By Fr. George Welzbacher
December 30, 2012
Just in time for this blessed season in which we celebrate the birth of Him Who offers us His healing love Pope Benedict, saintly scholar and solicitous shepherd of souls, has published an inspiring new book on the passages in the Gospels that describe the infancy of Christ our Lord. The book is entitled Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives. May I share with you here the glowing praise that appeared n the December 17th edition of the Wall Street Journal for this latest of Pope Benedict's commentaries on the life of Christ. The reviewer is Anthony Esolen, a professor at Providence College,
* * * * *Pray, fast to protect life, marriage, religious liberty:
A Love Supreme: The Infancy Narratives
By: Joseph Ratzinger
(Image, 132 pages $20)
Imagine touring the Sistine Chapel with someone who has done more than merely read some learned commentary on the paintings of Michelangelo. He has looked at them, pondered them, loved them, even waited upon them to reveal their inner harmony, and now he seeks to hand on to you what he has found. Imagine listening to a master organist not playing the whole St. Matthew Passion but showing you, as he touches a chord here and makes a progression there, some hint of the grandeur of Bach's composition that you might miss in the overwhelming storm of its performance. Then you have an idea of what Pope Benedict XVI has attempted in his three-volume work on the life of Jesus, but most humbly and sweetly in Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives.
Modem men too often see things only by the guttering firelight of politics. Pope Benedict, who wrote many works of deep scholarship while simple Joseph Ratzinger, also served as the head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, earning him a reputation among the ignorant as combative----"God's Rottweiler." It may surprise some, then, to read that Pope Benedict has written about one topic all his life long. Love is the key to his work, as it is the theme and lesson of this work. Indeed, the Pope has written that in Jesus, the man and the mission are one, and the mission is the holiness of love of being ENTIRELY for and with God, and for and with mankind, WITHOUT RESERVE. Now Benedict shows how this understanding of Jesus is manifest from the beginning in His conception, His birth and His childhood.
Any scholar who would write on the first few chapters of Matthew and Luke faces two problems. The first is the opinion that the narratives about the birth of Jesus are add-ons, not central to the mission and the person of Jesus. The second is that we are too familiar with them. We have heard the carols and seen the crèches. We do not see the shadow of the cross fall upon the stable of Bethlehem.
Benedict addresses both problems at once, affirming the historicity of the narratives and showing that the question of who Jesus is hinges upon whence He has come. People who encountered Jesus, whether they chose to follow Him or not, claimed that they knew exactly where He came from, the no-account village, of Nazareth. Yet they did not know where He came from- whence He derived His authority. The early Christians, by contrast, saw the life of Jesus as a coherent whole. The end of Matthew's Gospel, says Benedict, when Jesus commissions His disciples to go forth to the ends of the earth, baptizing all nations, is present in the beginning, in the genealogy that links Jesus with Abraham and God's promise of universality. Abraham is the essential wayfarer, Benedict writes, whose "whole life points forward," a dynamic of "walking along the path of what is to come."
Even to those who think themselves familiar with these texts, every page of "Jesus of Nazareth" will present some pearl of great value, something that should have been obvious but that has been passed over in haste or inattention. For example, when Luke places Jesus' birth in the context of the Augustan empire, and notes that Joseph and Mary had to travel to Bethlehem to register for the tax, he expects his readers, Benedict argues, to compare one "prince of peace" with another, for that is what Agustus styled himself ("Princeps Pacis"). The epithet was more than propaganda, Benedict says. It expressed a heartfelt longing in the people of the time, wracked by the Roman civil wars and conflicts between the Roman empire and her rivals to the east. We might see how seriously it was taken if we study Augustus' Altar of Peace in Rome, consecrated a few years before Jesus' birth. It was so placed that on the emperor's birthday, between morning and evening, the sun cast the shadow of an obelisk, says the Pope, along a line that struck the very center of the altar, where Augustus himself was portrayed as supreme pontiff.
But Augustus belongs to the past, Benedict notes, while Jesus "is the present and the future". That is because the salvation we yearn for is not simply a truce, with some economic prosperity, but the HEALING of our very selves. Man is "a rational being," Benedict writes, by which he means that we only know ourselves when we give ourselves away in love. More to the point, Benedict teaches, God allows us to know Him by giving Himself in love to us. This gift, though grand, is necessarily also secret and humble, seeking not to overmaster but to invite.
In speaking of an intimate love, all the Gospel writers speak the same language, Benedict explains, whether it is Matthew showing that the birth of Jesus occurs outside of and against the predilections of the grand court of Herod, or Luke stressing the quiet interior life of Mary, or John saying that God has pitched His tent among us, submitting to the infirmities of the flesh, and to rejection.
This love is no mere sentiment. It is the ground of our being. Yet Benedict points to the gospels themselves for examples of HOW OFTEN WE SEEK LESS than love, even while we believe we are seeking MORE. Jesus' own disciples believed that He would reestablish the earthly kingdom of David-and Matthew takes trouble both to establish Jesus' descent from David (it is why Joseph had to travel to the city of David, Bethlehem) and to show that this kingship is wholly new, and not of this earth.
Thus Joseph is told that the child's name will be Jesus, a name derived from the Hebrew word meaning "to rescue," because "He will save people from their sins." That seems at once too little and too much, Benedict says. He compares the verse with the episode of the paralytic in Luke, who hears Jesus say, "Your sins are forgiven." But he wanted to walk-and the Jews wanted freedom from their overlords. The paralytic would indeed rise up and walk, but the point is clear: The gospel calls people to no less than the complete love of God and neighbor-to the surrender of ILLUSIONS that we can heal ourselves.
The Infancy Narratives is a short volume but for that very reason may be an ideal introduction to Benedict's writings, and for that matter to Jesus' message of love.
* * * * *
U.S. bishops launch new campaign
Lifesite News, December 6, 2012
Citing "unprecedented challenges" to life, marriage and religious liberty, the bishops of the United States have called on all the faithful to fast, pray a daily Rosary, have regular Holy Hours and Masses, and attend rallies, "for the sake of renewing a culture of life, marriage, and religious liberty in our country."
In explaining the reasons for the campaign, the bishops specifically singled out the HHS mandate. That mandate coerces employers, including heads of religious agencies, to pay for sterilizations, abortion-inducing drugs, and contraceptives. The bishops also called on Catholics to resist increased efforts to redefine marriage.
"The pastoral strategy is essentially a call and encouragement to prayer and sacrifice--it's meant to be simple," said Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, chairman of the bishops' Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.
"It's not meant to be another program but rather part of a movement for life, marriage, and religious liberty, which engages the new evangelization and can be incorporated into the Year of Faith," he said. "Life, marriage, and religious liberty are not only foundational to Catholic social teaching but also fundamental to the good of society."
In a press release the bishops outlined the five parts of the strategy:
1. Starting with the Sunday after Christmas (the Feast of the Holy Family) and continuing on or near the last Sunday of every month through Christ the King Sunday in November 2013, cathedrals and parishes are encouraged to hold a Eucharistic Holy Hour for Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty.
2. Families and individuals are encouraged to pray a daily rosary, especially for the preservation of life, marriage, and religious liberty in the nation.
3. At Sunday and daily Masses, it is encouraged that the Prayers of the Faithful include specific intentions for respect for all human life from conception to natural death, the strengthening of marriage and family life, and the preservation of religious liberty at all levels of government, both at home and abroad.
4. Abstinence from meat and fasting on Fridays are encouraged for the intention of the protection of life, marriage, and religious liberty, recognizing the importance of spiritual and bodily sacrifice in the life of the Church.
5. The celebration of a second Fortnight for Freedom at the end of June and the beginning of July 2013 is being planned. This Fortnight would emphasize faith and marriage in a particular way in the face of the potential Supreme Court rulings during this time. The Fortnight would also emphasize the need for conscience protection in light of the August 1, 2013, deadline for religious organizations to comply with the HHS mandate, as well as religious freedom concerns in other areas, such as immigration, adoption, and humanitarian services.
"With the challenges this country is facing, it is hoped that this call to prayer and penance will help build awareness among the faithful as well as spiritual stamina and courage for effective witness," Archbishop Cordileone said. "We also hope that it will encourage solidarity with all people who are standing for the precious gifts of life, marriage, and religious liberty."
* * * * *