six years since the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI

Today, February 11, 2019, marks six years since Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation. I remember it like it was yesterday.

Last year, the pope-emeritus published a short note to a newspaper in response to an inquiry about how he was faring, a response that radiated with his characteristic warmth and wisdom:

It’s a great grace, in this last, at times tiring, stage of my journey, to be surrounded by a love and goodness that I could have never imagined.

Here is a link over to the Spiritual Friendship blog, where Ron Belgau has written about the pope emeritus’ writings on friendship with Christ.

May God bless the remaining days of the life of this remarkable disciple.

on All Souls’ Day: some thoughts on Christian hope

Carracci-PurgatoryA few thoughts from Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical letter Spe Salvi (On Christian Hope):

The belief that love can reach into the afterlife, that reciprocal giving and receiving is possible, in which our affection for one another continues beyond the limits of death—this has been a fundamental conviction of Christianity throughout the ages and it remains a source of comfort today. Who would not feel the need to convey to their departed loved ones a sign of kindness, a gesture of gratitude or even a request for pardon? Now a further question arises: if “Purgatory” is simply purification through fire in the encounter with the Lord, Judge and Savior, how can a third person intervene, even if he or she is particularly close to the other? When we ask such a question, we should recall that no man is an island, entire of itself. Our lives are involved with one another, through innumerable interactions they are linked together. No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone. The lives of others continually spill over into mine: in what I think, say, do and achieve. And conversely, my life spills over into that of others: for better and for worse. So my prayer for another is not something extraneous to that person, something external, not even after death. In the interconnectedness of Being, my gratitude to the other—my prayer for him—can play a small part in his purification. And for that there is no need to convert earthly time into God’s time: in the communion of souls simple terrestrial time is superseded. It is never too late to touch the heart of another, nor is it ever in vain. In this way we further clarify an important element of the Christian concept of hope. Our hope is always essentially also hope for others; only thus is it truly hope for me too (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1032). As Christians we should never limit ourselves to asking: how can I save myself? We should also ask: what can I do in order that others may be saved and that for them too the star of hope may rise? Then I will have done my utmost for my own personal salvation as well.

the message of Fatima

FatimaOn May 13, 1917, Mary appeared to three shepherd children in the hills of Fatima, Portugal.

I had the chance to be in Fatima for the 75th anniversary of the apparitions, in 1992. (It was also the 11th anniversary of the assassination attempt on the life of Pope Saint John Paul II).

It was an amazing week. I was digging through my photo albums a while ago, and it gave me the idea of blogging about my overseas travel adventures: the semester I spent in Austria back in 1992, the summer I spent in England in 1993, and the travels in Europe and Israel during my seminary studies in the fall of 1996.

Today I’m posting a link to the document about Fatima published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the year 2000. It includes several elements about the secrets of Fatima and their interpretation. The theological commentary – which has a great discussion of the proper understanding of private versus public revelation – was written by then-Cardinal Ratzinger. Here’s a teaser from the end of his analysis:

What is the meaning of the “secret” of Fatima as a whole (in its three parts)? What does it say to us? First of all we must affirm with Cardinal Sodano: “… the events to which the third part of the ‘secret’ of Fatima refers now seem part of the past”. Insofar as individual events are described, they belong to the past. Those who expected exciting apocalyptic revelations about the end of the world or the future course of history are bound to be disappointed. Fatima does not satisfy our curiosity in this way, just as Christian faith in general cannot be reduced to an object of mere curiosity. What remains was already evident when we began our reflections on the text of the “secret”: the exhortation to prayer as the path of “salvation for souls” and, likewise, the summons to penance and conversion.

I would like finally to mention another key expression of the “secret” which has become justly famous: “my Immaculate Heart will triumph”. What does this mean? The Heart open to God, purified by contemplation of God, is stronger than guns and weapons of every kind. The fiat of Mary, the word of her heart, has changed the history of the world, because it brought the Saviour into the world—because, thanks to her Yes, God could become man in our world and remains so for all time. The Evil One has power in this world, as we see and experience continually; he has power because our freedom continually lets itself be led away from God. But since God himself took a human heart and has thus steered human freedom towards what is good, the freedom to choose evil no longer has the last word. From that time forth, the word that prevails is this: “In the world you will have tribulation, but take heart; I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33). The message of Fatima invites us to trust in this promise.

the New Evangelization: new in its ardor, new in its expressions, new in its methods

Pope John Paul II said that the New Evangelization is not a new message, but is new in its ardor, new in its expressions, and new in its methods

That was the first thing to come to mind when I viewed this YouTube clip of Sister Cristina Scuccia, a fireball of an Ursuline sister from Sicily, performing on The Voice:

Kathy Schiffer over at Patheos provides the backstory of Sister Cristina. For a transcript of the dialogue between Sister and the judges, click here or turn on the CC button on YouTube to see captions in English.

Notice how her witness awakens unmistakable joy in those who encounter her.

The dialogue that follows the song is a strong interpretive key of the event, I think. There is much to learn from the encounter.

Notice what Sister Cristina says in the exchange that follows her performance (translated from the Italian):

The pope invites us to go out and evangelize, to say that God takes nothing away from us, but rather, gives us even more!! That’s why I’m here!

She may be referencing a homily that Pope Benedict XVI gave at the Inaugural Mass of his papacy in 2005. If so, this sister would have been 16 years old when she heard it. At any rate, clearly she has taken this truth to heart:

If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? And once again the Pope said: No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life. (source)

I loved the authenticity of Sister Cristina’s words… She didn’t have to think them over, but they emerged from within a heart given over to the love of God and her fellow brothers and sisters… those ‘interlocutors’ who were presented to her in a kind of ‘divine appointment’ of the moment.

Why was she on The Voice?

I have a gift; I’ll give it to you!

She wasn’t on the show for herself, but because she noticed that God desired to make an invitation to this audience, to woo them, to cause them to ‘look again’ and perhaps really see for the first time, to feel the call of beauty, which can then lay the groundwork for the call of goodness, and perhaps then for the call of truth. (Father Robert Barron recently highlighted this sequence during a keynote address at the LA Religious Education Congress).

Sister Cristina somehow discerned — with the assistance of her religious community — that this was a way God was inviting her to be a part of a divine gesture of love and invitation. In one of his early plays, Karol Wojtyla puts these words on the lips of one of his characters:

Everyone has been given an existence and a love; the only question is: how to build a sensible structure from it? (Adam, in The Jewelers Shop)

Some may ask: Will this effort be fruitful or not? That will be up to the grace of God and the disposition of the recipient. Sister Cristina simply responded to the invitation to cast the seeds far and wide. Yes, some will fall on rocky soil. But when she chose her coach, I think she chose the most favorable soil, as best as she could discern it. She chose, and left the rest to God.

When the idea of missionary endeavor in the field of entertainment is raised, some object by noticing the very real danger of the missionary being de-evangelized by the culture to which they seek to witness.

To be sure, every mission — whether to the entertainment industry, the porn industry, or Kenya, to name only three — has perils and dangers. But the presence of danger is not sufficient reason to avoid a mission field.

On a personal note: I remember how, when I first encountered this prayer by Barbara Nicolosi back in 2002, my perspective on Hollywood changed, and I began to see that it was a mission field to be loved and not simply a wasteland to be feared. One section of the prayer reads:

We ask forgiveness from every soul in torment and loneliness who has lived and died without the hope that we could have shared with them had we been better apostles of the media. We take responsibility for the darkness of error that we have allowed to flourish by our silence in the culture. For failing to stir the collective heart of humanity towards that which is good by beautiful movies and inspiring television, and haunting melodies, we are sorry. We ask forgiveness from all those whom we might have led to their knees, or sustained on their spiritual journeys, or inspired to a life of heroism and greatness.
Let us ask forgiveness of those whose lives have been scarred by our failure to find a compelling forum for the Church in the arts and media. For keeping the Gospel of Life to ourselves in a culture of death, we are ashamed and sorry. For ignoring the Church’s mandate to use film and television and radio to unite the human family in the cause of truth and social justice, we are sorry. We repent of the lack of creativity and passion with which we have applied Christian principles to the real problems of our day.

I responded by engaging in a period of study with the Act One: Writing for Hollywood program, followed by a time of discernment, and finally by moving to Los Angeles for five years to serve in the spiritual slums of Hollywood. For the most part, my own path in Hollywood was simply service to other artists out here, primarily through a Theology of the Body study group, assisting with an RCIA program in Hollywood, and serving as a juror for the Angelus Awards Student Film Festival. And yes, there were a few other random initiatives, such as this and this. At the end of those five years, I wrote this post about what my five years in the mission field were about, as best as I understood it.

Of course, each person must discern what God is really asking of them… where their unique talents and the needs of the world meet. This is not always an easy discernment. I think of Fr Walter Ciszek, SJ, in his spiritual autobiography He Leadeth Me; God led him down a path he least expected, but invited him to recognize His will in every encounter, especially in every setback, suffering and disappointment. God’s will, he learned, is not out there somewhere, in a place and time of our own choosing or imagining, but reveals itself here and now, in the duties of the present moment. That is where God’s will makes its appeal to us.

Back to Sister Cristina: From where I stand, and based on what I know of this Ursuline sister from Sicily, I cannot but applaud her for following the exhortation of Blessed Pope John Paul II to put out “into the deep.” No matter if everyone in the mission field of entertainment has been fishing all night, to no avail. No matter if the danger seems great, and the hope of a positive outcome seems dim. When God decides to make Himself known… when He finds a net, capable and willing to be cast out into deep waters, and when the deep is populated with creatures ready to respond, there is no telling what yield the encounter will bring. He alone knows what the yield will be. And the yield is really none of our business; it comes from Him, it belongs to Him, it is for Him.  All that matters, on our part, is to be a willing net.

UPDATE (3/25/14): Over at First Things, The Anchoress reflects on how some have reacted to Sister Cristina with an acid bath of ingratitude.