Around the Web

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

A Year Later, the Pope Benedict Most People Forget by John Gehring: “The Benedict legacy often forgotten today amid the understandable euphoria over Pope Francis is a significant contribution to the Church’s social justice tradition.”

Pope Emeritus Benedict by Michael Sean Winters: “Benedict’s pontificate was seminal in critical ways. His theological writings on the environment were more profound, and more urgent, than those of any other world leader, and surely the environmental crisis we continue to invite will be one of the most challenging crises humanity has ever faced.”

An economic school has led to gridlock in Washington by EJ Dionne: “When it comes to government policy, the Austrian economists paved the road to paralysis.”

Raising the minimum wage is the right idea for the right by EJ Dionne: “Conservative politicians really need to ask themselves: If they refuse to raise the minimum wage and at the same time insist on cutting health care and wage-support programs, are they not consigning millions more of their fellow citizens to lives of poverty? Most Americans reject this view, and that includes most conservatives who believe in work, family and personal responsibility.”

A Srebrenica moment in Syria? by Nicholas Burns: “Putin will never reach a ‘Srebrenica moment’ on Syria. That leaves the rest of us to consider once more — how many more lives will be claimed by Syria’s ceaseless civil war before we are finally shamed to stop the killings?”

Front Left Corner of Heaven by Terrance Klein, America: “Because heaven is all about love, nothing but love can lead us there.”

Praise these Special Olympians by Michael Gerson: “People with intellectual disabilities are largely invisible in the global development agenda, but they should be its cutting edge.”

Beware of Pope Francis by Timothy Shriver: “When he embraced the young man with severe disabilities, he was calling on the world to change its approach to how we value human life by putting the most vulnerable at the center. To do so, each of us needs to become more vulnerable ourselves. That’s not easy or  comfortable.”

The Tea Party and the Hammock Theory of Poverty by Greg Sargent: “Some Republican lawmakers do seem sincere about charting a new course on poverty. But the party agenda remains in thrall to a set of ideas that remain largely the province of a small tea party minority, and are not nearly as widely held among Republicans overall.”

Yes, progressives can embrace Downton Abbey!  by Morning’s Minion: “The old order—unequal and unjust as it might have been—was nevertheless based on the notion that we are not simply autonomous individuals following our own destinies and our own desires. Rather, it was based on the firm principle that we are bound to society and to each other by reciprocal rights, duties, and responsibilities.”

What liberals can learn from the author of The Culture of Narcissism by Damon Linker: “Perhaps the most controversial element of Lasch’s argument, then no less than now, was his assertion that the Left’s advocacy of the sexual revolution was in fact a betrayal of both women and the working class. Whereas the family was once a ‘haven in a heartless world’ (to cite the title of the book in which Lasch first advanced the claim), the sexual revolution encouraged its near-total assimilation into the capitalist order of consumption and exchange.”

Christopher Hale in Time: Remember Benedict the Meek

Millennial co-founded and contributing editor Christopher Hale has a new article in Time on Pope Benedict and Pope Francis, a year after the former announced his resignation. He writes:

There’s no question that Francis is shaking up the Church in new and profound ways. But for those who thank God for the Francis Revolution that has taken hold of the Catholic Church, it’s now time too to thank its soft-spoken founder: Benedict the Meek.

The full article can be read here.

Ghostwriting the Faith: Reflections on Pope Francis’ Lumen Fidei

A few months ago, I wrote an article imploring Pope Francis to finish Benedict XVI’s encyclical on faith. My rationale? The theological virtues exegesis that began with Benedict XVI’s encyclicals on hope (Spe Salvi) and charity (Deus Caritas Est) was incomplete without a corresponding papal discussion of faith. It was the appropriate hour, during the Year of Faith and at the start of the New Evangelization. With an encyclical on faith, the complete trifecta of virtue encyclicals (plus a fourth on justice) and the three volumes of Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth would serve as a foundation for 21st century Catholicism.

From the looks of it, Pope Francis was thinking the same thing. Lumen Fidei, Pope Francis’ first encyclical and a completion of the writings of Benedict XVI, may come across as a paradoxical document at first glance. The underlying thesis of Lumen Fidei appears in the fourth stanza of the encyclical: “There is an urgent need, then, to see once again that faith is a light, for once the flame of faith dies out, all other lights begin to dim” (4). In this statement, Francis touches upon three key threads to his argument on faith: the urgency, the light, and the consequence for man.

First, Francis (and his “papal ghost writer” Benedict XVI) does not view Lumen Fidei as an academic reflection of theological musings, but instead as an urgent exhortation to a world in crisis. The Pope looks out from Rome and finds “a massive amnesia in our contemporary world” on the question of truth and faith (25). Faith enables us to make sense of our common human experience: as Francis writes, without faith, “everything becomes confused; it is impossible to tell good from evil, or the road to our destination from other roads which take us in endless circles, going nowhere” (3). Therefore, the welfare and salvation of men and women is at risk because the idea of faith is under siege. In perhaps the most poignant and haunting passage of the encyclical, Francis – channeling Benedict XVI’s penetrating language – notes:

“Once man has lost the fundamental orientation which unifies his existence, he breaks down into the multiplicity of his desires; in refusing to await the time of promise, his life-story disintegrates into a myriad of unconnected instants. Idolatry, then, is always polytheism, an aimless passing from one lord to another. Idolatry does not offer a journey but rather a plethora of paths leading nowhere and forming a vast labyrinth” (13).

Therefore, Lumen Fidei reads not as a comforting or politically correct policy paper, but instead as a sharp and brutal critique of the times. Francis reproaches those Catholics and Protestants alike who would make the Christian faith entirely an internal, personal matter. “Faith is not a private matter,” the Pope argues, but instead “it is impossible to believe on our own” (22, 39). Francis argues that faith is neither an individual decision nor a relationship between the divine and an individual alone, but instead is always in community – hence, the necessity of a “church” of believers. The mantra ‘spiritual but not religious’ will not stand up under scrutiny – but neither will relativist notions of a faith based on emotion and subjectivity alone. Here the Pope writes:

“Faith without truth does not save…it remains a beautiful story, the projection of our deep yearning for happiness, something capable of satisfying us to the extent that we are willing to deceive ourselves. Either that, or it is reduced to a lofty sentiment which brings consolation and cheer, yet remains prey to the vagaries of our spirit and the changing seasons, incapable of sustaining a steady journey through life” (24).

The modern world, Pope Francis agrees, was right-intentioned in seeking “a universal brotherhood based on equality” (54). But because that brotherhood sought to excise faith and, therefore, truth, it crumbled into sentimentality and indefensible positions, settling finally on the creed that “I have the right to do whatever I want, save that which infringes on your right to do so.” The world needs and cries out for what once existed, a faith only now found in the memory of contemporary culture, and so Lumen Fidei must be proclaimed and heard by all Christians everywhere.

The second thread of Francis’ encyclical builds on the themes of light and darkness, sight and sound, and past and future to weave together the reflections and prayers of Lumen Fidei. Light is perhaps the most prominent, for faith was once associated with the light, as Christ was considered the Light unto the World (4). Yet, as Francis relates, “In modernity, that light might have been considered sufficient for societies of old, but was felt to be of no use for new times” (2). Instead, “Faith came to be associated with darkness,” and the metaphor was turned on its head (3). Instead of illuminating the path to knowledge, truth, and a good life, faith was deemed an obstacle to the potency of man. What Francis leaves unanswered is whether that reversal of understanding was unintentional or, as St. John suggested, because “the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light” (John 3:19). The two Popes, however, are quite adamant about restoring the attributes of light to the notion of faith. Faith empowers man “not because we will be able to possess all the light, which will always be inexhaustible, but because we will enter wholly into that light” (33). Faith is not an obstacle to human rationality because “our human lights are not dissolved in the immensity of his [i.e. God’s] light, as a star is engulfed by the dawn, but shine all the more brightly the closer they approach the primordial fire, like a mirror which reflects light” (35).

Pope Francis continues beyond the metaphor of light: the Gospel is a message of proclaimed Good News, and therefore the sight of light is always accompanied by the sound of interaction. Faith cannot assume the immediacy of light because it is “a knowledge bound to the passage of time, for words take time to be pronounced, and it is a knowledge assimilated only along a journey of discipleship” (29). Here appears the third thread of Lumen Fidei: the personal, discipleship, calling of faith (8). Faith ultimately is a human experience.. “Through our encounter with others, our gaze rises to a truth greater than ourselves,” writes the Pope (14). And this interaction is not limited to Catholics or Christians alone, for it stems from a primordial longing. With the force of Vatican II behind him, Francis speaks to the ecumenical nature of faith, for “once we discover the full light of Christ’s love, we realize that each of the loves in our own lives had always contained a ray of that light, and we understand its ultimate destination” (32).

With urgent, sensory, and human language, then, Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI present the case for faith in Lumen Fidei. The faith proclaimed by Catholics is a faith that understands the challenges of contemporary times. It is a faith that serves as both a message of sight and sound, a Gospel both proclaimed and seen. It is a faith that is both personal and in community with others. Within the fibers of these strands are the musing and reactions of Spe Salvi and Deus Caritas Est, for both Popes are adamant: faith, hope, and love are interwoven, bound together by the fundamental truth that is God.

Michael Fischer is a recent graduate of Georgetown University.

Millennial’s Summer Reads: Sarah’s Selections

Over the past two years, I’ve planned my wedding, been pregnant, and had my first child, now a precious four-month-old little girl.  With so much going on, I’ve been struggling to find any time at all to read anything other than wedding planning and/or baby books, and my spiritual reading has definitely suffered.  But there are some standout books I’ve read that I would recommend for anyone looking for a great end-of-summer spiritual lift – books that I pick up myself when I can snatch a moment, books that yield peace, thoughtful reflection, and sometimes a little laughter for my soul.

Anything by Fr. James Martin tends to be a winner, but I especially enjoyed The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life. It offers an overview of Ignatian spirituality and the Jesuit way of living in a fresh, easily accessible way, and outlines ways that we can adopt aspects of this way of life into our normal everyday experiences.  His guidance on discernment (decision-making led by the Holy Spirit) continues to be especially valuable, and there is a striking passage on accepting oneself as God sees you—beautifully made—that brought me to tears and still resonates strongly with me.  I would highly recommend this to anyone, Catholic or not, as a way to help see God in all things, a cornerstone of Jesuit spirituality.

Like Fr. Martin’s writing, anything by Thomas Cahill is pretty much a sure bet – especially his Hinges of History series.  I recommend two of them in particular: The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels and Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus.  Both books are a delight to read, with a sometimes playful tone and giggle-worthy asides (more so in the former than in the latter, however).  Cahill’s writing is informal, but the subject matter is fascinating and informative.  In the Gifts of the Jews, he explores the famous tales of the Old Testament and how the Jewish people and their monotheistic beliefs helped to reshape the world.  In Desire of the Everlasting Hills, he provides an entirely readable popular analysis of the writers of the gospels and the letters of the early Christian communities, examining how they interpreted and were influenced by Jesus’ message.  Cahill makes some speculative leaps here and there, but this only adds to the pleasure of reading!

Pope Benedict XVI’s introduction to his series on Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, captivated my attention.  Not as accessible as the other books I’ve recommended, I finished reading this, turned to my husband, and said “Wow.  This pope is BRILLIANT.”  His exceptional commentary on the Sermon on the Mount alone was worth the read.  I admittedly had a hard time wading through the chapter on John, as I was unfamiliar with the academic controversies surrounding that gospel, but was otherwise delighted and inspired by this book and am determined to read back through it at a slower pace to chew on the thoughts a little more – and then of course, on to the next in the series!

I’m going to recommend Waiting for God by Simone Weil for purely selfish reasons: I would really like someone to read this along with me again to help me digest it!  I found her work to be very challenging, and will probably need to beat my head against it for a while to really solidify my thoughts and feelings towards this short, intense book. However, Weil’s thoughts are fascinating and troubling, sometimes beautiful, and seem to be well worth the effort, as she explores the nature of God and our relationship to Him.

For those short on time and in need of some daily inspiration, I would recommend All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, & Witnesses for Our Time by Robert Ellsburg. He provides short biographies of saints and other inspirational figures throughout history in daily reflections, from St. Therese of Lisieux to Gandhi to Vincent van Gogh.  Not only will you find inspiration, you may just find yourself longing to learn more and hunting down additional reading material to better acquaint yourself with these people who made the most of the lives they were blessed to live, lives that might inspire us to do the same.

As for fiction, I have a soft spot in my heart for beautifully written, peaceful, heartbreaking books.  If you have similar tastes, I would highly recommend Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson, which follows an aging minister leaving an account of his life to his young son.  It is very moving and reflective.  My favorite quote should be enough to reel you in: “I remember once as a child dreaming that my mother came into my bedroom and sat down in a chair in the corner and folded her hands in her lap and stayed there, very calm and still. It made me feel wonderfully safe, wonderfully happy. When I woke up, there she was, sitting in that chair. She smiled at me and said, ‘I was just enjoying the quiet.’ I have that same feeling in the church, that I am dreaming what is true.” My heart ached for days while reading this (in a good way), and the novel made me reflect upon my own soul and my humanity.

Completa de Fide: The Encyclical on Faith and the Foundation of the 21st Century Church

The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and election of Pope Francis have drawn extensive popular attention and commentary, with all eyes turned toward the Vatican. Nevertheless, amidst the frantic and chaotic days of a papal transition, some important details can slip through the cracks. In November of 2012, the Vatican confirmed that Pope Benedict XVI was putting the finishing touches on a new encyclical on faith. The excitement was palpable – members of the Curia described the text as “beautiful” and “beyond imagination.” Then, following Benedict XVI’s announced resignation, the encyclical disappeared from view with a mere cursory statement that the Pope would not be able to finish it in time.

As Pope Francis begins the daily work of his ministry, this should be rectified. Pope Francis: please finish the encyclical on faith.

The encyclical on faith is essential for the New Evangelization. Benedict XVI’s ultimate legacy will not be his governance, his appointments, or even his Twitter handle; it is his writings. This great theologian, the “teaching Pope”, has through his prose established a firm foundation for the Church in the 21st century.

The first half of this foundation are Benedict’s three books on Christ: Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week, and Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives. As Pope Benedict emphasized again and again, these volumes were not meant to replace the Gospels. Instead, they presented the development of a personal and meaningful relationship with Christ through reflection on the birth, ministry, death, and resurrection of the Lord. Benedict’s books refocused the ultimate purpose of the Catholic Church around Christ, presenting an inspirational example of how God might be found in modern times.

The second half of the foundation are the three encyclicals of Benedict’s papacy.  Encyclicals are among the most influential and lasting documents of any papacy, but with these works, Benedict XVI explored the highest pinnacles of the Church – the theological virtues. Spe Salvi revitalized Christian hope; Deus Caritas Est reaffirmed Christian love. Caritas in Veritate applied Christian theology to justice and service in the modern world. These encyclicals begin to outline the roots of our Catholic theology in faith, hope, and love– but they do not overtly touch on one of these pillars, leaving our Christian faith unattended. Together, Benedict’s encyclicals and books on Jesus offer a solid foundation for the entire Catholic mission in the 21st century. But without an encyclical specifically focused on faith, the foundation is incomplete and wanting.

Benedict XVI could finish his writings on faith as pope emeritus, publishing it as a book or essay. However, in this form the text would not have the same lasting influence nor would it fill the hole left in Benedict XVI’s papal corpus. In completing Benedict XVI’s encyclical on faith, Pope Francis has the opportunity to establish a firm continuity between his predecessor’s ministries and his own. Such an act of continuity is not unprecedented. Benedict XVI’s own Deus Caritas Est was partially based on the writings of Pope John Paul II.

Pope Francis: completa de fide. In this Year of Faith, embrace the Jesuit ideal of contemplation in action by connecting the coming actions of your papacy with the thought of Pope Benedict XVI and complete Benedict XVI’s encyclical on faith.

Michael Fischer is a senior at Georgetown University and the President of the Georgetown Chapter of the Alpha Sigma Nu Jesuit Honors Society.

Benedict the Meek: How A Quiet Man’s Pontificate Has Shaped the Millennial Generation

121744714__382982bAs we come to the final hours of the papacy of Benedict XVI, his reign has been analyzed from every possible vista: as a spiritual leader, as a theologian, as a writer, as a politician, as a manager and on and on.

But it seems to me that there has been a voice missing in this conversation: that of the young. This is unfortunate, because perhaps more than anyone, our lives were affected by Joseph Ratzinger. We were too young to be part of the “JP II (John Paul II) generation.”

Instead, we came to age in the era of Benedict. And indeed that era was different. The rock star pope was replaced by the introvert pope, the poet by the academic.

But his quiet voice didn’t decrease his ability to affect the young faithful. In fact, it amplified it.

There was a saying that became popular in Rome during the last eight years of Benedict’s pontificate. It went something like this: the young people used to come to St. Peter’s Square to see John Paul, but they came to listen to Benedict.

And listen they did. Benedict, who was once castigated by the media as “God’s Rottweiler” during his years as the Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, has perked the ears of young people across the world with his eloquent writings about the purpose of living, the dignity of all human persons—especially the poor and marginalized—and the contributions religion can make in a pluralistic society.

Who would have expected “God’s Rottweiler” to dedicate his first major encyclical on human love? In it, he writes that being a Christian “is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, [with true love] which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”

Though Benedict’s papacy was marred by public relations nightmares, when he himself spoke, people responded. His foreign apostolic trips were mostly successful, especially his trips to the United States in 2008, to the United Kingdom in 2010 and to Mexico and Cuba in 2012. Each time, Benedict exceeded public expectations.  Of particular note is his trip to the United Kingdom. There Benedict delivered a speech in Westminster Hall, standing in the same spot where Saint Thomas More was tried and condemned to death in 1535. In an audience featuring all the living former prime ministers of England and the elite of British civil society, Benedict gave an address that received enthusiastic reviews. Even secular agnostics described the speech as “bloody brilliant.” Upon his departure, Prime Minister David Cameron said the Holy Father had compelled the increasingly-secular English society, especially its youth, “to sit up and listen.”

Benedict’s words—and especially his questions—have struck us in a way that is perhaps even more poignant than those of his predecessor:

Where do I find standards to live by, what are the criteria that govern responsible cooperation in building the present and the future of our world? On whom can I rely? To whom shall I entrust myself? Where is the [person] who can offer me the response capable of satisfying my heart’s deepest desires?

His questions probe our hearts, especially in a time where such questions are buried under an ever increasing “globalization of superficiality” that doesn’t allow time and space for the deeper questions of life.

Benedict continues:

The fact that we ask questions like these means that we realize our journey is not over until we meet the One who has the power to establish that universal Kingdom of justice and peace to which all people aspire, but which they are unable to build by themselves. Asking such questions also means searching for Someone who can neither deceive nor be deceived, and who therefore can offer a certainty so solid that we can live for it and, if need be, even die for it.

Benedict has lived, suffered and now quite frankly, is dying for the Church. He lived, suffered and is now dying for that “Kingdom of justice and peace” which is the primary goal of all human activity. While Benedict’s speeches, encyclicals, prayers, and writings have taught us much, his last action was perhaps the greatest lesson of his pontificate. In renouncing the throne of Saint Peter, Benedict taught a world obsessed with the cult of personality that the greatest heroes are the ones who give it all up for the sake of others.

Benedict’s message with his resignation was simple: I love you. I choose you. Your well-being matters to me more than anything else.

Thank you, Holy Father. We, the children of your generation, the generation of Benedict the Meek, will never forget you. You will always be in our prayers, and we will remember what you taught us in word and—most importantly—in deed: “the happiness that you [seek], the happiness you have a right to enjoy has a name and a face: it is Jesus of Nazareth …[and] in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed.”