Posts Tagged ‘Role’

Director of Laity Council’s Sports Section Speaks on Prayer and Role Models

By Kathleen Naab

ROME, JAN. 13, 2012 (Zenit.org).- The director of the “Church and Sport” section at the Pontifical Council for the Laity admits that the “Tim Tebow phenomenon” has heightened his interest in the NFL playoffs.

Legionary of Christ Father Kevin Lixey works in the Roman Curia helping the Church make a contribution to the world of sport, with the aim of promoting a sports culture suitable to the integral development of the individual.

ZENIT spoke with Father Lixey about the Denver Broncos quarterback, Tim Tebow, after Tebow led his team to an overtime win in last Sunday’s playoff game.

Those familiar with the NFL — and even those who are not — might have heard of Tebow for more than his unique style as a quarterback. His outward expressions of his Christian faith are being talked about by all sorts of commentators, in the world of American football and beyond. Though certainly not the only athlete to publicly express his faith on the field, Tebow is drawing more attention than usual. We asked Father Lixey what he thinks about that.

ZENIT: Do you see Tim Tebow’s public expression of faith as a positive or negative phenomenon? Certainly it is drawing a lot of attention to Christ, in one form or another …

Father Lixey: The hype over Tim Tebow is certainly an interesting phenomenon in an ever more secularized world. I consider it something very positive. Even at the college level, while quarterback for the Florida Gators during the 2009 Bowl Championship Series title contest, Tebow wrote “John 3:16” on his eye black. The Palm Beach Post reported that 92million people Googled the verse following the game … impressive!

But, it is not the mere public expression of faith — as Tebow drops a

knee to give thanks after a touchdown, or prays with other players who include teammates and opponents after the game — that is attracting people; it is his entire person.

I had the chance to speak with the offensive coordinator who coached Tim at the Florida Gators. He said he was a very unique player who was spiritually on another stratosphere with respect to the rest of the team. Yet, Tim was respected by his teammates because he was genuine. And this is the point I would like to touch on. As one reporter noted (Chuck Klosterman, Dec. 6, 2011): “This, I think, is what makes Tebow so maddening to those who hate him: He refuses to say anything that would validate the suspicion that he’s fake (or naïve or self-righteous or dumb).”

While Tebow certainly sticks out for these external manifestations of his faith, not to mention his unorthodox playing style as an NFL quarterback, his personal background is also not typical for an NFL quarterback. It is a real “Cinderella” story — although those who have to tackle Tim would not consider him a Cinderella.

First of all, Tim Tebow was born in the Philippines to American parents who were serving as Baptist missionaries, as his father is a pastor. His mother, while pregnant, suffered a life-threatening infection and was advised to have an abortion but she decided not to, and both Tim and his mother survived a difficult pregnancy. Another unique aspect is that Tim, like his four older siblings, was home-schooled. Thanks to legislation that was passed in Florida in 1996, home-schooled students were allowed to compete in local high school sporting events.

ZENIT: OK, but does prayer really have a place in football? Surely God doesn’t care about who wins the Super Bowl — or does he?

Father Lixey: Judging from his public statements, Tebow is one of the few and most prominent religious athletes to recognize that God does not care about the score of football games. Tebow considers his missionary and philanthropic work much more important than football, but at the same time, possible, because of it. We all too often equate prayer with only asking good things from God, where prayer is only used “to obtain something” i.e., victory, health, or a miracle. The Catechism reminds us that prayer is also “the raising of one’s mind and heart to God” and that we “we must remember God more often that we draw breath.”

Certainly there are moments and places more conducive to prayer, but there is no reason that all religious manifestations be entirely banned from the public square. These external manifestations of one’s beliefs are impressive precisely because they are public. Just as Christians once fell to their knees at the sound of the Angelus bell to remember the Incarnation, or just as the cab driver makes the point of getting out of his car to bow down toward Mecca in prayer, I see no reason why a professional football player cannot offer a prayer of thanksgiving or point to heaven instead of doing a lewd victory dance in the end zone.

Nonetheless, these external manifestations can make some people feel uneasy and it is not certain how long this will be “allowed” in the NFL. The Danish Football Federation complained to FIFA for permitting members of the Brazilian national to gather together in prayer after their victory of the 2009 Confederations Cup. FIFA’s president responded by warning that any religious manifestation would not be permitted in the 2010 World Cup.

ZENIT: Along those lines, the Tebow “phenomenon” comes at a time when the U.S. bishops are particularly concerned about religious freedom. Is reaction to Tebow’s public expression of faith a sign that their concern is warranted? Or misplaced? Or is religious freedom on the playing field one thing, and in the public square something else?

Father Lixey: Pope Benedict XVI is also particularly concerned about religious freedom and touched upon this point Monday in his address to members of the diplomatic corps, noting: “In many countries Christians are deprived of fundamental rights and sidelined from public life; in other countries they endure violent attacks against their churches and their homes.”

Obviously the Holy Father was not speaking about the FIFA decision to sideline religion. But it does raise the question: “What is the public square today?” Is it literally that quaint square in front of a town hall somewhere in New England, where perhaps it is no longer permissible to display a Nativity scene? Or is it the Internet, a person’s desk at work, or the professional football stadium?

I think many are impressed with Tim Tebow’s courage in professing his faith for he certainly is mocked for it. When he received flack for doing a pro-life ad with “Focus on the Family” that ran during the 2010 Superbowl, he said: “I know some people won’t agree with it, but I think they can at least respect that I stand up for what I believe in.” This is all Tim is asking. Whether it is standing up, or taking a knee, for what he believes in, many people do respect this, that he stands up for what he believes. Yet, others become infuriated as they consider Tebow guilty of breaching the line that all are supposed to respect, namely, that which separates the secular from the religious, the holy from the profane, the sacred from the everyday.

ZENIT: As Catholics, what can we learn from this situation — from Tebow himself, perhaps, and from the reactions he’s causing?

Father Lixey: Blessed John Paul II once reminded a group of top professional soccer players: “The eyes of sports fans throughout the world are fixed on you. Be conscious of your responsibility! It is not only the champion in the stadium but also the whole person who should become a model for millions of young people, who need ‘leaders,’ not ‘idols.’ They need men who can convey to them the zest for challenge, a sense of discipline, the courage to be honest and the joy of unselfishness.”

I believe Tim Tebow is trying to live up to these words of John Paul II and his example can prompt other athletes to be “leaders” and not idols, being a model on and off the field, especially of the corporal works of mercy. As Tim shares in his own words: “When I was a student at the University of Florida, I found great joy in taking time to encourage children suffering from cancer in hospitals or visiting a prison or juvenile detention center, or doing mission work with my family at Uncle Dick’s Orphanage in the Philippines. … Football is so popular (that) it enables an athlete like me to establish a platform for doing good deeds … to take this experience to an even greater level of outreach and influence. … After my professional career, I plan on giving my life full time to this outreach.”

That’s not a bad role model for the youth. … It’s not a bad example for us to follow either.

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Catholic Schools in the Spotlight

Role of Faith and Education Debated

By Father John Flynn, L.C.

ROME, OCT. 7, 2007 (Zenit.org).- State funding of Catholic schools has been a hotly debated topic in the lead-up to Oct. 10 legislative elections in the Canadian province of Ontario.

John Tory, leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party, raised the issue when during the campaign he questioned why Catholic schools in the province are state-funded while other faith-based schools are not, reported the National Post newspaper Aug. 25.

Tory, who is hoping to unseat the ruling Liberal Party Ontario premier, Dalton McGuinty, proposed extending public funding to other faiths, at an estimated cost of 400 million Canadian dollars (US $407).

The newspaper article explained that the decision to fund provincial Catholic schools dates back to the 1867 Constitution Act, which established in Canada two systems of publicly funded education: government and Catholic. Other provinces have since changed their education funding, but this has not been the case in Ontario.

In reply to Tory’s proposal some critics proposed simply eliminating any public funds for all faith schools. “The best course of action would be to simply eliminate public funding for Ontario’s Catholic schools,” opined an editorial in the Globe and Mail newspaper on Sept. 6.

The editorial echoed a censure heard with frequency in some quarters, saying: “As we struggle to avoid the polarization of ethnic and religious minorities, governments should not be contributing to it by encouraging kids to interact only with members of their own faith.”

An opinion supported by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, in an open letter dated Sept. 21 written to Ontario Education Minister Kathleen Wynne, said: “Public funding of religious schools will drain resources from the public system and promote private schools at the expense of public schools.”

Parental rights

The province’s Catholic bishops had their say in the altercation, reported the Ottawa Citizen newspaper on Sept. 10. “The public funding of Catholic schools recognizes that parents have the right to make educational choices for their children, and that the state should assist them,” said a statement issued by Bishop James Wingle, head of the Diocese of St. Catharines and president of the Ontario conference of bishops.

“The primacy of parental rights in education is a value which should be realized not only by Catholic parents, but also by others,” the prelates’ continued.

The bishops also stated that they “respect and support the wishes of parents in other faith communities for religion education in the public school system or for alternative schools which reflect their beliefs and values.”

Faith-based education was also criticized in England recently, by columnist Zoe Williams, in a commentary written Sept. 19 for the Guardian. Her article came after the decision of Catholic schools in Northern Ireland to disband their support groups for Amnesty International, owing to its adoption of a pro-abortion stance.

Williams accused Christians of “prosecuting an agenda that is repugnant,” through their schools and argued that they should not receive any public funds.

Times opinion columnist Alice Miles previously expressed similar sentiments. In a May 23 article, she accused the middle classes of using the faith schools “as a barely covert form of social and academic selection.”

Selecting on belief

Schools run by Anglicans or the Catholic Church, Miles argued, should not be allowed to select pupils on the basis of belief, but should simply accept anyone who applies to enter.

The question of using religious criteria to select pupils also came up recently in Ireland, reported the Irish Times newspaper on Sept. 15.

Replying to criticisms of Catholic schools, Bishop Leo O’Reilly, chairman of the Irish bishops’ education commission, said that the schools were founded by the Church to provide a Catholic education for its members.

Parents have a right to have their children educated in Catholic schools, and having contributed through taxes to fund public education, it is not unfair that the faith schools receive government funds, argued Bishop O’Reilly.

The right of parents to choose what sort of education they wish for their children, he added, is supported by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as the European Convention on Human Rights.

Shortly afterward, Archbishop Sean Brady of Armagh spoke about the topic of faith schools in a speech given Sept. 21 for the launch in Belfast of a Web site for the Consultative Group on Catholic Education.

At a time of moral confusion, he argued, Catholic education defends the dignity of the human person and offers a set of values based on the Gospel.

Labeling such an education as divisive is simply not the truth, Archbishop Brady maintained. “Reconciliation, love of neighbor, respect for difference: These values are intrinsic to Catholic education because they are intrinsic to the message of Jesus,” he said.

“We do not abandon children to the ‘whatever you think yourself’ approach to morality so often associated with a purely secular or state-based education often found in other countries,” the archbishop added.

Catholic values

The advantages of a Catholic education were enough to persuade even an atheist to make a large donation, as an article posted May 23 on Bloomberg.com explained. Retired hedge-fund manager Robert W. Wilson announced he was giving $22.5 million to the Archdiocese of New York to fund a scholarship program for needy inner city students attending Catholic schools.

“Let’s face it, without the Roman Catholic Church, there would be no Western civilization,” Wilson said.

Nevertheless, Catholic schools face trials in some areas. In Washington, D.C., Archbishop Donald Wuerl is proposing to convert eight out of the 28 Catholic schools into charter schools, due to financial pressures, reported the Washington Post on Sept. 8.

The plan means the schools lose their religious identity, as they would be run by a secular body. Archbishop Wuerl said this was the only way to continue providing education for many low-income families.

Chicago is also facing a time of transition, as an article published Sept. 11 in the Chicago Tribune newspaper reported. Chicago’s Catholic schools educate 98,000 students, but responsibility for this task now depends on laypeople instead of members of religious orders.

Citing data from the National Catholic Education Association, the article noted that while in the 1950s about 90% of the Catholic teaching staff was made up of religious brothers and sisters. Today, there are only 206 religious teaching in Chicago’s Catholic schools, or 4% of the staff.

Numbers up

Meanwhile, Catholic schools in Australia face a different kind of situation. Private schools, many of them Catholic, are flourishing. An article published Feb. 27 by the Australian Associated Press reported that the number of students at independent and Catholic schools had risen by 21.5% since 1996.

Over the same period, numbers in government schools increased by just 1.2%. By the end of last year, 66.8% of Australia’s 3.36 million full-time school students went to government schools, down from 70.7% in 1996.

In spite of the numerical success there are concerns over the Catholic identity of the Church schools. On Aug. 8 the bishops of New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory issued a statement titled “Catholic Schools at a Crossroads.”

In it, they observed that over the past two decades the proportion of children in their schools from non-practicing Catholic families has risen considerably. As well, enrollments from non-Catholics have more than doubled to 20% from 9%.

The bishops urged school leaders to study how to maximize enrollment of Catholic students and also to work in order to maintain the religious identity of their institutions. The document recommended a greater space for prayer and liturgy, along with sound religious education. Maintaining the Catholic identity of schools in clearly no easy task in today’s world.



Religion’s Role in International Society

By Father John Flynn, L.C.

ROME, SEPT. 16, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Amid the clatter of popular books attacking religion, one of the more frequent accusations made is that faith is guilty of fomenting political conflict. Clearly, it can’t be denied that religion is sometimes a factor in provoking dissension. On the other hand, it can also be powerful force for good both in national and international politics. 

A study published in July by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), provides an interesting overview of the interplay between faith-related factors and the foreign policy of the United States. 

The report is titled, “Mixed Blessings: U.S. Government Engagement With Religion in Conflict-Prone Settings.” It starts by observing that faith-based groups have played a major role in determining U.S. foreign policy in countries such as Sudan and China. In addition, religiously motivated terrorists have threatened security, and the United States is also involved in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan, where religion is a critical factor. 

In spite of religion’s importance, in general there has been a failure to understand its role — a failing that has hampered U.S. policy, the CSIS comments — even to the point of harming the country’s national security. 

These inadequacies stem from a variety of causes, according to the report. 

— Government officials are often reluctant to address the issue of religion. Many in the government see religion as a dangerous or divisive issue best left out of analysis. 

— Official frameworks for approaching religion are narrow, often approaching religions as problematic or monolithic forces, overemphasizing a terrorism-focused analysis of Islam and sometimes marginalizing religion as a peripheral humanitarian or cultural issue. 

— Institutional capacity to understand and approach religion is limited due to legal limitations, lack of religious expertise or training, and a lack of structures able to deal with religious groups and leaders. 

Peace and conflict 

The bulk of the report is dedicated to analyzing how the U.S. government deals with religion in its foreign relations. Nevertheless, it also deals with questions related to religion as a source of, or a solution to, strife. 

Religion, the report points out, can be an aggravating factor in conflicts in a number of ways. These include provoking strife between different faith communities, repressing minority religious groups, and conflict between the government and religious groups over control of the state. 

On the positive side, the CSIS argues that religious groups and leaders can often be effective diplomats due to their credibility with local communities. This can give them what the report terms a “unique leverage for promoting reconciliation among conflicting parties.” A case in point cited by the study is the faith-based Community of Sant’Egidio, which played an effective part in resolving conflict in Mozambique. 

In addition, religion can help to heal persons and communities after conflicts are over and provide a place where both grievances and discussions on how to achieve greater tolerance can be held. 

Another way in which religion contributes to communities is through helping the poor. The charitable works carried out by many faith communities often play a vital role in developing nations. The report noted, for example that more than half of the hospitals operating in Africa are run by faith-based organizations. 

In some countries U.S. government agencies provide aid in partnership with religious groups. A further example of working together comes from Burundi, where a U.S. agency worked with Catholic Relief Services to encourage the establishment of a peace and reconciliation commission comprising members of various ethnic and religious orientations. 

So far almost all the government aid has been channeled through Christian groups. Of the $1.7 billion identified going to faith-based organizations from 2001 to 2005, 98% went to Christian organizations. 

Spiritual perspective 

Another look at the relationship between religion and U.S. foreign policy came in an article published in the May 14 issue of the Weekly Standard magazine. John J. Dilulio Jr., who for a period in 2001 was the first director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, titled his essay “Spiritualpolitique.” 

From Brazil to Belize and Beirut to Boston, he commented, “religion in over a hundred forms and in a thousand different ways has outlived ‘modernity’ and ‘postmodernity.'” 

Dilulio explained that by the term “spiritualpolitique,” he means a view of religion that takes into account its significant power to shape politics within and among nations. It also means understanding religion not as something portrayed as being in conflict with modernity, but as something preached and practiced by many people. 

Even in stable democracies we need to realize, Dilulio commented, that religious differences play an important role. In countries where democracy and constitutional rule are still in the process of formation, religion can be a complicating factor in achieving national unity. 

Therefore, he recommended that government officials should wake up and pay a lot more attention to the role of religion and its impact on global politics. 

Religion in action 

A broader consideration of religion’s impact on conflicts came in a book published earlier this year titled: “Peacemakers in Action: Profiles of Religion in Conflict Resolution.” The book, a series of essays edited by David Little, is dedicated to a number of case studies of religious figures who have helped to promote peace. 

A useful concluding chapter by Little draws together some conclusions that can be deduced from the book’s profiles. He urges readers to avoid two oversimplifications. The first is that religion can best be seen as violence, or clashes of civilization. The second is that “good” religion always brings peace. 

A number of the testimonies in the book give eloquent testimony that contradicts the first oversimplification, Little points out. Moreover, religion is only one among a whole series of factors that are present in causing violent conflicts. 

The second affirmation is also unsustainable, Little adds. The experience in situations such as the warfare following the break-up of Yugoslavia demonstrate that religion, and even the clergy themselves, can inflame hostilities. 

Little then lists a series of lessons that can be drawn from the book’s case studies, some of which are: 

— Religion neither causes violence by itself, nor, by contrast, is it without influence, particularly in its extremist form, on the course and character of violence. 

— Religion is not just a source of violent conflict, but also a source of peace. 

— Proper religion exhibits a preference for pursuing peace by non-violent means and for combining the promotion of peace with the promotion of justice. 

— Religion dedicated to promoting justice and peace by peaceful means often prompts a hostile and violent response, at least in the short run. 

Faith and peace 

Looking at the religious figures presented in the book, Little comments that their beliefs provided an important foundation for the task they took on of promoting peace. They drew vision, motivation and perseverance from the theological traditions of their faith. 

Religion can also play a part in helping build institutions that will increase and sustain social harmony and civil unity. As well, nongovernmental groups and individuals can foment an environment conducive to peace and to negotiations for resolving conflicts. 

Benedict XVI addressed the relationship between religious belief and peace in his message for this year’s World Day of Peace, celebrated by the Church in Jan. 1. He termed as “unacceptable” those conceptions of God that encourage intolerance and violence (No. 10). War in God’s name is never acceptable, the Pontiff warned. 

“Let every Christian be committed to tireless peace-making and strenuous defense of the dignity of the human person and his inalienable rights,” he urged in the conclusion of his message. An appeal that should find an answer in the hearts of all believers. 



The Vital Role of Spiritual Values

By Father John Flynn, L.C.

ROME, JULY 29, 2007 (Zenit.org).- The intersection between religion and politics continues to provide ample cause for debate, with contentious issues in the areas of bioethics, family policy and social justice. While some insist that religion should have no place in politics, a book published last year proposed that a pluralistic democratic society is in need of faith and religious arguments in public debate.

Brendan Sweetman explained his position in “Why Politics Needs Religion: The Place of Religious Arguments in the Public Square” (InterVarsity Press). Sweetman, a professor of philosophy at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Missouri, is convinced that attempts to remove religion from politics are based on a misunderstanding of modern pluralism.

Sweetman starts with an explanation of what he terms “worldviews” that underpin our concept of reality, the nature of human persons, and moral and political values. A wide variety of these worldviews exist, some of them purely secular, others that are based on religion. 

Proponents of secularism, the book explains, wish to exclude worldviews founded on religion because they are supposedly based on sources that are not reliable or are irrational. In a pluralistic society is it not sustainable, according to secularists, to introduce religious arguments because this is imposing elements of a religion on others who do not share these beliefs.

Rational

Sweetman quickly points out, however, such a position ignores the substantial part that reason plays in religion. Sweetman, who early on in the book declares his Catholic faith, cites the example of Pope John Paul II’s encyclical “Evangelium Vitae,” which contained a lengthy explanation on rational grounds for opposing abortion. 

“The secularist conveniently ignores the issue of the rationality of religious belief, or superficially denies that religious belief can be rational, or fails to compare the rationality of religious belief with that of secularist beliefs,” Sweetman argues.

It is time, he proposes, that we move away from the view that religion is somehow a synonym for irrational. The religious view of the world in general, Sweetman maintains, has nothing to fear from rational scrutiny.

The book also maintains that religion should not be considered as some kind of threat to democracy; on the contrary it can make a valuable contribution to public debates. For a society to be truly democratic it should take into account the worldviews of its members and allow them to participate by adding their voice, it says.

Religion can also make a valuable contribution to discussions on human rights, political values and the concept we have of the human person, Sweetman adds. 

He admits that religions do not always live up to the beliefs they proclaim, and that there is often disagreement among religions on moral, social and political matters. Moreover, not all elements of religion are suitable in terms of providing guidance for public policy, and Sweetman also explains that he is not claiming that all religious beliefs are rational. 

The religious worldview does, however, have a valid contribution to make and it deserves a hearing. In fact, suppressing a religious worldview without any chance of a public debate being held on the arguments it proposes is a violation of democratic principles.

One objection raised by secularists, Sweetman notes, is the argument that religion introduces division and dogmatism, or even violence, into the political arena. It is true that religion can divide, Sweetman admits, but this is equally true of purely secular-founded arguments. The 20th century provides abundant examples of excesses committed in the name of secular ideologies.

Catholics in action

A series of recommendations over religion’s role in politics came last year in the form of a question-and-answer booklet authored by the Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix, Arizona. In his pamphlet, “Catholics in the Public Square,” published by Basilica Press, he recommends the faithful to be respectful of the beliefs of others, or of those who have no faith.

At the same time, however, “Catholics should not be afraid to embrace their identity or to put their faith into practice in public life.”

The Church, Bishop Olmsted continues, does not seek to impose its doctrine on others. It is, nevertheless, legitimately concerned about the common good, the promotion of justice and the welfare of society.

There is, unfortunately, he observes, discrimination against people of faith, and especially Catholics when they express their views in public debates. Not only is there misrepresentation of what Catholic view are, but there is also outright hostility to people of any faith.

“Nonetheless, it is our duty to engage the culture, not run from it,” Bishop Olmsted comments. People of faith, like others, have every right to bring their views and beliefs into public.

Basic values

Another recent contribution to the theme of religion’s role in politics came from Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl. On April 13 he spoke at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast.

In recent years there has been a weakening of support in public opinion for the role of basic religious values as a support for laws and public policy, the archbishop commented. Instead of values that are common to many faiths there are increasing calls for purely secular justifications of governmental policy.

Archbishop Wuerl argued that this tendency is contrary to the prevailing views of America’s founders. There is one common principle in the American political experience, he maintained: “The belief in the binding character of moral law is fundamental to any understanding of American thought.”

Catholic thought is in agreement, the archbishop continued. He noted that the Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of the importance of the natural moral law and how the commandments are privileged expressions of the natural law.

“Religious faith has played and continues to play a significant role in promoting social justice issues as it does in defending all innocent human life,” the archbishop explained. Faith, he added, helps us to see our life and to judge right and wrong according to God’s wisdom.

Schizophrenic approach

Moreover, Archbishop Wuerl emphasized, attempting to separate morality and political life, or spiritual values from human values, is “a schizophrenic approach to life,” that only brings “devastation to the person and to society.”

“The secular model is not sufficient to sustain a true reflection on human action capable of giving guidance that is faithful to a life-giving understanding of human nature,” he concluded.

That argument is also frequently made by Benedict XVI. One of his most recent interventions on the need for faith and moral values in politics and society came in his July 5 speech to a group of bishops from the Dominican Republic, in Rome for their five-yearly visit.

It is the role of laypeople to work and act directly in constructing the temporal order, the Pope noted. Nevertheless, they need to be guided in this by the light of the Gospel and Christian love. 

Christians who are active on the public sphere should, the Pontiff recommended, give public testimony to their faith and not live two parallel lives: one which is spiritual; and another which is secular, dedicated to their participation in social, political and cultural activities. 

Instead, the Pope urged, they should strive for coherence between their lives and their faith, thus providing an eloquent testimony of the truth of the Christian message. A coherence only too often lacking among many active in public life.

“Role of the Lay Faithful”
NASHVILLE, Tennessee, AUG. 18, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is the text of Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone’s Aug. 8 keynote address at the annual convention of the Knights of Columbus.

The text is provided by the Knights of Columbus.

* * *

Celebrating 125 years of Faith in Action: Witnessing to the ‘Yes’ of Jesus Christ

Address of His Eminence Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone, S.D.B.
Secretary of State of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
August 8, 2007 
Knights of Columbus 125th Supreme Convention

First of all, allow me once again to express my sincere gratitude to Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson and fellow Knights for the invitation to visit Nashville for this historic 125th Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus. I am honored by the opportunity to address all of you this evening on a topic as dear to me as it is to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI: “Faith in Action: Witnessing to the ‘Yes’ of Jesus Christ.”

This evening, I will reflect on the importance of this “Yes” for the Church’s lay faithful. I will indicate some of the primary characteristics of the lay vocation within the Church and in society at large, and I will point to a few particular challenges facing the laity today.

Both in his work as a theologian and now in his ministry as the successor of Peter, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI has repeatedly drawn attention to the distinctive and irreplaceable role of the laity in the renewal of the Church’s mission in the modern world. At 78 years of age, Pope Benedict said “Yes” to his brother cardinals, to the Church, and to the Holy Spirit when he was asked to accept the Petrine ministry after the long and remarkable reign of the Servant of God, Pope John Paul II. The Holy Father’s willingness to assume pastoral duties as Chief Shepherd of the universal Church bore witness to the fundamental attitude required of every Christian — Pope, Bishop, priest, consecrated, or lay person; it is the disposition exemplified in our Lady’s humble but sure response to the Lord’s heavenly messenger in Nazareth: “Fiat!” — “Yes!”

The “Yes!” of Faith in Jesus Christ

But what exactly is the essence of this “Yes”? More specifically, how is one to live it out as a member of the laity?

In regard to the first question, this “Yes” is quite simply the “Yes” of faith. It is our full, unmitigated acceptance of Jesus as Lord and our commitment to follow him as master and teacher. Indeed, the word “Yes” only makes sense within the context of a dialog between two persons: someone who utters the “Yes” and someone who accepts it. In the case of faith, the person to whom we utter this “Yes” is none other than the Son of God, the Anointed One, the Eternal Word made flesh. Pope Benedict has emphasized the critical need for each of us to encounter Jesus; more importantly, he has shown and continues to show — both in his words and through his life — that true fulfilment, joy, and lasting peace can only be found by saying “Yes” to God’s plan of salvation as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. Only in intimate communication with the incarnate Son of God do we discover the grace to “put our faith into action.”

Your founder Father Michael McGivney was prophetic — indeed, well ahead of his time — in that he clearly understood that this complete and total “Yes” to Christ was in no way exclusive to those who received holy orders or had taken religious vows. On the contrary, it is a “Yes” required of every man and every woman.

As a young curate at Saint Mary’s Church in New Haven, Father McGivney became keenly aware of the laity’s need to be actively and fully engaged in the life of the Church by exercising virtue, cultivating prayer, and caring for others. He had a deep appreciation for the special characteristics of the lay vocation as being thoroughly immersed in the spheres of the family, civil society, and public life. He made it his goal to develop practical ways of ensuring that faith could be put into concrete action: especially by providing for the material needs of orphans, widows, the imprisoned, alcoholics, the unemployed, and the destitute.

However, it is sometimes easy to forget that Father McGivney’s conviction was based on an even more fundamental insight: namely, that our concern for the needy and our perseverance in charitable works will eventually become attenuated and deprived of their deeper meaning if they are not rooted in faith — faith understood as the indwelling of Holy Trinity in our hearts through divine grace as we renew our “Yes” each day to the person of Jesus Christ.

Faith and Love

This is precisely the message Pope Benedict XVI conveys through his Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est. When asked why he devoted his first Encyclical to the theme of love, he replied that he wished to manifest the humanity of the faith. Only by living the life of faith — that is, only by deeply immersing ourselves in the love and mercy of God as revealed in Jesus Christ — are we able to love and forgive our neighbor as ourselves. When it comes to living this faith in the midst of an increasingly complex and contradictory world, no one knows more about the obstacles and challenges that can so easily discourage us than the Church’s laity. Whether in family life, in the workplace, or in the public square, lay persons are continually tempted to compromise their “Yes” to God by diluting Gospel values and by placing limits or conditions on love of neighbor.

The Holy Father underlined the unique challenges posed by the contemporary world to the lay vocation during his Pastoral Visit to Brazil. Noting that America is a “continent of baptized Christians,” he asserted that “it is time to overcome the notable absence — in the political sphere, in the world of the media and in the universities — of the voices and initiatives of Catholic leaders with strong personalities and generous dedication, who are coherent in their ethical and religious convictions.” The Pope insisted strongly that it is necessary for Christians who are active in these social and cultural milieus to strive to safeguard ethical values. Above all, he said, “Where God is absent — God with the human face of Jesus Christ — these values fail to show themselves with their full force, nor does a consensus arise concerning them. I do not mean that non-believers cannot live a lofty and exemplary morality; I am only saying that a society in which God is absent will not find the necessary consensus on moral values or the strength to live according to the model of these values, even when they are in conflict with private interests.”[1] In short, being a Catholic in the world today takes courage; yet it takes no more courage than it did when Jesus called his first disciples in Galilee.

The role of the lay faithful: Vatican II and Benedict XVI

The Holy Father frames his teaching on the role of the laity within the context of the Second Vatican Council, and interweaves it in an unbroken line with the teaching of Pope John Paul II. The guiding principle is always the same: namely the “universal call to holiness.”[2]

“It is quite clear,” the Council fathers teach us, “that all Christians in whatever state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity.”[3] Insofar as it is a call to holiness, the call to the lay state is no less a “vocation” than that of the priesthood or religious life. It has its own distinctive nature, which is absolutely essential to the healthy, overall functioning of the Body of Christ, the Church.[4] Lumen Gentium explains: “It is the special vocation of the laity to seek the Kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God’s will.”[5]

Clearly, if lay persons are to “carry out” and “develop” temporal matters according to “Christ’s way,”[6] they must first know Christ. They must take seriously Saint Paul’s exhortation to have “the mind of Christ.”[7] This vision of the Church as proposed by Saint Paul and elaborated by the Second Vatican Council demands not only our active engagement with the world, but primarily our active engagement with the person of Jesus. Otherwise, we can easily fall into the trap of confusing the way of Christ with the ways of the world.[8]

Through Christ’s passion, death, resurrection and ascension, he has renewed the face of the earth; but — as is evident in the words he speaks in the Gospel of Saint John — the “world” still “has not known” Christ, and in fact often “hates” Christ.[9] It is no surprise then that Christians often encounter resistance, opposition, and even persecution in the world. Pope Benedict reminds us that the only possible response for a Christian in the face of rejection is love — a response made possible for us through the grace of Christ. Because God’s very existence is love,[10] love is the very essence of the Christian life.[11] The universal call to holiness is about patiently, deliberately, and “programmatically” sharing this love with the world.[12] It is for this reason that the metaphor of “leaven” — used by our Lord and adopted at the Second Vatican Council[13] — so aptly describes the concrete reality of living as a Christian in this world: the work of Christians is often hidden, but nonetheless steady and consistent, causing the entire dough to rise.

“The Church sets out with humility on her journey, between the sorrows of this world and the glory of the Lord. On this journey, we will need to grow in patience.” Nevertheless, as the Holy Father noted, “the Catholic Church grows in every century. Today too, the presence of the Crucified and Risen Lord is growing. He still has his wounds, yet it is precisely through his wounds that he renews the world, giving that breath which also renews the Church despite our poverty…In this combination of the humility of the Cross and the joy of the Risen Lord…we can go ahead joyfully, filled with hope.”[14]

Enthusiasm and boldness, filled with hope, have always been characteristic of the Knights of Columbus, and this will no doubt remain at the heart of their apostolate in the future.

Cooperation in the Church: A Challenge and an Opportunity

I would like to pause for a moment to reflect on this point. Our integral and persuasive witness to the truth of the Gospel depends heavily on the ability of Bishops, priests, deacons, religious and laity to work together for the spread of God’s Kingdom by acknowledging the distinctive role of each vocation within the Body of Christ. For the Knights of Columbus, perhaps this is most clearly evident at the parish level. How wonderful it is to behold the pastor, the local council of Knights, and the rest of the parish mutually supporting one another as they each exercise their unique forms of service for the building up of the local community!

During your time together at this 125th Supreme Convention, I would invite you to encourage and inspire one another by sharing experiences and ideas of how to facilitate effective cooperation between yourselves, your Bishops, your pastors, members of the parish staff, and the civic communities in which you live and work. If your local community is suffering from the wounds of division, be they large or small, take the opportunity to deepen your cohesion, since when this is lacking in a parish family or a local Church, the ability to witness to Christ in the larger society is weakened. At such times, prayer and faith are all the more essential to bring about healing and reconciliation. Pope Benedict writes: “the Spirit is…the energy which transforms the heart of the ecclesial community, so that it becomes a witness before the world to the love of the Father, who wishes to make humanity a single family in his Son.”[15]

Benedict XVI’s Pauline Vision of the Church

On June 28th — the eve of the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul — Pope Benedict announced the opening of a special Jubilee year commemorating the bimillenary of Saint Paul’s birth. Over the next year, the Church will reflect on the life and writings of this great “Apostle to the Gentiles.”[16]

In fact, the vivid images Paul uses to describe the Church — both at the local and universal level — have always been very dear to His Holiness. He employs them often in more informal discussions with clergy and laity.

For example, in responding to a question addressed to him during an audience with members of the clergy of the Diocese of Rome, the Holy Father recently said: “The Church, though a body, is the body of Christ and therefore a spiritual body, as Saint Paul teaches. This seems extremely important to me: that people will be able to see the Church not as a super-national organization, not as an administrative body or means for power and domination, not as a social agency — even though she carries out a social and ‘supra-national’ mission — but rather as a spiritual body.[17]

Pope Benedict is not only a man of deep theological wisdom; he also brings to the Petrine ministry extensive pastoral experience. He has no illusions about the serious challenges confronting local ecclesial communities today.

One such challenge is the tendency to focus too narrowly on the administrative, bureaucratic, and financial aspects of parish and diocesan life. Not that these are unimportant — on the contrary! However, we end up viewing worldly realities through a distorted lens if we fail to see them with the eyes of Christ. We can only be prudent stewards of worldly goods if we freely subject them to the good of eternal life.

Every concrete method and strategy taught and promoted by Father McGivney in the public square was aimed at the good of the human person destined for eternal life. Father McGivney’s legacy lives on today in the Knights’ continuing effort to keep themselves — and others — informed about complex issues regarding human life, justice, freedom, and the common good.

Friendship and Joy: The Key to Understanding Pope Benedict XVI

Finally, I must say a word about two recurring themes in Pope Benedict’s teaching which are absolutely essential for the “animation” of “the entire lives of the lay faithful”: friendship and joy. These, I believe, are the keys for grasping Pope Benedict’s thought on what it means to translate faith into action.

The words “friendship” and “joy” echo continuously throughout his preaching, especially when he addresses himself to young people as they prepare to gather for the 2008 World Youth Day in Sydney. According to Pope Benedict, “friendship” and “joy” have God as their primary reference. The Holy Father never tires of reminding us that God is near, that he is our friend, and that he is constantly speaking to us about the most essential things in life. He accompanies us on our journey through this life, in our joys and sorrows, and — as a Good Shepherd who cares only for his flock — he never abandons us.

At the 2005 World Youth Day in Cologne, His Holiness said this to the young people present: “A true revolution can take place only by radically turning to God without reserve; he alone is the measure of all that is just, while at the same time existing as love eternal. And what could possibly save us if not love?”

Love is the source of the Holy Father’s inspiration in all that he undertakes, and especially in his commitment to dialogue. He has spoken with countless lay persons, listening attentively to their practical ways of reasoning. He truly follows the agenda he set for himself at the beginning of his pontificate: “My true program for governing the Church is not to carry out my own will or pursue my own ideas, but to place myself together with the entire Church in listening to the Word of the Lord, discerning his will, and allowing myself be led by him, because he alone will guide the Church through this phase of history.”[18]

The Holy Father always teaches with clarity and precision, and with a spirit of humility and encouragement. He wants everyone to understand how beautiful and fulfilling it is to be a Christian, to experience a personal, living encounter with a life-changing “event,” to meet the One who opens a whole new horizon and gives life a new, decisive direction. It is precisely for this reason that even the commandments are never too burdensome for us if we are abiding with Christ.

In his first public interview after having been elected Pope, the Holy Father summarized his deepest wish, both for young people and for the entire world:

“I want them to understand that it is beautiful to be a Christian! The generally prevailing idea is that Christians have to observe an immense number of commandments, prohibitions, precepts, and other such restrictions, so that Christianity is a heavy and oppressive way of living, and it would therefore be more liberating to live without all these burdens. But I would like to make it clear that to be sustained by this great Love and God’s sublime revelation is not a burden, but rather a set of wings — that it is truly beautiful to be a Christian. It is an experience that gives us room to breathe and move, but most of all, it places us within a community since, as Christians, we are never alone: first of all, there is God, who is always with us; secondly, we are always forming a great community among ourselves: a community of people together on a journey, a community with a project for the future. All of this means that we are empowered to live a life worth living. This is the joy of being a Christian; that it is beautiful and right to believe!”[19]

Indeed, how beautiful it is to believe, for to believe is to say “Yes” to Christ; and to say “Yes” to Christ is to bear witness to our faith in action. My dear Knights of Columbus, may you always remain men firmly committed to this “Yes” — “Yes” to your families, to your Church, and to your communities — but most importantly, to Christ who is the “Yes” to all our hopes and desires. God bless you all.

— — —

[1] Papal Address at the Inaugural Session of the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean (Sunday, 13 May 2007).

[2] Lumen Gentium, 39.

[3] Lumen Gentium, 40; Cf. Romans 8:28-30.

[4] Cf. Romans 12:4-5

[5] Lumen Gentium, 31.

[6] Ibid.

[7] 1 Cor. 2:16. Cf. Phil. 4:7.

[8] Matthew 7:13-14. Cf. Deut. 30:15-20; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1696.

[9] Cf. John 15:18; 1 John 3:13; Matthew 10:22 and 24:9.

[10] 1 John 4:8.

[11] John 13:34-35; 1 Cor. 13:13.

[12] Cf. Deus Caritas Est, 31.

[13] Luke 13:20-21; Lumen Gentium, 31. Cf. Matthew 13:33; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2832.

[14] Cf. The Holy Father’s Address to the Clergy of Belluno-Feltre and Treviso at Auronzo di Cadore (Wednesday 25 July 2007).

[15] Deus Caritas Est, 19.

[16] See Pope Benedict XVI’s Homily for the Celebration of First Vespers of the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul given at the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside-the-Walls (28 June 2007).

[17] Response to a question addressed to Pope Benedict XVI during an audience with the priests of the Diocese of Rome (22 February 2007).

[18] Homily (24 April 2005).

[19] Interview with E. von Gemmingen, the head of the German section of Vatican Radio (15 August 2005).