Friday, December 31, 2010

2010: A Papal Year in Review

With the calendar year coming to a close, the time has come to remember the voyage of 2010 for the Church. 

Benedict XVI has faced his share of troubles, but has endured daunting challenges with remarkable resiliency. 

He enters the new year perhaps all the stronger for his battles.

Here's a look back at 2010. 

Travels, saints, and blessed

The Pope did not slow down in his journeys, traveling to Malta, an island upon which the Apostle Paul was shipwrecked; Portugal, where the Holy Father celebrated Mass on the anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady, praying for the "triumph of the Immaculate Heart" and inviting the suffering to become "redeemers in the Redeemer"; Cyprus, where the Pope presented a special document ahead of the special synod of bishops on the Middle East; the United Kingdom, where the Pope beatified John Henry Cardinal Newman; and Spain, where the Holy Father himself made pilgrimage in to the "House of St. James" ahead of the nation's 2011 World Youth Day. 

In the elevation of Blessed Newman to the ranks of the beatified, Benedict XVI raised the example of a man particularly relevant for our time. 

Cardinal Newman's importance for the Church is underscored in his teaching on the development of doctrine, the nature of Catholic education, and in that the man himself is a "bridge" to unity between Anglicans and Catholic.

The Church received six new saints in October. 

Australia received her first saint in Mary MacKillop, a nun who gave her life to the education of the nation's poor. 

Canada also received St. André Bessette of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, a simple brother known for his miraculous cures and deep mysticism. 

Documents and teachings

With the creation of a Council for the New Evangelization in the Roman Curia in September, Benedict XVI has prioritized the revitalization of the faith throughout the entire world, but especially in cultures suffering under the influence of secularization. 

The Pope expressed a greater desire for the Church to live out its "missionary mandate" -- the impetus to proclaim the Gospel. Among other tasks, the council will have to explore the theology and pastoral application of the new evangelization. 

That same month, the release of the apostolic exhortation "Verbum Domini" marked a significant moment in the Church's teaching on sacred Scripture and its role in the Church. "Verbum Domini" will become standard reading alongside Vatican II's "Dei Verbum" in classes of sacred Scripture in colleges and seminaries around the world for years to come. 

Particularly noteworthy were the Pontiff's reflections on the role of lectio divina in the life of the Church. The four basic steps -- lectio, meditatio, oratio, contemplatio -- culminate in the action (actio) that "moves the believer to make his or her life a gift for others in charity." In Mary the Mother of God we find the "supreme synthesis" of this activity of the Church, for she always pondered the richness of the Word of God in her heart ("Verbum Domini," No. 87). 

Significantly, he also accentuated a "great need" in for theologians to embark upon "a deeper investigation of the relationship between word and sacrament in the Church's pastoral activity and in theological reflection" ("Verbum Domini," No. 53). The Pope also added the production on a Directory of Homiletics on the Church's to-do list ("Verbum Domini," No. 60). 

In an age of relativism, he returned to the theme of the Church's missionary mandate, to proclaim Him whom she cannot in conscience suppress: "We cannot keep to ourselves the words of eternal life given to us in our encounter with Jesus Christ: they are meant for everyone, for every man and woman. … It is our responsibility to pass on what, by God's grace, we ourselves have received" ("Verbum Domini," No. 91). 

Controversies and battles 

2010 was not without its share of controversial stories. The sex abuse scandals continued to plague the Church, particularly in Ireland, leading to a type of "persecution" from within and giving the enemies of the Church plenty of room to attack. Nonetheless, the Pope met the sorrowful revelations with words of comfort for victims and multiple apologies on the one hand and forthright words of accountability on behalf of the Church on the other. 

Media attacks upon the Pope reached their pinnacle in March, when the New York Times -- in bringing forward the case of Father Lawrence Murphy of Milwaukee -- thought they had unveiled the smoking gun that would finally link Cardinal Ratzinger with the sexual abuse scandals. Yet, despite the lengths the Times took to smear the Pope's name and disgrace the Church, no direct link to Cardinal Ratzinger could be established. Rather, Catholic commentators thoroughly exposed the errors and sloppiness of the Times' coverage. 

The sad irony in the media attacks were noted by Archbishop Timothy Dolan during Holy Week at St. Patrick's Cathedral: "No one has been more vigorous in cleansing the Church of the effects of this sickening sin than the man we now call Benedict XVI." 

In November, the Pope sparred with the leadership of communist China over the illegal ordination of a bishop. The Vatican and China had advanced in their relations in recent years, despite the lack of religious and civil rights for the country's inhabitants. But the new developments strained relations. 

Finally, several public relations failures close to the Pope led many to question whether changes in Vatican communications are needed. For instance, ahead of the release of Light of the World (published by Ignatius Press) in which journalist Peter Seewald recounts an interview the Pope, L'Osservatore Romano elected to publish theologically nuanced comments from the Pope of the morality of condom use by male prostitutes. In the ensuing confusion and controversy over the nature of the doctrine of the moral evil of contraception, Catholics in the public sphere seemed to collectively say, "It's one thing if the secular press snags a quote like this for the sake of a sensationalist attack, but it's quite another when the official Vatican newspaper brings the attack upon the Church because of lack of discretion." 

Following the regrettable episode, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith this Wednesday clarified that "the Holy Father was talking neither about conjugal morality nor about the moral norm concerning contraception," but rather about "the completely different case of prostitution." 

2011 Preview 

Those Catholics with an eye toward Rome may look forward to many significant moments of the coming year. 

Here are some of the highlights:

In March, "Jesus of Nazareth, Part Two, Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection" is scheduled to be released by Ignatius Press. This will be one that the secular press will not be as likely to subject to controversy.

On the eve of Palm Sunday, Benedict XVI will turn 84; three days later, he will mark the sixth anniversary of the start of his papacy.

Next year and beyond, the Pope will continue to unpack the depths of his teachings on sacred Scripture from "Verbum Domini." 

Additionally, the leadership, role, and work of the Council for the New Evangelization will likely come into sharper focus.

And regarding the New Evangelization, that is certainly a topic which will present itself in August. Benedict XVI will head to Madrid for the 26th World Youth Day, a day he anticipates "with great joy." 

Likely the biggest "event" on the Catholic Church's 2011 agenda, Spain will then receive the Pontiff for the second time in 10 months. 

In addition to Spain and the usual papal travels throughout Italy, he will return to Africa with a visit to Benin. He will visit Croatia and his homeland of Germany as well.

In light of the controversies of 2010, Catholics may see some changes in the ways in which the Vatican handles the media and those hot-button issues. 

While sweeping staff changes are rarely the actions taken by the Vatican, the Pope's advisers have much to improve upon to prevent confusion and scandal.

They must learn the savvy needed to prevent the type of media manipulations that have occurred during Benedict XVI's pontificate.

The biggest headline-maker for secular news coverage of the Church in 2011 may again be the sex abuse scandals. As the Church in Europe begins its process of healing, the coming tide of litigation may exact a heavy toll. 

However, Catholics in Europe have strong reason to hope as their bishops have the advantage of looking to the successful example of the U.S. Church in how to respond to this very crisis to ensure the safety of children. 

Data showing virtual eradication of clerical abuse in the United States substantiate this comment from Father Thomas Brundage, JLC, former canonical judge for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee: "The Catholic Church is probably the safest place for children at this point in history."

But other more positive headlines may include developments in the Vatican visitation of American religious communities, the build-up to the new translation of the Roman Missal, and perhaps another encyclical.

Also, news has been being reported with greater frequency of Anglican bishops and faithful coming into full communion with the Catholic Church. 

Especially with the increasing ecclesiastical implementation of 2009's "Anglicanorum Coetibus," such headlines should be a common thread for the coming year.

Regardless of the headlines, the message of the Pontiff to the youth of the Church will echo in the hearts of all Catholics this year. 

"Do not be discouraged," he proclaimed in August to those he hopes to see in Spain. 

Benedict XVI our shepherd will carry the same enduring and calm confidence as he carries the Church into the New Year. 

We have much reason for hope.