Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Pope's Address to the UN

As all the fundamentalists explode over a Jesuit at the United Nations...

“Once again, following a tradition by which I feel honoured, the Secretary General of the United Nations has invited the Pope to address this distinguished assembly of nations. In my own name, and that of the entire Catholic community, I wish to express to you, Mr Ban Ki-moon, my heartfelt gratitude. I greet the Heads of State and Heads of Government present, as well as the ambassadors, diplomats and political and technical officials accompanying them, the personnel of the United Nations engaged in this 70th Session of the General Assembly, the personnel of the various programmes and agencies of the United Nations family, and all those who, in one way or another, take part in this meeting. Through you, I also greet the citizens of all the nations represented in this hall. I thank you, each and all, for your efforts in the service of mankind.

“This is the fifth time that a Pope has visited the United Nations. I follow in the footsteps of my predecessors Paul VI, in 1965, John Paul II, in 1979 and 1995, and my most recent predecessor, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in 2008. All of them expressed their great esteem for the Organisation, which they considered the appropriate juridical and political response to this present moment of history, marked by our technical ability to overcome distances and frontiers and, apparently, to overcome all natural limits to the exercise of power. An essential response, inasmuch as technological power, in the hands of nationalistic or falsely universalist ideologies, is capable of perpetrating tremendous atrocities. I can only reiterate the appreciation expressed by my predecessors, in reaffirming the importance which the Catholic Church attaches to this Institution and the hope which she places in its activities.

“The United Nations is presently celebrating its seventieth anniversary. The history of this organised community of states is one of important common achievements over a period of unusually fast-paced changes. Without claiming to be exhaustive, we can mention the codification and development of international law, the establishment of international norms regarding human rights, advances in humanitarian law, the resolution of numerous conflicts, operations of peace-keeping and reconciliation, and any number of other accomplishments in every area of international activity and endeavour. All these achievements are lights which help to dispel the darkness of the disorder caused by unrestrained ambitions and collective forms of selfishness. Certainly, many grave problems remain to be resolved, yet it is also clear that, without all this international activity, mankind would not have been able to survive the unchecked use of its own possibilities. Every one of these political, juridical and technical advances is a path towards attaining the ideal of human fraternity and a means for its greater realisation.

“I also pay homage to all those men and women whose loyalty and self-sacrifice have benefited humanity as a whole in these past seventy years. In particular, I would recall today those who gave their lives for peace and reconciliation among peoples, from Dag Hammarskj√∂ld to the many United Nations officials at every level who have been killed in the course of humanitarian missions, and missions of peace and reconciliation.

“Beyond these achievements, the experience of the past seventy years has made it clear that reform and adaptation to the times is always necessary in the pursuit of the ultimate goal of granting all countries, without exception, a share in, and a genuine and equitable influence on, decision-making processes. The need for greater equity is especially true in the case of those bodies with effective executive capability, such as the Security Council, the Financial Agencies and the groups or mechanisms specifically created to deal with economic crises. This will help limit every kind of abuse or usury, especially where developing countries are concerned. The International Financial Agencies are should care for the sustainable development of countries and should ensure that they are not subjected to oppressive lending systems which, far from promoting progress, subject people to mechanisms which generate greater poverty, exclusion and dependence.

“The work of the United Nations, according to the principles set forth in the Preamble and the first Articles of its founding Charter, can be seen as the development and promotion of the rule of law, based on the realisation that justice is an essential condition for achieving the ideal of universal fraternity. In this context, it is helpful to recall that the limitation of power is an idea implicit in the concept of law itself. To give to each his own, to cite the classic definition of justice, means that no human individual or group can consider itself absolute, permitted to bypass the dignity and the rights of other individuals or their social groupings. The effective distribution of power (political, economic, defence-related, technological, etc.) among a plurality of subjects, and the creation of a juridical system for regulating claims and interests, are one concrete way of limiting power. Yet today’s world presents us with many false rights and – at the same time – broad sectors which are vulnerable, victims of power badly exercised: for example, the natural environment and the vast ranks of the excluded. These sectors are closely interconnected and made increasingly fragile by dominant political and economic relationships. That is why their rights must be forcefully affirmed, by working to protect the environment and by putting an end to exclusion.

“First, it must be stated that a true 'right of the environment' does exist, for two reasons. First, because we human beings are part of the environment. We live in communion with it, since the environment itself entails ethical limits which human activity must acknowledge and respect. Man, for all his remarkable gifts, which 'are signs of a uniqueness which transcends the spheres of physics and biology', is at the same time a part of these spheres. He possesses a body shaped by physical, chemical and biological elements, and can only survive and develop if the ecological environment is favourable. Any harm done to the environment, therefore, is harm done to humanity. Second, because every creature, particularly a living creature, has an intrinsic value, in its existence, its life, its beauty and its interdependence with other creatures. We Christians, together with the other monotheistic religions, believe that the universe is the fruit of a loving decision by the Creator, who permits man respectfully to use creation for the good of his fellow men and for the glory of the Creator; he is not authorised to abuse it, much less to destroy it. In all religions, the environment is a fundamental good.

“The misuse and destruction of the environment are also accompanied by a relentless process of exclusion. In effect, a selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity leads both to the misuse of available natural resources and to the exclusion of the weak and disadvantaged, either because they are differently abled (handicapped), or because they lack adequate information and technical expertise, or are incapable of decisive political action. Economic and social exclusion is a complete denial of human fraternity and a grave offence against human rights and the environment. The poorest are those who suffer most from such offences, for three serious reasons: they are cast off by society, forced to live off what is discarded and suffer unjustly from the abuse of the environment. They are part of today’s widespread and quietly growing 'culture of waste'.

“The dramatic reality this whole situation of exclusion and inequality, with its evident effects, has led me, in union with the entire Christian people and many others, to take stock of my grave responsibility in this regard and to speak out, together with all those who are seeking urgently-needed and effective solutions. The adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the World Summit, which opens today, is an important sign of hope. I am similarly confident that the Paris Conference on Climatic Change will secure fundamental and effective agreements.

“Solemn commitments, however, are not enough, although they are certainly a necessary step toward solutions. The classic definition of justice which I mentioned earlier contains as one of its essential elements a constant and perpetual will: Iustitia est constans et perpetua voluntas ius sum cuique tribuendi. Our world demands of all government leaders a will which is effective, practical and constant, concrete steps and immediate measures for preserving and improving the natural environment and thus putting an end as quickly as possible to the phenomenon of social and economic exclusion, with its baneful consequences: human trafficking, the marketing of human organs and tissues, the sexual exploitation of boys and girls, slave labour, including prostitution, the drug and weapons trade, terrorism and international organised crime. Such is the magnitude of these situations and their toll in innocent lives, that we must avoid every temptation to fall into a declarationist nominalism which would assuage our consciences. We need to ensure that our institutions are truly effective in the struggle against all these scourges.

“The number and complexity of the problems require that we possess technical instruments of verification. But this involves two risks. We can rest content with the bureaucratic exercise of drawing up long lists of good proposals – goals, objectives and statistics – or we can think that a single theoretical and aprioristic solution will provide an answer to all the challenges. It must never be forgotten that political and economic activity is only effective when it is understood as a prudential activity, guided by a perennial concept of justice and constantly conscious of the fact that, above and beyond our plans and programmes, we are dealing with real men and women who live, struggle and suffer, and are often forced to live in great poverty, deprived of all rights.

“To enable these real men and women to escape from extreme poverty, we must allow them to be dignified agents of their own destiny. Integral human development and the full exercise of human dignity cannot be imposed. They must be built up and allowed to unfold for each individual, for every family, in communion with others, and in a right relationship with all those areas in which human social life develops – friends, communities, towns and cities, schools, businesses and unions, provinces, nations, etc. This presupposes and requires the right to education – also for girls (excluded in certain places) – which is ensured first and foremost by respecting and reinforcing the primary right of the family to educate its children, as well as the right of churches and social groups to support and assist families in the education of their children. Education conceived in this way is the basis for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and for reclaiming the environment.

“At the same time, government leaders must do everything possible to ensure that all can have the minimum spiritual and material means needed to live in dignity and to create and support a family, which is the primary cell of any social development. In practical terms, this absolute minimum has three names: lodging, labour, and land; and one spiritual name: spiritual freedom, which includes religious freedom, the right to education and all other civil rights.

“For all this, the simplest and best measure and indicator of the implementation of the new Agenda for development will be effective, practical and immediate access, on the part of all, to essential material and spiritual goods: housing, dignified and properly remunerated employment, adequate food and drinking water; religious freedom and, more generally, spiritual freedom and education. These pillars of integral human development have a common foundation, which is the right to life and, more generally, what we could call the right to existence of human nature itself.

“The ecological crisis, and the large-scale destruction of biodiversity, can threaten the very existence of the human species. The baneful consequences of an irresponsible mismanagement of the global economy, guided only by ambition for wealth and power, must serve as a summons to a forthright reflection on man: 'man is not only a freedom which he creates for himself. Man does not create himself. He is spirit and will, but also nature'. Creation is compromised 'where we ourselves have the final word… The misuse of creation begins when we no longer recognise any instance above ourselves, when we see nothing else but ourselves'. Consequently, the defence of the environment and the fight against exclusion demand that we recognise a moral law written into human nature itself, one which includes the natural difference between man and woman, and absolute respect for life in all its stages and dimensions.

“Without the recognition of certain incontestable natural ethical limits and without the immediate implementation of those pillars of integral human development, the ideal of 'saving succeeding generations from the scourge of war', and 'promoting social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom', risks becoming an unattainable illusion, or, even worse, idle chatter which serves as a cover for all kinds of abuse and corruption, or for carrying out an ideological colonisation by the imposition of anomalous models and lifestyles which are alien to people’s identity and, in the end, irresponsible.

“War is the negation of all rights and a dramatic assault on the environment. If we want true integral human development for all, we must work tirelessly to avoid war between nations and peoples. To this end, there is a need to ensure the uncontested rule of law and tireless recourse to negotiation, mediation and arbitration, as proposed by the Charter of the United Nations, which constitutes truly a fundamental juridical norm. The experience of these seventy years since the founding of the United Nations in general, and in particular the experience of these first fifteen years of the third millennium, reveal both the effectiveness of the full application of international norms and the ineffectiveness of their lack of enforcement. When the Charter of the United Nations is respected and applied with transparency and sincerity, and without ulterior motives, as an obligatory reference point of justice and not as a means of masking spurious intentions, peaceful results will be obtained. When, on the other hand, the norm is considered simply as an instrument to be used whenever it proves favourable, and to be avoided when it is not, a true Pandora’s box is opened, releasing uncontrollable forces which gravely harm defenceless populations, the cultural milieu and even the biological environment.

“The Preamble and the first Article of the Charter of the United Nations set forth the foundations of the international juridical framework: peace, the pacific solution of disputes and the development of friendly relations between the nations. Strongly opposed to such statements, and in practice denying them, is the constant tendency to the proliferation of arms, especially weapons of mass distraction, such as nuclear weapons. An ethics and a law based on the threat of mutual destruction – and possibly the destruction of all mankind – are self-contradictory and an affront to the entire framework of the United Nations, which would end up as 'nations united by fear and distrust'. There is urgent need to work for a world free of nuclear weapons, in full application of the non-proliferation Treaty, in letter and spirit, with the goal of a complete prohibition of these weapons.

“The recent agreement reached on the nuclear question in a sensitive region of Asia and the Middle East is proof of the potential of political good will and of law, exercised with sincerity, patience and constancy. I express my hope that this agreement will be lasting and efficacious, and bring forth the desired fruits with the cooperation of all the parties involved.

“In this sense, hard evidence is not lacking of the negative effects of military and political interventions which are not coordinated between members of the international community. For this reason, while regretting to have to do so, I must renew my repeated appeals regarding to the painful situation of the entire Middle East, North Africa and other African countries, where Christians, together with other cultural or ethnic groups, and even members of the majority religion who have no desire to be caught up in hatred and folly, have been forced to witness the destruction of their places of worship, their cultural and religious heritage, their houses and property, and have faced the alternative either of fleeing or of paying for their adhesion to good and to peace by their own lives, or by enslavement.

“These realities should serve as a grave summons to an examination of conscience on the part of those charged with the conduct of international affairs. Not only in cases of religious or cultural persecution, but in every situation of conflict, as in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Libya, South Sudan and the Great Lakes region, real human beings take precedence over partisan interests, however legitimate the latter may be. In wars and conflicts there are individual persons, our brothers and sisters, men and women, young and old, boys and girls who weep, suffer and die. Human beings who are easily discarded when our response is simply to draw up lists of problems, strategies and disagreements.

“As I wrote in my letter to the Secretary-General of the United Nations on 9 August 2014, 'the most basic understanding of human dignity compels the international community, particularly through the norms and mechanisms of international law, to do all that it can to stop and to prevent further systematic violence against ethnic and religious minorities' and to protect innocent peoples.

“Along the same lines I would mention another kind of conflict which is not always so open, yet is silently killing millions of people. Another kind of war experienced by many of our societies as a result of the narcotics trade. A war which is taken for granted and poorly fought. Drug trafficking is by its very nature accompanied by trafficking in persons, money laundering, the arms trade, child exploitation and other forms of corruption. A corruption which has penetrated to different levels of social, political, military, artistic and religious life, and, in many cases, has given rise to a parallel structure which threatens the credibility of our institutions.

“I began this speech recalling the visits of my predecessors. I would hope that my words will be taken above all as a continuation of the final words of the address of Pope Paul VI; although spoken almost exactly fifty years ago, they remain ever timely. I quote: 'The hour has come when a pause, a moment of recollection, reflection, even of prayer, is absolutely needed so that we may think back over our common origin, our history, our common destiny. The appeal to the moral conscience of man has never been as necessary as it is today. For the danger comes neither from progress nor from science; if these are used well, they can help to solve a great number of the serious problems besetting mankind. Among other things, human genius, well applied, will surely help to meet the grave challenges of ecological deterioration and of exclusion. As Paul VI said: 'The real danger comes from man, who has at his disposal ever more powerful instruments that are as well fitted to bring about ruin as they are to achieve lofty conquests'.

“The common home of all men and women must continue to rise on the foundations of a right understanding of universal fraternity and respect for the sacredness of every human life, of every man and every woman, the poor, the elderly, children, the infirm, the unborn, the unemployed, the abandoned, those considered disposable because they are only considered as part of a statistic. This common home of all men and women must also be built on the understanding of a certain sacredness of created nature.

“Such understanding and respect call for a higher degree of wisdom, one which accepts transcendence, self-transcendence, rejects the creation of an all-powerful elite, and recognises that the full meaning of individual and collective life is found in selfless service to others and in the sage and respectful use of creation for the common good. To repeat the words of Paul VI, 'the edifice of modern civilisation has to be built on spiritual principles, for they are the only ones capable not only of supporting it, but of shedding light on it'.

“El Gaucho Martin Fierro, a classic of literature in my native land, says: 'Brothers should stand by each other, because this is the first law; keep a true bond between you always, at every time – because if you fight among yourselves, you’ll be devoured by those outside'. The contemporary world, so apparently connected, is experiencing a growing and steady social fragmentation, which places at risk 'the foundations of social life' and consequently leads to 'battles over conflicting interests'.

“The present time invites us to give priority to actions which generate new processes in society, so as to bear fruit in significant and positive historical events. We cannot permit ourselves to postpone 'certain agendas' for the future. The future demands of us critical and global decisions in the face of world-wide conflicts which increase the number of the excluded and those in need.

“The praiseworthy international juridical framework of the United Nations Organisation and of all its activities, like any other human endeavour, can be improved, yet it remains necessary; at the same time it can be the pledge of a secure and happy future for future generations. And so it will, if the representatives of the States can set aside partisan and ideological interests, and sincerely strive to serve the common good. I pray to Almighty God that this will be the case, and I assure you of my support and my prayers, and the support and prayers of all the faithful of the Catholic Church, that this Institution, all its member States, and each of its officials, will always render an effective service to mankind, a service respectful of diversity and capable of bringing out, for sake of the common good, the best in each people and in every individual. God bless you all”.

Friday, September 25, 2015

A Review of Simply Jesus

NT Wright’s book Simply Jesus is a retelling of the life of Christ through the eyes of a first century Jew, longing for the Messiah that the Scriptures promised, and how Jesus’ Incarnation changed the entire world. Concerned that Christians will all-too-often get caught up in denominational squabbles, Wright wrote his book simply to examine the events of Jesus’ life in light of the promises in Scripture; he then shows how these events have changed the way in which God relates with mankind. In this manner, Wright avoids a lot of the inter-denominational arguing that a more partisan book might have caused; the fact that an Anglican bishop’s book was being read in a Catholic student’s class speaks to the strength of Wright’s unbiased approach.

The message conveyed in Simply Jesus is that with the coming of Christ, “God is now in charge, and he is in charge in and through Jesus” (pg. 55). This bold statement matters because, “He [Christ] commands his hearers to give up their other dreams and to trust his instead. This, at its simplest, is what Jesus was all about” (pg. 56). Wright’s entire book hinges on these two sentences as he explains them in simple, but exact detail. In doing so, Wright believes he is “freeing” the story of Jesus from the little corners into which various theologians, historians, and clergy have painted him.

Wright shows us Christ through the eyes of the Old Testament, something which many modern Christians refuse to do. Seeing Jesus through the eyes of a first century Jewish resident of Roman-occupied Palestine is an eye-opener, especially in the light of the other times Israel was ruled by other kingdoms. The first century Jew would be expecting a political Messiah, like King David - someone who would expel the Romans, cleanse the Temple, and free Israel from slavery. Wright mentions these “aspects of Exodus” quite frequently, as the true Messiah indeed follows that same pattern, but in an unexpected way.

Wright sees the Garden and Creation as an earthly temple, the original plan of God, that he would dwell with mankind forever. Due to our sinfulness, we turned our backs on God and have inherited what Wright calls “anti-Creation”, which is sin and death; these are the enemies which Christ came to vanquish (enemies which are used by Satan to deceive mankind). In Jesus’ coming, he comes to make things “on earth as it is in heaven.” Wright heavily emphasizes this in his book, that Christ is not merely an earthly Messiah, but a spiritual, heavenly one, and he came in order to establish God as king whose reign will be “on earth as it is in heaven.”

In 1 Samuel 8, the people of Israel reject God and demand that Samuel give them a king to rule them. God tells him, “Hearken to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them” (8:7). After warning the people that an earthly king would abuse his power and oppress the people, they still made demands: “No! But we will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations” (8:19-20). For the rest of the Old Testament, the People of God continued to go down the wrong path, with the prophets coming to warn them of the consequences of their actions; they also came with messages of great hope, that God would return as their king, the “son of Man” would come and set up a kingdom for God and he will be their king. Wright goes on to show how much of what Jesus did was to show the people that the Kingdom of God was at hand. Wright makes a good attempt at trying to change the view of Christians who believe that heaven is some location far away from earth. In quoting Scripture and breaking down the events of the Gospels, he paints the picture that heaven is actually very near to earth, that they are almost like parallel universes, touching at the Temple, where God and mankind meet. In the New Covenant, we see this meeting between heaven and earth in the celebration of the Mass, the Divine Liturgy. Whereas the old Passover would link believers to a past event, the new Passover – while still linking us to the Last Supper and the sacrifice on the cross – also points us to the future, that marriage feast between the Church and her Groom, Jesus Christ (Rev. 19:9). Being changed by this encounter with Christ, we become a holy priesthood, asked to offer “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pt 2:5), and to “glorify God in our body” (1 Cor 6:20) by presenting our body “as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom 12:1).

Wright links all of the activities of Christ and our repentance from sin as a way that God is showing his renewal upon the earth, that his kingdom is already here. We see glimpses of the future healing between heaven and earth in events like the Transfiguration, where Jesus shone like a bright light and Moses (the Law) and Elijah (the prophets) appeared with him. While we are born of woman, we are reborn through baptism. “[I]f any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17). Whereas Israel experienced the Exodus from Egypt, completed at the River Jordan, Jesus’ baptism in the same river showed that we are embarking on a new Exodus with a new Moses; instead of being freed from Egypt, we are being freed from sin and death, freed from the Evil One. While Jews and Christians have observed the Sabbath rest, Jesus is the fulfilment of the Sabbath, where in his kingdom we will enjoy Eternal Rest with him in Paradise.

Wright emphasizes that Christians have been looking at things the wrong way, always thinking that Heaven is some far-off place and that the earth is something we leave behind for good. Wright shows through Scripture that we are not so much preparing to go to Heaven; instead, we are preparing for Heaven on earth! In this epic battle between the prince of this world and the King of the Universe, the “first-born male”, by defeating death, becomes the first of the New Covenant to rise and enter bodily into the reality that will be the New Creation, which Wright says has already started with the Incarnation, Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus Christ. The twelve tribes of Israel are now judged by the twelve Apostles, who ventured out to spread the message of Christ. The Jewish Temple has been replaced by the New Temple, Jesus Christ, who is also the new High Priest. In his teaching, Jesus rights the wrongs of man, fulfilling what God intended for us before we chose to sin. In this manner, he has not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill the Law, which he said all hung on the two greatest commandments: Loving God and loving thy neighbor (Mat. 22:37-40).

“Heaven and earth were being joined up – but no longer in the Temple in Jerusalem. The joining place was visible where the healings were taking place, where the party was going on, where forgiveness was happening” (pg. 133).

Christ’s miracles showed that God was with us; he has allowed us to share with him in that power, as we see miracles through the intercession of the saints, and works of mercy from our fellow man:

“[R]ight at the start of his public career, he called associates to share his work and then to carry it on after he had laid the foundations, particularly of his saving death…God works through Jesus; Jesus works through his followers” (pg. 212-3)

Wright says that through this sharing of Jesus’ work, we help “thy Kingdom come, thy Will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Jesus tells us to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the sick and those in prison, and to welcome the stranger. In our love of God and love of neighbor, Wright insists that we are cooperating with Jesus’ plan to establish God’s kingdom on earth. We cannot do anything apart from God, which is why we need his grace and the guidance of his Holy Spirit. In order to “Go, and sin no more,” we must be humble and seek Jesus through his Sacraments, where we continue to share in his renewal of the earth as we are renewed by his grace, preparing the world for the ultimate renewal of Creation.

In light of this renewal of Creation, which is the kingdom of God established on earth – the merging of heaven and earth into one, which rights the wrongs caused by Original Sin - Wright warns that the idea of a “rapture” is unfounded in Scripture and contradicts the idea of a Second Coming, which completes the renewal of the earth and the coming of the Kingdom. The believers meeting Christ in the air is no different than the believers meeting Christ as he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey on Palm Sunday; it is the ancient custom of greeting your triumphant king as he returns to his kingdom to claim his throne. The saints and angels, along with these believers, return to earth with the triumphant Christ, completing the earth’s renewal. “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create in Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy” (Is 65:17-18).

Citing Isaiah, Wright reminds us of the peace and eternal rest that Christ brings to us through the renewal – the correcting - of Creation:

“The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall feed; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The sucking child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Is 11:6-9)...For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between many peoples, and shall decide for strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Is 2:3-4)

Overall, I believe that NT Wright did a great job disconnecting the Jesus narratives from the narrow windows in which we view them to show them through a much larger lens. Using Scripture, he makes a convincing effort to show that Heaven will not be some far-off place filled with puffy clouds, but will be right here on a renewed Earth. Wright convinced me that our sense of renewal, of being a new creation in Christ through baptism, is part of that renewal that Jesus started with the Incarnation. In partaking in Christ’s mystery, there is life within us as Jesus allows the deification of man, which moves us to prepare now on earth for the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven, completed at the end of time. Thanks to this book Simply Jesus, I will not pray the line ‘on earth as it is in heaven’ of the Lord’s Prayer the same way again!

Why I Cannot Consider Myself an American Conservative

It's pretty obvious that I am not a Lefty when it comes to American politics, although many would call me that. I believe in social justice, the rights of all - even if they are here illegally - the dignity of all people, including rapists and murderers in prison. People might think I'm a Lefty, but then they hear how I'm against abortion in ALL cases, how I'm against euthanasia, mercy killings, doctor-assisted suicide, or any other euphemism you decide to give it. I'm against taking a Divinely-initiated Sacrament - matrimony - and redefining it so that people can be married multiple times or to multiple spouses at the same time (it's going to happen), or to legalize homosexual "marriage". I reject the lies of contraception, the "hook-up" culture, militant feminism, and many other things that would make the Left point at me and scream, "Republican!!!!!"

But that's not accurate. The American Right is pointing out something that I've been feeling for quite some time: this part of the political spectrum, massively influenced by its Evangelical and Fundamentalist members, doesn't want Catholics around any more than the Left does.

Upon hearing the Pope's words encouraging mercy for immigrants and that our economic system should do more to help the poor, Ann Coulter said, "This is why our Founders distrusted Catholics and didn't want to make them citizens." Michael Savage said, "The same people who brought us Obama brought us this pope." Upon the release of the Pope's encyclical on the care of our common home, Rush Limbaugh said, "[E]ssentially what this papal encyclical is saying is that every Catholic should vote for the Democrat Party," and called it the pope's "Marxist climate rant." Fox News' Brian Kilmeade said, "Yeah, I’m Catholic, and he could stay home...Some of his comments just have no place. He’s in the wrong country...Tired of the pope." In wanting to visit his flock in Cuba, Gov. Chris Christie said, "I just think the pope is wrong. The fact is that his infallibility is on religious matters, not on political ones." Republican Congressman Paul Gosar, a self-professed Catholic (like Nanci Pelosi is a self-professed Catholic), announced he was boycotting the Pope's address to Congress, saying, "I don’t need to be lectured by the Pope about climate change." Right before the Pope was to address Congress, an unidentified Congresswoman with a strong Southern accent was picked up on the mic saying, "I'm gonna take my shoe off and throw it at his head." And it goes on and on.

Although I'm not a huge fan of Michael Voris, he has a point when talking about this Right-wing meltdown - the Right hates Catholicism just as much as the Left does, but the Right has done a better job at hiding it. The truth is that orthodox Catholicism is incompatible with many modern-day American "values". Even the GOP cop-out of not being outraged about gay "marriage" because "There can be no such thing," but their outrage lies in that "The states should be the one who decides." Ok, so it's not immoral at the state level?

Simply put, whenever you have orthodox Catholicism, it always looks and acts...foreign around the non-Catholic world. That's on purpose. We're not Protestants. We're not "Americans first". Our loyalty is to the King of the Universe, not our congressman or our governor or our flag. Faithful Catholics are good Americans, patriotic Americans, and as a Knight of Columbus, I feel honored to be associated with so many amazing, kind, patriotic Americans. But, and this is a big BUT, that doesn't mean supporting America for America's sake; when we're wrong, we're wrong. The Wall Street bailout? Wrong. Our current economic system where the rich keep getting richer, the poor keep on getting poorer, and the Middle Class keep getting squeezed? Wrong. Our policy of unending warfare? Wrong. This country's embrace of contraception, abortion, and sterilization - including as conditions for international financial aid? Wrong. Our boycott of Cuba while we kiss the feet of Communist China, one of the world's worst human rights offenders? Wrong. Our addiction to oil from Saudi Arabia, one of the world's leading architects of radical Islam, at the expense of our political freedom and the environment? Wrong. Our blind support of Israel, even when she's wrong and violating the rights of her neighbors - many of whom are fellow Christians - all because of an erroneous theology invented in the 1800s? Wrong.

The Right and Left hate us because to them, we're not American enough. It's been the charge against us from the start. If we were truly good Americans, we'd just shut up and go with the flow. But, because our teachings cannot agree with many of the public policies of this country, Right and Left take turns telling us to shut up and sit down. At the end of the day, we really don't have many friends out there. I remember reading an article about our country's anti-Catholicism and at the end as proof for how much the country has changed, it highlighted the fact that Kennedy was elected and that we now have so many Catholics in political office. The truth is that the Kennedy's were as Catholic as Queen Elizabeth II. And when you look at most Catholic politicians on the national scale, they've picked America over their Catholicism, whether it's the Left's love affair with the Culture of Death, or the Right's nativism and idolatry of capitalism and war. Whenever the pope says something that doesn't jive with the American Right or Left, politicians - even priests and theologians - come out of the woodwork to explain how little of the pope's words Catholics need to really adhere to; I saw that with Laudato Si'.

At the end of the day, I love my country, but I love my Church even more because it's the Body of Christ. My loyalty is with the Church, the faith handed down from Christ and the Apostles, defined by the Fathers, lived out by the saints, and explained through the ages by her theologians, doctors, and popes. America can be gone tomorrow - to most on the Right, that means the world will go to hell in a handbasket. To the faithful Catholic, that's just one more nation that's passed through history - but the Church remains. The Church will always remain.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

How a Protestant spin machine hid the truth about the English Reformation

By Dominic Selwood

In 2003, Charles Clarke, Tony Blair’s Secretary of State for Education and Skills, expressed strong views on the teaching of British history.

I don’t mind there being some medievalists around for ornamental purposes, but there is no reason for the state to pay for them.

In response, Michael Biddiss, professor of medieval history at Reading University, suggested that Mr Clarke’s view may have been informed by Khrushchev’s notion that historians are dangerous people, capable of upsetting everything.­­­­­

In many ways, Khrushchev was correct. Historians can be a distinct threat —­ both those who create “official” history, and those who work quietly to unpick it, filling in the irksome and unhelpful details.

Rulers in all ages have tried to control how history sees them, and have gone to great lengths to have events recorded the way they want. The process is as old as authority itself.

The result is that generations of people learn something at school, only to find out later that it was not so. For instance, children brought up in the communist countries of the 20th century have little idea of the indiscriminately murderous mechanics at the heart of their founding revolutions. More recently, in the United States, anyone young enough not to have lived through the two recent Iraq wars might, if they only read political memoirs, actually believe that the wars were fought to root out al Qaeda.

So what about England? Has our constitutional monarchy and ancient tradition of parliamentary democracy protected our history from political manipulation? Can we rely on what we are taught and told, or are there myths we, too, have swallowed hook, line, and sinker?

Where better to start than with that most quintessentially English of events ­— the break with Rome that signalled the birth of modern England?

For centuries, the English have been taught that the late medieval Church was superstitious, corrupt, exploitative, and alien. Above all, we were told that King Henry VIII and the people of England despised its popish flummery and primitive rites. England was fed up to the back teeth with the ignorant mumbo-jumbo magicians of the foreign Church, and up and down the country Tudor people preferred plain-speaking, rational men like Wycliffe, Luther, and Calvin. Henry VIII achieved what all sane English and Welsh people had long desired ­– an excuse to break away from an anachronistic subjugation to the ridiculous medieval strictures of the Church.

For many in England, the subject of whether or not this was true was not even up for debate. Even now, the historical English disdain for all things Catholic is often regarded as irrefutable and objective fact. Otherwise why would we have been taught it for four and a half centuries? And anyway, the English are quite clearly not an emotional race like some of our continental cousins. We like our churches bright and clean and practical and full of common sense. For this reason, we are brought up to believe that Catholicism is just fundamentally, well … un-English.

But the last 30 years have seen a revolution in Reformation research. Leading scholars have started looking behind the pronouncements of the religious revolution’s leaders – Henry VIII, Thomas Cromwell, Thomas Cranmer, Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley – and beyond the parliamentary pronouncements and the great sermons. Instead, they have begun focusing on the records left by ordinary English people. This “bottom up” approach to history has undoubtedly been the most exciting development in historical research in the last 50 years. It has taken us away from what the rulers want us to know, and steered us closer towards what actually happened.

When this approach is applied to the Reformation, what emerges is a very different picture to the one we were taught in school.

It seems that in 1533, the year of Henry’s break from Rome, traditional Catholicism was the religion of the vast majority of the country. And in most places it was absolutely thriving.

It had developed a particularly English flavour, with a focus on the involvement of ordinary people in parish churches, village greens, plays, and pageants – much of which seemed to involve a good deal of community parties, dancing, and drinking.

It is true that English religion in the early 1500s was not especially studious or erudite. The people did not spend hours a day in biblical studies, contemplation, and moralising in the manner of the more intense European reformers. But England had a nationally cohesive spirituality that was alive and exuberant, with a distinctly community feel.

If you looked inside an English parish church on the eve of the Reformation, you would have seen a space filled with the lives and loves of the community. The saints would be draped in the parishioners’ best clothes, jewellery, and beads, often given as bequests in wills. The nave would have numerous side altars, most funded by local guilds to provide daily masses for favoured saints and the deceased of the parish. If the church had the relics of a saint, the reliquary or tomb would be festooned with gold, silver, and wax models of everything from healed limbs to ships saved from calamities at sea — it would be a mini-history of the gratitude of the people. Flowers and candles would be everywhere, as would parishioners, who regularly attended weekday prayers and masses at the many guild and chantry altars. In an age of increasing literacy, significant numbers of the upper and artisanal classes read along in their own devotional books. Religious printing had become big business. It has been estimated that, on the eve of the Reformation, over 57,000 Books of Hours were in circulation in England.

All in all, parish churches were at the heart of a vibrant English parish life, where the living celebrated their good fortune and remembered the dead.

The first thing to go under the reformers’ axe was the cult of saints. The ancient robed and flower-garlanded effigies were smashed up and carted off. Stone and alabaster were ground up. Wood was burned. In addition to the dramatic loss of these cherished protector figures, the parishes were also deprived of around 40 to 50 saints’ “holy days” (holidays) a year, when no servile work was allowed from noon the previous day. This was a dramatic change to the rhythms of life the country had known for centuries. The reformers were keenly aware this would boost economic activity, and welcomed the increase in output it would bring.

The next biggest change was the abolition of purgatory. The reformers ridiculed the cult of the dead (“purgatorye ys pissed owte” one memorably wrote). But these age-old rites of death and the afterlife provided a unique framework that late medieval English people embraced to cope with death. When the reformers ripped out grave stones and brasses inviting prayers for the departed, when they burned the local bede-rolls remembering the dead of the parish, and when they sledge-hammered the chantry altars where relatives were daily prayed for, they did something even more profound than the vandalism. They stole the dead from the daily lives of their communities, rendering the deceased suddenly invisible to those long used to honouring and remembering their departed relatives and friends. Whether or not intentional, this was an attack on people’s memories.

The early and high Middle Ages were a time when cathedrals and monasteries dominated religious life. But by the late 1400s and early 1500s, religion had been taken over by the people — most notably in the form of the religious guilds that had mushroomed in every parish. For instance, King’s Lynn had over 70; Bodmin had more than 40.

These guilds funded festivals, parades, and pageants — and the parish records show that the celebrations were regularly and widely enjoyed. The guilds’ most spectacular contribution to late medieval religious life lay in the great mystery play cycles they sponsored. These moral dramas were performed in English (not Latin), often around the feast of Corpus Christi. Despite being declared illegal and destroyed by the Reformation, enough copies survive for us to get an idea of their sheer scale: from Chester, Cornwall (in Cornish), Coventry, Digby, Towneley/Wakefield, and elsewhere. They were a focus of intense regional pride, and took entire communities to stage them. The York cycle alone comprised 48 plays.

Inside parish churches, uniquely English customs had also developed. There was the festival of boy bishops and misrule on St Nicholas’s day; the setting up of an Easter sepulchre as a mini stage-set for re-enacting the Passion; and the dramatic “creeping to the Cross” on Good Friday — a humble barelegged and barefoot procession on the knees to adore the cross, before swaddling it and laying it inside the Easter sepulchre. These rituals, as well as the many festivals in honour of local or patronal saints, were deeply embedded into communities, and people stubbornly persisted with them long after they had been outlawed.

Away from the life of the churches, increasing literacy meant more stories, poems, songs, and carols. A favourite theme was, unsurprisingly, the Virgin Mary, who was frequently portrayed as that most English flower, the rose:

Of this rose was Cryst y-bore,
To save mankynde that was forlore;
And us alle from synnes sore,
Prophetarum carmine.

This rose is so faire of hywe,
In maide Mary that is so trywe,
Y-borne was lorde of virtue,
Salvator sine crimine.

(Of a Rose Synge We, 1450)

Finally, the cult of relics was junked. It is true that provenance was rarely scientific, and the reformers were able to jeer at their favourite fakes. But the records suggest that this empirical approach, which counts the number of duplicated and inauthentic relics, misses the point. These objects brought people into the presence of the numinous, and joined the living with the dead. Many relics were even practical. For instance, articles of saints’ clothing were given to expecting women to wear in the hope of a healthy delivery. Relics were therefore a part of day-to-day life, offering people a sense of protection and connection with the sacred.

Given the intensity of people’s attachment to early 16th-century popular religion, the stark Tudor reforms were met with incomprehension, outrage, and sometimes passionate violence.

The men sent to smash up the churches knew this grassroots anger all too well. There are innumerable records of the hostility and violence they faced from distraught parishioners trying to protect churches and graves.

Once the bussed-in workmen had inevitably triumphed, and the heat of confrontation had worn off, people were left bereft:

On the feast of the Assumption 1537 Thomas Emans, a Worcester serving-man, entered the despoiled shrine of Our Lady of Worcester, recited a Paternoster and an Ave, kissed the feet of the image, from which jewels, coat, and shoes had been taken away, and declared bitterly for all to hear, “Lady, art thou stripped now? I have seen the day that as clean men hath been stripped at a pair of gallows as were they that stripped thee.” He told the people that, though her ornaments were gone, “the similitude of this is no worse to pray unto, having a recourse to her above, then it was before.” (from Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars)

There was, before long, coordinated dissent. In 1536, an uprising known as the Pilgrimage of Grace came south from northern England and occupied Leicester, demanding an end to the radical changes and personal revenge on Thomas Cromwell, whose mercenary looting of the abbeys had shocked people profoundly. Meanwhile, around 30,000 (including the Archbishop of York) took York, with similar demands for the reforms to stop. Predictably, it all ended in catastrophe. Some 250 protestors were executed, killing off any further mass protests. The Tudor monarchy was, after all, one of the most powerful in Europe.

The conclusion of this modern grassroots scholarship is that bulldozing the Catholic Church off the face of medieval England was not a “bottom up” revolution in which Henry merely acquiesced to his people’s wishes by throwing off a widely hated foreign domination. To the contrary, it looks increasingly like Henry and his circle imposed the Reformation “top down”, unleashing 100 years of deep anger and alienation that was only overcome by sustained politicking and ruthless force. Politics and economics have always fitted together snugly, and it was no different in Henry’s day. By spreading some of the lands and wealth stolen from the monasteries, Henry was able to create a firm coterie of influential landholders who had a financial interest in seeing the reforms through.

While we are debunking, we should also look to another “fact” we have been commonly taught, which is that England was moving towards Protestantism by Henry’s time owing to the widespread popularity of Wycliffe and his Lollards. This movement, according to Protestant legend, embodied and expressed the true sentiment of English people. However, the evidence is overwhelmingly that this is a red herring, as research is revealing that Lollardy was never more than a small regional and dynastic movement in select parts of England. Moreover, it was almost dead by the mid-1400s – over a century before Henry's divorce. Although Lollardy had, in its day, been a genuine expression of dissent (like many others across Christendom for the last two thousand years), it was never a mainstream – let alone a majority – English religious movement.

That is not to say everyone loved the Church. By the time Cromwell was sharpening his pen to gut the monasteries more thoroughly than the Vikings ever had, there were known and identifiable pockets of English Protestants, especially in London, the South-East and East Anglia. But the records show they were a small minority of the population, and the tone of King Henry’s Defence of the Seven Sacraments (more below) solidly reflected mainstream thought.

However, nothing ever stands still, and England in the early 1500s – just like everywhere else – had its modern humanist philosophers and theologians. But here there is sometimes a misunderstanding. Humanists were not atheists or anti-Church. They were merely interested in applying the philosophies and knowledge of the day, as thinkers had done in every century. The Netherlands produced Erasmus, who was great friends with England's leading humanist: the exceptionally talented St Thomas More, one of the first victims of the English Reformation, executed by Henry for not agreeing to the split with Rome.

So how did all this happen? Why did Henry VIII, in 1533, cut a wound so deep into his country that four and a half centuries later it has still not healed?

The story is a tragedy.

On May 23, 1533, Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, sat in the lady chapel of Dunstable Priory to pronounce one of the most significant legal judgments in English history — infinitely more seismic than Magna Carta.

The underlying issue was that Henry VIII’s marriage of 16 years had produced no boys. But his mistress, the Marquess of Pembroke, was pregnant, so time was ticking. The usual legal channels had failed to grant Henry a divorce, so the Archbishop of Canterbury stepped up to the mark.

In order to give Archbishop Cranmer the unprecedented legal authority to do what he was about to do, Henry’s slippery hard man, Thomas Cromwell, drafted and rushed The Act in Restraint of Appeals 1532 through Parliament. Cromwell’s Act suspended all the usual laws in this regard, and give Cranmer full authority to give judgment. (Interestingly, to do this, Cromwell claimed that Cranmer had full authority because England was an empire. At the same time, his spin machine was working overtime, pumping out fantastical ancient histories linking the English empire to Troy, therefore making it older than, and so independent from, Rome.)

Therefore, in the hope that the King’s mistress was carrying a boy, Cranmer solemnly declared King Henry VIII divorced from Catherine of Aragon.

In the event, Henry’s mistress, Anne Boleyn, gave birth to a girl (and would, with Cromwell’s help, be beheaded within three years). But the deed was done. Cromwell had divorced Henry from Catherine, and England from Rome.

The whole affair was radical.

Since time immemorial, canon law had reserved appeals on marriage and divorce to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s boss, the Pope. English kings­, like all monarchs in Latin Christendom, had always observed this ancient legal structure. Henry had happily used it himself, when he had needed a dispensation to marry Catherine of Aragon (his brother’s widow) in the first place.

The reason Cromwell had pushed for a break with Rome was that everyone knew Henry had no legal basis for divorcing Catherine.

Henry’s argument (which he worked out himself, and was proud of) insisted that the Bible forbade a man from marrying his brother’s widow, and therefore his marriage to Catherine had all been a dreadful mistake and was, regrettably, invalid. However, all canon lawyers in England and Europe (apart from Henry’s circle of advisers) knew it was a hopeless argument, as there was a well-recognised exception to this rule. In a “levirate” marriage (Deuteronomy 25:5–10), a man was required to marry his brother’s widow if she had no children, which was the case here, and why Henry had been permitted to marry Catherine and seal a vital bond between England and Spain.

Therefore, to no one’s surprise, the Pope said no to the divorce.

Until this point, Henry had been an ardent Catholic. When he first read Luther’s works, he had been so outraged by Luther’s attack on the Church that he wrote a book (in Latin) systematically taking Luther’s arguments apart. He published it in 1521 with a dedication to the Pope. In it, he referred to “the pest of Martin Luther’s heresy … a deadly venom … infecting all with its poison.” He continued:

But, O immortal God! what bitter language! What so hot and inflamed force of speaking can be invented, sufficient to declare the crimes of that most filthy villain [Luther], who has undertaken to cut in pieces the seamless coat of Christ, and to disturb the quiet state of the church of God!

Henry made his personal position very clear:

Convinced that, in our ardour for the welfare of Christendom, in our zeal for the Catholic faith and our devotion to the Apostolic See, we had not yet done enough, we determined to show by our own writings our attitude towards Luther and our opinion of his vile books; to manifest more openly to all the world that we shall ever defend and uphold, not only by force of arms but by the resources of our intelligence and our services as a Christian, the Holy Roman Church. (King Henry VIII, Defence of the Seven Sacraments)

In grateful recognition, the Pope awarded Henry the personal title “Defender of the Faith”. (Since the break with Rome, Parliament has, slightly strangely, conferred this title on all British monarchs.)

However, when the Pope refused to allow Henry to divorce, Thomas Cromwell came up with a corker of a solution ­– break with Rome; turn the country Protestant; and, at the same time, solve the problem of the empty royal coffers by trousering all the wealth in the country’s innumerable abbeys and parish churches.

Like King Philip IV of France two centuries earlier surveying the wealth of the Templars, the temptation for Henry was just too much to resist.

The only problem was that although Cromwell’s plan suited Henry and his circle (who would all get very rich off the scheme), there was the small matter of the English people.

To change a country’s religion lock, stock, and barrel was no easy task. In the end, it took Henry VIII, Edward VI, and Elizabeth I. The strategy was fairly predictable for a medieval monarchy, and again, it has striking similarities with how Philip IV took out the Templars. Cromwell’s plan only needed three steps: outlaw everything to do with Catholicism; denigrate and malign it at every opportunity in official pronouncements and sermons; and execute anyone who objects.

One example of the type of propaganda deployed must stand for many. Turning a blind eye to the hundreds of English Catholics executed by Henry VIII, Elizabeth I’s administration came up with the notion of convincing people that religious executions had been invented by Elizabeth's older sister, Mary I. Despite the fact that images were banned in churches, they ordered a copy of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, hot off the press with the ink still wet, placed in every collegiate church in the land, where all people could be appalled by its 150 gruesome woodcut illustrations showing the Protestant martyrs executed by Mary. What it failed to show, of course, were those Catholic victims that Henry had consigned to identical deaths before Mary’s reign, and the hundreds that Elizabeth was now ruthlessly persecuting in exactly the same way. But, of course, that is the nature of propaganda. Elizabeth forbade the printing of any Catholic materials in her kingdom, leaving her full control of all books and pamphlets.

The Tudor violence meted out to enforce the break with Rome was extreme, designed to deter by shock. For instance, one of Henry’s earliest victims was Sister Elizabeth Barton, a Benedictine nun. When she criticised Henry’s desire to marry Anne Boleyn, he had her executed, and her head spiked on London Bridge ­— the first and only woman ever to have suffered this posthumous barbarity.

Henry and his inner circle of politicians and radical clerics put to death hundreds of dissenters, pour encourager les autres. None of these people were plotting to kill him or destabilise his rule. Their “treason” was to oppose the destruction of their religion or the despoiling of their property. The brutal strangulation, emasculation, disembowelling, beheading, and quartering they endured as traitors was hideous, as was the total absence of any form of due process or justice.

Take the death of Richard Whiting, the elderly abbot of Glastonbury, England’s greatest abbey. Thomas Cromwell’s administrative diary entry about him reads starkly:

Item. The Abbot, of Glaston to be tryed at Glaston and also executyd there with his complycys.

Whiting was, in fact, a member of the House of Lords, and entitled to be arraigned before Parliament if he was to be charged with any crime. But that was much too cumbersome for Cromwell, who just wanted the abbot out of the way in order to seize the abbey’s wealth and line his own pockets with it. Whiting was therefore dragged on a hurdle to the summit of Glastonbury Tor, where he was subjected to the full horrors of a traitor’s death. And he was not alone. Similar summary executions took place up and down the land to clear the way for Cromwell’s commissioners, who boxed up every last cross and candlestick they could find, and shipped them back to London to be melted down and pumped into their personal accounts.

The evidence shows that it actually took the Tudors around 45 years to eradicate all memory of this country’s Catholic past.

Henry started it all, from 1533–47. His reforms were harsh on the people, yet he rather hypocritically remained a practising Catholic himself. He had a newfound hostility towards the Pope, born of his divorce debacle, but he continued to hear Mass regularly. Although he presided over the looting of the abbeys and a good deal of local church vandalism, he nevertheless exercised certain restraining influences over Thomas Cromwell, Archbishop Cranmer and the other zealots. Things therefore only really kicked off once Henry was dead and the reformers were able to take the nine-year-old King Edward VI on a radical six-year Calvinist journey (1547–53). This was the period of the harshest destruction of English religious art and culture, when even the smallest church in the kingdom was ransacked and all its valuables seized. For several generations, people said that they had suffered under Henry’s reforms, but they dated the utter desecration of the English church to Edward’s reign.

When Mary I briefly returned England to Catholicism from 1553–8, many churches and parishioners cautiously took out the few treasured saints’ statues and missals they had recklessly managed to hide, and they set up their churches again, happy for normality to have returned.

But when Mary unexpectedly died and Elizabeth began the persecutions again, people started slowly to give up. By the end of Elizabeth’s reign, no one remembered religious life before Henry. The memories were gone, and so was the will to fight the regime any more.

Amid the turmoil of the English Reformation – with its wanton destruction of communities, their imaginations, and centuries of their books and art – the one thing that stands out most is the sheer scale of the undertaking.

Under the influence of Calvin and Zwingli’s puritan doctrines, Edward VI ordered his commissioners to:

Take away, utterly extinct and destroy all shrines, coverings of shrines, candlesticks, pictures, paintings and all other monuments of feigned miracles, pilgrimages, idolatry and superstition so that there remain no memory of the same in walls, glasses, windows or elsewhere within their churches or houses.

And following Edward’s reign, Elizabeth I repeated the command and finished what he had started. The result was the wholesale destruction of a millennium of irreplaceable English craftsmanship in windows, statues, frescoes, and paintings. The Tate recently estimated that over 90 per cent of all English art was trashed in the period, and scarcely a handful of books survived the burning of the great monastic and university libraries. Oxford’s vast Bodleian, for instance, was left without a single book.

Anyone who doubts there was a political aspect to the destruction needs look no further than the shrine of St Thomas Becket in Canterbury. It was England’s most popular pilgrimage destination, and Becket’s cult had international reach, with mosaics, icons, and relics of him venerated as far afield as Sicily and the Holy Land. Henry ordered his tomb pulverised, his bones scattered, and his name effaced from history. The reason for this special harshness is not hard to see. Becket’s claim to fame was as a churchman who stood up to royal interference in the Church. Becket was therefore a natural rallying symbol for anyone thinking of challenging Henry’s reforms. Becket represented the sanctity of dissent, and Henry could absolutely not have that.

In the process of all the destruction, it was not just traditional day-to-day spiritual life, the free medical and social care provided by the monasteries, and a country full of creative thought and art that were obliterated. The reformers hacked out and discarded an entire slice of England’s history, alienating the English from an especially vibrant part of their own amazing past.

So Khrushchev was right — historians are dangerous. In the case of the Reformation, generations have perpetuated the artful story spun by the Tudor machine, with the result that we fail to acknowledge that medieval religion in this country was, for a thousand years, as English as tea, warm beer, Maypole dancing, and cricket. As has been said many times: within three generations, England went from being one of Europe’s most Catholic countries to one of its most anti-Catholic.

The medieval world was quite capable of outrageous smears. One needs only think of the blood libel against the Jews. Yet it seems that we, too, are the victims of politicised and twisted history because we are still living with the radical agenda of a small group of Tudor reformers who seized upon a king’s marital needs in order to effect a change they (not the country) desired, and at the same time treated themselves to undreamed of personal wealth.

We are the only European country to use the phrase “the Dark Ages” for the medieval period, and in large measure it is because we have retrospectively made it dark. Henry VIII started it by denigrating and destroying the intellectual, artistic, and spiritual output of ten centuries, emptying out cathedrals and library shelves, leaving them barren and devoid of any human ingenuity or beauty. It is no wonder that, looking at the slim remnants of English medieval life, it appears dark to us. To compound matters, rather than recognise the Tudor sack of our culture, we have collectively stuck to their breathtakingly arrogant claim that England was a backward, gloom-filed wasteland until Henry brought the searing flame of enlightenment.

Our complicity in this myth is partly because the sectarian language of the Tudor court and its clerics’ sermons has proved immensely durable and is now so deeply ingrained that we continue to be blinded to the vitality and unique Englishness of our pre-Reformation culture. Instead of celebrating our nation’s vivid and exuberant history, we swallow Henry’s spin and damn it all as nothing more than the output of an infested ragbag of “corrupt abominations”, “papistical superstitions”, and “unsavery teaching”. The result is a gross distortion, and equates to the theft of our past. Happily, it is a wrong that historians are now, in increasing numbers, eloquently addressing.

Perhaps the final word should go to Robert Peckham, who died in Rome in 1569 during the reign of Elizabeth I:

Here lies Robert Peckham, Englishman and Catholic, who, after England’s break with the Church, left England because he could not live in his country without the Faith, and, having come to Rome, died there because he could not live apart from his country.

Pope Francis' Address to the US Congress

c/o EWTN.com and the Vatican Press Office

Mr. Vice-President,
Mr. Speaker,
Honorable Members of Congress,
Dear Friends,

I am most grateful for your invitation to address this Joint Session of Congress in “the land of the free and the home of the brave”. I would like to think that the reason for this is that I too am a son of this great continent, from which we have all received so much and toward which we share a common responsibility.

Each son or daughter of a given country has a mission, a personal and social responsibility. Your own responsibility as members of Congress is to enable this country, by your legislative activity, to grow as a nation. You are the face of its people, their representatives. You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics. A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk. Legislative activity is always based on care for the people. To this you have been invited, called and convened by those who elected you.

Yours is a work which makes me reflect in two ways on the figure of Moses. On the one hand, the patriarch and lawgiver of the people of Israel symbolizes the need of peoples to keep alive their sense of unity by means of just legislation. On the other, the figure of Moses leads us directly to God and thus to the transcendent dignity of the human being. Moses provides us with a good synthesis of your work: you are asked to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face.

Today I would like not only to address you, but through you the entire people of the United States. Here, together with their representatives, I would like to take this opportunity to dialogue with the many thousands of men and women who strive each day to do an honest day’s work, to bring home their daily bread, to save money and –one step at a time – to build a better life for their families. These are men and women who are not concerned simply with paying their taxes, but in their own quiet way sustain the life of society. They generate solidarity by their actions, and they create organizations which offer a helping hand to those most in need.

I would also like to enter into dialogue with the many elderly persons who are a storehouse of wisdom forged by experience, and who seek in many ways, especially through volunteer work, to share their stories and their insights. I know that many of them are retired, but still active; they keep working to build up this land. I also want to dialogue with all those young people who are working to realize their great and noble aspirations, who are not led astray by facile proposals, and who face difficult situations, often as a result of immaturity on the part of many adults. I wish to dialogue with all of you, and I would like to do so through the historical memory of your people.

My visit takes place at a time when men and women of good will are marking the anniversaries of several great Americans. The complexities of history and the reality of human weakness notwithstanding, these men and women, for all their many differences and limitations, were able by hard work and self-sacrifice – some at the cost of their lives – to build a better future. They shaped fundamental values which will endure forever in the spirit of the American people. A people with this spirit can live through many crises, tensions and conflicts, while always finding the resources to move forward, and to do so with dignity. These men and women offer us a way of seeing and interpreting reality. In honoring their memory, we are inspired, even amid conflicts, and in the here and now of each day, to draw upon our deepest cultural reserves.

I would like to mention four of these Americans: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.

This year marks the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, the guardian of liberty, who labored tirelessly that “this nation, under God, [might] have a new birth of freedom”. Building a future of freedom requires love of the common good and cooperation in a spirit of subsidiarity and solidarity.

All of us are quite aware of, and deeply worried by, the disturbing social and political situation of the world today. Our world is increasingly a place of violent conflict, hatred and brutal atrocities, committed even in the name of God and of religion. We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism. This means that we must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism, whether religious or of any other kind. A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms. But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners. The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps. We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place. That is something which you, as a people, reject.

Our response must instead be one of hope and healing, of peace and justice. We are asked to summon the courage and the intelligence to resolve today’s many geopolitical and economic crises. Even in the developed world, the effects of unjust structures and actions are all too apparent. Our efforts must aim at restoring hope, righting wrongs, maintaining commitments, and thus promoting the well-being of individuals and of peoples. We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good.

The challenges facing us today call for a renewal of that spirit of cooperation, which has accomplished so much good throughout the history of the United States. The complexity, the gravity and the urgency of these challenges demand that we pool our resources and talents, and resolve to support one another, with respect for our differences and our convictions of conscience.

In this land, the various religious denominations have greatly contributed to building and strengthening society. It is important that today, as in the past, the voice of faith continue to be heard, for it is a voice of fraternity and love, which tries to bring out the best in each person and in each society. Such cooperation is a powerful resource in the battle to eliminate new global forms of slavery, born of grave injustices which can be overcome only through new policies and new forms of social consensus.

Here I think of the political history of the United States, where democracy is deeply rooted in the mind of the American people. All political activity must serve and promote the good of the human person and be based on respect for his or her dignity. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (Declaration of Independence, 4 July 1776). If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance. Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life. I do not underestimate the difficulty that this involves, but I encourage you in this effort.

Here too I think of the march which Martin Luther King led from Selma to Montgomery fifty years ago as part of the campaign to fulfill his “dream” of full civil and political rights for African Americans. That dream continues to inspire us all. I am happy that America continues to be, for many, a land of “dreams”. Dreams which lead to action, to participation, to commitment. Dreams which awaken what is deepest and truest in the life of a people.

In recent centuries, millions of people came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom. We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants. Tragically, the rights of those who were here long before us were not always respected. For those peoples and their nations, from the heart of American democracy, I wish to reaffirm my highest esteem and appreciation. Those first contacts were often turbulent and violent, but it is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present. Nonetheless, when the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past. We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our “neighbors” and everything around us. Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity, in a constant effort to do our best. I am confident that we can do this.

Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions. On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mt 7:12).

This Rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us. The Golden Rule alsoreminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.

This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty. I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes. Recently my brother bishops here in the United States renewed their call for the abolition of the death penalty. Not only do I support them, but I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.

In these times when social concerns are so important, I cannot fail to mention the Servant of God Dorothy Day, who founded theCatholic Worker Movement. Her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed, were inspired by the Gospel, her faith, and the example of the saints.

How much progress has been made in this area in so many parts of the world! How much has been done in these first years of the third millennium to raise people out of extreme poverty! I know that you share my conviction that much more still needs to be done, and that in times of crisis and economic hardship a spirit of global solidarity must not be lost. At the same time I would encourage you to keep in mind all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty. They too need to be given hope. The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes. I know that many Americans today, as in the past, are working to deal with this problem.

It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth. The right use of natural resources, the proper application of technology and the harnessing of the spirit of enterprise are essential elements of an economy which seeks to be modern, inclusive and sustainable. “Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good” (Laudato Si’, 129). This common good also includes the earth, a central theme of the encyclical which I recently wrote in order to “enter into dialogue with all people about our common home” (ibid., 3). “We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all” (ibid., 14).

In Laudato Si’, I call for a courageous and responsible effort to “redirect our steps” (ibid., 61), and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity. I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States – and this Congress – have an important role to play. Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a “culture of care” (ibid., 231) and “an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature” (ibid., 139). “We have the freedom needed to limit and direct technology” (ibid., 112); “to devise intelligent ways of… developing and limiting our power” (ibid., 78); and to put technology “at the service of another type of progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral” (ibid., 112). In this regard, I am confident that America’s outstanding academic and research institutions can make a vital contribution in the years ahead.

A century ago, at the beginning of the Great War, which Pope Benedict XV termed a “pointless slaughter”, another notable American was born: the Cistercian monk Thomas Merton. He remains a source of spiritual inspiration and a guide for many people. In his autobiography he wrote: “I came into the world. Free by nature, in the image of God, I was nevertheless the prisoner of my own violence and my own selfishness, in the image of the world into which I was born. That world was the picture of Hell, full of men like myself, loving God, and yet hating him; born to love him, living instead in fear of hopeless self-contradictory hungers”. Merton was above all a man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church. He was also a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions.

From this perspective of dialogue, I would like to recognize the efforts made in recent months to help overcome historic differences linked to painful episodes of the past. It is my duty to build bridges and to help all men and women, in any way possible, to do the same. When countries which have been at odds resume the path of dialogue – a dialogue which may have been interrupted for the most legitimate of reasons – new opportunities open up for all. This has required, and requires, courage and daring, which is not the same as irresponsibility. A good political leader is one who, with the interests of all in mind, seizes the moment in a spirit of openness and pragmatism. A good political leader always opts to initiate processes rather than possessing spaces (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 222-223).

Being at the service of dialogue and peace also means being truly determined to minimize and, in the long term, to end the many armed conflicts throughout our world. Here we have to ask ourselves: Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.

Three sons and a daughter of this land, four individuals and four dreams: Lincoln, liberty; Martin Luther King, liberty in plurality and non-exclusion; Dorothy Day, social justice and the rights of persons; and Thomas Merton, the capacity for dialogue and openness to God.

Four representatives of the American people.

I will end my visit to your country in Philadelphia, where I will take part in the World Meeting of Families. It is my wish that throughout my visit the family should be a recurrent theme. How essential the family has been to the building of this country! And how worthy it remains of our support and encouragement! Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family. I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and the beauty of family life.

In particular, I would like to call attention to those family members who are the most vulnerable, the young. For many of them, a future filled with countless possibilities beckons, yet so many others seem disoriented and aimless, trapped in a hopeless maze of violence, abuse and despair. Their problems are our problems. We cannot avoid them. We need to face them together, to talk about them and to seek effective solutions rather than getting bogged down in discussions. At the risk of oversimplifying, we might say that we live in a culture which pressures young people not to start a family, because they lack possibilities for the future. Yet this same culture presents others with so many options that they too are dissuaded from starting a family.

A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as Lincoln did, when it fosters a culture which enables people to “dream” of full rights for all their brothers and sisters, as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed, as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work, the fruit of a faith which becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton.

In these remarks I have sought to present some of the richness of your cultural heritage, of the spirit of the American people. It is my desire that this spirit continue to develop and grow, so that as many young people as possible can inherit and dwell in a land which has inspired so many people to dream.

God bless America!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

St. Junipero Serra

ORA PRO NOBIS!

Vatican City, 24 September 2015 (VIS) – Blessed Junipero Serra (1713-1784), known as the “Apostle of California”, was canonised yesterday by Pope Francis during a solemn Mass celebrated in the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the title under which, since 1847, the Virgin Mary is the patroness of the United States.

The new saint, born in Mallorca, Spain, was a missionary first in Mexico, where he learned the Pame language in order to teach the indigenous peoples the catechism and ordinary prayers, which he translated for them. He was also master of novices in the apostolic College of San Fernando. In 1767, the Jesuits were expelled from the missions of Baja California, which were entrusted to the Franciscans. Fr. Junipero was appointed Superior and arrived with 14 companions in the territory in 1760, where he founded the first mission of San Diego. He went on to found missions in Alta California: San Carlos de Monterrey, San Anselmo, San Gabriel and San Luis Obispo. In California alone he travelled 9,900 kilometres and 5,400 nautical miles to found new missions from which there derive the Franciscan names of Californian cities such as San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles. Serra was beatified by John Paul II in 1988.

In his homily the Pope cites St. Paul's words to the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always! I say it again, rejoice!”. “Paul tells us to rejoice; he practically orders us to rejoice. This command resonates with the desire we all have for a fulfilling life, a meaningful life, a joyful life. … Something deep within us invites us to rejoice and tells us not to settle for placebos which simply keep us comfortable. At the same time, though, we all know the struggles of everyday life. So much seems to stand in the way of this invitation to rejoice. Our daily routine can often lead us to a kind of glum apathy which gradually becomes a habit, with a fatal consequence: our hearts grow numb”.

“We don’t want apathy to guide our lives … or do we?”, he continued. “We don’t want the force of habit to rule our life … or do we? So we ought to ask ourselves: What can we do to keep our heart from growing numb, becoming anaesthetised? How do we make the joy of the Gospel increase and take deeper root in our lives? Jesus gives the answer. He said to his disciples then and he says it to us now: Go forth! Proclaim! The joy of the Gospel is something to be experienced, something to be known and lived only through giving it away, through giving ourselves away”.

The spirit of the world “tells us to be like everyone else, to settle for what comes easy. Faced with this human way of thinking, 'we must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and for the world'. It is the responsibility to proclaim the message of Jesus. For the source of our joy is 'an endless desire to show mercy, the fruit of our own experience of the power of the Father’s infinite mercy'. Go out to all, proclaim by anointing and anoint by proclaiming. This is what the Lord tells us today. He tells us that a Christian finds joy in mission: Go out to people of every nation! A Christian experiences joy in following a command: Go forth and proclaim the good news! A Christian finds ever new joy in answering a call: Go forth and anoint!”.

“Jesus sends His disciples out to all nations. To every people. We too were part of all those people of two thousand years ago. Jesus did not provide a short list of who is, or is not, worthy of receiving His message, His presence. Instead, He always embraced life as He saw it. In faces of pain, hunger, sickness and sin. In faces of the wounded, in thirst, weariness, doubt and pity. Far from expecting a beautiful life, smartly-dressed and neatly groomed, He embraced life as He found it. It made no difference whether it was dirty, unkempt, broken. Jesus said: Go out and tell the good news to everyone. Go out and in my name embrace life as it is, and not as you think it should be. Go out to the highways and byways, go out to tell the good news fearlessly, without prejudice, without superiority, without condescension, to all those who have lost the joy of living. Go out to proclaim the merciful embrace of the Father. Go out to those who are burdened by pain and failure, who feel that their lives are empty, and proclaim the 'folly' of a loving Father Who wants to anoint them with the oil of hope, the oil of salvation. Go out to proclaim the good news that error, deceitful illusions and falsehoods do not have the last word in a person’s life. Go out with the balm which soothes wounds and heals hearts”.

Mission is “never the fruit of a perfectly planned program or a well-organised manual. Mission is always the fruit of a life which knows what it is to be found and healed, encountered and forgiven. Mission is born of a constant experience of God’s merciful anointing. The Church, the holy People of God, treads the dust-laden paths of history, so often traversed by conflict, injustice and violence, in order to encounter her children, our brothers and sisters. The holy and faithful People of God are not afraid of losing their way; they are afraid of becoming self-enclosed, frozen into elites, clinging to their own security. They know that self-enclosure, in all the many forms it takes, is the cause of so much apathy. So let us go out, let us go forth to offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ. The People of God can embrace everyone because we are the disciples of the One who knelt before his own to wash their feet.

“The reason we are here today is that many other people wanted to respond to that call. They believed that 'life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort'. We are heirs to the bold missionary spirit of so many men and women who preferred not to be 'shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security … within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving'. We are indebted to a tradition, a chain of witnesses who have made it possible for the good news of the Gospel to be, in every generation, both 'good' and 'new'”.

“Today we remember one of those witnesses who testified to the joy of the Gospel in these lands, Fr. Junipero Serra. He was the embodiment of 'a Church which goes forth', a Church which sets out to bring everywhere the reconciling tenderness of God. Junipero Serra left his native land and its way of life. He was excited about blazing trails, going forth to meet many people, learning and valuing their particular customs and ways of life. He learned how to bring to birth and nurture God’s life in the faces of everyone he met; he made them his brothers and sisters. Junipero sought to defend the dignity of the native community, to protect it from those who had mistreated and abused it. Mistreatment and wrongs which today still trouble us, especially because of the hurt which they cause in the lives of many people”.

Father Serra “had a motto which inspired his life and work, a saying he lived his life by: siempre adelante! Keep moving forward! For him, this was the way to continue experiencing the joy of the Gospel, to keep his heart from growing numb, from being anaesthetised. He kept moving forward, because the Lord was waiting. He kept going, because his brothers and sisters were waiting. He kept going forward to the end of his life. Today, like him, may we be able to say: Forward! Let’s keep moving forward!”.

Pope Francis' Statement at the White House

'Mr. President, I am deeply grateful for your welcome in the name of all Americans. As the son of an immigrant family, I am happy to be a guest in this country, which was largely built by such families. I look forward to these days of encounter and dialogue, in which I hope to listen to, and share, many of the hopes and dreams of the American people.

'During my visit I will have the honor of addressing Congress, where I hope, as a brother of this country, to offer words of encouragement to those called to guide the nation’s political future in fidelity to its founding principles. I will also travel to Philadelphia for the Eighth World Meeting of Families, to celebrate and support the institutions of marriage and the family at this, a critical moment in the history of our civilization.

'Mr. President, together with their fellow citizens, American Catholics are committed to building a society which is truly tolerant and inclusive, to safeguarding the rights of individuals and communities, and to rejecting every form of unjust discrimination. With countless other people of good will, they are likewise concerned that efforts to build a just and wisely ordered society respect their deepest concerns and their right to religious liberty. That freedom remains one of America’s most precious possessions. And, as my brothers, the United States Bishops, have reminded us, all are called to be vigilant, precisely as good citizens, to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it.

'Mr. President, I find it encouraging that you are proposing an initiative for reducing air pollution. Accepting the urgency, it seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation. When it comes to the care of our “common home”, we are living at a critical moment of history. We still have time to make the changes needed to bring about “a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change” (Laudato Si’, 13). Such change demands on our part a serious and responsible recognition not only of the kind of world we may be leaving to our children, but also to the millions of people living under a system which has overlooked them. Our common home has been part of this group of the excluded which cries out to heaven and which today powerfully strikes our homes, our cities and our societies. To use a telling phrase of the Reverend Martin Luther King, we can say that we have defaulted on a promissory note and now is the time to honor it.

'We know by faith that "the Creator does not abandon us; he never forsakes his loving plan or repents of having created us. Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home." As Christians inspired by this certainty, we wish to commit ourselves to the conscious and responsible care of our common home. The efforts which were recently made to mend broken relationships and to open new doors to cooperation within our human family represent positive steps along the path of reconciliation, justice and freedom. I would like all men and women of good will in this great nation to support the efforts of the international community to protect the vulnerable in our world and to stimulate integral and inclusive models of development, so that our brothers and sisters everywhere may know the blessings of peace and prosperity which God wills for all his children.

'Mr. President, once again I thank you for your welcome, and I look forward to these days in your country. God bless America!'