Saturday, March 14, 2015

Saints and Beauty: Pope Benedict XVI's "Holy Men and Women"

Father Benedict, the former Pope Benedict XVI and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, expressed the link between beauty and holiness often, for example, in this message to a gathering of Communion and Liberation in 2002:

Nothing can bring us into close contact with the beauty of Christ himself other than the world of beauty created by faith and light that shines out from the faces of the saints, through whom his own light becomes visible.

Another great quotation extends that link to its impact on evangelization and apologetics:

I have often affirmed my conviction that the true apology of Christian faith, the most convincing demonstration of its truth…are the saints and the beauty that the faith has generated.

In this volume of addresses from his General Audiences in 2010 and 2011, Pope Benedict XVI beautifully conveyed the individual holiness of each of these Holy Men and Women of the Middle Ages and Beyond. For each saint (or holy man and woman NOT yet canonized), he delineates what made them holy, how they "let Jesus so totally overwhelm their life that they could say with Saint Paul, "it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Gal. 2:20)" (chapter 36, "Holiness"). Pope Benedict presents them as examples for us to follow to be united with Jesus--he points out their special contributions to the Church and the world and does not neglect to speak of their difficulties with Church hierarchy or their own communities. 

Benedict dedicated three addresses to Saints Bonaventure and Thomas Aquinas, and two to St. Hildegard of Bingen, whom he had canonized. He highlights many of the great saints of the Counter-reformation or Catholic reformation era, but omits St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Philip Neri from his survey; obviously there is a big chronological gap between St. Alphonsus Liguori and St. Therese of Lisieux, the two saints he describes last.

He did speak of St. Ignatius in 2006:

On April 22, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI presided over a Eucharistic concelebration for the Society of Jesus. He addressed the fathers and brothers of the Society present at the Vatican Basilica, calling to mind the dedication and fidelity of their founder.

“St. Ignatius of Loyola was first and foremost a man of God who in his life put God, his greatest glory and his greatest service, first,” the Pope said. “He was a profoundly prayerful man for whom the daily celebration of the Eucharist was the heart and crowning point of his day.”

“Precisely because he was a man of God, St Ignatius was a faithful servant of the Church,” Benedict continued, recalling the saint's “special vow of obedience to the Pope, which he himself describes as 'our first and principal foundation.'”Highlighting the need for “an intense spiritual and cultural training,” Pope Benedict called upon the Society of Jesus to follow in the footsteps of St. Ignatius and continue his work of service to the Church and obedience to the Pope, so that it's members “may faithfully meet the urgent needs of the Church today.”

I'm not sure that Pope Benedict wrote much about St. Philip Neri.

Since Pope Francis is encouraging Catholics to visit their parishes for Confession and Adoration today, it does seem appropriate to cite his predecessor's comments about St. Alphonsus Liguori and the forgiveness of sins:

In his day, there was a very strict and widespread interpretation of moral life because of the Jansenist mentality which, instead of fostering trust and hope in God’s mercy, fomented fear and presented a grim and severe face of God, very remote from the face revealed to us by Jesus. Especially in his main work entitled Moral Theology, St Alphonsus proposed a balanced and convincing synthesis of the requirements of God’s law, engraved on our hearts, fully revealed by Christ and interpreted authoritatively by the Church, and of the dynamics of the conscience and of human freedom, which precisely in adherence to truth and goodness permit the person’s development and fulfilment.

Alphonsus recommended to pastors of souls and confessors that they be faithful to the Catholic moral doctrine, assuming at the same time a charitable, understanding and gentle attitude so that penitents might feel accompanied, supported and encouraged on their journey of faith and of Christian life.

St Alphonsus never tired of repeating that priests are a visible sign of the infinite mercy of God who forgives and enlightens the mind and heart of the sinner so that he may convert and change his life. In our epoch, in which there are clear signs of the loss of the moral conscience and — it must be recognized — of a certain lack of esteem for the sacrament of Confession, St Alphonsus’ teaching is still very timely.

Reading this book does whet my appetite for the other two series, on the early Church Fathers from Clement of Rome to St. Augustine and on the Father and Teachers of the Church from Leo the Great to Peter Lombard, especially the latter, which I've already ordered on my Kindle!

No comments:

Post a Comment