One Sequoia After Another by Fr. Blaise Berg, STD

January 27, 2023 Article by  

“One sequoia after another!” texted my friend, Fr. Richard McDonald of Kansas (who attended CANFP’s HV50 conference in 2018). Fr. Richard and I were corresponding about the sudden death of Cardinal George Pell on January 10th. Just five days earlier, Pope Francis had celebrated the funeral Mass of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in St. Peter’s Square. Indeed, one sequoia after another. Pope Benedict and Cardinal Pell resembled two tall, stout trees which not only provided much shade and protection to those seeking the truth amid a forest of falsehoods proposed by our culture, but also these two Catholic leaders were rooted strongly in the most important principles of life, love and truth. I could not help but think of the words of the prophet Jeremiah: “He is like a tree planted by the water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” (Jer 17:8)

Fr. Richard MacDonald, Cardinal Pell, and Fr. Blaise Berg

When it comes to promoting healthy marital relations in general, and NFP in particular, one may ask what specifically did these two men do to promote these? For his part, in 2001, Cardinal Pell founded the “John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family” in Australia when he was serving as the archbishop of Melbourne. Throughout his priesthood, episcopacy and cardinalate, Cardinal Pell was a tireless promoter of the gift of human life. Indeed, when a number of priests and I con-celebrated Mass with him in late June when he was in the San Francisco Bay Area for the “Sacred Liturgy Conference” at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, Cardinal Pell began his homily speaking about the recent Supreme Court overturning of Roe v. Wade. He spoke of his deep admiration for our country that something like that could actually happen. I felt blessed to be able to spend some time with Cardinal Pell during the conference, having breakfast one morning with just him, his priest secretary and my friend Fr. Richard.

Pope Benedict greeting Fr. Fessio

With regard to Pope Benedict, I did not have the chance to meet him during his time as Pope (2005 to 2013). However, I was blessed to be around him on a number of occasions in the 1990’s when he was known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and I was a lay student, seminarian and priest in Rome. Most importantly, Cardinal Ratzinger was the head or “Prefect” of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. As the head of the CDF, he kept a strong, but loving hand on the steering wheel of the Catholic faith, always ensuring that it was going in the right direction, and not veering off the road into ditches of uncertainty and error. Less importantly, it was under the patronage of Cardinal Ratzinger that the “Casa Balthasar” was founded in 1990 by seven individuals, including Fr. Joseph Fessio, founder of Ignatius Press. During the three and half years that I lived at the “Casa”, a house of discernment and formation for young men, the other students and I were treated to yearly visits with Cardinal Ratzinger. Also, as a student priest in Rome, I would sometimes concelebrate Mass with His Eminence on Thursday mornings when he would pray Mass for German-speaking pilgrims at the “Collegio Teutonico”, the German residence for priests pursuing graduate studies.While the cardinal was sometimes referred to as the “Rottweiler of God” in the press, I found him to be gentle, unassuming and shy. When it was necessary to correct theologians or dissenters, Cardinal Ratzinger would always engage them personally in an attempt to help them to change course. Only as a last resort and in order to protect the faithful, would he have to use stronger measures to clarify that these scholars were not teaching the truth. Above all, Cardinal Ratzinger (and later as Pope Benedict XVI) wanted to bring people to the good news of Jesus Christ so that they could experience His love, mercy and truth.

When our time comes to pass from this life, we may not be known as “sequoias” but, God willing, we will be remembered for our love for and promotion of marriage and family and Natural Family Planning. As we venture forth together during this new year, it would be good to identify two or three tasks we can each do to continue being instruments of the good news of marriage and family. And, may we be given the strength and guidance to carry them out!

Fr. Blaise Berg, STD. President of CANFP, is Associate Professor of Theology at St. Patrick’s Seminary, in Menlo Park, CA.