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May 1, 2011

What the royal wedding sermon said about marriage - The May 1 beatification in Rome -- What makes a homily a "liturgical" homily? - Why defining "poverty" too narrowly makes a huge difference

In this edition:
1. The May 1 beatification of Pope John Paul II.
2. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Pope John Paul II in his chapel;
b) Pope John Paul II with the young.
3. Was the royal wedding sermon heard?
4. The problem in defining "poverty" too narrowly.
5. The federal budget debates and the poor.
6. What makes a homily a "liturgical" homily?
7. The reason for retelling the creation story at Easter.


1. The May 1 Beatification of Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II was beatified May 1 in St. Peter's Square in Rome -- six years and a month after his death -- "because of his faith, a strong, generous and apostolic faith," Pope Benedict XVI said in his homily for the occasion. The Polish pope's name was added to the list of the great many beatified (1,338) and canonized (482) during his pontificate, more than the number of those named by all his predecessors combined.

Italian police said that for the May 1 Mass more than 1 million people gathered in and around the Vatican and in front of large, scattered video screens, Catholic News Service reported.

In his homily Pope Benedict recalled Pope John Paul II's role in Vatican Council II, his determination to guide the church over the threshold of the 21st century, the accent he placed on hope and his personal spirituality. Pope Benedict thanked God "for the gift of having worked for many years" with the new blessed.

The present pope said that during the 23 years after being called to Rome to serve as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he was at the late pope's side and "came to revere him all the more." He added: "[Pope John Paul's] 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."

Pope Benedict called attention to something Pope John Paul II wrote in his last will and testament about a comment made to him when he was elected pope Oct. 16, 1978, by Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, Poland's primate. Pope John Paul wrote:

"[Cardinal Wyszynski] said to me: 'The task of the new pope will be to lead the church into the third millennium.' And the pope added [in his testament]: '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 20th 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."

Pope Benedict said in the beatification homily that "when Karol Wojtyla 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 understanding led to a key message that Pope John Paul wanted to get across. The message, Pope Benedict explained, was that "man is the way of the church, and Christ is the way of man."

With that message, which Pope Benedict also called "the great legacy of the Second Vatican Council," Pope John Paul "led the people of God across the threshold of the third millennium," which he described as "the threshold of hope," the present pope noted.

Pope Benedict recalled that throughout all the preparations for the Jubilee of the Year 2000, Pope John Paul "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."

Blessed Pope John Paul "restored to Christianity its true face as a religion of hope, to be lived in history in an 'Advent' spirit, in a personal and communal existence directed to Christ, the fullness of humanity and the fulfillment of all our longings for justice and peace," Pope Benedict said.

Pope John Paul "helped believers throughout the world not to be afraid to be called Christian, to belong to the church, to speak of the Gospel," the present pope commented. He said:

"In a word, he helped us not to fear the truth. 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 through all the others."

2. Current Quotes to Ponder

Pope John Paul II at Prayer: "I remember [Pope John Paul II] in chapel and at prayer. Forty people could surround him at 6:45 in the morning in his private chapel prior to Mass, and one could almost hear him communicate with God from deep inside his being. They were the groans and sounds of a man in communication with something far deeper than most of us can ever go. It was eerie at times and certainly always mystical. There can be no doubt about his personal holiness." (Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Fla., a former general secretary of the U.S. Catholic bishops' conference, writing April 27 in his blog "For His Friends" about the now-beatified pope)

Pope John Paul II With Young People: "In 1979 I was principal of the seminary high school in Chicago. It was my first year as principal, and when Cardinal John Cody, then archbishop of Chicago, told me the pope was going to visit our school where he would meet with all of the bishops of the U.S., I was surprised and very thrilled. The Holy Father arrived at the school attired in his white cassock. He was very youthful and athletic in appearance. I welcomed him to our school. He was scheduled to go by helicopter from the high school to Grant Park where a Mass was to be celebrated after his meeting with the bishops. When the meeting was over, I asked his aide if the Holy Father might take a minute to visit with our 750 seminarians who were in back hoping to see him. The aide bluntly said 'no!' I went to Cardinal Cody and asked again. The cardinal grabbed the Holy Father's arm and brought him outside where the boys welcomed him. The pope became very engaged and involved with the students, especially when they gave him a soccer ball that he kicked around. That was my first experience of his wonderful personality, his love of people and his pastoral sense that inspired millions of people." (From the April 18 edition of the "Monday Memo" by Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz.)

3. Was the Royal Wedding Sermon Really Heard?

Present-day statistics tell us that the April 29 wedding of Britain's Prince William and Kate Middleton was somewhat out of the ordinary for its very explicitly Christian celebration. The number of church weddings has experienced a significant decline, according to all reports.

Word was, though, that the royal couple had participated in marriage-preparation sessions - privately, of course - covering the kinds of issues other couples who marry in church discuss these days during pre-wedding sessions on the demands of married life. It was widely reported that Anglican Bishop Richard Chartres of London played a role in these sessions, as did Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury.

It may be that what held the attention of the many millions of people around the world who tuned-in for all or part of the wedding was the pomp and circumstance of it all, the celebrity and/or royalty of the guests, the majestic setting provided by London's Westminster Abbey and even the couple's clear happiness. But I hope people also listened attentively to the day's wedding sermon.

It was Bishop Chartres who delivered the sermon. I cannot help wondering if the text of it (posted on the website of the Anglican Diocese of London) might find a place across the ecumenical spectrum in marriage-prep sessions.

"The spiritual life grows as love finds its center beyond ourselves," Bishop Chartres said. Thus, "faithful and committed relationships offer a door into the mystery of spiritual life in which we discover this: The more we give of self, the richer we become in soul; the more we go beyond ourselves in love, the more we become our true selves, and our spiritual beauty is more fully revealed. In marriage we are seeking to bring one another into fuller life."

The bishop acknowledged that it is "hard to wean ourselves away from self-centeredness." People, he said, "can dream of such a thing," but the hope of moving beyond a self-focus won't be achieved "without a solemn decision that, whatever the difficulties, we are committed to the way of generous love."

The bishop expressed his conviction that the world needs the witness of true married love - a message Pope Benedict XVI also has delivered from time to time. Bishop Chartres said: "We stand looking forward to a century which is full of promise and full of peril. Human beings are confronting the question of how to use wisely the power that has been given to us through the discoveries of the last century." But, the bishop then stated:

"We shall not be converted to the promise of the future by more knowledge, but rather by an increase of loving wisdom and reverence for life, for the earth and for one another."

Addressing the couple directly and relating the strengths of marriage to the needs of their surrounding world, the bishop said: "You have both made your decision today, 'I will,' and by making this new relationship, you have aligned yourselves with what we believe is the way in which life is spiritually evolving and which will lead to a creative future for the human race."

The wedding sermon began with a quotation from St. Catherine of Siena, whose feast day coincided with the wedding day: "Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire." Immediately following that quotation, Bishop Chartres said that "marriage is intended to be a way in which man and woman help each other to become what God meant each one to be, their deepest and truest selves."

4. The Problem in Defining "Poverty" Too Narrowly

It makes a difference how "poverty" is defined, what people mean by the term. It makes a difference for the poor themselves, for others who act with and on behalf of the poor and for public policy. In several articles, the spring edition of Charities USA, published by the national Catholic Charities office, examines how poverty is understood and why this matters. Parish groups studying social justice might find this edition of Charities USA a useful resource. (The publication can be read online at catholiccharitiesusa.org.)

"The question - What is poverty? - is not just an academic exercise," writes Ruth Liljenquist, the publication's managing editor. She says: "We aim to do something about poverty, so there is great purpose in understanding poverty in a real and holistic way. That's the only way we come to the best solutions for reducing it."

An article titled "What Is Poverty?" sets the tone for this edition of Charities USA. "By understanding the different needs, challenges, assets and circumstances of people living in poverty, we can develop better solutions to reducing poverty among those who have the capability to live self-sufficiently and ensure that those who do not have the capability live with dignity," the article says.

Income is not the only relevant measure of poverty, though it often is the only measure employed. Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, discussed this in "Think and Act Anew," his recent book (Orbis Books). Charities USA cites his statement in the book that "it is easy to think of the poor as a homogenous, monolithic bloc," though "nothing could be further from the truth."

Yet, "that's how our government is structured to address poverty and thus the way government defines poverty," Father Snyder wrote. Charities USA notes for readers that the official poverty rate in America "is measured by the government using a formula developed in the 1960s." And while there is great reluctance in government to change this way of measuring poverty, Charities USA says the official formula "has grown increasingly inadequate" because "social and work conditions, costs and family structures have changed."

Poor people tend to be defined by what they do not have, Father Snyder commented in his book. The poor usually are defined by "their deficits, disabilities and disorders, often without identifying, celebrating and building on their strengths of character and will, as well as their assets of experience, family and friends," he wrote.

As a result, Father Snyder suggested that society itself is deficient because it does not view someone who is poor "as a person -- as a human who deserves to be heard, treated with dignity and respect, and offered help, but also as a person with the ability to decide how to live his or her own life successfully."

Furthermore, he faulted a segmented view of the poor that approaches them "in pieces." There is a tendency in society to approach a poor person as "someone who is hungry, or needs housing," for example. This tendency is accompanied by another that overlooks the reality that the poor "are individual human beings, each with hopes and dreams."

Charities USA says that "while certainly characterized by insufficient income for basic needs," poverty "is often much broader than that. It often means lack of access to affordable health care and to quality educational opportunities, both of which have an impact on one's ability to provide sufficient income for oneself and one's family."

The publication says that poverty "may also mean a lack of social, job or independent living skills. Thus, a more complete effort to reduce poverty takes into consideration other factors besides income that may impact a person's ability to live self-sufficiently and with dignity."

5. The Budget Debates and the Poor

The moral measure of the debate in Washington over the federal budget "is not which party wins or which powerful interests prevail, but rather how those who are jobless, hungry, homeless or poor are treated," the bishops who head two key committees of the U.S. bishops said in an April 13 letter to members of Congress.

While the voices of people in need "are too often missing" in the budget debates, it is these people who "have the most compelling moral claim on our consciences and our common resources," said Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, Calif., chairman of the bishops' domestic justice and human development committee, and Bishop Howard Hubbard of New York, chairman of the international justice and peace committee.

"A just framework for future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons. It requires shared sacrifice by all," the two bishops said. "A central moral measure of any budget proposal," they added, "is how it affects 'the least of these' (Mt 25). The needs of those who are hungry and homeless, without work or in poverty, should come first."

Bishops Blaire and Hubbard acknowledged "the difficult challenges" faced by government leaders "to get our financial house in order." They wrote, "Congress faces difficult choices about how to balance needs and resources, and allocate burdens and sacrifices. We welcome the efforts of those who have offered serious plans and encourage other leaders to do the same."

The Catholic community "brings both moral principles and everyday experience" to the national discussion, the bishops said. "We defend the unborn, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, educate the young, welcome refugees and care for the sick," they explained.

The bishops said that "every budget decision should be assessed by whether it protects or threatens human life and dignity." Government and other institutions share a responsibility "to promote the common good of all, especially ordinary workers and families who struggle to live in dignity in difficult economic times," their letter insisted.

The bishops called access to "affordable, life-affirming health care" an urgent priority in the U.S. and expressed concern about "some proposed changes to Medicare and Medicaid." They said too that they "fear the human and social costs of substantial cuts to programs that serve families working to escape poverty, especially food and nutrition, child development and education, and affordable housing."

Bishops Blaire and Hubbard also joined with a diverse coalition of Christian leaders in issuing a common statement late in April titled "A Circle of Protection." The Christian leaders said they are "committed to fiscal responsibility and shared sacrifice," and are committed as well to resisting "budget cuts that undermine the lives, dignity and rights of poor and vulnerable people."

The leaders said they joined in forming "a circle of protection around programs that meet the essential needs of hungry and poor people at home and abroad."

6. What Makes a Homily a "Liturgical" Homily?

"A very important work in progress" is represented by attempts to delineate exactly what a liturgical homily is, Msgr. Kevin Irwin said in a March 16 address at The Catholic University of America in Washington. Widely recognized as an expert on the liturgy, he devoted his speech to eight issues "gleaned from the insights of the pioneers of the liturgical movement" - issues that need to be addressed in furthering "the reform of the liturgy."

Msgr. Irwin, who has served at the university as dean of The School of Theology and Religious Studies, announced April 6 that he is stepping down from that position in order to devote more time to teaching and study.

The Bible and the liturgy were discussed in one section of Msgr. Irwin's speech subtitled "Biblical Literacy and the Proclamation of the Word." He said, "One of the most demonstrable aspects of the reformed Roman Catholic liturgy is the proclamation of the word, almost always in the vernacular, according to a new series of texts as selected in the revised Lectionaries for Mass and all the sacraments, and all our liturgical rites."

Proclaiming the word of God in the vernacular and the increase of preaching at the liturgy have resulted in "a great deal of good," Msgr. Irwin said. It was at this point, though, that he expressed his view "that a very important work in progress is delineating exactly what is a liturgical homily. We still do not know despite over 40 years of practice."

One issue is "how and why the homily 'fits' into and in fact, in my estimation, is an essential part of the liturgy itself," Msgr. Irwin explained. A liturgical homily, he observed, "reflects on the Scriptures proclaimed here and now." And, the proclamation of the Scriptures together with the homily "lead us to the rest of the liturgy."

A closely related issue is "how we understand what it means to 'comprehend' what the liturgy says and does," according to Msgr. Irwin. "The proclamation of the word is always a new event of salvation and sanctification," he emphasized. He continued:

"The very fact that we hear the same Scripture texts in the liturgy is an indication that their purpose is not that we understand them and what happened 'once upon a time.' It is rather that through hearing them we experience them as acts of salvation in ever new ways."

There was a time when "the required signs of reverence given to the Scriptures in the liturgy paralleled those we give to the sacred species of the consecrated bread and wine, as well as to the consecrated chrism and blessed oils," Msgr. Irwin noted.

He expressed concern that a certain "overavailability of the Scriptures" via the new communications technologies might result in a "lack of appreciation" for the church's traditional view that "the word of God is qualitatively different from most other words we speak, hear and use to get information."

The word of God "is far different," Msgr. Irwin said. He asked, "Without some signs of reverence to the word, do we run the risk of cheapening our appreciation of it as truly the word of God and Christ's presence through his word?" (Msgr. Irwin's speech appears in the April 28 edition of Origins, CNS Documentary Service.)

7. Why Retell the Story of Creation at Easter?

There is good reason to begin the church's annual Easter Vigil with the biblical story of creation, Pope Benedict XVI said in his 2011 vigil homily. He went on in the homily to explain the ancient church's view of the week's first day, Sunday, as the day of the new creation.

For Christians, given the events of Easter, the first day of the week became "the day when [Jesus] showed himself to his disciples as the risen Lord. The world had changed. The first day, according to the Genesis account, is the day on which creation begins. Now it was the day of creation in a new way, it had become the day of the new creation," the pope said.

In the first part of his homily, discussing the reason the Easter Vigil recalls God's creation of the world, the pope spoke about what the Bible does and does not say about creation.

He said: "At the Easter Vigil, the journey along the paths of sacred Scripture begins with the account of creation. This is the liturgy's way of telling us that the creation story is itself a prophecy." However, he added, this story "is not information about the external processes by which the cosmos and man himself came into being. The fathers of the church were well aware of this."

The church fathers did not interpret the story of creation "as an account of the process of the origins of things," Pope Benedict said. Rather, the church fathers saw this account "as a pointer toward the essential, toward the true beginning and end of our being."

The pope then asked, "Is it really important to speak also of creation during the Easter Vigil?" Wouldn't it be better to begin the vigil "with the events in which God calls man, forms a people for himself?" The answer to that, the pope said, "has to be no. To omit the creation would be to misunderstand the very history of God with men, to diminish it, to lose sight of its true order of greatness."

For, history's sweep "reaches back to the origins, back to creation," the pope continued. He said: "Our profession of faith begins with the words, 'We believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. If we omit the beginning of the Credo, the whole history of salvation becomes too limited and too small."

The church considers it essential that people come into "contact with God and thus with the source of all things," said the pope. "Therefore, we relate to God as Creator, and so we have a responsibility for creation. Our responsibility extends as far as creation because it comes from the Creator."

The church believes that life "involves more than a set of feelings and sentiments and perhaps moral obligations. It embraces man in his entirety, from his origins to his eternal destiny," the pope told his Easter Vigil congregation. He said: "Only because creation belongs to God can we place ourselves completely in his hands. And only because he is the Creator can he give us life forever."

Of course, Pope Benedict then noted that God the creator is also the God of reason, and of freedom, and of love and thus not a disinterested power. The pope said, "We can and must place ourselves on the side of reason, freedom and love - on the side of God who loves us so much that he suffered for us, that from his death there might emerge a new, definitive and healed life."