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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Benedict XVI on Faith, Freedom and Truth

This is a somewhat all-encompassing topic, but as I read this brief print out from Pope Benedict XVI's Address to the community of Catholic Education on April 17, 2008, I could not hold myself back.

First I quote: "From this perspective one can recognize that the contemporary 'crisis of truth' is rooted in a 'crisis of faith'. Only through faith can we freely give our assent to God's testimony and acknowledge him as the transcendent guarantor of the truth he reveals." 

Next I quote: "Subsequently we observe, with distress, the notion of freedom being distorted. Freedom is not an opting out. It is an opting in - a participation in Being itself."

Thirdly I quote: "Only in faith can truth become incarnate and reason truly human, capable of directing the will along the path of freedom (cf. Spe Salvi, 23)." 

These are the three points concerning education which Benedict highlights as absolutely necessary to discuss. He says, "Truth means more than knowledge: knowing truth leads us to discover the good. Truth speaks to the individual in his or her entirety, inviting us to respond with our whole being. This optimistic vision is found in our Christian faith because such faith has been granted to vision of the Logos, God's creative Reason, which in the Incarnation, is data - 'informative' - the loving truth of the Gospel is creative and life - 'preformative' (cf. Spe Salvi, 2). With confidence, Christian educators can liberate the young from the limits of positivism and awaken receptivity to the truth, to God and his goodness." 

This is a lot to digest because Benedict sees how truth, reason,  and faith are all interwoven into a formation of mind and conscience which is necessary for the Christian life and a gift of goodness which God offers to us and desires us to understand, and know, as we are called to know him. 

At the same time, these points individually taken offer much to the mind in terms of our culture, how we ourselves have been raised and educated thus far, and the responsibility we have in educating those we encounter on a daily basis. 

The beauty of reason and faith is that they do work hand and hand, and that even those who do not accept the need for faith will eventually find that anything that is really truth has only one origin to point to. This is why we know that God can be known through reason - because we have the ability to encounter him in our natural world and understand to a certain extent his truth. It is also the requirement we have for faith, for as far as reason is able to take us, God is mystery and communion and there is no relationship which does not demand of us some amount of faith in the other. For God, because he is infinite, I feel the faith required may also reach to infinity.

 Not only that, but Christ, Jesus, the Logos, God and Man, is exactly another living example of faith and reason and how we are able to bring both into one understanding. Benedict states that the Word, the knowledge of God and who he is, is not only 'informative' but is far more 'preformative' - this is seen through Scripture, as it is through God's words that he creates life, and all that exists, and is also understood through our Profession of Faith, which is Christ as through whom God creates. In this sense again we see how it is understanding of the Word - namely, knowledge and reason - and also faith - our Tradition handed on from Christ - which work hand and hand for the forming of a full person. The fullness of Christ as God and man and then the fullness of the forming of our minds and hearts here and now.

As we strive to grow in our understanding and knowledge, our reason, we also seek for faith. Surely, it was the first Bishop of Rome, St. Peter, who upon seeing the large catch of fish Christ made possible said in faith, "Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!" (cf. Luke 5:8). Recognizing that in this moment Christ had revealed himself as the Messiah, Peter speaks from faith but also in reason and knowledge, finding that he has also gained a deeper understanding of himself in light of the Truth who is God. 

Moving on from the topic of faith and reason (which I feel I am unable to fully unpack at this point), I also want to briefly touch on freedom. 

Benedict speaks a bit more on freedom of choice and will and says, "Hence authentic freedom can never be attained by turning away from God. Such a choice would ultimately disregard the very truth we need in order to understand ourselves." 
I think this is a beautiful follow up to his earlier statement on freedom because of his word choice; he says, "such a choice", which implies the exact mentality we all take up on occasions which says that we are making a choice against what we might be 'told' or think is 'expected', etc.. and in this small rebellion we are exercising our 'free will.' How funny it is that we seem to think that if we choose something that is not considered 'right' we are being 'free', but if we choose to obey or accept or follow what is right we are not making a choice but compromising.

Perhaps compromise is what is needed, but surely our wills do go both ways, and it is just as free an act to choose God as it is to choose against him. Benedict's point is well taken here, when he points our that we cannot even attain true freedom without God's revelation to us, because he is ultimate Truth. Once again it goes back to the faith and reason which follows St. Peter's growth in knowledge of self as he gains understanding of Christ.

To return and end with what Benedict's purpose in this address was, let me quote:
"Yet we all know, and observe with concern, the difficulty or reluctance many people have today in entrusting themselves to God. It is a complex phenomenon and one which I ponder continually. While we have sought diligently to engage the intellect of our young, perhaps we have neglected the will."

This reaches to the heart of his earlier statement about the dichotomy of our education on faith and free will and truth, and it also speaks to us about how our example must be one of hearts laid in the hands of God, that others might know and understand that it is truly the greatest freedom to belong not to ourselves but to our Maker and Lover of our Souls. 

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Being "Active" Catholics

Ok... so I know this is meant to be a blog for faith-fortifying, but I also meant for it to be faith-challenging. So in this situation, I may be crossing the line of the purpose of the blog, but it just needs to be done.

So there was a certain website which is disgusting and vulgar and other synonyms of those words known as "". It was a youth-oriented "informational" site concerning sexual health care. In essence, it was advertised as "funny skits by kids"... these skits involved near-pornographic sexual circumstances not excluding homosexual skits... and all of the actors were approximately 16-18 in age (that is an assessment by looks- I did not research that point). 

I was so horrified not only at the existence of such a site, but by the fact that the everyday American tax dollar was supporting this site! Immediately I felt I must take action, and so I composed an email concerning the issue and sent it to the three Representatives in Congress for New York, who were Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton,  Rep. Carolyn McCarthy and Sen. Charles Schumer. 

I can only highly encourage all of us to not hesitate to take action about important legislation. I know what it is like to be in high school and college and not really take note of what is going on around in the world, especially in the political sphere, because there are so many other issues of interest. Yet, I recently spoke with one of our students at the University concerning the issue of abortion, and while discussing it with her I came to one conclusion that I am very sure of:

I do believe that among the things that we "have done and fail to do" that count as sins against God, we must accept that there is culpability concerning the governing of our nation. We do not live in a communist, tyrannical or despot nation that inhibits the action of the common person.
This is a democratic nation, and that democracy means that those who take ownership of the power to speak will control the laws.

Regardless of how we feel the interpretation of the Constitution should be, we all have a moral, ethical, social and cultural responsibility to demand justice and truth from our nation's government- if for no other reason than we CAN.

If this is that case, than we do share in culpability for the many deaths that take place "legally" every day, especially the innocent and unborn. In such a situation as we find ourselves, with our nation having allowed the deaths of thousands of humans daily for the last 35 years this January 22, we must accept that we need to do what is within our power to stem the genocide. 

It is actually rather easy to send emails or brief letters to our representatives, and a number of them will respond. I am not sure how many of our representative actually receive letters of intelligence on a daily basis - having the gift of education (I believe) creates an even greater responsibility to speak out.

Please encourage one another and make it easy by sending friends links to "quick email" sites, etc... this helps us all to remain active in responsibilities which have been given to us, sought or unsought. 

A good site to sign up for an email list would be This is the American Family Association, and they create templates of emails to be sent for political action, where all you need to do is enter your zip and your name. 

God bless America.