August 26, 2016, Friday — Emeritus Pope Benedict Lives “At the Still Point of the Turning World”

“Here I was taught by the grace of God that I should steadfastly keep me in the faith… and that at the same time I should take my stand on and earnestly believe in what our Lord showed in this time — that ‘all manner of thing shall be well.'” —The medieval English nun, Blessed Julian of Norwich, in her Showings (A.D. 1373) (link). When gravely ill, Julian experienced a sort of “near-death experience.” Between four and nine one afternoon and evening, she received 15 “showings,” or revelations — heaven opened to her, she beheld Christ in his glory, and saw the meaning and power of his sufferings. In her 13th showing, Julian received a comforting answer to a question that had long troubled her: “In my folly, before this time I often wondered why, by the great foreseeing wisdom of God, the onset of sin was not prevented: for then, I thought, all should have been well… Jesus… said: ‘It was necessary that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’ These words were said most tenderly, showing no manner of blame to me nor to any who shall be saved.” Julian came to such a sense of the awfulness of sin that she reckoned the pains of hell were to be chosen in preference to sin. Indeed, she said, to one who recognizes the horror of sin, sin itself is hell. “And to me was shown no harder hell than sin. For a kind soul has no hell but sin.” The quoted words, “all manner of thing shall be well,” are cited in the official Catechism of the Catholic Church, Paragraph 313

“Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind…

“Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present…

“At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is…


“A people without history
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails
On a winter’s afternoon, in a secluded chapel
History is now and England…

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time…

“Quick now, here, now, always —
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.”
—T.S. Eliot, from the poems Burnt Norton and Little Gidding (the names of two places in England), two parts of his great 4-part poem-symphony The Four Quartets, written over eight years, from 1935 to 1942, as the Second World War grew near and then began, after his conversion in 1927 to Christianity and his entrance into the Church of England. The poems consider the spiritual nature of man, our marvelous consciousness which reaches across time, forward in anticipation and backward in memory, and which senses the pain of sin, guilt, and the profound longing for forgiveness, redemption and truly abundant life. The last lines include a quotation from the English female mystic, Blessed Julian of Norwich, who, much like Pope Francis in these recent years, stressed the centrality of the problem of sin, and of mercy and forgiveness for sinners, which was at the center of her Revelations of Divine Love. In a very strange, thought-provoking and profound expression, Julian says that sin is “behovely.” The word is often translated as “necessary,” “expedient,” “appropriate,” or, in the scholastic expression, “conveniens,” that is, “fitting.” How could sin be “behovely,” “fitting”? Julian believed that sin was “behovely (“necessary,” “fitting,” “needed”) because it brings people to self-knowledge, which leads to acceptance of the role of God in their lives, and therefore, ultimately, to their redemption from sin and their resurrection from death…

Why Did Pope Benedict Resign?

In the end, it was the travel.

That is what people are now saying.

It was the travel that Pope Benedict was expected to make, specifically the travel to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil for World Youth Day in 2013, that led him to take his momentous decision to resign.

That is the “new” insight about his resignation.

The “new” news comes from an interview that has just appeared, evidently conducted this past summer (the precise date of the interview isn’t clear, which is itself perplexing).

In the interview, Benedict tells his interviewer, an Italian theologian, that he decided he did not have the strength to make the Brazil journey and to lead World Youth Day in July of 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Therefore, in order to allow time for another Pope to be elected and to begin his papacy some months before the Brazil trip, Benedict decided he needed to announce his resignation early in 2013, and he did so, the interview suggests.

And so this is the story now going around: that the World Youth Day trip was the decisive factor in the decision to resign.

It is true that Emeritus Pope Benedict recently granted an interview to a respected Italian theologian, Elio Guerrero, author of a new biography of Benedict which will be published in Italy in Italian on August 29: Servant of God and Humanity: The Biography of Benedict XVI.

Selections from the interview were published in the Italian daily La Repubblica on August 24 — two days ago.

And it is true that, after traveling to Mexico and Cuba (March 23-29, 2012, 11 months before his resignation), Benedict didn’t feel able to make another such challenging journey, as he tells Guerrero.

John Paul II’s model for the various World Youth Days included the physical presence of the Pope, Benedict says.

“This was a circumstance for which the resignation was a must for me,” Benedict tells Guerrero.

Benedict says he was spiritually moved by his March 2012 trip to Mexico and Cuba, but that he realized at that time that he was “no longer able to face the future in transoceanic flights due to the problem of the time difference.”

“Of course I also talked about these problems with my doctor, Prof. Dr. Patrizio Polisca,” Benedict said. “It became clear that I would never be able to take part in World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro in the summer of 2013… So from then on I had to decide in a relatively short time on the date of my retirement.”

Benedict resigned on February 11, 2013, at the age of 85 (he actually stepped down two and a half weeks later, on February 28.) The ensuing conclave elected Pope Francis two weeks after that, on March 13, 2013, now three and a half years ago. Benedict is now 89.

Following the publication of this interview, the world’s press for two days has been asserting that we now have the truth about Pope Benedict’s resignation:

Catholic News Agency:

Retired Pope Benedict says it was his “duty” to resign from papacy

The Tablet:


Benedict says he quit because he couldn’t face another trip

But is this really the “true” reason for Pope Benedict’s resignation?

I think not, for various reasons.

First, the situation Pope Benedict faced was far more complex than simply having to make long papal trips.

We know this, for example, from another interview Benedict has given since his resignation, to German journalist Peter Seewald.

That book-length interview, called Letzte Gespräche (Last Conversations), evidently conducted mostly back in the summer of 2013, is due to appear soon, on September 9. (Letzte Gespräche is being translated as Last Testament by Jacob Phillips, a lecturer in theology at St. Mary’s University, Twickenham, England, and will be published by Bloomsbury in November.)

In this other interview, Pope Benedict says that “no-one pressured him to resign” but also “alleges that a ‘gay lobby’ in the Vatican had tried to influence decisions,” Philip Pulella of Reuters reported on July 1 (link).

In a similar way, we know that the Vatican’s access to international money transaction — Visa and Mastercard processing, and wire transfers — had been interrupted during January of 2013, just before Benedict’s resignation. No pilgrims or tourists could pay for Vatican museum tickets with credit cards, only with cash — “Sorry, no card, cash only!’ — for several weeks. Estimates at the time suggested that these difficulties — never fully explained — caused the Vatican to lose millions of dollars of tourist business during those weeks. And these international money transaction services were restored almost immediately after Pope Benedict announced his resignation.

Further, we know that other cardinals had been telling Benedict for some time that he needed to resign “for the good of the Church,” not because of his weak health, but because of his theological and spiritual positions — and because of the strong opposition of sectors of the Roman Curia to any substantial reform of the leadership of the Church.

For example, we have the significant witness of Father Silvano Fausti, who died on June 23, 2015.

Fausti, a Jesuit, was the closest adviser of Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini of Milan. Martini one of the leading Italian prelates of the past 30 years, and considered by some a “papabile” at the conclave in 2005 that elected Pope Benedict (born on February 15, 1927, in Turin, Italy, Martini was the exact contemporary of Pope Benedict, just two months older, and they knew each other well; Martini died on August 31, 2012 — just five months before Benedict announced he would resign.)

In March of 2015, Father Fausti, Martini’s confidant, gave an interview which was videotaped and is available on the internet.

(Here, a photo of Pope Benedict with Cardinal Martini)

jpegIn that interview, Father Fausti said that Martini told him that, on the last occasion when Martini was together with Pope Benedict, in June of 2012, in Milan, Martini told Benedict that he would have to resign the papacy. Here is that story:

“Father Silvano Fausti related that it happened when Benedict XVI and Carlo Maria Martini saw each other for the last time.

“It was in Milan, at the World Meeting for Families on June 2, 2012, that the Cardinal who had been ill for some time, left Aloisium di Gallarate to meet up with the Pope.

“That was when they looked each other in the eyes and Martini, who would be dead by August 31, said to Ratzinger: ‘The Curia is not going to change, you have no choice but to leave.’

“Benedict XVI had come back exhausted from his trip to Cuba at the end of March.

“That summer he began talking to his closest collaborators about it [note: that is, about resigning] and they tried to dissuade him.

“In December, he convoked the consistory where he created six cardinals among which there wasn’t even one European to ‘rebalance’ the College.

“On February 11, 2013, he announced the ‘renunciation’ of his pontificate.

“A resignation ‘programmed’ from the very beginning of his papacy – if things didn’t go the way they were supposed to – from the moment that Martini shifted his consensus to Ratzinger at the 2005 Conclave, to avoid the ‘dirty games’ which aimed at the elimination of them both and the election of ‘someone “very slippery” from the Curia…,’ or so the Jesuit priest reveals.” (from the Rorate Caeli website)

So we know that other factors besides making long airplane journeys were influencing Benedict as he tried to decide whether to resign the papacy, and if the answer were to be “yes,” when precisely to announce the resignation.

Second, it has been reported that Benedict came to his decision during prayer, almost, as it were, in a “mystical experience.”

Not in a calculation of how tired he would become from making long airplane flights.

Here is that report:

The former Pope Benedict has claimed that his resignation in February was prompted by God, who told him to do it during a “mystical experience.”

Breaking his silence for the first time since he became the first Pope to step down in 600 years, the 86-year-old reportedly said: “God told me to” when asked what had pushed him to retire to a secluded residence in the Vatican gardens.

Benedict denied he had been visited by an apparition or had heard God’s voice, but said he had undergone a “mystical experience” during which God had inspired in him an “absolute desire” to dedicate his life to prayer rather than push on as Pope.

The German ex-pontiff’s comments, which are said to have been made a few weeks ago, were reported by the Catholic news agency Zenit, which did not name the person Benedict had spoken to.

A senior Vatican source said the report was reliable. “The report seems credible. It accurately explains the spiritual process that brought Benedict to resign,” he said.

Benedict said his mystical experience had lasted months, building his desire to create a direct and exclusive relationship with God.

Now, after witnessing the “charisma” of his successor, Pope Francis, Benedict said he understood to a greater extent how his stepping aside was the “will of God.” (link)

Third, these very phrases of Benedict in his interview with Guerrero are being misinterpreted.

Yes, Benedict is saying the prospect of a trip to Brazil was a factor in his mind as he considered his options.

Be he never says, definitively, that the prospect of the trip was the sole reason for his resignation.

In fact, if we read his words carefully, we can see behind the words to his deeper meaning. Let’s look again at the words…

“This [note: the Rio de Janeiro 2013 World Youth Day] was a circumstance for which the resignation was a must for me,” Benedict said.

Read it carefully: the World Youth Day was “a circumstance” and “the resignation” something else, something separate — something he had evidently already been contemplating for other reasons.

“Of course I also talked about these problems with my doctor, Prof. Dr. Patrizio Polisca,” Benedict said. “It became clear that I would never be able to take part in World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro in the summer of 2013… So from then on I had to decide in a relatively short time on the date of my retirement.”

Read it carefully again: “the date of my retirement” is something that “I had to decide in a relatively short time” because the World Youth Day was looming — in other words, the fact of the retirement was one thing, and the date was another, connected with the event of World Youth Day in Brazil.

A close reading of the Emeritus Pope’s own words reveals that his retirement was something he had decided on separately from World Youth Day and the trip to Brazil.

In this context, we learn of a very interesting fact from the new Seewald book: that Benedict kept a diary throughout his papacy!

But we learn something else: that Benedict will destroy the diary rather than leave it for publication after his death(!), “even though he realizes that for historians it would be a ‘golden opportunity.'” (link)

For these reasons, it seems clear that the new Guerrero interview focusing on the Pope’s inability to confront another long airplane trip to Brazil does provide useful information about the timing of his retirement decision, but does not yet provide us with that insight we would all like to have into the precise reasons he made the decision to retire.

That will have to remain for future historians…

Having said that, there remains a loose end to tie up: why the passage from Blessed Julian of Norwich at the outset? And why the verses from T.S. Eliot?

Eliot refers to

A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)

as the condition, or life situation, of the saint — the saint has linked his life, his suffering, his beseeching, his prayer, with the life, the suffering, the beseeching, the prayer… of Christ.

This is what Pope Benedict has done.

He is not making trips to Brazil, or to Cracow, and he is not battling with curial lobbies, or with powerful cardinals.

He is living in silence in the Vatican Gardens.

And his personal secretary, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, has made clear that he is still carrying out an apse ct of his Petrine mission, that he hasn’t abandoned it, that he is still fulfilling it, in prayer, in silence.

Pope Francis has said his own spiritual bond with his predecessor “remains particularly profound.”

“In all my meetings with him, I have been able to experience not only reverence and obedience, but also friendly spiritual closeness, the joy of praying together, sincere brotherhood, understanding and friendship, and also his availability for advice,” Pope Francis writes in the Preface to Guerrero’s book.

And what, precisely, is the “mission” that Benedict continues to carry out?

He continues to carry out that mission of the Church, of all members of the Church, mentioned by Julian of Norwich — the proclamation of the merciful love of God for the world, a proclamation that Pope Francis says continues to be exemplified in the life of Emeritus Pope Benedict.

“The whole life of thought and the works of Joseph Ratzinger have focused on this purpose, and — in the same direction, with the help of God — I strive to continue,” Pope Francis writes in his Preface.

In his interview with Emeritus Pope Benedict this summer, Guerrero turned to the subject of the famous photograph of lightning striking St. Peter’s basilica on the day of his resignation announcement.

Benedict knew of the photograph and said: “I should have really worried had I not been convinced, as I said at the beginning of my pontificate, to be a simple and humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord. From the start I was aware of my limitations, and I accepted them, as I have always tried to do in my life, in a spirit of obedience.”

He said there were “more or less great difficulties” during his pontificate, but there were also “many graces.”

“I realized that all I had to do I could not do alone and so I was almost forced to put myself in the hands of God, to trust in Jesus which, as I wrote my book about him, I felt bound by an old and ever deeper friendship,” Benedict said.

“Then there was the Mother of God,” he continued, “the mother of hope who was a sure support in difficulties, and I felt closer in the recitation of the holy Rosary and visits to Marian shrines.

“Finally there were the saints, my lifelong traveling companions: St. Augustine and St. Bonaventure, my spiritual masters, but also St. Benedict whose motto ‘prefer nothing to Christ’ I became increasingly familiar with, and St. Francis of Assisi, the first to realize that the world is the mirror of the creative love of God, from whom we come and towards whom we are journeying.”

As T.S. Eliot wrote:

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time…

In Norcia, Still Assessing Damage

A new update from the monks of Norcia:

Dear Friends,

This will be a shorter update since we’ve been very busy today responding to journalists and townspeople, politicians and bishops, all wanting to help us in their own way, and we are grateful to all of them.

Inspectors finally came and as expected declared the church and most of the monastery unusable. Only the brewery a few rooms, and our gift shop will be allowed to be used as they are nearest to the ground and suffered the least damage. As a result, we’ll be setting up a new base camp at our monastery outside the walls, the restoration of which has not yet been completed, but which offers us various fields for tents and temporary buildings and a local farm house where we can take our meals. Alas the Basilica will remain closed for some months, but over the next weeks we hope to be able to gain access to the crypt or an adjacent room for daily celebration of Mass.

Today we were also able to stop in and see a few families and businesses and assure them of our prayers. The Archbishop of Spoleto Norcia made an official visit with the inspectors of all the churches in Norcia (all will remain closed) and made arrangements with the Pastor of the town for Mass to be offered outside in a field this Sunday as aftershocks continue to make all the already damaged churches dangerous. The monks in Rome also continue to care for the people of Norcia through their particular monastic role of intercessory prayer on behalf of and for the people.

The monks’ primary role in the life of the Church is one of praying quietly and silently, often unnoticed and even forgotten. Thus, we continue to strive to support the local parish clergy, who are charged with the particular sacramental needs of the townspeople, with our spiritual intercession, and collaborate with them when they request need. We know by faith our prayers help sustain their work and all those suffering and assist in healing the sufferings of many all over our region in these difficult times. Your continued support has inspired us in our prayer and mission.


Fr. Benedict

Please continue to pray for our community, and consider giving a gift ( to help our effort to rebuild.

—The Monks of Norcia

(to be continued)

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What is the glory of God?

“The glory of God is man alive; but the life of man is the vision of God.” —St. Irenaeus of Lyons, in the territory of France, in his great work Against All Heresies, written c. 180 A.D.

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