“When God Chooses One, It Is Always to Bless All”

A conversation with a Vatican monsignor… Plus, more on the upcoming encyclical

By Robert Moynihan, reporting from Rome

I rang the bell by the massive double doors. A secretary answered, and buzzed me in.

My friend, a Vatican monsignor, was still working at his computer, his desk piled high with letters and books and news clipping from around the world.

A few minutes later, we were walking down the Borgo Pio to Roberto’s restaurant, which many of you reading this will know well, and we took our seats at a table in the corner near the door.

We chatted about many things, and worked through our primo piatto of tomato and mozzarella with basil and olive oil (“un caprese”).

Then the monsignor began to talk about Mary.

“You know,” he said, “the Lutherans had five main tenets of their new understanding of the faith: 1) Solus Deus; 2) Solus Christus; 3) Sola Gratia; 4) Sola Fides; and 5) Sola Scriptura. God alone, Christ alone, grace alone, faith alone, scripture alone. And they were actually very close…

“But they were wrong. This is not Catholic doctrine. These are errors…”

“Why, precisely,” I asked. “Where is the error?”

“The error is in simplification, oversimplification. In the end, the error is in misunderstanding the role of Mary.

“There’s God, and the world, and God chose the world to have the world collaborate with him in the salvation of mankind.” He hesitated, then added. “Especially the world of angels and of men. And he chose that his work of salvation would come about through the collaboration, finally, of a woman.

“And that moment, the moment of the woman’s choice to collaborate in that work, was one of the supreme moments of all human history, the greatest, I would say. The angel waited on her response… And Mary accepted.

“God chose her, and she accepted his will. And so she became a blessing for all mankind, as she herself later said: ‘All generations shall call me blessed.’ And that is why we, too, in our time, call her blessed — the Blessed Virgin Mary…”

I asked my friend if Pope Benedict XVI has a Marian devotion as profound as that of Pope John Paul II. The monsignor’s eyes lit up with excitement.

“I have to tell you, and few people are aware of this, but Benedict XVI is surprising me. He is saying things that as Cardinal Ratzinger he never said and never would have said about Our Lady.

“I am reading everything he says and writes, and I am finding remarkable references in his homilies and addresses regarding Mary’s special role in our redemption, not a role which diminishes the central and unique role of Christ, but a profoundly important role nevertheless. He is a Marian Pope, and he is becoming ever more so…”

“And the debate over the proposed dogma of Mary as Co-Redemptrix?” I asked. “It is said John Paul II was considering declaring this teaching formally as a dogma. What does Benedict think on the matter?”

“That is a question I cannot answer,” the monsignor said. “But I can tell you this: the Pope is becoming more Marian each year, each month. I am quite amazed, frankly. As Pope, he is changing…”

“There have been many visions and apparitions of Mary in the past,” I said. “But are there still such phenomena?”

The monsignor just about jumped out of his chair.

“Of course!” he almost shouted. “Mary is the Mother of the Church. Paul VI made that clear at the end of the third session of the Second Vatican Council. And the Church Fathers state very clearly that until the last of her children enters into the kingdom, Mary will still actively be working, interceding, encouraging, guiding, supporting, praying for their salvation… She is a mother, and she will work until her maternal work is finished.”

I was reminded again of the Pieta, Michelangelo’s great sculpture, which I saw a week ago with my son, the sorrow and the serenity of Mary…

The monsignor was very excited.

“Look,” he said. “It is a matter of love. No one else ever fell in love with Christ more than she did. After after her, Joseph and John. Mary is totally relative to him. And we are able to understand our own role in dignity through looking at her. We too are invited by the Lord to participate with her, and Him, in the building up of the kingdom, the building up of the body of Christ. If I didn’t believe this, I guess…” He paused. “If I didn’t believe this, I guess i would just give up.”

I was silent for a moment.

“But it does sometimes seem like the situation of the Vatican, and the Church, is precarious, and even dismal, for many reasons,” I said.

“Yes, I agree with you,” he said. “Pope Benedict is a holy man, but he is a terrible judge of character. And he doesn’t know how to govern. He is self-isolated. He has surrounded himself with a very small group of people, all of whom he already knew before he became Pope. I’d love to see a Pope who governs. The last who did, I think, was Achille Ratti…”

“Pis XI?” I said.

“Yes,” the monsignor replied. “He was a tough old bird. Mussolini called him the stubborn old man. Do you know the story of what he did when Hitler came to Rome in the 1930s? Hitler wanted to tour the streets of Rome, and visit the Vatican Museum, and Pius decided to leave the city entirely, and go out to Castel Gandolfo, and he ordered that a sign be posted on the door to the Vatican Museums: ‘Closed temporarily for repairs.’ He governed, and he knew how to govern, and he didn’t mind doing it. He made mistakes, but he didn’t back down.”

The monsignor told me many other things, but they cannot be mentioned here.

Then I asked him about the Church around the world, and in America.

“The Church is always young,” he said. “I know of many Catholics in many parishes and dioceses around the world who are on their knees in their homes and in their parishes. There is a growth in Eucharistic adoration which is remarkable. If these people have any kind of spiritual direction, they will grow in knowledge and love of the Catholic faith.”

“What is the essence of that?” I asked. “What can people do when they feel isolated, and lonely, and depressed, about themselves, and about the state of the Church, and the world?”

“You’ve got to fall in love with Jesus,” the monsignor said. “And adoration is a wonderful way to fall in love with Jesus. The origin is hidden, like a seed that sprouts beneath the surface of the soil. But then it grows, and flourishes, into joy, and sacrifice, and humility, and virtue, and courage. And this type of individual devotion turns outward, into love for one’s neighbor, and the Church is reborn, and the kingdom of God is built up in this fallen world. People’s lives change. When you love Jesus, you don’t want to offend him. And so people begin to live lives of heroic virtue, precisely because they’re totally in love with the Lord.”

I was silent. “And the state of the Vatican, and the Church leadership?” I said.

“Look,” he said, “it’s a mystery. There is no human institution in the world that could survive what we have done to the Church. We are fallible men. The very fact that the Church continues despite all of us who are so flawed is to me the single greatest sign of her divine nature. To me, it’s an evident miracle!”

Last year, the German Archbishop Reinhard Marx (photo) wrote an unusual book. It was in the form of a letter to his 19th century namesake, the founder of communism, Karl Marx.

The book was significant, because Archbishop Marx is the archbishop of Munich — the city where Cardinal Ratzinger was archbishop in 1977 to 1981, before he came to Rome. And Pope Benedict personally chose Marx to become the archbishop of Munish. This means that he esteems him and likes him.

And hear in Rome it is widely believed that Marx’s 2008 book, which looks at Marxism and also at the general economic crisis of our time, is another major influence on the upcoming social encyclical, which will be out in a few days.

Archbishop Marx wrote the first chapter of his Das Kapital: A Plea for Humanity as a letter to his “dear namesake” — Karl Marx. But he says readers should not expect a defense of communism from his book.
Archbishop Marx says his work is to some extent “an argument with Marxism.” Indeed, he writes to Karl Marx: “The consequences of your thinking were in the end disastrous.”

But he also has a critique of capitalism. Marx (the archbishop) writes: “Capitalism without an ethic and a legal framework is inhumane. This was my conclusion from the finance and banking crisis. I already believed years ago that wild speculation is a sin. I have been an outspoken critic of the culture of greed in modern capitalism and have repeatedly pleaded with managers to subscribe to the social components of a social market economy. I criticise the audacious salary hikes of top managers. Neither primitive capitalism nor a return to Marxism will help create global justice. We need a structured market economy, not a revolution. The central question of the 21st century will be how to solve global problems like social injustice and poverty.”

His book has been on the best-seller lists in Germany for months, and in the provincial town of Trier it has special resonance, especially in tough economic times.

Born in Geseke, North Rhine-Westphalia, in 1953, Marx was ordained to the priesthood, for the Archdiocese of Paderborn, by Archbishop Johannes Degenhardt on 2 June 1979. He obtained a doctorate in theology in 1989. Archbishop Marx currently serves as head of the committee for social issues at the German Bishops’ Conference.

In 1996, the German writer Peter Seewald asked Joseph Ratzinger:
Seefeld. Q. “I would like to come back once again to our present Western economic system. Do you think this system, which acknowledges only the importance of the market, will and can survive the next ten years as it is?

Ratzinger answered: “As a matter of fact, I understand too little of the world’s economic system to say. But it is apparent that in the long run it can’t continue as it is. First of all, there is the inner contradiction of the indebtedness of states, which live in a paradoxical situation; for, on the one hand, they issue money and, in general, guarantee the value of money but, on the other hand, are actually bankrupt, if we judge in terms of the debts. There is, of course, also the debt disparity between North and South. All of this shows that we live in a whole network of fictions and contradictions and that this process cannot continue on indefinitely.

“We have just witnessed (Spring 1996) this curious situation in America. Suddenly the state can no longer pay its debts and must close shop, so to speak, and furlough its civil servants, which is a crying contradiction because the state has the responsibility for holding the whole together. The incident has shown in a drastic way that our system contains gross mistakes and that a considerable effort is required to find the corrective elements. But I would like to add that we will not find them if there is no common capacity for sacrifice. For these correctives cannot simply be created by government prescription.

“This is the great test of strength for societies. We must learn that we cannot have everything we would like, that we must also go a notch below the standard that we have reached. We must once again find our way beyond what we currently possess, beyond the defense of our rights and claims. And this transformation of hearts is needed in order to make sacrifices for the future and for others. This, I think, will be the real acid test of our system.”

Thus Ratzinger’s “economics” is at bottom the Gospel — not profits, maximizing consumption, not even a matter of “rights and claims.” It is the implied teaching of the Church from the Acts of the Apostles and the explicit social-economic teachings of Popes from Leo XII to Benedict XVI.

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