America: Benedict the abbot? – Pope’s focus on community, freedom in Christ
NEW YORK (America) - When Joseph Ratzinger chose Benedict XVI as his papal name, commentators quickly and correctly pointed out its significance. And in the year since his election, the new pope’s actions have borne out many of those expectations.
POPE BENEDICT XVI ARRIVES AT AUDIENCE - Pope Benedict XVI arrives for his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican May 3. While his pontificate remains embryonic, the portrait of the man that has begun to emerge is that of Pope Benedict the abbot, according to Christopher Ruddy, assistant professor of theology at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., in an article in America. (CNS/Reuters)
His warm meeting and dinner last September with Hans Küng – the embodiment of Catholic theological dissent – gave hope that like Pope Benedict XV, he would be a peacemaker in the church, helping to end years of internal strife. And like St. Benedict of Nursia, the pope has worked to foster a Christian culture capable of renewing church and world in an age of daunting threats. Deus Caritas Est, his first encyclical, is nothing other than an attempt to show to a skeptical modernity that God is not the enemy of human flourishing, but its very possibility and fulfillment.
Despite such telling hints, it is still too early to discern fully the shape of his pontificate. Benedict has shown himself fully committed to Christian unity, especially with the Orthodox and Eastern churches, but this sense of promise is still at its beginning. The long-term effects of the Congregation for Catholic Education’s instruction on the admission to seminaries of men with homosexual tendencies, which has been contentiously received in the church, remain unclear.
Similarly, Benedict’s anticipated restructuring of the Roman Curia has yet to occur in full, while his episcopal appointments to date give little overt indication of his vision for church leadership. One awaits his replacements for upcoming retirements in such major American sees as Washington, D.C., and Detroit, as well as in Italy and Germany. In these and other ways, his tenure so far has been, to the surprise of some and the unease of others, dramatically undramatic.
And yet, if his pontificate remains embryonic, a clear portrait of the man has begun to emerge: Pope Benedict the abbot. If John Paul II was above all a witness, carrying the truth about Christ and humanity to all peoples and places, I suggest that Benedict can be summed up as an abbot concerned with leading his community to a deeper encounter with God through prayer and service. Where John Paul was a “sender,” concerned primarily with the church’s mission, Benedict is a “gatherer,” concerned primarily with its communion.
Certainly the former pope had an unparalleled gift for bringing people together, and the present one has stressed that the church is inherently missionary. (In fact, working closely with Yves Congar, OP, he drafted the first, foundational chapter of Vatican II’s “Decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church.”) If communion and mission are inseparable – the diastole and systole of the church’s heartbeat – it nonetheless remains that the two popes emphasize complementary aspects of the church’s life.
In one sense, the image of Pope Benedict XVI as abbot should not be surprising, as both titles, pope and abbot, mean father. And the pope’s admiration for St. Benedict and the Benedictines is well known.
On a deeper level, though, the Rule of St. Benedict tells us much about the pope’s vision of the church and of his ministry in it. Benedictine spirituality is perhaps the least spectacular of Catholic spiritualities. Where the Ignatian, for example, seeks the greater glory of God as a companion in Christ’s mission, and the Franciscan a radical identification with the poor and crucified Christ, the Benedictine encounters Christ above all in the routine of daily life. Rarely dramatic, it is a deep life, grounded in steady, prayerful attentiveness to God and in hospitable community.
The monastery, as the Rule famously describes it, is to be a “school for the Lord’s service”: “In drawing up its regulations, we hope to set down nothing harsh, nothing burdensome. The good of all concerned, however, may prompt us to a little strictness in order to amend faults and to safeguard love. Do not be daunted by fear and run away from the road that leads to salvation. It is bound to be narrow at the outset. But as we progress in this way of life and in faith, we shall run on the path of God’s commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love. “This entwining of moderation and zeal finds its complement in the Rule’s depiction of the abbot, who “holds the place of Christ in the monastery.” He is, literally, the vicar of Christ. Acting with discretion, the “mother” of all virtues, “he must so arrange everything that the strong have something to yearn for and the weak nothing to run from.”
I do not know whether Pope Benedict has consciously shaped his ministry in light of the Rule’s vision of the monastery and its abbot, though I suspect he has, but I suggest three areas in which that heritage helps make sense of his pontificate: love for the person of Christ, leadership as listening and his interpretation of Vatican II as an experience of renewal in continuity with the past.
Love for the person of Christ
The Rule calls the monks to “prefer nothing whatever to Christ,” a phrase that Pope Benedict quoted in his very first general audience. The key ...
Rate This Article
Leave a Comment
More Americas News
- High-tech Indiana Jones team discovers the fabled lost city of Ciudad Blanca
- Has the lost 'White City of gold' been found at last?
- Why did the world's laziest workers destroy a treasured Mayan pyramid?
- Scientists discover 'Brazilian Atlantis' off Rio coast
- Would emergency parachutes in high-rise buildings stave off another 9/11 disaster?
- Obama: Guantanamo 'is not in the best interest of the American people'
- Mexicans view U.S., Obama more favorably, 20 percent would immigrate illegally
- Declared the antichrist, three-day-old baby burned to death by Chilean cult leader
- NEW DISCOVERY: Origins of Maya civilization were more complex than first believed
- Fr. Paul Schenck: Finding Living Faith on Catechetical Sunday
- The Movie Yellow: Incest as 'Normal' and Cassavates's Slides Into the World of Woes
- The Chicago School Teachers Strike Reveals the Need For School Choice
- The Sexual Barbarians and the Dissolution of Culture
- The Happy Priest Challenges Us to Ask: Who is Jesus to Me?
- Michael Coren on Canadian Public Schools: Teachers, leave those kids alone
- We Cannot Ignore Our Consciences: Cardinal Dolan On Religious Liberty
- In the Face of Danger, Successor of Peter Travels to Lebanon as a Messenger of Peace
- Reflections on the Dignity and Vocation of Women: Who or What?