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By Deacon Keith Fournier

11/30/-0001 (4 decades ago)

Catholic Online (

His Holiness Benedict XVI will give us a prophetic witness of monastic life right within the Vatican.

Monks are a seed of the great renewals of the Catholic Church. It is no accident he took the name Benedict. He had just returned from that retreat at Subiaco, the cave where St. Benedict spent three years in prayer. In a General Audience on April 29, 2008 he called Benedict the Patron of His Pontificate.  It is no accident he will keep the name Benedict. He will live a monastic vocation right within the heart of the Vatican. How fitting. How prophetic. How beautiful.

Benedict in prayer

Benedict in prayer


By Deacon Keith Fournier

Catholic Online (

11/30/-0001 (4 decades ago)

Published in Europe

Keywords: Pope Benedict XVI, papal resignation, Scott Hahn, papal conclave, His Holiness Benedict XVI, Pope Emeritus, Pope as Monk, St Benedict, Benedict the monk, Subiaco, contemplative prayer, monastic, Conclave, Deacon Keith Fournier

Vatican City (Catholic Online) - With the voluntary resignation of a Pope who placed the good of the Church he loves before himself we will soon have our first Pope Emeritus. Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J., the director of the Holy See Press Office, announced the title at a Press Conference. He also advised that upon his leaving the papal office he will be referred to as His Holiness, Benedict XVI. He will not wear the ring of Peter and will dress in a simple white cassock.

His choice of the name Benedict was an early sign of how he viewed his pontificate. One of the young priests who commented on his election noted that then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger visited Subiaco before the events in Rome began. He prayed and rededicated himself to the Lord and His Church. Benedict the monk helped to rebuild the Church of his age and spread the influence of Christendom. Pope Benedict XVI laid the seeds for a similar work in the Third millennium during his pontificate. 

I remember these words from his first homily: "Dear Ones, this intimate recognition for a gift of divine mercy prevails in my heart in spite of everything. I consider this a grace obtained for me by my venerated predecessor, John Paul II. It seems I can feel his strong hand squeezing mine; I seem to see his smiling eyes and listen to his words, addressed to me especially at this moment: 'Do not be afraid!'

He emphasized the work of authentic ecumenism proclaiming: "Thus, in full awareness and at the beginning of his ministry in the Church of Rome that Peter bathed with his blood, the current Successor assumes as his primary commitment that of working tirelessly towards the reconstitution of the full and visible unity of all Christ's followers. This is his ambition, this is his compelling duty."

He told us he was, "a simple, humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord". He certainly was. Very little fanfare accompanied his resignation. That is because he knows it is not about him. His humble manner reveals the holy heart of a man given over to the Lord. He is a counter cultural symbol in this age of narcissism and self love.

Pope Benedict XVI's work is not over. He has been a rebuilder of foundations. He will go down in history as one of the great popes. His teaching Magisterium will be unpacked for years to come. He dealt with the need for a purification of the Church. Indications are that the groundwork he laid will inform the agenda of his successor.

He is a theologian of the highest order who is able to communicate with simplicity and beauty because he is a man of deep prayer. He will continue to offer his gifts of teaching and writing as he enters into a life of prayer in his own Subiaco, the monastic enclosure in the Vatican. There he will spend the next chapter in contemplative prayer for the Church he loves.

On February 14, Scott Hahn wrote a beautiful article entitled Benedict Will Still Be There for Us Scott drew an interesting connection from a little noticed action taken by Benedict several years ago: "On April 29, 2009, Pope Benedict XVI did something rather striking, but that went largely unnoticed. He stopped at the town of L'Aquila, which had been struck recently with a bad earthquake, and visited the tomb of an obscure medieval pope named St. Celestine V (1215-1296).But the Pope did much more than say a brief perfunctory prayer.

"Without a word of explanation, after several minutes of prayer, he removed his pallium from around his shoulders and placed it gently on Celestine's glass-encased tomb. A pallium is a sacred garment, like a long, stiff scarf, which happens to be the primary symbol of the pope's episcopal authority as bishop of Rome. And he left it atop Celestine's tomb."

"Fifteen months later, on July 4, 2010, Benedict went out of his way again, this time to visit and pray in the cathedral of Sulmona, near Rome, before the relics of this same saint, Pope Celestine V. Few people, however, noticed at the time. Only now, we may be gaining a better understanding of what it meant. Both acts were more than pious gestures. More likely, they were profound and symbolic actions of a very personal nature, which conveyed a message that a pope can hardly deliver any other way."

"In the year 1294, this man (Father Pietro Angelerio), known by all as a devout and holy priest, was elected pope, somewhat against his will, shortly before his 80th birthday. (Ratzinger was 78 when he was elected pope in 2005.) Just five months later, after issuing a formal decree allowing popes to resign (or abdicate, like other rulers), Pope Celestine V exercised that right. And now Pope Benedict XVI has chosen to follow in the footsteps of this saint. Celestine didn't resign because he was a saint. He wasn't a saint because he resigned. He resigned to become a saint."

The monastic life of His Holiness Benedict XVI will continue his path to sanctity. Monks are the treasure of the Church. No matter how much formal theological study they have, it is their depth of prayer which makes them the best of theologians. So it is with His Holiness Benedict XVI. Evagrius of Pontus once wrote "a theologian is one who prays and one who prays is a theologian."  

Out of the storehouse of grace monk/theologians help the faithful in their pursuit of the longing of every human heart - communion and intimacy with the God who has revealed Himself in the face of Jesus Christ.  What is necessary is to encounter Him, contemplate the beauty and be transformed in the encounter. His Holiness Benedict XVI will do so and help us through his prayer and work. Monastic life and spirituality is labor immersed in prayer. I have no doubt that his best writing is ahead. It will be his work.

People mistakenly believe that the monk retreats from the world because of its corruption. In fact, the monk retreats precisely in order to transform the world by prophetic witness and powerful prayer. The dedicated and holy monk is of inestimable value in the sanctifying and redemptive work of the Church. His Holiness Benedict XVI will be that kind of monk.

Monasticism in the first millennium gave us the fountain of theological wisdom which still inspires the Church. Those who went into the desert became the great teachers, fathers, confessors and prophets. Their prayer and witness kept the Church in the Divine embrace so that she could effectively continue the redemptive mission of the Lord.

In the second millennium, their work and witness continued. Sadly, the Church had been torn in two with the first split, East and West. In the East, the Monks continued to be a resource for the kind of theology which brings heaven to earth and earth to heaven. From their ranks the great Bishops of the Church were chosen and the Church was continually renewed.

In the West, the great Monasteries of Europe became the beating heart of the emergence of Christendom. The extraordinary intellect exhibited in the emerging theological tradition birthed in the monasteries enabled the Church to contend with daunting challenges, welcome them without fear, contend for the faith and offer the claims of Truth Incarnate.

Now, His Holiness Benedict XVI will give us a prophetic witness of monastic life right within the Vatican. His commitment to the unity of the Church will continue because this is still "his compelling duty." His teaching on monks during his papacy is telling. For example, in an address given in 2007 he spoke of  the monastic life as a gift for the whole church. It can be read in its entirety here.

He told the group of monks in Austria, " just as a liturgy which no longer looks to God is already in its death throes, so too a theology which no longer draws its life-breath from faith ceases to be theology; it ends up as a array of more or less loosely connected disciplines. But where theology is practiced "on bent knee", as Hans Urs von Balthasar urged, it will prove fruitful for the Church." He will practice theology on bent knee.

Monks are a seed of the great renewals of the Catholic Church. It is no accident he took the name Benedict. He had just returned from that retreat at Subiaco, the cave where St. Benedict spent three years in prayer. In a General Audience on April 29, 2008 he called Benedict the Patron of His Pontificate.  It is no accident he will keep the name Benedict. He will live a monastic vocation right within the heart of the Vatican. How fitting. How prophetic. How beautiful.


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