Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Challenges from Our
 German Shepherd

Father John J. Lombardi

Whereas Pope John Paul may have been more conciliatory in some ways, Pope Benedict XVI may be more challenging. This may be change-not in the essence of the papacy but, perhaps, in papal personalities. We need both styles today, no doubt.

Pope Benedict has recently shown challenge to the world-to the Church itself regarding missionary activity, to Islam and also to the Western cultural and intellectual mindset. Read on for a challenge.

Mystic Missionaries or Pop Mangers?

In a recent visit to Germany the Pope lamented that if an African bishop promotes a plan for development-social program, he would be greeted favorably; but if the same bishop were to promote a program for evangelization he might be unwelcome: "Clearly some people have the idea that social projects should be urgently undertaken, while anything dealing with God or even the Catholic Faith is of limited and lesser importance." The Holy Father is referring, this Chaplin supposes, to the loss of a kind of militant Christianity and Catholicism that once spread the Good News throughout the world-baptizing babies and even nations (France, for instance), permeating backwards cultures with life and love (Europe after the fall of Rome), proclaiming the One True God as Source of Salvation (think of St Benedict and Irish monks), enabling so many to receive God's Salvific Lifelines in the Sacraments and thru various, diverse spiritualities. The Church, in other words, helped save souls. The Pope, it is no secret, has seen decline not only of the great culture of the West, but also of Christianity succumbing to a "relativism" which denies the freeing and defining morality of the Gospel and the dimension of the supernatural and the Commandments. The Church, many say today, has lost a sense of urgency and evangelization-converting souls.

Some have replaced the Gospel and Jesus Christ's Saving Message with "development programs," "managerial systems," social do-goodism and the like, to the detriment of the supernatural Faith.

And so, heeding our Holy Father's challenge, we should ask, have some Church leaders been too comfortable with worldly ways of "dealing business" and lost sight of the mystical Gospel, the need to evangelize and save souls, neglected the power of the Sacraments and the necessity of the Catholic Church for salvation? While realizing and practicing the need of worldly ways of managing and developing (economic programs) and minding material matters, has the Church lost the need for outgoing evangelizing and herein downgraded the supernatural to mere superstition? Has the Church become embarrassed by the Gospel and Jesus' Mandate to "go out and baptize all nations" (Mt. 28)? Has "dialogue" given way to disciple-making? Has mysticism been overcome by management? Has sacred mystery been ensnared by management? We need to recover our Faith not only in the Majesty of God but also of our supernatural Faith which saves souls. Pope Benedict is here to challenge all of us to this. We all need to work together to revive our Church-Jesus' Church!

Islam and Reason

In a lecture last week to university professors and students, Pope Benedict commented upon a dialogue (perhaps in 1391) of Byzantine emperor Manuel II and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam. The Pope states: "The emperor…goes on to explain in detail the reasons why

spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul…Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats. To convince a reasonable soul one does not need a strong arm or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death."

The Holy Father implies later on in his lecture that in stressing God's transcendence so much, God is no longer graspable by any reason whatsoever, and so much so that humans, unfortunately, may not be bound or helped by reason or rationality. The Pope says, tellingly: "The decisive moment in this argument (between the Emperor and the Persian) against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature." For the Byzantine emperor, however, trained in and attuned to reason and rationality as a good and useful guide to both God's nature and human actions, reason is a reasonable approach, versus wrongful conversion and the like.

What comes to mind of some is a contemporary form of faith which forces conversions, promotes jihad (waging war) and other forms of unjust morality and spirituality-precisely by denying the faculty of properly formed human reason. The technical name for this is voluntarism, which accentuates the will-against-reason, which results in the loss of reasonableness. Of course reason can be overly emphasized (see below section) which is what Western secularism is doing-denying God and the supernatural, and this is directly contrary with Islam-though Islam may perhaps overemphasize the will--minus-reason. The result?-a clash of cultures, philosophies and perhaps even civilizations, and even deaths. The solution: what Pope John Paul proposed in one of his encyclicals-"Fides et Ratio"-- faith and reason go together, neither one can be subtracted or be underemphasized, otherwise we have will-to-power (i.e., voluntarism-recalling Nazism) or rationalism (the Enlightenment's project of banishing God and the supernatural, and the decline we now see of Christianity in Western Europe with empty churches and rising of socialism). Christianity, and Catholicism in particular, holds the key to proper balance, and the Pope knows-and preaches this-with heraldry.

If we look at Islam today, in a wide sense throughout the world, we may discern some areas which are troublesome. For instance, in moral matters: some Shariah Laws (of Islam) propose stoning adulterers. In the cultural realm, in Afghanistan for instance, ancient Buddhist historical sculptures were indiscriminately blown up. In the spiritual sphere, some Muslims may want to convert all "infidels." In the political realm: some want a caliphate (binding-clerical-theocracy) established over others.

In the social milieu, intolerance is perpetuated against filmmakers who attempt to portray Islam in critical light (an artist was savagely killed in the Netherlands for this; death threats-a "fatwa"-were made against Salmon Rushdie for his book "The Satanic Verses"). Are these instances of the loss of reason? The Pope's expression of the need for reason and rationality is important today all the more so because of this. He is articulating what many think but is afraid to say. He is beginning a dialogue and let us hope that Muslims and all others, Christians included, can continue the dialogue-not only to hear Islam's grievances against the West but also Westerners' desire for freedom and justice for all. Reason and Faith can go together!

Denial of the Grandeur?

Pope Benedict also challenged the West, in the same university lecture, by stating that our culture and intellectual establishment may overly rely on human reason, to the point of becoming a "secularist god," closing out the God of revelation and Faith. We in the West need this challenge, too. Pope John Paul was brave on this point, also, encouraging the European Union to recall the roots of its Catholic-Christian culture. After all, some forms of secularist science-and other forms of knowledge and culture-may "say": all we can believe in is only that which is empirical, in other words, that which we see and "can prove" by human reason alone or by scientific proofs. Some reject or neglect the supernatural, mystery, and the inability of human reason alone to grasp all that is true, good and healthy.

Pope Benedict says that there has been a three-part process of separating reason from Faith (a "de-Hellenization"-referring to ancient Greece)-first in the protestant reformation (Sixteenth century) which essentially severed reason from faith; second in the nineteenth century when faith was reduced to scientific proofs, eliminating the supernatural; and third, in modernity (today) which attempts a simplistic return to Christian faith minus reason, without any over-arching pattern or reliance upon Sacred Tradition, and thereby relying only on spiritualist, non-rational interpretations for practice (a neo kind of voluntarism, or "pentecostalism" we see throughout our world).

Pope Benedict stated: "We will succeed in doing so (forging a proper religion and philosophy) only if reason and faith come together in a new way, if we overcome the self imposed limitation of reason to the empirically verifiable, and if we once more disclose its vast horizons…The courage (should be) to engage the whole breadth of reason, and not the denial of its grandeur-then this program with which a theology grounded in biblical faith enters into the dialogue of our time…In the Western world is widely held that only positivistic reason (empiricism which excludes faith and the supernatural) and the forms based upon it are universally valid. Yet the world's profoundly religious cultures see this exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason as an attack on their most profound convictions." Chaplin's Translation: Christians-and others-- are feeling "squeezed out" by an over-extension of secularist reason; and perhaps Islam in some of its violent forms senses a similar reaction, too-though in harmful, unreasonable ways.

The pope reminds us, in helpful hope: "The truly divine God is the God who has revealed himself as logos (reason) and, as logos, has acted and continues to act lovingly on our behalf."

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi