Does the heroic leadership of Pope Benedict XVI represent one more fulfillment of the prophetic vision of the Saint whose Feast we celebrate? Pope Benedict XVI is steering the Ship through troubled waters, charting a path through those sure pillars of protection and heavenly aid. St. John Bosco, pray for us.
The vision of St. John Bosco
CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic online) - On January 31 in the Roman Calendar we celebrate the Feast of St John Bosco (also called Don Bosco). He lived in the 19th century and poured out his life serving the Church of Italy. Don Bosco was the founder of the Salesian Society and walked in a wonderful and intimate communion with the Lord. He also lived during a difficult time for both the world and the Church.
Among the accounts of his life, we read of a vision he shared on May 30, 1862. It comes to my mind frequently these days. The vision revealed the great threats facing the Church as she continues the redemptive mission of her Lord. It also reveals the path which will lead her to victory over her enemies. The vision has been the source of much inspiration, insight, speculation and reflection.
Images of the vision have been painted by many of the faithful. The paintings themselves have a prophetic effect on the observer. The saint saw the Church as a great Ship of Peter surrounded by a flotilla of other vessels. They were engaged in intense warfare. At the helm of the Church was the Pope who at one point in a fierce battle fell mortally wounded. The enemies of the Church closed in sensing this was their moment.
In the vision two columns then emerged from the great ocean. On one was a golden Monstrance with the Holy Eucharist exposed within it. The column was inscribed with the words "Salvation of Believers". The other column held an Image of Mary, the Mother of God, inscribed with the words "The Help of Christians". Here are words which purportedly reflect those actually spoken by the Saint in describing this vision:
"The entire enemy fleet closes in to intercept and sink the flagship at all costs. They bombard it with everything they have: books and pamphlets, incendiary bombs, firearms, cannons. The battle rages ever more furious. Beaked prows ram the flagship again and again, but to no avail, as, unscathed and undaunted, it keeps on its course. At times a formidable ram splinters a gaping hole into its hull, but, immediately, a breeze from the two columns instantly seals the gash.
"Meanwhile, enemy cannons blow up, firearms and beaks fall to pieces, ships crack up and sink to the bottom. In blind fury the enemy takes to hand-to-hand combat, cursing and blaspheming. Suddenly the Pope falls, seriously wounded. He is instantly helped up but, struck down a second time, dies. A shout of victory rises from the enemy and wild rejoicing sweeps their ships. But no sooner is the Pope dead than another takes his place. The captains of the auxiliary ships elected him so quickly that the news of the Pope's death coincides with that of his successor's election. The enemy's self-assurance wanes."
"Breaking through all resistance, the new Pope steers his ship safely between the two columns and moors it to the two columns; first to the one surmounted by the Host, and then to the other, topped by the statue of the Virgin. At this point something unexpected happens. The enemy ships panic and disperse, colliding with and scuttling each other. Some auxiliary ships which had gallantly fought alongside their flagship are the first to tie up at the two columns."
This vision could describe what is occurring in our own day. We have been blessed with holy successors of Peter who are steering Christ's Church through those two columns in very troubled waters. One, Blessed John Paul II, was shot - but saved through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin on a Marian Feast day. Another, Pope Benedict XVI, is leading the Church through the troubled waters of the dictatorship of relativism.
Both have engaged courageously in doing battle with those forces which oppose the Church. Both stood at the helm while steering her safely through the twin poles which certainly stand for orthodoxy (right teaching) and orthopraxy (right practice).
Blessed John Paul II is in the communion of Saints in the Church triumphant, interceding for the whole Church. His friend and successor, Pope Benedict XVI has continued providing heroic leadership to the Church. I am convinced he is leading the Church through turbulent waters into a new missionary age.
Throughout the Pontificate of Blessed John Paul II he called for a New Evangelization. His friend and successor, Pope Benedict XVI, has made this a central pillar of his pontificate. In a Motu Propio directive (which means issued on his own authority) Pope Benedict established a new dicastery (Vatican Office).
It underscored the seriousness with which he views this mission of the New Evangelization. It is specifically 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.
Cultures formerly infused with a Christian culture are now regularly called post-Christian - and understandably so. Yes, there are many good and genuine Christians living within these Nations. However, the scourge of legal abortion, the attacks on true marriage and the family and society founded upon it, and the intolerance against people of faith, speaks clearly of the decline of Christian influence in these Nations. I prefer to refer to them as "Pre-Christian."
They are now our mission field. When Blessed John Paul visited the Americas he wrote a letter "To the Church in America" http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_jp-ii_exh_22011999_ecclesia-in-america_en.html in which we find these words:
"The new Evangelization calls for a clearly conceived, serious, and well organized effort to evangelize culture. The Son of God, by taking upon Himself our human nature, became incarnate within a particular people, even though His redemptive death brought redemption to all people, of every culture, race and condition. The gift of His Spirit and His love are meant for each and every people and culture, in order to bring them all into unity after the perfect unity existing in the Triune God." (# 70)
The New Evangelization requires an authentic renewal of the Church so that she can undertake such a new missionary outreach to the world. These two aspects of the one call are intricately connected. Only a Church fully alive in the Lord and filled with His Spirit can carry out such an evangelical mission.
The Church is Christ's plan for the entire world. The early Fathers called her the world reconciled. She is a universal sign, sacrament and seed of the kingdom of God. These wonderful words from Par # 845 of the Catholic Catechism, citing words from the early fathers of the Church, should anchor us in hope:
"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."
Contemporary Western culture has lost its way, throwing off almost every remnant of Christian influence. It has embraced a new paganism. What Pope Benedict calls the Dictatorship of Relativism is the bad fruit of a rejection of a belief in the very existence of truth. In effect, the West has embraced a practical atheism. It is Eden's error written large in an age which has rejected God and His plan.
Given the current state of our National moral decline we need to view the entire American continent as missionary territory, ripe for this 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.
Pope Benedict XVI will turn turned 86 years old on April 16, 2013. Some early observers indicated his age would make him some sort of caretaker Pope. His pace has demonstrated the observers were wrong. He has proven to be an indefatigable and tireless missionary of a Pope.
He has continued the pastoral visits of his predecessor with amazingly fruitful travels around the world. The youth of the world still flock to World Youth days and his genuine love for them - and they for him - is evident. He has pastorally and decisively dealt with serious matters concerning the need for a purification of the Church.
He is exactly what he told us when he began his service, a "simple, humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord" Notice how little fanfare accompanied his birthday as well as this six year anniversary of his election. Clearly, to this successor of Peter, it is not about him, but about the Lord whom he serves. His diminutive size and humble manner reveal the holy heart of this man totally given over to the Lord.
He is a scholar of the highest order, yet able to communicate with simplicity and beauty because he is a man of deep prayer. He has given continual teaching to the faithful - including some of the finest hagiography in centuries - during his Wednesday Catechesis.
He made Church history, when Motu Propio, he released of the Apostolic Constitution on Groups of Anglicans which has begun the healing of the divided Western Church. The fruits of these Ordinariates will be recounted by future historians as among the most important events in the Third Millennium of the Church.
He has earned the great respect of Patriarchs and leaders of the Orthodox Church and is making progress toward some form of communion between Eastern and Western Christianity which could make the Third Millennium a millennium of communion.
He has championed the re-christianizing of Europe and passionately promoted the New Evangelization of the Church - even establishing a new Pontifical Council on the New Evangelization. He has been a champion of the New Ecclesial movements and helped to ensure that they are rooted in the heart of the Church and received as gift for the missionary work of the Church in this hour.
He has doggedly defended the Christian roots of the West and defended religious freedom as a fundamental human right. He has engaged the Islamic world with great charity and courage on the ground of dialogue in truth. He began the Courts of the Gentiles outreach engaging atheists and agnostics.
The Church is truly blessed to have him at the helm of the Barque of Peter as she sails into the Third Christian Millennium. His heroic leadership may well represent one more fulfillment of the prophetic vision of the Saint whose Feast we celebrate on this day.
We need to pray for him, take our place on the Bark of Peter and follow Him as he follows the Lord. He is steering the Ship through troubled waters, charting a path through those sure pillars of protection and heavenly aid. St. John Bosco, pray for us, pray for Pope Benedict XVI.
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