The Sunday obligation

Next Sunday I will find myself leading a prayer service, a so-called Liturgy of the Word, in place of the regular Mass for students at the cathedral. The reason is simple: our parish priest is unable to offer said Mass for us at that time, since he’ll be out of town. But because a decent number of people come to the cathedral for the student Mass, and since we, the committee that I am a part of, want to keep our momentum going, it is good to offer this prayer service instead of nothing at all. But people attending it will not be fulfilling their Sunday obligation. The Church asks them to attend a Mass at another time that same day, or on the evening before. Luckily there are four opportunities for that within the parish.

What’s the reason for this Sunday obligation? Many people feels unjustly forced to go to Church when they hear these words, but it’s not as unfair or pointless as many may think. Our faith in Jesus Christ also includes an obligation to follow His commandments, at the very least because of our gratitude for His sacrifice. Surely, a God who has sacrificed Himself for us, is worth some very minor discomfort on our part? Another reason why the Sunday is a day of obligation, a day when we are required to attend Mass, to be present at the sacrifice that Christ brought, is that it is good for us.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

“The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin” (2181).

“Participation in the communal celebration of the Sunday Eucharist is a testimony of belonging and of being faithful to Christ and to his Church. The faithful give witness by this to their communion in faith and charity. Together they testify to God’s holiness and their hope of salvation. They strengthen one another under the guidance of the Holy Spirit” (2182).

Our attendance at Sunday Mass is our way of showing that we have faith in something beyond ourselves: our being part of a community of faithful, and our fidelity to Christ and His Church. At the Last Supper, Christ asked His disciples to “do this in memory of me”. He asked the priests to always make the ultimate sacrifice present on the altars again, and His followers – us – to go out of their way to be present at that sacrifice, to let it shine into their hearts and through them into the world.

A prayer service of any kind is a worthy effort. Gathering for the Lord and taking time out to speak to Him, listen to Him and praise Him builds up our relationship with Him and our fellow believers. That is why I see no problem with an evening gathering on Sunday, where we listen to God’s words and pray to Him (we may even sing). But as human beings, as God’s creatures, we are not able to rise up to meet Him. Instead, He has taken the unprecedented step to come down to us. The importance of that can not be emphasised enough. Out of His love for us, He came down to us, to live among us and take our sins, our wrongdoings, our mistakes, our disbelief, our egotism and all the things we did wrong, wilfully or not, on his shoulders. He let Himself be killed for us, He died on the cross and rose again on the third day. He did for us what we could not do ourselves, because He loves us. He defeated death and opened Heaven for us. That act, that sacrifice, is made present anew in the Eucharist.

There is therefore a very real hierarchy of worship, so to speak. Prayer, praise and singing are all very good, but Mass, the actual presence of Christ, is better. It is the best we can ever hope for in this life.

Out of the same love and care that God the Father had when He sent His only begotten Son, the Church requires of us to be present at the Holy Eucharist on the Lord’s day.

Bishop de Jong’s painful truths

Msgr. Everard de Jong, auxiliary bishop of Roermond, has written a letter to the members of the Dutch parliament, in which he calls for a full ban on abortion. Media and MPs are giving him a lot of grief for it, of course, but that is the result of such painful truths. He mentions the 1 million murdered babies since the Pregnancy Termination Act was introduced in 1981, the paradox of condemnation of murdered children and acceptance – even promotion – of the death of the unborn, the arbitrary nature of when a human being is a human being, and the fact that new generations are not allowed life.

It is a passionate and confrontational letter, but also an honest and open one. It’s a sad sign of the times that the instinctive response is one of anger and hate instead of an adult consideration of the points raised by the bishop.

Read the original text (PDF) or my translation.

Bishop of Ghent twitters for new faithful

Below is a translation I made upon request for SQPN, about the tentative first steps of the Diocese of Ghent into the ‘digital continent’. The original Dutch text is here.

It’s a positive development, although still on a small scale. Dioceses and movement on Facebook and Twitter are a great opportunity to evangelise and break through the dictatorship of relativism that prevails there. Hopefully, these efforts can soon expand to be fully effective.

Anyway, the text:

GHENT – Twittering with the bishop of Ghent, or becoming a friend of the diocese on Facebook? That should be no problem, Bishop Luc Van Looy himself thinks: “Starting in October, the Diocese of Ghent, as the first in our country, will start experimenting professionally with new media.”

“That’s actually what we’ve been doing for 2,000 years,” Van Looy says. “And also more recent. When I was a missionary I used slides and 12mm films when those weren’t standard yet in schools here.”

But even though the Church was fairly quick at discovering the Internet – the Vatican very soon had a well-developed website – the recent digital developments have somewhat passed her by, Van Looy admits. “There are individuals in the Church who are working with it. But now we want to let our voice be heard as a diocese in these digital meeting places.

On Facebook alone, there are as many users as the population of an entire continent, the diocese points out. “The Church has always had the tradition of going to these people, but we are barely present in the digital community that is Facebook. But there are millions of people there. Especially young people, who we can engage there in their own language.”

According to Van Looy, the diocese does not intend to simply win souls on social network sites such as Facebook, Netlog or Twitter. “That is not how it works. But there are a lot of people there who are curious and interested in what we have to offer as Church. We can reach out to them dynamically. Creating our own Facebook page and post messages there and enter into dialogue: why not? And why not Twitter during and about, for example, Lent?”

Pope in the Netherlands

Well, a pope. It’s not Benedict XVI, but Pope Shenouda III, the head of the worldwide Coptic Church, or officially the 117th Pope of Alexandria and the Patriarch of All Africa on the Holy Apostolic See of Saint Mark the Evangelist of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. He will be visiting the Netherlands from 15 to 17 October, for the consecration of churches in The Hague and Eindhoven, a general meeting in Haarlem, a courtesy visit to the ambassador of Egypt and the opening of a Coptic cultural centre in Amsterdam.

It is a busy itinerary for the 87-year-old pope, who has been at the helm of the Coptic Church since 1971. For the general meeting on 16 October, Pope Shenouda will have the use of the basilica of St. Bavo in Haarlem, cathedral of the diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam. Bishop Jos Punt spontaneously offered use of the cathedral when the organisation of the meeting was looking for a suitable location.

The Netherlands has seven Coptic parishes under the direct responsibility of Pope Shenouda in Alexandria.

The mythical blasphemy of Monty Python’s Life of Brian

Tomorrow evening the student parish here is hosting a movie night, and the movie that will be shown is Monty Python’s Life of Brian, the story of the man who just happened to have been born in the stable next door to the one used by Mary and Joseph, and who continuously gets mistaken for the Messiah. “There’s no Messiah in here. There’s a mess alright, but no Messiah. Now go away!”, his mother shouts to the masses gathered outside his house.

It seems that in certain Christian circles this movie is at the heart of a controversy. It is blasphemous, many say. But is it really? Does the movie make fun of the person of Jesus Christ, His message or the faith of His followers? I don’t believe so.

Jesus makes a single appearance in the movie. He is shown in the distance during the Sermon on the Mount, in a scene where all the attention is on a group of people who have difficulty hearing Him because they’re all the way in the back. All we hear from Jesus are the words that are in the Gospel: the Beatitudes. True, the people in the back mangle them (“Hear that? Blessed are the Greek.” “The Greek?” “Well, apparently, he’s going to inherit the earth.” “Did anyone catch his name?”), but that’s not blasphemous, of course. In fact, in a source I have mislaid at the moment, I read that the makers of the movie tried to write a comedy about Christ, but then realised that there really isn’t anything to poke fun at in His words. Thus the character of Brian was born.

Brian’s life roughly parallels the life of Christ. He too was born in a manger, we only get to meet his mother, Mandy (there’s not even a foster father), the Romans don’t like him and he plays an important part in the Jewish resistance against Roman rule (many scholars in the 20th century also depicted Jesus as a resistance leader). So are the things that happen to Brian blasphemous? Not really. Brian’s adventures are mostly the result of stupidity of the people around him, who mindlessly follow him because he looks like the Messiah (“Only the true Messiah denies his divinity.” “What? Well, what sort of chance does that give me? All right, I am the Messiah!” “He is! He is the Messiah!”), or of his own clumsiness. Life of Brian is, in the first place, the story of a man who tries to live a normal life.

There are also other (post-)Biblical themes in the movie, chiefly the presence of doom prophets. Brian pretends to be one for a while (and fails miserably) to escape the pursuing Romans, and he also makes a desert father break his 18-year vow of silence. Granted, the prophets are depicted as raving loonies, but be fair: how would a prophet like Amos or Ezekiel be looked upon by the general populace in their days? It doesn’t make them any less important or wise.

In my opinion, what Life of Brian pokes fun at is mindless faith. The brainless following of anyone who may seem to promise something better. The crowd that follows Brian around is a great example of that. They positively worship the shoe and the gourd he looses in the chase, one of them claims he is the Messiah, because “I should know, I’ve followed a few!”, and they are taken advantage of by both the Romans and the resistance. And Brian is stuck in the middle, with all his clumsiness and desperation.

Ultimately, the only possible blasphemy is in details. The Jewish faith, for example, is treated no more reverently than any other religious or social construct. Look at the stoning scene, for example. The crucifixion of Brian and others, at the end of the movie, contrast heavily with the sacrifice of Christ in the cross, but He is not the butt of the joke: the Romans and the resistance are. So Brian, in that scene, is redeemed a bit: he prevails over the people who used him. It is these brainless fools, together with the equally mindless masses who followed Brian (and abandoned him when things became difficult), who are made fun of.

And that is not at odds with a healthy Christian faith. On the contrary, faith and reason are both part of a developed human life. Faith without thought is just unmotivated action. The brainless running after anyone who has something to offer, even if they don’t. And that is worthy of pointing out.

Life of Brian will be shown on Tuesday 28 September in the parish house of the cathedral of St. Joseph, starting at 8 pm.

Papal soundbytes, part 4 (19 September)

Below is a selection from the official addresses and homilies made by Pope Benedict XVI during his state visit to the United Kingdom last week. They are a strictly personal selection of passages which I think are either important to consider or which reflect the general topic of the various speeches. A full collection is available via the Vatican website. Below are my choices from the fourth and final day of the visit, 19 September.

An image of Blessed John Henry Newman looms over Pope Benedict XVI and Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham

Homily at the Mass for the beatification of Cardinal Newman, Birmingham

“Cardinal Newman’s motto, Cor ad cor loquitur, or “Heart speaks unto heart”, gives us an insight into his understanding of the Christian life as a call to holiness, experienced as the profound desire of the human heart to enter into intimate communion with the Heart of God. He reminds us that faithfulness to prayer gradually transforms us into the divine likeness. As he wrote in one of his many fine sermons, “a habit of prayer, the practice of turning to God and the unseen world in every season, in every place, in every emergency – prayer, I say, has what may be called a natural effect in spiritualizing and elevating the soul. A man is no longer what he was before; gradually … he has imbibed a new set of ideas, and become imbued with fresh principles.””

“[W]hat better goal could teachers of religion set themselves than Blessed John Henry’s famous appeal for an intelligent, well-instructed laity: “I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it, who know so much of history that they can defend it.””

Address to the Bishops of England, Wales and Scotland

“In the course of my visit it has become clear to me how deep a thirst there is among the British people for the Good News of Jesus Christ. You have been chosen by God to offer them the living water of the Gospel, encouraging them to place their hopes, not in the vain enticements of this world, but in the firm assurances of the next. As you proclaim the coming of the Kingdom, with its promise of hope for the poor and the needy, the sick and the elderly, the unborn and the neglected, be sure to present in its fulness the life-giving message of the Gospel, including those elements which call into question the widespread assumptions of today’s culture. As you know, a Pontifical Council has recently been established for the New Evangelization of countries of long-standing Christian tradition, and I would encourage you to avail yourselves of its services in addressing the task before you.”

At Oscott College, the pope and the bishops of Scotland, England and Wales pose for a picture evoking a classic shot of Cardinal Newman and clergy of his day.

“Another matter which has received much attention in recent months, and which seriously undermines the moral credibility of Church leaders, is the shameful abuse of children and young people by priests and religious. I have spoken on many occasions of the deep wounds that such behaviour causes, in the victims first and foremost, but also in the relationships of trust that should exist between priests and people, between priests and their bishops, and between the Church authorities and the public. I know that you have taken serious steps to remedy this situation, to ensure that children are effectively protected from harm and to deal properly and transparently with allegations as they arise. You have publicly acknowledged your deep regret over what has happened, and the often inadequate ways it was addressed in the past. Your growing awareness of the extent of child abuse in society, its devastating effects, and the need to provide proper victim support should serve as an incentive to share the lessons you have learned with the wider community. Indeed, what better way could there be of making reparation for these sins than by reaching out, in a humble spirit of compassion, towards children who continue to suffer abuse elsewhere? Our duty of care towards the young demands nothing less.”

“I pray that among the graces of this visit will be a renewed dedication on the part of Christian leaders to the prophetic vocation they have received, and a new appreciation on the part of the people for the great gift of the ordained ministry.”

“[The implementation of Anglicanorum Coetibus] should be seen as a prophetic gesture that can contribute positively to the developing relations between Anglicans and Catholics. It helps us to set our sights on the ultimate goal of all ecumenical activity: the restoration of full ecclesial communion in the context of which the mutual exchange of gifts from our respective spiritual patrimonies serves as an enrichment to us all.”

Pope Benedict and his personal secretary, Msgr. Gänswein, seen through the airplane window as they arrive back in Rome.

Rigid and one-sided?

A somewhat strange definition of orthodoxy on Dutch news site Nu.nl today. A study by the University of Amsterdam into the Salafi school of Islam – the proponents of which favour a fairly strict interpretation of scripture – and its attitudes towards Dutch society, identifies said school as a “‘normal’ orthodox movement”. And what is a normal orthodox movement then? Well, the news report says, one whose followers have a “rigid and one-sided” world view.

I don’t think that’s a fair description of orthodoxy, be it Muslim or Christian orthodoxy. I consider myself orthodox as well, but I don’t think I’m any more rigid and one-sided than other parts of society. I can generally agree with the description that Wikipedia gives of the word:

The word orthodox, from Greek orthodoxos “having the right opinion”, from orthos (“right”, “true”, “straight”) + doxa (“opinion” or “praise”, related to dokein, “to think”), is typically used to mean the adherence to well-researched and well-thought-out accepted norms, especially in religion.

So an orthodox person adheres to well-thought-out norms, which obviously means that some less well-considered norms are not accepted by that person. Is that rigidity and one-sidedness? Is good consideration of things the same as rigidity? Of course not. The only commonality between the two terms is that neither refers to the automatic acceptance of everything that is humanly possible, as much of modern society tends to do. Is orthodoxy one-sided? I would vehemently disagree with that. Perhaps seen from the outside it may look like it is, but from the inside the orthodoxy of, for example, my Catholic faith, has too many facets to ever be one-sided.

Orthodoxy presupposes a set of norms and values, ideally well-considered and developed over the course of centuries, but around that foundation – because of that foundation – the human being flourishes. Like a house or a tree, people also need a solid foundation to bloom. That, in my opinion, is orthodoxy. A positive concept, not negative like rigidity and one-sidedness.

Papal soundbytes, part 3 (18 September)

Below is a selection from the official addresses and homilies made by Pope Benedict XVI during his state visit to the United Kingdom last week. They are a strictly personal selection of passages which I think are either important to consider or which reflect the general topic of the various speeches. A full collection is available via the Vatican website. Below are my choices from the third day of the visit, 18 September.

Pope Benedict greets the faithful on the steps of Westminster Cathedral after Mass

Homily at Westminster Cathedral

“[T]he great crucifix which towers above us serves as a reminder that Christ, our eternal high priest, daily unites our own sacrifices, our own sufferings, our own needs, hopes and aspirations, to the infinite merits of his sacrifice. Through him, with him, and in him, we lift up our own bodies as a sacrifice holy and acceptable to God (cf. Rom 12:1).”

“Here too I think of the immense suffering caused by the abuse of children, especially within the Church and by her ministers. Above all, I express my deep sorrow to the innocent victims of these unspeakable crimes, along with my hope that the power of Christ’s grace, his sacrifice of reconciliation, will bring deep healing and peace to their lives. I also acknowledge, with you, the shame and humiliation which all of us have suffered because of these sins; and I invite you to offer it to the Lord with trust that this chastisement will contribute to the healing of the victims, the purification of the Church and the renewal of her age-old commitment to the education and care of young people. I express my gratitude for the efforts being made to address this problem responsibly, and I ask all of you to show your concern for the victims and solidarity with your priests.”

“One of the greatest challenges facing us today is how to speak convincingly of the wisdom and liberating power of God’s word to a world which all too often sees the Gospel as a constriction of human freedom, instead of the truth which liberates our minds and enlightens our efforts to live wisely and well, both as individuals and as members of society.”

A delegation of young people chat with the pope on the steps of Westminster Cathedral

Salute to youth

“I ask you to look into your hearts each day to find the source of all true love. Jesus is always there, quietly waiting for us to be still with him and to hear his voice. Deep within your heart, he is calling you to spend time with him in prayer. But this kind of prayer, real prayer, requires discipline; it requires making time for moments of silence every day. Often it means waiting for the Lord to speak. Even amid the “busy-ness” and the stress of our daily lives, we need to make space for silence, because it is in silence that we find God, and in silence that we discover our true self. And in discovering our true self, we discover the particular vocation which God has given us for the building up of his Church and the redemption of our world.”

Address at St Peter’s Residence, home for older people

Residents of St. Peter's Residence welcome the pope

“As advances in medicine and other factors lead to increased longevity, it is important to recognize the presence of growing numbers of older people as a blessing for society. Every generation can learn from the experience and wisdom of the generation that preceded it. Indeed the provision of care for the elderly should be considered not so much an act of generosity as the repayment of a debt of gratitude.”

“Life is a unique gift, at every stage from conception until natural death, and it is God’s alone to give and to take. One may enjoy good health in old age; but equally Christians should not be afraid to share in the suffering of Christ, if God wills that we struggle with infirmity. My predecessor, the late Pope John Paul, suffered very publicly during the last years of his life. It was clear to all of us that he did so in union with the sufferings of our Saviour. His cheerfulness and forbearance as he faced his final days were a remarkable and moving example to all of us who have to carry the burden of advancing years.”

Address at the prayer vigil at Hyde Park

“Here is the first lesson we can learn from  [Cardinal Newman’s] life: in our day, when an intellectual and moral relativism threatens to sap the very foundations of our society, Newman reminds us that, as men and women made in the image and likeness of God, we were created to know the truth, to find in that truth our ultimate freedom and the fulfilment of our deepest human aspirations. In a word, we are meant to know Christ, who is himself “the way, and the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6).”

“The truth that sets us free cannot be kept to ourselves; it calls for testimony, it begs to be heard, and in the end its convincing power comes from itself and not from the human eloquence or arguments in which it may be couched. […] In our own time, the price to be paid for fidelity to the Gospel is no longer being hanged, drawn and quartered but it often involves being dismissed out of hand, ridiculed or parodied. And yet, the Church cannot withdraw from the task of proclaiming Christ and his Gospel as saving truth, the source of our ultimate happiness as individuals and as the foundation of a just and humane society.”

“[Newman} saw clearly that we do not so much accept the truth in a purely intellectual act as embrace it in a spiritual dynamic that penetrates to the core of our being. Truth is passed on not merely by formal teaching, important as that is, but also by the witness of lives lived in integrity, fidelity and holiness; those who live in and by the truth instinctively recognize what is false and, precisely as false, inimical to the beauty and goodness which accompany the splendour of truth, veritatis splendor.”

“By letting the light of faith shine in our hearts, and by abiding in that light through our daily union with the Lord in prayer and participation in the life-giving sacraments of the Church, we ourselves become light to those around us; we exercise our “prophetic office”; often, without even knowing it, we draw people one step closer to the Lord and his truth. Without the life of prayer, without the interior transformation which takes place through the grace of the sacraments, we cannot, in Newman’s words, “radiate Christ”; we become just another “clashing cymbal” (1 Cor 13:1) in a world filled with growing noise and confusion, filled with false paths leading only to heartbreak and illusion.”

“No one who looks realistically at our world today could think that Christians can afford to go on with business as usual, ignoring the profound crisis of faith which has overtaken our society, or simply trusting that the patrimony of values handed down by the Christian centuries will continue to inspire and shape the future of our society. We know that in times of crisis and upheaval God has raised up great saints and prophets for the renewal of the Church and Christian society; we trust in his providence and we pray for his continued guidance. But each of us, in accordance with his or her state of life, is called to work for the advancement of God’s Kingdom by imbuing temporal life with the values of the Gospel. Each of us has a mission, each of us is called to change the world, to work for a culture of life, a culture forged by love and respect for the dignity of each human person.”

“Dear young friends: only Jesus knows what “definite service” he has in mind for you. Be open to his voice resounding in the depths of your heart: even now his heart is speaking to your heart. Christ has need of families to remind the world of the dignity of human love and the beauty of family life. He needs men and women who devote their lives to the noble task of education, tending the young and forming them in the ways of the Gospel. He needs those who will consecrate their lives to the pursuit of perfect charity, following him in chastity, poverty and obedience, and serving him in the least of our brothers and sisters. He needs the powerful love of contemplative religious, who sustain the Church’s witness and activity through their constant prayer. And he needs priests, good and holy priests, men who are willing to lay down their lives for their sheep. Ask our Lord what he has in mind for you! Ask him for the generosity to say “yes!” Do not be afraid to give yourself totally to Jesus. He will give you the grace you need to fulfil your vocation.”

A small but steady stream

Logo of the Tiltenberg seminary

The five Dutch seminaries have begun the new academic year with a small number of new students, much in line with previous years. The numbers are small when considered per seminary, but the total is not bad for such a heavily secularised country. 36 new seminarians start their education and formation on the road towards the priesthood.

The largest number will study at the Tiltenberg seminary in the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam, which also houses seminarians for Groningen-Leeuwarden, Utrecht and the Neocatechumenal Way. 20 new students are starting there (although the seminarians of the Neocatechumenal Way live at their own Redemptoris Mater seminary).

The St. John’s seminary in Den Bosch welcomed six new seminarians, and Rolduc in the Diocese of Roermond has four.

Logo of St. John's

Bovendonk, which is the seminary for late vocation, where students study part-time, sees five new enrolments.

Last in the line is Vronesteyn in the Diocese of Rotterdam, which has one new student.

The Archdiocese of Utrecht, perhaps because of the closing of its own seminary last year, has no new students this year. On the other hand, with such low numbers of seminarians per diocese, there are bound to be years when there are no new students.

Papal soundbytes, part 2 (17 September)

Below is a selection from the official addresses and homilies made by Pope Benedict XVI during his state visit to the United Kingdom last week. They are a strictly personal selection of passages which I think are either important to consider or which reflect the general topic of the various speeches. A full collection is available via the Vatican website. Below are my choices from the second day of the visit, 17 September.

Pope Benedict arrives at St. Mary's University College at Twickenham, London.

Address to teachers and religious, St. Mary’s College, Twickenham

“As you know, the task of a teacher is not simply to impart information or to provide training in skills intended to deliver some economic benefit to society; education is not and must never be considered as purely utilitarian. It is about forming the human person, equipping him or her to live life to the full – in short it is about imparting wisdom. And true wisdom is inseparable from knowledge of the Creator, for “both we and our words are in his hand, as are all understanding and skill in crafts” (Wis 7:16).”

Address to pupils, St. Mary’s College

“Having money makes it possible to be generous and to do good in the world, but on its own, it is not enough to make us happy. Being highly skilled in some activity or profession is good, but it will not satisfy us unless we aim for something greater still. It might make us famous, but it will not make us happy. Happiness is something we all want, but one of the great tragedies in this world is that so many people never find it, because they look for it in the wrong places. The key to it is very simple – true happiness is to be found in God.”

“A good school provides a rounded education for the whole person. And a good Catholic school, over and above this, should help all its students to become saints.”

Britain´s Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, greets the pope at a meeting of representatives of other religions

Address to representatives of other religions

“Within their own spheres of competence, the human and natural sciences provide us with an invaluable understanding of aspects of our existence and they deepen our grasp of the workings of the physical universe, which can then be harnessed in order to bring great benefit to the human family. Yet these disciplines do not and cannot answer the fundamental question, because they operate on another level altogether. They cannot satisfy the deepest longings of the human heart, they cannot fully explain to us our origin and our destiny, why and for what purpose we exist, nor indeed can they provide us with an exhaustive answer to the question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?””

“The quest for the sacred does not devalue other fields of human enquiry. On the contrary, it places them in a context which magnifies their importance, as ways of responsibly exercising our stewardship over creation.”

Visit to the archbishop of Canterbury

“In fidelity to the Lord’s will, as expressed in that passage from Saint Paul’s First Letter to Timothy, we recognize that the Church is called to be inclusive, yet never at the expense of Christian truth. Herein lies the dilemma facing all who are genuinely committed to the ecumenical journey.”

Speaker of the House John Bercow (right) introduces Pope Benedict at Westminster Hall

Address to diplomats, politicians academics and business leaders, Westminster Hall

“The central question at issue, then, is this: where is the ethical foundation for political choices to be found? The Catholic tradition maintains that the objective norms governing right action are accessible to reason, prescinding from the content of revelation. According to this understanding, the role of religion in political debate is not so much to supply these norms, as if they could not be known by non-believers – still less to propose concrete political solutions, which would lie altogether outside the competence of religion – but rather to help purify and shed light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles.”

“Without the corrective supplied by religion, though, reason […] can fall prey to distortions, as when it is manipulated by ideology, or applied in a partial way that fails to take full account of the dignity of the human person. Such misuse of reason, after all, was what gave rise to the slave trade in the first place and to many other social evils, not least the totalitarian ideologies of the twentieth century. This is why I would suggest that the world of reason and the world of faith – the world of secular rationality and the world of religious belief – need one another and should not be afraid to enter into a profound and ongoing dialogue, for the good of our civilization.”

“In this light, I cannot but voice my concern at the increasing marginalization of religion, particularly of Christianity, that is taking place in some quarters, even in nations which place a great emphasis on tolerance. There are those who would advocate that the voice of religion be silenced, or at least relegated to the purely private sphere. There are those who argue that the public celebration of festivals such as Christmas should be discouraged, in the questionable belief that it might somehow offend those of other religions or none. And there are those who argue – paradoxically with the intention of eliminating discrimination – that Christians in public roles should be required at times to act against their conscience. These are worrying signs of a failure to appreciate not only the rights of believers to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, but also the legitimate role of religion in the public square.”

“For such cooperation [between Church and government] to be possible, religious bodies – including institutions linked to the Catholic Church – need to be free to act in accordance with their own principles and specific convictions based upon the faith and the official teaching of the Church.”

Address following ecumenical evening prayer at Westminster Abbey

“Fidelity to the word of God, precisely because it is a true word, demands of us an obedience which leads us together to a deeper understanding of the Lord’s will, an obedience which must be free of intellectual conformism or facile accommodation to the spirit of the age. This is the word of encouragement which I wish to leave with you this evening, and I do so in fidelity to my ministry as the Bishop of Rome and the Successor of Saint Peter, charged with a particular care for the unity of Christ’s flock.”

Pope Benedict admires ancient Westminster Abbey