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Deo gratias

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Posted: 4/22/2005

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In His mercy the Lord has provided a new shepherd for His flock. Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory!

Habemus papam! Pope Benedict XVI is not an unknown cardinal coming to the Vatican from an obscure diocese, whose human talents and vision of the Church have to unfold before our eyes as we come to know and love the latest successor of Peter. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was one of the best known Church officials, in charge of one of the most sensitive dicasteries of the Holy See: the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith.

The right hand man of Pope John Paul the Great, he is regarded as one of the brightest theologians of the 20th century and has always been, is and will remain a staunch promoter of the genuine renewal sought by the Second Vatican Council. A shy man and a hard worker, he defined himself best from the balcony at St. Peter’s square April 19: “A simple and humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord,” an “inadequate” instrument in the hands of God.

His election as pope after only four ballots, signals unity among the cardinal electors. It clearly manifested their desire to choose another pope of great stature who will be able to take up the mantle of Pope John Paul, without the period of adjustment a less experienced candidate may have required.

The challenges facing Pope Benedict are immediate and daunting. Secularization is rampant in Europe. The cradle of Christianity is apostatizing from the faith. The new European constitution shamefully ignores the Christian roots of the European civilization. Alas, here in the United States, Mass attendance has dwindled dramatically in the last 20 years and our society is becoming increasingly hostile to Christian values. Legislation supporting homosexual unions, embryonic stem-cell research and cloning, and euthanasia are the result of that process of global secularization.

In the dawning century, there is a great need for the Church to have dialog with the secular culture. Pope John Paul began that process, and we are sure Pope Benedict XVI will be a forceful announcer of the Christian message of freedom to the world; a freedom based on the splendor of the Truth.

For some, the term “dialog” is a euphemism for calling the Church to adapt to the cultural whims of the moment. The “old, anachronistic Church,” they say, needs to change and accept our culture; needs to become politically correct.

Instead, the mission of the Church is to challenge individuals to conform their lives to Christ. St. Paul does not call his disciples to adapt to the world, but instead he encourages them to resist the culture of their time. “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.”

Some may be disappointed with the selection of our new Holy Father. They may have been hoping for a pope who would bend to popular culture, who would alter Church teachings to what our present society calls “right” and “just.”

With St. Paul, we encourage them to seek the fullness of truth rather than uncritically accept the premises of our culture. We encourage them to accept the challenge of becoming disciples of Christ as informed and well formed Catholics, not just as followers of traditions.

Pope John Paul was well aware of the importance of the challenge of becoming a disciple. He called for a new evangelization of the Church, in which Catholics would not be just “churchgoers” but would experience the freedom of an adult faith. That is the great challenge of the Church, one that Pope Benedict XVI strongly outlined in his last homily as Cardinal Ratzinger.

"We are called to reach [the measure of the fullness of Christ] in order to be true adults in the faith. We should not remain infants in faith, in a state of minority. And what does it mean to be an infant in faith? St. Paul answers: it means 'tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery.' This description is very relevant today!"

For the last 40 years Christian formation in our schools and parishes has greatly declined. New generations of Catholics may be well educated, hold college degrees, be great businesspeople, compassionate and caring professionals but unfortunately they also tend to be very poorly rooted and formed in their faith, vulnerable to “every wind of teaching.”

"Being an 'adult' means having a faith which does not follow the waves of today's fashions or the latest novelties," then Cardinal Ratzinger also said in his homily. "A faith which is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ is adult and mature. It is this friendship which opens us up to all that is good and gives us the knowledge to judge true from false, and deceit from truth. We must become mature in this adult faith; we must guide the flock of Christ to this faith."

Deo gratias — Thanks be to God.