Our Contemplative Pope
Deacon Keith Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC
Recent media reports have detailed a phenomenon following Pope Benedict XVI in his leadership- crowds, growing crowds. Some people did not expect this. After the Papacy of Pope John Paul II, an extraordinarily charismatic figure, few expected the response that has now followed his successor.
After all, Pope John Paul II was unprecedented in both popularity and appeal. The eyes of the modern world followed his entire pontificate with extraordinary interest. All of his activities, even unto his final Passover to the “house of His Father”, caught the jaundiced eye of an age drunk on self idolatry, and shook the world. History will record him as “John Paul the Great”, a modern day Church Father who left a written treasury, perhaps unequaled in the 2000 year history of the Church. He was a prophet, an apostle, an evangelist, and, I believe, a mystic. He was a true gift, not only to the Catholic Church, East and West, but to the whole Church, Orthodox, Protestant, and “non-aligned”, as well as to the Jewish people, all other people of faith and all people of good will. We are blessed to have seen his day.
Then, while we still were in mourning over his loss, the gracious God who, in the words of the beloved disciple John, so “…loves the world that he gave His only begotten son”, gave us another gift, Pope Benedict XVI. From the moment he stepped onto the balcony of St Peters, our hearts were calmed by his deferential manner, his “littleness”, his humility and his holiness. Those who knew of him before he gave his “Fiat” to God’s invitation to carry the cross that is the papacy, to have a belt tied around him by the Lord (see, John 21:18) and assent to being poured out for the Church and the world, know that he is a towering intellect and a theologian of the highest order. His writings were highly respected and his intellectual prowess and clarity of thought formed the framework for much of the truly good theology of our age.
Yet, this marvelous theologian and writer, has signaled that he will not write much during his service from the Chair. He has chosen instead to unpack the formidable legacy of his predecessor. In addition, he has, to the surprise of some “pundits”, not acted with what was expected to be a forceful manner, in dealing with the difficulties facing the Church. Rather, he has quietly and strategically begun the work that he has been assigned, trusting that the Church is the Lords - and the “gates of hell will not prevail” (Matt. 16:18).
He is a man of deep, abiding faith; the kind that gets into the marrow of the bones of a man who truly walks with God, making him strong, steady and unafraid of any adversary. Of course, he knows the need for both ortho-doxy and ortho- praxy in the Church of our age. He also knows the serious threats to both. However, he is convinced that the Church belongs to Jesus and he has been enlisted into His service. It is the Lord who corrects, directs, purifies and restores His Body, His Church, in every age. He always ensures that she can continue His redemptive mission in every age. A correction of course has already begun and he knows it. His task is to simply continue it forward.
During the profound passing of Pope John Paul II, then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger spoke these words: “ None of us can ever forget how in that last Easter Sunday of his life, the Holy Father, marked by suffering, came once more to the window of the Apostolic Palace and one last time gave his blessing “urbi et orbi” (to the Church and the world) We can be sure that our beloved pope is standing today at the window of the Father’s house, that he sees us and blesses us.”
One of the fruits of that blessing was the selection of his friend, confidante, trusted theologian and beloved brother, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger to occupy the Chair of Peter as Pope Benedict XVI at this vital moment. He is a builder who understands who, most importantly, knows the Divine Architect, and is in touch with him, minute by minute, through his life of deep, contemplative prayer. He also knows, because of that intimacy he has with the Lord, that none of all of this is about him but, rather, it is all about Jesus Christ and His Church. The Church continues to be Gods’ plan, there is no “plan B”. This Popes countenance reveals the virtue of humility. It also reveals faith. It is like a prophetic rush of wind in a stagnant age.
He also knows that the materials needed for the rebuilding the Church in this age must be carefully chosen, in fidelity to the blueprints established by the Architect and Cornerstone. St Paul wrote the following words to the Corinthian Christians concerning building: “Therefore, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who causes the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters are ...
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