A Catholic – so automatically universal – consistory

A last look back at Saturday’s consistory that, according the pope’s own indications, was an attempt to better reflect the international nature of the Church. As the photo above, showing new Cardinal John Onaiyekan with Nigerian pilgrims, indicates, it was an affair that brought together “a variety of faces” from across the world, from Africa to Asia, and from South America to the Middle East.

In his address, Pope Benedict XVI spoke about the Church’s Catholicity, stating that this constitutive element of her identity indicates that the Church is for all people.

“[T]he universality of the Church flows from the universality of God’s unique plan of salvation for the world. This universal character emerges clearly on the day of Pentecost, when the Spirit fills the first Christian community with his presence, so that the Gospel may spread to all nations, causing the one People of God to grow in all peoples. From its origins, then, the Church is oriented kat’holon, it embraces the whole universe. The Apostles bear witness to Christ, addressing people from all over the world, and each of their hearers understands them as if they were speaking his native language (cf. Acts 2:7-8). From that day, in the “power of the Holy Spirit”, according to Jesus’ promise, the Church proclaims the dead and risen Lord “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The Church’s universal mission does not arise from below, but descends from above, from the Holy Spirit: from the beginning it seeks to express itself in every culture so as to form the one People of God. Rather than beginning as a local community that slowly grows and spreads outwards, it is like yeast oriented towards a universal horizon, towards the whole: universality is inscribed within it.”

My translation of the address is here.

An elegant and intriguing theological exploration of the word “Catholic”, it deserves no less attention than the tears of Cardinal Luis Tagle, the most popular among this consistory’s batch, not least because his many media activities.

Photo credit: CNS photo/Paul Haring

Blasphemy to be legalised?

A bit of a misleading title, but with a hint of truth in it. Although there is a law in the Netherlands, that prohibits blasphemy or the use of God’s name in vain, it has not actually been used since the 1960s. It’s a dead law which does not look to be resurrected anytime soon, so politicians from the Socialist Party and the liberal Democrats 66 are now out to have it struck from the criminal code.

Although the initiators of the plan show an expected but disturbing disregard for religious sensibilities (“It’s something for the enthusiast who believes in it,” one of them said), is this really something to get up in arms about? I would say it is.

The State Council has said that the freedom of expression does not mean that this law should be struck, but it also doesn’t mean that blasphemy should remain illegal. The freedom that many will cite in this context is quite neutral on the matter.

Striking a dead law from the code sends a message. The existence of the law does no longer have any effect or consequence, but the fact that it exists also sends a message. And what message do we want to send out?

Maintaining a law that forbids the use of blasphemous words, even if it is not upheld, tells us that we have certain standards in our use of language. Some utterances are contrary to those standards and should therefore not be promoted. Striking the law in question would in essence communicate the message that we no longer hold to these standards. We are free to use any words we please, and that trumps any concerns, insult or characteristics of civilisation.

As Catholics we shouldn’t be too thin-skinned; we may not like certain words and utterances, but the correct response is not to hide from them. Rather, we must intelligently counter the underlying reasons that people have for using them. The existence of a dead law, a hint of standards which were once actively pursued, but today still underlie our society, can be a form of support in our efforts to maintain this civility, this intelligent defense.

For all of us, Christian or not, the law that forbids the use of blasphemous words is a reminder that it once mattered how we said things, how we related to one another, even – especially – when we disagreed. That is something worth remembering in our daily conduct. Striking the law, and so stating that it should be okay to blaspheme and curse, is the polar opposite of that..