Yes, art is elemental. Reason alone as it’s expressed in the sciences can’t be man’s complete answer to reality, and it can’t express everything man can, wants to, and has to express. I think God built this into man. Art along with science is the highest gift God has given him. (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Salt of the Earth, 47)
Saturday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time
I was feeling like a real go-getter this week. Days before writing this reflection I had read the passages and knew I was going to write on the section where James talks about going after those who stray. Then I randomly picked up a book that I bought exactly one year before I got married, mind you I’ve been married for nearly three years now. The book is called Salt of the Earth and it is an interview between Peter Seewald and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. As I read one of Ratzinger’s responses I found a line from today’s first reading ringing through my mind, “Is anyone in good spirits? He should sing a song of praise.” That is such good advice! But are we bad at following it?
Here is the line that released that train of thought from the station:
Something I constantly notice is that unembarrassed joy has become rare. Joy today is increasingly saddled with moral and ideological burdens, so to speak. When someone rejoices, he is afraid of offending against solidarity with the many people who suffer. I don’t have any right to rejoice, people think, in a world where there is so much misery, so much injustice. (36)
I want to spend our time reflecting on the two keys that James and Jesus give us for unlocking unembarrassed joy.
The first key is from James and is one of action. It is worth noting that James does not possess the same dilemma that Ratzinger suggests we do. For immediately before addressing the one in good spirits James wrote, “Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray.” James is not ignorant to suffering in the world. As a matter of fact, if you read all of James, there is a strong call for us to do something about the suffering of the world! We find lines such as
- “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (1:27)
- “However, if you fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors” (2:8-9)
- “If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (2:15-17)
- “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice. But the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity” (3:16-17)
This cornucopia of citations from James is to express that there seems to be a presumption that the person expressing unembarrassed joy, is already cooperating with God in trying to do something about these present trials and sufferings. When we strive to follow James’ call to bear sorrow and suffering together, we do not hesitate to share our joy. Instead, it is when we isolate the alleviation of suffering to the afflicted that we become ashamed of joy.
The second key is from Jesus in the gospel and is one of attitude or being. Today’s gospel possess the famous line, “whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” When we become childlike we can be joyful without shame. I recall the great joy my nephew had as he shot baskets. To the pragmatic adult, he was just throwing the ball up and his dad and I were actually sinking the ball through the hoop. For the child, though, he was doing it and there was only joy in making the baskets. And that joy was contagious. It was inviting.
That is the kind of joy that Pope Francis called us to in The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium). Not something with a shrill, uneasy laugh trying to cover up the reality of suffering. But a joy like a child’s. A joy that penetrates hardship and overcomes suffering as it lifts someone’s spirit to the kingdom.
When Ratzinger, in 1996, noted a rarity in unembarrassed joy, I believe he was referring to a rarity in active childlike joy. It is to this same impoverishment that Pope Francis responded with The Joy of the Gospel.
May the Gospel compel us to action and fill us with a contagious joy.
Both photos from www.amazon.com
Still, it’s no doubt that one doesn’t automatically become more just and gentle or wiser and more faithful by occupying oneself with God and the Church.
Unfortunately, that’s true. By itself studying theology doesn’t make a person better. It helps to make him better when he doesn’t pursue it just as a theory but tries to get a better understanding of himself and of man and the world as a whole in what he reads and then tries to appropriate it as a form of life. But in itself theology is primarily an intellectual occupation, above all when it is pursued with scholarly rigor and seriousness. It can have repercussions on one’s attitude as a human being, but it doesn’t necessarily make man better as such.
(Peter Seewald interviewing Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger in Salt of the Earth, 12)
He said bishops that move pedophile priests should resign:
OK, I’m going to start with the second. First, a bishop who moves a priest to another parish when a case of pedophilia is discovered is a reckless (inconsciente) man and the best thing he can do is to present his resignation. Is that clear?
He called for applause for Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI):
I allow myself to honor the man who fought in moments when he had no strength to impose himself, until he managed to impose himself. Ratzinger. Cardinal Ratzinger deserves applause. (applause) Yes, applause for him. He had all of the documentation. He’s a man who as the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had everything in his hands. He conducted all the investigations, and went on, went on, went on, until he couldn’t go any further in the execution. But, if you remember, 10 days before the death of St. John Paul II, in that Via Crucis of Holy Friday, he said to the whole Church that it needed to clean up the dirt of the Church. And in the Pro-Eligendo Pontefice Mass, despite knowing that he was a candidate, he wasn’t stupid, he didn’t care to “make-up” his answer, he said exactly the same thing. He was the brave one who helped so many open this door. So, I want to remember him because sometimes we forget about this hidden works that were the foundations for “taking the lid off the pot.”
He likened pedophilia committed by a priest to cannibalism:
And, the final thing I would like to say that it’s a monstrosity, because a priest is consecrated to lead a child to God, and he eats him in a diabolical sacrifice. He destroys him.
He said he would give Trump the benefit of the doubt:
We must see if he[Trump] said things in that way and in this I give the benefit of the doubt.
He respects the privacy of a closed door discussion:
Patriarch Kirill. I would prefer – because if I say one thing, I have to say another and another and another. I would prefer that what we spoke about, us, alone, will remain only what we said in public. This is a fact. And if I say this, then I’ll have to say another and another…no! The things I said in public, the things he said in public. This is what can be said about the private conversation. To say it, it wouldn’t be private. But, I tell you, I walked out of it happy, and he did too.
(I otherwise don’t understand the significance of his comments regarding Patriarch Kirill, Ukraine, and Sviatoslav Schevchuk.)
He identified his opinion with the mind of the Church:
And what I think [on the subject of adoption by civil unions and therefore on the rights of children and of sons and daughters in general] is what the Church thinks and has said so often – because this is not the first country [Italy] to have this experience, there are so many – I think what the Church has always said about this.
He spoke strongly against abortion:
Abortion is not the lesser of two evils. It is a crime. It is to throw someone out in order to save another. That’s what the Mafia does. It is a crime, an absolute evil. On the ‘lesser evil,’ avoiding pregnancy, we are speaking in terms of the conflict between the fifth and sixth commandment. Paul VI, a great man, in a difficult situation in Africa, permitted nuns to use contraceptives in cases of rape.
Don’t confuse the evil of avoiding pregnancy by itself, with abortion. Abortion is not a theological problem, it is a human problem, it is a medical problem. You kill one person to save another, in the best case scenario. Or to live comfortably, no? It’s against the Hippocratic oaths doctors must take. It is an evil in and of itself, but it is not a religious evil in the beginning, no, it’s a human evil. Then obviously, as with every human evil, each killing is condemned.
Discriminated between abortions and avoiding pregnancy:
On the ‘lesser evil,’ avoiding pregnancy, we are speaking in terms of the conflict between the fifth and sixth commandment. Paul VI, a great man, in a difficult situation in Africa, permitted nuns to use contraceptives in cases of rape. … On the other hand, avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil. In certain cases, as in this one, or in the one I mentioned of Blessed Paul VI, it was clear. I would also urge doctors to do their utmost to find vaccines against these two mosquitoes that carry this disease. This needs to be worked on.
He has called for the Church to value Marriage Formation more:
As another is the preparation for marriage. Imagine, to become a priest there are eight years of study and preparation, and then if after a while you can’t do it, you can ask for a dispensation, you leave, and everything is OK. On the other hand, to make a sacrament (marriage), which is for your whole life, three to four conferences…Preparation for marriage is very important. It’s very, very important because I believe it is something that in the Church, in common pastoral ministry, at least in my country, in South America, the Church has not valued much.
Challenged the idea that Communion was some kind of reward:
This is the last thing. Integrating in the Church doesn’t mean receiving communion. I know married Catholics in a second union who go to church, who go to church once or twice a year and say I want communion, as if joining in Communion were an award. It’s a work towards integration, all doors are open, but we cannot say, ‘from here on they can have communion.’ This would be an injury also to marriage, to the couple, because it wouldn’t allow them to proceed on this path of integration. And those two were happy. They used a very beautiful expression: we don’t receive Eucharistic communion, but we receive communion when we visit hospitals and in this and this and this. Their integration is that. If there is something more, the Lord will tell them, but it’s a path, a road.
Taught about the importance of healthy friendships between men and women (even celibate men):
I already knew about this friendship between St. John Paul II and this philosopher when I was in Buenos Aires. It was known. Also her books are known. John Paul II was a restless man. Then, I would also say that a man who does not know how to have a relationship of friendship with a woman – I’m not talking about misogynists, who are sick – well, he’s a man who is missing something.
And in my own experience, including when I ask for advice, I would ask a collaborator, a friend, I also like to hear the opinion of a woman because they have such wealth. They look at things in a different way. I like to say that women are those who form life in their wombs – and this is a comparison I make – they have this charism of giving you things you can build with. A friendship with a woman is not a sin. (It’s) a friendship. A romantic relationship with a woman who is not your wife, that is a sin. Understand?
But the Pope is a man. The Pope needs the input of women, too. And the Pope, too, has a heart that can have a healthy, holy friendship with a woman. There are saint-friends – Francis and Clare, Teresa and John of the Cross – don’t be frightened. But women are still not considered so well; we have not understood the good that a woman do for the life of a priest and of the church in the sense of counsel, help of a healthy friendship.
He spoke about well-formed consciences and cited the Catechism in regard to voting for ” laws about unions among people of the same sex.”
[E]very Catholic parliamentarian must vote according their well-formed conscience. I would say just this. I believe it is sufficient because – I say well-formed because it is not the conscience of ‘what seems to me.’ I remember when matrimony for persons of the same sex was voted on in Buenos Aires and the votes were tied. And at the end, one said to advise the other: ‘But is it clear to you? No, me neither, but we’re going to lose like this. But if we don’t go there won’t be a quorum.’ The other said: ‘If we have a quorum we will give the vote to Kirchner.’ And, the other said: ‘I prefer to give it to Kirchner and not Bergoglio.’ And they went ahead. This is not a well formed conscience.
On people of the same sex, I repeat what I said on the trip to Rio di Janeiro. It’s in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
He invited journalists to study Our Lady of Guadalupe:
And I invite you to seriously study the facts of Guadalupe. The Madonna is there. I cannot find another explanation. And it would be nice if you as journalists – there are some books that explain the painting what it is like, the significance, and that is how you can understand better this great and beautiful people.
He loves his mama:
This I asked a lot for, but then, the things a child tells his mother are a bit of a secret.
(Quoting extensively from Catholic News Agency’s Full text of Pope Francis’ in-flight interview from Mexico to Rome)
For a long time now I have frequently pondered the meaning of the recurrent biblical adage: “The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom”, and for a long time I found it very difficult to penetrate its meaning. But now, by approaching it from the opposite side, I begin to understand it so clearly that I can almost touch it with my hands. For what is increasingly taking place before our eyes can be summarized in the words: the fear of men, that is, the absence of the fear of God, is the beginning of all foolishness. Today, since the image of God has been subjugated to the laws of advertising, the fear of God has all but disappeared from the catalogue of virtues. If he is to have advertising appeal, God must be so graphically depicted in exactly the opposite way that no one can possibly find any reason to fear him. That would be the last quality that would appear in our representations of him. In this way, that reversal of values that was the real sickness of pre-Christian religious history spreads more and more throughout our society and even in the midst of the Church. For even in ancient times there was a widespread belief that one did not have to fear the good God, the real God, because from him, since he was good, only good was to be expected. There was no need to worry about the good God; the evil powers were the ones to fear. Only they were dangerous; consequently one must do all in one’s power to win their favor. In this maxim we can see that the service of idols is an apostasy from the service of God. But we are surrounded by this idolatry. The good God does us no harm; we need offer him no more than a kind of primitive trust. But there are all too many dangerous powers around us with whom we must try to come to terms. And that is what people—high and low—are trying to do both inside and outside the Church, no longer with eyes fixed on God and his standards, which, after all, are unimportant, but with eyes on the human powers if they want to be even halfway happy in this world. They no longer strive for what is, for the truth, but for appearances—what people think of them and how they describe them. The dictatorship of appearances is the idolatry of our age; it appears also in the Church. The fear of men is the beginning of all foolishness, but the fear of men rules uncontested where the fear of God is absent.
(Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. 47–48)
But the power of being is not man’s own power; it is the power of the Creator. And faith teaches us this about the Creator: that he is not only Truth, but also Love, and that the two are inseparable. God has as much power in the world as truth and love have. This would be a melancholy thought if all we knew of the world was what we ourselves have been able to observe and experience in the course of our lifetime. But from the perspective of the new experience that God has bestowed on us in Jesus Christ, together with himself and the world, it is a sentence full of triumphant hope. For now we can read this sentence in reverse: truth and love are identical with the power of God because he not only possesses truth and love, he is Truth and Love. Truth and love are, therefore, the real, the definitive power in the world. On this certainty rests the hope of the Church and the hope of Christians. Or better: that is why Christian existence is one of hope.
(Ratzinger, J. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. 59–60)
“It seems incongruous to speak of Mardi Gras in a theological meditation, because it is at best only indirectly a time in the Church year. But are we not somewhat schizophrenic in this regard? On the one hand, we are only too ready to say that it is precisely in Catholic countries that Mardi gras is most at home; on the other hand, we nevertheless ignore it both spiritually and theologically. Is it, then, one of those things that as Christians we cannot condone, but as humans we cannot deny? In that case we should ask: Just how human is Christianity? Granted, Mardi gras is heathen in origin: fertility cult and exorcism merge in it. But it was the Church that had to step in and speak the exorcism that banned the demons who do violence to men and destroy their happiness. Then, after the exorcism, something unexpected, something new, appeared—a merrymaking that is wholly exorcised. Mardi gras is to Ash Wednesday a time of laughter before the time of penance, a time of lighthearted self-irony, whose laughter speaks a truth that may well be closely akin to that of the Lenten preacher. Thus Mardi gras, when it has been exorcised, reminds us of the words of the Old Testament preacher: ‘… a time to weep, and a time to laugh’ (Qo 3:4). For Christians, too, it is not always a time for penance. There is likewise a time for laughter. Yes, Christian exorcism has routed the masked demons and replaced them by the laughter that has been exorcised. All of us know how far removed from this ideal our present Mardi gras often is; how frequently it is mammon and its henchmen that reign there. That is why we Christians do combat, not against, but in favor of, laughter. To struggle against demons and to laugh with those who laugh—these are inseparably united. The Christian has no need to be schizophrenic: Christian Faith is truly human.”
(Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. 27)