I believe we are at the beginning of a new missionary age of the Catholic Church being led by a Pope who took the name of the Monk whose movement reclaimed Europe for the Church in the last millennium. I suggest that the selection of his name was not accidental but providential and prophetic. We are all called to be "fishers of men in the ocean of our time". We are living, in the words of Pope Benedict XVI, in "the time of mission" and the whole Church is summoned to harvest.
ROME, Italy (Catholic Online) - On Saturday, February 6, 2011 Pope Benedict XVI preached a profound homily before he ordained five priests to the office of Bishop. The Homily was an instruction on the office and mission of Bishops as successors of the Apostles and can be read in its entirety here. Pope Benedict XVI explained the Bishops' call to an "ecclesial existence". What is also notable about this homily is the Pope's emphasis on the missionary mandate of the whole Church. This is a recurring theme in the allocutions of Pope Benedict XVI. Here are some excerpts:
"The harvest is great but the laborers are few! Pray then to the lord of the harvest to send laborers for his harvest!" (Luke 10:2). These words from the Gospel of today's Mass touch us in a special way in this moment. It is the time of mission: The Lord sends you, Dear Friends, to his harvest. You must collaborate in that task of which the prophet Isaiah speaks in the first reading: "The Lord has sent me to bring glad tidings to the lowly, to heal the brokenhearted" (Isaiah 61:1).
"This is the work of the harvest in God's fields, in the fields of human history: to bring the light of truth to men, to liberate them from being poor in truth, which is man's real misery and poverty. To bring them the glad tidings that are not only words, but an event: God himself has come among us. He takes us by the hand; he takes us up to himself and thus is the broken heart healed. Let us thank the Lord for sending laborers into the harvest of world history. Let us thank the Lord for sending you, for your saying yes and because now you will again say your "yes" to being workers for the Lord and for men.
"The harvest is great:" This is also true today, precisely today. Even if it can seem that large sections of the modern world, of the men of today, turn their back on God and regard faith as something of the past -- there nevertheless exists the desire for the establishment of justice, love, peace, the desire that poverty and suffering be overcome, that men find joy. This desire is present in the world of today, the desire for what is great, for what is good.
"It is the nostalgia for the Redeemer, for God himself, even there where he is denied. Precisely in this hour working in God's fields is especially urgent and precisely in this hour the truth of Jesus' words -- "The laborers are few" -- weighs painfully upon us. At the same time the Lord makes us understand that we cannot send workers to the harvest on our own, that it is not a question of management, of our own organizational capacity.
"Only God can send workers into his field. But he wants to send us to this work through the doors of our prayers. Thus this moment of thanksgiving for the realization of a sending on mission is, in a special way, also the moment of prayer: Lord, send laborers into your harvest! Open hearts to the one you have sent! Do not allow our supplication to be in vain! . "Duc in altum" (Luke 5:4) -- Set out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.
"Jesus said this to Peter and his companions when he called them to become "fishers of men." "Duc in altum" -- Pope John Paul II, in his last years, took up these words again in a powerful way and proclaimed them in a loud voice to the Lord's disciples today. "Duc in altum" -- the Lord says to you in this hour, Dear Friends. You are called to posts that are related to the universal Church. You are called to cast the net into the troubled sea of our time to bring men to follow Christ; to draw them out, so to speak, of the salty waters of death and darkness into which the light of heaven does not penetrate. You must bring them to the shore of life, into communion with Jesus Christ.
"In a passage in his first book of his work on the Holy Trinity, St. Hilary of Poitiers suddenly breaks into a prayer: For this I pray "that you fill the unfurled sails of our faith and our profession with the breath of your Spirit and you drive me forward in the passage of my proclamation" (I 37 CCL 62, 35s). Yes, for this we pray in this moment for you, dear friends. So, unfurl the sails of your souls, the sails of faith, of hope, of love, so that the Holy Spirit might fill them and grant you a blessed journey as fishers of men in the ocean of our time."
In a Motu Propio directive Pope Benedict XVI erected a Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization tasked with evangelizing countries where the Gospel was announced centuries ago but where its presence in peoples' daily life seems to be all but lost. He has invited each of us to live our baptismal vocation, no matter what our state in life, completely given over to the work of the Lord. We do that when we choose to live at the heart of the Church for the sake of the world; what the Pope referred to in this homily as an "ecclesial existence."
I believe we are at the beginning of a new missionary age of the Catholic Church being led by a Pope who took the name of the Monk whose movement reclaimed Europe for the Church in the last millennium. I also suggest that his selection of his name was not accidental but providential and prophetic.
In 1981 moral philosopher Alisdair MacIntyre wrote the book "After Virtue". In it he opined on the decline of the West: "It is always dangerous to draw too precise parallels between one historical period and another; and among the most misleading of such parallels are those which have been drawn between our own age in Europe and North America and the Epoch in which the Roman Empire declined into the Dark Ages. Nonetheless, certain parallels there are. A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman Imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of the Imperium.
"What they set themselves to achieve instead- often not recognizing fully what they were doing- was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. If my account of our moral condition is correct, we ought also to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point.
"What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however, the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another-doubtless very different- St. Benedict."
Saint Benedict was born around the year 480 in Umbria, Italy. He is a father of Western Monasticism and co-patron of Europe (along with Saints Cyril and Methodius). As a young man, Benedict fled a decadent and declining Rome for further studies and deep prayer and reflection. He gave his life entirely to God as a son of the Catholic Church. He traveled to Subiaco. The cave which became his dwelling, the place where he communed deeply with God is now a shrine called "Sacro Speco" (The Holy Cave). Subiaco is still a sanctuary for pilgrims, including Pope Benedict XVI. Right before his election to the Chair of Peter he traveled there for a period of protracted prayer. I do not believe the visit was accidental.
St. Benedict lived a life of prayer and solitude for three years and studied under a monk named Romanus. His holiness drew other men and women and soon, twelve small monasteries were founded. He later traveled to Monte Cassino, where he completed his "Rule for Monks." From those Benedictine monasteries, an entire movement was birthed which led to the evangelization of Europe and the emergence of an authentically Christian culture.
This movement led to the birth and flourishing of the academy, the arts and the emergence of what later became known as Christendom. One of the greatest hopes of Pope Benedict XVI is for Europe to rediscover her Christian roots as it did at the time of St Benedict. What I am suggesting is that another Benedict is here to lead the recovery and reform of the Church and summon her into a new missionary age in this Third Millennium.
The Church is Christ's plan for the entire world. The early Fathers called her the "world reconciled", a term embraced by the Catechism of the Catholic Church which, citing St Augustine, declares "To reunite all his children, scattered and led astray by sin, the Father willed to call the whole of humanity together into his Son's Church. The Church is the place where humanity must rediscover its unity and salvation. The Church is "the world reconciled." She is that bark which "in the full sail of the Lord's cross, by the breath of the Holy Spirit, navigates safely in this world." According to another image dear to the Church Fathers, she is prefigured by Noah's ark, which alone saves from the flood." (CCC #845)
The contemporary culture has thrown off almost every remnant of Christian influence and embraced a new paganism. What Pope Benedict calls the "Dictatorship of Relativism" is the bad fruit of a rejection of the very existence of truth. Given the current state of moral decline we need to view the entirety of the American continent as mission territory, ripe for the New Evangelization. We also need to view the once Christian Nations of the European continent as mission territory.
Most importantly, we need to view ourselves as missionaries in a new missionary age. We are all called to be "fishers of men in the ocean of our time". We are living in, in the words of Pope Benedict XVI, in "the time of mission." Another Benedict is here, leading us into a new missionary age of the Church.
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