Monday, March 16, 2009

Pope Benedict XVI Releases Letter on the Society of St. Pius X

Papal Letter on Society of St. Pius X
"We Must Have at Heart the Unity of All Believers"

Pope Benedict XVI wrote and released a letter to his “Dear Brothers in the Episcopal Ministry” regarding the remission of the excommunication of four Bishops consecrated by Archbishop Lefebvre in 1988. Paul Thomann from Divine Mercy Radio in Raleigh, NC asked me to post my thoughts on the Pope’s letter. As Paul is well aware, I am rarely at a loss for words…
This letter is HUGE (to borrow Billy Fucillo’s famous line)! My first impression, as a dad, was that I was reading a personal letter from a father to his sons. My second impression was, HEY! The Church CAN move quickly sometimes! I guess I expected this subject to die on the vine like it seems so many other issues do. Don’t get me wrong – I believe that if the church responded to every issue in real time there would be no time to serve Christ – and most issues don’t stand the test of time anyway, so patiently waiting for them to fade is wise. Nonetheless, this one needed a pastoral, loving and challenging response, and we got one. Finally, this letter challenges each and every one of us to put aside the pettiness “ministry” can sometimes breed and get to the task at hand – Proclaiming the Gospel and restoring all things to Christ!
Some themes of this letter are refreshing: The Pope calling us to recognize the difference between a discipline and doctrine; the challenge to look beyond controversy and ministerial conflict and see the person, loved by God; the pastoral mission of the Successor of Peter to call ALL men to Christ and reconciliation to the Church; the recognition that the world is connected, informed, and influenced by the Internet (yes, the POPE realized, as he wrote in his letter, that he needs to access it more often when looking for information!!!); and lastly, our filial responsibility to call our brothers home. The letter was short, but it was chock full of forgiveness, admonition, apology, and most of all, love.
These lines really illustrated our Holy Father’s love and the heart of the pastor:

Should we casually let them drift farther from the Church? I think for example of the 491 priests. We cannot know how mixed their motives may be. All the same, I do not think that they would have chosen the priesthood if, alongside various distorted and unhealthy elements, they did not have a love for Christ and a desire to proclaim him and, with him, the living God. Can we simply exclude them, as representatives of a radical fringe, from our pursuit of reconciliation and unity? What would then become of them?

When I read his words, “What then would become of them?”, tears came to my eyes. He really loves them with the heart of Jesus. He WANTS them to come HOME. He worries about their SOULS, but not in a conceptual way; he loves them as brothers. He continues:

Dear Brothers, during the days when I first had the idea of writing this letter, by chance, during a visit to the Roman Seminary, I had to interpret and comment on Galatians 5:13-15. I was surprised at the directness with which that passage speaks to us about the present moment: "Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’. But if you bite and devour one another, take heed that you are not consumed by one another." I am always tempted to see these words as another of the rhetorical excesses which we occasionally find in Saint Paul. To some extent that may also be the case. But sad to say, this "biting and devouring" also exists in the Church today, as expression of a poorly understood freedom. Should we be surprised that we too are no better than the Galatians? That at the very least we are threatened by the same temptations? That we must always learn anew the proper use of freedom? And that we must always learn anew the supreme priority, which is love?

These words reiterate the message of 1Corinthians chapter 13 I spoke of at the Ignited by Truth Conference in Raleigh, NC. Who we are, how we call others, how we behave, how we interact, how we live the gospel can be brought back to the most basic and yet, seemingly, most difficult call of every Christian: to LOVE. It doesn't get any more fundamental than that. Yet we still screw it up. Thank God for His mercy. We need it!
Our Holy Father is amazing. This letter was personal, revealing, and loving. It has already born fruit – Jewish leadership have embraced it and declared the situation resolved. I pray the rest of us will respond as quickly and put it into action.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Dave,
    I was struck by this letter in a very profound way. John Paul did much during his time to bring the office of Holy Father to a very human level. When Benedict became pope it was thought that this man would change that an possibly restore the office to a distant theological realm. This letter is remarkable in its human craftsmanship. It extends the ministry of John Paul into the present and exposes us to a man of incredible warmth and humanity. In one tiny stroke of his brush, the pope has painted a picture of who we are in a way that no encyclical could ever hope to approach. Godspeed Benedict.


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