When the News is Good . . .
Dedicated Catholics in the West are very well aware of the problems the Faith faces in a secularized culture. The influence of Catholicism has been more or less on the decline in the so-called First World for half a millennium. Despite this fact, though, positive things are happening all the time. To prove this point, I looked back through the news for the past 90 days to see what happened that was good.
The Church and the Nations
Of course the Pope’s current visit to Turkey comes to mind immediately. It has been only two months since the second-ranking official of Al Qaida denounced Benedict XVI for stirring up “superstitions” about Muslims of the same kind that led to the crusades. On September 29th, Ayman al Zawahiri stated flatly that the Pope should become a Muslim instead of telling lies about the Muslim tendency to violence. This was advice from a terrorist leader given while other Muslim groups (but certainly not all) were shooting Christians and fire-bombing churches in protest against the Pope’s Regensburg address.
Out of this comes our first piece of good news. Undeterred by personal risk, the Pope determined to go to Turkey not only to support the small Catholic community there but to begin his much-desired dialogue with Islam. At first the Turkish Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdogan, said he would not meet with Benedict, citing a conflict with a meeting of NATO ministers in Latvia. But Benedict soldiered on with his plans and the Prime Minister experienced a change of heart. Erdogan decided that the Vicar of Christ was not so easily ignored after all, and altered his schedule to greet him at the airport on November 29th.
Meanwhile, Cardinal Ignace Moussa Daoud, the Prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, had already announced another significant bit of good news. The long-term exodus of Catholics from Turkey has apparently stopped; the Catholic population has stabilized. That population is small, only about 30,000 strong, but what a rich heritage it has! In addition to three Latin-rite bishops, Turkey boasts two Armenian Catholic prelates, two patriarchal vicars (one for the Syrian and one for the Chaldean Catholics), as well as communities of Maronite and Byzantine Catholics. Moreover, Church history in Turkey goes back a very long way. Between 325 and 870 AD there were ecumenical councils at Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus and Chalcedon.
A third piece of good news comes from the predominantly Catholic nation of Nicaragua, where outgoing President Enrique Bolanus signed a sweeping ban on abortion, effective November 18th. The new law eliminates abortions which had been performed under a vague clause concerning the need to preserve maternal health. In what will surely seem to many an odd turn of events, the new law’s passage was ensured when the former Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega threw his weight behind it as part of an appeal to Catholics.
Within the Church
I admit I have a special fondness for good news within the Church herself. My own apostolic work has always been directed more to the needs of those who are already Catholic, and who have suffered mightily over the past generation because of secularization within the ranks. But even in this bleak landscape, good things abound. It could be argued, for example, that the operations of the USCCB are now growing more authentically Catholic year by year as secularized mindsets are slowly pruned away.
But direction must come from Rome, and it is coming somewhat more quickly these days. Here are two news items as cases in point. First, Cardinal Francis Arinze, head of the Congregation for Divine Worship, wrote in November to the heads of all the episcopal conferences of the world directing them to change the translation of “pro multis” from “for all” to “for many”, a change to be made within two years. The battle for a proper rendering of “pro multis”, the phrase used in the consecration of the wine into the blood of Christ, has been going on for years. The translation “for all” was one of many common deviations from the official Latin text, deviations which always seemed to deliberately diminish the content of the Faith.
As Cardinal Arinze noted, the translation “for many” is to be preferred for five weighty reasons: (1) This is the terminology used in the gospels; (2) It is the language of the traditional Roman rite; (3) It is the language of the oriental rites; (4) It is a more accurate translation of the definitive Latin text, as demanded by the current norms governing liturgical translations (i.e., Liturgiam authenticam); and (5) “For many” captures the profound theology of Christ’s saving action. It includes both the “all” for whom Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient and the “many” for whom His sacrifice is efficacious. In contrast, “for all” captures only half of this richness and tends to foster an illusion of universal salvation, reducing the relevance of Catholic faith and practice. The accumulation of such linguistic deficiencies has detracted substantially from the depth and precision with which the Catholic Faith is understood in our time.
Our second case is the vigorous demand for better seminaries by the new Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Claudio Hummes. Immediately following his appointment, Cardinal Hummes went on the offensive, flatly stating the need for better selection and formation of seminarians. The Vatican “has issued guidelines and they are being implemented,” said Cardinal Hummes, with the emphasis on implementation, which has been sadly lacking in the past. “There must be a more rigorous selection in the seminaries, a more exacting formation, so that we have the moral certainty that they [seminarians] will have the conditions to live celibacy exactly as the Church asks them to live.”
Good News Indeed
It may not be possible to scan the headlines every 90 days for an equal share of good tidings, but most of the best news goes unreported anyway. We must never forget that souls are not saved spectacularly en masse but one at a time. Even the most public Catholic achievements, however valuable, cannot guarantee that all will internalize their lessons. For this reason, the ultimate triumphs occur in families and among friends, between teachers and students, in the work place or on the playing field—wherever the precepts of the Faith are actualized in daily life.
But in case you need further confirmation, here it is. In Naples on September 19th, the blood of St. Januarius liquefied on schedule this year, a recurring but not quite predictable miracle which (according to a tradition I will not gainsay) means that no major disasters are imminent. Christ, of course, is less concerned with material disasters than with spiritual ones. But if St. Januarius is making a point, I certainly intend to use it to strengthen my theme: There are a great many good things going on and, in any case, Our Lord’s news is always good.
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