This is the third article in a three part series in which I examine the absurdities in a sermon by Pope Benedict XVI at Yankee Stadium in New York on April 20, 2008. The analysis was inspired by a Catholic who told me that the Pope is the most intelligent person in the world.
In this part of the homily, Pope Benedict refers to a reading (given in Spanish) from the first book of Peter (2: 4-9):
4 Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and 5 like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in scripture:
“See, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious;
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
7 To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe,
“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the very head of the corner,”
“A stone that makes them stumble,
and a rock that makes them fall.”
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
The Pope says:
This magnificent vision of a world being transformed by the liberating truth of the Gospel is reflected in the description of the Church found in today’s second reading. The Apostle tells us that Christ, risen from the dead, is the keystone of a great temple which is even now rising in the Spirit. And we, the members of his body, through Baptism have become “living stones” in that temple, sharing in the life of God by grace, blessed with the freedom of the sons of God, and empowered to offer spiritual sacrifices pleasing to him (cf. 1 Pet 2:5). And what is this offering which we are called to make, if not to direct our every thought, word and action to the truth of the Gospel and to harness all our energies in the service of God’s Kingdom? Only in this way can we build with God, on the one foundation which is Christ (cf. 1 Cor 3:11). Only in this way can we build something that will truly endure. Only in this way can our lives find ultimate meaning and bear lasting fruit.
So the Pope says we are to commit ourselves to the truth of the Gospel. But which part exactly? The part that says that Christ rose from the dead? Why should we believe statements like this? Where is the evidence that Christ rose from the dead? Why should we believe that any of the miracles that are written about in the Gospels actually occurred, and are not the result of embellishment or myth-making on the part of the tellers?
Faith is a convenient way of urging people to believe in something without evidence. Why should we believe what is written in the New Testament? To claim that only through an unquestioned acceptance of a text (explained to the people, it should be said, by the Pope’s appointed authorities) will people find “ultimate meaning” is the same thing that Imams tell their followers with regard to the Koran, and Swamis tell their disciples with regard to the Bhagavad Gita.
Sure, many followers feel a sense of spirituality (at least from time to time) that leads them to connect with the words written in these texts. But a sense of religious feeling does not make the words true. No more than it does for someone who had faith that David Koresh was the messiah, or a Muslim extremist has faith that blowing up a bus full of children will ensure their place in heaven. Because many Christians find that commitment to the Church does provide meaning in their lives, as well as a sense of joy, peace and even freedom, it is difficult for them to grasp this point.
That is why it is difficult to convey to them the benefits of actually moving away from the grasp of the Church and thinking more objectively about issues like freedom and morality. The Church has directed their sense of spirituality towards Church dogma, such that the two cannot be distinguished in the minds of believers.
The Church has also trapped its followers within the illusion of sin. To deviate from the Church’s teachings is a sin that is emotionally felt. With sin, one does not experience joy, peace or freedom. With sin one feels like there is a piece missing – the cornerstone that their lives are built around, the so-called Christ.
The Pope goes on to praise the achievements of Catholics in America. He then says the following, quoting the First letter of Peter once more:
“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people he claims for his own, to proclaim his glorious works” (1 Pet 2:9). These words of the Apostle Peter do not simply remind us of the dignity which is ours by God’s grace; they also challenge us to an ever greater fidelity to the glorious inheritance which we have received in Christ (cf. Eph 1:18). They challenge us to examine our consciences, to purify our hearts, to renew our baptismal commitment to reject Satan and all his empty promises. They challenge us to be a people of joy, heralds of the unfailing hope (cf. Rom 5:5) born of faith in God’s word, and trust in his promises.
It’s always interesting to hear Satan referred to in a sermon, as if the personification of evil is actually a real figure who lurks around in the background tempting people into sin. This aside, the constant reminders to have “faith” and “trust” in the gospel is the equivalent of saying refrain from rational thought. The effect of this constant exhortation to believe and accept without question is a form of brainwashing. The congregation setting where members are not encouraged to raise objections during sermons (unlike, say, university lectures) and where any expressions of doubt are frowned upon is the perfect setting for this indoctrination process.
Each day, throughout this land, you and so many of your neighbors pray to the Father in the Lord’s own words: “Thy Kingdom come”. This prayer needs to shape the mind and heart of every Christian in this nation. It needs to bear fruit in the way you lead your lives and in the way you build up your families and your communities. It needs to create new “settings of hope” (cf. Spe Salvi, 32ff.) where God’s Kingdom becomes present in all its saving power.
Praying fervently for the coming of the Kingdom also means being constantly alert for the signs of its presence, and working for its growth in every sector of society. It means facing the challenges of present and future with confidence in Christ’s victory and a commitment to extending his reign. It means not losing heart in the face of resistance, adversity and scandal. It means overcoming every separation between faith and life, and countering false gospels of freedom and happiness. It also means rejecting a false dichotomy between faith and political life, since, as the Second Vatican Council put it, “there is no human activity – even in secular affairs – which can be withdrawn from God’s dominion” (Lumen Gentium, 36). It means working to enrich American society and culture with the beauty and truth of the Gospel, and never losing sight of that great hope which gives meaning and value to all the other hopes which inspire our lives.
So now the Pope is exhorting followers not only to implement the Church’s teachings in their own lives, but also in their families and communities in order to create the environment for the coming of “God’s Kingdom”. The need to not to be discouraged in the face of resistance, adversity and scandal is basically saying to followers not to worry about other doubters, or even the scandals that may grip the Church itself. It is encouraging a form of indifference to views and events that might expose the hypocrisy of the Church.
Further, the Pope is being critical of the separation between religion and politics, which is the hallmark of modern democracies. Undoubtedly, the Pope would like to see a return to the period when the Church had a prominent role in secular affairs. Again, this is very dangerous thinking, which impinges on the freedom of religious belief that the separation of religion and politics enables.
And this, dear friends, is the particular challenge which the Successor of Saint Peter sets before you today. As “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation”, follow faithfully in the footsteps of those who have gone before you! Hasten the coming of God’s Kingdom in this land! Past generations have left you an impressive legacy. In our day too, the Catholic community in this nation has been outstanding in its prophetic witness in the defense of life, in the education of the young, in care for the poor, the sick and the stranger in your midst. On these solid foundations, the future of the Church in America must even now begin to rise!
It is true that the Church has done a great deal for educating the young, caring for the poor, looking after the infirmed and welcoming strangers. Those Christian values have arguably been the foundation for modern ethics and the development of Western civilization. However, those values have evolved into a secular form and have taken on their own evolutionary path, in some ways conflicting with the Church’s double-standards in applying such values. The civil rights extended to homosexuals is a good example, where the Church has failed to apply Jesus’ own standards of acceptance, love and tolerance, instead resisting society’s own push for universal rights. Gender equality is another example.
I won’t bother going on with the rest of the homily, as I have made my point. The Pope has not only a poor intellectual grasp of theological and social issues, but his ideas are irresponsible in that they encourage irrational and unquestioning thought. I have not even ventured into the controversial issues of contraception, AIDs, divorce rights and paedophilia where the Pope has been a “stumbling” block on the path to progress.
So what does the Church have to offer to fulfilling the type of ‘New Jerusalem’ imagined by Jesus? Not much. I will leave you with the following verse from the 1st book of Corinthians (13:11):
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.