Pope Francis's Daily Homilies

A lot of interest has been shown in Pope Francis's daily homilies in St. Martha's Residence, from persons and media sources critical of the things he says, and from persons and media sources pleased by them. Both sides seem to treat these homilies as though they were acts of the papal Magisterium. In matter of fact, they may not be that at all, given the limited audience and the fact that they are not published, which makes it hard to see any serious intention in the pope to speak as teacher of the universal Church.

This view is supported by a statement made on May 29 (yesterday) by Vatican speaker P. Lombardi: The Pope's Homilies in St. Martha's Residence: P. Lombardi's Notes in Response to Questions (Italian text)

He begins by noting the very great interest raised by the pope's brief homilies in the context of the morning Masses he celebrates in Casa Santa Marta, and the question asked by many about the possibility of accessing the complete celebration or homily, rather than only through the summaries published each day by the Vatican Radio and the Osservatore Romano.

He notes that the question is understandable, has been thoroughly considered, and deserves a clear response. Above all, [what follows is a translation of P. Lombardi's words]: "it is necessary to take into account the character the the Holy Father himself attributes to the morning celebration in St. Martha's residence. It is a matter of a Mass celebrated with a group of faithful that is not small (generally more than fifty persons), but for whom the Pope intends to preserve a familial character. For this reason, despite the requests that have been made, he has explicitly desired that the Mass not be broadcast live by video or audio.

As regards the homilies, they are not spoken on the basis of a written text, but spontaneously, in Italian, a language which the Pope knows well, but which is not his mother tongue. A "integral" publication would have to be therefore a transcription and a rewriting of the text at various points, given that the written form is different from the oral, which in this case is the original form chosen intentionally by the Holy Father. In short, there would be a revision by the Holy Father himself, but the result would be clearly "a different thing," not that which the Holy Father intends to do every morning.

After careful consideration it is therefore considered that the best way to make the richness of the Pope's homilies it accessible to a wide audience without altering its nature is to publish a detailed summary, also rich with quotes of original sentences, which reflect the genuine taste of the Pope's expressions….

It is necessary to insist on the fact that, in the entirety of the Pope's activity, one must carefully preserve the distinction between the various situations and celebrations, as well as the different level of commitment of his pronouncements. Thus, on the occasion of the public celebrations or activities of the Pope, broadcast live on television and radio, the homilies or speeches are transcribed and published in full. On the occasion of more familiar and private celebrations it is necessary to respect the specific character of the situation, of the spontaneity and the familiarity of the expressions of the Holy Father. The chosen solution thus respects above all the will of the Pope and of the nature of the morning celebration, and at the same time permits a broad public to access the principal messages that the Holy Father gives to the faithful even in such circumstances."

Habemus Papam!

Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, S.J., was elected today to the papacy, taking the name of Francis. He is the first Jesuit to be elected as pope. He gave a brief public address, beginning with an Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be for Bishop Emeritus of Rome Benedict XIV, asked the people to pray for him, and gave the first papal blessing. Read the first public words of Pope Francis.

Words of Pope Benedict XVI at the General Audience

At the beginning of the general audience today, Feb 13, 2013, Pope Benedict spoke about his decision to renounce the Petrine ministry, and thanked the faithful for their prayers.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

As you know, I have decided – thank you for your kindness – to renounce the ministry which the Lord entrusted to me on 19 April 2005. I have done this in full freedom for the good of the Church, after much prayer and having examined my conscience before God, knowing full well the seriousness of this act, but also realizing that I am no longer able to carry out the Petrine ministry with the strength which it demands. I am strengthened and reassured by the certainty that the Church is Christ’s, who will never leave her without his guidance and care. I thank all of you for the love and for the prayers with which you have accompanied me. Thank you; in these days which have not been easy for me, I have felt almost physically the power of prayer – your prayers – which the love of the Church has given me. Continue to pray for me, for the Church and for the future Pope. The Lord will guide us.

Pope Benedict Announces His Resignation

In a consistory today, February 11, Pope Benedict announced his resignation of the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, effective as of February 28, 2013, 8:00 PM, so that as of that time the See of Rome will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff shall need to be convoked by those whose competence it is. Apparently he does not intend to directly exercise papal authority or influence over the choice of the next pope, but wishes it to take place substantially as it would if he were to die.

An English translation of the Pope's statement and the audio of the Latin original is available on the website of the Radio Vaticana. Till now the reports and comments on the announcement have been pretty factual and have restrained from making any evaluation of the decision. Perhaps in part just to get the report out more quickly…

The pope gives as his reason for resignation, the recognition that his strength is no longer sufficient to adequately fulfill the Petrine ministry, showing a great humility and will for the good of the Church. It is not easy for anyone to voluntarily step down from a position of responsibility and honor, and few do it. The last one to resign the office in such a way Pope Celestine V in 1294. (Pope Gregory XII resigned in 1415 to settle the dispute about who was legitimate pope and the resulting schism.)

There is no particular reason to doubt that Pope Benedict's stated reason is his principal motivation. Still, he must surely also have considered what potential difference the precedent of a pope resigning in modern times could make, as well as the difference it could make to the choice of a new pope if the election is held while Benedict is still alive. One trusts in the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit also works through human deliberations, and so such considerations are quite valid. While Benedict may not exercise any authority over the election to be held after he has resigned the Petrine office, his counsel and thoughts may be influential.

The Fallacy of Incommensurability II – Gun Control

In the past months there has been a lot of talk about various gun control measures. And a lot of the argumentation has presupposed the fallacy of incommensurability I mentioned in the previous post.

The idea that one has to do everything possible in order to save even one innocent life naturally leads people to the conclusion that, if the gun control measures X, Y, and Z will save even one person from being murdered, one has to take those measures.

Now, some of those measures can also be expected to result in the death of innocent persons who are killed because they, or someone around them, did not have a gun as a result of legislation or other pressures imposed by government or media. We may suppose, though, that at least some measures can be taken that will per year save more lives than those lost as a result of the same measures.

But what about the possibility that personal ownership of guns is a safeguard against a possible tyrannical government? Should that be a significant consideration in deliberation about gun control laws? Or is it ridiculous, as some have claimed, to avoid taking current measures helpful to save lives in order to safeguard ourselves from some imaginary future scenario of a tyrannical government?

I'll run through the numbers, but before I do that, let me state the summary result for those less interested in the numbers behind it. Basically, when one works out the various risks involved, one comes to the conclusion that a rational legislator considering any significant gun-control laws, is obliged to consider the risk of an increased probability of tyranny, and to take that risk into account in considering those laws.

Let's look at the numbers. Looking history, it is a pretty conservative estimate to say that there is a 2% chance that the government of the USA will within the next 100 years have become a tyrannical power that has murdered at least 5% of the civilian population (15,000,000 persons) due to personal characteristics (race, beliefs, infirmity, etc.) or in order to maintain its own power. Note that by this 2% chance I do not mean there is a 2% chance of tyranny if the country keeps going in such and such a direction, but that the chance is this high all things considered.

Statistically this risk of murder by a future tyrannical government is equivalent to the certain murder of 300,000 persons in that same 100 years, or 3000 persons per year. There would of course be a great deal of harm done to the other 95% of the population being a part of or living under tyranny, which would increase the evil of tyranny and the importance of considering the possibility of a future tyrannical government, but let's set that aside.

Now suppose a set of gun control laws increases the mentioned risk of murderous tyranny by a small amount, but enough that the increased risk is perceivable and plausible, say 5% (for a total of 2.1%). That additional risk is the equivalent of an expected 150 persons per year murdered.

So, if it is even plausible that a set of gun-control laws will increase the risk of an eventual tyranny by even a very small amount, those gun-control laws would need to have an expected outcome of at least 150 lives saved from murder per year. And there is, indeed based on historical evidence a good deal of plausibility, indeed probability for the opinion that the enaction of serious gun-control increases the chance of tyranny.

Consequently, the argument of gun-control opponents that the second amendment and the possession of guns is a safe-guard against tyranny is a significant argument, that a rational legislator is obliged to take seriously. It could only be set aside on the premise that there is no plausibility to the opinion that gun-control laws increase the chance of a future tyranny, or that it is just as probable that gun-control laws decrease the chance of a future tyranny.

Note that I make no claim to evaluate here the prudence of any particular legislation on guns, only a kind of meta-claim about what is necessary in order to establish the prudence of such legislation.

The Fallacy of Incommensurability

"if there’s even one life that can be saved, then we’ve got an obligation to try."

"If there's anything we can do to save even one life… we should do that."

"One life lost on the job is one too many."

"If even one innocent person would be convicted, that's too many."

Frequently in speech about policies pertinent to human life and safety, one hears absolute claims such as the above. The true principle that "one may not do evil that good may come," is transformed into the seemingly plausible, but false principle "one must do everything possible to prevent such-and-such evil [e.g., innocent human death]". The plausibility of this principle derives from the fact that human life is, in a sense, of infinite value, so it seems that the loss of innocent human life can never be weighed up and considered as an altogether acceptable risk.

President Obama has on several occasions invoked such a principle to justify his positions. He even gives the impression that he actually believes the principle is valid, which would be a strong indication that he is quite incompetent to lead any community, let alone a country.

It is hard to know how genuinely any politician holds such a principle, since it seems to have settled so deeply into popular consciousness that it may be difficult for a politician to truthfully and rationally justify such decisions without risking being widely regarded as inhuman and inconsiderate. Imagine a politician publicly stating something like the following:

"This health-care legislation could be expected to save 1000 lives per year, but it would cost 12 billion dollars per year, and would a burden for doctors and other medical professionals; it's not worth it."

In actual fact, it is quite impossible to apply this principle consistently in practice, and attempting to do so leads to many contradictions. In almost every case, one of the things one could do to prevent certain bad things from happening would be to refrain from certain actions one is purportedly obliged to do in order to hinder other bad things.

Imagine, for example, that a city is deliberating whether to build a bridge over a large river. As the situation stands at present, 10,000 persons are driving daily on average 40 miles to work and back; with the new bridge, they would only need to drive an average of 20 miles. The construction of the bridge is expected to cost 20,000,000 dollars, and is estimated to have an 85% chance of involving at least one fatality for a construction work, and probably several.

Given that at least one death is expected in the construction of the bridge, it seems the city must forbid its construction. On the other hand, by constructing the bridge, 100,000,000 miles less would need to be driven per year, which over just ten years would save 15 lives. So, according to the principle that if something can be done to save even one life, one is obliged to do it, the city must build the bridge.

What will someone do who pretends or thinks that he abides by this principle of incommensurability? Who thinks that, because human life has a kind of infinite value, one can never consider an expected loss of human life to be an acceptable consequence of some policy? Faced by such a dilemma, he will either choose randomly, or in accordance with personal or basic human prejudices.  Most frequently, he will be inclined to over-rate probable and proximate events, and under-rate large but improbable and remote events. In the case of the bridge construction, he will likely underrate the importance of the deaths in traffic accidents that would be avoided by building the bridge, and overrate the importance of the deaths involved in the construction of the bridge.

Homily for the First Sunday of Advent, Year C

Imagine that Jesus comes here today at noontime and speaks personally with each one of us. He heals every one who is sick, he takes the fear away from those who are afraid of losing their jobs, brings couples together, who are having trouble talking with each other, gives everyone what he or she needs.

We are hoping for this one day. Jesus promised that he would come again, and that we will then be completely free, completely happy.

That is something amazing, unimaginable.

Our wonder at his promise to come again gives us an occasion today to be amazed that Jesus Christ, God, was born as a child.

We get used very quickly to the various things we say and believe. We say, scarcely thinking about it: “I believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God… born of the Virgin Mary.” Yet that is a startling, almost unbelievable statement.

Do we believe that?

Are we filled with amazement at this unheard-of event?

In these weeks before Christmas we enter in our thoughts into the time before Christ, the time of longing for someone who has an answer to our questions, a solution for our troubles.

We take extra time for silence, for reflection, for prayer. We want to experience this longing. We want to experience the greatness of the gift, that Jesus is born as a child for us, and in this joy to celebrate Christmas.

200th post – reflections on expressing faith and devotion in the liturgy

This post is the 200th post on this blog, and mostly coincidentally, there have been to date a total of 400 comments on 80 of those posts — thank you to all who have contributed to various discussions!

I have noticed in celebrating liturgy myself, and observing it celebrated in various places, that celebrating the Mass and other sacraments with actual, evidenced faith and devotion, and showing noticeably attention to the meaning of what one is saying, is a significant factor in disposing persons to participate in the liturgy with their hearts and minds, and to gain the most fruit from it. Although the celebration of the Eucharist, as a sacrament efficacious ex opere operato, when validly celebrated confers grace regardless of the holiness or devotion of the priest celebrating it, more grace is received according as the recipient is better disposed to receive it. And the manifestation of the priest's celebrating Mass with faith and devotion contributes a great deal to helping the persons attending the Mass to be disposed to celebrate well and receive the grace of the Mass. Unfortunately many priests give the impression of just getting through with the job of reciting their parts, at any rate, do not clearly manifest faith in and awe for the mysteries they celebrate. This is not a judgment or even an opinion about their habitual or even hidden actual faith with which they celebrate, but only about its visibility or lack thereof.

On this general point there might even be some general agreement between those who favor traditional celebration of the liturgy in Latin (preferably according to the usus antiquior), and those who favor the celebration of the liturgy in the vernacular and with practices that more readily allow the manifestation of personal faith and devotion (e.g., the use of free formulations where they are allowed, as they can more readily manifest actual personal faith than formulations given in advance can). The disagreement regarding this point, I think, mostly concerns one of two things:

(1) There is disagreement concerning the relative importance of the liturgy's disposing the people attending liturgy to acts of faith and devotion in comparison with its objective suitability to express the mystery being celebrated; some would hold that the objective suitability is much more important, and therefore adaptions, including almost all of the changes made in developing the Novus Ordo of the Mass, are at best tolerable for the sake of persons indisposed to appreciate the traditional Latin Mass; others would hold that the suitability of the liturgy to dispose the people present to partake with their mind and heart is by far the most important thing.

(2) There is disagreement regarding the way in which faith and devotion is best or most surely manifested. Some are of the opinion that actual faith and devotion is manifested precisely in the observance of relatively detailed rubrics such as those prescribed for the Traditional Latin Mass; the idea seems to be that only genuine and actual devotion will keep someone carefully following all of those rubrics rather than sloppily or carelessly celebrating the Mass. Others are of the opinion that actual faith and devotion is manifested especially through gestures, facial expressions, tones of voice, and the like; that though faith and devotion are not emotions, they are especially revealed in a manner quite similar to other emotions, through tone of voice and body language.

I have a lot of sympathy for the positions taken on both sides of these issues, and do not simply side with one over the other. It would not be possibly for me to do so honestly, and in any case my more greater concern is to help those on either side of such disagreements to better appreciate the true and valid points of those on the opposite side.

What occasioned these reflections now was my attending an ordination where the bishop towards the end of his homily remarked that it is ineffective to proclaim the Good News, the Gospel, with joyless faces. Yet, he himself did not really show joy in his face at any point of the liturgy, not even while speaking about the Church's joy on the occasion, but was formal and stiff, except where he showed vigor and sternness in attacking ignorance and errors regarding the priesthood that were prevalent in the late 60s, when he entered the seminary, and are still present today. The dissonance at that point between his statements about joy and the lack of joy on his face was so great it was somewhat humorous, though still somewhat saddening.

Homily for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ!

We have a saying, “familiarity breeds contempt.” We see this in the gospel story for today. Many of the Jews, upon hearing Jesus's claim that he came down from heaven, that he is the true bread, the bread of life, that one who eats of him will never hunger, found this claim hard to believe. After all, they knew his parents. He had been born and grew up like everyone else. How can he claim to have come down from heaven? “He is just one of us, and he claims to be someone special?”

To anyone looking only at what can be seen and touched, to those not yet ready to believe Jesus's testimony to things unseen, it could scarcely be different. The hearers could not see Christ's divinity, could not see that he was God. They saw him as a man, and were not ready to believe anything more, despite having seen the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fish. So of course they are shocked by his claim to have come down from heaven, to be equal and one with the Father, to be God, the source of life for all of us!

It is a matter of something altogether different, something we cannot see, touch, or grasp, something that is above human knowledge and comprehension! Only through the gift of faith, when one is enlightened by the heavenly Father in the Holy Spirit, can one accept Jesus's words, go beyond what is visible to the eyes, believe in his divinity.

So also only in faith do we have access to the mystery of this bread. Jesus calls himself “the living bread that came down from heaven.” We need food that not only gives us strength of body, keeps us alive here on earth, but food that strengthens us for eternal life, keeps us for life forever. The Lord makes an amazing, a tremendous promise, one that we may and should accept as it stands: “whoever eats this bread will live forever.” We heard in the first reading about the wonderful power of the food the Lord provided for Elijah. This food strengthened him for a journey of forty days in the desert. This power of the food God gives, to strengthen him for forty days, is only a sign and indication of the much more marvelous power of this bread of life, the Eucharist, which strengths not for forty days, but for life forever, for eternal life.

In the Eucharist Christ gives us himself totally. He comes to us and becomes our bread, our food for that life with God that never ends. Christ's love overcame death. He who is united in faith and love with Christ, will live forever, soul and body, according to the Lord's promise: "I will raise him on the last day."

But even when we have made this step of faith, when we believe Christ's words and Christ's promise, that it is truly HIM we receive in the Eucharist, who comes to us as food, gives us eternal life, we can in other ways fall into the pitfall of “familiarity breeds contempt”. We go to Mass and receive Communion again and again; that is a very good and important thing. Still, there is a danger of it becoming a matter of routine, something we do just because it's our habit, or just because that's how we were brought up, or just because everyone else goes up to receive Communion. We can kind of forget our wonder at the marvel of this mystery, the awesomeness of receiving Jesus Christ, man and God, as food for us under the appearance of bread. Each time we receive the Eucharist, we should strive to receive with the freshness, the devotion, and preparedness of a child who receives Holy Communion for the first time, who has prepared himself a year long to receive, and who was waited with longing for the great day.

Preparing ourselves well to receive Holy Communion with love and devotion makes a great difference to what Christ can do for us and in us. If we receive Christ in Holy Communion without preparing ourselves to receive him worthily, without giving him a second thought, without using the occasion to talk with him, thank him, ask him for what we need, it is no surprise if Holy Communion does not seem to bring much change in our lives, to give us this marvelous nourishment and strength to go through difficult times, to make us better and more loving persons.

How can we receive this heavenly bread well, Christ himself, and allow him to work within us? We can receive our Lord not only with our mouths under the appearance of bread, but also prepare a home for him, the bread of life, within our hearts. When we await and receive a very dear guest, we do everything we can to make things nice and pleasant for him. He is not a matter of indifference to us; we see to him, are there for him.

It is like this with preparing ourselves for and receiving Holy Communion: we want to make ourselves conscious of who it is, whom we are privileged to receive under the appearance of bread – Christ, our Lord and God! We want to approach HIM with joy and with faith, show him by our faith and love that he is important to us, that Holy Communion is truly Communion with Him, our Lord, and Communion with all brothers and sisters in Him.

Another important way of preparing ourselves for Holy Communion is by occasionally or even regularly receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We are all in need of God's grace and mercy. Anyone who says or thinks he is without sin is merely fooling himself. But entrusting ourselves to the love of God, accepting his saving hand, we can always begin anew on the way with Christ to eternal life.

In his love God has entrusted us with great treasures, treasure we are called and invited to discover and appreciate more and more deeply. Jesus Christ gave his life on the cross out of love for us; in the Resurrection his love conquered death and gave us eternal life; and in his love he speaks to us these words: “The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”