National Catholic Prayer Breakfast – Keynote by Bp. Robert Finn (Kansas City-St. Joseph)

During a recent visit to Kansas City, MO, I had the privilege to chat briefly with H.E. Most Reverend Robert Finn. Though the conversation was short, his bearing and comments impressed me.  I have also read some of his things.  He is definitely a man worth watching.

Bishop Finn was chosen to give the keynote address at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast on 18 April.

Let’s have a look with my emphases and comments.  Alas this came out of the hated PDF format and I don’t have the energy to fight with it.  (Folks… please send read transcripts.  I just don’t have time or energy to fight with these vexations!)


Most   Reverend     Robert   W.  Finn
Bishop Kansas  City ~ St. Joseph (MO)

Keynote  Address—National  Catholic Prayer Breakfast
A Celebration of the Visit of Pope Benedict XVI To the United States
Washington, DC
April 18, 2008

 These days – this extraordinary week – we are living in the heart of the Church. “Ubi Petrus; Ibi  Ecclesia” Where Peter is, There is the Church. The Vicar of Jesus Christ is living and moving  in our midst, in our country, and the talk around this breakfast table is rightfully about Pope  Benedict XVI.

 Though the venues are crowded and the security and waiting lines are significant, the response to the opportunity to see the Pope is nearly universal. One person told me, “It was electric to see the Holy Father and be in the crowd with him!”

 Yes, The Holy Spirit works through this man, the Successor to Peter, in an extraordinary way.

 With you, I pray that his visit will have its full Providential impact as a moment of New Evangelization in our country.

 What does Pope Benedict XVI, as Vicar of Jesus Christ on earth, bring to the United States and the United Nations? In the weeks and months ahead we will reread his words and understand his purpose more fully. [Truer words were never spoken.] But as I finalized these thoughts last week, I wanted to prepare  for the visit of the Holy Father by taking a few cues from his writings and Papal ministry; not to  anticipate what he might say, but rather to see what he has already been saying to us. How  will the Pope convey the presence of Jesus Christ – the Way, the Truth, and the Life, in the space of these days?

 The Pope is Vicar of Christ, the Way

 In two encyclicals Pope Benedict has laid down reflections on Charity and Hope. In these letters the Pope brings the Petrine charism to bear on that which may be seen as a “Way,” in Christ for our progress as a nation and world.

 In Deus Caritas Est, God is Love, his encyclical on Christian love, he notes the substantive experience of Judaism and Christianity, and some other religions as well: God made man as the  effusion of His love, and His relationship with His creatures is one of love. The fact that God is  author of life and love signals man’s infinite value and requires respect for individual human life  from its beginning until its natural end. As important as the individual is, man’s ultimate meaning is discovered in relationship. God’s plan for humanity is revealed in the complementary  fashioning and pairing of the man and the woman  and their vocation to bear and nurture children.

 Pope Benedict recently chose this theme of the family to guide his reflections for the 2008 New Year’s World Day of Peace. Starting from the primacy of the family as the necessary unit of  society, the Holy Father notes that this Way of love and mutual responsibility is fundamental to  human nature. It cannot be ignored or set aside without obscuring the truth about man, and weakening the very foundations of peace. [1]

 Again and again Pope Benedict has stressed that when the revelation of this extraordinary  love is experienced, it changes us – it makes possible a response, and this response is so significant as to constitute a new “way of life.” It is an interior way, and according to the Pope, this  interior Way is manifested in at least two regards: First – we receive it interiorly as a law written  on our human heart; and second – we live it or pass it on to society from within, as a leaven.[2]

 In Spe Salvi, on Christian Hope, Pope Benedict looks at the substance of our faith, the most  significant article being perhaps that Jesus Christ died, rose from the dead, [If Christ did not rise, our faith is in vain!] and opened for us  a path to eternal life. The Pope explains that this positive reality: that we have a future – an  eternal future because of the Resurrection – is so powerful, that it is not just “informative,” but  “performative.” It changes us from within and empowers us to act or perform differently.[3]

 The pastoral visit of the Pope is a work of evangelization which flows from the experience of  Jesus Christ which is capable of changing the way the world and our country “does business.”  As Vicar of “Christ the Way” he addresses the meaning and dignity of the human person, the  integrity and centrality of the family, the principles of justice, the value of peace, and the necessity of religious freedom, all through the lens of Christian love and hope.

 His method is simple. He comes as an agent of quiet, interior transformation, looking for every  tiny sign of hope, and knowing that the Gospel itself has power to save from within.

 Pope Benedict XVI is the Vicar of Christ, the Truth  Our country’s primordial Declaration of Independence announces “self-evident” truths. But is it  not clear that the very notion of objective and transcendent truth has lost its foundational place  in our American culture? As the Vicar of “Jesus Christ the Truth,” Pope Benedict XVI comes  with a well-established reputation as a teacher of doctrine, to a world which tends to be doctrineless and, indeed, antagonistic to doctrine.

[What follows is excellent.  Watch how he addresses what has happened in certain sectors of American life and the life of the Church America.]

[Education] The system of education in the United States, for example, has been deeply influenced over  the last half-century by John Dewey’s rejection of the whole notion of liberal arts. [Excellent.] His pragmatic  “learn by doing” creed dismisses the discipline of academic subjects, the systematic study of  art and literature, and even the use of classic books. Dewey argues that traditional notions of  human nature, of the structure and process of democracy, and of the nature of truth itself have,  in his words, retarded human progress and all must be reworked.[4]

 The result of this wholesale suspicion and ultimate rejection of the substantive canon of human  learning, which has been so widely embraced in both public and private schools, is that our  schools are oriented almost exclusively toward measurable “outcomes,” instead of the intellectual, moral, and spiritual formation of the student.

[Jurisprudence] In the legal sphere, our society has been similarly crippled by a neglect of the fundamental  texts on which our country was founded. As the United States crossed into the 20th century, the  dean of Harvard Law, Christopher Langdell posited a kind of Darwinism in jurisprudence  whereby law must evolve. In a methodological shift, he recommended that students look at  judges’ decisions rather than the Constitution. This case-law approach became prominent under Roscoe Pound, who served as Professor in four different law schools and Dean at both  Harvard and Nebraska, influencing a whole generation of jurists. He promoted a sociological  legal science, and helped to institutionalize a positivistic approach which displaced legal interpretation. The new goal: to directly shape the development of society.[5]

[Magisterium] Within the Church itself, too often the important writings of the Second Vatican Council have  been incompletely read or misappropriated. “The Spirit of Vatican II,” has been invoked as justification for both the neglect of tradition, as well as a creative evolution of liturgy and pastoral  practice. In his letter accompanying the Motu Proprio Summorum  Pontificum, on the use of the  1962 Roman  Liturgy, Pope Benedict recalls the “hopes and confusion” that followed the Council, and the hurtful “deformations of the liturgy” that took place when “celebrations were not  faithful to the prescriptions of the new Missal.”  [Look at that!   He did it.  He used  Summorum Pontificum on the part of some to show how the attitude expressed in their other spheres enters the common life of the Church as well.  Ironically, this is how Summorum Pontificum is treated by many, so the citation was very apt indeed.]

 The Holy Father comes before the world as herald of an immutable and transcendent reality.  He dares to say, “There are truths. There is right and wrong, and it is written indelibly in the  heart of man.” As Vicar of “Christ the Truth” he is charged to represent the One who is the same yesterday, today and forever. The truth of Jesus Christ is offered in the Way of love: not  seeking to impose the Church’s faith upon others, but at the same time, not allowing God and  Christ to be left aside.[6]

 If we, in the structures of our institutions and spheres of influence:[I like this phrase: our spheres of influence.  I use this expression fairly often myself in relationship to how people live their vocations.  It can also be extended past the micro into the macro: if Catholics more collectively regain a footing in the public square, and do so with a strong revitalized identity, with something to say, the we will extend our sphere of influence.] schools, the courts and political life, journalism and communication, science, economy, and culture have been inclined to  neglect or reject the cumulative wisdom [And the Church is the greatest expert in humanity that the world has ever seen.] of our human experience and the fundamental tenets  of the natural law, in favor of an arbitrary and evolving set of choices, the Pope’s presence and  words will offer us a grounding in principles of faith and human reason, and inspiration for embracing truth anew.

 At the Mass of his inauguration three years ago, Pope Benedict reflected on his ministry as  Chief Shepherd who, like St. Peter, is commanded by Christ to “Feed my sheep.” The Pope  insisted “Loving means giving the sheep what is truly good, the nourishment of God’s truth, of  God’s Word, …”[7] Accompanied by the power of the promised Holy Spirit, and speaking in  the person of Jesus Christ, he will confirm the Church in the faith and desire to move the world  toward the Father.

 He is Vicar of Christ the Life

 Some may be inclined to dismiss the challenges of the Catholic Pope to the world as inflexible  or intolerant. They will perhaps urge him to be open-minded. Maybe they will lecture him on  “civility” – very popular these days.

 As successor to Peter, he is “rock,” and he is a living rock. He is Vicar of “Christ the Life.” At  the Mass of his inauguration, the new Pope greeted the millions who were listening throughout  the world, “The Church is alive! The Church is alive and we are seeing it… The Church is alive  because Christ is alive, because He is truly risen.”

 Time and again the Holy Father has shown a burning desire for unity: among Catholics, among  Christians, between religions. But he does not wish merely to “make mankind happier by bringing religions together.” He offers rather an authentic ecumenism: [Ooooo… this is good!   He makes distinctions, in public, in front of people, about authentic ecumenism, suggesting that some ecumentical efforts are perhaps authentic.] which rests in the New Covenant established in the living and life-giving blood of Jesus Christ; and which alone perfectly  fulfills the eternally valid covenant of Abraham.[8] In whatever words he shares with us  these days, the Pope will represent to Catholics, to other Christians, to the Jewish people and  to all men and women, “believers and non-believers alike,” a living and life-changing proclamation.

 When Pope Benedict preached to the young  people of the world in Cologne in 2005, he described the salvation event, Christ’s death and resurrection, as something so powerful that it  could be compared   to “inducing nuclear fission in the very heart of being.” It is this victory of Christ, the Pope  said, “the intimate explosion of good conquering  evil, that triggers off the series  of transformations that little by little will change  the world.”[9]  [Brick by brick… gravitational pull… But what a great image: "intimate explosion"  "fission" in the heart" "triggers off the series".  Brilliance.  What a Pope.]

 It is fair to say that this conviction of the Pope  is a helpful key for us in understanding his message. The  Pope  is full of hope because  this change, which  is “built into” the encounter with the  living Christ, has already begun. The  explosion has occurred and its saving effects are intended  to fill the world. We  must dare to hope  that the presence of the Vicar of Christ these days in our  country will be a vehicle for authentic moral conversion in individual hearts and for our culture.

 Friends: these days, this extraordinary week,  we are living in the heart of the Church. Where   Peter is – There is the Church. Let us pray for the Shepherd  and for the flock: that these will be  days  when  the joy and power of the Risen Lord is released on the world, as the Vicar of Jesus  Christ – the Way,  the Truth, and the Life, comes  to confirm us in our faith.

Something might be wrong with the notes.

[1]Pope Benedict XVI, World Peace Day Message, January 1, 2008. no. 4
[2]Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est. no. 31
[3]Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi, no. 2
[4]Henry T. Edmundson, John Dewey and the Decline of American Education. ISI: Wilmington, 2006. p. 7.
[5]David Barton, Original Intent. Wallbuilders:Aledo, 2005. p. 228)
[6]Deus Caritas Est, no. 31
[7]Pope Benedict XVI, Mass for the Inauguration of the Pontificate, April 24, 2005. St. Peter’s Square cf. Stephen Pinnentel, “The Master Key: Pope Benedict XVI’s Theology of Covenant.” Homiletic and Pastoral    Review. Oct., 2007. Pp. 16-20.
[8]Pope Benedict XVI, Homily at Cologne-Marienfield, XX  WYD, August 21, 2005.


His Excelleny Bishop Finn gets the very highest WDTPRS Attaboys for this keynote address.

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  1. TNCath says:

    I’d say Bishop Finn is on the fast track to becoming an archbishop within the next five years and a cardinal within the next ten. This man has already launched an extraordinary turnaround in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, and now he is being put on the national stage. I am confident we’ll be hearing a lot from His Excellency in the future.

  2. RBrown says:

    I’d say Bishop Finn is on the fast track to becoming an archbishop within the next five years and a cardinal within the next ten. This man has already launched an extraordinary turnaround in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, and now he is being put on the national stage. I am confident we’ll be hearing a lot from His Excellency in the future.
    Comment by TNCath

    Maybe he’ll take over in DC after Abp Wuerl moves to Rome to share an office with Abp Piero Marini.

  3. EDG says:

    Excellent observations! One thing that struck me and that I haven’t seen mentioned anywhere – probably because it’s sort of an “intangible” – is that the Pope seemed to be addressing himself quite unselfconsciously and automatically to all Christians, simply because it is his right and responsibility to do so – and even more remarkably, they seemed to be listening and accepting this, judging by the reactions. He did make some interesting mentions in his homily of Apostolic tradition and continuity, which I thought was somewhat of an assertion of the foundation for his right to speak this way. It was very clear, but as usual with him, simple, unaffected, and the speech of the one given the command to “Feed my lambs, feed my sheep.”

  4. Tom says:

    “The Spirit of Vatican II,” has been invoked as justification for both the neglect of tradition, as well as a creative evolution of liturgy and pastoral practice. In his letter accompanying the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, on the use of the 1962 Roman Liturgy, Pope Benedict recalls the “hopes and confusion” that followed the Council, and the hurtful “deformations of the liturgy” that took place when “celebrations were not faithful to the prescriptions of the new Missal.”

    I believe that the root problem of the Latin Church’s liturgical problems is the Novus Ordo Mass and the very liturgical reforms approved by Rome. What I encounter, however, from our Churchmen is the unwillingness to confront the root of the problem — the Mass itself and Vatican-approved liturgical novelties.

    Our Churchmen prefer to blame the collapsed state of the Roman Liturgy upon liturgical abuses and priests who supposedly refuse to remain faithful to the new Missal.

    But the very men who formed the Novus Ordo declared that they had “manufactured” a watered down liturgy that featured an ecumenical flavor.

    Monsignor Klaus Gamber, a great orthodox liturgical scholar praised by Josef Cardinal Ratzinger (the Pope), identified the tremendous weaknesses associated with the Novus Ordo.

    The Papal Mass at Nationals Stadium was offered in free of liturgical abuses and in perfect unison with post-Vatican II liturgical teachings.

    Any number of orthodox liturgical scholars have indicated that the new Missal’s multiple watered down Eucharistic Prayers (other than EP I) constitute a radical break with Roman Liturgical tradition…and fail to impart the Catholic Faith in powerful fashion.

    Communion in the hand, altar girls, Mass versus populum, bland vestments, bongo drums, pianos, “Gospel music”, EMs, on and on…we’re talking about Vatican-approved novelties that have deformed the Roman Liturgy.

    The reality is that throughout the Latin Church, a great many bishops and priests offer the Mass in proper fashion and employ Vatican-approved liturgical novelties that deform the Mass and empty churches.

    EP II (or any number of Eucharistic Prayers that pale in comparishon to EP I), watered down prayers, reduced Signs of the Cross and genuflections, ugly vestments, Communion in the hand, altar girls, EMs, liturgical music far-removed from Gregorian Chant, lay readers, etc…constitute a Novus Ordo Mass that is in perfect harmony with the Vatican’s liturgical “reforms.”

    Is that not the truth?


  5. Jeffrey says:

    Father, just curious, what makes PDF so hard to work with for you?

  6. Marc says:

    Truly awesome!! Bishop Finn is a great Shepard! I hope other bishops of the US look to him for a good example of what they should be doing. I have been keeping an eye on him for a few years now after seeing him stand up and talk at a USCCB conference. I knew he had a titanium spine!!

  7. Jim of Maryland says:

    Was Abp Wuerl at the breakfast? He needed to hear this address.

  8. Jeffrey: The format, when you cut and paste it into some other place.

  9. TNCath says:

    Jim wrote: “Was Abp Wuerl at the breakfast? He needed to hear this address.”

    I haven’t seen Archbishop Wuerl since the Mass at Nationals Statdium. Did he even go to New York for the papal ceremonies there?

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