Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Coming Soon -- Sophie Scholl: The Final Days

On Resistance to Evil

The last offering of Cinema Catechism for the Winter/Spring 2011 series is Sophie Scholl: The Final Days, about the courageous young woman who, as part of the White Rose resistance group, sought to awaken the conscience of the German people to turn against the Nazi regime. In helping to form the White Rose, Sophie had been highly influenced by Blessed John Henry Newman and his "theology of conscience," as well as the "Lion of Münster," Blessed Clemens August von Galen, the Catholic bishop of Münster who forcefully spoke out against Nazi policies.

While in law school at The Catholic University of America, lo these many years ago, I wrote a paper entitled Christian Social Protest, which discusses many of the issues that are involved when a person of good will is faced with having to interact with evil, taking into consideration the moral obligation to submit to lawful authority (see CCC 2238-41), giving unto Caesar what is Caesar's, but at the same time, giving to God what is God's (Mt 22:21). The paper dealt with Christian martyrs, some contemporary examples of non-violent protest, such as Martin Luther King, and the obligations of moral truth and "higher law," but did not include Sophie Scholl (I did not know about her at the time). Still, some of the thoughts and questions are pertinent to the issue -- What does one do, what should one do, what can one do, when faced with evil?

These are not purely theoretical or academic questions. Evil abounds in our present-day society, not the least of which is the culture of death, including the on-going legally-protected (and even publicly financed) slaughter of the innocents, as well as other societal-government assaults on the sanctity and dignity of human life.

Christianity has always been a religion at odds with the existing social and government structures. Despite the admonition from St. Paul and others to submit to authority, the Judeo-Christian tradition has often been one of defying authority when it is perceived that it has gone too far. While man should give unto Caesar what is Caesar's, Christians have occasionally restricted the scope of Caesar's power and militantly resisted.

The most striking examples, of course, are the martyrs. From Maccabees to St. Stephen to Polycarp to St. Thomas More, Christians have oft been willing to accept worldly death, rather than submit to a government power that is perceived to be oppressive, evil, or offensive to the teachings of the Church.

The martyrs gave their lives, often in gory, gruesome, and violent ways. Dismemberment, stoning, set on fire, beheaded, scourged, roasted on a spit, and fed to wild beasts, the martyrs have for two thousand years been an inspiration to those faithful who believe that their cross is too much to bear. If they can endure, then those facing lesser threats surely can.

Of course, many, many more faithful were never martyred, or even threatened with martyrdom, but they did suffer persecution, either directly, or indirectly through oppression. But these saints are no less worthy of imitation or inspiration to those facing trials and the need to defend the faith, and the faithful.

Recent times have seen the rise of modern social protest. . . . Many of the participants in these movements have thought of themselves, if only in a spirit of humility, as carrying on the work of the persecuted and martyred. Many of these protesters do so, not by free choice, but because they believe they have a penitential duty to do so. Thus, they often seek to imitate the perseverance of the martyrs, and proclaim themselves willing to endure any hardship to promote the teachings of Christ, that is, justice, truth, the obligation to do good and avoid evil, and the protection of the intrinsic dignity of the human person, upon which society depends.

Are these groups justified in basing their actions on the Christian thought, in light of the martyrs? After all, martyrdom is not something one is supposed to go out and seek. Are they acting in a Christian way? Is their way, or the Christian way justified in today's pluralistic civil society? Or are these groups an instrument of evil? Do they make people turn away from truth, despite their "good" intentions? . . .

Those who resort to extralegal direct action generally do so, not out of disrespect for the law, but because they value true law and true justice above all else. But they cannot be idle bystanders, witnesses to injustice without acting to avert it. That acting may violate some earthly law is of no import to these persons, since the they do not justify their acts in mere positive law. As St. Augustine said in Free Choice of the Will, "Do you think that, for men who are eager not only to believe but also to understand, we must fall back on the authority of the law?"

Indeed, it was recognized by all the world at Nuremberg that occasionally, one has a duty to resist unjust laws which violate inalienable human rights, claims of constitutional supremacy notwithstanding. The ruling of the International Military Tribunal was clear, even if the positive law of the nation legalized certain practices, one could not complain of his later prosecution for acts which were nonetheless mala in se, "Individuals have international duties which transcend national obligations of obedience imposed by the individual state." United States v. Goering et al., 6 F.R.D. 69, 110 (1946). Crimes against humanity are punishable "whether or not in violation of the domestic law of the country where perpetrated." Charter of the International Tribunal, 59 Stat. 1544, 82 U.N.T.S. 279, 287-88.

Martin Luther King, in his Letter from the Birmingham Jail, answered those who supported his cause, but opposed his methods, believing that the oppressed Blacks should go on obeying the "laws" no matter what. In their doing so, however, they clearly had a poor conception of what law is. Borrowing from Catholic teaching, King pointed out that an unjust law was no law at all and that one who values the true eternal law, may in good conscience resist the positive civil law to help raise the conscience of the community and is really showing the highest respect for the law.

"[T]here are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that 'An unjust law is no law at all.' . . . Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. . . .

One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over it injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law."

To be sure, Christians have a duty to admonish other Christians when they go astray and to help them in the formation of their conscience. (cf. Ezekiel 3:18-20; Galatians 6:1)

The teachings of the martyrs are "intended to encourage Christians to stand firm against Satan's wiles in the knowledge that God's will is being done." (The Martyrdom of Polycarp) The examples of the early Christians involved "passive submission to the State where necessary, indifference where possible, and nonviolent resistance where the State made demands that would compromise the Christians prime allegiance to God." (Christian Ethics 49 (Beach and Niebuhr eds., 2d ed., 1973))

The Catholic Church teaches that there is obviously a proper place for morality in society and the law. But when society fails in this, then it is no longer legitimate. [In Donum Vitae, then-Cardinal Ratzinger writes],

"The task of the civil law is to ensure the common good of people through the recognition of and the defense of fundamental rights and through the promotion of peace and of public morality. In no sphere of life can the civil law take the place of conscience or dictate norms concerning things which are outside its competence. It must sometimes tolerate, for the sake of public order, things which it cannot forbid without a greater evil resulting. However, the inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority. These human rights depend neither on single individuals nor on parents; nor do they represent a concession made by society and the State: they pertain to human nature and are inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which the person took his of her origin. . . . the moment a positive law deprives a category of human beings of the protection which civil legislation must accord them, the State is denying the equality of all before the law. When the State does not place its power at the service of the rights of each citizen, and in particular of the more vulnerable, the very foundations of a State based on law are undermined."

Indeed, in its teaching on respect for human life in its origin, the Church has taken note of resistance to those laws and practices which violate the inherent dignity of the human person, and has seemingly given its tacit approval.

The civil legislation of many states confers an undue legitimation upon certain practices in the eyes of many today; it is seen to be incapable of guaranteeing that morality which is in conformity with the natural exigencies of the human person and with the "unwritten laws" etched by the Creator upon the human heart. All men of good will must commit themselves, particularly within their professional field and in the exercise of their civil rights, to ensuring the reform of morally unacceptable civil laws and the correction of illicit practices. In addition, "conscientious objection" vis-à-vis such laws must be supported and recognized. A movement of passive resistance to the legitimation of practices contrary to human life and dignity is beginning to make an ever sharper impression upon the moral conscience of many, especially among specialists in the biomedical sciences. (Donum Vitae)

Whether social protest in a given situation is justified or not, the mere fact that it violates existing positive civil law is not in itself evidence of wrongfulness. As St. Augustine pointed out in Free Choice of the Will, the history of the Christian church is one of resistance to putative civil authority.* To look at an action and to say it is wrong because it violates some civil law is to get the problem backwards. An act is not wrong because the law forbids it; rather the law forbids (or rather should forbid) it because it is are wrong. . . .

The Church has always taught that each human life is infinitely valuable and that man must love his neighbor as himself. . . . lack of resistance in many cases only adds to the problem and has the effect of causing others to be apathetic and to simply go along with evil. [And simply acquiescing in evil by not resisting it has gravely negative effects.]

St. Augustine teaches that evil results from freely choosing to be ignorant and by turning away from Truth. Those that choose to turn away from this truth, must then live in darkness and slavery to error.

Society today asks man to embrace moral relativism, just as Polycarp was asked, "'what is wrong with saying 'Caesar is Lord,' and sacrificing, and so forth, and thus being saved?'" Since the time of modernity, positivism, existentialism, and utilitarianism, it has been claimed that "God is dead." Anyone giving only a cursory look at society today cannot help but note that, whether God is dead or not, contemporary society has abandoned concepts of God, morality and truth, in favor of moral relativism, pluralistic truth, and situational ethics. Many in society today have embraced materialism, hedonism and decadence, through their own free choice. And that, of course, is the catch-phrase of the abortion rights movement, "freedom of choice."

However, this choice can lead only to misery when the choice is ignorance, as St. Augustine points out in Free Choice of the Will, "when we say that men are unhappy by their own choice, we are not saying they want to be unhappy but that their will is such that unhappiness results of necessity and even against their will."

It is clear from looking at society today, with [50] million abortions since 1973, millions of children born out of wedlock, millions of broken families, unheard of sexual promiscuity, perversion and excess, as well as rampant divorce, drug use, sexually transmitted disease, that man is reaping what he has sown. It is a just punishment, St. Augustine says, for man has chosen evil.** . . .

As is clear from the above discussion, social order has broken down. This lack of order is evidence of turning away from the eternal law, from which whatever is just and lawful in the temporal law is derived, and which is impressed upon man's nature. . . . As such, social protest would be necessary to restore that order to man's intrinsic nature. . . .


Footnotes -

* "Ev. I think it is wrong for the reason that I have often seen men condemned for such a crime.
"Aug. What of the fact that men have often been condemned for good deeds? Without sending you to other books, examine that history which owes its excellence to divine authority. You will find what a bad opinion we should have of the Apostles and all the martyrs if we agree that being condemned is a sure indication of wrongdoing, for they were all judged as deserving of condemnation for having confessed their faith. Consequently, if whatever is condemned is evil, then it was evil at that time to believe in Christ and to confess the faith itself." St. Augustine, Free Choice of the Will.

** "Aug. [W]hatever that nature is which rightfully excels a mind adorned with virtue, it cannot possibly be unjust. Consequently, though it were within its power to do so, not even this nature will force the mind to become a slave to passion. . . . where passion lords it over the mind, dragging it about, poor and needy, in different directions, stripped of its wealth of virtue, now mistaking the false for the true, even defending something vigorously at one time only to reject at another what it had previously demonstrated, while all the while it rushes headlong into other false judgment; now withholding all assent, while fearful for the most part of the clearest demonstrations; no in despair of the whole business of finding the truth while it clings tenaciously to the darkness of its folly; now at pains to see the light and understand, and again falling back out of weariness to the darkness? And all the while, the cruel tyranny of evil desire holds sway, disrupting the entire soul and life of man by various and conflicting surges of passion; here by fear, there by desire, here by anxiety, there by empty and spurious delights; here by torment over the loss of a loved object, there by a burning desire to acquire something not possessed; here by pain for an injury received, there by the urge to revenge an injury. On every possible side, the mind is shriveled up by greed, wasted away by sensuality, a slave to ambition, is inflated by pride, tortured by envy, deadened by sloth, kept in turmoil by obstinacy, and distressed by its condition of subjugation. And so with other countless impulses that surround and plague the rule of passion. How could we ever think that this is not a punishment when, as you see, it is something that all have to suffer who do not hold fast to wisdom?
"Ev. I do indeed consider this a heavy penalty and one that is absolutely just, if a man, who once occupied the summit of wisdom, should choose to descend therefrom and become the slave of passion. . . . [but] man was so perfectly created by God and established in happiness that it was only by his own will that he fell from this state into the miseries of this mortal life." Free Choice of the Will

Sophie Scholl and the White Rose confronted the great evil that was National Socialism. Despite the cries of "never again" after World War II, there are some who seem to think that Hitler and the Nazis so epitomized evil that if a situation does not rise to the level of exterminating six million Jews and millions of others, then it is not really so great an evil. As such, they acquiesce in any number of horrors and "never again" becomes "once again."

It might be true that the United States will never face a regime bent on genocidal extermination and totalitarian rule, but that really is not the standard for resistance, is it? How many must be denied basic human dignity (or even be denied their very humanity in law) before a person's conscience is awakened and he is spurred to act against the evil and for the good?

While the question of how to act might be difficult to answer, the questions of whether to act, whether to resist should not be. We have an obligation, written as law upon our hearts, to do good and avoid evil. One cannot stand idly by in the face of evil. (See CCC 2242 and Evangelium Vitae 70 et seq.) To simply go along and avoid having to confront evil can quickly become cooperation with evil, especially since evil often will not leave you alone, but will demand your involvement and approval. And one cannot simply say, "let God take care of it." God has already taken care of much of it -- Jesus has commissioned us to go out and be a light to a dark world -- God takes care of it through us.

At the very least, we have an obligation in charity to first admit the truth, and then to speak the truth, in opposition to evil. Here in the United States we probably will never face a totalitarian regime such as that in Nazi Germany. But if Sophie Scholl was willing risk her life, and ultimately give it, to speak the truth so as to awake the conscience of the German people, should not we at least be willing to speak the truth when we are faced with "lesser" evils?

This much is certain: Doing nothing in the face of evil is not an option.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Mansions of the Lord

In remembrance of those who gave the last full measure of devotion to the cause of freedom, equality, and dignity for all men and women.
"No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends." Give our departed fighting men and women eternal rest, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine on them forever, for You are rich in mercy.

Sadly, we are still at war, it is still necessary that we should fight against those who seek to destroy the lives and liberties of others throughout the world. But as we fight, pray that God grant us the grace and strength to not hate those He commands us to love, that we kill not for vengeance, but to end the violence and the capacity and will of the enemy to make war on us, until the day we again may live in peace with those who are also children of God.
"With malice toward none, with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations."
-- Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address

See also We Remember, at Vita Nostra in Ecclesia

Friday, May 13, 2011

Suffering and Faith, Hope, and Love

What should our response be to the unfortunate, those enduring some hardship or suffering?

We could ignore them, pretend that they do not exist. And that is a popular way to deal with such problems. To simply be blind to them. Or, we could take notice of them, but only for a moment, only long enough to banish the person who suffers, as happened to the "lepers" who were sent to the settlement at Kalaupapa on Molokai, only to be forgotten or thought of as already dead.

Another response is, instead of thinking of them as dead, to make them really dead. To eliminate the problem by eliminating the one who is causing us the discomfort of having to consider how to deal with them. That is, we could simply abort the problem away. Or euthanize the problem. Eliminate suffering by eliminating the one who suffers. An overdose of morphine, forced starvation and dehydration, a brick upside the head, the use of Zyklon-B -- problem solved.

If we recognize that the unfortunate sufferer needs assistance, here too, there are different alternatives.

We can simply say, "let someone else do it." That too is a popular response. "Let the government deal with them; after all, it's the government's job. Besides, government has 'experts.' And we'll simply take someone else's money -- the rich -- to pay for it." Or, a similar sentiment is to let some private charitable institution do it.

But are these really the only answers? Are these the best answers? No. They are not. Rather, the Church offers another answer to the question of how to respond to the unfortunate, the one who suffers, and the unwanted -- the "lepers" of our time. And that answer is the individual gift of self in faith, hope, and love. This is the answer that Father Damien, the leper priest, gave to the people of Molokai.

Faith in Government Programs and Institutions is Not Sufficient
Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate
11. In the course of history, it was often maintained that the creation of institutions was sufficient to guarantee the fulfillment of humanity's right to development. Unfortunately, too much confidence was placed in those institutions, as if they were able to deliver the desired objective automatically. In reality, institutions by themselves are not enough, because integral human development is primarily a vocation. . . .

34. Charity in truth places man before the astonishing experience of gift. . . . The human being is made for gift, which expresses and makes present his transcendent dimension. . . .

53. One of the deepest forms of poverty a person can experience is isolation. If we look closely at other kinds of poverty, including material forms, we see that they are born from isolation, from not being loved or from difficulties in being able to love. . . . All of humanity is alienated when too much trust is placed in merely human projects, ideologies and false utopias. Today humanity appears much more interactive than in the past: this shared sense of being close to one another must be transformed into true communion. The development of peoples depends, above all, on a recognition that the human race is a single family working together in true communion, not simply a group of subjects who happen to live side by side. . . .

Personal Service with Love is Necessary
Pope Benedict, Deus Caritas Est
28. Love — caritas — will always prove necessary, even in the most just society. There is no ordering of the State so just that it can eliminate the need for a service of love. Whoever wants to eliminate love is preparing to eliminate man as such. There will always be suffering which cries out for consolation and help. There will always be loneliness. There will always be situations of material need where help in the form of concrete love of neighbor is indispensable. The State which would provide everything, absorbing everything into itself, would ultimately become a mere bureaucracy incapable of guaranteeing the very thing which the suffering person—every person—needs: namely, loving personal concern. . . . The Church is one of those living forces: she is alive with the love enkindled by the Spirit of Christ. This love does not simply offer people material help, but refreshment and care for their souls, something which often is even more necessary than material support. . . .

34. Practical [charitable] activity will always be insufficient, unless it visibly expresses a love for man, a love nourished by an encounter with Christ. My deep personal sharing in the needs and sufferings of others becomes a sharing of my very self with them: if my gift is not to prove a source of humiliation, I must give to others not only something that is my own, but my very self; I must be personally present in my gift.

35. This proper way of serving others also leads to humility. The one who serves does not consider himself superior to the one served, however miserable his situation at the moment may be. Christ took the lowest place in the world—the Cross—and by this radical humility he redeemed us and constantly comes to our aid. Those who are in a position to help others will realize that in doing so they themselves receive help; being able to help others is no merit or achievement of their own. This duty is a grace. The more we do for others, the more we understand and can appropriate the words of Christ: “We are useless servants” (Lk 17:10). We recognize that we are not acting on the basis of any superiority or greater personal efficiency, but because the Lord has graciously enabled us to do so. There are times when the burden of need and our own limitations might tempt us to become discouraged. But precisely then we are helped by the knowledge that, in the end, we are only instruments in the Lord's hands; and this knowledge frees us from the presumption of thinking that we alone are personally responsible for building a better world. In all humility we will do what we can, and in all humility we will entrust the rest to the Lord. It is God who governs the world, not we. We offer him our service only to the extent that we can, and for as long as he grants us the strength. To do all we can with what strength we have, however, is the task which keeps the good servant of Jesus Christ always at work: “The love of Christ urges us on” (2 Cor 5:14). . . .

39. Faith, hope and charity go together. . . . Faith tells us that God has given his Son for our sakes and gives us the victorious certainty that it is really true: God is love! It thus transforms our impatience and our doubts into the sure hope that God holds the world in his hands and that, as the dramatic imagery of the end of the Book of Revelation points out, in spite of all darkness he ultimately triumphs in glory. Faith, which sees the love of God revealed in the pierced heart of Jesus on the Cross, gives rise to love. Love is the light—and in the end, the only light—that can always illuminate a world grown dim and give us the courage needed to keep living and working. Love is possible, and we are able to practice it because we are created in the image of God.

Providing Hope in Suffering
Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi
26. It is not science that redeems man: man is redeemed by love. This applies even in terms of this present world. When someone has the experience of a great love in his life, this is a moment of “redemption” which gives a new meaning to his life. . . .

27. Whoever is moved by love begins to perceive what “life” really is. . . . Life in its true sense is not something we have exclusively in or from ourselves: it is a relationship. And life in its totality is a relationship with him who is the source of life. If we are in relation with him who does not die, who is Life itself and Love itself, then we are in life. Then we “live.”

38. The true measure of humanity is essentially determined in relationship to suffering and to the sufferer. This holds true both for the individual and for society. A society unable to accept its suffering members and incapable of helping to share their suffering and to bear it inwardly through “com-passion” is a cruel and inhuman society. Yet society cannot accept its suffering members and support them in their trials unless individuals are capable of doing so themselves; moreover, the individual cannot accept another's suffering unless he personally is able to find meaning in suffering, a path of purification and growth in maturity, a journey of hope. Indeed, to accept the “other” who suffers, means that I take up his suffering in such a way that it becomes mine also. Because it has now become a shared suffering, though, in which another person is present, this suffering is penetrated by the light of love. The Latin word con-solatio, “consolation”, expresses this beautifully. It suggests being with the other in his solitude, so that it ceases to be solitude. Furthermore, the capacity to accept suffering for the sake of goodness, truth and justice is an essential criterion of humanity, because if my own well-being and safety are ultimately more important than truth and justice, then the power of the stronger prevails, then violence and untruth reign supreme. Truth and justice must stand above my comfort and physical well-being, or else my life itself becomes a lie. In the end, even the “yes” to love is a source of suffering, because love always requires expropriations of my “I”, in which I allow myself to be pruned and wounded. Love simply cannot exist without this painful renunciation of myself, for otherwise it becomes pure selfishness and thereby ceases to be love.

39. To suffer with the other and for others; to suffer for the sake of truth and justice; to suffer out of love and in order to become a person who truly loves—these are fundamental elements of humanity, and to abandon them would destroy man himself. Yet once again the question arises: are we capable of this? Is the other important enough to warrant my becoming, on his account, a person who suffers? Does truth matter to me enough to make suffering worthwhile? Is the promise of love so great that it justifies the gift of myself? In the history of humanity, it was the Christian faith that had the particular merit of bringing forth within man a new and deeper capacity for these kinds of suffering that are decisive for his humanity. The Christian faith has shown us that truth, justice and love are not simply ideals, but enormously weighty realities. It has shown us that God —Truth and Love in person—desired to suffer for us and with us. Bernard of Clairvaux coined the marvelous expression: Impassibilis est Deus, sed non incompassibilis —God cannot suffer, but he can suffer with. Man is worth so much to God that he himself became man in order to suffer with man in an utterly real way — in flesh and blood — as is revealed to us in the account of Jesus's Passion. Hence in all human suffering we are joined by one who experiences and carries that suffering with us; hence con-solatio is present in all suffering, the consolation of God's compassionate love — and so the star of hope rises. Certainly, in our many different sufferings and trials we always need the lesser and greater hopes too—a kind visit, the healing of internal and external wounds, a favorable resolution of a crisis, and so on. In our lesser trials these kinds of hope may even be sufficient. But in truly great trials, where I must make a definitive decision to place the truth before my own welfare, career and possessions, I need the certitude of that true, great hope of which we have spoken here. For this too we need witnesses—martyrs—who have given themselves totally, so as to show us the way—day after day. We need them if we are to prefer goodness to comfort, even in the little choices we face each day—knowing that this is how we live life to the full. Let us say it once again: the capacity to suffer for the sake of the truth is the measure of humanity. Yet this capacity to suffer depends on the type and extent of the hope that we bear within us and build upon. The saints were able to make the great journey of human existence in the way that Christ had done before them, because they were brimming with great hope.

A Visit to Kalaupapa, Molokai

Beloved as St. Damien is, pilgrimmages to Molokai are rare because it is still so inaccessible. But this video has some very interesting photographs of Kalaupapa.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Damien: Making a Difference

Prayer to St. Damien of Molokai
Feast Day May 10

Saint Damien, you let yourself be guided by the Holy Spirit as a son obedient to the will of the Father.

By your life and your mission you manifest the tenderness and mercy of Christ, who reveals to us the beauty of the inner person that no sickness, no deformity, no weakness can completely disfigure.

By your work and your preaching you remind us that Jesus took upon Himself the poverty and suffering of every person, and by doing so He revealed its mysterious value.

Intercede with Christ, healer of bodies and souls, for our sick brothers and sisters, so that, in their anguish and pain, they may not feel abandoned but united to the risen Lord and His church.

May they see that the Holy Spirit has come to visit them and thus may they experience the consolation promised to the sorrowful. Amen.

Trailer for the award winning Documentary - Damien: Making a Difference
Official selection at the 2010 Honolulu Film Festival - Gold Kahuna Award and Award of Merit in Filmmaking from The Accolade Competition.
Documentary on the life of Fr. Damien de Veuster, canonized October 11, 2009, a priest of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts, told through his own words, narration, and commentary.

Damien Today: A Saint for Our Times

Today, May 10, is the feast day of St. Damien. As stated in a letter from the General Superiors to the Brothers and Sisters of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary on the occasion of the canonization of Father Damien,

Damien is a universal brother, a model of humanity, apostle of those with leprosy, a hero of charity, an inspiration for anyone wanting to serve the excluded and forgotten, a source of pride for Belgians and Hawaiians, a glory for the whole Church. The power of Damien and his influence in peoples’ lives extend far beyond the limits of our Congregation. . . .

As in the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, in Damien we discover the face of God where people seem to have lost even a human face. The dedication of Damien to those with leprosy and his becoming a leper himself proclaim loudly the infinite dignity of each person and the love of God for his children. For that reason we praise God in his saints, who are reflections of his glory. We praise God in Saint Damien who is his son, the work of his hands, his gift to the Church and the world. . . .

Damien is not “ours”. He belongs to God. He can only really be understood as belonging to the Lord of life who shaped him and made him his own. Holiness is the work of the Lord. His love is what justifies us. From this perspective, the canonization becomes a confession of hope-filled faith. The love of God is at work among us, as it was active in the life of Damien. The love of God can continue to transform us in spite of our weakness and our shadow side. . . .

"The trouble with many saints is that their lives are presented as so holy, so astonishing, so out of the reach of ordinary mortals that our only response is to venerate them and to ask for their intercession. Similarly, the recounting and embellishment of so many miracle stories associated with their lives on earth, adds further distance between them and us. This cannot be said of Damien, whose only miracle on Molokai was the miracle of Gospel love. Someone once said that to save another person, you first have to love them. From an initial natural revulsion to diseased flesh, Damien grew to love his beloved lepers to an extraordinary degree, identifying so much with them that he became one of them. How could he have lived such heroic love for all those years? The answer lies in ways that are all available to us: prayer, scripture, Eucharist, sacraments, adoration and the awareness that what Damien did for his sisters and brothers he did for Christ. He once wrote that it was at the foot of the altar he received the strength to love those he ministered to. The First Letter of John asks us how can we love God who we cannot see and not love our sisters and brothers who we can see. Damien’s life and example proves that such love is possible, and reminds us of how to live such love."

--Narration in the film

For more information, go to this website of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Ireland and England.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Of Gods and Men

On the recommendation of our own Fr. Cregan, I went to go see "Of Gods and Men" last night at the movie theater in Shirlington.

It was good. It's been a while since I've been to the theater to see a movie, so I was not prepared to pay $11 (that's per ticket, not for a pair). But the film itself was quite good. Here is a summary from the Catholic News Service --
Brilliant dramatization of real events, recounting the fate of a small community of French Trappists (led by Lambert Wilson and including Michael Lonsdale ) living in Algeria during that nation's civil war in the 1990s. Targeted by violent Muslim extremists, the monks must decide whether to continue their medical and social work for the local population or abandon them by fleeing to safety. Using the tools of the monastic life itself, director Xavier Beauvois finds a path to the heart of the Gospel through simplicity, a compassionate sense of brotherhood and an atmosphere of prayer enriched by sacred music and potent silence. The result, a profound mediation on the cost of discipleship, is a viewing experience from which every adult as well as many mature teens can expect to profit. In French. Subtitles. Brief gory violence, some unsettling images and a single instance each of rough and crass language.

Movie Review
by Steven D. Greydanus

Xavier Beauvois’ sublime Of Gods and Men is that almost unheard-of film that you do not judge — it judges you. To one degree or another it defies every attempt to put it in a box, to reduce its challenge to a political or pious ideological stance to be affirmed or critiqued. . . .

The film is based on the true story of nine French Trappist monks of the Monastery of Our Lady of Atlas near the village of Tibhirine in Algeria’s Atlas Mountains, about 60 miles from Algiers, most of whom were beheaded in a 1996 incident during the Algerian Civil War. In late March the monks were taken hostage by the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), which demanded the release of prisoners held by the French government. Two months later the GIA claimed responsibility for the monks’ deaths, although the circumstances remain unclear.

Of Gods and Men is not about how the monks died, but how they lived and why they were willing to die. It tells the story of nine imperfect men who made a difficult choice to stay in a war-torn foreign country that countless citizens would gladly have fled if they could. Caught between a corrupt military government and violent extremist Muslim groups, the brothers’ choices are defined by two other relationships. One is their relationship with the Muslim villagers of Tibhirine, who regard the monks as their friends and benefactors. The other relationship is the crucial one, with a unseen Beloved. . . .

The film’s heart is the brothers’ soul-searching debate about whether to stay or to go — a remarkably nuanced debate that raises questions about the nature of community, authority, mission and sacrifice. . . . Everyone agrees that they aren’t called to pursue martyrdom or collective suicide, but danger of death, both abstract and concrete, elicits varying levels of fearfulness and courage. . . .

Of Gods and Men is deeply theological and liturgical — I can think of no other film that combines so much chant and hymnody with so much in-depth discussion of the Incarnation and the meaning of vocation and martyrdom — yet its theology and liturgy is utterly practical and relevant to the real-world crises outside the monastery walls. . . .
The film is nearing the end of its theatrical run -- a run that was mostly at the art-house type of movie theater, such as the theater at Shirlington. But it is scheduled to be released on DVD soon.

Before the movie, there was an intriguing preview for The Tree of Life, by Terrence Malick, who is known for his beautiful cinematography, and the slow (time-stopping, molasses slow), deliberate pacing of his films, which have included Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line, and The New World. If the preview is any indication, this too promises to be a slow, but beautifully-filmed movie. I would just hope the story would measure up to the cinematography.

Max Lucado on Father Damien

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Immaculate Mary, the Virgin Mother

May is the month of Mary, and today is Mother's Day. So what better time than now to discuss our Blessed Mother Mary?

The Marian doctrines really say more about Jesus than it does about Mary herself. That is because, in all things, just as when she said at Cana, "do whatever He says," Mary always points us toward her Son.

But, at the same time, Mary also points towards ourselves. Or, more accurately, she points us to the people that God made us to be, the people we should strive to be. The entire life of Mary is not only a model, but the model for all of us. Her entire life, not merely her earthly life, but her eternal life is a model as well.
(1) Immaculate Conception – Full of Grace – Mary is the “New Eve,” who was redeemed and given the life of grace from the first moment of her conception, so that she was preserved from Original Sin or other sin in her life. The grace won by Christ on the Cross was applied to Mary in anticipation of this saving event. In this way, Mary could be a proper and pure “living temple” for the Son of God in her womb. “She is the living house of God, who does not dwell in buildings of stone but in the heart of living man.” – Pope Benedict XVI. It was this fullness of grace that gave Mary the total freedom, unimpaired by the errors of sin, to say “yes” to God at the Annunciation and throughout her life.

(2) Ever Virgin – The virgin birth of Jesus goes beyond merely demonstrating that the true Father of Jesus is God, not a man. Mary gave herself to God completely, in the entirety of her being, soul and body, including her perpetual virginity. This means that Mary was a virgin before the conception and birth of Jesus, during these events, and after these events. At once virgin and mother, Mary is the symbol and the most perfect realization of the Church, our pure and holy mother of all on earth, truly made in the image and likeness of the Triune God, a loving communion of persons that brings new life.

(3) Theotókos, the Mother of God – Mary is not merely mother of Jesus in His humanity or merely mother of the Christ, but is rightly called the Mother of God because Jesus is one, both fully human and fully God. The Lord dwelling within her, she is a living temple and Ark of the Covenant.

(4) Bodily Assumption into Heaven – At the end of her earthly life, Mary was assumed, body and soul, into heaven. She did not experience the corruption of the grave. Jesus being eternal, just as He is forever on the Cross, so too is He forever in the womb of Mary. And she is forever joined to her Son, so that if He is in heaven in the entirety of His being, soul and body, so too must His Mother Mary be in heaven in the entirety of her being, soul and body. The bodily assumption of Mary also points the way to all the faithful in the resurrection of the body.

When he appears to Mary, the angel calls her "Full of Grace," as if that were her name. "Full of grace" describes not only who she is, but what she is. And it was the fullness of grace that gave Mary the total freedom, being unimpaired by the errors of sin, to say “yes” to God, in the fullness of her being, at the Annunciation and throughout her life.

Mary was not a mother in spite of her virginity, rather, she is a mother because of her virginity. In her perpetual virginity, she gave the entirety of herself to God, and it was because of the pureness and fullness of that love that Mary’s relationship with God was not only unitive, bringing her into communion with Him, but fruitful, such that a virgin could conceive and bear a Child.* In the mystery that is the all-powerful God who is in need of nothing yet choosing to need our help in the work of salvation, Mary, the New Eve, Virgin Mother of God and model of love, gave her very body to the Redeemer, without which there would have been no salvation.

In her fiat, Mary’s loving "Yes," the Handmaid of the Lord intimately carried Jesus within her very self. She clothed Him, fed Him, cared for Him, and followed Him even unto the Cross, where her heart was pierced, but where she also was made a gift to us all as our own "mother."

This same sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, and His subsequent Resurrection, which, being eternal, that is, beyond human time, "worked backward" to the very conception of Mary in the womb of her holy mother Anne, so as to preserve her from Original Sin (the Immaculate Conception), also "worked forward" to the end of the Virgin's earthly journey, such that she might immediately know the resurrection of the body, rather than her body having to wait to the end of human time for the resurrection (bodily Assumption into heaven).

Mary is the "new Eve," the new mother of all of those who are truly living, that is, those who have eternal life. Just as she was our model in her earthly life, so too is Mary, now in the New Jerusalem, our model for eternal life. While we were not immaculately conceived in this worldly life, the faithful will be made pure so as to be immaculately conceived into eternal life.

She, the Queen of Heaven who is "with child" and "clothed with the sun," is the eschatological destiny for all the faithful. (Rev. 12:1-2) The bodily assumption of Mary into heaven anticipates the resurrection of the body of all of the faithful into a life full of grace in communion with He who is Love and Truth. We will not be bodily assumed into heaven, but we do profess a belief in the resurrection of the body. We who "die" in Christ Jesus will see our own bodies rise with Him in His Resurrection. On the last day, the old world will pass away, and those who remain faithful to Him, who are privileged to make themselves clean and pure in the Blood of the Lamb, will be raised up and given glorified bodies, fit to inhabit the New Jerusalem where Mary now dwells.

* Mary is the model of love. And through Mary, although so very little is said about him in the Gospels, we can see that her husband Joseph is also a model of love – true love – not the false so-called “love” of feelings and emotions, of merely making himself happy, of satisfying his own wants and desires, but true and complete love, the intense thirsting of purified eros and sacrificial gift of self of agape. The spousal love of Joseph for Mary, and the spousal love of Mary for Joseph, was made complete by their spousal love for God, and it was in that fullness of love that the virginal marriage of Joseph and Mary was both unitive and procreative. (See Bl. John Paul II, Theology of the Body)

The spousal meaning of the human body, male and female, is not merely one of complimentariness, but shows that we are made for relationships that are (a) unitive, which brings about, not simply a partnership, but communion with the other, a mystical transcendental joining with the other such that many become one, and (b) creative, a fruitfulness that is not limited to the biological (sexual), but is transcendent – it was by the love of the Logos that the universe itself was created, and it is by the fruitfulness of love that Jesus transforms death on the Cross into eternal life. In this way, although Mary and Joseph never “consummated” the marriage in the flesh (i.e. sexually), one can say that the marriage was a real marriage, made complete and whole spiritually, in the spirit of love. Their virginal marriage was unitive and fruitful in that very virginity, i.e. in their complete gift of self to God and, therefore, complete gift to each other, intimately receiving the other’s heart into his or her own person in the fullness of love.

The Holy Family is the “Church in miniature” and, together with Jesus, Joseph and Mary mirror the Trinity, a loving communion of three persons in one family, one body. Their spousal love resulted not only in communion with each other and God, but was fruitful — not only the Child they raised together and shared in spirit, if not the flesh (cf. St. Augustine, De nuptiis et concupiscentia, I:12-13), but also all those children who call His Father their Father.


See also, The Blessing of the Virgin Mary, Mother of God

(cross-posted at Vita Nostra in Ecclesia - also, some material has been previously posted)

Molokai: The Story of Father Damien

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Movie Review of Molokai: The Story of Father Damien

by Steven D. Greydanus
Decent Films
Based on Hilde Eynikel’s biography of Blessed Fr. Damien de Veuster, Molokai: The Story of Father Damien tells the edifying, at times wrenching story of the 19th-century “Apostle to the Lepers,” who for fifteen years lived and finally died in a leper colony on the Hawaiian island of Moloka’i.

A native of Belgium, ordained in Honolulu, at the age of 33 Fr. Damien volunteered to become the first and only priest serving the leper colony. There he spent himself attending as best he could to the people’s needs, both spiritual and physical, offering the sacraments but also dressing wounds, helping to shelter them from the elements, even constructing coffins and digging graves.

This inspiring, episodic biopic depicts Fr. Damien (David Wenham, Peter Jackson’s Faramir in The Lord of the Rings) as a man consumed by a singular sense of duty and obligation, lacking any thought but the spiritual and temporal good of those in his care and the good of his own soul. To church and state leaders in O’ahu he ceaselessly campaigns for more funds and medicine, nuns to help with the care of the sick, and for more frequent confession for himself.

In one of the film’s neatest exchanges, all three of Damien’s issues come together in a single stroke: Told that conditions on Moloka’i are too harsh to permit nuns, Damien protests that the settlement seems a veritable paradise whenever he asks for money — an argument that prompts a disapproving diocesan official to criticize Damien for lack of humility, to which Damien retorts that he will mention in his next confession!

Often compared to Mother Teresa, Damien differs from the nun of Calcutta in at least one important respect: He is openly and unapologetically evangelistic, zealously striving to bring those to whom he ministers to the Catholic faith and the sacraments. In this he is not always successful, and some of the film’s best scenes involve Peter O’Toole as a drily ironic, tenacious Anglican patient who resists Damien’s best efforts to offer him the sacraments. . . .

(read more here)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Love for the Lepers

Mark 1:40-45 --
A leper came to Jesus and, kneeling down, begged him and said, "If you wish, you can make me clean."
Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out His hand, touched him, and said to him, "I do will it. Be made clean."
The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean.
Then, warning him sternly, Jesus dismissed him at once. Then He said to him, "See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them."
The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter. He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly. He remained outside in deserted places, and people kept coming to him from everywhere.

Catholic Encyclopedia

Leprosy proper, or lepra tuberculosa, in contradistinction to other skin diseases commonly designated by the Greek word lepra (psoriasis, etc.), is a chronic infectious disease caused by the bacillus leprœ, characterized by the formation of growths in the skin, mucous membranes, peripheral nerves, bones, and internal viscera, producing various deformities and mutilations of the human body. Today, Leprosy is also known as Hansen’s Disease, named after Gerhard Hansen, a Norwegian who identified the bacterium.

Leprosy was not uncommon in India as far back as the fifteenth century B.C. (Ctesias, Pers., xli; Herodian, I, i, 38), and in Japan during the tenth century B.C. Of its origin in these regions little is known, but Egypt has always been regarded as the place from where the disease was carried into the Western world. That it was well known in that country is evidenced by documents of the sixteenth century B.C. (Ebers Papyrus); ancient writers attribute the infection to the waters of the Nile (Lucretius, "De Nat. rer.", VI, 1112) and the unsanitary diet of the people (Galen). Various causes helped to spread the disease beyond Egypt.

The Church from a remote period has taken a most active part in promoting the wellbeing and care of the leper, both spiritual and temporal. The Order of St. Lazarus was the outcome of her practical sympathy for the poor sufferers during the long centuries when the pestilence was endemic in Europe.

Even in our own day we find the same Apostolic spirit alive. The saintly Father Damien, the martyr of Molokai, whose life-sacrifice for the betterment of the "lepers" of Hawaii, and his co-labourers and followers in that field of missionary work, have strikingly manifested in recent times the same apostolic spirit which actuated the followers of St. Lazarus in the twelfth and two succeeding centuries.

Worldwide, one to two million people are permanently disabled because of Hansen's disease. However, new understandings of the cause of the two forms of the disease may allow prevention, for example, by attention to minimising skin pressure points in endemic areas, avoiding sleeping on hard surfaces, general health measures to optimise immune function, etc. India has the greatest number of HD cases, with Brazil second and Myanmar third. There are still a few "leper colonies" around the world, in countries such as India and the Philippines. In 2001, government-run leper colonies in Japan came under judicial scrutiny, leading to the determination that the Japanese government had mistreated the patients.

Now, the term "leper" has come to be regarded as offensive, inasmuch as it dehumanizes the person, reducing him or her to the disease and an object of repulsion. But that is precisely the point in using it here. The world has historically cast out the "lepers." But Jesus Christ embraces these outcasts and takes, not only their medical hardships, but their persecutions, upon Himself.

Father Damien was able to exclaim with genuine joy, "we lepers," for he was one with them at Molokai, in love even before he was one with them after contracting the disease in the flesh.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Canonization of Father Damien

This video is dated (it's from 2009), but informative nonetheless.

Monday, May 2, 2011

A Man of True Hope:
Saint Damien - Apostle to Lepers

Father Damien was born on earth January 3, 1840, and born into heaven on April 15, 1889. He was a Belgian Catholic missionary of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, and he is revered primarily by Hawaii residents and Christians for having dedicated his life in service to the lepers of Molokai in the Kingdom of Hawaii. Father Damien, born Joseph de Veuster, is the spiritual patron of people with leprosy, outcasts, and those with HIV/AIDS, and of the State of Hawaii.

In 1995, Pope John Paul II beatified him and bestowed the official title of Blessed Damien of Molokai. Today, October 11, 2009, he was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI. The Feast Day for Saint Damien is May 10, the day he arrived at Molokai.

Joseph de Veuster was born in Tremelo, Belgium. His father, a small farmer, sent him to a college at Braine-le-Comte, to prepare for a commercial profession, but Joseph decided to enter the novitiate of the Fathers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary at Louvain in 1860, taking the name of Damien. Three years later, though still in minor orders, he was sent to the mission of the Hawaiian Islands. He arrived on March 19, 1864, and was ordained as a priest in Honolulu two months later, on May 24. Father Damien was later given charge of various districts on the island of Hawaii, helping to build several chapels.

On the island of Molokai, there was a secluded settlement at Kalaupapa, where the government had banished all persons afflicted with leprosy. The Royal Board of Health provided them with a few supplies and food, but little else. Bishop Louis Maigret thought that these wretched people needed a priest to minister to their needs. Because he knew that it meant almost certain death, Bishop Maigret did not want to send anyone "in the name of obedience," so he asked for volunteers. Understanding that they would probably be sacrificing their lives, Damien and three others volunteered to go to Molokai. Damien was the first to go and, at his own request and that of the "lepers," he remained permanently on Molokai.

Father Damien arrived at the settlement on May 10, 1873, as its resident priest. There were then more than 600 inhabitants. He was presented by the bishop as "one who will be a father to you, and who loves you so much that he does not hesitate to become one of you; to live and die with you." A few months after he arrived, Damien wrote to his brother, "I make myself a leper with the lepers to gain all to Jesus Christ."

While Hawaii has been described as a beautiful paradise, the leper colony at Kalaupapa on Molokai was a hell of despair. It has been called a morally deprived, lawless "colony of death" where people were forced to fight each other to survive.

For a long time, Father Damien was the only one to bring them the relief they so greatly needed. He was not only a priest to them, he took on the role of doctor and builder as well. He provided medical treatment, built homes, and dug graves. Working farms were organized, schools were erected, and for the first time, basic laws were enforced. But more than material relief, Father Damien brought hope.

He became a source of consolation and encouragement for the lepers, their pastor, the doctor of their souls and of their bodies, without any distinction of race or religion. He gave a voice to the voiceless, he built a community where the joy of being together and openness to the love of God gave people new reasons for living.

In 1885, after twelve years of service to the afflicted, Father Damien discovered symptoms of having contracted the disease himself when he lost sensation in one of his feet. However, he did not despair; rather, now he was able to identify completely with the people of Molokai. "We lepers," he said to them with love.

Because of his diligent efforts, others began to come to Molokai to give aid to the inhabitants. A Belgian priest, Louis Lambert Conrardy, came and took up pastoral duties. Blessed Mother Marianne Cope, Superior of the Franciscan Sisters of Syracuse, arrived with her sisters and organized a working hospital and homes for boys and girls. Like Damien, Blessed Marianne loved those suffering from leprosy more than she loved her very self. Joseph Dutton, an American Civil War soldier seeking a life of penance, arrived unannounced and took up many of the day-to-day activities of washing sores, dealing with ulcers, doing rudimentary surgery, building, and writing to presidents, princes and medical people for help. James Sinnett was a nurse from Chicago who attended the patients, including nursing Father Damien in the last phases of the disease.

Father Damien died in 1889 at the age of 49. He was originally buried on Molokai, but in 1936, at the request of the Belgian government, his body was moved to Belguim, and he is now buried in Leuven, a city close to the village where he was born. However, upon his beatification, Damien's right hand was returned to Molokai to a joyful reception.

Father Damien would be the first to say that his heroic service and witness was not due to his own personal strength. Rather, he got his strength from God, "It is at the foot of the altar that we find the strength we need in our isolation."

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Prayer for the Intercession of Blessed Pope John Paul II

O Blessed Trinity, We thank you for having graced the Church with Pope John Paul II and for allowing the tenderness of your Fatherly care, the glory of the cross of Christ, and the splendor of the Holy Spirit, to shine through him.

Trusting fully in Your infinite mercy and in the maternal intercession of Mary, he has given us a living image of Jesus the Good Shepherd, and has shown us that holiness is the necessary measure of ordinary Christian life and is the way of achieving eternal communion with you.

Grant us, by his intercession, and according to Your will, the graces we implore, hoping that he will soon be numbered among your saints. Amen.

Scenes from Circo Massimo and Piazza di S. Pietro

Here are a few images of the vigil held last night at Circus Maximus and of the crowd gathering in St. Peter's Square for the beatification of John Paul II.

The Beatification of John Paul II

Homily of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Mass for the Beatification of the Servant of God John Paul II

Divine Mercy Sunday, May 1, 2011

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Six years ago we gathered in this Square to celebrate the funeral of Pope John Paul II. Our grief at his loss was deep, but even greater was our sense of an immense grace which embraced Rome and the whole world: a grace which was in some way the fruit of my beloved predecessor’s entire life, and especially of his witness in suffering. Even then we perceived the fragrance of his sanctity, and in any number of ways God’s People showed their veneration for him. For this reason, with all due respect for the Church’s canonical norms, I wanted his cause of beatification to move forward with reasonable haste. And now the longed-for day has come; it came quickly because this is what was pleasing to the Lord: John Paul II is blessed!

I would like to offer a cordial greeting to all of you who on this happy occasion have come in such great numbers to Rome from all over the world – cardinals, patriarchs of the Eastern Catholic Churches, brother bishops and priests, official delegations, ambassadors and civil authorities, consecrated men and women and lay faithful, and I extend that greeting to all those who join us by radio and television.

Today is the Second Sunday of Easter, which Blessed John Paul II entitled Divine Mercy Sunday. The date was chosen for today’s celebration because, in God’s providence, my predecessor died on the vigil of this feast. Today is also the first day of May, Mary’s month, and the liturgical memorial of Saint Joseph the Worker. All these elements serve to enrich our prayer, they help us in our pilgrimage through time and space; but in heaven a very different celebration is taking place among the angels and saints! Even so, God is but one, and one too is Christ the Lord, who like a bridge joins earth to heaven. At this moment we feel closer than ever, sharing as it were in the liturgy of heaven.

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (Jn 20:29). In today’s Gospel Jesus proclaims this beatitude: the beatitude of faith. For us, it is particularly striking because we are gathered to celebrate a beatification, but even more so because today the one proclaimed blessed is a Pope, a Successor of Peter, one who was called to confirm his brethren in the faith. John Paul II is blessed because of his faith, a strong, generous and apostolic faith. We think at once of another beatitude: “Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven” (Mt 16:17). What did our heavenly Father reveal to Simon? That Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Because of this faith, Simon becomes Peter, the rock on which Jesus can build his Church. The eternal beatitude of John Paul II, which today the Church rejoices to proclaim, is wholly contained in these sayings of Jesus: “Blessed are you, Simon” and “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe!” It is the beatitude of faith, which John Paul II also received as a gift from God the Father for the building up of Christ’s Church.

Our thoughts turn to yet another beatitude, one which appears in the Gospel before all others. It is the beatitude of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of the Redeemer. Mary, who had just conceived Jesus, was told by Saint Elizabeth: “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord” (Lk 1:45). The beatitude of faith has its model in Mary, and all of us rejoice that the beatification of John Paul II takes place on this first day of the month of Mary, beneath the maternal gaze of the one who by her faith sustained the faith of the Apostles and constantly sustains the faith of their successors, especially those called to occupy the Chair of Peter. Mary does not appear in the accounts of Christ’s resurrection, yet hers is, as it were, a continual, hidden presence: she is the Mother to whom Jesus entrusted each of his disciples and the entire community. In particular we can see how Saint John and Saint Luke record the powerful, maternal presence of Mary in the passages preceding those read in today’s Gospel and first reading. In the account of Jesus’ death, Mary appears at the foot of the cross (Jn 19:25), and at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles she is seen in the midst of the disciples gathered in prayer in the Upper Room (Acts 1:14).

Today’s second reading also speaks to us of faith. Saint Peter himself, filled with spiritual enthusiasm, points out to the newly-baptized the reason for their hope and their joy. I like to think how in this passage, at the beginning of his First Letter, Peter does not use language of exhortation; instead, he states a fact. He writes: “you rejoice”, and he adds: “you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Pet 1:6, 8-9). All these verbs are in the indicative, because a new reality has come about in Christ’s resurrection, a reality to which faith opens the door. “This is the Lord’s doing”, says the Psalm (118:23), and “it is marvelous in our eyes”, the eyes of faith.

Dear brothers and sisters, today our eyes behold, in the full spiritual light of the risen Christ, the beloved and revered figure of John Paul II. Today his name is added to the host of those whom he proclaimed saints and blesseds during the almost twenty-seven years of his pontificate, thereby forcefully emphasizing the universal vocation to the heights of the Christian life, to holiness, taught by the conciliar Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium. All of us, as members of the people of God – bishops, priests, deacons, laity, men and women religious – are making our pilgrim way to the heavenly homeland where the Virgin Mary has preceded us, associated as she was in a unique and perfect way to the mystery of Christ and the Church. Karol Wojtyła took part in the Second Vatican Council, first as an auxiliary Bishop and then as Archbishop of Kraków. He was fully aware that the Council’s decision to devote the last chapter of its Constitution on the Church to Mary meant that the Mother of the Redeemer is held up as an image and model of holiness for every Christian and for the entire Church. This was the theological vision which Blessed John Paul II discovered as a young man and subsequently maintained and deepened throughout his life. A vision which is expressed in the scriptural image of the crucified Christ with Mary, his Mother, at his side. This icon from the Gospel of John (19:25-27) was taken up in the episcopal and later the papal coat-of-arms of Karol Wojtyła: a golden cross with the letter “M” on the lower right and the motto “Totus tuus”, drawn from the well-known words of Saint Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort in which Karol Wojtyła found a guiding light for his life: “Totus tuus ego sum et omnia mea tua sunt. Accipio te in mea omnia. Praebe mihi cor tuum, Maria – I belong entirely to you, and all that I have is yours. I take you for my all. O Mary, give me your heart” (Treatise on True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin, 266).

In his Testament, the new Blessed wrote: “When, on 16 October 1978, the Conclave of Cardinals chose John Paul II, the Primate of Poland, Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński, said to me: ‘The task of the new Pope will be to lead the Church into the Third Millennium’”. And the Pope added: “I would like once again to express my gratitude to the Holy Spirit for the great gift of the Second Vatican Council, to which, together with the whole Church – and especially with the whole episcopate – I feel indebted. I am convinced that it will long be granted to the new generations to draw from the treasures that this Council of the twentieth century has lavished upon us. As a Bishop who took part in the Council from the first to the last day, I desire to entrust this great patrimony to all who are and will be called in the future to put it into practice. For my part, I thank the Eternal Shepherd, who has enabled me to serve this very great cause in the course of all the years of my Pontificate”. And what is this “cause”? It is the same one that John Paul II presented during his first solemn Mass in Saint Peter’s Square in the unforgettable words: “Do not be afraid! Open, open wide the doors to Christ!” What the newly-elected Pope asked of everyone, he was himself the first to do: society, culture, political and economic systems he opened up to Christ, turning back with the strength of a titan – a strength which came to him from God – a tide which appeared irreversible. By his witness of faith, love and apostolic courage, accompanied by great human charisma, this exemplary son of Poland helped believers throughout the world not to be afraid to be called Christian, to belong to the Church, to speak of the Gospel. In a word: he helped us not to fear the truth, because truth is the guarantee of liberty. To put it even more succinctly: he gave us the strength to believe in Christ, because Christ is Redemptor hominis, the Redeemer of man. This was the theme of his first encyclical, and the thread which runs though all the others.

When Karol Wojtyła ascended to the throne of Peter, he brought with him a deep understanding of the difference between Marxism and Christianity, based on their respective visions of man. This was his message: man is the way of the Church, and Christ is the way of man. With this message, which is the great legacy of the Second Vatican Council and of its “helmsman”, the Servant of God Pope Paul VI, John Paul II led the People of God across the threshold of the Third Millennium, which thanks to Christ he was able to call “the threshold of hope”. Throughout the long journey of preparation for the great Jubilee he directed Christianity once again to the future, the future of God, which transcends history while nonetheless directly affecting it. He rightly reclaimed for Christianity that impulse of hope which had in some sense faltered before Marxism and the ideology of progress. He restored to Christianity its true face as a religion of hope, to be lived in history in an “Advent” spirit, in a personal and communitarian existence directed to Christ, the fullness of humanity and the fulfillment of all our longings for justice and peace.

Finally, on a more personal note, I would like to thank God for the gift of having worked for many years with Blessed Pope John Paul II. I had known him earlier and had esteemed him, but for twenty-three years, beginning in 1982 after he called me to Rome to be Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, I was at his side and came to revere him all the more. My own service was sustained by his spiritual depth and by the richness of his insights. His example of prayer continually impressed and edified me: he remained deeply united to God even amid the many demands of his ministry. Then too, there was his witness in suffering: the Lord gradually stripped him of everything, yet he remained ever a “rock”, as Christ desired. His profound humility, grounded in close union with Christ, enabled him to continue to lead the Church and to give to the world a message which became all the more eloquent as his physical strength declined. In this way he lived out in an extraordinary way the vocation of every priest and bishop to become completely one with Jesus, whom he daily receives and offers in the Church.

Blessed are you, beloved Pope John Paul II, because you believed! Continue, we implore you, to sustain from heaven the faith of God’s people. You often blessed us in this Square from the Apostolic Palace: Bless us, Holy Father! Amen.

Blessed Pope John Paul II

Today, Divine Mercy Sunday, we celebrate the wonderful gift that God gave to the Church and the world.

On October 16, 1978, at 6:18 p.m. (Rome time), white smoke appeared from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel. Shortly thereafter, Pericle Cardinal Felici came out onto the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica and announced, "Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum: Habemus papam! Emminentissimum ac reverendissimum dominum, dominum Carolum, sanctæ romanæ Ecclesiæ cardinalem Wojtyła, qui sibi nomen imposuit Ioannis Pauli."

Karol Cardinal Wojtyla, the 58-year-old Archbishop of Kraków, Poland, had been elected as the successor of St. Peter and Pope John Paul the First, who had died suddenly a few weeks before. As Pope, he took the name of John Paul the Second, but toward the end of his papacy, and since his death, he has been known by many to be Pope John Paul the Great.

When it was clear after the first day of voting that none of the Italian papabili would be able to achieve the necessary two-thirds plus one needed for election, the cardinal-electors began to think the unthinkable by looking beyond Italy for a new shepherd of the Church. Having impressed those in the know for years, the name of Cardinal Wojtyla was advanced overnight, and he began to receive votes during the fifth round in the morning. During lunch, having gained votes in the sixth round, a shocked Cardinal Wojtyla was visibly upset by the voting coalescing around him. Poland's Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski took him aside and reminded him that he had a duty accept if God called him. At the end of the second day of voting, in the eighth round, with the certain guidance of the Holy Spirit, Cardinal Wojtyla was elected.
Praised be Jesus Christ! Dear brothers and sisters, we are still all very saddened by the death of the very dear Pope John Paul I. And now the most eminent cardinals have called a new bishop of Rome. They called him from a far-away country...far, but always near in the communion of faith and the Christian tradition. I was afraid in receiving this nomination, but I did it in the spirit of obedience to Our Lord and with total trust in his Mother, the Most Holy Madonna. I don't know if I can express myself well in your – in our – Italian language. But if I make a mistake, you will correct me. And so I introduce myself to you all, to confess our common faith, our hope, our trust in the Mother of Christ and of the Church, and also to begin again on this path of history and of the Church with the help of God and with that of men.
--First Address of Pope John Paul II

John Paul II came from a far country - a country that had been ravaged by the Nazis and Communists, a country of martyrs, Christian martyrs, Jewish martyrs, who overcame their persecutors because of their faith in the Lord and the graces bestowed upon them by the Holy Spirit. Athletic, and fluent in Polish, Latin, Italian, English, French and German, having known much suffering in his life, the new Pope was not afraid to confront evil and proclaim the truth.
Brothers and sisters, do not be afraid to welcome Christ and accept his power. Help the Pope and all those who wish to serve Christ and with Christ's power to serve the human person and the whole of mankind. Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ. . . . Do not be afraid. Christ knows "what is in man." He alone knows it. So often today man does not know what is within him, in the depths of his mind and heart. So often he is uncertain about the meaning of his life on this earth. He is assailed by doubt, a doubt which turns into despair. We ask you therefore, we beg you with humility and trust, let Christ speak to man. He alone has words of life, yes, of eternal life.
--Pope John Paul II, Mass of Installation