By John Norton
NEW YORK — Calling polarization within the Church one of “great disappointments” after the Second Vatican Council, Pope Benedict XVI asked Catholic Americans to outdo each other in seeking inner reconciliation, forgiveness, humility and purity of heart.
During Mass this morning in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the pope pointed to the Gothic cathedral as a symbol for Church unity, “a unity born of the dynamic tension of diverse forces which impel the architecture upward, pointing it to heaven.”
The pope also assured clergy and Religious of his “spiritual closeness” as they “strive to respond with Christian hope” to the clerical sex abuse scandal, and asked them to cooperate with their bishops and pray for purification and healing.
More than 3,000 priests, deacons and Religious men and women from every diocese in the country participated in the Mass, which also marked the third anniversary of Pope Benedict’s election.
In his homily, which was met with reserved applause, Pope Benedict focused on the need for renewed attention to working for Church unity, “rooted in faith and a spirit of constant conversion and sacrifice,” which he said was the “secret of the impressive growth” of the Church in the United States since its founding.
“For all of us, I think, one of the great disappointments which followed the Second Vatican Council, with its call for a greater engagement in the Church’s mission to the world, has been the experience of division between different groups, different generations, different members of the same religious family,” he said.
By returning the focus on Christ in faith, he said, believers can “discover the wisdom and strength needed to open ourselves to points of view which may not necessarily conform to our own ideas or assumptions. Thus we can value the perspectives of others, be they younger or older than ourselves, and ultimately hear ‘what the Spirit is saying’ to us and to the Church.”
“If we are to be true forces of unity, let us be the first to seek inner reconciliation through penance. Let us forgive the wrongs we have suffered and put aside all anger and contention. Let us be the first to demonstrate the humility and purity of heart which are required to approach the splendor of God’s truth,” he said.
The pope hailed the growth of the Church in the United States, and noted its multiplicity of cultures and races and its impressive social outreach. He mentioned the example of Father Michael McGivney, the founder of the Knights of Columbus, whose cause for sainthood is under study at the Vatican.
He said the Church today is called to proclaim a message of hope “to a world where self-centeredness, greed, violence and cynicism so often seem to choke the fragile growth of grace in people’s hearts.”
“Perhaps we have lost sight of this: In a society where the Church seems legalistic and ‘institutional’ to many people, our most urgent challenge is to communicate the joy born of faith and the experience of God’s love,” Pope Benedict said.
Before the final blessing, the pope spoke a couple of spontaneous words of thanks to the congregation for their prayers and love. He recalled that St. Peter was weak and sinful but by God’s grace became the rock of the Church, and said that he, too, in his spiritual weakness relied upon prayers and God’s grace.
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