Spirituality for Today – May 2008 – Volume 12, Issue 10
Last Sunday, after returning from the departure ceremony for Pope Benedict XVI at JFK, I suddenly realized how tired I was. On the way home, I fell fast asleep and did not wake up until we got to Trumbull. The next morning, I found it difficult to get out of bed at the usual time.
But it was not weariness. I was spiritually exhilarated yet physically tired. (For the record, I did get up and kept my appointments!)
That dual feeling filled me with further admiration for our Holy Father. I merely attended various events on his itinerary. His Holiness not only attended all the events but, indeed, presided at them. And his every word and gesture was observed and analyzed. Yet at the end of his six-day visit, Pope Benedict greeted so many of us who lined the red carpet leading to his airplane. And with seeming ease, he made his way up the steps and with one last wave returned to Rome. Pope Benedict remained gracious, serene, and buoyant throughout his visit, right to the very end.
To say the least, the papal visit helped us all see what a kind and loving man the Lord has raised up to watch over and guide his Church. As he greeted crowds, offered Mass, delivered homilies and talks, we met a humble man blessed with brilliant faith and penetrating intellectual powers. His talks and addresses (read them on the Vatican website) were forthright without being angular, authoritative without being domineering.
The Holy Father connected to people of all ages and backgrounds – with the cheering crowds in the Nationals and Yankee stadia; with the 25,000 exuberant young people at Saint Joseph Seminary in Yonkers; with the mourners at Ground Zero; with the victims of abuse; and with bishops, priests, religious, seminarians, and educators. Our Holy Father described afresh the foundations of ecumenism and entered into respectful dialogue with inter-religious leaders, dramatized by the first-ever visit of a Pope to a U.S. synagogue. He offered world leaders a sound rationale for the United Nations and brilliantly outlined its role for our changing world. Whatever differences may exist with the administration on Iraq and immigration, the Holy Father and the President seemed to be kindred spirits, especially in their dedication to the cause of life and the importance of keen moral sense for the overall good of society. Not only that. Many individuals who were fortunate enough to meet him personally report how that the Holy Father looked them in the eye and made even a brief encounter a wonderful event. Truly God loves his Church in giving us such a leader.
It was also clear that the Holy Father loves the United States. He praised the citizens of our country as a faith-filled, charitable, freedom-loving, optimistic people. His Holiness made it clear he has not forgotten that his native land was liberated from Nazism by the Allies. He also remembers and admires the role of the United States in drafting the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, now celebrating its sixtieth anniversary. The Pope came to our nation not with pre-conceived notions about us but with great insight into our founding principles and with a deep appreciation of our characteristic values and virtues. Not only for Catholics but surely for all of America, he was a messenger of hope who applied the power of the Gospel to elicit from us and from our culture the very best we have to offer.
Yet, even in the clear sunshine of the Nation's Capital and the Gothic splendor of Saint Patrick's Cathedral, the Holy Father did not hesitate to address the dark shadows of American society. On several occasions he spoke of the damage which sexual abuse has inflicted on victims, on the morale of our good clergy, on the Church herself.
The Pope demonstrated his pastoral concern by meeting with victims. He also put the terrible specter of abuse in its proper context: the overall degradation of sexuality and the breakdown of the family. These problems are symptomatic of a deeper problem: "...a disturbing breakdown of the very foundation of society; increasing violence; a weakening of the moral sense; a coarsening of social relations; and growing forgetfulness of God."
At the same time, the Pope did not merely bemoan such challenges but rather bore witness to the light of truth which generates freedom and love – a light which is not merely noble principles and ideals but is indeed a Person, the Person of Christ. Jesus, the Son of God made man, in showing us the face of the Father also shows us to ourselves and brings to light our vocation to love: to participate in the love of the Trinity and to be agents of generous love and unity in Church and society. He challenged us to bring the vision of faith to bear on society's problems and to join together in constructing a world of love and hope – a world where the rights and dignity of each person are respected, including the unborn, the handicapped, and the frail elderly; where children are welcomed and nurtured in loving families founded upon the love of husband and wife; where the stranger is welcomed and the poor are treated with care and respect; where we are free to worship without fear and to bring the light of faith into the public square; where shared truth and convictions protect our freedom from the tyrannical rule of godless and valueless opinion leaders and trend setters who lead us away from what is true, good, coherent, and beautiful.
With gentleness and humility, the Holy Father not only warned us against creating a claustrophobic culture, closed in by an oppressive horizon of selfworship; he also called us to be "a leaven of evangelical hope in American society ...to point the way to that vast horizon of hope which God is opening up to the Church, and indeed, to all humanity: the vision of a world reconciled and renewed in Christ Jesus our Savior.
Now it is up to us to build upon the gift of this papal visit. It is for us to ponder the Holy Father's words, to be renewed in our life of prayer both private and liturgical; to grow in our knowledge and love of what our faith teaches; and to be men and women of intense charity not only for those we already know and love but also for those whom we may never meet but who need our love and help.
Fortunately, the Diocese already has in place a Pastoral Plan for Evangelization to help us grow in all these areas and in the year ahead we'll be focusing, with the whole Church, on the life and mission of Saint Paul, in an effort to win back those who no longer practice their faith or who have no spiritual home. More on that later!
May God bless and keep Pope Benedict XVI! Thank you, Holy Father!
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