Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Splendor of Charity: Cardinal Cordes

"Deus Caritas Est" Entrusted to Pastors
Cardinal Cordes Addresses Bishops of England, Wales

LEEDS, England, MAY 4, 2008 ( ).- Here is an excerpt of the April 7 address given by Cardinal Paul Cordes, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, to the spring meeting of the bishops' council of England and Wales.

The talk titled "'Deus Caritas Est': The Splendor of Charity" can be found in its entirety on the ZENIT Web page: .

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The primary role of the pastors

There is no doubt that "Deus Caritas Est" directs itself to various groups in the Church. Nevertheless, the main burden of responsibility for its implementation in dioceses and parishes is placed squarely on the shoulders of the bishops. It is not only the pastoral realism of the Pope, but also theological reasons that make the ordained pastors the principal target group for the encyclical.

Ever since her foundation, a threefold mission has been entrusted to the Church: She must proclaim redemption through Christ; she must bear witness to this in her good deeds toward humanity; and she must celebrate the salvation offered through Christ in the liturgy.

"Martyria," "Diakonia" and "Leitourgia" are therefore the three basic functions of the Church that express her deepest nature. In "Deus Caritas Est," the Pope declares strongly: "The Church cannot neglect the service of charity any more than she can neglect the sacraments and the word" (No. 22).

Indeed, the three are inextricably linked. Good deeds as the expression of the evangelical love proclaimed in the word and celebrated in the sacraments, most especially the Eucharist, occupy a central place in the evangelizing mission of the Church. This connection may well warrant further reflection, given the declining numbers of indigenous Catholics in our pews. As numerous saints have shown us, most recently Mother Teresa, in the witness of love a seed of belief can be sown in the fallen away, non-Christians and even the most skeptical.

In terms of the mission of "diakonia," Benedict speaks emphatically in the encyclical of the Bishop's overriding responsibility. He reminds these of the rite of the sacrament of episcopal ordination, in which the bishop receives, through the imposition of hands, the full authority of the Spirit for the government of the Church. Prior to the act of consecration itself, the candidate must respond to a series of questions posed by the presiding bishop, which, as the Pope writes, "express the essential elements of his office and recall the duties of his future ministry."

So the candidate is asked to pledge his special responsibility for individual services. He is called to promise "expressly to be, in the Lord's name, welcoming and merciful to the poor and to all those in need of consolation and assistance." Of course, this obligation incumbent on the bishop does not prevent him from seeking assistance from others in his charitable mission, but he cannot set aside his ultimate responsibility for this essential service, placing it simply on others' shoulders.

Neither can those who practice the service of charity, either individually or institutionally, disregard the bishop's burden of leadership and this ultimate responsibility that belongs to him.

Some Catholic aid agencies actively avoid acknowledging this fact and sometimes bishops themselves fail to exercise their legitimate and necessary oversight, leading to approaches that are predominantly political or economic to the neglect of revealing through love of neighbor the love of the God of Jesus Christ.

The importance that Pope Benedict attaches to this responsibility of the bishops may be further gauged by the gentle criticism he makes in "Deus Caritas Est" of the Code of Canon Law. The encyclical remarks that in the canons on the ministry of the bishop, the Code "does not expressly mention charity as a specific sector of episcopal activity" (No. 32), implying that it lacks precision on this point.

Indeed, we should remain surprised -- as does the Pope -- that Canon Law devotes many paragraphs to the bishop's role in "martyria" and "leitourgia," but nothing regarding "diakonia." Clearly, "Deus Caritas Est" envisages a need for clarification in this important area.

The question of God

In speaking about the encyclical, it is not seldom that the administrative concern leads many [leaders] of charitable agencies to focus principally or even perhaps exclusively on the second part. Such a focus would be to grossly ignore the fundamental vision of the author.

It is not by accident that Pope Benedict, through this fantastic text about God as the source, lays down the foundation for the incontestable criteria of all charitable love. What is more: clearly, in the cultural context, he would like to establish the strongly felt love of neighbor as a way to bring contemporary man closer again to the love of God.

In his preaching, hardly an occasion goes by that he does not attempt to reach his listeners through proclaiming this love for God, the Father of Jesus Christ. Just a few weeks ago on Palm Sunday, I was in St. Peter's Square when the Pope made exactly this point in his homily. He spoke of how Jesus entered Jerusalem and cleansed the temple atrium, where the pagans gathered, of the animal vendors and moneychangers who had occupied the place of prayer with their own business.

From this episode, Pope Benedict draws a parallel with the atria of faith today where non-Christians look for an answer to the deepest longings of their hearts. "Is our faith pure and open enough," he asks, "so that on this basis even the ‘pagans,' the people who today are seeking and questioning, can glimpse the light of the one God, join in our prayer in the atria of faith, and through their questioning, perhaps, become worshipers themselves? Are we aware of how greed and idolatry affect even our own hearts and way of life?"

And then the Pope turns yet again to Jesus' saving deeds, good works that infallibly point to God even when everything else seems hopeless. "Immediately after Jesus' words about the house of prayer for all peoples, the evangelist [Matthew] continues in this way: ‘The blind and the lame approached him in the temple area, and he cured them.'

"To the selling of animals and the business of the moneychangers, Jesus opposes his own healing goodness. This is the true purification of the temple ... Jesus comes with the gift of healing. He dedicates himself to those who because of their infirmity are driven to the extremes of their life and to the margin of society. Jesus shows God as he who loves, and his power as the power of love."

The Splendor of Charity
Cardinal Cordes on "Deus Caritas Est"

LEEDS, England, MAY 4, 2008 ( ).- The text of the April 7 address given by Cardinal Paul Cordes, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, to the spring meeting of the bishops' council of England and Wales, can be found on the ZENIT Web page: .

The talk is titled "'Deus Caritas Est': The Splendor of Charity."

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