February 18, 2013, Monday — Benedict’s Vision
“We have nothing to give God, we have only our sin to place before him. And this he receives and makes his own, while in return he gives us himself and his glory.” –Pope Benedict XVI, September 25, 2011, during his visit to Germany, meeting with Catholics engaged in the life of the Church and society, in Freiburg im Breisgau
The Pope’s Vision for the Future
A vision for the future of the Church set forth in 1969, 44 years ago, by the relatively young theologian Joseph Ratzinger, then 42 — so at almost the exact midpoint of his life from his birth in 1927 until now — was recalled today by Italian writer Marco Bardazzi on the Vatican Insider website.
It was a vision of a Church with “far fewer members” and with “little influence over political decisions,” to the point of being almost “socially irrelevant” and forced to “start over.”
But it was also a vision of a Church that would find herself again and be reborn a “simpler and more spiritual” entity following “enormous confusion.”
The vision was set forth is a series of five radio homilies by Ratzinger in 1969, and was published in book form just two years ago by Ignatius Press as Faith and the Future.
Ratzinger said he was convinced the modern Church was going through a dramatic era similar to the Enlightenment and the French Revolution.
“We are at a huge turning point in the evolution of mankind,” he said. “This moment makes the move from medieval to modern times seem insignificant.”
From the crisis “will emerge a Church that has lost a great deal,” he warned. “It will become small and will have to start pretty much all over again. It will no longer have use of the structures it built in its years of prosperity… It will be a more spiritual Church, and will not claim a political mandate flirting with the Right one minute and the Left the next. It will be poor and will become the Church of the destitute.”
The process outlined by Ratzinger was a “long” one “but when all the suffering is past, a great power will emerge from a more spiritual and simple Church.”
Then, and only then, Ratzinger concluded, would Catholics begin to see “that small flock of faithful as something completely new… as a source of hope for themselves, the answer they had always secretly been searching for.”
The Destruction of the Church’s Mission through Worldliness
Has Benedict’s vision for the Church’s future change over the past 44 years?
An exceptional talk he gave on the matter a year and a half ago offers insight into the Pope’s mind on this question. His talk is worth recalling now, in light of his announcement of his resignation on February 11, to take effect on February 28.
On his September 22-25, 2011 apostolic journey to Germany, Benedict went into his vision for the Church’s future in some detail in an address to Catholic workers in Freiburg im Breisgau on the final day of the trip, on Sunday, September 25.
“For some decades now we have been experiencing a decline in religious practice and we have been seeing substantial numbers of the baptized drifting away from Church life,” Benedict began.
So, in a sense, he was saying that the vision he had set forth in 1969 had, by 2011, come to pass.
He then posed the question this situation inevitably calls forth: should the Church not change?
“This prompts the question: should the Church not change? Must she not adapt her offices and structures to the present day, in order to reach the searching and doubting people of today?”
“Yes, there are grounds for change,” he said. “There is a need for change. Every Christian and the whole community of the faithful are called to constant change.”
But, what type of change?
His answer: that the Church must “set herself apart from her surroundings, become in a certain sense ‘unworldly.'”
This is an arduous way of changing, a counter-cultural way.
And this is why the Church’s relationship to the world must always be nuanced.
Yes, the Church must change, and make herself “up-to-date.”
But she must not conform to the modern or progressive world; rather, she must “set herself apart from her surroundings” and “become in a certain sense ‘unworldly.'”
And the reason for this is that the Church’s mission is to point men and women beyond themselves, beyond whatever “present” they inhabit, beyond whatever “modern world” they live in, to what is eternal, that is, to God.
Benedict said (the italics are my own):
“The Church’s mission has its origins in the mystery of the triune God, in the mystery of his creative love. And love is not just somehow within God, it is God, he himself is love by nature.
“And divine love does not want to exist only for itself, by nature it wants to pour itself out. It has come down to humanity, to us, in a particular way through the incarnation and self-offering of God’s Son: by virtue of the fact that Christ, the Son of God, as it were stepped outside the framework of his divinity, took flesh and became man, not merely to confirm the world in its worldliness and to be its companion, leaving it to carry on just as it is, but in order to change it.”
Benedict then set forth a vision of an “economy” that is not an exchange of goods and sevrices between men, but an exchange between men and God.
“The Christ event includes the inconceivable fact of what the Church Fathers call a sacrum commercium, an exchange between God and man,” Benedict said.
“The Fathers explain it in this way: we have nothing to give God, we have only our sin to place before him. And this he receives and makes his own, while in return he gives us himself and his glory: a truly unequal exchange, which is brought to completion in the life and passion of Christ.
“He becomes, as it were, a ‘sinner,’ he takes sin upon himself, takes what is ours and gives us what is his…
“The Church owes her whole being to this unequal exchange. She has nothing of her own to offer to him who founded her, such that she might say: here is something wonderful that we did! Her raison d’être consists in being a tool of redemption, in letting herself be saturated by God’s word and in bringing the world into loving unity with God.
“The Church is immersed in the Redeemer’s outreach to men. When she is truly herself, she is always on the move, she constantly has to place herself at the service of the mission that she has received from the Lord. And therefore she must always open up afresh to the cares of the world, to which she herself belongs, and give herself over to them, in order to make present and continue the holy exchange that began with the Incarnation.”
But this mission, to be a “tool of redemption,” to bring the world into loving unity with God, can be frustrated.
“In the concrete history of the Church, however, a contrary tendency is also manifested, namely that the Church becomes self-satisfied, settles down in this world, becomes self-sufficient and adapts herself to the standards of the world,” Benedict said.
“Not infrequently, she gives greater weight to organization and institutionalization than to her vocation to openness towards God, her vocation to opening up the world towards the other.”
And here Benedict spoke about the mission of the Church, and of each member of the Church, using words which may shed light on his decision to resign the papacy.
“In order to accomplish her true task adequately,” Benedict said a year and a half ago, “the Church must constantly renew the effort to detach herself from her tendency towards worldliness and once again to become open towards God. In this she follows the words of Jesus: “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (Jn 17:16), and in precisely this way he gives himself to the world.”
Benedict’s decision to “leave the world” and, as it were, become “hidden” in a small convent inside the Vatican walls, may be seen as his attempt to try to accomplish his true task, which is “to open up the world towards the other.”
He added, provocatively:
“One could almost say that history comes to the aid of the Church here through the various periods of secularization, which have contributed significantly to her purification and inner reform.”
He is saying that those periods in which the Church has seemingly been diminished by secualr forces, by the powers of this world, are actually periods which are needd to bring about the Church’s “purification and inner reform.”
And this is the vision that Benedict has for our future.
That we will lose many privileges, and many glories, from a human perspective. Cathedrals may close. Schools and universities may be abandoned or lost. Religious orders may die out. Secular laws may put great pressure on the Church.
But all of this can be freeing.
And of this can be a way of liberating the Church from a facade of holiness, and bringing about true holiness.
“Secularizing trends – whether by expropriation of Church goods, or elimination of privileges or the like – have always meant a profound liberation of the Church from forms of worldliness, for in the process she, as it were, sets aside her worldly wealth and once again completely embraces her worldly poverty,” Benedict said.
The destiny of the tribe of Levi…
“In this she shares the destiny of the tribe of Levi, which, according to the Old Testament account, was the only tribe in Israel with no ancestral land of its own, taking as its portion only God himself, his word and his signs,” he said.
“At those moments in history, the Church shared with that tribe the demands of a poverty that was open to the world, in order to be released from her material ties: and in this way her missionary activity regained credibility.”
And this is the key phrase: “in this way her missionary activity regained credibility.”
For that is what Benedict is after, in the end.
As a theologian, as a bishop, as a Pope, he wants the message of Christ to be seen for what it is, something life-giving, something liberating.
And if that message is losing credibility, the whole mission of the Church is in jeopardy.
If scandals, if corruption, if hypocrisy, if cover-ups, have made the message of the Church a message no one can hear within a sneer, then something must be done to free the message once again.
For the sake of the message.
Something like taking an action not taken in centuries.
Something like resigning the papacy and devoting one’s life to prayer.
“History has shown that, when the Church becomes less worldly, her missionary witness shines more brightly,” Benedict said.
“Once liberated from material and political burdens and privileges, the Church can reach out more effectively and in a truly Christian way to the whole world, she can be truly open to the world…
“The Church opens herself to the world not in order to win men for an institution with its own claims to power, but in order to lead them to themselves by leading them to him of whom each person can say with Saint Augustine: he is closer to me than I am to myself (cf. Confessions, III,6,11). He who is infinitely above me is yet so deeply within me that he is my true interiority.
“This form of openness to the world on the Church’s part also serves to indicate how the individual Christian can be open to the world in effective and appropriate ways.”
It is in these lines that one may find Benedict’s true interpretation of the Second Vatican Council, and the Council’s search to “open up” the Church so that her message could be better heard by the world. The entire point of the “opening up” was not to become worldly, but to be able to preach to the worldly.
“It is not a question here of finding a new strategy to relaunch the Church,” Benedict said. “Rather, it is a question of setting aside mere strategy and seeking total transparency, not bracketing or ignoring anything from the truth of our present situation, but living the faith fully here and now in the utterly sober light of day, appropriating it completely, and stripping away from it anything that only seems to belong to faith, but in truth is mere convention or habit.
“To put it another way: for people of every era, and not just our own, the Christian faith is a scandal,” Benedict said. “That the eternal God should know us and care about us, that the intangible should at a particular moment have become tangible, that he who is immortal should have suffered and died on the Cross, that we who are mortal should be given the promise of resurrection and eternal life – for people of any era, to believe all this is a bold claim.
“This scandal, which cannot be eliminated unless one were to eliminate Christianity itself, has unfortunately been overshadowed in recent times by other painful scandals on the part of the preachers of the faith,” he continued.
“A dangerous situation arises when these scandals take the place of the primary skandalon of the Cross and in so doing they put it beyond reach, concealing the true demands of the Christian Gospel behind the unworthiness of those who proclaim it.”
One senses in these words the terrible consequences of the priestly abuse of children for the Church, but not so much for the Church as institution as for the Church as the source of a message of healing and holiness.
The scandals have rendered the Church almost incapable of preaching her essential message.
This, too, helps explain why Benedict decided to resign.
“All the more, then, it is time once again to discover the right form of detachment from the world, to move resolutely away from the Church’s worldliness,” Benedict said.
The Pope then summed up his argument to the German Catholics he was speaking to:
“Openness to the concerns of the world means, then, for the Church that is detached from worldliness, bearing witness to the primacy of God’s love according to the Gospel through word and deed, here and now, a task which at the same time points beyond the present world because this present life is also bound up with eternal life.
“As individuals and as the community of the Church, let us live the simplicity of a great love, which is both the simplest and hardest thing on earth, because it demands no more and no less than the gift of oneself.”
Those lines are worth repeating. They seem to describe the choice that Benedict has made:
“As individuals and as the community of the Church, let us live the simplicity of a great love, which is both the simplest and hardest thing on earth, because it demands no more and no less than the gift of oneself.”
Last train leaving the station?
Italian Vaticanist Andrea Tornielli today published on the Vatican Insider website an interesting report on a letter Archbishop Gerhard Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has sent to the Society of St. Pius X (the followers of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre) asking the Society to give a positive response to the Vatican’s conditions for ecclesial reunion by February 22, the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter.
Tornielli describes is as a “final chance” to reconcile with Rome before Benedict XVI’s resignation comes into effect.
“Following the ‘personal’ and highly spiritual letter sent by U.S. Archbishop Augustin Di Noia, to the Lefebvrists last December, a new letter dated January 8 has reached the SSPX’s Superior, Bishop Bernard Fellay. It would not be correct to call it an ultimatum as such but the document signed by the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and President of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, imposes a deadline on the Lefebvrists for the first time — a particularly dramatic move in light of Benedict XVI’s shock resignation.”
Tornielli says the existence of the letter was confirmed by the Abbot Claude Barthe, a careful observer of relations between Rome and the traditionalists, in an interview in the French magazine Présent on February 16.
“Everyone knows by now that the Ecclesia Dei Commission sent a letter to Bishop Fellay on 8 January and that he is expected to reply by 22 February, the day of the Feast of the Chair of Peter,” Barthe is quoted as saying. “This could also be the day the Prelature of Saint Pius X is founded. If it does indeed happen, it would mark the real end of Benedict XVI’s papacy: Mgr. Lefebvre’s rehabilitation. You can imagine what a clap of thunder that would be and what an effect it will have on March’s scheduled events” (in other words, the Conclave).
But “it seems unlikely that Lefebvrists will agree to sign the doctrinal preamble the Holy See sent to them last June,” Tornielli writes.
Last June, the then-Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal William Levada, delivered a final version of the doctrinal preamble to Fellay, together with a proposal for a Canonical settlement which involved transforming the SSPX into a Personal Prelature.
“The document required Lefebvrists to recognize that the (papal) magisterium is the authentic interpreter of Tradition, that the Second Vatican Council agrees with Tradition, and that the post-conciliar liturgical reform promulgated by Paul VI was not only valid but legitimate as well,” Tornielli writes.
SSPX leaders have made various statements and given interviews in which they have said that it is difficult for them to accept the conditions laid out by the Holy See.
It is within the realm of possibility, then, that there could be one more dramatic act of this pontificate before it ends: the reconciliation of the SSPX with Rome, ending the one official schism since the Second Vatican Council. The SSPX would then become the second Personal Prelature in the Church, following Opus Dei.
But it would depend on the SSPX finding a way in conscience to sign the document that the Vatican has asked them to sign prior to February 22.
Dolan Downplays His Chances to Be Elected Pope
The archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, asked yesterday to comment on what he thought about the fact that some view him as one of the favorites to be elected Pope, said whoever thought this must be “smoking marijuana.”
He also said he felt the Conclave should not be rushed (there have been reports that its start may be moved forward from March 15 — 15 days after the See of Peter is vacant — to March 10, since so many of the cardinals are already setting out for Rome, or soon will be).
“I haven’t heard anything about it (the Conclave) yet, I am waiting for instructions,” Dolan said. “We are aware of the fact that we need to be patient because there are many sensitive issues that need to be addressed. However, I would think one would not want to rush into the conclave. The most important thing is to be there for Pope Benedict XVI, to express our love and best wishes to him, to pray together and then make the decisions that need to be made.”
Twelve to Watch as Cardinals Gather in Rome
A report today by Cindy Wooden and Francis X. Rocca of Catholic News Service lists 12 cardinals as “likely to serve as trusted advisers to the rest in the discussions and election.”
It is not said that the 12 cardinals are likely candidates for the papacy, only that they are likely to have a major voice in the deliberations.
They are, in alphabetical order (their descriptions are slightly edited and abridged):
— Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, 63. The archbishop of New York City impressed many in the College of Cardinals in February 2012 when he delivered the main presentation at a meeting Pope Benedict XVI had called to discuss the new evangelization. The Pope himself praised the New York archbishop’s presentation as “enthusiastic, joyful and profound.” Still, most believe the cardinals will never elect an American Pope, lest the leadership of the Church appear linked to the United States.
— Cardinal Peter Erdo of Esztergom-Budapest, 60. Although not a familiar name in the press, this tall, powerful Hungarian is a major figure among his peers in Europe, the Church’s traditional heartland and the region of more than half the cardinal electors. He was elected to a second five-year term as president of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences in 2011.
— Cardinal Marc Ouellet, 68. This Canadian is Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, which coordinates the naming of bishops in dioceses around the world. His work has brought him into contact with most of his fellow cardinal-electors. As president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, he is well acquainted with one of the Church’s largest and fastest-growing regions. He is also a respected theologian.
— Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, 70. The President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, his was chosen by Pope Benedict to lead his 2013 Lenten retreat, now going on in the Vatican. The cardinal, a scripture scholar, has been leading the universal Church’s efforts to dialogue with nonbelievers, trying to make Christianity intelligible to the modern mind.
— Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, 70. This Honduran is president of Caritas Internationalis, the umbrella group of national Catholic charities around the world. As a result, many of his peers have come to know the cardinal as the person spearheading assistance to the neediest of their people. He aroused controversy in 2002 with remarks about clerical abuse that struck some as overly defensive of accused priests and the Church’s past policies. He was already widely mentioned as a possible pope before the 2005 conclave that elected Pope Benedict.
— Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, 69. He was born in Argentina to parents of Italian descent. As Prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, he is familiar with the challenges facing Eastern Catholics and the pastoral concerns of the Church in the Middle East. He has worked in the Vatican for more than a dozen years, and previously served as nuncio to Venezuela and then Mexico. His only experience in a parish was a brief assignment shortly after his ordination as a priest.
— Cardinal Robert Sarah, 67. From Guinea, Africa, he is president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, which promotes Catholic charitable giving. He has used his leadership to emphasize Pope Benedict’s teaching that Catholic charitable activity must not be simple philanthropy, but an expression of faith, rooted in prayer and Catholic identity. A scripture scholar and former diocesan bishop, he served nine years as secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.
— Cardinal Odilo Scherer. He is a leading voice of the Church in Latin America. This 63-year-old Brazilian is archbishop of Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest diocese. The son of German immigrants, he also has strong ties to Rome. He studied philosophy and theology at Rome’s Pontifical Brazilian College and Pontifical Gregorian University and worked as an official of the Congregation for Bishops from 1994 to 2001.
— Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, 68. The archbishop of Vienna, Austria, has known Pope Benedict for almost 40 years, having studied under him at the University of Regensburg, Germany. Even before his former professor became Pope, the cardinal was well known at the Vatican and in wider Church circles. He was invited in 1996 to preach Blessed John Paul II’s Lenten retreat and was the main editor of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, published in 1992.
— Cardinal Angelo Scola, 71. Scola is the archbishop of Milan, Italy, the archdiocese led by both Popes Pius XI and Paul VI when they were elected. He previously served as patriarch of Venice, once the see of Blessed John XXIII. The cardinal, a respected academic theologian rather than a popular preacher, has longstanding ties to one of the new Church movements, Communion and Liberation, which is based in his archdiocese.
— Cardinal Luis Tagle, 55, of Manila, the Philippines, is one of the youngest and newest members of the College of Cardinals. Although he did not receive his red hat until November 2012, he had already made a name for himself at the world Synod of Bishops on the Word of God in 2008. He is a popular speaker with a doctorate in systematic theology and has served on the International Theological Commission, an advisory body to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
— Cardinal Peter Turkson, 64. He is the former archbishop of Cape Coast, Ghana, and current president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. The cardinal, a biblical scholar who was active in ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, has frequently appeared on lists of possible Popes. He aroused controversy in 2011 with a proposal for a “world central bank” to regulate the global financial industry, and then in October 2012 when he showed bishops at the Vatican a video warning about the growth of Muslim populations in Europe.
St. Malachy’s Prophecy
St. Malachy (1094-1148) in the mid-1100s prophesied that more than 100 Popes would succeed one another before the end of the world. According to his list, the next Pope after Pope Benedict XVI would be the last Pope of the Roman Catholic Church.
According to the Prophecy of St. Malachy, the last Pope will be called “Peter the Roman” or “Petrus Romanus.” Here is the prophecy in Latin:
“Petrus Romanus, qui paſcet oues in multis tribulationibus: quibus tranſactis ciuitas ſepticollis diruetur, & Iudex tremẽdus iudicabit populum ſuum. Finis.”
And in English:
“Peter the Roman, who will nourish the sheep in many tribulations; when they are finished, the city of seven hills will be destroyed, and the fearsome Judge will judge His people. The End.”