Pope Benedict's pitch for a lively, courageous laity

Pope Benedict XVI has given me a new quotation to print out and keep next to my computer screen for inspiration over the next year. 

The quote is from his homily beatifying Cardinal John Henry Newman, the famous Anglican theologian convert, during a visit to Britain last month: “What better goal ... than Blessed John Henry’s famous appeal for an intelligent, well-instructed laity: ‘I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it, who know so much of history that they can defend it.’” 

As we argue in the editorial this week, the pope himself pretty much exemplified this quote during his four-day visit, which succeeded beyond even the most wide-eyed optimists’ expectations (see Pages 4 and 31). 

There were a number of main themes to the pope’s trip. No. 1 was probably the importance of the role of religious belief in a secular, pluralist society. But there’s a strong corollary to that to which the pope alluded repeatedly: religious belief cannot engage in the public square without educated, confident religious believers. And that means the laity have to step up to the plate. 

(This is another one of those situations in which I really recommend that every Catholic — especially those interested in doing just a little something extra to nourish their faith and sharpen their minds — read the dozen or so homilies and addresses Pope Benedict gave on this trip. If you are unfamiliar with his writings, you will be surprised how accessible he is. Here’s a link to texts on the Vatican website: http://tiny.cc/6atx3.) 

Here’s one of the more direct passages: “I appeal in particular to you, the lay faithful, in accordance with your baptismal calling and mission, not only to be examples of faith in public, but also to put the case for the promotion of faith’s wisdom and vision in the public forum. Society today needs clear voices which propose our right to live, not in a jungle of self-destructive and arbitrary freedoms, but in a society which works for the true welfare of its citizens and offers them guidance and protection in the face of their weakness and fragility.” 

The pontiff also noted that acceptance of truth involves a spiritual act that goes beyond the intellect: 

“Truth is passed on not merely by formal teaching, important as that is, but also by the witness of lives lived in integrity, fidelity and holiness; those who live in and by the truth instinctively recognize what is false and, precisely as false, inimical to the beauty and goodness which accompany the splendor of truth, veritatis splendor.” 

Assignment: Read the texts and identify what struck you most, at feedback@osv.com.