Benedict's serious call for seriousness

In looking again at the text of Pope Benedict’s White House address, I was struck by how serious were his remarks within the context of such a short speech given amid such pomp, particularly here:

Historically, not only Catholics, but all believers have found [in America] the freedom to worship God in accordance with the dictates of their conscience, while at the same time being accepted as part of a commonwealth in which each individual and group can make its voice heard. As the nation faces the increasingly complex political and ethical issues of our time, I am confident that the American people will find in their religious beliefs a precious source of insight and an inspiration to pursue reasoned, responsible and respectful dialogue in the effort to build a more humane and free society.

This is a very interesting paragraph in light of the fact that Europe is slowly losing its ability to dialogue about faith (or about much of anything) in the face of its own laws — which suppress free speech in the name of “tolerance” — and its intimidated response to an aggressive strain of Islamic fundamentalism that continually preaches blood over brotherhood. Europe, which twice in the 20th century needed rescuing from totalitarian jackboots, is rather quickly becoming subjugated again; it is a place where Bridget Bardot can be legally prosecuted for daring to express her own thoughts and filmmakers, writers and artists must quell their own voices or submit to a life in hiding, where Shari’a law is making inroads because western law – and lawmakers – are standing aside for it and hoping to stay out of the crosshairs.

Like his predecessor John Paul II, who lived as a slave under the Nazi’s and then had to preach and teach in the sight of the restrictive communists, Benedict knows what it is to live under tyranny. As a 14 year old seminarian he was forcibly conscripted into the Hitler Youth, from which he deserted, hiding until he was found by Americans and taken as a prisoner of war. Benedict is likely the last 20th Century man standing in a position of world power, and his voice is one of experience and personal knowledge. He has been a witness to the power of hope and faithfulness over tyrants and terrorists, and he is telling us something very important, very serious:

The preservation of freedom calls for the cultivation of virtue, self-discipline, sacrifice for the common good and a sense of responsibility towards the less fortunate. It also demands the courage to engage in civic life and to bring one’s deepest beliefs and values to reasoned public debate. In a word, freedom is ever new. It is a challenge held out to each generation, and it must constantly be won over for the cause of good (cf. Spe Salvi, 24).
[The Church] is convinced that faith sheds new light on all things, and that the Gospel reveals the noble vocation and sublime destiny of every man and woman (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 10). Faith also gives us the strength to respond to our high calling, and the hope that inspires us to work for an ever more just and fraternal society.

Reading that reminded me of Al Qaeda calling for America to convert to Islam and their forced conversions of two kidnapped Western journalists, Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig. After their “conversion” there was some spirited and useful debate about whether one should convert to save one’s life.

Benedict’s words seem to suggest that we ought not allow things to get to that point. He has, himself, offered to meet with Muslims for dialogue; moderates will meet, some others have said they will not. I believe Benedict – whose mein and manner the writer “Spengler” has characterized as “I have a mustard seed, and I’m not afraid to use it”, is praying for peace, and religious and political co-existence, but he knows it may be a long hard slog, though different than the one Bush has initiated.

At the release of those kidnapped journalists I wrote:

But whether Centanni and Wiig were men of faith, or not, their “conversions” were a sort of victory for our enemies. They displayed to the world what the West “holds dear.” I am not saying the newsmen were cowards [but]…their pronouncements about Allah and Mohammed, and their confession of new, Islamic names, was a real-time demonstration to the Islamofascists in our midst that “staying alive,” means the world to us. It can be translated as “look at these callow Western dogs, so in love with life, so beholden to nothing that they will say anything, do anything, even allow us to rename them, to cling to life…while we will give up everything…”
…To allow someone else to name you is to count yourself the lesser…By proclaiming their new Islamic names Centanni and Wiig – probably quite unwittingly – were declaring themselves new men in Allah. They were also living metaphors for the surrender of “the lesser” West.

I wonder, in war, can any innocent captive live or die only to themselves? I don’t think so, not when our enemy is so fluent in the language of symbolism and imagery.
Am I urging the West toward martyrdom, here? No, I am not urging it. But I am suggesting throughout history, martyrs have spilled blood and it has made a difference. I am suggesting that down the line some may well be called to martyrdom, and we might be wise to anticipate it and understand its use. I am suggesting that when one is caught in a fight between darkness and light – a fight that is more super than natural – such blood might well be required. It always has been, before.

Pope Benedict can see what surrender to a murderous and extreme movement will lead because he has seen it before; while the face of the oppressor may be new, the oppressor himself is an old, old foe. In a very socially unserious age, let us hope that the seriousness of this very quiet-but-serious man pierces our fogs and fantasies.

Sr. Lorraine sees Benedict’s constancy.

About Elizabeth Scalia
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  • Sigmund Carl and Alfred

    The Pope has drawn a line in the sand- morality, justice and freedom are not just political ideologies applicable to the few. They are religious ideals that are meant for all.

    No negotiation.

    Benedict XVI is no lightweight- he’s the real deal.

  • Sigmund Carl and Alfred

    One more thing- contrast Benedict’s ‘God bless America’ with Jeremiah Wright’s ‘God damn America.’

    Think about the morality and the beliefs of the men who uttered those words and the morality and beliefs of their respective believers.

    ‘Nuff said.

  • mrp

    I’ve watched a good deal of the coverage today, and two items caught my attention.

    Item one:

    In his welcome to the Holy Father today, President Bush included this remark:

    This is your first trip to the United States since you ascended to the Chair of Saint Peter.

    This is a significant theological statement made by a sitting President of the United States in the presence of a Roman Catholic pontiff. Some jaws dropped in Waco, I betcha. The official title of our Vatican embassy is “The Embassy of the United States to the Holy See”. Nothing about the elevated Chair of St. Peter in that :)

    Item two:

    The White House welcoming ceremony was strongly military in scope, even allowing for the standard ceremonial activities performed by the US armed services for a visiting head of state – 21 gun salute, 4 ruffles and flourishes, US Marine Band, 3d Infantry Fife an Drum Corps, etc. Except for Ms. Battle’s rendition of the “Lord’s Prayer”, it was all military. Finishing with the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” by the US Army Chorus underlined the call to arms. And the call was mutual. From the Holy Father’s address:

    Freedom is not only a gift, but also a summons to personal responsibility. Americans know this from experience – almost every town in this country has its monuments honoring those who sacrificed their lives in defense of freedom, both at home and abroad. The preservation of freedom calls for the cultivation of virtue, self-discipline, sacrifice for the common good and a sense of responsibility towards the less fortunate. It also demands the courage to engage in civic life and to bring one’s deepest beliefs and values to reasoned public debate. In a word, freedom is ever new. It is a challenge held out to each generation, and it must constantly be won over for the cause of good (cf. Spe Salvi, 24). (emphasis added).

    Perhaps just a reminder that Roman Catholicism is not a pacifist faith.

  • TheAnchoress

    Good comment. I’ve had a few emails from our Protestant friends who were a little offended that the president addressed the pope “the way a Catholic would” and I’ve noted a few gripes in some of the forums.

    Clearly Bush does what he is comfortable with and doesn’t worry about it.

    Also, if you remember, when Bush visited the Pope in Rome, he was criticized for calling the Pope “sir,” by the press.

    So, basically, no matter what Bush does, he can’t win.

  • Bender B. Rodriguez

    What with all the focus on the child sex abuse remarks yesterday, I didn’t see this comment by the Pope, during the airplane interview, regarding the issue of immigration –
    “I recently had the ad limina visit from the bishops of Central America, also South America. I saw the scope of this problem, above all the grave problem of the separation of families. This is truly dangerous for the social, human and moral fabric of these countries. It seems to me that we have to distinguish between measures to be taken immediately, and longer-term solutions. The fundamental solution [would be] that there is no longer any need to immigrate, that there are sufficient opportunities for work and a sufficient social fabric that no one any longer feels the need to immigrate. We all have to work for this objective, that social development is sufficient so that citizens are able to contribute to their own future.
    On this point, I want to speak with the President, because above all the United States must help countries develop themselves. Doing so is in the interests of everyone, not just this country but the whole world, including the United States. In the short term, it’s very important above all to help the families. This is the primary objective, to ensure that families are protected, not destroyed. Whatever can be done, must be done.”

    OF COURSE the Holy Father “gets it,” of course he understands what is the real solution to the problem of illegal immigration. Instead of expending all this energy and money on both sides, either to keep out/kick out illegal aliens or to keep them here in defiance of the law (as many in the American Church want to do), the answer is to improve conditions in these people’s home countries so that they do not feel compelled to leave their families and come here, thereby further straining an already broken system.

  • baldilocks

    Hi Anchoress!

    People are all het up about how a Protestant should address the pope. A guy at Hot Air sarcastically wondered if we should call him “Bennie” or “Mr. Ratzinger.” It’s amazing how people get caught up in these things. It does no harm to address the man as “Your Holiness.”

  • lsusportsfan

    I watched the Pope’s Vesper and speech to the US Bishops just now. Lots there.

    Oh and the sort of slanted unfair press is just not occuring on the “left” it seems. I just saw Lou Dobbs and then saw a segment on Fox that dealt with the emotional complicated issue of immigration and the Pope. What I saw made me have to go walk around the block. Oh well

    LEt me address the Successor of Rome Question. First it is correct we have relations with the Holy See. Often people mix up Vatican and Holy See all the time as to terminolgy

    As A former Protestant now Catholics it of course strikes me more than others when he call the Pope the Successor of St Peter. It is striking. I find that interesting on several levels. Especially as to a prior thread the Anchoress had.

    However, in the end it is not so controversal or really should not be. .First Among about few hundred Million NON Roman Catholics they also see as him the Successor of St Peter. Including All the Eastern ORthodox and to some degree many Anglicans.

    So besides being a official title it really I would think would not be a huge issue for many other non Catholics because they do not accept the theological concept of Succession anyway. However the President could be seen as recognizing the Historical fact that there is a line without endorsing the fact there is Apostolic Successsion is a Theological Fact. What he truly believes is interesting especially in light of the comments that the New York Priest made as to Bush’s view on the Papacy that was in Sundays Washington Post

    That being said I don’t think many take offense. Just as don’t think many Jews and non Christians were upset that paid military folks are singing Christian Hymms at the White House :)

  • TheAnchoress

    Baldi, sometimes I think folks just look for stuff to get annoyed over! Good to see you!

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  • Gayle J. Miller

    I watched the Mass this morning and was astonished to find tears running down my face from the moment The Pope entered the stadium. His is such a gentle demeanor, such kindness emanating from that face – yet listening to his homily, such wisdom and obvious intelligence. This truly is a blessed day!

    And incidentally, I do take offense at non-Catholics who try to tell Catholics how they are supposed to think and believe and I don’t think I should be expected to apologize for that. At least when I’m offended I don’t riot in the streets and threaten the lives of others!

    God bless our beloved Pope Benedict XVI.

  • ricki

    Thank God for seriousness. Thank God for Pope Benedict’s calling for it.

    We live in serious times. And I am very tired of the glibness of the media and the “simple answers” that come from some.

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