The Year of Faith, declared by Pope Benedict is a "summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the One Savior of the world" (Porta fidei 6). Throughout the Year of Faith, Catholics are being urged to study and reflect on the documents of Vatican II and the Catechism of the Catholic Church so that they may deepen their knowledge of the faith.
One of the great documents of Vatican II was the 1965 Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. "The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts."(GS 1)
As the Constitution unfolds, the Council Fathers go on to point out that: "Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, or wilful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where people are treated as mere instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others like them are infamies indeed. They poison human society, and they do more harm to those who practise them than to those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonour to the Creator" (GS27)
Following the Council, and responding to Pope Paul VI's encyclical letter Populorum Progressio, the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace was established in 1967 by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. Development is the new word for Peace. It must be built daily, and it must strive towards a more perfect justice among human beings.
Extreme poverty is an enemy of authentic human development. Pope Benedict has pointed out: "The risk for our time is that the de facto interdependence of people and nations is not matched by ethical interaction of consciences and minds that would give rise to truly human development." (Caritas in Veritate 9)
It was regrettable, but not particularly surprising, that last month Don Cherry, of CBC Coach's Corner would twitter: "Maybe its just me. But Canada gave Haiti 49.5 million dollars last year. Are we nuts?'" Even International Cooperation Minister Julian Fantino mused about freezing aid to Haiti. But subsequently, he had to clarify his remarks: "While the results of specific projects have largely met expectations, progress towards a self-sustaining Haitian society has been limited.... However, we remain concerned with the slow progress of development in Haiti, in large part due to weakness in their governing institutions."
Despite the prophets of gloom and doom, things have changed in Haiti, especially in Port-au-Prince, even if it is as simple as the absence in the streets of the tons of rubble and debris left behind by the earthquake. Nevertheless, many people are still living in tents in appalling poverty and very precarious conditions.
Furthermore, many international organizations that went to Haiti with large sums have already left. They were mainly present during the emergency phase, but some have been absent during the reconstruction phase.
Nevertheless, it is enlightening to juxtapose certain texts from Pope Benedict's Caritas in Veritate with the interview answers assessing the situation given by Jean-Claude Jean, manager of the Development and Peace office in Haiti. (The interview is posted on the CCODP web site).
Pope Benedict - "Feeding the hungry is an ethical imperative ... and a requirement for safeguarding the peace and stability of the planet." (CV27) And that doesn't just mean food aid-but also a long-term perspective for dealing with food security, "respectful of the environment and attentive to the needs of the most deprived peoples."(CV26).
Jean Claude Jean - Haiti is a poor country and we think it is important to support the most vulnerable with initiatives aimed at promoting food sovereignty. For example, we are working in partnership with the Papaye Peasants' Movement, one of our partners for more than 25 years, on farming techniques, diversifying crops for consumption and sale, and the distribution of ingredients, such as fertilizers, to improve the productivity of the soil.
Pope Benedict - "I would like to remind everyone, especially governments...., that the primary captial to be safeguarded and valued is man, the human person in his or her integrity. The human person is the source, the focus and the aim of alle economic and social life." (25)
Jean Claude Jean - We are emphasizing justice and human rights during this reconstruction phase, because to strengthen these would constitute a fundamental change for Haitian democracy..... The reconstruction projects were designed based on the model of housing cooperatives found in Montreal, which enables families to manage their own environment. The idea is to build permanent homes in the Gressier area (a commune neighboring L'ogane that was at the earthquake's epicentre) and especially in places where families lived before the earthquake, so as not to uproot them in artificial villages ....The projects have been planned by local organizations directly representing the people. Moreover, the people involved do not want to be called "beneficiaries" of this project, but rather "partners!".... We apply Canadian building codes and, in particular, earthquake-resistant regulations because there are no public standards imposed by the Haitian government.
People tend to say that there is no hope in Haiti, that everyone is discouraged, but when you consider the will of the Haitian people and some of the reconstruction results and long term perspective of CCODP, there is ample reason for hope.
☩ Frederick Henry
In 1968 Pope Paul VI addressed the issue of contraception and warned that the widespread use of contraception would lead to "conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality"; that man would lose respect for woman and "no longer care for her physical and psychological equilibrium"; rather, man would treat woman as a "mere instrument of selfish enjoyment, and no longer as his respected and beloved companion" and "the coercive use of reproductive technologies by governments."
Humanae Vitae may be the most prophetic and the most ignored encyclical of our era. Although many have criticized the document, in my experience, most have not read it.
It is also ironical that many social scientists, not necessarily Christian, nor political or social conservatives, but simply honest investigators willing to follow the data wherever it may lead, are confirming the dire social and moral consequences of the separation of sex and procreation.
Some rereading and rethinking is in order.
Pope Benedict XVI recently commented: "The truth expressed in Humanae Vitae does not change: on the contrary, precisely in the light of the new scientific discoveries, its teaching becomes more timely and elicits reflection on the intrinsic value it possesses. The key word to enter coherently into its contents remains 'love'... Man is truly himself when his body and soul are intimately united ... Yet it is neither the spirit alone nor the body alone that loves: it is man, the person, a unified creature composed of body and soul, who loves. If this unity is removed, the value of the person is lost and there is a serious risk of considering the body a commodity that can be bought or sold. In a culture subjected to the prevalence of "having over being," human life risks losing its value. If the practice of sexuality becomes a drug that seeks to enslave one's partner to one's own desires and interests, without respecting the cycle of the beloved, then what must be defended is no longer solely the true concept of love but in the first place the dignity of the person. As believers, we could never let the domination of technology invalidate the quality of love and the sacredness of life."
The teaching of the encyclical is based on four points of Catholic doctrine:
- A total vision of the human person.
- The sacrament of marriage.
- Conjugal love and responsible parenthood.
- The Church's moral teaching on sexuality.
Paul VI clearly stated that the birth of each human person must be looked at in the light of a total or integral vision of the human person and of his or her vocation, not only the natural and earthly, but also the spiritual and eternal vocation. Each human person is created by God, redeemed by Christ Jesus and called to eternal union and glory with the Holy Trinity. That is our fundamental vocation, and all of our activity must be consistent with that vocation and directed toward its achievement. This vocation, or call from God, is also the source of our human dignity.
As Pope Paul VI told us, "Marriage is the wise institution of the Creator to realize in mankind his design of love." But marriage exists in the order of grace; it is a Christian sacrament. As the Second Vatican Council reminded us, each sacrament, like the Church itself, is a sign and instrument of union with God and with one another. The sacramental grace of marriage empowers the couple to carry God's grace to their children, their families and to the entire world.
Following closely the lines of Vatican II's Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Paul VI spoke of conjugal love, that special and unique love of husband and wife that binds them together for life in a relationship so close and so intimate that it profoundly influences their whole lives.
Paul VI went on to speak of conjugal love as "fully human," that is to say, a very special form of personal friendship, "faithful and exclusive," and "fecund," directed toward the begetting and education of children. Conjugal love includes and gives meaning to sexuality. Sexuality itself is not something purely biological, but concerns the innermost being of the human person as such.
This is all very difficult to accept in a world that sees sexuality primarily as a means of self-gratification, and legitimates every type of sexual behavior. Adultery, out-of-wedlock intercourse, homosexual activity and pornography separate sexual activity from love and marriage. The Church calls us to take a different and more ennobling view of conjugal love and of the sexual expression of that love reserved to married couples. Conjugal love is an all encompassing, interpersonal dynamic that constantly grows and becomes stronger and more binding. It requires of each spouse openness and generosity and a willingness to risk something of self in the interest of the conjugal relationship.
The expressions of conjugal love are myriad and to some degree particular to each couple. But virtually all married couples will acknowledge that consideration of the other person, understanding and encouragement are indications of and powerful sustainers of conjugal love. So too is sexual love, in which the couple engages in a deep and specially reserved interpersonal sharing and through which they become co-creators with God by bringing children into the world and building their own family.
The companion principle that Paul VI drew from Vatican II and affirmed in Humanae Vitae is responsible parenthood. Unfortunately this term has often been misinterpreted and seen primarily as justification for avoiding or rejecting childbearing. However, as described by Paul VI, the concept of responsible parenthood involves a number of elements: a free, informed, mutual decision by the couple regarding the frequency of births and size of the family, based on a conscientious assessment of their responsibilities to God, themselves, their children and family, and the society of which they are a part. This is enlightened by the authentic teaching of the Church's magisterium regarding the objective moral order and the licit methods of spacing or limiting pregnancies.
An important aspect of Humanae Vitae is the positive emphasis on children. Paul VI noted that marriage is important because it takes the couple beyond themselves and it reaches out to the bearing and education of children. Referring again to Vatican II, Pope Paul emphasized that "children really are the supreme gift of marriage and contribute very substantially to the welfare of their parents."
Having reviewed the Church's teaching, particularly as set forth by Vatican II, Paul VI then applied the principles to the act of marital intercourse and to the means of family planning. He affirmed the authentic and oft-repeated teaching of the magisterium that the act of sexual intercourse has two meanings, the unitive and the procreative. There is an "inseparable connection, willed by God and unable to be broken by man on his own initiative, between the two meanings." Consequently, "each and every marriage act must remain open to the transmission of human life ." That is the central teaching of Humanae Vitae and it is the precise point of confrontation for the encyclical. The unitive and procreative elements are meant by God to be balanced.
Paul VI recognized that not every act of intercourse would be a reproductive act and that couples could, and in some cases should, limit their marital embrace to those times when the woman is not fertile. In effect Paul VI gave strong endorsement to natural family planning, not as an escape hatch, but as part of the responsible dynamic of marriage and family life.
Paul VI recognized that this teaching would appear difficult to many people and incapable of ready acceptance by some. But he reminded us that it was possible if we called on God for his assistance and made every effort to see the spacing and limiting of births in the overall context of married life and love.
☩ Frederick Henry
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
It is customary for the media to conduct an exercise called “The Year in Review” in which the various personages, events and headline stories of the past year are recalled.
My favourite didn’t make the top ten.
In September, Buddhist monks and nuns took to the streets of Burma (Myanmar) to challenge the 20 year old rule of the brutal junta that had sunk the country further into poverty and repression. The monks were detained, tear-gassed, beaten and shot by the government troops, but the barefoot, saffron-robed religious continued their nonviolent march for democracy. They were joined by thousands of Burmese citizens who were inspired by the witness of the monks. As they walked through the streets, many carried banners reading “loving kindness”; and the monks and people chanted - “Do-aye” - “It is our task”.
In better times, monks and nuns - revered by the Burmese people as the country’s highest moral authority - walked through the streets carrying wooden begging bowls, collecting alms and donations. To place a gift in a monk’s bowl is considered making a spiritual gift. But during the pro-democracy demonstrations of the past year, the monks refused to accept alms from the members of the military, a refusal known as “turning over the rice bowl” that amounted to a gesture of excommunication. The message to the military: Your brutality and oppression have put you at odds with all that you should hold sacred. During their march, monks were seen holding their begging bowls upside down, the black lacquer surfaces reflecting the light.
Three days later, government forces began a ruthless crackdown and thousands of monks vanished.
By the quiet witness of their peaceful march, with the simple “weapon” of a bowl, the monks risked their lives to bring down a cruel reign of fear and replace it with something akin to the reign of God.
The events of this past year remind us that we are not living in""Camelot."" The lyrics of the ""Camelot"" speaks of an imaginary place where July and August cannot be too hot ... where winter is forbidden until December and exits March the second on the dot ... where the rain may never fall until after sundown and by eight the morning fog must disappear. In a repeated refrain the song tells us: ""In short, there's simply not a more congenial spot for happy ever-aftering than here in Camelot!""
We speak not of ""ever-aftering"" but of a God who has become flesh and blood, who enters a broken world, who helps the lowly here and now, a God of mercy and might who helps the oppressed and downtrodden.
Luke further emphasized this in his majestic beginning to the Gospel: ""In the fifteenth year of the rule of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was procurator of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, Philip his brother tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God was spoken to John, son of Zechariah in the desert.""
The purpose of this is not to tell us the exact date of the public life of Jesus but to make it clear that what is taking place is the coming of God into world history. This is not a little vignette about something that happened in a distant corner of the world. It is the turning point of history, the decisive entry of the kingdom within world history.
It would seem so much easier if God had never done this and instead had maintained his kingdom off somewhere else, like Camelot, and promised us a place in it after the world was destroyed, if only we passed the test. But God did not do that. The shaping of this world is part of the process of shaping the kingdom. “Gaudium et Spes” tells us: ""The word of God ... entered world history, taking that history into himself and recapitulating it. He reveals to us that ‘God is love’ and at the same time teaches that the transformation of the world is the new commandment of love"" (No. 38).
It is a strong kind of kingdom. “Gaudium et Spes” describes it in terms of ""a new earth in which righteousness dwells, whose happiness will fill and surpass all the desires of peace.... Then with death conquered the children of God will be raised in Christ and what was sown in weakness and dishonour will put on the imperishable: Charity and its works will remain and all of creation, which God made for us, will be set free from its bondage"" (No. 39). It is a kingdom that does not fit this world. Our king is Jesus, and he stands in sharp contrast to the cast of worldly leaders Luke gives us - Caesar and Pilate and Herod and the others.
Yet we must live this kingdom now, as though it were fully here even though it doesn't fit. We are to challenge others to do so even though it may seem foolish. Those who tell us to leave history alone and deal only with church matters miss the whole point of the incarnation and fail to understand the very nature of the church itself.
The world needs our quiet witness and peaceful march as we too carry banners that proclaim “loving kindness.”
Pope Benedict XVI in his recent encyclical - “On Christian Hope” - explores the dead ends and the true nature of hope and concludes his reflections with these words:
“Human life is a journey. Towards what destination? How do we find the way? Life is like a voyage on the sea of history, often dark and stormy, a voyage in which we watch for the stars that indicate the route. The true stars of our life are the people who have lived good lives. They are lights of hope. Certainly, Jesus Christ is the true light, the sun that has risen above all the shadows of history. But to reach him we also need lights close by—people who shine with his light and so guide us along our way. Who more than Mary could be a star of hope for us? With her “yes” she opened the door of our world to God himself; she became the living Ark of the Covenant, in whom God took flesh, became one of us, and pitched his tent among us (49).”
Wishing you all the best, I remain,
Sincerely yours in Christ,
☩ Frederick Henry