There has been a lot of media attention given to the Holy Father’s address to the Bishops of England and Wales at their recent ad limina meeting with him. Less attention has been given to the address to those next in line, the Scottish Bishops.
Some highlights and observations:
1) Vocation of the Laity. I commented in regard to the English speech the Holy Father’s emphasis on the role of the laity in catechisation. This is, I observed, unusual in that it represents an unsual magisterial encouragement of the vocation of the laity “ad intra”. In this speech, the Holy Father returns to the more accustomed language of Vatican II stressing the “ad extra” mission of the faithful. This is because in this speech he is especially concerned to highlight the difference between the vocation of the priesthood and the vocation of the laity. He especially emphasises the lay vocation in regards to evangelisation. That fits with my emphasis on this blog in relation to what is needed for the revival of the Church: catechisation and evangelisation. Both can be regarded as true apostolates of the Laity. Papa Benny also includes the same themes he addressed in the English speech, namely the rising tide of secularism and the need for faithfulness to the Magisterium:
Hand in hand with a proper appreciation of the priest’s role is a correct understanding of the specific vocation of the laity. Sometimes a tendency to confuse lay apostolate with lay ministry has led to an inward-looking concept of their ecclesial role. Yet the Second Vatican Council’s vision is that wherever the lay faithful live out their baptismal vocation – in the family, at home, at work – they are actively participating in the Church’s mission to sanctify the world. A renewed focus on lay apostolate will help to clarify the roles of clergy and laity and so give a strong impetus to the task of evangelizing society.
That task requires a readiness to grapple firmly with the challenges presented by the increasing tide of secularism in your country. Support for euthanasia strikes at the very heart of the Christian understanding of the dignity of human life. Recent developments in medical ethics and some of the practices advocated in the field of embryology give cause for great concern. If the Church’s teaching is compromised, even slightly, in one such area, then it becomes hard to defend the fullness of Catholic doctrine in an integral manner. Pastors of the Church, therefore, must continually call the faithful to complete fidelity to the Church’s Magisterium, while at the same time upholding and defending the Church’s right to live freely in society according to her beliefs.
2) The Positive Nature of Catholic Teaching. Pope Benedict has been at pains to stress in his pontifical teaching that the Catholic Faith is not about “thou shalt nots” so much as it is a positive message for human liberation and salvation. He returns to this theme in this address:
The Church offers the world a positive and inspiring vision of human life, the beauty of marriage and the joy of parenthood. It is rooted in God’s infinite, transforming and ennobling love for all of us, which opens our eyes to recognize and love his image in our neighbour (cf. Deus Caritas Est, 10-11 et passim). Be sure to present this teaching in such a way that it is recognized for the message of hope that it is. All too often the Church’s doctrine is perceived as a series of prohibitions and retrograde positions, whereas the reality, as we know, is that it is creative and life-giving, and it is directed towards the fullest possible realization of the great potential for good and for happiness that God has implanted within every one of us.
3) Emphasis on Ecumenism. This was part of the Pope’s message to the English and Welsh bishops also. In both cases he shows no embarrassment about raising the history of the Church in Britain in regards to the Reformation.
The Church in your country, like many in Northern Europe, has suffered the tragedy of division.
It is sobering to recall the great rupture with Scotland’s Catholic past that occurred four hundred and fifty years ago. I give thanks to God for the progress that has been made in healing the wounds that were the legacy of that period, especially the sectarianism that has continued to rear its head even in recent times. Through your participation in Action of Churches Together in Scotland, see that the work of rebuilding unity among the followers of Christ is carried forward with constancy and commitment. While resisting any pressure to dilute the Christian message, set your sights on the goal of full, visible unity, for nothing less can respond to the will of Christ.
4) Emphasis on teaching the Faith in Catholic Schools. It would not surprise me if the situation in Scottish Catholic Education is much what it is here in Australia. The Pope said:
You can be proud of the contribution made by Scotland’s Catholic schools in overcoming sectarianism and building good relations between communities. Faith schools are a powerful force for social cohesion, and when the occasion arises, you do well to underline this point. As you encourage Catholic teachers in their work, place special emphasis on the quality and depth of religious education, so as to prepare an articulate and well-informed Catholic laity, able and willing to carry out its mission “by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God” (Christifideles Laici, 15). A strong Catholic presence in the media, local and national politics, the judiciary, the professions and the universities can only serve to enrich Scotland’s national life, as people of faith bear witness to the truth, especially when that truth is called into question.