My, how time flies. A year has gone by since Pope Benedict XVI visited the United States on his apostolic journey. A lot has happened in the past year. His words to the Church in America are perhaps even more relevant today than when he delivered them. They say that hindsight is 20/20. In looking at the Holy Father’s addresses a year later, it becomes apparent that his foresight is spot on. So let’s review some of his messages and reflect on their meaning in our lives today.
One of the first things that comes to mind is the imbroglio that the University of Notre Dame has caused by inviting President Obama to deliver its commencement address this year and awarding him an honorary degree. Benedict XVI spent the evening of April 17, 2008, addressing Catholic educators about the Catholic identity of their institutions.
Recall some of the Holy Father’s words: “The Church’s primary mission of evangelization, in which educational institutions play a crucial role, is consonant with a nation’s fundamental aspiration to develop a society truly worthy of the human person’s dignity.” Given this president’s stances on life issues, one may rightly wonder if this is the type of society that is being developed.
He continued, “With regard to the educational forum, the diakonia of truth takes on a heightened significance in societies where secularist ideology drives a wedge between truth and faith. This division has led to a tendency to equate truth with knowledge ... denies the foundations of faith and rejects the need for a moral vision.”
And lastly, these words spoken directly to faculty members at Catholic colleges and universities: “Yet it is also the case that any appeal to the principle of academic freedom in order to justify positions that contradict the faith and teaching of the Church would obstruct or even betray the university’s identity and mission; a mission at the heart of the Church’s munus docendi and not somehow autonomous or independent of it.” While many Catholic institutions do seem to be embracing the Pope’s vision, some, sadly, are not.
In retrospect, it appears that many of our bishops heeded their leader’s words. In the days leading up to the last election, the bishops spoke often of the need to bring our faith with us into the voting booth. Perhaps they were recalling the Successor to St. Peter’s words to them on April 16, 2008:
“As preachers of the Gospel and leaders of the Catholic community, you are also called to participate in the exchange of ideas in the public square, helping to shape cultural attitudes. In a context where free speech is valued, and where vigorous and honest debate is encouraged, yours is a respected voice that has much to offer to the discussion of the pressing social and moral questions of the day. ... Yet it cannot be assumed that all Catholic citizens think in harmony with the Church’s teaching on today’s key ethical questions. Once again, it falls to you to ensure that the moral formation provided at every level of ecclesial life reflects the authentic teaching of the gospel of life.”
While many of our bishops were putting the Pope’s words into action, one is left to wonder just how many Catholics in the pews were listening.
A lot can happen in a year. A lot did happen in a year. And the Holy Father’s words to the Church in America will continue to go right to the heart of the matter. Let’s pray that they will continue to be written on the hearts of the people.
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