Tag Archives: Pope Benedict XVI

The “Real Reason” the Pope’s Resigning

If we see the pope’s resignation only through the eyes of CNN or The New York Times we’ll miss so much. The pope himself chose to explain his action to the crowd in St. Peter’s square today in the context of the gospel story of the Transfiguration of Jesus and his  journey to Jerusalem.

He saw his own decision as a choice to ascend the mountain of prayer, which is not a way of escaping life, but of understanding it. He wants to serve the church, not  leave it, and so he embraces a life of prayer.

“We can draw a very important lesson from meditating on this passage of the Gospel. First, the primacy of prayer, without which all the work of the apostolate and of charity is reduced to activism. In Lent we learn to give proper time to prayer, both personal and communal, which gives breath to our spiritual life. In addition, to pray is not to isolate oneself from the world and its contradictions, as Peter wanted on Tabor, instead prayer leads us back to the path, to action. “The Christian life – I wrote in my Message for Lent – consists in continuously scaling the mountain to meet God and then coming back down, bearing the love and strength drawn from him, so as to serve our brothers and sisters with God’s own love “(n. 3).

Luke’s account of the Transfiguration sees this mystery pointing to the primacy of prayer in the life of Jesus and his disciples. Why not take the pope at his word? He intends to pray.

“Dear brothers and sisters, I feel that this Word of God is particularly directed at me, at this point in my life. The Lord is calling me to “climb the mountain”, to devote myself even more to prayer and meditation. But this does not mean abandoning the Church, indeed, if God is asking me to do this it is so that I can continue to serve the Church with the same dedication and the same love with which I have done thus far, but in a way that is better suited to my age and my strength. Let us invoke the intercession of the Virgin Mary: may she always help us all to follow the Lord Jesus in prayer and works of charity.”

The Pope’s Decision

We’re learning things all the time. One thing most of us may have learned for the first time from Pope Benedict last Monday was that popes could resign.  But I think there are two other things we learned from the pope that may be far more important, namely we should make decisions conscientiously and we need to accept reality as we go through life.

I’d like to reflect on those two lessons from the pope’s statement of resignation:

“ After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering.

“However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of Saint Peter and proclaim the gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me.”

First, notice that a lot of the reasons people usually give for a decision like that are absent from the pope’s statement. He doesn’t say the doctors told him to step down, or his friends advised him, or he’s just sick and tired of it all, or for political reasons someone else is needed at this time.

No. He says simply that he has stood repeatedly before God as his ultimate judge; he’s looked honestly at himself and his situation and come to a decision. He’s brought himself as he is to God and asked God to judge his action. He’s trying to live conscientiously, following his conscience in its best sense. Conscience doesn’t mean  where I stand, but where I stand before God.

To me the pope’s decision looks like a good example of living conscientiously.  That’s what we’re all called to do too. We all called to decide on things by standing before God and looking honestly at ourselves and our situation.

Of course, facing  reality and our own situation isn’t easy. Last year I read Pope Benedict’s book “Jesus of Nazareth” in which he comments on the Temptation of Jesus in the desert, which we read on the 1st Sunday of Lent. I went back to that book recently and I think it can put some perspective on the difficulty we have in facing reality.

After his baptism in the Jordan River, the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the desert to be tempted for 40 days. The pope calls that command a surprise. After his baptism we would expect a celebration, but instead of celebrating, Jesus is led into the desert to confront Satan.

The 40 day experience Jesus has there is a mirror of what he will experience the rest of his life.  “He descends into the perils besetting humanity, for there is no other way  to lift fallen humanity. Jesus has to enter the drama of human existence, for that belongs to the core of his mission. He has to penetrate it completely, down to its uttermost depths, in order to find the lost sheep, to bear it on his shoulders and bring it home.” (Jesus of Nazareth, from the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, New York 2007,   p 26)

Jesus is the Messiah whom God sends to save his people. But in the desert–and all through his life– he’s tempted by Satan to be a Messiah of another kind. Satan “offers Jesus another messianic way, far from God’s plan… an alternative messianism of power, of success, not the messianism of gift and selfless love.”

Luke’s gospel describes the temptations of Jesus in interesting detail.  Jesus is hungry; “Turn these stones into bread,” Satan says. “You’re above the ordinary laws of life.”  From a mountain, Satan shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world. “Here’s political power,” Satan says. From the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem, Satan says “Throw yourself down; you can have religious power.”

The temptations Jesus faced are those we face.  We’re tempted to want to control things: our health, our wealth, other people, the world we live in. These are messianic temptations.  We’d like the world to be on our side, to be liked, to be respected, to fit in; we like to control God. In the Our Father we say “ your will be done, your kingdom come.” Our temptation is to say “my will, my kingdom come.”

I may be mistaken but did the pope experience this mystery in making his great decision? We all experience it, that’s why this gospel is the first gospel we read in Lent, the first lesson we learn in this season. Like Jesus we experience temptation. Like Jesus we’ll have angels to come and support us. We pray they support the pope.  “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

Friday, 3rd Week of Advent

Prophets like Isaiah promised that all nations would come to Jerusalem, to the house of the Lord. And so the temple in Jerusalem provided a Court of the Gentiles, and extensive place surrounding the Holy of Holies for foreigners whom God would call when the time had come.

“Them I will bring to my holy mountain

and make joyful in my house of prayer;

Their burnt offerings and sacrifices

will be acceptable on my altar,

For my house shall be called

a house of prayer for all peoples.” (Isaiah 56)

Jesus’ symbolic act of cleansing the temple was a sign that that time had come. The Gentiles were called, and they were called to him. In the gospel today, Jesus speaks from the temple, most likely from the Court of the Gentiles. He’s the One whom John the Baptist has pointed out and his mission will be confirmed by his Father who will glorify him in his Kingdom.

One of Pope Benedict’s recent hopes is that all of our Catholic holy places have a “Court of the Gentiles” where we can speak to  the world around us in dialogue and respect.

Readings here.

Pope Benedict’s “Jesus of Nazareth”

Are old voices speaking out anew? What about the voice of Holy Scripture, the books of the Old and New Testament? What about an old pope?

I’ve just finished reading Pope Benedict’s  Jesus of Nazareth, volume 2. I think this book may be his greatest contribution to the church. He’s regularly described as a traditionalist, but in this book he approaches Jesus listening, not to voices from earlier church commentaries, but to new voices speaking through modern biblical studies.

Recent popes  have acknowledged and approved of modern biblical scholarship, but none use it so thoroughly as Benedict does in this work. He opens the scriptures and let’s them speak of Jesus and his mission to the world.

His insights are profound and make you want to look at the scriptures more closely yourself  for the wisdom they contain. One recent European study said that Catholics there don’t read scripture much; I think the same could be said about this side of the Atlantic too. People prefer sermons.

My challenge is not to get people to listen to my sermons, but to help them prayerfully read and reflect on the scriptures themselves in a regular way. That’s what the pope himself recommended recently. Take up the scriptures; they speak of Christ.

He never says read my book, but I’m going to read it again too. It’s very good.

The Courtyard of the Gentiles

Last week Pope Benedict addressed people attending the opening of the Courtyard of the Gentiles before the great cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. It’s a space he hopes will be created throughout the world before our important Christian buildings to meet the world which Jesus invites into his temple. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Benedict sees the incident of Jesus cleansing the temple as a symbolic preparation for the entrance of the Gentiles to this holy place. “Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his truth and we may walk in his ways.” Isaiah 2, 2-5  Here are the pope’s words:

“I am grateful to the Pontifical Council for having taken up and extended my invitation to open a number of “Courts of the Gentiles” within the Church. This image refers to the vast open space near the Temple of Jerusalem where all those who did not share the faith of Israel could approach the Temple and ask questions about religion. There they could meet the scribes, speak of faith and even pray to the unknown God. The Court was then an area of separation, since Gentiles did not have the right to enter the consecrated area, yet Jesus Christ came to “break down the dividing wall” between Jews and Gentiles, and to “reconcile both to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility in himself”. In the words of Saint Paul, “He came and proclaimed peace…” (cf. Eph 2:14-17).

At the heart of the “City of Light”, in front of the magnificent masterwork of French religious culture which is Notre Dame, a great court has been created in order to give fresh impetus to respectful and friendly encounter between people of differing convictions. You young people, believers and non-believers alike, have chosen to come together this evening, as you do in your daily lives, in order to meet one another and to discuss the great questions of human existence. Nowadays many people acknowledge that they are not part of any religion, yet they long for a new world, a world that is freer, more just and united, more peaceful and happy. In speaking to you tonight, I think of all the things you have to say to each other. Those of you who are non-believers challenge believers in a particular way to live in a way consistent with the faith they profess and by your rejection of any distortion of religion which would make it unworthy of man. Those of you who are believers long to tell your friends that the treasure dwelling within you is meant to be shared, it raises questions, it calls for reflection. The question of God is not a menace to society, it does not threaten a truly human life! The question of God must not be absent from the other great questions of our time.

for full text.

Be interesting to have a Court of the Gentiles before all our Christian institutions.

Beauty every ancient, ever new

The recent blogs from America and Commonweal magazines mention Pope Benedict’s new book, Jesus of Nazareth, Part 2, which is due out next week and which devotes a great deal of attention to the gospel narratives of the Passion. The bloggers, like the New York Times yesterday, seem interested mostly in what the pope says about Jewish responsibility for the death of Jesus. Following Nostra Aetate from the Second Vatican Council, Benedict says the Jewish people were not responsible for putting Jesus to death; the Romans and a few Jewish leaders were the primary culprits.

Yet, it would be regrettable to see the pope’s treatment of the Passion narratives only as a lengthy statement about this issue, important as it is. From what I read, he’s doing more. He’s looking at the Passion of Jesus like other believers before have done: as a book that reveals in those harsh and heroic moments the wisdom of God.

He seems to be using insights from modern scholars, new tools that can add to the way we reflect on this great story. The Passion of Jesus has always been “the well-trained tongue” that God uses to speak to us, but we may not hear it so well today, and the pope is reminding us of its power and glory.

We tend to say “I’ve heard that already. I know the story.” But it’s a revelation of God and humanity;  “a Beauty ever ancient, ever new.”

Nearing his death, Paul of the Cross was supposed to have pointed to the crucifix over his bed and said to the brother caring for him, “Give me my book.” That seems to be what the pope is doing also.

 

The Petrine Ministry

DSC00242One of the best known statues of Peter the Apostle is in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The apostle, seated on a chair, has his hand raised, not just in blessing but to make a point. He’s teaching the church.

The popes continue the teaching ministry of Peter and one way they do it is through encyclicals, letters sent to bishops and people throughout the world. On June 29, 2009, the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, Pope Benedict XVI issued Caritas in Veritate, an encyclical on socials issues affecting our world today.

It took me a week to read through it and I can’t say I’ve grasped it all, but I’ll be back to it.

If you read this extensive, densely packaged work, remember that the word “encyclical” is close to the word “encyclopedia.” Our world isn’t simple, it’s big and complex, and the pope–certainly helped by advisors– tries to analyze it and provide a vision for living in it.

It’s a lot to digest. The letter is a long banquet table, not a quick snack for one gulp.

But that’s the challenge I like about it. Love, the gift we have from God, calls us to look at big things and be engaged in them. We tend to consider love mostly in interpersonal dimensions, but the letter speaks of a love that reaches into the mystery of God and enrolls us in work at building our earthly city.

It’s not a letter of pat answers but of many questions which arise from the reality of the world we live in now. A love based in truth calls us to think about the world as it is and creatively work for its good.

It’s about the development of the human being, the whole human being and all human beings. As Christians we’re charged to work for this development, which has now taken on new global dimensions through the advance of technology.

Politically, it calls for international structures more responsive to the situation of a global society and technological advances. The stumbling G 8 meeting just concluded in Italy is evidence of the need. Hard to believe for some, but nation states alone are not the answer.

It urges the human family to respect the rights of the natural world, which must be part of the development of an earthly city. It warns against untrammeled technological advances that don’t take into account human rights, the rights of creation, as well as the divine law. It recognizes greed and lack of oversight behind the present world financial crisis.

The pope’s encyclical is not a view from a small cloistered world.

There’s a consciousness in the encyclical that weariness and loss of hope can stop our efforts to engage our world as it is, but love refuses to be conquered. It endures. Importantly, our efforts are not simple human efforts:

“Development needs Christians with their arms raised towards God in prayer, Christians moved by the knowledge that truth-filled love, caritas in veritate, from which authentic development proceeds, is not produced by us, but given to us. For this reason, even in the most difficult and complex times, besides recognizing what is happening, we must above all else turn to God’s love. Development requires attention to the spiritual life, a serious consideration of the experiences of trust in God, spiritual fellowship in Christ, reliance upon God’s providence and mercy, love and forgiveness, self-denial, acceptance of others, justice and peace.” (79)