The Holy Father’s message is magnetic because it is premised upon an authentic understanding of the freedom of the human person.
MALIBU, CA (Catholic Online) - The Holy Father is here with a profound message of hope.
He is being greeted by hundreds of thousands – indeed, it will number into the millions before the trip is complete.
What draws these people, young and old, of every race and ethnicity and of both genders? It is not mere celebrity.
The Holy Father is not the winner of the “American Idol” contest, nor is he offering the kind of self-help book mentality that inevitably places more emphasis upon self than help.
No the Holy Father’s message is magnetic because it is premised upon an authentic understanding of the freedom of the human person.
Who is this human person? He is God’s creation. He does not see himself a victim of circumstance or as faceless office worker or an unidentified number in a factory.
He does not live half-heartedly or passively in solitude but fully in community. He is a person who appreciates that despite his imperfection, God has imprinted the design of the natural law within him.
And in that design, he is to use his free will in the pursuit of human good. This pursuit is to be found largely, as the Holy Father gave great emphasis, “in personal moral decisions.”
The media may see that emphasis as ironic given its insatiable interest in church scandal. Of course, sometimes the media thinks it is God, and in some ways the confusion is understandable.
The young and the old in this country spend far more time watching the flat-screen, than in worship or in service to each other. The media knows this tendency of the masses to live vicariously and for those like the Holy Father who draw attention, it is a accustomed to giving report only on its terms.
It is usually a Faustian bargain of course because it is the inevitable demand of the media that makes a person seem larger-than-life to then only cut him down to size.
Americans have been watching this for months now with their presidential candidates. Whoever one favors in matters of public policy, the media finds ways to both honor and diminish. Television brings high definition to both great and ignoble quality.
So it was to be expected when the television industry turned the great electronic magnifier upon the Holy Father, that the same would be expected.
“Yes, we will show the joyous faces of those waving papal flags and singing happy birthday to the Papa, but in exchange, dear Holy Father, we will parade the church’s dirty laundry for all to see.”
It is understandable therefore, even if regrettable, that so much of the news coverage has focused on the scandal among the tiny percentage of clergy that succumbed to evil.
American Catholics know this sadness of soul has been very costly to the church. Human lives that had invested their innocent faith at young ages were indeed scarred with ugly behavior and memory.
Billions have been paid out in compensation – much of it diminishing the possibility for new schools, enhanced charities, or greater parish outreach whether the accountants admit it or not.
When the Pope said he was ashamed, he spoke for us all.
And it may have been at that moment, the media thought it had prevailed yet again. Even before the great man set foot on American soil, the Holy Father and his church had been put in its place.
But then a strange thing happened.
The transcendent message of the Holy Father out-shined the depth of the scandal, just as the truth of the Gospel always cast away the darkness. The church was not diminished by its apology, it was strengthened.
While no amount of money could rectify the harm, even the excessive sums already paid, the Holy Father’s message moved the church back upon its foundations.
The Church in America has put into place structures to guard against the inevitability of sin, but now it was returning to something even more important than sackcloth and ashes for healing: its essential teachings.
Like so many parishioners who prayerfully have stayed committed to the liturgy throughout the long ordeal, the church was back on message with head unbound and hope renewed.
It is a message not of wealth or power or attention, but of re-commitment to “the intrinsic relationship between the Gospel and the natural law.”
What does that mean?
That in homily and catechism class and university, as Pope Benedict XVI reminded his bishops, the Gospel of Christ will be seen for what it is – a “sound understanding of freedom, seen in positive terms as a liberation both from the limitations of sin and for an authentic and fulfilling life.”
Yes, Benedict XVI has pointed the way back to “an integral way of life” that is not unwilling to grapple with real human problems, even problems internal to itself, but is instead willing to wager that a Gospel premised upon love and an understanding of creation fastened upon God’s own image will trump a “dictatorship of relativism.”
You see, relativism enslaves – whether it be in the compromises made for power; the workaholic hours subtracted from family in pursuit of wealth; or even in even an understandable demand for too much abject apology for man’s imperfection when it sacrifices the larger good of the Church for an in-compensable hurt.
Professor Doug Kmiec is chair and professor of constitutional law, Pepperdine University; former Dean and St. Thomas More professor, Catholic University of America
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
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