Today began with a brief walk to St. Peter’s Square and a lovely morning with 80,000 of my best friends! It was hot, humid and filled with energy and joy. At the weekly teaching we observed the pageantry that surrounds these huge audiences from seats near the pope, surrounded by foreign groups from around the world. We witnessed again his love of children, his desire to connect with people and his hope for the world. He taught about piety, and the English summary emphasized closing our eyes, imagining our life in Christ and seeking to be holy as God is holy. Eventually he made his grand exit, and we were off for a variety of activities that filled the rest of the day, which I will discuss more fully tomorrow.
I want to focus on my experience tonight, another special evening in Rome. Archbishop Fisichella Rino, president of the Pontifical Council on the New Evangelization, hosted us for dinner at the Vatican. He is the past president of Lateran University (the pope’s university) and a former professor of fundamental theology. We met in the former residence of Pope Pius IV, who lived and served in the 1600s. The frescoes on the ceiling overhead were simply breathtaking.
Archbishop Rino emphasized again the themes of the new evangelization. He mentioned that John Paul II emphasized this 27 years ago, Benedict reiterated it, and Francis is accelerating it. Archbishop Rino hopes we’ll be able to counteract the rapid de-Christianization of the world by asserting again the need for people to enter into faith in Christ, experience a new spirit of joy and passion to follow God, and recognize the necessity of faith in finding meaning in life, seeing our spiritual life as the necessary source for purpose and direction.
My favorite part of the evening was discovering Archbishop Rino’s love and interest in Blaise Pascal, the great 17th century French philosopher and social critic and my favorite philosopher. Pascal is such a helpful—if unknown—source in the current effort to understand the nature of faith, the purpose of religious knowledge, and the importance of aligning our will with God and ordering our loves properly to God.
Pascal challenges our cultural confidence in the primacy of reason not by denouncing reason but by showing its proper place in the world. He articulates the right use of reason in one of my favorite passages, F170. “One must know when it is right to doubt, to affirm, to submit. Anyone who does otherwise does not understand the force of reason. Some run counter to these three principles, either affirming everything can be proved because they know nothing about the nature of proof, or always doubting because they do not know when to submit, or always submitting because they do not know when judgment is called for. Sceptic, mathematician, Christian. Doubt, affirmation, submission.”
Pascal later articulates the three orders (body, mind and heart) and demonstrates that when we align our will with the will of God, we come to understand the right use of reason and the proper satisfaction of bodily desire. But he also demonstrates that if we live out of the order of the body our ultimate destiny is constant pursuit of the satisfaction of our desires. Living out of the order of the mind ends in the pride that comes from believing life is only rational.
These ideas provide a foundation for the New Evangelization and will serve as able guides as God’s work in the world takes on new emphasis. Tonight was special for so many reasons, including the hope that we would join again in seeking to draw humanity back to the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, punctuated with a desire that we renew not only hope for our own life but also for the entire world.
Tomorrow we meet Pope Francis. I’m sure I’ll have much to say tomorrow night. Until then, blessings and good night.