The Vatican Press Office today posted an important joint declaration regarding Catholic-Muslim dialogue. The declaration is signed by Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and Professor-Sheikh Abd al-Fattah Muhammad Alaam, President of the Committee for Dialogue Al-Azhar.
The Final Declaration of the Annual Meeting of the Joint Committee for Dialogue of the Permanent Committee of Al-Azhar for Dialogue Among the Monotheistic Religions and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (Vatican), written in English, is the product of a meeting in Cairo on Monday and Tuesday of this week.
The declaration mentions positions that the two religions hold in common. It strongly condemns offensive cartoons, attacks against Islam, and other attacks against religion. It calls on religious symbols to be respected. Among its recommendations are a statement that all religions respect the dignity of the human person; a recommendation to foster true respect for religions, their holy books, and religious symbols; an appeal to the mass media to avoid letting freedom of expression become a pretext for offending religions, and to encourage mutual acceptance; to encourage an exchange of views on matters of mutual concern; and to assess these recommendations at future meetings.
In today's General Audience, Pope Benedict XVI completed his teaching about St. Augustine, speaking about the saint's journey of conversion that lasted throughout his life, and about his own relationship with St. Augustine. He said that St. Augustine is a model for all of humanity, who need to "know and above all live this reality, that God is love."
The Holy Father delivered an address yesterday to a general assembly of the Pontifical Academy of Life. The Assembly's theme is "Close by the Incurable Sick Person and the Dying: Scientific and Ethical Aspects". Several news articles' captions concerned euthenasia. See, for example, Catholic Online (Vatican Information Service article), Catholic World News, and Catholic News Agency. I plan to add a link to a full translation when available.
In addition to the issue of euthenasia, the address also spoke to other end-of-life issues, including the dignity of life in the final days of life for those who are poor or alone. Asia News offered the caption "Pope: Concrete Help Should Be Given to the Families of the Incurably and Terminally Ill".
Here is an excerpt from the Vatican Information Service translation:
"The synergetic efforts of civil society and of the community of believers
must ensure not only that everyone is able to live in a dignified and
responsible way, but also that they can face moments of trial and of death in
the finest condition of fraternity and solidarity, even where death comes in a
poor family or a hospital bed."
In his reflection before praying the midday Angelus today, the Holy Father spoke about today's Gospel reading for Mass, which is about Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman as told in John 4:5-42. He called it "one of the most beautiful and profound in the Bible." In it, Jesus asks for a drink of water from the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus, he said, became thirsty in order to quench our thirst. "He thirsts for our faith and love."
This post will consider the contemplation of the God’s presence in creation, as viewed in Scripture, the writings of St. John of the Cross, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It follows both an earlier post titled Art, Detachment and the Beauty of God and my reflections over the past week during a retreat. During that reatreat, Fr. Datius Kanjiramukil, O.C.D.,
spoke about contemplation and the presence of God, prompting part of this reflection.
Creation and Redemption
Nature, viewed as God’s creation, naturally draws the attention of anyone who contemplates the divine. Metaphors drawn from nature appear throughout the Psalms and elsewhere in Scripture.
The Apostle’s Creed affirms the role of God the Father almighty as “Creator of heaven and earth,” a role that can be seen in the first verse of Genesis, and in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (“CCC”) 279. God the Son and the Holy Spirit were also active in creation, so that the mystery of the Trinity is found in it (CCC 290 to 292).
Jesus, the Word of God, was the mediator of creation, as John 1:3 says, “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” Colossians 1:15 call him “the first-born of all creation,” and Colossians 1:16-17 says of Him:
“For in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities – all things were created through him and for him. He is before all thing, and in him all things hold together.”
The latter phrase, that in Christ all things hold together, suggests a universal presence of Christ as creator in creation in the present. A distinction has to be drawn in that it is only of human beings that Galatians 4:6 says that “because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” However, the omnipresent and omnipotent God is present in creation in a way that differs from His presence in the hearts of believers – a distinction developed in the writings of St. John of the Cross.
Moreover, Christ, the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end (Rev. 1:8, 17, 21:6), is also called the “first-born of the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent” (Col. 1:18). In one of the passages in Revelation in which Jesus is called the Alpha and the Omega, we are told, “The one who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.” (Rev. 21:5-6). There will be a new heaven and a new earth, a new Jerusalem. (Rev. 21:1-2). Creation “Groans” Awaiting the Redemption
God’s role in creation is such that St. Paul, in his Epistle to the Romans 8:18-23 envisions all of creation groaning for the glory to be revealed in the redemption when all things will be made new:
“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God, for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now, and not only the creation, but we ourselves who have the first fruits of the Spirit groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”
“For the cosmos, Revelation affirms the profound common destiny of the material world and man:
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God . . . in hope because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay. . . . We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
“The visible universe, then, is itself destined to be transformed, 'so that the world itself, restored to its original state, facing no further obstacles, should be at the service of the just,' sharing their glorification in the risen Jesus Christ.”
Three related Greek words are translated as “groan,” “groans” and “the groaning” in Romans 8:22, 23 and 26. The first two are in the verses that say that the whole creation has been “groaning in travail” (8:22, sustenazo, a verb meaning to groan together) and that we ourselves who have the first fruits of the Spirit “groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons” (8:23, stenazo, meaning to sigh or groan). The third follows at Romans 8:26-27 (stenagmos, a noun meaning a groaning or a sigh), saying that the Spirit helps us in our weakness, “for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.”
Although the word in Romans 8:26 is translated by the word “sigh” in the RSV translation used here, it is translated by a word closer to the other two elsewhere. The New American Bible thus translates the three words as “creation is groaning,” “we also groan,” and “the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.”
A footnote in the French TOB translation, édition intégrale (1998), mentions the similarity of these three groanings of creation (8:22), the Christian (8:23), and the Spirit (8:26).
A footnote in the New American Bible mentions this groaning for the "full harvest of the Spirit's presence":
“Paul considers the destiny of the created world to be linked with the future that belongs to the believers. As it shares in the penalty of corruption brought about by sin, so also will it share in the benefits of redemption and future glory that comprise the ultimate liberation of God's people (Romans 8:19-22). After patient endurance in steadfast expectation, the full harvest of the Spirit's presence will be realized. On earth believers enjoy the firstfruits, i.e., the Spirit, as a guarantee of the total liberation of their bodies from the influence of the rebellious old self (Romans 8:23).”
In the groaning of creation, I have wondered whether it is the presence of God in creation – the Holy Spirit – that “groans” in awaiting the new heaven and new earth, just as Colossians 1:17 says that in Christ “all things hold together.” It allows for a less metaphoric understanding without attributing thought or voice to inanimate objects. However, the text of Romans 8:22-26 does not draw so clear a meaning, and I did not find an exegetical source to either affirm or reject that interpretation. St. John of the Cross does not suggest it. Rather, I raise it as a possibility and invite comment if anyone cares to respond.
St. John of the Cross and the Presence of God in Creation
(1) Presence by essence is God’s presence in all creatures. “With this presence he gives them life and being. Should this essential presence be lacking to them, they would all be annihilated.”
(2) Presence by grace is God’s presence indwelling the faithful who do not fall into mortal sin.
(3) Presence by spiritual affection is God’s presence to devout souls in ways that refresh, delight and gladden them.
God’s “presence by essence” is like that described in Col. 1:17. In Christ, St. Paul wrote, “all things hold together.” St. John of the Cross wrote, if God’s essential presence were lacking to anything or anyone, “they would all be annihilated.”
In The Spiritual Canticle, 5:4, he mentions another portion of Scripture from which he drew, which is John 12:32: “And when I am lifted up, I will draw everyone to myself.” St. John of the Cross translated it “I will elevate all things to myself.”
He also drew that view in part from Pseudo-Augustine, Soliloquiorum animae ad Deum. In The Spiritual Canticle 5:1, he mentions St. Augustine and adds: “God created all things with remarkable ease and brevity, and in them he left some trace of who he is, not only in giving all things being from nothing, but even by endowing them with innumerable graces and qualities, making them beautiful in a wonderful order and unfailing dependence on one another.” All of this, he says, God did through the Word of God who created them. In 5:2, he adds that “creatures are like a trace of God’s passing. Through them one can track down his grandeur, might, wisdom, and other divine attributes.”
The view of God’s presence by grace and by spiritual affection in The Spiritual Canticle likewise has Scriptural sources. Among those that support those concepts are John 14:17 (the Holy Spirit shall be with you and in you); John 15:5 (abide in me); Acts 2:4 (they were filled with the Holy Spirit); Gal. 2:20 (Christ lives in me); Eph. 2:22 (built together for a dwelling place of God); Eph. 4:6 (One God and Father who is above all, through all, and in you all); Phil. 2:13 (God works in you to will and do of his good pleasure); Col. 2:6 (walk in Christ).
Nature Draws Our Eyes to the Beauty of the Creator
Despite his view of God's presence by essence in all created things -- and somewhat because of it -- the use of nature in spiritual devotion was, for St. John of the Cross, always a means to an end, and never the end itself. Its purpose is always to draw people into a deepening relationship with God who is both omnipresent and present in the hearts of believers. The contemplation of nature is meant to draw people toward contemplation of God and His presence by grace in the heart of the contemplative.
He wrote that those places by which God moves the will include sites with “pleasant variations in the arrangement of the land and trees and provide solitary quietude, all of which naturally awakens devotion.” (The Ascent of Mt. Carmel, Book III, 42:1). He encouraged prayer either in the quietness of one’s own room or “in the solitary wilderness, and at the best and most quiet time of night” as Jesus prayed in Luke 6:12 (The Ascent, Book III, 44:4). However, he advised people praying in such places to immediately direct their will to God “in forgetfulness of the place itself” (42:1). They should try to be “interiorly with God and forget the place” (42:2).
As in the case of religious art discussed in a previous post, his interest in nature was in its ability to draw our attention to God’s magnificence, and not to the grandeur of nature itself. “Fasten your eyes on Him alone,” he wrote in The Ascent, Book II, 22:5. The beauty of the place served a purpose only if it leads the viewer to contemplate the beauty of the invisible God.
That view is still valid today. In the Concluding Document of its 2006 Plenary Assembly, the Pontifical Council for Culture devoted part of its attention to nature.
Drawing from Wisdom 13:1-5, the Assembly wrote:
"There is an abyss between the ineffable beauty of God and its vestiges in creation, and the sacred author defines the aim of this ascendant dialogue: ‘through the grandeur and beauty of the creatures we may, by analogy, contemplate their Author.’ (v.5) It is a matter of passing through the visible forms of natural things to climb up to their invisible author, the 'Completely Other', who we profess in the Creed: 'I believe in One God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.'"
Among their Pastoral Proposals was that "particular attention to nature helps discover in it the mirror of the beauty of God" by "listening to creation that tells the glory of God" and by listening "to God who speaks to us through his creation and makes himself accessible to reason, according to the teaching of the First Vatican Council (Dei Filius, Ch. 2, can.1)."
I lift up my eyes to the hills, From whence does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
This past Wednesday, Pope Benedict XVI returned to his series on St. Augustine in his weekly audience. This was the fourth in a series on St. Augustine, which is part of a longer series on the major figures of the Early Church. The Vatican translation of all of the weekly General Audience addresses can be found on the Vatican website's page on the Audiences. In this week's address, the Holy Father gave brief summaries of St. Augustine's great writings,
An article on this week's audience can be found from Asia News. Full translations are available from Zenit and Papa Ratzinger Forum. (The Vatican has a summary, and I will add a link to its official translation in the future after it appears on the Vatican website.)
Here is an excerpt from Teresa Benedetta's translation at Papa Ratzinger Forum:
"In his works, Possidius writes, Augustine is 'always alive' and
benefits those who read his writings, even if 'I believe that those who
saw and heard him when he preached in Church had profited more from
that contact, but most of all, those who had experience of his daily
life among the people' (Vita Augustini, 31).
"Yes, even for us, it would have been beautiful to hear
him alive. But he truly lives in his writings, and is present with us,
and we see the permanent vitality of the faith to which he had given
his entire life."
I just returned from one of Father Datius Kanjirmukil's Prayer Retreats in Silence. I will not try to summarize anything he covered during the retreat, which needs to be learned in the retreat context. However, I may later post something based on some of my own reflections from during the week, which may be indirectly related to what he presented.
The February retreat was full and 11 people were turned away, so they will repeat this retreat in June. It is step 3 in a series, titled "Seeking God in Interiority", and it includes the transition from meditation to initial contemplation. It is not necessary to attend the earlier retreats in the series before attending this one.
Some of those attending the retreat traveled from another state. The retreats are well worth the trip to California to attend. If you are interested in the June retreat, see the website, which has an online registration form and has an e-mail address for more information.
The 45-page instructions made public today by the Congregation for Saints' Causes, the Vatican is encouraging dioceses to exercise greater prudence in considering local sainthood causes, and requiring better documentation, as discussed today in Catholic News Service. The new rules were introduced today at a Vatican Press Conference. The new instructions had been encouraged by Pope Benedict XVI, following efforts by his predecessors related to the proper review of saints' causes and the proper place of saints in the life of the Church.
A press release by Vatican Information Service today discussed the reasons for the new instructions given at that pres conference by Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, C.M.F., who is the Prefect for the Congregation for Causes of the Saints:
The cardinal then went on to consider the reasons for the publication of the document, pointing out that 25 years have passed since the promulgation by John Paul II of the Apostolic Constitution 'Divinus Perfectionis Magister', and of the 'Normae servandae' by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Since then, he said, "in some dioceses, certain provisions of the law have not always been understood and, consequently, not been put into practice with the necessary meticulousness, the which has sometimes made it necessary for the congregation to supply clarifications or to ask diocesan curias to correct errors".
Furthermore, he added, "dioceses do not always have access to specialised individuals with practical experience of the various procedures involved in a cause of canonisation". For this reason, "it is evident that a practical document, such as this Instruction, was useful, indeed necessary".
"When the current legislation on causes of saints came into force", said the cardinal outlining another reason for the publication of the present document, "an unfounded idea became widespread that the traditional methodology ... had been substituted by some kind of historical-critical investigation". And he identified the reason for this confusion in "the fact that the term 'inquisitio' used in Latin (the only official text) to designate the procedure of the diocesan phase of a cause of canonisation was translated in Italian as 'inchiesta' (inquiry)". This Instruction, then, highlights "the importance of procedure" in causes of beatification and canonisation, "and accurately highlights the norms that must be observed".
Turning to the last reason for which the document was published, Cardinal Saraiva noted how, "in the move from the earlier legislation to that in force today, it was unclear to some people that a serious and rigorous verification of the fame of sanctity or martyrdom, undertaken in dioceses, is a prior requirement of absolute importance. Hence, a procedure must not be begin without irrefutable proof that the Servant of God ... is held to be a saint or martyr by a considerable number of faithful, who invoke him or her in their prayers and attribute graces and favours to his or her intercession".
Contrary to the notion that the new rules were intended to cut down on the number of saints, Cardinal Martins mentioned, (as discussed in Catholic World News) that 563 people have been beatified and 14 have been canonized since the election of Pope Benedict XVI.
The evidence for the causes is collected and studied with supreme care
and with a diligent search for the historic truth through testimonies
and documentary proof "omnino plenae", for they have no other
aim than the glory of God and the spiritual good of the Church and of
all who are in search of the Gospel truth and perfection.
Benedict XVI, in that same letter, mentioned the Apostolic Constitution Divinus Perfectionis Magister, issued by Pope John Paul II in 1983, which addressed the need for instructions about the process of evaluating causes for saints. That Apostolic Constitution addressed both the inquiry to be made by bishops and that to be made by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
Separate and apart from the issue of caution in the process of canonization is the issue of the importance attributed to saints' feast days, and the number of saints' feast days in the universal calendar. The 1969 Motu Proprio of Pope Paul VI, Mysterii Paschalis, suggested that some saints' feast days should be celebrated only by a particular Church or nation, or within a particular order, reflecting a concern of the Vatican II Council's Sacrosanctum Concilium, 111. The concern expressed there was the importance that the feasts that commemorate the divine mysteries should take precedence over the feasts for saints' days. The relevant portion of that Motu Proprio, quoting Sacrosanctum Concilium, is this:
Indeed, the Catholic Church has always held that the
paschal mystery of Christ is proclaimed and renewed in the feasts of the
It cannot be denied, however, that in the course of centuries the feasts of
the saints have become more and more numerous. The Sacred Synod has therefore
decreed: "Lest the feasts of the saints take precedence over the feasts which
commemorate the very mysteries of salvation, many of them should be left to be
celebrated by a particular Church or nation or religious community; only those
should be extended to the universal Church which commemorate saints who are
truly of universal significance."
In order to execute this decision of the Ecumenical Council, the names of
some saints have been removed from the universal Calendar, and the faculty has
been given of re-establishing in regions concerned, if it is desired, the
commemorations and cult of other saints. The suppression of reference to a
certain number of saints who are not universally known has permitted the
insertion, within the Roman Calendar, of names of some martyrs of regions where
the proclaiming of the Gospel arrived at a later date. Thus, as representatives
of their countries, those who have won renown by the shedding of their blood for
Christ or by their outstanding virtues enjoy the same dignity in this same
For these reasons we think that the new universal Calendar, prepared for
the Latin rite, is more in harmony with the piety and the needs of our times,
and that it better reflects the universality of the Church, in the sense that it
proposes the names of the most important saints, who present to all the People
of God a shining example of sanctity in a variety of ways. It is superfluous to
say that this will contribute to the spiritual well-being of the entire
The nominations for the 2008 Catholic Blog Awards have begun and will continue through February 29. Anyone who would like to do so can create a free account and nominate a blog for any of several categories. Here are the rules for nominations.