Tag Archives: Pope Benedict XVI

The Last Jedi and the Renewal of an Institution (Spoilers)

April 18, 2018


by Christopher Menzhuber

Christopher Menzhuber

The tension between authentically renewing institutions and destroying them has been around as long as institutions have been with us. Many people would agree the Church -as an institution- should be in a constant state of renewal yet few would agree on what that means. The root of such disagreement lies in our understanding of what Jesus came to do: establish a Church or destroy religious institutions altogether?

For those who believe Jesus came to destroy institutions, “Christ … appears as the revolutionary of love, who pits himself against the enslaving power of institutions and dies in combat against them (especially against the priesthood),” writes Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) describing this view while criticizing it in his book Called to Communion: Understanding the Church Today. From this perspective, organized religion is seen as an obstacle that must be removed before faith can freely animate a community of prophetic individuals to follow their individual consciences and fully realize the power of love in the world. In short, it is thought that if the kingdom of God is to prevail, the institutional Church must end.

In the most recent installment of the Star Wars saga, “The Last Jedi” released December 2017 and grossing over a billion dollars worldwide, Master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) echoes this sentiment about his own Jedi religion. “I only know one truth: It’s time for the Jedi to end.” By creating tension between a would-be reformer and the Jedi as a religious institution, director Rian Johnson may be depicting a galaxy not-so-far away as he explores the dynamic of renewal in the Star Wars universe.

Master Skywalker embodies the perspective that organized religion suppresses faith. Reflecting on their legacy of mistakes, Luke has come to see the Jedi as proud usurpers of the Force, which does not rely on the Jedi to exist. “To say that if the Jedi die the light dies is vanity,” he tells Rey. In another important scene, Skywalker attempts to destroy the sacred Jedi relics exclaiming “I’m ending all of this,” an action that would erase all memory of the Jedi and liberate the Force from the Jedi’s confining traditions.

Over and against this perspective is the young protagonist Rey (Daisy Ridley), who has been inspired by the legends of the Jedi, and maintains the hope that by being formed in the tradition of the Force she can bring light to the galaxy and find some inner illumination. “The galaxy may need a legend.” she says. “I need to know my place in all of this.”

Does the film espouse one view over the other? The moral character of both perspectives gives us some more insight. Luke, embittered by personal failure, is moving toward self-destruction. Moreover, we also learn he has closed himself off from the Force, and has actually never even read his own Jedi Bible. Drawing a real life analogy to the Church one can see in him the Christian archetype who has grown cynical, who has abandoned the life of prayer, and who despite significant education remains ignorant of his own tradition. Under the pretext of reform this person undermines the very things that give Catholicism its distinctiveness like the sacramental priesthood, moral teaching, and authority of the magisterium, the result of which is tantamount to destroying the memory of the Church.

Rey appears in sharp contrast to Luke: idealistic and energetic; perhaps a little naïve and proud; she wants to be a part of the venerable Jedi tradition. Her scant knowledge of the Jedi is accurate but woefully incomplete. When challenged about what she really knows of the force she stammers only bits and pieces: “Lifting rocks and getting people to do what you want.” Think here of people who grew up without any real religious formation but hear God calling them in a world incapable of providing meaningful answers. They long for the adventure that comes from accepting a truth which places demands upon them and calls forth acts of courage. Far from viewing the Institutional Church as confining, they embrace the ancient but ever-growing Catholic Tradition because it connects them to the greatest story ever told.

While the movie appears to relish the conflict between perspectives, it also seems to tilt in favor of preserving institutions when we catch a glimpse of the salvaged Jedi texts suggesting the Jedi tradition will continue. Rey is acknowledged as a Jedi and her rudimentary grasp of the force turns out to be exactly what the rebellion needs. Luke rediscovers his faith and it sets him on a path seeking forgiveness which “is the heart of all true reform,” writes Benedict.

Overall, “The Last Jedi” takes a more thoughtful departure from its predecessors as it embarks on its own journey of renewal. Whether you can see in it a comparison to what’s happening in the Church or perhaps read it as a metaphor for the renewal of the franchise itself, you may find “The Last Jedi” has an interesting portrayal of the tension between authentically reforming an institution versus destroying it. And if you find those themes to be interesting, you will probably enjoy the book “Called to Communion: Understanding the Church Today,” by Catholicism’s own Jedi Master, Benedict XVI.

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2 video tributes to our 2 last popes

March 11, 2013


Here is a lovely song by Italian, Alida Ferrarese. it is called Una Fumata Blanca  (“The White Smoke”). My mother wrote to me about it, saying: 

“Last Wednesday night, lying on my bed on the fourth floor of a hotel in Bellagio, with a big window overlooking Lake Como, this video came on TV. I had to share it with you. My favorite part is when Blessed John Paul is wearing a red cape and playing with some little boys. It’s just a few seconds. Don’t miss it. So CUTE !!!”

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During his eight years as St. Peter’s successor, Pope Benedict XVI wrote three encyclicals, canonized over 40 saints, named two doctors of the church, and created 90 cardinals. He traveled across six continents and published over 30 books. He consistantly spoke about his desire for unity in the Church, and renewing the Church and its faithful. Thank you, “Papa.”

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A Minnesotan in Rome: Witness to the extraordinary

March 8, 2013


Pilgrims wave U.S. flags before the start of Pope Benedict XVI's final general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Feb. 27. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pilgrims wave U.S. flags before the start of Pope Benedict XVI’s final general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Feb. 27. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

by Renée Roden

St. Peter’s Square, Vatican City

At 8:55 a.m. on the morning of Wednesday, Feb. 27, my plane touched ground at Fiumicino Airport, a 30-minute express train ride out of Rome. A little over an hour and a half later, at 10:33 a.m., I was one of many pilgrims streaming into St. Peter’s Square, just as Benedict XVI, now Pope Emeritus, drove into the square in the popemobile.

And I knew I was witnessing something extraordinary.

There is a lot of speculation about what the cardinals at the Vatican will do, and how they will do it and why. The question that we are left with is: Why does this matter?

One of the most beautiful tenets of Christianity is that the ordinary becomes extraordinary. As I stood in St. Peter’s Square, listening to Benedict XVI offer his thanks for the Church’s love and support, listening to the cardinals thank Benedict for his work, and bowed my head to receive Benedict’s final apostolic blessing for myself and my family, I knew I was witnessing, I was experiencing, something extraordinary — something that doesn’t take place every day.

The busy crowd, loudly vibrating with the sounds of hymns being sung, people chattering together, and spontaneous shouts of “Benedetto!” Or “Il Papa!” subdued themselves as they respond to his greeting with a hushed chant of “et cum spiritu tuo.” A hush settled over the audience, as they settled into waiting to hear the pope’s final words.

Although I was only able to read Benedict’s speech later (given that my nascent Italian vocabulary is still at the level of “grazie” and “do’ve il bano?”), the spirit of his message was abundantly clear — it completely transcended the language barrier. His words were ones of thanksgiving and gratitude — gratitude for being able to carry the holy burden of the Petrine office, and gratitude for now responding to the call to lay it aside. Spontaneous applause broke out occasionally in response to his words. Sporadic cries of “¡Viva Il Papa!” broke out of the crowd.

There was an overwhelming sense of gratitude and love for the small man wearing white on the stage in front of the crowd of 150,000 pilgrims, native Romans and curious onlookers. Next to me, a group of chatty teenagers ignored the proceedings after taking several photographs all together; an elderly Jewish woman watched the stage intently; a pair of Mormon missionaries strolled through the crowd, eyeing the stage. Next to me, an elderly Russian man ran up and hugged his friend, and they stood side-by-side watching the scene unfold.

The massive stone Basilica that took up the entire skyline dwarfed the small, frail man wearing white. Yet he stood out all the more. “Now I am just a pilgrim beginning the last part of his journey on earth,” he said the next day at Castel Gandolfo. His soft, fragile voice was scratchy and weak, but his words and his actions came through loud and clear. This event, this action was about something greater than himself. This extraordinary fuss was about something greater than Benedict. As the audience ended, and the thousands rushed out of the square, I sat on one of the fountains and marveled at the amount of people in the square, and how I managed to be lucky enough to be among them.

Looking inward

These extraordinary events often raise the question: So why do we care? What makes them extraordinary?

The next evening at 5 p.m., as my friend and I were waiting in the square, waiting to watch Pope Benedict’s helicopter take off from the Vatican grounds, a journalist came up to us and asked: What do you think you will see here?

Her question resonated in my heart throughout the rest of the day: What did I think I was going to see here? Why was I there? Why had I felt that it was so imperatively necessary to be in St. Peter’s Square at 5 p.m. on Feb. 28?

As a large crowd, undulating between applause and cheers and a solemn, rapt silence filled the square, large screens showed the sequence of events:

Benedict leaving the Vatican.

Benedict driving to the helicopter.

The tearful goodbyes of his chauffeur.

The helicopter’s journey to Castel Gandolfo.

The crowds outside Castel Gandolfo.

And then, finally, the then-Holy Father’s last words:

“Thank you for bringing yourselves [here] — with all my heart, I give you my blessing…. Thank you and goodnight!”

People lingered.

The little bevy of American nuns behind me wiped tears from their eyes.

Next to me, an Italian woman carrying bags of groceries had a blotchy face and sniffled.

A priest walked past me hurriedly, the beads of a rosary slipping through his fingers.

There was scattered applause from several onlookers unsure of what to do next.

Several groups of German Catholics, in traditional garb, stood with a banner that read: “DANKE”

Later that night, at 8 p.m., there was a much smaller crowd gathered in St. Peter’s Square. As 8 p.m. approached, a group of seminarians from St. Paul, Minn., led the rosary. A circle of pilgrims surrounded them as they all prayed around several students kneeling, holding candles. A small wave of people walked up toward the barriers in front of the Basilica, our eyes glued to the clock, lit up, so close to striking 8 o’clock.

As a small chorus of voices started singing the soft, sweet tones of the “Salve Regina,” my friend turned to look at the view behind us and whispered quietly: “Here we are. Tucked in the arms of the Church.” I turned my eyes from the clock and looked over the square. The pilgrims kneeling in the bright street lamps mirrored the stony statues of the saints that processed out of the Basilica, atop the colonnades. We were surrounded by the Church.

I looked up to the Basilica of Peter — the Basilica of the Rock — as the clock gently, unceremoniously chimed 8 o’clock.

Our little Church that had gathered in the arms of the Church paused.

We applauded quietly.

And then someone started singing the “Salve Regina” again.

Our Church soldiered on with business as usual, as the Church has always done.

That was, I realized, why all this hubbub mattered. All the brouhaha and hoi polloi that surrounds the cardinals gathering, and discussing and coalition-ing and voting matters because of these pilgrims gathered at the feet of Peter. All that extraordinary fuss exists for the ordinary. The Church exists for the little second-graders in Stillwater receiving their first Holy Communion. It exists for the young couple getting married and starting a regular family. It exists so that a small piece of unleavened bread can be transformed into the body of the Savior of the World.

That is the miracle and magic of Catholicism — the grandeur of St. Peter’s is simply the grandeur that is in every tiny little parish church, with the veil of the ordinary removed. The extraordinary moments pull back the dim guise of ordinary-ness that we live our lives in, and reveals to us just how extraordinary each everyday moment truly is.

Renée Roden, a student at the University of Notre Dame, is from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. She is currently in Rome to cover the conclave for one of the university’s publications.

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Take a peek inside the Vatican

March 8, 2013


Vatican Diaries coverJohn Thavis, who covered the Vatican as a journalist for 30 years, betrayed his Minnesota roots when he wrote, “Attending these Rome academic conferences was like fishing on a slow day — you waited a lot and hoped something would bite.”

Thavis, a native of Mankato, Minn., and a graduate of St. John’s University in Collegeville, hooked an author’s dream: His book on the inner workings of the Vatican was ready to be released when Pope Benedict XVI unexpectedly announced his decision to retire.

Viking moved up the release date, making “The Vatican Diaries” as timely a read as a writer might hope for.

Thavis, whose byline ran in The Catholic Spirit for many years, retired just last year as Rome bureau chief for Catholic News Service.

That post and the many friends and sources he made in and around St. Peter’s often put him in unique position to observe and hear of any number of interesting goings on, some foolhardy, some machiavellian, some scandalous.

Anecdotes, even atrocities

There is, for example, the blatant disregard for an ancient cemetery by one Vatican City functionary, who is intent on bulldozing the monuments and the remains to add more parking to the cramped tiny space.

A lengthy chapter on the finally denounced, cult-like Legion of Christ gives a vivid picture of how power works in the Vatican, and it’s not a very nice portrait.

Thavis details how the once-revered founder of the Legion of Christ was protected by people in high places who refused to believe accusations made against him over the course of decades, and it was only when Father Marcial Maciel Degollado’s double life was revealed — that he had fathered children by two women, sexually abused his own son and hidden secret assets of nearly $30 million — that the Vatican finally intervened.

The incident has left an obvious black mark on the late Pope John Paul II’s record, but Thavis presents insight here that echoes in other Catholic locales around the globe.

He writes, “To a good number of Vatican officials, the calls for transparency and full accountability [in the Maciel case] were typical of moralistic (and legalistic) Americans, but not necessarily helpful for the universal church. . . As one Vatican offical put it, ‘We have a two-thousand-year history of not airing dirty laundry. You don’t really expect that to change, do you?’ ”

Thavis dives into the ongoing squabble over the ultra-conservative, breakaway Society of St. Pius X, sharing probably more than the typical Catholic would want to know about the battle over the validity of Vatican II by this hard-core group of naysayers.

Superb reporting, writing

There’s a terrific chapter that’s really a personality profile of the American priest who was one of the Vatican’s top Latin language experts — the fun, enlightening and eccentric Father Reginald Foster.

Foster — Thavis eschews his title throughout — is a reporter’s dream, someone on the inside who knows a lot, isn’t afraid to share and shares in colorful language. The chapter on “The Latinist” is of the quality of a piece you’d expect to read in the New York Times Magazine or The New Yorker.

Thavis went along to some 60 countries with John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and “The Vatican Diaries” includes hilarious anecdotes about life as a reporter on papal trips. There’s plenty about life covering the Vatican to enjoy reading, too, including the story about the pope’s preacher admitting he used Google as a source.

Readers will find that the halo they may have imagined above the heads of some high-ranking residents of Vatican City ends up, shall we say, “less glowing,” to describe it the way a Vatican official might, avoiding the use of the more accurate “tarnished.”

And that may be what Thavis does best here.

Important contribution

He offers sound reporting and analysis, to be sure. But he’s at the top of his game explaining how “The Vatican” sees things.

He translates Vatican-ese, putting in plain language what official statements really say, and in many cases what those statements say by not saying something directly.

Even when he gets into such minutia of a story that you wonder if all these details are necessary, Thavis seems to perfectly sum it up by interpreting the event’s significance. It’s as if, without using these words, he’s says, now here’s why this is important.

“The Vatican Diaries” is not only informative and entertaining. Published as the Catholic Church prepares to welcome a new leader, it gives us valuable insight into the organizational challenges the new pontiff faces.

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Pope Benedict XVI thanked us…

February 25, 2013


Photo licensed by Creative Commons by Sergey Gabdurakhmanov

Photo licensed by Creative Commons by Sergey Gabdurakhmanov

Of course we are not active in the pro-life movement in order to get a pat on the back. But, perhaps you remember that Pope Benedict XVI thanked those who promote a culture of life. He did this not only by assisting with the writing of The Gospel of Life (in which there is a section that gives gratitude), but also during his worldwide prayer vigil in November of 2010.

May God bless our dear shepherd’s final days of the papacy, and may the Holy Spirit guide the decision of the upcoming conclave.

And thank you, Holy Father, for all you do to embrace life.

Here are my favorite paragraphs from the words of thanks delivered by Pope Benedict XVI:

“Dear brothers and sisters, our coming together this evening to begin the Advent journey is enriched by another important reason: with the entire Church, we want to solemnly celebrate a prayer vigil for unborn life. I wish to express my thanks to all who have taken up this invitation and those who are specifically dedicated to welcoming and safeguarding human life in different situations of fragility, especially in its early days and in its early stages.”

“[T]here is no reason not to consider [the human embryo] a person from conception. It’s not a question of a collection of biological material, but of a new living being, dynamic and marvelously ordered, a new individual of the human species. This is how Jesus was in Mary’s womb; this is how we each were in our mother’s womb.”

“I urge the protagonists of politics, economic and social communications to do everything in their power to promote a culture which respects human life, to provide favorable conditions and support networks for the reception and development of life.”

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Christ, His Church and the teaching on Infallibility

February 25, 2013


The pope is infallible only when he speaks on doctrine of faith and morals. Photo/Jess Pac    Licensed under Creative Commons.

The pope’s proclamations on doctrine of faith and morals are infallible, the Church teaches. Photo/Jess Pac. Licensed under Creative Commons.

I know it’s been quite a while since my last post. I wish I could say I’ve been taking a break from the blog to study in Rome this winter. Someday, maybe …

I recently heard a radio news announcer almost deify the Holy Father when he asked whether Pope Benedict would “continue to be infallible” in his retirement. Even after another journalist tried to clarify the teaching on papal infallibility, the program host persisted in his error.

With such confusion around us, I thought it might be good to look at what the Church really teaches on infallibility.

Popes themselves are not infallible

First of all, popes themselves are not infallible, which means to be exempt or immune from liability to error. Most have been holy men but also bearers of original sin like the rest of us. The Church teaches that only papal proclamations connected to doctrinal authority are considered infallible.

According to the Catechism, “The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful – who confirms his brethren in the faith – he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals …” (CCC891)

Since infallibility comes with the office, any statements Pope Benedict makes after he retires will not be considered infallible. Though history tells us some popes led less than exemplary lives, none of them compromised the Church’s Magisterium (teaching authority).

We hear a lot about papal infallibility but in reality, Catholics believe Christ granted this attribute not just to St. Peter and his successors but to His Church. He desires the unity of faith. Belief in the Church’s infallibility in defining faith and morals is Church dogma established at the first Vatican Council (1869-1870). Many Church fathers also wrote in support of the Church’s infallibility.

Evidence in Scripture

The concept of infallibility is not found explicitly in a particular scripture verse but the following passages, together with explanation from Catholic Encyclopedia, offer evidence that the Lord intended it.

  •  Matthew 28:18-20; The Church believes Christ gave the Apostles teaching authority, not just for themselves but to pass on to their successors.
  • Matthew 16:18; “The gates of hell will not prevail” against the Church, which implies the assurance of infallibility in the exercise of her teaching office.
  • John 14, 15, and 16; Jesus promises the Holy Spirit’s presence and assistance to His Church; the Spirit of truth is responsible for the veracity of Church teaching.
  • I Timothy 3:14-15; St. Paul states that the Church is the “pillar and foundation” of truth.
  • Acts 15:28 The authority of the Holy Spirit in Church teaching.

Since papal infallibility was defined at Vatican I, it has only been used directly once, to define the doctrine of the Assumption in 1950. Bl. John Paul II used it indirectly to declare in a 1994 apostolic letter that the Church  doesn’t have authority to ordain women. The following year the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith declared that teaching belongs to the deposit of faith — the body of saving truth entrusted by Christ to the Apostles to be preserved and proclaimed.

Besides the pope himself, the college of bishops also speaks infallibly when exercising the Church’s Magisterium.

Drawing from Vatican II documents the Catechism states:  “ … The infallibility promised to the Church is also present in the body of bishops when, together with Peter’s successor, they exercise the supreme Magisterium, above all in an Ecumenical Council. When the Church through its supreme Magisterium proposes a doctrine ‘for belief as being divinely revealed,’ and as the teaching of Christ the definitions ‘must be adhered to with the obedience of faith.’ This infallibility extends as far as the deposit of divine Revelation itself.” (CCC891)

The Holy Spirit’s 2,000-year guidance of the Catholic Church is evidence of the infallibility of her Magisterium. Not that it hasn’t been rocky sometimes. Still, it’s why I have confidence that the new pope will continue the tradition of teaching authoritatively — and infallibly — on faith and morals.

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Student from Minnesota to read at pope’s Easter Vigil Mass

April 7, 2012


Meghan Wenger (Photo courtesy of Convent of the Visitation School)

Thanks to places like the Pontifical North American College and the University of St. Thomas Catholic Studies program in Rome, seminarians and students with Minnesota connections are sometimes invited to participate in papal Masses.

Today, for example, Meghan Wenger, a 2009 grad of Convent of the Visitation School in Mendota Heights, will read at the Easter Vigil Mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI.

Meghan, who is studying this semester with the UST program and whose home parish is St. Thomas More in St. Paul, is a junior at Boston College. The Mass will be televised today at 2 p.m. central time on EWTN.

“I feel honored and humbled to have been asked. I am looking forward to being able to participate in the Mass in a special way,” Meghan said in an email.

Two other students in the UST Rome program also have roles in Easter Triduum liturgies at the Vatican.

• Evan Beacom of St. Augustin parish in Des Moines, Iowa, participated in the Good Friday liturgy at St. Peter’s Basilica.

• John LoCoco of St. Mary’s Visitation parish in Elm Grove, Wis., will read at the Easter Sunday Mass.

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My Favorite 10 Aspects of the Pope’s Christmas Eve Homily

December 29, 2011


If you’re like me, during the Christmas season you’re exhausted.

By the time December 24 shows its face, I’m a lethargic blob sitting by the decorated tree, trying to muster the energy to get the baking and wrapping done. Most of us have a myriad of  jobs to do before throwing celebrations, and some poor souls (my husband included) even have last minute shopping to accomplish before Christmas Eve Mass. We squeeze our sore feet into high heels or dress shoes, pack up all the kiddos, cookies and presents and hit the parties. Late at night we come home (or clean up if we’re hosting) and get ready for Santa’s visit. After midnight our heads slam into the pillows and we’re nearly comatose until the little angels wake us up at 5:00 AM.

And of course, amidst the flurry of activity, we try our best to get spiritually ready for Christ’s coming.

It’s good to embrace life by socializing with family and friends at Christmastime– and growing in our faith. But why do we knock ourselves out each year–buying  into the commercialization of the holy day–when our focus should be on Baby Jesus and His saving Grace?

And if we think we’re exhausted, how must Pope Benedict XVI,  at age 84, feel with such relevant responsibilities? My husband and I are the shepherds of our nine little sheep, but Joseph Ratzinger is The Pontiff–the shepherd of us all!

At the Christmas Eve Mass held at St. Peter’s Bascilica, our “Papa” was fatigued. He had a moving platform glide him down the aisle because he wanted to be among the faithful, but needed to conserve energy for his heavy schedule. Even though he was worn out and had a cough, he delivered a poignant message lamenting Christmas consumerism and told us to center our thoughts on God’s appearance as a child.

His 10 Great Points:

1.  The joy of Christmas for the early Church was that God had appeared and was no longer a mere idea.

2.  The kindness and love of God our Savior for mankind was revealed and this is the new, consoling certainty that is granted to us at Christmas.

3.  A child, in all its weakness, is Mighty God. A child, in all its neediness and dependence, is Eternal Father. And His peace has no end.

4.  We love your childish estate, your powerlessness, but we suffer from continuing presence of violence in the world, and so we also ask you: manifest your power, O God.

5.  In 1223, when St. Francis of Assisi celebrated Christmas with an ox and ass and a manger full of hay…he kissed images of the Christchild with great devotion and he stammered tender words such as children say. Francis loved the child Jesus, because for him it was in this childish estate that God’s humility shone forth.

6.  In the child born in the stable at Bethlehem, we can as it were touch and caress God.

7.  God became poor…He made himself dependent, in need of human love, He put himself in the position of asking for human love–our love.

8.  Let us ask the Lord to help us see through the superficial glitter of this season, and to discover behind it the child in the stable in Bethlehem, so as to find true joy and true light.

9.  If we want to find the God who appeared as a child, then we must dismount from the high horse of our “enlightened” reason. We must set aside our false certainties, our intellectual pride, which prevents us from recognizing God’s closeness.

10. We must bend down, spiritually we must as it were go on foot, in order to pass through the portal of faith and encounter the God who is so different from our prejudices and opinions–the God who conceals himself in the humility of a newborn baby.

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Next year during Advent I hope to take the pope’s advice. I will try to spend more time kissing images of the Christchild and less time worrying about the snow globe of activities. I’m going to make an effort to not get caught up in the superficial glitter. What about you?


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An historic tweet

June 28, 2011


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Pope, astronauts talk about peace, prayer, the environment

May 21, 2011


YouTube Preview ImagePope Benedict XVI spoke today via satellite linkup with 12 astronauts, including crewmembers from the space shuttle Endeavour, currently aboard the International Space Station.

“Humanity is experiencing a period of extremely rapid progress in the fields of scientific knowledge and technical applications,” the pope said according to a transcript of the event provided by Vatican Radio.

“In a sense, you are our representatives — spearheading humanity’s exploration of new spaces and possibilities for our future, going beyond the limitations of our everyday existence. We all admire your courage, as well as the discipline and commitment with which you prepared yourselves for this mission,” he said.

The pope also asked the crew several questions. Here are some highlights from the conversation:

Pope Benedict asked the astronauts if they ever wonder, as they fly over nations and continents, how science can contribute to the cause of peace in a world racked by violence. He noted that shuttle astronaut Mark Kelly’s wife, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, was the victim of violence herself, and the pope expressed his hope that her health would continue to improve.

Kelly, a Catholic, responded:

“Thank you for the kind words, Your Holiness, and thank you for mentioning my wife Gabby. It’s a very good question: We fly over most of the world and you don’t see borders, but at the same time we realize that people fight with each other and there is a lot of violence in this world and it’s really an unfortunate thing. Usually, people fight over many different things. As we’ve seen in the Middle East right now: it’s somewhat for democracy in certain areas, but usually people fight for resources. And it’s interesting in space … on earth, people often fight for energy; in space we use solar power and we have fuel cells on the space station. You know, the science and the technology that we put into the space station to develop a solar power capability, gives us pretty much an unlimited amount of energy. And if those technologies could be adapted more on earth, we could possibly reduce some of that violence.”

Pope Benedict, citing environmental threats facing the planet, asked the astronauts what issues people needed to be more attentive to.

Space station astronaut Ronald Garan Jr. said: “On the one hand, we can see how indescribably beautiful the planet that we have been given is; but on the other hand, we can really clearly see how fragile it is. Just the atmosphere, for instance: the atmosphere when viewed from space is paper thin, and to think that this paper-thin layer is all that separates every living thing from the vacuum of space and is all that protects us, is really a sobering thought. …”

Garan said he was filled with hope to think that the international partnership that led to the construction of the space station could be applied to other issues. “That just shows that by working together and by cooperating we can overcome many of the problems that face our planet,” he said.

Pope Benedict asked the astronauts about the most important message they would like to convey, especially to young people, when they return to Earth.

Shuttle crewman Mike Fincke responded:

“Your Holiness, as my colleagues have indicated, we can look down and see our beautiful planet Earth that God has made, and it is the most beautiful planet in the whole solar system. However, if we look up, we can see the rest of the universe, and the rest of the universe is out there for us to go explore. And the International Space Station is just one symbol, one example of what human beings can do when we work together constructively. So our message, I think — one of our many messages, but I think one of our most important messages — is to let the children of the planet know, the young people know, that there is a whole universe for us to go explore. And when we do it together, there is nothing that we cannot accomplish.”

The pope then went on to ask the astronauts whether, in the midst of their work and scientific research in space, they ever have time to stop and reflect on the origins and destiny of the universe and humankind.

Shuttle astronaut Roberto Vittori, who brought along a coin given to him by the pope that shows the “Creation of Man” painted by Michelangelo on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, said that while work in space is intense, “we all have an opportunity, when the nights come, to look down on Earth: Our planet, the blue planet, is beautiful.”

Vittori added: “I do pray for me, for our families, for our future. I took with me the coin and I allow this coin to float in front of me to demonstrate lack of gravity. … I’d like to allow this coin to float to my friend and colleague [space station astronaut Paolo Nespoli]. He will make the return to Earth on the [Russian Soyuz capsule]. I brought it with me to space and he will take it down to Earth to then give it back to you.”

The pope then spoke in Italian with Nespoli, whose 78-year-old mother died in Italy at the beginning of May while he was serving on the space station. The pope said he prayed for the astronaut’s mother and asked how he was coping.

“Holy Father, I felt your prayers and everyone’s prayers arriving up here where outside the world … we have a vantage point to look at the Earth and we feel everything around us,” Nespoli replied in Italian, according to the Huffingtonpost.com.

Pope Benedict concluded the conversation by saying he would continue to pray for the astronauts and imparting his apostolic blessing.

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