Pope Benedict XVI’s trip to the United States was transformational for many people who saw him. People were moved by his presence and inspired by his witness.
But was the Church moved by his words? And if so, to where?
When the Successor of Peter comes to your country on an “apostolic journey,” what he has in mind is more than a sight-seeing tour. He wants to give your country direction — if not “marching orders,” then at least future guidance.
What did Pope Benedict ask of America? Are we prepared to do it? On my program “Seize the Day” (on The Catholic Channel on Sirius Satellite Radio), we spent months “unpacking the Pope,” looking for just what he is asking. Six months after his visit, it’s time to revisit the Holy Father’s words to make sure his spiritual agenda is at the top of our spiritual agenda, too.
The sun still hadn’t peeked over the horizon. It was the morning of April 17, 2008, and people were already busily scurrying around Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. In just a few short hours, Pope Benedict XVI would be saying his first Mass in the United States. After two levels of security and bomb-sniffing dogs gave me the once-over, I made my way up to the press box to cover the events for The Catholic Channel. The memories of that week will stay with me forever. Hopefully, so will the messages that the Holy Father gave to us on his apostolic journey.
It may seem like a distant memory now, so I thought it would be good for us to recall some of the highlights of the Pope’s messages that he left for us in his homilies and addresses. Every one of his talks was timely — and timeless. He hit on themes that were meant specifically for the Church in America and for the Church universal. He mostly praised, occasionally chastised, and always called us to conversion of heart. His calls to the sacraments were unmistakable.
The Pope touched on a number of common themes in nearly all of his addresses. One thing that struck me early on in his homily at Nationals Park was how he referred to himself as the Successor of Peter. Of course, this is what he is, but I think he wanted to make sure that this visit wasn’t about Josef Ratzinger. In our rock star-obsessed culture, the Holy Father wanted to make sure right away that we knew he was on an apostolic journey; he wanted to be sure our focus was on the office that had been given to him by the Holy Spirit. Though America embraced him, he wanted to make sure that American Catholics embraced the message that he brought.
His first two “calls” were to conversion and unity. He reminded us that one flows from the other. “In every time and place, the Church is called to grow in unity through constant conversion to Christ …” It is a symbiotic relationship; as we grow closer to Christ through conversion, we grow closer to each other, and vice versa.
Most people acknowledge that, for generations now, Americans have been grossly under-catechized. This fact is certainly not lost on Pope Benedict XVI. While lauding the fact that “much progress has been made in developing solid programs of catechesis,” the Holy Father also said that “so much more remains to be done in forming the hearts and minds of the young.” How to go about that? The Holy Father hit on a favorite theme of his: the relationship between faith and reason.
In calling us back to the sacraments, the Pope concentrated specifically on the sacrament of penance at Nationals Park. Penance, also called reconciliation or confession, seems to be the lost sacrament of the Church. But Benedict XVI wants nothing more than to reverse that trend: “The liberating power of this sacrament … needs to be rediscovered and reappropriated by every Catholic.”
How important is this? “To a great extent, the renewal of the Church in America and throughout the world depends on the renewal of the practice of penance,” he said. That’s a pretty bold statement!
As an intellectual, scholar, teacher and pastor, Pope Benedict XVI chooses his words carefully. His masterful command of language offers us the opportunity to dig more deeply into his messages. Let me encourage you to study all of the addresses he gave while in the U.S. Allow the words of the Successor of Peter to spur you on to conversion and evangelization.
Gus Lloyd’s show “Seize the Day” can be heard weekday mornings starting at 6 a.m. EST on
Sirius 159, The Catholic Channel.