Time to Renew

The top news events that impacted the Catholic world in 2009 were, as one might expect, a mix of good and bad. But in spite of a deepening culture of death in America and other parts of the world, the positive stories outweighed the negative — and so did hope.

It was with hope — and pride — that the nation began 2009, witnessing an end of sorts of its sad history of racial discrimination: Barack Obama, though not a descendant of African slaves, became the first black president in American history.

Sadly, though, discrimination and persecution of another class of Americans has only deepened under his administration.

Though the president’s record on life issues was already troubling, and candidate Obama had promised to sign pro-abortion legislation, many Catholics were willing to give him a chance and work with him.

He has disappointed. Americans now know what Obama meant when he asked them to vote for “change.” Just a few examples of the change in areas that Catholics and other people of faith care deeply about: He ended the federal funding ban of groups that perform or promote abortions abroad; appointed pro-abortion and homosexual-rights advocates to key posts; allowed federal funding of human embryonic stem-cell research; canceled Bush administration conscience-protection rules, and encouraged same-sex “marriage” advocates in their efforts to redefine marriage.

Obama’s policies extended even to the campus of a small Catholic college, Belmont Abbey, in North Carolina. There, an earlier decision not to bring legal action against the college for its refusal to cover contraception in its health-care plan for employees was, without justification or explanation, reversed under the current Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

But what may be the worst piece of legislation to be initiated by a president in decades is President Obama’s reform of the health-care system. The Church agrees in principle that something should be done to assure that more Americans receive good health care and can afford it. But the Church seems to be fighting a losing battle to convince enough legislators that Americans include the unborn and that forcing taxpayers to subsidize abortion coverage is an injustice.

The economy has been a major story since the latter part of 2008. With millions of people out of work or losing their homes, there have been greater opportunities for Catholics to practice charity, and there have been extra demands on Catholic social agencies. The economic downturn also gave Catholic scholars plenty to argue about concerning the best way to address the problem.

But Pope Benedict XVI issued an encyclical in July that should give all of us something to think about. Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth) said that ethical values are needed to overcome the global economic crisis as well as to eradicate hunger and promote the real development of all the world’s peoples.

The year was not a light one for papal documents and initiatives. The Pope also approved an apostolic constitution under which traditional Anglicans would be welcomed into the Catholic Church. Not only was this bold move a charitable response to the plight of those Anglicans who feel disenfranchised in the Anglican Communion, it was more generous than what many traditional Anglicans had hoped for.

Though the Church ended its celebration of the Year of St. Paul and commenced a Year for Priests, in many ways, 2009 was the Year for Africa. The Pope traveled to Cameroon and Angola and affirmed the Church’s opposition to condom use — even as a way to prevent the spread of AIDS. (Several prominent scientists backed up the Church by affirming that condom use actually helps AIDS spread.) The Holy Father also hosted a monthlong gathering of bishops at the Vatican dealing with the question of how to, in the Pope’s words, “transform theology into ... a concrete pastoral ministry in which the great visions of Holy Scripture and Tradition are applied to the activities of bishops and priests in a specific time and place.”

Pope Benedict also made a significant pilgrimage to the Holy Land, boosting a dwindling yet vibrant Christian community, and traveled to two European countries where the faith is fading from society: France and the Czech Republic. The latter trip brought to light the increasing need for cooperation with members of other churches, particularly the Orthodox, in combating rampant secularism. The quest for unity between the Churches of East and West, in fact, seemed to be gaining some momentum, with a new openness on the part of the new Russian Orthodox patriarch, Kirill.

Ten years ago, as the world waited anxiously for the calendar to change from 1999 to 2000, we braced for a computer glitch called Y2K that threatened to shut down civilization. Now, as the world moves toward the end of the first decade of the 21st century, there are new fears and new concerns, as well as old battles.

At this point, it may be appropriate to renew the sense of holy expectation Pope John Paul II (who continues to be in the news, most recently for the advance in his cause for sainthood) had at the beginning of the third Christian millennium. In his apostolic letter at the close of the Jubilee Year 2000, Novo Millennio Ineunte (At the Beginning of the New Millennium), Pope John Paul called for a “new sense of mission” built on the enthusiasm of the jubilee, one that leads people to holiness and finds new ways to proclaim the Gospel in a culture marked by diversity and globalization.

As 2010 begins, let us renew that enthusiasm and the goals of Novo Millennio Ineunte.