Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Cardinal Levada - 'We Do Not Build Heaven On Earth'

There has been much coverage of Cardinal William J. Levada's homily at the ongoing Knights of Columbus Convention in Arizona. Much of it, I think, has missed the most controversial phrase in his talk, which is the title of this post.

On a very obvious level, this statement stands opposed to the Catholic left's 70s utopian vision of "church" immanentizing the eschaton. But in my old boss from San Francisco's language, it also stands against market ideologues and American exceptionalists on the Catholic right.

Sadly, too many American Catholics find themselves located in these two very American, but not terribly Catholic camps. Here are his relevant comments, my emphases:
Although we sometimes sing about building the City of God, in fact our task is more modest: we do not build heaven on earth, we simply prepare the site to welcome the new Jerusalem which comes from God.

This is an important lesson for us Americans. Our nation has been blessed with many gifts and resources, and at times that abundance can blind people to our utter dependence on God, and the need to seek to do his will. We Knights of Columbus are dedicated to fostering both faith and patriotism in your members; and you experience the tensions when our religious ideals come into conflict with a society that is becoming increasingly secular. The Christ who lives in us is truly “a light of revelation to the Gentiles and glory for your people Israel”, but he is also “a sign that will be contradicted”. (Lk 2:32, 34) Like Mary, we too will be pierced by that sword of opposition if we are faithful to Christ. That is the cost of discipleship. As American Catholics, we can and we should work with all people of good will, regardless of their religious beliefs, to improve the lot of others. But we must also bear witness to our conviction that the American “city set on a hill”, no matter how remarkable its scientific accomplishments or technological advances, will always be a barren patch of earth without the life-giving refreshment of the word of God.
You can read his full homily here. We'll have other snippets from the K of C convention later. Here though is one fun bit from Phoenix Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted:

In AD 1880, Arizona got connected to the rest of the world. The first telephones were installed that year, and on March 20, 1880, the Southern Pacific Railroad reached Tucson. It was a momentous occasion. The Mayor of the town, the Honorable R.N. Leatherwood, was so thrilled that he sent telegrams to the President of the United States and other dignitaries. He even sent a telegram to the Holy Father in Rome. The text of the telegram read as follows:

“The mayor of Tucson begs your honor of reminding your Holiness that this ancient and honorable pueblo was founded by the Spaniards under the sanctions of the Church more than three centuries ago, and to inform Your Holiness that a railroad from San Francisco, California, now connects us with the entire Christian world.
R.N. Leatherwood, Mayor”

We don’t know if the pope ever got the Mayor’s message. However, some pranksters of the town, learning of the telegram to the pope, crafted a reply of their own, forged the signature of His Holiness, and sent it to the Mayor. It read as follows: “His Holiness the Pope acknowledges with appreciation receipt of your telegram informing him that the ancient City of Tucson at last has been connected by rail with the outside world, and sends his benediction, but for his own satisfaction would ask—where in hell is Tucson?”