Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Church Militant & Mystical
Pope Benedict & Us!

Father John J. Lombardi

He loves playing Mozart on the piano, eating pasta in Italian restaurants and visiting his native Bavarian mountains. He is described as being both the most brilliant theologian of the century, asserting truthful discipline, and also being shy. His name-now--is Pope Benedict XVI, formerly known as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger.

His first words as Pope were to describe himself a "humble servant in the Lord's vineyard." Jesus' words in this Sunday's Gospel are "I AM the Way, the Truth and the Life…" (St. Jn. 14:6). The Vineyard is the current, modern/modernist world, and the Lord is…The Way: Pope Benedict realizes, in these changing times, that many-even Catholics-do not believe Jesus is the sole, saving Way to Heaven. Contrary to Acts 4:12 ("under no other Name can anyone be saved") relativism and modernism condemn any attempts to define Jesus Christ as The Way. But, as Vatican II stated: "She (the Church) proclaims and is in duty to proclaim without fail, Christ Who is the Way…In Him in Whom God reconciled all things to Himself (2 Cor. 5:18ff) men find the fullness of their religious life" (Nostra Aetete: # 2). Critics have said the Church militant has sometimes been replaced by the Church impotent. This modernism proposes we have nothing unique, salvific or absolute to offer. Therefore we have lost the "drive shaft" of our Faith-evangelizing all nations and peoples (cf. Mt. 28:19 -Our Lord's command to baptize all peoples). So, now, ReThink: though there are many holy teachers with partial or liberating truths, none other than Jesus Christ possesses total Salvific truth; and, though there may be "many roads (ways of spirituality) up the same mountain" (to God), all roads somehow eventually lead to Jesus Christ at the Top of the Mountain-He is The Way (Jn. 14:6). Now, when the Church and anyone of us believes this fully and intensely-as did the saints-we will evangelize and propose-not impose-this Truth in love (cf. Eph. 4:15).This is a tough path to take/make-and few, today, take it: but Pope Benedict has the tenacity, love and spiritual insight to lead us: let us follow-Christ said: "He who receives you receives Me and the One Who sent me".(Jn. 13:20). "If the world hates you realize that it has hated me first" (Jn. 15:18)

Pope Benedict will be good for our Church because he has given his entire life to it, and because--by the way, most important to remember in our politicizing world and church--he loves Jesus Christ and the Truth which frees souls (cf. Jn. 8:32 ). "I Am the Truth" (Jn. 14:6)-Everyone hungers for freeing, saving, healing Truth. In our Catholic Church these last decades we have seen a resurgence in pursuit of Jesus-as-the-Way and the Catholic Church as the Bride, thru movements like homeschooling, independent Catholic schools, re-dedicating Catholic parochial schools, new Catholic universities, catechetical movements, Eucharistic adoration and World and diocesan Youth days, love of the papacy and for John Paul II, chastity movements, increasing third order groups (i.e. Carmelites, Fransiscans) seeking deeper spirituality, protestant evangelicals working with Catholics, ad infinitum... What is the common religious root of all these phenomenal phenomena? Orthodox Catholic Truth: purity of Faith-mystical and moral-which allures and perdures in souls, and doesn't pass away as does relativistic religion. Naturally and supernaturally people hunger for Truth: hunger and thirst. Christ and the Church can offer this-and we must realize this without pride.

Just as with Pope John Paul, Pope Benedict will probably take a tact of assertive diplomacy. This oxymoron describes a robustness (assertive)-Christ and the Church as possessing Eternal Treasures (the Eucharist, salvific offers). Thus we cannot be reticent-it is our duty, as Vatican II stated-with words or actions. On the other hand, we propose (diplomacy) these Truths only in love. The media and all the madness of the world will try to change, water down, compromise our Mission and Mandate from Our Lord to evangelize and win souls. Too terse? Then ReThink: pretend you have a medicine for a sick patient. You first seek him out and second propose it assertively to him-even if he is too sick, tired or unbelieving to take it: you love him and his soul-you want him to be saved.

Now, we Catholics have a Mystical Medicine-Christ's Offer of Salvation, especially in the Eucharist and Sacraments-and we should never shy away from this although the world and wily ones want us to. As the Great Pope John Paul said to the youth at Denver in 1993: "This is no time to be ashamed of the Gospel (cf. Rom. 1: 16). It is the time to preach it from the rooftops (cf. Mt. 10:27). Do not be afraid to break out of comfortable and routine modes of living in order to take up the challenge of making Christ known in the modern metropolis." Pope Benedict will be good for the world because it is sometimes neglecting or rejecting Truth--especially in Western Europe where the European Parliament is refusing to acknowledge God or Catholic Christianity as the root of its culture. This denial of divinity will be costly. Being from Germany with such a forceful intellectual tradition-for better, for worse (St Albert the Great, Freud, Jung, Hegel, Nietzsche, St Teresa of the Cross-Edith Stein, etc), Pope Benedict knows the dangers of nihilism-which proposes there is no truth; he deeply appreciates the beauty of "Faith seeking understanding", while also knowing the corpses intellectual errors like fascism, communism, savage capitalism produce. Every idea has consequences.

This man-as Prefect of the Congregation of Doctrine of the Faith (Vatican office overseeing beliefs) has been both pastoral (encouraging believers to believe right, holy things since these orthodox teachings will help one be saved-how pastoral can you get?) and he also has been pressing (encouraging dissenting-progressivist theologians to think with the Church and not against it to mislead others). That was his job.

Some people say he is a disciplinarian. However, some cardinals recently described him as "compassionate, collegial and shy." Okay, let's allow him his opportunity. The New York Times (Apr 21) had posed opposite stories: "Pope Benedict Promises Dialogue and reconciliation" and: "US Catholics fear Polarization from conservativism". Response?: a) as the transcendentalist-American Thoreau said, "Read not the times, but eternities"; b)Orthodox Catholics will never get a "media break"-so be detached; and c) be in for the long haul.

Now for a lighter moment: If the chant for the previous pope was "John Paul II - we-love-you!" What is chant for Pope Benedict gonna be? Hmmm. Some hard words to rhyme and jive.

Back to the heavy stuff. His last sermon as a cardinal in the conclave was on "dictatorship of relativism". Could only a German theologian think of such a phrase? Italians would say he and the phrase both have gravitas. Anyway, my dad, from the un-ivory-tower streets of downtown Baltimore (pronounced Balmer) asked me what that admittedly alluring and alarmist statement meant. How about "shifting winds of change" regarding beliefs (there is no real truth, only what we human fallible people make it to be, relative to passing things like our times, temperature and temperaments). Or: there are no absolute morals or standards-along with people foisting this emptiness on others in an almost-anything-goes mentality(ie.,same sex unions, etc.). Basically: it's a turn away from God-the-Absolute, to skepticism (the relativism part) and what the majority of (usually progressivist) people want and agendize for others (the dictatorship part).

Here's part of then Cardinal Ratzinger's homily to the conclave (from Zenit.org, April 18, 2005): "How many doctrinal winds we have known in these last decades, how many ideological currents, how many styles of thought. The thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves, tossed from one end to the other: from Marxism to liberalism, to libertinism, from collectivism to radical individualism, from atheism to religious mysticism, from agnosticism to syncretism. To have a clear faith, according to the creed of the Church, is labeled fundamentalism. And this while relativism, that is, allowing oneself to be led here and there by any wind of doctrine, is seen as the only behavior abreast of the times. We are now witnessing the dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as absolute and leaves as the ultimate measure only the measure of each one and his desires. Christians, however, have another measure, which is the Son of God true Man. Mature faith does not follow fashions and the latest novelty, but is profoundly rooted in friendship with Christ."

Okay, Jesus says: "I Am the Life." A lot of progressivist-critics say the Church, and past and current popes are hung up on doctrine and legalisms without a relationship with God. Wait a minute! Pope John Paul consistently stressed personalism-that God loves us as persons and we must respond-individually, morally, communally, as persons and not as religious robots. Re-read the above words of Pope Benedict in stressing a living, loving relationship with the Lord, not just "following all the rules"-Has he been born again- as fundamentalists would say? Sure: daily in the Celebration of the Mass, Holy Communion, sitting with the Lord in Adoration, in his contemplative prayer time, in reading the Bible, in his moral life choosing Jesus and not Satan, self or sensuality of the world. Pope Benedict cultivates Jesus' Life within him by means of metaphysical, sacrificial, mystical and moral life changes so He lives within--the Indwelling Trinity. Orthodox Catholics believe it is a holistic (not only moral) lifestyle, outgoing-evangelizing, and filled with charity. Jesus says: "If you love Me feed My sheep" (Jn. 21:17). This is the Way of the Saints.

In this era of "mystical marketing"-even within parts of the Church (ironic, eh?)-we need support such a brave man who will stand up to the relativism within and outside the Church-someone who speaks the Truth-- when popular or not-just as Jesus did. Some walked away at His teaching on the Eucharist (Jn. 6:60); but Jesus didn't change his doctrine. He pressed people precisely because He pastorally loved them. Being pastoral means pressing the person. Ergo: when a priest or pope says: Stop contraception! (which means, literally, against life) or hoarding material possessions-he loves your soul so much to "bark the truth." Are the following words, preached at his first Mass as pope, really that polarizing? - The pope "aims, as a primary commitment, to work without sparing energies for the reconstitution of the full and visible unity of all the followers of Christ. This is his ambition, this is his imperative duty…He is aware that for this, manifestations of good sentiments are not enough. There must be concrete gestures that penetrate spirits and move consciences, leading each one to that interior conversion that is the assumption of all progress on the path of ecumenism…Theological dialogue is necessary, in-depth knowledge of the historical reasons of choices made in the past is perhaps indispensable. But what is urgent in the main is that 'purification of the memory,' so many times recalled by John Paul II, which alone can dispose spirits to receive the full truth of Christ… is prepared to do all that is in his power to promote the fundamental cause of ecumenism."

Then-Cardinal Ratzinger was once asked what he thought the biggest challenge and blessing of the church was. His answer, to the biggest challenge of the Church: seeing the Church as a secular entity only. The biggest blessing was the Holy Eucharist. As they say, let's unpack that. A merely natural church implies anyone can run the church, it is a democracy, it's a horizontal organization, it is made up as we go along; the pope is not infallible in any matters, lay people need more power, etc. A Supernatural church means the Pope is Chief Shepherd and, as Pope Gregory the Great said, "servant of the servants of Christ", while also being vicar of Christ, a la Mt. 16:18 where Jesus gives St Peter primacy. The document "Lumen Gentium" of Vatican II called Church both people of God and hierarchically ordered. The Church is not only a horizontal organization -cf. the Books of Ephesians (ch. 2,4) and Revelation (ch.4) with their cosmic, dramatic and mystical depictions of Christ's Bride, the Church. A good point while we're at it: the supernatural inspiration and manifestations of God and Faith are more beautiful and alluring than the merely natural, human productions of mankind. Natural morality means there are no absolutes-in certain cases adultery, illicit divorce and homosexual acts are justified by progressivist theologians (this is what I was challenged with in seminary-called consequentialism and proportionalism).

While we Catholics are not moralists (scrupulous, modern-day Pharisee-legalists-without-love) we should try to live heroically moral lives. This is precisely what Pope John Paul called for in his encyclical, "Vertias Splendor-The Splendor of Truth"-there is a splendor to Truth, even when it is morally hard! And, while we're at it: haven't you noticed most complainers against the new Pope are kinda' like, moralists: dejected over moral issues only, like abortion, contraception and homosexualism. Our religion is more than that, it's also about metaphysical delight in mysticism, aesthetic triumphs like DaVinci and Michelangelo; it's also about beautiful saints like St Catherine of Siena, and about cosmic poetry like Dante. Orthodox people are not conservatives-they're conservationists-they want to conserve all the beautiful Faith-expressions from Our Lord (Sacred Tradition) and our Church to pass on for others' Salvation and Liberation.

This is called charity. Okay, now Supernatural morality professes you are in a living and loving relationship with God, it is personalist and enlivening, and you can never break certain commandments-no matter what: never rape a woman; never murder or lie; never adulterate, or rob from the poor by hoarding possessions or withholding charity (cf Mt. 25:42-45): never! It means that God Himself has commanded-not suggested-some unchangeable Truths and we must follow them-because they're for our own good and for all. Natural religion means there are no, or few miracles, the Eucharist is only a symbol, and the Bible is suggestive, not revelatory or inspired. Supernatural religion means miracles are God's loving, saving interventions into life (His initiative because He loves us, and, actually happen all the time-just listen to Grotto pilgrims!); the Mass and Eucharist are Divine Institutions-and are sacrificial-God's Blood is re-presented for all; and, "all scripture is inspired (II Pt.1:21). Natural religion means we, de facto, save ourselves by good works and our own initiative, social projects and creativity; so, therefore, you really don't need a God to save you (I once heard a priest basically say this).

Supernatural religion means God freely saves us, especially by His Sacrificial Blood and so we owe our lives to Him.

Basically it all comes down to secularism or supernaturalism. In supernatural religion God is the initiator and savior; in natural religion and secularism, man is the hero and savant--ditto for progressivism and Marxism. Pope Benedict knows this, and, hopefully all orthodox theologians, priests and believers do, too-Once again, put bluntly: secularism or supernaturalism-- worldliness or other-worldliness; relativism or revelation, man's half-truths versus God's.

Being part philosopher and part theologian, part German and part universal thinker, Pope Benedict knows what the stakes are. Believers and agnostics may be embarrassed or affronted that we need God, that He saves us and that He chsoe the Catholic Church as His Sole Bride.

Lange and Mother Cabrini knew these evils, and showed us by example and And fidelity that there is help and liberation thru their Church, which is the physical-metaphysical extension of Christ in time and space. The Mass-Liturgy, Pope Benedict has said, has lost a sense of wonder, mystery and transcendent worship, replaced by a kind of bland socialism and communalism, and needs a restoration of the sacred amidst the creeping secularism-to truly allow Christ to be our Life (Jn.14:6). The Eucharist feeds, divinizes and forgives us!

We know that Doctrine cannot be changed and it's precisely the Pope's job (don't know if he gets a salary, though) to be Chief Custodian of the Faith, to preserve its purity and promote its beauty--even in these relativistic times: Be Not Afraid, as Pope John Paul the Great often said. Vatican Council II called all Catholics to give full assent of mind and will to all the Church teaches-we need seriously consider this and pass on the fruits as we are converted by the challenges of our Faith and Our Lord. Disciplines, however, can change. Some people want to confuse you by blurring the difference between doctrines and disciplines, and thereby make the Church change important things other than disciplines. Doctrines and Dogmas are infallible teachings like the Trinity (three Divine Persons in one Single Essence); the Divinity of the Eucharist, the Sacred Foundation of the Church and inerrancy of the Bible. These can never be changed. Ditto for illicitness of homosexual acts (ditto for any extra-marital heterosexual ones); illicit divorce, murder under any circumstances, etc. Once again: our Religion is Supernatural-revealed from God! Now, disciplines, like certain external forms for the Mass (Latin or vernacular language; colors of vestments, etc.); fasting, length and tone of liturgical seasons, rules of religious monks, etc. are changeable, malleable. But, obviously, they don't change much. Some people, (even professors) confuse the teachings such as capital punishment and just war -which are officially recognized by the church as possible, though they should be rare, with other morally obligatory teachings such as the inherent evil of abortion and contraception.

Wrongful contraception and male priesthood are, consistent, insistent and persistent teachings of the Church and will probably never be changed. Clerical celibacy, however is a discipline and is, possibly but not probably, changeable, because it has been officially proscribed for over 1500 years and it doesn't look like any pope will soon change that.

Now, back to those Americanist issues-abortion, contraception and male priests. Abortion: never will change. In Pope John Paul's encyclical Evengelium Vitae and other Church documents we see the Church defining the immutability of the issue- it is always a sin and serious evil, though always forgivable (call Project Rachel for post-abortion counseling). Contraception and male priesthood: Most or all orthodox theologians would say these two teachings of the Church are infallible precisely because they have been defined by the ordinary and universal magisterium of the Church (a challenging descriptor for: the normative and worldwide agreement of bishops taught over time). Thus they appear immutable=unchangeable. To state this is to be compassionate-once again, pressing and pastoral go together. You don't want to cultivate or allow false hope or keep people in the dark about moral matters.

Okay, enough sermonizing. Since everyone's giving suggestions to the new Pope, here's mine: Beatify and canonize Dorothy Day. This gritty American lady's cause was begun by none other than Cardinal John O'Connor of New York .She was the raspy communist-become Catholic-convert who heroically served the poor and loved the Lord. She adored the Church and the sacraments and unswervingly obeyed (nervingly to progressivists!) the Church's teachings, all while loving the Lord's lowly-poor (though she was a pacifist). Her grittiness went with godliness-they're inseparable for most saints. She once rebuked a liberalist priest who wanted to raze a beautiful Church amidst the poor, because she said the poor need such sacred beauty amidst their material poverty: they were willing to sacrifice for it. A beatification would send a great message to American Catholics (esp progressivists): One among you loved the Lord with all heart and soul, and neighbor as well-and was faithful to the Church. You can be both faithful, orthodox Catholic and an American!

David Schindler, prominent theologian, has said that America suffers David Schindler, prominent theologian, has said that America suffers from serious ills, including (a kinda' ABC's of dangers): Abortion, Birth control and Consumerism. Saintly souls in America like Dorothy Day, Mother

Now, for a last, enlightening word, from a New York Times letter to the Editor (Apr 21): " I disagree with the Fairfield Univ. professor who was quoted as saying the choice of Cardinal Ratzinger as pope is nothing but 'backwards looking.' I am thankful for Cardinal Ratzinger's elevation.. The more my faith 'looks backward' to the time of Christ, the clearer the path to eternity becomes.'" (John D Pepe, Avondale, Pa.). Kinda' like "Back to the Future." Yes, that's what orthodox teachings and the Church are about. To go forward we need the Sacred Depth of the past -and presenting them clearly and compassionately to the world. Pope Benedict is the logical and loving successor not only to St Peter but also to a Great Man who balanced compassion and challenge. John Paul II.

Let's all remember: Jesus is the Way, Truth and Life:

His Way is Supernatural-calling for our "super-nature" souls, aided by Grace to live like Him (cf. Lk. 9:23)-denying self and living with Crosses.. His Truth is Spiritual-He will aid us by the Advocate-Spirit (Jn. 14:26 )and help us embrace and live holy lives. His Life is Vertical- transformative and noruishing-As the Vine He sustains us Eucharistically and Grace-fully if we cling to Him.

Let's rally around our Pope, all our priests and other laypersons to love the Lord and one another-heroically, as saints for the Kingdom!

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi