The Pope on interreligious dialogue

The following is an excerpt from the pope’s address yesterday to Bangladesh’s bishops. Seven bishops lead the 300,000 Catholics of Bangladesh.

The Church is Catholic: a community embracing peoples of all races and languages, and not limited to any one culture or particular social, economic or political system. She is at the service of the entire human family, freely sharing her gifts for the well-being of all. This gives her a connatural ability to foster unity and peace. My dear brothers, you and your people, as promoters of harmony and peace, have much to offer the nation. In your love for your country you inspire tolerance, moderation and understanding. By encouraging people who share important values to cooperate for the common good, you help to consolidate your country’s stability and to maintain it for the future. These efforts, however subtle, give effective support to the majority of your fellow citizens who uphold the country’s noble tradition of mutual respect, tolerance and social harmony. May you likewise continue to sustain and counsel Catholic lay people and all who wish to offer their service for the good of society in public office, social communications, in education, healthcare and social assistance. May they always rejoice in the knowledge that Christ accepts as a gesture of personal love whatever good is done to the least of his brothers.

I am aware of recent initiatives you have taken in the field of interreligious dialogue, and I exhort you to persevere with patient dedication to this essential component of the Church’s mission ad gentes. Indeed, much good can be accomplished when it is conducted in a spirit of mutual understanding and collaboration in truth and freedom. All men and women have an obligation to seek the truth. When it is found, they are compelled to model their entire lives in accordance with its demands. Consequently, the most important contribution we can bring to interreligious dialogue is our knowledge of Jesus of Nazareth, “the way, the truth and the life”. Dialogue, based on mutual respect and truth, cannot fail to have a positive influence on the social climate of your country. The delicacy of this task requires thorough preparation of clergy and lay people, first of all by offering them a deeper knowledge of their own faith and then by helping them to grow in their understanding of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and the other religions present in your region.

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“The faith which does not reject any peoples’ customs”

The Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, the Vatican department in charge of missionary work, gave the following instructions to Catholic missionaries in 1659 on how to deal with the cultures they were to encounter in the Far East:

Put no obstacles in their way; and for no reason whatever should you persuade these people to change their rites, customs, and ways of life, unless these are obviously opposed to religion and good morals. For what is more absurd than to bring France or Spain or Italy or any other part of Europe into China? It is not these that you should bring but the faith which does not spurn or reject any peoples’ rites and customs, unless they are depraved, but on the contrary tries to keep them … Admire and praise what deserves to be respected.

“If we believe that God is located in the heavens, then the birds would be more fortunate than we”

Pope Benedict at midnight Mass

Here are some excerpts from the pope’s sermon at midnight Mass on Christmas Eve:

Saint John, in his Gospel, went to the heart of the matter, giving added depth to Saint Luke’s brief account of the situation in Bethlehem: “He came to his own home, and his own people received him not”. …

These words refer ultimately to us, to each individual and to society as a whole. Do we have time for our neighbour who is in need of a word from us, from me, or in need of my affection? For the sufferer who is in need of help? For the fugitive or the refugee who is seeking asylum? Do we have time and space for God? Can he enter into our lives? Does he find room in us, or have we occupied all the available space in our thoughts, our actions, our lives for ourselves? …

In the stable at Bethlehem, Heaven and Earth meet. Heaven has come down to Earth. For this reason, a light shines from the stable for all times; for this reason joy is enkindled there; for this reason song is born there.

At the end of our Christmas meditation I should like to quote a remarkable passage from Saint Augustine. Interpreting the invocation in the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father who art in Heaven”, he asks: what is this – Heaven? And where is Heaven? Then comes a surprising response: “… who art in Heaven – that means: in the saints and in the just. Yes, the heavens are the highest bodies in the universe, but they are still bodies, which cannot exist except in a given location. Yet if we believe that God is located in the heavens, meaning in the highest parts of the world, then the birds would be more fortunate than we, since they would live closer to God. Yet it is not written: ‘The Lord is close to those who dwell on the heights or on the mountains’, but rather: ‘the Lord is close to the brokenhearted’, an expression which refers to humility. Just as the sinner is called ‘Earth’, so by contrast the just man can be called ‘Heaven’.”

Heaven does not belong to the geography of space, but to the geography of the heart. And the heart of God, during the Holy Night, stooped down to the stable: the humility of God is Heaven. And if we approach this humility, then we touch Heaven. Then the Earth too is made new. With the humility of the shepherds, let us set out, during this Holy Night, towards the Child in the stable! Let us touch God’s humility, God’s heart! Then his joy will touch us and will make the world more radiant. Amen.

“The mystery of new birth shone upon us”

Adoration of the Magi

The following is from a letter written by St. Leo the Great, who was bishop of Rome from 440 to 461:

To speak of our Lord, the son of the blessed Virgin Mary, as true and perfect man is of no value to us if we do not believe that he is descended from the line of ancestors set out in the Gospel. Matthew’s gospel begins by setting out “the genealogy of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham,” and then traces his human descent by bringing his ancestral line down to his mother’s husband, Joseph. On the other hand, Luke traces his parentage backward step by step to the actual father of mankind, to show that both the first and the last Adam share the same nature.

No doubt the Son of God in his omnipotence could have taught and sanctified men by appearing to them in a semblance of human form as he did to the patriarchs and prophets, when for instance he engaged in a wrestling contest or entered into conversation with them, or when he accepted their hospitality and even ate the food they set before him. But these appearances were only types, signs that mysteriously foretold the coming of one who would take a true human nature from the stock of the patriarchs who had gone before him.

No mere figure, then, fulfilled the mystery of our reconciliation with God, ordained from all eternity. The Holy Spirit had not yet come upon the Virgin nor had the power of the Most High overshadowed her, so that within her spotless womb Wisdom might build itself a house and the Word become flesh. The divine nature and the nature of a servant were to be united in one person so that the Creator of time might be born in time, and he through whom all things were made might be brought forth in their midst.

For unless the new man, by being made “in the likeness of sinful humanity,” had taken on himself the nature of our first parents, unless he had stooped to be one in substance with his mother while sharing the Father’s substance and, being alone free from sin, united our nature to his, the whole human race would still be held captive under the dominion of Satan.

The Conqueror’s victory would have profited us nothing if the battle had been fought outside our human condition. But through this wonderful blending the mystery of new birth shone upon us, so that through the same Spirit by whom Christ was conceived and brought forth we too might be born again in a spiritual birth; and in consequence the evangelist declares the faithful to “have been born not of blood, nor of the desire of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

“Christ’s peace is not the simple absence of conflict.”

The following is an address given by Pope Benedict XVI on 19 August 2007, discussing Christ’s statement that he has come not to bring peace but division:

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

There is an expression of Jesus’ in this Sunday’s Gospel that always draws our attention and which needs to be properly understood. As he is on his way to Jerusalem, where death on the cross awaits him, Christ confides in his disciples: “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.”

And he adds: “From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law” (Luke 12:51-53).

Whoever knows the least amount about the Gospel of Christ knows that it is the message of peace par excellence; Jesus himself, as St. Paul writes, “is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14); he died and rose from the dead to break down the wall of enmity and inaugurated the Kingdom of God, which is love, joy, and peace.

How, then, are we to explain these words of his? To what is the Lord referring when he says that he has come to bring — according to St. Luke’s redaction — “division,” or — according to St. Matthew’s — the “sword” (Matthew 10:34)?

Christ’s expression means the peace that he came to bring is not synonymous with the simple absence of conflict. On the contrary, the peace of Jesus is the fruit of a constant struggle against evil. The battle that Jesus has decided to fight is not against men or human powers but against the enemy of God and man, Satan.

Those who desire to resist this enemy, remaining faithful to God and the good, must necessarily deal with misunderstandings and sometimes very real persecution. Thus, those who intend to follow Jesus and commit themselves without compromises to the truth must know that they will face opposition and will become, despite themselves, a sign of division among persons, even within their own families.

Love of one’s parents is indeed a sacred commandment, but for it to be lived authentically it cannot be set in opposition to the love of God and Christ. In such a way, in the footsteps of the Lord Jesus, Christians must become “instruments of his peace,” according to the celebrated expression of St. Francis of Assisi. This is not an inconsistent and superficial peace but a real one, pursued with courage and tenacity in the daily commitment to defeat evil with good (cf. Romans 12:21), paying in person the price that this carries with it.

The Virgin Mary, Queen of Peace, shared the struggle of her son Jesus against the evil one, to the point of spiritual martyrdom, and she continues to share this struggle until the end of time. Let us invoke her maternal intercession, that she may help us always to be faithful witnesses to Christ’s peace, never giving in to compromises with evil.

(Translated by the Zenit news agency.)

“They who rule should rule with even-handed justice.”

From the encyclical Immortale Dei, promulgated by Pope Leo XIII on 1 November 1885:

It is not difficult to determine what would be the form and character of the State were it governed according to the principles of Christian philosophy. Man’s natural instinct moves him to live in civil society, for he cannot, if dwelling apart, provide himself with the necessary requirements of life, nor procure the means of developing his mental and moral faculties. Hence, it is divinely ordained that he should lead his life be it family, social, or civil with his fellowmen, amongst whom alone his several wants can be adequately supplied. But as no society can hold together unless someone be over all, directing all to strive earnestly for the common good, every civilized community must have a ruling authority, and this authority, no less than society itself, has its source in nature, and has, consequently, God for its Author. Hence, it follows that all public power must proceed from God: for God alone is the true and supreme Lord of the world. Everything, without exception, must be subject to Him, and must serve Him, so that whosoever holds the right to govern, holds it from one sole and single Source, namely God, the Sovereign Ruler of all. There is no power but from God.

The right to rule is not necessarily, however, bound up with any special mode of government. It may take this or that form, provided only that it be of a nature to insure the general welfare. But whatever be the nature of the government, rulers must ever bear in mind that God is the paramount Ruler of the world, and must set Him before themselves as their exemplar and law in the administration of the State. For, in things visible, God has fashioned secondary causes in which His divine action can in some wise be discerned, leading up to the end to which the course of the world is ever tending. In like manner in civil society, God has always willed that there should be a ruling authority, and that they who are invested with it should reflect the divine power and providence in some measure over the human race.

They, therefore, who rule should rule with even-handed justice, not as masters, but rather as fathers, for the rule of God over man is most just, and is tempered always with a father’s kindness. Government should moreover be administered for the well-being of the citizens, because they who govern others possess authority solely for the welfare of the State. Furthermore, the civil power must not be subservient to the advantage of any one individual, or of some few persons; inasmuch as it was established for the common good of all. But if those who are in authority rule unjustly, if they govern overbearingly or arrogantly, and if their measures prove hurtful to the people, they must remember that the Almighty will one day bring them to account, the more strictly in proportion to the sacredness of their office and pre-eminence of their dignity. The mighty shall be mightily tormented.

“My daughter, whom I have chosen for myself”

An excerpt from the words of Jesus Christ spoken to the mystic St. Birgitta of Sweden, who lived in the 14th century:

But you, my daughter, whom I have chosen for myself and with whom I speak in spirit, love me with all your heart, not as you love your son or daughter or relatives but more than anything in the world! I created you and spared none of my limbs in suffering for you. And yet I love your soul so dearly that, if it were possible, I would let myself be nailed to the cross again rather than lose you. Imitate my humility: I, who am the king of glory and of angels, was clothed in lowly rags and stood naked at the pillar while my ears heard all kinds of insults and derision. Prefer my will to yours, because my Mother, your Lady, from beginning to end, never wanted anything but what I wanted. If you do this, then your heart will be with my heart, and it will be set aflame with my love in the same way as any dry thing is easily set aflame by fire. Your soul will be filled with me and I will be in you, and all temporal things will become bitter to you and all carnal desire like poison. You will rest in my divine arms, where there is no carnal desire, only joy and spiritual delight. There the soul, both inwardly and outwardly delighted, is full of joy, thinking of nothing and desiring nothing but the joy that it possesses. So love me alone, and you will have all the things you wish, and you will have them in abundance. Is it not written that the widow’s oil did not fail until the day that the Lord sent rain upon the earth according to the words of the prophet? I am the true prophet. If you believe my words and fulfill them, oil and joy and exultation will never fail you for all eternity.