March 1, 2013, Friday — Now, an in-between time…

“If we go under, we surrender to the tides that are breaking up families, decreasing the birth rate, the challenges of alcoholism and drugs and pornography. If we collapse or we wobble disastrously, it won’t be for the good of the western world at all.”–Australian Cardinal George Pell, explaining why Pope Benedict needs to be followed by an energetic Pope who will carry out the multifaceted reforms Benedict began, as reported by the Syndney Herald Sun (link:

“Going under”?

We are not used to hearing a cardinal speaking of the Catholic Church “going under,” of “collapsing,” of “wobbling disastrously.”

But that is precisely what Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, Australia said a few days ago. (He may well be the most physically “robust” of all the cardinals; he was a highly-rated rugby player as a youth, and still cuts an imposing figure at the age of 72.)

But these words are sufficient for us to sense what many of the cardinals, who are now being officially summoned to Rome, will be thinking as they meet, assess, and vote.

They will be looking for a person who can help to build a strong protective wall against, as Pell put it, the tides that are breaking up families, decreasing the birth rate, spreading the use of drugs and alcohol and pornography.

Someone who can guide the barque of Peter with steadiness and courage through these unprecedented times.


The Pope’s First Hours After His Resignation

Father Lombardi: “Ratzinger slept well and will spend today praying”

 Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer residence, is perched on the edge of a crater and overlooks a beautiful lake.

(Here is a photo of the castle from the air. The dome of the astronomical observatory is visible on the top left-hand side of the castle).

I have visited Castel Gandolfo a number of times, and stood often on the roof of the palace looking out over the lake — mostly because I am friends with the Jesuit astronomers who have an observatory on the roof of the castle, and who, until a few years ago, actually lived in the palace. One summer day more than 20 years ago, my older son, Christopher (whom Cardinal Ratzinger once picked up affectionately in St. Peter’s Square) who had recently learned to walk, was stumbling over the marble livingroom in the castle toward a large, color television set which rested unsteadily on a stand; he leaned against it; it began to rock back and forth; it started to tip over; I jumped over to him to snatch him away just in time; the tv set fell to the floor with an enormous boom which echoed throughout the palace; and we were relieved Chris wasn’t harmed. It was in the time of Pope John Paul II, but the Pope was not in the palace at the time.

The air is usually fresh there, high up above the lake.

Nearby are the large Vatican Gardens of Castel Gandolfo (photo), which end with an organic vegetable garden which supplies organic vegetables to the Pope’s table, and grazing cows who produce organic milk as well (photo below).

There is a massive domed hall built by the Emperor Domitian before the year 100 A.D., and there during the Second World War, hundreds of Italian Jews found refuge for many months. (Photo below)

You can still see the soot on the walls where small fires were burning wood for warmth or cooking food.

All was quiet in the palace today as the Pope spends the day resting and praying.

His room is apparently on the back side of the palace, looking out toward Rome, not on the front side, looking out over the lake.

Father Federico Lombardi, the Pope’s spokesman, talked on the phone this morning with Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, the Pope’s secretary.

(These 3 photos are by Deborah McKinney)

Benedict “slept very well,” Lombardi said.

This was significant, because toward the end of 2012, the Pope was finding it very difficult to sleep, and sometimes stayed awake nearly all night.

Today, Benedict woke early and began his day began with a Mass at 7 a.m., Lombardi said.

This was followed, Lombardi said, by the Pope’s recitation of the Breviary, the lauds, and the office of readings.

Then came breakfast.

Lombardi then said: “He will spend today between prayer and reflection and he will see the messages that he has received. In the afternoon he may have his usual walk in the gardens to pray the rosary.”

When he left the Vatican, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI took with him to Castel Gandolfo a large number of letters, books and music recordings.

He also saw to it that his piano was brought from his Vatican apartment to the summer palace.

Benedict adapts the Church to the acceleration of history

It is still not possible to fully assess the decision Benedict has taken. Some Catholic theologians, and even some cardinals, have expressed perplexity, and even opposition, to the Pope’s decision to resign his office.

But there is much that we do not know.

Therefore, it seems wise to wait a bit before judging the Pope’s decision.

Clearly, the Pope took this decision after much thought and prayer. And he took it in the context of the challenges facing the Church today.

One of these challenges is a sudden acceleration of the pace of human events.

It does not take a prophet or a seer to see that something dramatic has occurred in the world over the past 200 years. Human technology has changed the way we live.

Communications technology — including this email, which means I can write in Rome in the evening, press a buttom, and be read around the world a few moments later — has annihilated space, and, in a sense, time.

With satellite technology and the internet, ideas and images are transmitted instantaneously worldwide.

Ideas, images, songs, slogans, are being transmitted now at nearly the speed of light. It is dizzying. Disorienting. Physically and psychologically exhausting. Spiritually exhausting.

This is so because the accumulated wisdom of humanity, and of the Church, is not able to be transmitted so effectively. The reception of this wisdom requires a slow process of maturation, formation, contemplation, face-to-face contact, a transmission person-to-person… heart to heart.

Something of this reality, of the change in the way humanity as a whole, and humn beings as individuals, are being formed, may be hidden within Benedict’s decision to step down from an office which was becoming at times just one more “media-mediated voice” in a cacophony of voices.

Now Benedict has placed the Church in a position to respond in a new way to the challenge posed by a “modernity” characterize by glitz, packaging and spin, often without responsibility and without restraint.

A modernity to which, it would seem, nothing is sacred.

A modernity in which the word “sacred” has lost all meaning.

In front of a world seemingly fixated on rushing madly toward endless triviality, with no respect or affection for the previously nourishing traditions of the human race, Benedict XVI, a “humble servant” quite conscious of the grave limits of his own forces, has given the Church an historic chance to renew herself, and to return with even greater vigor and effect to the service of liberating truth.

In the face of a global challenge without precedent, the Pope himself has taken an unprecedented step.

In the face of an Enemy who seeks to destroy the human couple of Adam and Eve, distorting that couple and transforming their offspring into merchandise at the mercy of merciless laws and governments, the Church, supreme protectress of a free humanity, though attacked from without and betrayed from within, remains nevertheless the best, last hope humanity has to escape from the enslaving chains now being forged against our race.

Benedict’s decision to resign must be seen in this perspective, the perspective of a man who wishes to hand on, while he yet breathes, the weapons to fight a colossal battle.

The battle has not ended. Indeed, it is only now about to begin in earnest.

Toward the Conclave

All this means that the coming Conclave becomes a focus of spiritual battle.

And the world knows this as well as the cardinals do.

Sandro Magister, an old friend, today published an interesting analysis of this situation in L’Espresso, on newsstands here as of March 1.

Toward the Conclave. The Pressure on the Cardinals

“The chair of Peter is empty,” Sandro writes. “Joseph Ratzinger has left it with a clean break, and has left the future governance of the Church to a successor who is unknown to him, just as he is still unknown to the very cardinals who will elect him. One cannot recall, in the last century, a previous conclave so much in the dark and so vulnerable to external and internal pressure.”

According to Sandro, it is the “fourth estate” — the media — that will have enormous influence in coming days.

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Sandro notes that three cardinals who were “on the crest of the wave” in 2005, and who all voted for the late Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini of Milan (at one point, the leading alternative in that Conclave to the final choice, Ratzinger), are either now out of the Conclave, or diminished in moral authority: Cardinal Keith Michael Patrick O’Brien of Scotland, who has announced that he will not go to Rome for the election of the new pontiff; the former archbishop of Los Angeles, Roger Mahony, censured by his own successor, José Horacio Gómez; and the former archbishop of Brussels, Cardinal Godfried Danneels.

Sandro writes: “For all three, the matters of accusation concern that ‘filth’ against which Pope Ratzinger fought his strenuous battle. Mahony and Danneels have so far resisted expulsion, but within the college of cardinals their authoritativeness is already practically nil.”

The Secret Dossier

Sandro continues: “In addition to external pressures, however, pressures from within the Church are also acting on the pre-conclave. The secret report that the three cardinals Julián Herranz, Jozef Tomko, and Salvatore De Giorgi delivered to Benedict XVI and only to him, and he in turn placed at the exclusive disposal of his successor, a report of which not even a line has been leaked out but is known to paint a worrying picture of the malfunctioning of the Roman curia, is weighing upon the conclave like a time bomb.”

Sandro thinks the selection of the new Pope will be influenced by the secret dossier, because the new Pope will be asked to carry out in short order “that reform of ‘governance’ which Benedict XVI left incomplete.”

But Sandro thinks the “clean-up” of the Roman Curia is only of temporary, partial importance.

The really important thing is to “clear the decks” in order to more effectively focus on the Church’s “ultimate and true mission” which is “to revive the Christian faith where it has been weakened and to bring it where it has not yet arrived.”

In fact, Sandro thinks the coming “clean-up” will take only… 100 days…

“In matters of governance,” he writes, “it will be enough that during the first hundred days he should begin a drastic reform of the Curia.”

And after that 100 days?

The new Pope, Sandro says, will have to “renew the essential mission of the Church”: to proclaim Christ, or to put it another way, to restore “all things” in Christ.

Will the new Pope be obeyed?

Pope Benedict has already told the College of Cardinals (speaking to them yesterday at noontime in his last meeting with them before leaving the Vatican) that he will give his “full reverence and obedience” to the new Pope.

In this regard, Benedict recently made a slight change in the ritual for the inauguration of the new Pope, called the Ordo rituum pro ministerii Petrini initio Romae episcopi.

When the newly-elected Pope takes solemn possession of the cathedral church of Rome, St. John Lateran, an “act of obedience” to the new pontiff will have to be publicly made by all the cardinals present, one by one, to give a “public dimension” to the gesture that the cardinals will already have made in the privacy of the Sistine Chapel immediately after the election.

Benedict XVI will not be in the Sistine Chapel, nor at St. John Lateran, and he will learn who is his successor in the same way everyone else will, watching the television as it reports from St. Peter’s Square on who comes out on the balcony of the basilica.

Thus, the Pope yesterday gave his oath of obedience in advance.

Because he made this statement in front of the College of Cardinals, seemingly not taking account of the possibility that a non-cardinal (an archbishop or bishop, or even a simple priest) might be elected (although that would be theoretically possible), observers here are arguing that Benedict believes exactly what he said in his talk yesterday: that the new Pope is “among the cardinals” who were sitting in front of him, and will not be a non-cardinal.

“Tra voi, tra il Collegio dei cardinali, c’è anche il futuro Papa,” Benedict said yesterday. (“Among you, among the College of Cardinals, there is also the future Pope.”)

He is taking it for granted that one of those cardinals will be the new Pope.

And Father Lombardi commented in his briefing: “Anche se sappiamo che canonicamente c’è la possibilità di elezione fuori, credo si possa realisticamente prevedere che il nuovo Pontefice farà parte del Collegio” (“Even if we know that canonically there is the possibility of the election of someone outside the college, I believe one can realistically foresee that the new pontiff will be part of the College.”)

The date of the conclave

On February 28, the official date of abdication, the majority of the cardinals were already in Rome for Benedict XVI’s last papal audience.

Today, they were officially summoned by the Dean of the College of Cardinals, Angelo Sodano (85 years old, and so a non-voting cardinal himself, but an important figure during the days up until the voting) in a letter signed by Sodano. Here is a copy of that letter:

The second paragraph says (in the text in bold-face), that the cardinal should come to Paul VI audience hall in the Vatican on Monday, March 4, at 9:30 a.m.

So, from March 4, Monday morning, the cardinals will begin to meet in “general congregations” or preparatory meetings. All cardinals, both electors and non-electors, that is, those over and those under age 80, may participate.

And the cardinals who are eligible to vote are expected to vote on which day the Conclave itself should begin.

The feeling here is that the Italian cardinals would like to vote to move the date of the Conclave up until either March 9, 10 or 11, instead of leaving it at March 15, or even as late as March 20.

But the feeling is also that some cardinals from abroad — as several have intimated also to me — feel they would like those extra days in order to assess the entire situation thoroughly.

As Jean-Marie Guenois, also a long-time colleague, points out in the February 25 issue of the French daily Le Figaro, “Some cardinals, especially the Italians, favor an accelerated process which would allow an election before Holy Week, the last week of March this year. Others, including Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois (the cardinal archbishop of Paris), and he is not alone, believe that on the contrary it would be best to take the time for ample reflection considering what is at stake.”

If the conclave were to open on Sunday, March 10, the election could be complete in three or four days. The new Pope could inaugurate his pontificate on the feast of St. Joseph, patron of the universal Church, on March 19, and then prepare for the Holy Week ceremonies.

The world’s cardinals could return to their dioceses in time for Easter.

So the first indication of what direction the cardinals will be taking could be given by the date they choose to begin voting.

Among his books

Among the books Pope Benedict took with him to Castel Gandolfo, only one was named: the Theological Esthetics of Hans Urs von Balthasar, the Swiss theologian who was the co-founder, with Joseph Ratzinger and Henri de Lubac, of the journal Communio.

Here are excerpts from an excellent piece by the British Catholic writer Stratford Caldecott, also an old friend, which explains something of the mind of von Balthasar, the man whose work we know the Pope will be reading in the days ahead:

By Stratford Caldecott

In the mid 1930s, as a Jesuit novice, the young Hans Urs was studying Scholastic theology at Fourvière, just north of Lyons. He found St Thomas Aquinas interesting enough, but what his professors seemed to have done to St Thomas was so boring that he eventually resorted to stuffing his ears during lectures in order to read something much more thrilling: the writings of St Augustine and the early Church Fathers.

What had gone wrong with theology to make it so boring? Unlike many another who has found it a tedious waste of time, before and since, this particular Jesuit novice set out to discover why. In the course of answering that one simple question, he had practically to reinvent the whole subject.

Theology, Balthasar believed, is supposed to be the study of the fire and light that burn at the centre of the world.

Theologians had reduced it to the turning of pages in a dessicated catalogue of ideas – a kind of butterfly collection for the mind…

Modern man has lost his grip on morality partly because the deepest reasons for being good have been systematically denied him.

What Balthasar saw more clearly than anyone else was that the unity of Truth and Goodness in Beauty is evident above all in the very thing that ought to be the subject of theology, but which has been almost completely forgotten by the theologians: the Glory of God, which is incarnate in Jesus Christ…

Throughout his writings, Balthasar very clearly describes exactly what is wrong with the world, the culture, that we have grown up with. But at the same time he states the possibility of an alternative.

This alternative culture is based on the awakening of what he calls in the very first volume of the great series (with St Paul and, later, Clement of Alexandria) a “gnosis” or knowledge belonging to faith; the opening of an interior vision that “reads” the world in the light of love. (It was part of the intention of the international review Communio, of which Balthasar was the leading founder, to encourage this re-reading of the culture and the cosmos within the Church.)

Later in the series, in the five-volume Theo-Drama, he employs the eyes of faith to reveal the underlying dynamic of cosmic salvation history, culminating in the inevitable “Battle of the Logos” which drives evil into the open and onto the world stage.

It is this vision of the spiritual issues underlying the modern crisis of Christianity and culture that enables him to go beyond the shallow optimism of some of the Vatican II documents to a more profound critique of post-Enlightenment modernity…

It was a good thing, Balthasar believed, that the Church no longer wielded the temporal power that had once been claimed by the Popes, and that she had renounced forever the use of force and fear to achieve her ends.

Christendom was at times a noble experiment, but it had failed to give clear expression to many of the priorities of the Gospel. The disaster of the Crusades had shown how easily even the greatest of Christians (such as St Bernard of Clairvaux) could be deceived into confusing earthly with spiritual warfare.

What was needed now was a new non-violent chivalry, a new kind of consecration in the midst of secular life…

Love is at the heart of being, and its dynamism is at the heart of knowing: it is the “code” that enables us to read the meaning of things.

One more particular application of this insight might be mentioned: an application of relevance to contemporary feminism.

There is always a close integration in Balthasar’s thinking between seemingly abstract theological conclusions, cultural critique (thus social science) and spirituality. The tradition that God, being “pure act”, could contain no trace of passivity had become associated with the tendency in Christian thought to assign a lower place to woman and to the so-called “feminine” virtues.

In modern society, which increasingly values the hard, driving mechanisms of technological progress and economic competition, theology inevitably becomes entangled with the same attitude.

According to Balthasar, on the other hand, to receive something from another is not at all a weakness or imperfection, but intrinsic to the nature of what it is to love. If gentleness and openness to others, or “Receptivity”, is a feminine virtue, it is also an essential dimension of God.

This means that theology is free to revalue the feminine – and the spirit of childhood. Love Alone contains the following famous passage:

“But whenever the relationship between nature and grace is severed (as happens… where ‘faith’ and ‘knowledge’ are constructed as opposites), then the whole of worldly being falls under the dominion of ‘knowledge’, and the springs and forces of love immanent in the world are overpowered and finally suffocated by science, technology and cybernetics.

“The result is a world without women, without children, without reverence for love in poverty and humiliation – a world in which power and the profit-margin are the sole criteria, where the disinterested, the useless, the purposeless is despised, persecuted and in the end exterminated – a world in which art itself is forced to wear the mask and features of technique.”

[End of article by Stratford Caldecott]

The Ministry of Peter and the Ministry of John

Pope Benedict has stepped down from the ministry of Peter.

Still, he says he will continue to live “in the yard” of St. Peter.

As he lives there, he seems intent to carry of the ministry of… St. John.

It is as if he is moving from the ministry of Peter to… the ministry of John.

(The Disciples Peter and John Running to the Sepulchre on the Morning of the Resurrection, painting by the French painter Eugène Burnand (1850-1921), in 1898. The painting refers to the passage in the Gospel of John where both disciples run to ward the tomb, now empty, and Johnm, being younger, arrives first, but waits for Peter, allowing the older apostle to go in first.)

Pope Benedict has always appreciated this painting by Burnand.

And he has often mentioned the fact that Peter and John both “ran together” to the tomb, to see the evidence that Christ had risen.

John was not the “rock” upon whom Christ built his Church.

But John was one disciple who stayed with Jesus to the end, even remaining with him at the foot of the cross.

Interestingly, it is the Johannine vision of Christ that most intrigues Balthasar, the Pope’s old friend, the one whose book he is now reading.

That Johannine vision is the vision set forth by St. John in his Gospel.

In that Gospel, John writes: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, the glory of the Only Begotten of the Father” (John 1:14).

As Joel Garver, a professor at La Salle University on Philadelphia has written:

“For John, the cross and the glorification of Christ are inseparable realities — coming from the Father, the Son’s whole life is one of glorifying the Father through obedience moving relentlessly toward his ‘hour’ of glorification in powerlessness upon the Cross.”

The Pope’s hour, at present, is the hour of his powerlessness…

Garver continues: “It is in the formless, the deformity (Ungestalt), of the Cross that the very form of God’s glory (Ubergestalt) is revealed as the boundless, self-giving love that characterizes the very life of the Trinity.

“This form of glory unseats all worldly aesthetics and all classical notions of beauty as proportion and harmony, making way for a new theological understanding of beauty in the Trinitarian dynamic of cruciform love seen by the eyes of faith. And that is the fundamental point that Balthasar expresses in his aesthetics.”

What Benedict is saying by his decision to divest himself completely of all power, and to live, powerless, “hidden from the the world,” a life of prayer and worship of God, is that there is a humble “Johannine mission” which can complement and complete the awesome “Petrine mission” he carried out with such devotion and suffering until yesterday evening…

(to be continued…)

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