Sunday, March 29, 2015



Saint Peter's Square
24th World Youth Day
Sunday, 5 April 2009

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Dear Young People,

Together with a growing multitude of pilgrims, Jesus had gone up to Jerusalem for the Passover. In the final stage of the journey, near Jericho, he had healed blind Bartimaeus, who called upon him as Son of David, pleading for mercy. Now – having received his sight – he had gratefully joined the group of pilgrims. At the gates of Jerusalem, when Jesus sat upon a donkey, an animal symbolizing the Davidic kingship, there spontaneously arose among the pilgrims the joyful conviction: It is He, the Son of David! Accordingly, they greet Jesus with the messianic acclamation: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”, and they add: “Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is coming! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mk 11:9f.). We do not know exactly what the enthusiastic pilgrims imagined the coming kingdom of David would be like. But what about us, have we truly understood the message of Jesus, the Son of David? Have we grasped what is meant by the Kingdom of which He speaks during his interrogation with Pilate? Do we understand what it means to say that this Kingdom is not of this world? Or would we actually prefer that it were of this world?

In Saint John’s Gospel, after the account of the entry into Jerusalem, there follows a series of sayings in which Jesus explains the essential content of this new kind of Kingdom. On a first reading of these texts, we can distinguish three different images of the Kingdom in which the same mystery is reflected in a number of different ways. John recounts, first of all, that during the feast there were some Greeks among the pilgrims who “wanted to adore God” (cf. 12:20). Let us note the fact that the true intention of these pilgrims was to adore God. This corresponds perfectly to what Jesus says on the occasion of the cleansing of the Temple: “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations” (Mk 11:17). The true purpose of the pilgrimage must be that of encountering God; adoring him, and thus rightly ordering the fundamental relationship of our life. The Greeks are searching for God, their lives are a journey towards God. Now, through the two Greek-speaking Apostles, Philip and Andrew, they convey this request to the Lord: “We wish to see Jesus” (Jn 12:21). These are stirring words. Dear friends, we have gathered here for the same reason: we wish to see Jesus. With this end in view, thousands of young people travelled to Sydney last year. No doubt they will have had many different expectations in making this pilgrimage. But the essential objective was this: we wish to see Jesus.

Concerning this request, what did Jesus say and do at the time? It does not emerge clearly from the Gospel whether any meeting took place between those Greeks and Jesus. Jesus takes a much longer view. The essence of his response to those people’s request is this: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (Jn 12:24). In other words: what matters here is not a brief conversation with one or two people who then return home. I will come, like a grain of wheat that has died and is risen, in a manner that is totally new and beyond the limits of the moment, to encounter the world of the Greeks. Through the resurrection, Jesus surpasses the limits of space and time. As the Risen One, he is journeying towards the vast horizon of the world and of history. Yes indeed, as the Risen One he goes to the Greeks and speaks with them, he shows himself to them in such a way that they who are far away become near, and it is in their language, in their culture, that his word is carried forward in a new way and understood in a new way – his Kingdom comes. Thus we can recognize two essential characteristics of this Kingdom. The first is that it comes by way of the cross. Since Jesus gives himself completely, then as the Risen One he can belong to all and become present to all. In the holy Eucharist, we receive the fruit of the grain of wheat that died, the multiplication of the loaves that continues to the end of the world and throughout all time. The second characteristic is this: his Kingdom is universal. The ancient hope of Israel is fulfilled: this Davidic kingship no longer has boundaries. It extends “from sea to sea” – as the prophet Zechariah says (9:10) – in other words, it embraces the whole world. Yet this is possible only because it is not a kingship of political power, but is based solely on the free adherence of love – a love which, for its part, is a response to the love of Jesus Christ who gave himself for all. I think that above all we must learn these two things over and over again – universality and catholicity. This means that no-one can propose himself, his culture, his generation and his world as an absolute. It means that we all have to accept one another, renouncing something of ourselves. Universality includes the mystery of the cross – going beyond ourselves, obeying the communal word of Jesus Christ in the communal Church. Universality is always a transcending of ourselves, a renunciation of something that is ours. Universality and the cross go together. Only thus is peace created.

The saying about the grain of wheat that dies is still located within Jesus’ response to the Greeks, in fact it is his response. Then, however, he goes on to formulate once again the fundamental law of human existence: “He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (Jn 12:25). In other words, the one who wants to have his life for himself, living only for himself, keeping everything to himself and exploiting all its possibilities – is actually the one who loses his life. Life becomes boring and empty. Only by self-abandonment, only by the disinterested gift of the “I” in favour of the “you”, only in the “yes” to the greater life, the life of God, does our life also become broad and great. Thus this fundamental principle established by the Lord is ultimately identical to the principle of love. Love, in fact, means letting go of oneself, giving oneself, not wanting to possess oneself, but becoming free from oneself: not retiring into oneself – (what will become of me?) – but looking ahead, towards the other – towards God and towards the men that he sends to me. And once again, this principle of love, which defines man’s path, is identical to the mystery of the cross, to the mystery of death and resurrection that we encounter in Christ. Dear friends, perhaps it is relatively easy to accept this as the fundamental great vision of life. In practice, however, it is not a question of simply recognizing a principle, but of living according to the truth that it contains, the truth of the cross and resurrection. Hence, once again, a single great decision is not enough. It is certainly important, it is essential to dare to take the great fundamental decision once, to dare to utter the great “yes” that the Lord asks of us at a certain moment of our lives. But the great “yes” of the decisive moment in our life – the “yes” to the truth that the Lord puts before us – must then be won afresh every day in the situations of daily life when we have to abandon our “I” over and over again, placing ourselves at the Lord’s disposal when deep down we would prefer to cling to our “I”. An upright life always involves sacrifice, renunciation. To hold out the promise of a life without this constant re-giving of self, is to mislead. There is no such thing as a successful life without sacrifice. If I cast a glance back over my whole life, I have to say that it was precisely the moments when I said “yes” to renunciation that were the great and important moments of my life.

At the end of the passage, Saint John uses a modified form of Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Olives in his redaction of our Lord’s “Palm Sunday” sayings. First comes the statement: “my soul is troubled” (12:27). Here we see Jesus’ fear, amply illustrated by the other three evangelists – his fear before the power of death, before the whole abyss of evil that he sees and into which he must descend. The Lord suffers our fears together with us, he accompanies us through the final anguish into the light. Then, in John’s narrative, Jesus makes two petitions. The first, expressed only conditionally, is this: “What shall I say – Father, save me from this hour?” (12:27). As a human being, even Jesus feels impelled to ask that he be spared the terror of the passion. We too can pray in this way. We too can grumble before the Lord, like Job, we can present him with all the pleas that arise within us when we are faced with the injustice of the world and the difficulty of our own “I”. When we come before him, we must not take refuge in pious phrases, in a world of make-believe. Praying always also means struggling with God, and like Jacob, we can say to him: “I will not let you go, unless you bless me!” (Gen 32:26). But then comes Jesus’ second petition: “Glorify your name!” (Jn 12:28). In the Synoptics, it is expressed in another way: “Not my will, but yours be done!” (Lk 22:42). In the end, God’s glory, his lordship, his will, is always more important and more true than my thought and my will. And this is the essential point in our prayer and in our life: learning this right order of reality, accepting it intimately; trusting in God and believing that he is doing what is right; that his will is truth and love; that my life becomes good if I learn to adhere to this right order. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus are for us the guarantee that we can truly trust God. It is in this way that his Kingdom is realized.

Dear Friends! At the end of this liturgy, the young people of Australia will hand over the World Youth Day Cross to their counterparts from Spain. The Cross is on a journey from one side of the world to the other, from sea to sea. And we are accompanying it. With the Cross, we move forward along its path and thus we find our own path. When we touch the Cross, or rather, when we carry it, we touch the mystery of God, the mystery of Jesus Christ. The mystery that God so loved the world – us – that he gave his only-begotten Son for us (cf. Jn 3:16). We touch the marvellous mystery of God’s love, the only genuinely redemptive truth. But we also touch the fundamental law, the constitutive norm of our lives, namely the fact that without this “yes” to the Cross, without walking in communion with Christ day by day, life cannot succeed. The more we can make some sacrifice, out of love for the great truth and the great love, out of love for the truth and for God’s love, the greater and richer life becomes. Anyone who wants to keep his life for himself loses it. Anyone who gives his life – day by day in small acts, which form part of the great decision – that person finds it. This is the challenging, but also profoundly beautiful and liberating truth that we wish to enter into, step by step, as the Cross makes its journey across the continents. May the Lord bless this journey. Amen.

© Copyright 2009 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Thursday, March 19, 2015


Vatican II ended in December 1965 with an outpouring of enthusiasm and hope. The Council's hope was grounded in two things: a renewed Catholic faith, and confidence in the skill and goodness of human reason.

Half a century has passed since then. A lot has happened. The world today is a very different place than it was in 1965. And much more complex. That’s our reality, and it has implications for the way we live our faith, which is one of the reasons we’re here tonight.

Hope is one of the great Christian virtues. Christians always have reason for hope. As we read in John 3:16, “God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that he who believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” God is alive. God loves us. God never forgets us.

But Christians also need to see the world as it really is, so as better to bring it to Jesus Christ.

In some ways, the Council's Declaration on Religious Liberty—Dignitatis Humanae in Latin, or “Of Human Dignity” in English—is the Vatican II document that speaks most urgently to our own time. The reason is obvious. We see it right now in the suffering of Christians and other religious believers in many places around the world.

Pope Paul VI, who promulgated Dignitatis Humanae, saw it as one of the most important actions of the Council. It changed the way the Church interacts with states. And it very much improved the Church’s relations with other Christians and religious believers. So I'm grateful to Father Billy and Bishop Senior for organizing these talks on the declaration. And I'm glad to offer my own thoughts this evening.

My job tonight is to give an overview of religious liberty issues: the problems we currently have, and the ones we'll face in the years ahead. I'll do that in three parts. First, I'll outline what the Church teaches about religious freedom. Second, I'll list some of the key religious liberty challenges heading our way. Third, I'll talk about why the Council was right. Not just right in its teaching about religious liberty, but right in its spirit of hope. And that spirit of hope needs to live in our hearts when we leave here tonight.

So let's turn first to what the Church teaches about religious freedom. And we should start by recalling the nature of the world that the Church was born into.

One of the themes of the Enlightenment in the 18th century, which still has great influence today, was a kind of “anything but Jesus” attack on religious superstition, and a special distaste for the legacy of the Catholic Church. Enlightenment philosophers wanted to recover the habits of reason and learning they thought were embodied in ancient Classical culture. But this is rich in irony, because the Classical age itself was deeply religious at every level of life. The gods were everywhere in daily routines and civic power.

To put it another way: Early Christians weren't hated because they were religious. They were hated because they weren't religious enough. They weren't killed because they believed in God. They were killed because they didn't believe in the authentic gods of the city and empire. In their impiety, they invited the anger of heaven. They also threatened the well-being of everyone else, including the state. The emperor Marcus Aurelius—one of history’s great men of intellect and character—hated the Christian cult. He persecuted Christians not for their faith, but for what he saw as their blasphemy. In refusing to honor the traditional gods, they attacked the security of the state.

Why does this matter? The reason is simple. T.S. Eliot liked to argue that “no culture has appeared or developed except together with a religion.” Nor can a culture survive or develop for long without one. Christopher Dawson, the great historian, said the same. Religious faith, whatever form it takes, gives a vision and meaning to a society. In that light, pagans saw the early Christians as a danger, because they were. Christianity shaped an entirely new understanding of sacred and secular authority. Christians prayed for the emperor and the empire. But they would not worship the empire's gods.

For Christians, the distinction between the sacred and the secular comes straight from Scripture. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus himself sets the tone when he tells us to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's. But if that’s true, then how do we explain 16 centuries of the Church getting tangled up in state affairs? The details are complicated, but the answer isn't. Christians are amphibian creatures. God made us for heaven, but we work out our salvation here on earth. As the Roman world gradually became Christian, the Church gained her freedom. Then she became the dominant faith. Then she filled the vacuum of order and learning left by the empire’s collapse. Religious and secular authority often mixed, and power is just as easily abused by clergy as it is by laypeople. The Church relied on the state to advance her interests. The state nominated or approved senior clergy, and used the Church to legitimize its power.

Of course, the idea of the “state” is a modern invention. I use it here to mean every prince or warlord the Church has faced through the centuries. The point is this: Over time, and especially after the Wars of Religion and the French Revolution, the “confessional state”—a state committed to advancing the true Catholic religion and suppressing religious error—became the standard Catholic model for government.

That’s the history Dignitatis Humanae sought to correct by going back to the sources of Christian thought. The choice to believe any religious faith must be voluntary. Faith must be an act of free will, or it can’t be valid. Parents make the choice for their children at baptism because they have parental authority. And it’s important that they do so. But in the end, people who don’t believe can’t be forced to believe, especially by the state. Forced belief violates the person, the truth and the wider community of faith, because it’s a lie.

Or to put it another way: Error has no rights, but persons do have rights—even when they choose falsehood over truth. Those rights aren’t given by the state. Nor can anyone, including the state, take them away. They’re inherent to every human being by virtue of his or her creation by God. Religious liberty is a “natural” right because it’s hardwired into our human nature. And freedom of religious belief, the freedom of conscience, is—along with the right to life—the most important right any human being has.

Having said this, we should recall what Dignitatis Humanae doesn’t do. It doesn’t say that all religions are equal. It doesn’t say that truth is a matter of personal opinion or that conscience makes its own truth. It doesn’t absolve Catholics from their duty to support the Church and to form their consciences in her teaching. It doesn’t create a license for organized dissent within the Church herself. It doesn’t remove from the Church her right to teach, correct and admonish the baptized faithful—including the use of ecclesial penalties when they’re needed.

It also doesn’t endorse a religiously indifferent state. It doesn’t preclude the state from giving material support to the Church, so long as “support” doesn’t turn into control or the negative treatment of religious minorities. In fact, the declaration says that government “should take account of the religious life of its citizenry and show it favor [emphasis added], since the function of government is to make provision for the common welfare.”

In its own words, Dignitatis Humanae says “religious freedom . . . has to do with immunity from coercion in civil society [emphasis added]. Therefore it leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ.”

In the same passage, the Council Fathers stress that the “one true religion subsists in the Catholic and Apostolic Church,” and that “all men are bound to seek the truth, especially in what concerns God and his Church, and to embrace the truth they come to know, and to hold fast to it.”

To put it another way, Dignitatis Humanae is not just about freedom from coercion. It’s also about freedom for the truth. The issue of truth is too easily overlooked.

The declaration took four drafts to complete. And it created a great deal of internal debate. Karol Wojtyla took part in Vatican II as a young bishop. He supported Dignitatis Humanae and became a great defender of religious freedom as John Paul II. But he resisted an early draft of the declaration precisely because it failed to make a strong connection between freedom and truth. The two go together.

What John Paul saw, and what the Council Fathers addressed in the declaration’s final draft, is that words like goodness, freedom, and beauty don’t mean anything without an anchor. They’re free-floating labels—and very easily abused—unless they’re rooted in a permanent order of objective moral truth. We see that abuse of language every day now in our public discourse. But I’ll come back to that in a moment.

In the mind of the Council, religious liberty means much more than the freedom to believe whatever you like at home, and pray however you like in your church. It means the right to preach, teach and worship in public and in private. It means a parent’s right to protect his or her children from harmful teaching. It means the right to engage the public square with moral debate and works of social ministry. It means the freedom to do all of this without negative interference from the government, direct or indirect, except within the limits of “just public order.”

Before we turn to the second part of my remarks, it’s also worth noting that the full title of Dignitatis Humanae is: On the right of the person and of communities to social and civil freedom in matters religious. Religious liberty belongs not just to individuals, but also to communities. Civil society precedes the state. It consists of much more than individuals. Alone, individuals are weak. Communities give each one of us friendship, meaning, a narrative, a history and a future. They root us in a story larger than ourselves or any political authority. Which means that communities, and especially religious communities, are strong—and necessary mediators between the individual and the state.

So let’s move now to some issues we’ll face in the years ahead. We’ll start on the global level.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. Armenians were the first nation in the world to adopt Christianity in A.D. 301. Starting in 1915, Turkish officials deliberately murdered more than 1 million members of Turkey's Armenian minority. The ethnic and religious cleansing campaign went on into the 1920s. The victims were men, women, and children. And they were overwhelmingly Christian. Turkey has never acknowledged the genocide. It’s one of the worst unrepented crimes in history.

That kind of ugliness may sound impossible in our day. But today we have our own tragedies—from church bombings in Pakistan to the beheadings of Christians in North Africa. More than 70 percent of the world now lives with some form of religious coercion. Tens of thousands of Christians are killed every year for reasons linked to their faith. North Korea has wiped religion out of its culture. China runs a sophisticated security system to interfere with, and control, its religious communities. Islamic countries have a very mixed record. Muslim states range from relative tolerance to repression and forced conversion of religious minorities. And the persecution has grown worse as Islam has radicalized. Shari’a law claims to protect religious minorities. In practice, it slowly smothers them.

Even in Europe, laws that interfere with religious dress, practice and public expression are on the rise. The postwar founders of European unity—committed Catholic men like Alcide de Gasperi, Robert Schuman and Konrad Adenauer—assumed the Christian heritage of their continent. Today the European Union ignores it, and in practice, repudiates it. In doing so, Europe robs itself of any real moral alternative to the radical Islam spreading in its own countries.

And what about the United States? Compared to almost anywhere else in the world, our religious freedom situation is good. Religious believers played a very big role in founding and building the country. Until recently, our laws have reflected that. In many ways they still do. A large majority of Americans still believe in God and still identify as Christian. Religious practice remains high. But that’s changing. And the pace will quicken. More young people are disaffiliated from religion now than at any time in our country’s past. More stay away as they age. And many have no sense of the role that religious freedom has played in our nation’s life and culture.

The current White House may be the least friendly to religious concerns in our history. But we’ll see more of the same in the future—pressure in favor of things like gay rights, contraception and abortion services, and against public religious witness. We’ll see it in the courts and in so-called “anti-discrimination” laws. We’ll see it in “anti-bullying” policies that turn public schools into indoctrination centers on matters of human sexuality; centers that teach that there’s no permanent truth involved in words like “male” and “female.” And we’ll see it in restrictions on public funding, revocation of tax exemptions and expanding government regulations. We too easily forget that every good service the government provides comes with a growth in its regulatory power. And that power can be used in ways nobody imagined in the past.

We also forget Tocqueville’s warning that democracy can become tyrannical precisely because it’s so sensitive to public opinion. If anyone needs proof, consider what a phrase like “marriage equality” has done to our public discourse in less than a decade. It’s dishonest. But it works.

That leads to the key point I want to make here. The biggest problem we face as a culture isn’t gay marriage or global warming. It’s not abortion funding or the federal debt. These are vital issues, clearly. But the deeper problem, the one that’s crippling us, is that we use words like justice, rights, freedom and dignity without any commonly shared meaning to their content.

We speak the same language, but the words don’t mean the same thing. Our public discourse never gets down to what’s true and what isn’t, because it can’t. Our most important debates boil out to who can deploy the best words in the best way to get power. Words like “justice” have emotional throw-weight, so people use them as weapons. And it can’tbe otherwise, becausethe religious vision and convictions that once animated American life are no longer welcome at the table. After all, what can “human rights” mean if science sees nothing transcendent in the human species? Or if science imagines a trans-humanist future? Or if science doubts that a uniquely human “nature” even exists? If there’s no inherent human nature, there can be no inherent natural rights—and then the grounding of our whole political system is a group of empty syllables.

Liberal democracy doesn’t have the resources to sustain its own purpose. Democracy depends for its meaning on the existence of some higher authority outside itself. The Western idea of natural rights comes not just from the philosophers of the Enlightenment, but even earlier from the medieval Church. Our Western legal tradition has its origins not in the Enlightenment, but in the 11th and 12th-century papal revolution in canon law. The Enlightenment itself could never have happened outside the Christian world from which it emerged. In the words of Oxford scholar Larry Siedentop—and in contrast to ancient pagan society—“Christianity changed the ground of human identity” by developing and uniquely stressing the idea of the individual person with an eternal destiny. In doing that, “Christian moral beliefs emerge as the ultimate source of the social revolution that has made the West what it is.”

Modern pluralist democracy has plenty of room for every religious faith and no religious faith. But we’re lying to ourselves if we think we can keep our freedoms without revering the biblical vision—the uniquely Jewish and Christian vision—of who and what man is. Human dignity has only one source. And only one guarantee. We’re made in the image and likeness of God. And if there is no God, then human dignity is just elegant words.

Earlier I said we need to leave here tonight with a spirit of hope. So let’s turn to that now in these last few minutes before we have questions and discussion.

We need to remember two simple facts. In practice, no law and no constitution can protect religious freedom unless people actually believe and live their faith—not just at home or in church, but in their public lives. But it’s also true that no one can finally take our freedom unless we give it away. Jesus said, “I am the way the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6) He also said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (Jn 8:32). The Gospel of Jesus Christ is for people who want to be free, “free” in the truest sense. And its message is meant for all of us; for all men and women—unless we choose to be afraid.

Looking back over the past fifty years, and even at our lives today, I think it’s too easy to see the problems in the world. It’s too easy to become a cynic.

There’s too much beauty in the world to lose hope; too many people searching for something more than themselves; too many people who comfort the suffering; too many people who serve the poor; too many people who seek and teach the truth; too much history that witnesses, again and again, to the mercy of God, incarnate in the course of human affairs. In the end, there’s too much evidence that God loves us, with a passion that is totally unreasonable and completely redemptive, to ever stop trusting in God’s purpose for the world, and for our lives.

The Second Vatican Council began and ended in the aftermath of the Holocaust and the worst war in human history. If there’s an argument to be made against the worthiness of humanity, we’ve made that argument ourselves, again and again down the centuries, but especially in the modern age. Yet every one of the Council documents is alive with confidence in God and in the dignity of man. And there’s a reason. God makes greatness, not failures. He makes free men and women, not cowards. The early Church father Irenaeus said that “the glory of God is man fully alive.” I believe that’s true. And I’d add that the glory of men and women is their ability, with God’s grace, to love as God loves.

And when that miracle happens, even in just one of us, the world begins to change.

Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., is archbishop of Philadelphia.

Link here.