by Helen Hull Hitchcock
The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians addressed a young Church beset by many evils. He refers to his own and their suffering, and he encourages them to be strong in faith in spite of persecution, to resist temptation, to be “children of light”, not of darkness. He tells them to “pray without ceasing” to avoid the perils that threatened to overwhelm them.
As we read Paul’s letter today, we can sympathize with the Thessalonians’ fear. During the past several months, natural disasters in our country and elsewhere in the world seem to follow one upon the other, bringing with them terrible destruction, suffering and death. Even more pervasive and more spiritually destructive are the “social” evils caused by human beings including the seductions and lies that Paul warned against. We may ask, how can prayer help?
In his book Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict explains Paul’s exhortation to pray constantly, in the chapter on the Our Father. Prayer “should be the bedrock of our soul” the pope writes; it “is the foundation that upholds our entire existence”. And the presence of God’s love is our hope and our strength to overcome evil with good. He writes:
We are at our most attentive when we are driven by inmost need to ask God for something, or are prompted by a joyful heart to thank Him for good things that have happened to us. Most importantly, though, our relationship to God should not be confined to such momentary situations, but should be present as the bedrock of our soul. In order for that to happen, this relation has to be constantly revived and the affairs of our everyday lives have to be constantly related back to it. The more the depths of our souls are directed toward God, the better we will be able to pray. The more prayer is the foundation that upholds our entire existence, the more we will become men of peace. The more we can bear pain, the more we will be able to understand others and open ourselves to them. This orientation pervasively shaping our whole consciousness, this silent presence of God at the heart of our thinking, our meditating, and our being, is what we mean by “prayer without ceasing.” This is ultimately what we mean by love of God, which is at the same time the condition and the driving force behind love of neighbor.
We need to be reminded of the power of this “driving force” and what we Christians must to do as much in the 21st century as in the 1st.
USCCB Spring Meeting Report
Susan Benofy and I attended the meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) held in suburban Seattle June 14-16. As usual at the bishops’ spring meetings, sessions open to the press were limited to two days: all day Wednesday and Thursday morning, after which the bishops held executive sessions (closed to the press).
A key item on their busy agenda at this meeting was an important statement on assisted suicide, “To Live Each Day with Dignity”, which the bishops overwhelmingly approved (see details on page 12)
They also updated the USCCB charter dealing with clergy sexual abuse of minors; approved Spanish adaptations to the new Roman Missal for the United States; decided to write a pastoral letter on preaching; and considered the report on the implementation of Anglicanorum coetibus, the 2009 Vatican guidelines concerning the reception of Anglican (Episcopalian) groups into the Catholic Church.
The Subcommittee on the Promotion and Defense of Marriage and Family presented an update on the USCCB’s support for marriage project including a new video, and the web site “For Your Marriage”, with its many useful resources, including a prayers and videos (foryourmarriage.org). An article on “Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan”, the USCCB’s November 2009 pastoral letter on marriage, is in this issue of Voices (page 31).
One “off the agenda” item was the announcement that the USCCB decided to advance the date for introducing the new translation of the Roman Missal. The bishops will allow gradual introduction of the new English translation, especially the sung parts of the Mass, beginning in September. The original plan, announced last August, was to introduce all the new English Mass texts at once on the First Sunday of Advent, November 27.
A good many Catholics may be surprised when the new Mass texts come into use as many people are probably barely aware, if at all, that the translation of the Mass we’ve been using, originally published in early 1974, will be replaced within the next few months. Some who are aware of it have questions about the translation, which will be much more reverent and sacred-sounding than what we’re used to. “Why we need the new translation of the Mass”, Bishop Peter Elliott’s illuminating article in this issue (page 18) will answer many questions.
Those who are familiar with our “sister” publication, The Adoremus Bulletin, will be up to date on these developments. As many Voices readers know, the Adoremus web site adoremus.org features informative and useful resources on the sacred liturgy.
A few months ago, the Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine issued a critical statement about a defective book on the theology of God that is used in Catholic colleges and universities. Women for Faith & Family’s statement, “Bishops, Theologians, and the Quest for Truth” (page 33), strongly upholds our bishops’ teaching authority, acknowledges our dependence on our shepherds for guidance, and our gratitude to them for their forthright stand in defense of the Catholic faith. We realize how much the faith of our children depends upon the faith of our fathers.
Our unceasing prayer is a necessary response to the many challenges to our faith in God’s abiding love and mercy. In our human quest for truth and justice, our trust is in Him alone.
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