Posts Tagged ‘Catechism’

popesfarewellWriting as I do from one of those Pacific nations that greet the new day ahead of anyone else, I’m heralding the day the See of St Peter falls vacant while in Rome it is still the day before. Nonetheless, the writers of the world have been saying farewell to our Pope in their own ways every since he announced that he was stepping down.

Rather than write my own retrospective on the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI, I decided to collect a few for you.

Pat Gohn writes about her debt to him – first for the Catechism, and later for his other writings. Like her, I was an early purchaser of the first English translation of Cardinal Ratzinger’s erudite, lucid, and comprehensive Catechism, and later read other books, addresses, and encyclicals. Through them all, he taught us that the heart – the purpose and essence –  of the faith is a relationship with Love Himself.

Benedict taught that the Catechism, as with all Christian study, ought to move us into greater possession of a relationship with God, the pearl of great price (Mt 13:45-46.)

All of the “truths of faith” are explications of the one truth that we discover in them. And this one truth is the pearl of great price that is worth staking our lives of: God. He alone can be the pearl for which we give everything else. Dios solo basta (“God alone suffices”)—he who finds God has found all things. But we can find him only because he first sought and found us. He is the one who acts first, and for this reason faith in God is inseparable from the mystery of the Incarnation, of the Church and of the sacraments. Everything that is said in the Catechism is an unfolding of the one truth that is God himself—the “love that moves the sun and all the stars.” (Dante, Paradiso, 33, 145) (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Gospel, Catechesis, Catechism, Ignatius, 1997, p. 33-34.) 

Father de Souza also looks at the Pope’s impact as a teacher – through three encyclicals, but even more in five other ways:

Benedict’s homilies constituted a course in biblical theology, combined with poetic expression and an extraordinary capacity to express the truths of faith in a most accessible manner. Already published in various collections, the homilies of Benedict will be spiritual reading for generations.

Second, and closely associated with his preaching, there were the Wednesday audiences which, over eight years, constituted a course in the Church Fathers, saints, biblical commentary and the art of prayer.

It was surprising to many that Benedict’s Wednesday’s audiences often drew more pilgrims than that of his predecessor. The masterful teaching presented may have been the reason.

Third, returning to form as a professor, there were the great magisterial lectures, echoing the academic tradition of a great scholar addressing an important topic of general interest. There were four great lectures — the September Speeches: the University of Regensburg in 2006, College des Benardins in Paris (2007), the Westminster Parliament (2010), and the Bundestag in Berlin (2011). All were given on September trips of the Holy Father, perhaps prepared with care over the preceding summer months. A fifth great magisterial lecture, at La Sapienza University in Rome, was published, but not given in person due to protests from narrow-minded professors…

Fourth, the great biblical theologian wrote books of academic work — three volumes entitled Jesus of Nazareth. Immensely learned, the trilogy demonstrated that scholarly rigor ought not be opposed to the life of faith. The books, which the Holy Father explicitly insisted were personal works not of his papal magisterium, have had a greater reach and greater impact than any ordinary encyclical could hope to have.

A fifth instrument favored by Benedict was the off-the-cuff format, whether in question-and-answer style, or in extemporaneous remarks.

Whether in his annual meetings with priests, or in his famous Q&A with children preparing for First Communion, the great teacher was often at his best in conversational mode…

Peter Smith points out the upswing in vocations in the United States during this papal reign:

Father Carter Griffin, vice rector at Blessed John Paul II Seminary in Washington, said the Archdiocese of Washington’s new seminary opened its doors in 2011 and is already near capacity.

“Benedict was able to open up new vistas to people,” Father Griffin said. “For them, to see this man of profound faith, love and hope on the world stage has been an enormous benefit on the world and on vocations.”

It’s a scenario that is also playing out at already established seminaries such as Mount St. Mary’s in Emmitsburg, Md.

“We’re experiencing the largest numbers that we have had in years,” said Msgr. Stuart Swetland, who teaches pre-theology to seminarians at the Mount.

Msgr. Swetland said that most of the men he teaches are between the ages of 21-25 and were teenagers when Blessed John Paul II died.

“They are more affected by Benedict,” he said. “I think the young are responding to the fact that he takes them seriously enough to do something beyond themselves.”

Kenneth Whitehead talks about reactions to the Pope and to his resignation:

…And so it went. What must strike a knowledgeable observer is how many of these characterizations, in spite of the confidence with which they have mostly been delivered, are either distortions or are simply not true! …

This kind of critical account of the pope and his papacy, however, is not so much based on what he has actually said and done, but rather upon what his critics think he should have said and done—based on criteria of theirs often far removed from anything resembling authentic Catholicism. He has been weighed in the balance and found wanting by his critics precisely because he has so faithfully and authentically reflected and represented what the Church and the faith truly are; he has been faulted and vilified because he has been such a “good and faithful servant” (Mt 25:21).

Catholics might rightly be disappointed and even dismayed at how their Church and their faith—along with their Church’s supreme leader over the past eight years—could be so ignorantly and even maliciously characterized and misrepresented. It should not be forgotten, however, that “if the world hates you, know that it hated me before it hated you” (Jn 15:18).

The Anchoress looks ahead to the impact that Pope Emeritus Benedict will have in his new role:

Those who think Benedict has simply lain down his staff do not understand that he lays it down to pick up a flamethrower of sorts. For however long he lives as a monastic, he will be a conduit of prayer, praise, adoration and supplication for the rest of the world. He is taking on huge duty.

In faith he will have delivered the powerful lesson that a life of faith is never without resources, because prayer extends beyond time and space, through darkness and into light.

And perhaps we will need to learn that lesson well, to face our future, together.


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‘We all know that [Adam and Eve] is just plainly not true,’ said a commenter, scathingly, on another blog.

Wrong assumption, said I. Which led to quite a discussion, culminating in the request: ‘where in hominid development did God come down and create Adam and Eve? I’m interested in how you can rationalise this out.’

So here goes. First, I’ll cover off the articles of faith that I accept because they are Catholic doctrine. Then I’ll outline the scientific theories that seem to me to have the weight of evidence behind them. With that foundation laid, I’ll launch into my explanation of the puzzle, with due thanks to those who have provided part of the picture.

Catholic doctrine

God created space and time, and everything that exists. He created two realms, spiritual and physical. Both were perfect, and perfectly beautiful. He created intelligent spiritual beings to fill the spiritual realm.

God created the earth and filled it with plants and animals.

We are given no information about his process or methodologies, but we know he liked what he had done.

God created the first parents of humankind: the two people we know of as Adam and Eve. In doing so, he created a bridge between the spiritual and physical realms – a creature that is physical but that also has a spiritual soul. The union of body and soul produces a single being, a human being. God creates each soul individually – you receive your body from your parents, but your soul straight from God.

This man and woman were created in a state of ‘original justice’ – divine intimacy and harmony between God and humankind, between the man and the woman, between the first couple and all creation. They were given mastery – particularly over themselves: free from what the Catechism calls ‘triple concupiscence’. Triple concupiscense is ‘subjection to the pleasures of the senses, covetousness for earthly goods, and self-assertion, contrary to the dictates of reason’.

Adam and Eve failed in a task God gave them – a metahistorical event we call ‘the Fall’. Humankind were no longer in a state of original justice, and were subject to concupiscence. This condition was inheritable.

This is all in the Catechism.

Theories of the evolution of humankind

It seems likely that humankind has a single origin (since all races can interbreed), and that this origin was Africa no earlier than 70,000 BCE and no later than 50,000 BCE. (There is a counter theory that multiple species capable of interbreeding developed in various parts of the world during a 2.5 million year period – the multi-regional evolution theory. DNA evidence supports the out-of-Africa theory, though.)

There’s also some evidence to suggest that the Lake Toba extinction event reduced the total homo-sapiens population to as few as a thousand breeding pairs. This happened around 70,000 years ago.

Then something changed – some experts speculate it was language – and soon the slow step-by-step process of development seen in stone tools gave way to what some have called ‘the great leap forward’. From 50,000 years ago, people started burying their dead, making clothes out of animal skins, painting on cave walls, and using sophisticated hunting techniques. From that point on, technological progress was rapid (in evolutionary time-terms).

Our ancestors boiled out of Africa and covered the world in a few tens of thousands of years. During that expansion time, the last surviving populations of other hominid types became extinct.

A unified theory of our origins and our destination

I believe God used the mechanisms described by the theory of evolution to create different species in the physical realm and probably other mechanisms that we don’t understand yet. For example, I am interested in the research into genetic switches that are responsive to environmental changes.

This ‘good basic design followed by limited intervention’ theory fits with His known preference for setting up the mechanism and letting it operate as much as possible without interference. I think some interventions must have been necessary, and I speculate that some of the key intervention points are listed in Genesis chapter 1: period 1, creating space and time; period 2, collecting appropriate gases; period 3, forming a workable solar system with the planets at the right distances and a working moon; period 4, getting plant life started; period 5, starting and guiding the development of the first animal life – in the sea, initially; period 6, starting and guiding the development of life on land, culminating in hominids.

Then God gave a single male and a single female a human soul each. This was the intervention we see in Genesis 2; it’s an intervention He repeats with every conception.

It seems clear to me that God raised at least the man Himself, giving him everything necessary for his comfort, including, eventually, a female counterpart to be his partner and companion.

Now the man and the woman were bridge creatures, as I’ve said: both body and soul. But in a sense they were not yet fully human. God had made them with free will precisely so that they could participate in completing the design. A fully complete human is one that chooses partnership with God.

For this reason, He allowed the man and the woman to be challenged; He gave them the opportunity to show their love and trust for Him. Just as we have inherited their tendency to concupiscence, so – if they had passed the test – we would have inherited their state of original justice, and their innocence of concupiscence. This means that there must be a physical basis for this state of innocence, since the body, not the soul, is inherited.

Scott Hahn points out that Adam was present during Eve’s temptation (‘she also gave some to her husband, who was with her’), and suggests that he acted out of fear – the serpent being a fearsome creature that was promising to kill him if he didn’t co-operate. Be that as it may, they failed the challenge, and lost the opportunity to pass their state of innocence onto their offspring.

My theory is that they then went to live with or near the main homo-sapiens population. Their sons and daughters took mates from the main population. God gave each of their offspring a human soul, and the parents and grandparents gave the power of naming, or human language, and the concept of God and the spiritual realm.

These innovations fueled ‘the great leap forward’. Over time, the genetics of those first parents were spread throughout the population, and so were their radical ideas.

In due course, Jesus came as the new Adam, to do what the first true man failed to do. Having obeyed God even to death, He was the first fully complete human being. He couldn’t pass this state of being to the human race by being their parent – that opportunity passed with the first parents. Instead, He instituted the Eucharist, where we take into our physical selves a particle of the Body and Blood of Jesus (disguised as bread and wine). Over time, and given that we co-operate, this changes us to be holy, as Christ is holy.

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Interesting post over on Sentire Cum Ecclesia on what the Pope meant and means by describing the remnant of the faithful as a mustard seed. David talks about catechism, sacramental initiation and evangelisation and how they link together. Well worth a look.

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