Monday, March 17, 2008
Every day the secular press is attempting to report on the disposition of the Holy Father’s message to the Church in the United States when he visits next month. In light of events that have happened in the past few years, including his papacy, Benedict will find an American Catholic Church that is strongly in need of pastoral direction and paternal reassurances. In the politically sensitive election year, Catholic voters have yet to hear from any authoritative body regarding the choices between political candidates, the continued war in the Persian Gulf has stretched the Just War Theory of Aquinas to its logical breaking point, Catholics are as a whole confused or disobedient regarding Catholic moral principles and the entire sex scandal is bleeding the institutional Church dry. Additionally, there is a perceived schism between Catholic educational facilities and true Church teachings and it seems the age of laity usurpation of priestly ministry is still growing, as Traditionalists and Modernists debate the appropriate renewal of the Mass of Blessed John XXIII.
What can we realistically expect the Holy Father to say when he visits next month? I hope that he will continue to say what he always eloquently says…develop a Catholic sense of morality and faithfulness to the Magisterium of the Church. Benedict XVI has kept this message alive since his election to the papacy, and in a paternal and subtle manner continues to drive home the apostolic message. One point that is always clear in the Ratzinzer Manifesto is this: In order to live the Gospel’s message of love and fellowship, there is no room for personal interpretation of the Church’s teachings. In other words, Catholics get with the program and follow what Rome believes. There has been no overt manifestation of power when it comes to this message from Benedict XVI; however, the persuasive art of pastoral diplomacy is evident in all of the Pope’s actions and teachings. It seems that, as Americans, we have yet to fully appreciate Benedict’s keen intellect and unwavering sense of Catholic orthodoxy and unity. Benedict clearly understands the needs of the American Catholic Church and by the grace of God and power of the Holy Spirit his platform of unity and theological continuity will continue. The Church in the United States needs to appreciate the true developing sense of spirituality that Benedict brings with him in his pastoral visit. This trip, starting in Washington, D.C. will not only illustrate through papal words and actions Benedict’s desire for doctrinal orthodoxy, but his genuine desire to promote Catholic healing between separated Catholics from Catholics, Catholics from Orthodox Christians, Catholics from Judaism and Catholics separated from the global community. This author firmly believes the message from Benedict will be clear…Catholicism in the 21st century needs to present the world with the Church of healing and reconciliation, internally and globally to all peoples.
Perhaps the first challenge by Benedict next month will be one that calls Catholic educational institutions to conformity within the proper teachings of the Church. Secular opinions and academic speculations for Benedict’s Church have no real place in the Church’s educational facilities, unless they reflect the authentic Church’s teachings. In firm but yet a reconciliatory tone, the Holy Father will guide American Catholic’s on this controversial topic. However, Benedict’s teachings will include the actions of a reconciler and healer so further division will be avoided.
From a practical perspective, this author believes that Benedict will warmly and honestly appreciate his United States visit and savor every moment of his stay. In addition to celebrating his 81st birthday while at the White House, the Holy Father seems deeply interested in the state of affairs in his American Church. He has clearly indicated his intent to speak in regards to the critical importance of Catholic education, so de facto it seems the importance of integrating our Catholic youth will also have a key place in his exhortations.
Observers should not expect the Holy Father to make any politically sensitive statements that affect Catholic voters in November. However, the traditional teachings regarding the sanctity of human life and the importance of traditional family values should be part of his message. Catholic antagonists might suggest words or teachings from Benedict XVI that are more partisan towards the Catholic view of the world’s issues. Benedict is too skilled and well advised for such a faux paux. My prediction is that his message will steer away from politics and focus on the development of a global Catholic identity, keeping with his unfolding worldview of peace and global harmony.
With all of that said, Benedict’s pastoral visit might quite well be his only visit to the United States as Pope. Given his age and anticipated schedule of travel for the next couple of years his schedule seems quite full. Perhaps the title of, The Great Communicator should pass from Ronald Reagan and rest with Benedict XVI. He is a true Renaissance man that believes in utilizing all of the tools created for global communications during his pontificate. The idea of travelling from place to place seems quite old fashioned for Benedict, his preferred method is writing and preaching. We are also witness to the emergence of a sort of Vice-Pope with the globetrotting Vatican Secretary of State. Benedict clearly is in charge and his representatives all play on the same philosophical and theological team. Benedict XVI is quite visibly present through his delegates, well briefed on the details of the message
Finally, everyone should anticipate Benedict XVI to completely enjoy his visit, regardless of message or pastoral agenda, Benedict XVI will exhibit to the United States his distinctive manner of Catholic charisma and paternal dedication to his American flock.