truth of another beatitude of the Lord Jesus, “How he said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (AA 20, 35). Jesus himself is the one who is absolutely poor and who gives himself without reserve. In his very essence as the Son of God, Jesus looks to his heavenly Father for everything. Friendship arises among those who have experienced the essential poverty of human existence and is absolutely indispensable for happiness; without such friendship a person would have no desire to live. The question of happiness is primary for every human being. St. Augustine answered in three words about what we should ask of God: “Ora beatam vitam” - “Ask for the happy life”. And charity is friendship. The work of the Holy Spirit in the world is the work of friendship. Our Lord Jesus Christ has called us his friends.
St. Thomas Aquinas described love more philosophically, “To love is to will the good of another.” The whole of the Christian life is rooted in such charity and friendship. As a consequence, Christian morality is not in the first place a morality of obligation. Rather it is primarily a morality based on a sort of connaturality between the human person and the true good. In its 1908 Catholic origins your association was based upon the natural inclination of the members to establish friendships, based not upon the flesh. Scripture says that all flesh is grass. The grass withers, the flower fades. Christian friendship is based upon the Word of God which will stand forever (Is 40, 6ff). Friends can create obligations. But obligations cannot create friends. The rule of life of the Catenian Association, your regula vitae, should not be based upon learning to love out of obedience but upon learning to obey out of love.
In the process of your renewal as an association of Christ’s lay faithful, you ask yourselves about the nature of Catenian spirituality. What is the spirituality of this Catholic community of men? Pope John Paul II defined “spirituality” in general as “a mode or form of life in keeping with Christian demands.” You have a spirituality, a mode of life, even though you may not describe it in those explicit terms. According to Christifideles Laici, the 1988 Apostolic Exhortation of Pope John Paul II (30), the judgment of the Church is that lay groups should give “primacy” to promoting a spirituality or a form of life among their members which gives expression to the Gospel call of every Christian to holiness or to perfection and to a “justice higher than that of the scribes and pharisees.” The II Vatican Council likewise taught that all Christians, lay and clerical, regardless of their sinfulness, are called to bend every moral effort and desire to the attainment of holiness. The Catenian Association should give emphasis to the internal, spiritual dimension which calls for the full development of the image of God in which each member is formed. This clearly requires further reflection on the meaning of human freedom, its nature and dignity as a gift of God.
I wish to be very specific. My views here are based by my experience as a priest and bishop for many years. They have been confirmed in my ministry as Major Penitentiary. For many centuries millions of peoples in Western societies have been formed by a spirituality based on a false concept of freedom. It has been described as a morality of obligation. It describes freedom as freedom of indifference. Persons who hold to this notion of freedom perceive its essence to be the choice between contraries, between good and evil. The prominence given to the word “choice” today in dealing with abortion shows how widespread and persuasive is this false concept of freedom.
A contrasting form of life is based on a different, opposing, concept of freedom. It is called the freedom for excellence. St. Paul writes about this freedom, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Gal 5, 1). It is rooted in the New Testament and developed by St. Augustine and St. Thomas among others. It is the power to act freely with excellence and perfection. It judges that the choice of evil is, in reality, a lack of freedom. Persons who understand freedom in this sense, that is, freedom for excellence, judge that the ability to commit faults in their moral life is, in reality, to “be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” according to St. Paul (cf. The Sources of Christian Ethics, Fr. Servais Pinckaers, O. P., 376 et passim).
In sum, these two concepts of freedom produce two different kinds of morality. Unfortunately, they also result in two contrasting ideas of happiness. Freedom of indifference lies at the origin of modern individualism and centers happiness on the human subject who stands over and against the world as the epitome of independence. Its one and only base is the law.
On the other hand, freedom for excellence is rooted in a desire for happiness which proceeds principally from a sense of truth and goodness, together with a natural inclination to form communal life in society. Such a desire, spiritual in its origin, empowers the individual to give birth to and to cultivate the love of friendship, which leads one to love truth and goodness. It is based on the natural human inclination to virtue. People are led to desire friendship with God and with others in their reality, in themselves and for their own sake. Consequently, the finality of the Catenian Association as a lay community within the Catholic Church, should foster the happiness of its members. This happiness is based on charity or friendship and leads to joy and peace.
But there is a vast challenge here. As indicated earlier, the happiness which I am suggesting is the happiness defined by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mountain.
I will be concrete. You should build into your discussions on the future direction of the Catenian Association the following question. Why does the Catechism of the Catholic Church begin its Part III, Life in Christ, with the Beatitudes, and not with the Ten Commandments? Clearly the Catechism is insisting that Christian freedom is based primarily not on a morality of obligation, but rather on the power to act freely with excellence and perfection. The Catechism teaches that the choice of evil indicates a lack of freedom. True freedom is rooted in our natural inclinations to the good and true, to what has quality and perfection. Such freedom for excellence must be developed through education and the habitual practice of virtue. In truth, freedom is a morality of virtue which can grow only with habit and repetition. The practice of genuine freedom can be compared to learning the art of playing a musical instrument. Repeated practice is required for mature expression.
I am recommending very specifically that, in order to grow in freedom for excellence, the practice of the Beatitudes should be the form of the spiritual life of Catenians. The Catechism teaches, “The Beatitudes respond to the natural desire for happiness. This desire is of divine origin: God has placed it in the human heart in order to draw man to the One who alone can fulfill it.” Then the Catechism cites this beautiful passage from St. Augustine, “How is it, then that I seek you; Lord? Since in seeking you, my God, I seek a happy life, let me seek you so that my soul may live, for my body draws life from my soul and my soul draws life from you” (1718).
You may ask, “Where do the Ten Commandments fit within such a structure.” The Catechism, following the example of Jesus, showed the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the letter of the commandments. Informed by the structure of the Beatitudes, in the succeeding, long section of the Catechism (CCC pp. 498-613, 115 pages), the Ten Commandments find a fitting and essential role within the disciples’ life in Christ.
I suggest that you emphasize the innate search for happiness, true happiness, as the basis for a man’s interest in joining and participating actively in the Catenian Association. According to our Lord Jesus, a man’s happiness can only be found in the Beatitudes. Following Jesus’s lead, St. Augustine taught that the Sermon on the Mount was the perfect rule of life for Christians. The center and summary of that Sermon are the Beatitudes. The Sermon on the Mount is the definitive representative text of the New Law. Everything pertaining to the Christian life is contained in that Sermon. Furthermore, St. Augustine interpreted the Beatitudes as representing the various degrees or stages leading the Christian from humility or poverty of spirit and finally to wisdom and the vision of God. As indicated earlier, he considered the beatitudes as a group of seven with the eighth (Mt. 5, 11-12) including all the others.
The beatitudes will make visible to Catenians the permanent paradox Jesus presents in his life and teachings. When he couples his absolute claim about his own identity as the unique Son of the Eternal Father with his equally absolute poverty and the vulnerability which belongs to his poverty, with his renunciation of all earthly power and every earthly possession, Catenians will know that the proper view of Jesus will always elude them even as they eagerly continue to go “from beginnings to beginnings”. But even such a provisional view of Jesus which the paradoxes at the heart of the Cross offer them calls Catenians to strive evermore towards fulness.
Those Catenians who follow the way of Jesus’s Beatitudes will discover the paradox of the pearl of great price: in their joy over the discovery they will sell everything and prize the pearl above everything else. Catenians will deepen their understanding that the happiness found in Jesus’s gift of salvation is offered only to the poor of every sort as they are listed in the beatitudes. These include those Catenians who have become poor in their inmost attitude, that is, in their spirit, the lowly and meek and small, those who have been interiorly emptied and cleansed, those who live in mourning over the present and live in hunger and thirst for what ought to be, while doing what they can among their embittered brothers through their own state of being reconciled. All of this is in the powerlessness that brings to Catenians persecution for the sake of what they do not have and cannot force to come about.
The Christian tradition has gone even further than the Beatitudes in giving a regula vitae (the Rule of Life) for the Catholic layman. St. Augustine, St. Anselm and St. Thomas Aquinas couple the first seven Beatitudes with the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. The relation of each gift to each Beatitude is the reverse of the gifts’ traditional listing learned in preparing for the Sacrament of Confirmation. In reverse order the gifts of the Holy Spirit are the following: fear of the Lord, piety, knowledge, fortitude, counsel, understanding, and wisdom. The Catechism also discusses the role of these seven gifts in the life in Christ before its discussion of the Ten Commandments. These gifts are permanent dispositions which make persons docile in following the prompting of the Holy Spirit. (CCC 1830) whose Solemnity the Church celebrates tomorrow. .
The Catholic Tradition has made a further innovation concerning the makeup of the constellation of the Beatitudes as pointers to heaven. St. Augustine first had this intuition to enrich further our life in Christ. He established the connections among the seven Beatitudes, the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit and added the seven petitions of the Our Father.
A form of life for the Catenian Association based on the seven constellations formed by the seven Beatitudes , the seven gifts and the seven petitions of the Our Father would look like this according to St. Augustine:
Finally, I wish to place some emphasis on the fifth of these seven constellations, the one that deals specifically with reconciliation, mentioned by Pope Benedict XVI as one of the motives for the choice of his name.
Living and working in the Vatican, I am often surprised by what I hear but, more often, by what I don't hear. From some regions of western culture, I hear little about people being reconciled, about ontology and pardon. I hear abstract talk about pardon and something about forgiveness as God's merely forgetting past sin. There is much about psychology and its processes. I hear little about the concrete acts of Christian forgiveness within the context of ecclesial communities, including the parish community and lay associations. Divine forgiveness normally requires the unique pardon gained through the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the acceptance of penance. These elements were essential to the life of the communities of the New Testament and the patristic Church through the High Middle Ages.
Every page of the New Testament is engraved with concrete acts and teachings about pardon and reconciliation. The central petition of the Lord's Prayer comes to mind. The layman, Dante, describes the understanding of the high Medieval Church. In the final cantos of the Purgatorio, those who desire to be raised to Paradise must first be cleansed of remaining sins by daunting passages through the two rivers flowing from the summit of Mt. Purgatory: the river of forgetfulness (the Lethe) and the river of positive remembrance (the Eunoe).
Dante expressed the best of the Catholic penitential tradition when writing of these double waters: the first, the experience of the forgetting of sin by the sinner; the second, the forgiveness of past sinful events through the ecclesial acceptance by the sinner of God's mercy in the expiatory death of Christ. Passage through both rivers is necessary for forgiveness. Simply to forget past sins is not enough. The uniquely Christian element in this process, articulated in the coinage of new words with their unheard of prefixes - forgive, perdonare, vergeben, perdonnar, etc. The emphatic, never-seen-before prefixes, pre- for-, emphasize the divine gift to the undeserving. Embodied, concrete acts by the penitent are necessary for God's such forgiveness. God finally transforms the sinner by the sinner's specific, active acceptance of the divine mercy when performing satisfaction for sin. The penitent is then blessed by the remembrance of that divine transformation together with his or her participation in it.
The pastoral initiatives taken in response to the recent clerical scandals have not drawn upon these rich penitential traditions. The Church's tradition of penance and pardon founded upon the New Testament and the liturgical and catechetical practices of the patristic and medieval Church are not adequately reflected in modern day Church practice.
The scandal of the sexual sins of the clergy engulfing the worldwide Catholic Church has further convinced me of the need for the revival of the ancient Order of Penitents. Such a revival requires the reform of the parish today, of religious orders and congregations and of many associations of the lay faithful according to the communal practice undergirding Matthew 18 and Acts. 2 and 4 and the practice of the patristic Church. With the exception of some of the new ecclesial lay groups, like the Neo-catechumenate, little is heard about the truth of speaking openly and honestly in those various ecclesial communities. By ‘truth’ I mean the truth that must be said about oneself and the truth about one's need of divine pardon and mercy. Such a reform might be initiated, as one layperson recently suggested, by nailing above the entrance to each parish Church and, in your case, above the entrance to each Circle, a large sign reading, "Here the truth is spoken." By truth, I mean the truth shared about oneself and about the community as a forgiving community. Both clergy and laity need to speak openly and honestly about their need for conversion and God's pardon and reconciliation mediated through the redemptive love of the community and through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
The restoration of the Order of Penitents, like that of the Order of the Catechumens, or its equivalent in lay groups, would become a source of renewal of parishes and every other type of ecclesial community like the Catenians. . It would revive the penitential vision of St. Francis of Assisi, which is based on simple honesty. Holy simplicity, he once said is itself a complex paradox; for it is, he said, "the daughter of grace, the sister of wisdom and the mother of justice."
I urge the members of the Catenian Association to use their resources to assist parishes and their own Circles to become "truthful" communities, that is, communities of explicit, public conversion and pardon where the truth is spoken.
In concluding, I will return to the beginning. Pope Benedict XVI carries a name blessed with great weight in the Catholic tradition. We live in an era of cultural crisis. We have few parallels to draw upon for our reaction. All civilizations and religions tremble before the juggernaut of American popular culture. In the late sixth century an analogous crisis challenged the people of that time. Many withdrew from the process of shoring up a dying structure, the Roman Empire, and began, without fully recognizing what they were doing, to set up new forms of community within which life informed by the Beatitudes and virtues could be sustained. They foresaw new ages of barbarism and darkness. They wished to sustain the tradition of the theological and moral virtues through those times.
But there is a difference between the crisis of the sixth century and that of the twenty-first. Today barbarians are not massing beyond the frontiers to enter. Rather they have already been governing within for several generations. And what of the future while living in this latter-day darkness? At the end of his 1981 book, After Virtue, Alasdair MacIntrye described the Christian’s hope for the future, “We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another - doubtless very different - St. Benedict.”
Francis Cardinal Stafford