by Helen Hull Hitchcock
Cardinal John Henry Newman, perhaps the most famous convert to the Catholic faith of the past two centuries, is well known to most Christian believers for his famous hymn “Lead, kindly light”, from which my title is taken. The beatification of this former-Anglican priest who died in 1890 is a major event scheduled during Pope Benedict’s first apostolic visit to Great Britain this September. (See Mary Ellen Bork’s article inside and the John Henry Newman hymn.)
The words of Newman’s hymn are certainly as timely today as they were in 1833 when they were first penned. We need not enumerate all the ways gloom encircles our culture from social and moral issues, such as abortion, euthanasia and sexual aberrations, to human suffering caused by natural catastrophes (earthquake, famine, fire and flood), by human evils (lies, tyranny, violence, terrorism), and by science and technology (cloning, embryonic research, the oil-drilling disaster in the Gulf).
Our culture today has become profoundly secularized. In the West, church attendance has dropped radically even among people who are nominally Christian, as recent studies show. We are also rapidly losing our history. The common language of Christian culture has virtually disappeared. It can no longer be assumed that people understand the Christian subjects of most art of the medieval and Renaissance period. Recognizing this, several museums in the US and England have recently attempted to address this ignorance by exhibiting paintings and sculpture with detailed guides describing the Christian context and meaning of these works of art.
If Christianity is rapidly becoming unintelligible even in historically Christian countries, hostility to Christian beliefs and moral teachings and especially to the Catholic Church is now pervasive, even where “freedom of religion” is proclaimed. Cruel persecution of Christians in countries where they are a minority has now become common. The Light of Christ is rapidly being eclipsed by the darkened minds of our “enlightened” age.
“Relativism is now the civil religion and public philosophy of the West”, observed Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver in an address on liberty and Catholic mission to the Canon Law Association of Slovakia on August 27. “We see that without a belief in fixed moral principles and transcendent truths, our political institutions and language become instruments in the service of a new barbarism. In the name of tolerance we come to tolerate the cruelest intolerance; respect for other cultures comes to dictate disparagement of our own; the teaching of ‘live and let live’ justifies the strong living at the expense of the weak”.
“Over the next several decades”, the archbishop said, “Christianity will become a faith that can speak in the public square less and less freely. A society where faith is prevented from vigorous public expression is a society that has fashioned the state into an idol. And when the state becomes an idol, men and women become the sacrificial offering”.
Encircling gloom, indeed! Whence cometh our help?
This is, indeed, the perennial question that has persisted throughout human history. What can overcome the destructive attitudes and actions of human beings that cause rather than alleviate suffering and death? Our human solutions are notoriously fallible. Deliver us from evil, O Lord.
The night is long, and I am far from home. Lead Thou me on.
Where He leads we must follow by faith
“God does not ask us to be successful; He asks us to be faithful”. This famous quote is from one of the most universally respected people of our time Mother Teresa of Calcutta. She is revered precisely because of her acceptance of her duty to bring love the “poorest of the poor”. On August 26, the world observed the centenary of her birth.
Tirelessly, selflessly, Mother Teresa used whatever resources she could spiritual and material to bring the light and love of Christ to people plunged in the darkness of suffering and despair. A prayer Mother Teresa is said to have prayed each day asked that God’s light shine through her so that those she came in contact with would “see no longer me but only Jesus”.
She founded the Missionaries of Charity in 1950 in India, and her sisters are now in more than 100 countries. She died September 5, 1997, and was beatified by Pope John Paul II on October 19, 2003. (As some of you know, Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity signed the Affirmation for Catholic Women in 1986.)
Pope Benedict, in his message to the Missionaries of Charity in observance of the hundredth anniversary of their founder’s birth, called her life “an exemplary model of Christian virtue” and spoke of the importance of her example:
May this love continue to inspire you as Missionaries of Charity, to give yourselves generously to Jesus, whom you see and serve in the poor, the sick, the lonely and the abandoned. I encourage you to draw constantly from the spirituality and example of Mother Teresa and, in her footsteps, to take up Christ’s invitation: “Come, be my light”.
A moving testimony to the continuing power of Mother Teresa’s example of love and truth to change lives is in this issue of Voices written by Verity Worthington, who has worked with the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta.
Two other essays in this issue by Robin Maas on Mary of Bethany, and by Denise Bossert, on her long journey into the Catholic Church reveal different facets of what it really means to listen and respond to Christ, and to commit oneself to act in accordance with the light of His truth.
New Missal translation a sign of hope
The Eucharist is the “fount and apex (source and summit) of the whole Christian life”, as proclaimed by Lumen Gentium (The Light of Nations), the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (§11; c.f., Catechism of the Catholic Church §1324).
It is from the Eucharist Christ’s sacrifice that we draw the strength and courage to live our faith and to pass it on to others. The Mass is also the source and summit of the Church’s evangelical mission to all people. It is through words that the Church conveys her truth. We hear, and believe: nothing is more crucial to our understanding of the faith and our worship. Thus the words the Church uses to convey her truth are critically important. The Mass is like a stream of light flowing directly from the Sun to overcome our darkened minds and enable us to offer ourselves to the Father in unity with Christ and to become part of His Mystical Body, the Church.
So we greet with particular joy the new English translation of the Missal an authentic and worthy translation that we will soon be hearing and speaking at Mass.
Cardinal Francis George, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), announced August 20 that the new English translation of the Missal is complete, and will be in use on the first Sunday of Advent 2011. It is the “third typical edition” of the Roman Missal, released by Pope John Paul II in 2002.
This great good news comes after years of labor by the bishops of English-speaking countries, by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL), by the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (CDWDS), aided by Vox Clara (clear voice), a special committee of bishops and other experts appointed by the Holy See to aid the CDWDS with the English translation.
The procedures involved in providing an accurate and worthy text for worship have been complex and difficult. There have been many clouds (and even a few storms) over the years. But now a strong light is beginning to penetrate “the encircling gloom”. If the translations we’ve been using since the 1970s were done too hastily and have obscured some of the compelling beauty and truth of the original Latin texts of the Mass, the new translation promises to dispel the cloudiness and restore sacredness, transparency to our words of worship to the truth the Mass alone transmits.
We are most grateful to our bishops and to the Holy See for this great achievement. During the coming year of preparation, you will be learning more about the new translation. You may also download the actual Mass texts from the USCCB web site and study them yourself: www.usccb.org/romanmissal. We hope you will! (You will find much useful information on the Missal translation, and all matters concerning the Church’s worship, on our “sister” site, Adoremus: www.adoremus.org).
Pope Benedict has also made additions to the Roman Missal. He added two new alternatives to the dismissal at the conclusion of Mass (currently, “The Mass has ended, go in peace”). We will be hearing these words very soon at the end of Mass:
Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord; and,
Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.
By adding these new dismissals, the Holy Father surely intends to urge action from each one of us: evangelical action to teach and proclaim God’s truth and love in our words and in our deeds. Every Christian is responsible for transmitting the faith by what we say and by providing a witness and an example to others by the way we live. The Mass is the source of our knowledge and strength and courage to do what each of us is called to do: “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
Pope John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation on the family was the topic of our 2010 Day of Recollection, reported in this issue. Bishop Robert Hermann’s three addresses have been compiled for publication in this issue of Voices. Bishop Hermann’s focus on forming the family members in Christ’s love offers much food for further reflection and study.
In the words of Lumen Gentium §11
The family is … the domestic church. In it parents should, by their word and example, be the first preachers of the faith to their children; they should encourage them in the vocation which is proper to each of them, fostering with special care vocation to a sacred state.
Though it is challenged on every front in today’s world, the family, the “domestic Church”, which forms future generations, is vital to the Church’s mission to the world.
In our world clouded by gloom and darkness, the light of Christ His truth and love is our guide and our only true hope. Lead Thou me on.
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