"Habemus Papem", "We Have a Pope!" the Cardinal announced.
Pope Benedict XVI stepped forward onto the balcony overlooking St. Peters Square calling himself " ...a simple, humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord." The applause was uproarious. The joy filled not only that Square but the hearts of millions throughout the entire world who had prayed for this moment. He continued " ...that the Lord can work and act even with insufficient means consoles me, and above all I entrust myself to your prayers. In the joy of the risen Lord, trusting in his permanent help, we go forward."
Then the questions began. All of them related to one singular question "Where will he lead us?"
Morning papers and television commentaries were besieged with alleged "answers". They ranged from ecstatic commentary to morose complaint, depending, as if often the case, on the speaker or writers positions on the so called "hot button" issues that the dominant media culture seems to be obsessed about.
However, like his beloved predecessor, the late Servant of God Pope John Paul II, Benedict XVI has not approached his ministry to the Church and the world in that way. In fact, he approaches the world in an entirely different way. His way is to walk as a pilgrim along the ever ancient but ever new way of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as lived, loved, proclaimed and taught by the Catholic Church for over two millennia. He, much like his predecessor, the Servant of God John Paul II, cannot be fit into the tired labels that so many incessantly try to fit him into. He is simply a faithful Catholic Christian.
He is also "Holy Father" to the flock of Jesus the Good Shepherd.
I must admit, I was overcome with joy, gratitude and profound hope for the future when I heard the news that day. I remember the events of those days vividly. I was visiting with a priest friend in Richmond, Virginia. We were immersed in an intense conversation when another friend of mine, a Bishop of the Charismatic Episcopal Church, an ecclesial community not in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church, called me on my cell phone. "Have you heard?" he asked, "Habemus Papem, We have a Pope!" he proclaimed, hardly able to contain his own joy.
Who would have guessed that three years later, my Bishop friend would have left his ministry as a Protestant Pastor in order to follow the irresistible invitation of the Holy Spirit to come into the full communion of the Catholic Church. He did so with his beloved wife Sandra, on November 12, 2006 at St. Benedict Catholic Church in Richmond, Virginia. Now, Randy Sly serves as the Washington Bureau Chief for Catholic Online and he will cover this historic visit of Pope Benedict XVI.
And I now live and serve the parish of that same priest friend in Richmond, Virginia, Father James Kauffmann. I moved to be closer to Washington D.C. in order to complete my coursework toward the PhD in Moral Theology at the Catholic University of America, one of the stops along this Pilgrim Pope's visit to America. Like so many millions, my life has been profoundly changed by his ministry and the ministry of his beloved predecessor, Pope John Paul II.
But on that historic day, Father Kauffmann and I immediately turned the television on and, with the entire world, witnessed history. One day later, I realized just how significant it was that a Christian, then from another Christian community, had called to tell me, a Catholic Deacon, the "we" have a Pope. I believe it was only the beginning of the movement of the Holy Spirit, under this pontificate, which is advancing a coming full communion of the whole Christian Church. Pope Benedict XVI has stepped right into the trajectory walked with the Orthodox Church by his predecessor, John Paul II, but has advanced the hope, stepping it into a dialogue which may soon provide a vehicle for full communion.
What occurred in those momentous weeks, when Pope John Paul II passed to the Lord and Pope Benedict assumed the Chair of Peter, was nothing short of miraculous. First, the eyes of the entire world had turned to Rome while the giant, John Paul the Great, who had taught us all how to live, showed us how to embrace suffering with selfless love and offer it in union with Jesus Christ for the world. Will we ever forget his last great message, given without words, when he stepped up to the window and was unable to even speak? Yet, we all knew what he was saying. It was beyond words. He had been reduced to love. His last blessing to us all also reduced the world to tears. Then, he showed us how to welcome death. He demonstrated the truth of the Christian claim by greeting death as a friend, the doorway to the fullness of communion with the eternal God.
In an event of historic magnitude, through the use of the very "new technologies" that Pope John Paul embraced and had written about several months before he went, in his own last words "home to his Father's house", the whole world became a participant in the events occurring in St. Peter's square. There, the Catholic Christian Church, in all of the beauty of its ancient but ever fresh worship, commended Pope John Paul II to God. We mourned together, we wept together and we drew strength from the loving presence of the God who filled those precious hours with supernatural grace.
For those moments, it seemed as though the world stood still.
It was also during that profound passing of Pope John Paul II that 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."
I believe that one of the fruits of that very blessing was the selection of his friend, confidante, trusted theologian and beloved brother, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger to occupy the Chair of Peter. I also believe that Pope Benedict XVI has proven himself to be a master builder, rebuilding the Church so that she can engage the new missionary age of the Third Christian Millennium. The plans laid by the Divine Architect, the Holy Spirit, for the Rebuilding of the Church and, through her, for the renewal of human culture, were placed on paper by his beloved friend and benefactor, John Paul II. He left behind a treasury of extraordinary work in the encyclicals, exhortations, letters and allocutions that he authored.
Now, Benedict the Builder has stepped up, supplied with some of the bricks and mortar, and continued the work. As I have written before, John Paul became, like the Savior he followed, lived and died as a "grain of wheat". Once fallen to the ground, we have begun to see the sprouting of the very "new springtime" that he proclaimed under the leadership of Pope Benedict. If there is anyone who understands the writings and the work of Pope John Paul, it is Pope Benedict XVI.
Anyone who has studied theology in the last two decades (and I am included in that number) have read Joseph Ratzinger and eaten from his rich bounty. He is one of the most brilliant, insightful and fecund theologians of the age. He knows the burden that the Lord placed on the heart of his predecessor Pope John Paul II for "a New Evangelization" must lead to a massive rebuilding of the very infrastructure of faith in the Catholic Church. He understands the challenges that the Church faces as she walks forward to the future in this Third Christian Millennium are monumental. However, he is a theologian of the highest order and ecclesiology, the study of the theology of the Church, is one of many of his greatest areas of knowledge. He is also a giant of a living faith which he believes must be lived, as well as proclaimed, in all the world.
He comprehends the legacy of Pope John Paul II and stands fully within the Tradition stretching forward and toward an authentic renewal of the Church. He also knows that only the Catholic Church, truly renewed, can effect the transformation of contemporary culture. His predecessor left a legacy symbolized in pregnant phrases such as "adequate anthropology", "new humanism", "new feminism", "universal call to holiness", "true and authentic freedom", the "Church as communion", the call to the whole Christian Church to heed the prayer of Jesus "Ut Unum Sint", the "theology of the Body", "the theology of the gift" the "two lungs" of the Church, East and West, breathing together, the "new advent", the "new springtime"... and the list goes on.
However, these phrases not only summarized the themes of the last Pontificate but are the very material out of which this Pope named Benedict XVI is now building. This should come as no surprise, he helped his predecessor to develop and, in some instances, express them on the written page. He will now use them as mortar and bricks in this mission to rebuild the Church so that she can carry forward her mission to this Third Christian millennium.
Pope Benedict XVI, like Pope John Paul II, was present at and participated in the Second Vatican Council. He not only understands the authentic teaching of that Council but he has led the way in its proper implementation in many areas of life, both within the Church and in her mission to the modern world. He also understands the way that the Council was hijacked in some circles, disregarded in others and absolutely misinterpreted in still others.
He is a voice for dynamic orthodox and faithful Catholic Christian faith, practice, worship and life. This Pope who will grace our Nation with this pastoral visit is a gift from God. He has been given to the Church of Jesus Christ right at the beginning of the Third Millennium, which is surely a new missionary age. He has been chosen in order to carry forward the plan of the Holy Spirit. He is leading the Church forward by making her foundations once again solid. The, refortified and refreshed, the Church will do what she alone can do and what she has always done, go forward into a world that is waiting to be reborn as the presence of the Risen Christ.
In his homily prior to the convening of the conclave where he was chosen to fill the Chair of Peter, then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger gave a prophetic insight into the challenges of this age:
"How many winds of doctrine we have known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking... The small boat of thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves - thrown from one extreme to the other: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism, and so forth. Every day new sects are created and what Saint Paul says about human trickery comes true, with cunning which tries to draw those into error (cf Eph 4, 14). Having a clear faith, based on the Creed of the Church, is often labeled today as a fundamentalism. Whereas, relativism, which is letting oneself be tossed and "swept along by every wind of teaching," looks like the only attitude (acceptable) to today's standards. We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one's own ego and one's own desires."
Some have attempted to misuse this prophetic insight to paint him as rejecting the modern world. However, what he rejects, and rightly so, is the emptiness of modernity and post modernity. What he proposes is a different path, not to the past, but to a future of hope and authentic freedom. It is truth alone which can pave that path to authentic human flourishing and freedom. That Truth can only be found in its fullness in Jesus Christ who still proclaims, through His Church, that He is the "Way, the Truth and the Life." Jesus reminds every person in every age, that we can "know the truth" and that "the truth will set you free." In an age reeling from error and enchained in a misguided claim of enlightenment, Pope Benedict XVI shines the Light of the World.
Benedict has become a mouthpiece of the Risen Savior and His Vicar, to use a colloquial expression, right in the "nick of time".
Those who watch the early days of Popes tell us to watch for two things at the very beginning of their service, the name they choose and the content of their first homily for "clues" to their pontificate. The choice of the name Benedict, after the great Abbot and the great voice for peace, was no accident. One of the young priests, who filled the airwaves during the first few days of his early Pontificate, noted that Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger visited Subiaco before all the events in Rome began.
There he prayed and rededicated himself to the work of the Church for the future. Interestingly, a short while later he would be called to occupy the chair of Peter and take the name Benedict.
Saint Benedict was born around the year 480 in Umbria, Italy. He is the 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 studies in order to give his life entirely to God. He went to Subiaco. The cave that became his dwelling is now a shrine called "Sacro Speco" (The Holy Cave), which is a beautiful sanctuary for pilgrims. Benedict lived a life of prayer and solitude and prayer for three years and studied under a monk named Romanus. His holiness drew other men 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 monastic movement was birthed which led to the evangelization of Europe, the birth and flourishing of the academy, the arts and what later became Christendom.
One of the greatest hopes of Pope John Paul II was for Europe to return to her Christian roots. His holiness attracted the young. He left behind an entire generation who many Church leaders and even the media now refer to as "Generation John Paul II." Many of the young priests, women religious and lay people whom we witnessed sharing their faith and stories on international television during those weeks of John Paul's passing and Benedict's elevation to the Chair of Peter are the fruit of Pope John Paul's wonderful work with the young. He held numerous youth days in some of the most secularized cities in the world during his pontificate. Huge crowds of the young would gather to hear his proclamation of the timeless truth of the Gospel and the invitation of Jesus Christ to "Come, follow me"
It was no accident that the first World Youth Day under the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI was already scheduled to occur in Cologne, Germany. The event held in August of 2005 brought record crowds of the young to greet the German pope. The young men and women who gathered in Germany heard from the first German pope in 1000 years, Benedict XVI. He called them to holiness and to radical discipleship. He called them to the re-evangelization of Europe, indeed of the whole world. He continued, without missing a beat, to proclaim the same inspired Gospel message and issue the same kind of challenging call to discipleship and missions that his predecessor and friend Pope John Paul II had proclaimed. And the young people took him into their hearts. The crowds, contrary to some predictions, have not diminished under Pope Benedict XVI. They have actually increased. His next stop in evangelizing an entire new generation of young Catholic missionaries is Australia.
Benedict the builder understood that the task had fallen to him now to teach the next generation and then enlist them in the mission of the Church for this Third Millennium. He has passionately dedicated himself to the task.
Finally, I recall his first homily as Pope. In retrospect it gave more clues to what would occur during this wonderful Pontificate:
"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!'"
In that beautiful homily, he affirmed all that Pope John Paul taught and recommitted himself to continuing its implementation in continuity with the Tradition. He even 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 is aware that to do so, expressions of good feelings are not enough. Concrete gestures are required to penetrate souls and move consciences, encouraging everyone to that interior conversion which is the basis for all progress on the road of ecumenism.
Theological dialogue is necessary. A profound examination of the historical reasons behind past choices is also indispensable. But even more urgent is that 'purification of memory,' which was so often evoked by John Paul II, and which alone can dispose souls to welcome the full truth of Christ. It is before Him, supreme Judge of all living things, that each of us must stand, in the awareness that one day we must explain to Him what we did and what we did not do for the great good that is the full and visible unity of all His disciples.
The current Successor of Peter feels himself to be personally implicated in this question and is disposed to do all in his power to promote the fundamental cause of ecumenism. In the wake of his predecessors, he is fully determined to cultivate any initiative that may seem appropriate to promote contact and agreement with representatives from the various Churches and ecclesial communities. Indeed, on this occasion too, he sends them his most cordial greetings in Christ, the one Lord of all.
In this moment, I go back in my memory to the unforgettable experience we all underwent with the death and the funeral of the lamented John Paul II. Around his mortal remains, lying on the bare earth, leaders of nations gathered, with people from all social classes and especially the young, in an unforgettable embrace of affection and admiration. The entire world looked to him with trust. To many it seemed as if that intense participation, amplified to the confines of the planet by the social communications media, was like a choral request for help addressed to the Pope by modern humanity which, wracked by fear and uncertainty, questions itself about the future.
The Church today must revive within herself an awareness of the task to present the world again with the voice of the One who said: 'I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.' In undertaking his ministry, the new Pope knows that his task is to bring the light of Christ to shine before the men and women of today: not his own light but that of Christ."
Pope Benedict XVI's ministry has been that of a builder, working in continuity with the 2,000 year teaching of the Catholic Church and helping to ensure that the proper understanding of the great treasure left by his predecessor, and the proper understanding of the Second Vatican Council becomes reality. He has also surprised many, particularly in the area of ecumenism. I believe that he is leading the Church into a Catholic Millennium. Though things may at times seem dark, I believe even more than I did on that day when I heard those words "Habemus Papem" that we will see the springtime that his predecessor, our beloved Pope John Paul, prophetically anticipated.
I also believe that we are witnessing the beginnings of the coming full communion of the Church, East and West, as the "two lungs" on the One Body of Christ begin to breathe together again in order to animate this new missionary age. We are beginning to witness the recovery of the Catholic academy through the rebuilding of some institutions almost lost to the Church and the building of new ones. We are seeing the flourishing of good, solid theological and philosophical work along with a flourishing of the arts and human culture, led by the Church, as it has been in ages past. He, like his namesake, is helping as well to bring the Christian influence back to Europe and beyond.
This mission task of building has not been easy. And, it will probably get even more difficult. The old adage is true; it always seems darkest before the dawn. Those who wanted to try to change the teaching and doctrine of the Church are deeply disappointed. However, for all of us who hunger for a vibrant, faithful, dynamically orthodox Catholic Church, the source of all truth, the God who is Truth, has once again been true to his promise to Peter, "upon this rock I will build my Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against her".
The writings of this Builder Pope have only just begun.
His first two Encyclical letters, "God is Love" (Deus Caritas Est) and "Saved by Hope" (Spe Salvi) evidence the kind of vision of a unity of life which forms the foundation for the Churches Social teaching. In the first, a deeply theological and profoundly spiritual teaching on love, he spent the second half of the letter giving a developed teaching on the demands and implications of social charity as an integral fruit of this theological virtue. In the second, a reflection on Biblical hope, he underscored as well its social expressions. The message is clear; living out the Gospel has social implications. The ongoing work of the Redemption, accomplished in Jesus Christ, is now mediated through his Body the Church and is intended to effect a transformation of the world.
Some sources indicate that he has completed and will soon release his Third Encyclical letter. It is to be a specifically social encyclical, a reflection on the 40th anniversary of Pope Paul VI's, "On the Progress of the People" (Popolorum Progressio). This pope is a scholar and understands the importance of His teaching office with a carefulness which properly becomes the Church's "theologian in chief". It is probably no accident that the release of his Third Encyclical will coincide with the 40th anniversary of "On the Progress of the People". Some reports indicate that Pope Benedict will dedicate his third Encyclical to "faith", the third of the theological virtues. Perhaps, as he did with love and hope, the other two theological virtues, he will, in his masterful way, show how faith is to be expressed in its social dimension.We will soon find out.
Sources also indicate that he will authorize a revision of the Compendium to be released following the release of the Encyclical. Throughout the Compendium the connection between living faith and authentic social concern is beautifully expounded. The message is simple, Christians are called to inform their entire lives, personal, familial, social, cultural, economic and political, by their faith and thus to live, what the Compendium calls "...an integral and solidary humanism".
The Social teaching of the Catholic Church is meant to inform and influence social, economic, political and cultural life, primarily through the work of lay Christians who not only know it but have committed themselves to live by it, making it the foundation of their work in service to human society and the common good. This teaching is called "social" because it speaks to human society and to the formation, role and rightful place of social institutions. It reveals principles and truths that can be known by all men and women - because they are revealed in the Natural law. These truths and principles are also confirmed by - and expounded upon in - Revelation.
Thus, this body of teaching is not simply "religious", in the sense that it is intended only for religious persons. It offers insights that are of tremendous value to all men and women- and it offers them for every nation. The Introduction of the Compendium addresses all men and women with these words: "To the people of our time, our traveling companions, the Church also offers her social doctrine. In fact, when the Church ‘fulfills her mission of proclaiming the Gospel, she bears witness to man, in the name of Christ, to his dignity and his vocation to the communion of persons." The reason for the social teaching is to serve the common good. This is another area of deep concern to this builder Pope. He is well aware of the separation between the faith professed by too many Catholics and the way they conduct themselves in Public Square. Clearly, he has his trowel in hand and is ready to rebuild an entire framework for reasserting catholic Social Teaching.
As Pope Benedict graces our Nation with this visit, each one of us should join together in fervent prayer for his health, protection and the continued assistance of the Holy Spirit for him as he discharges his office. We should also rededicate ourselves to standing in solidarity with him, taking our own place in the Mission of rebuilding the Church. Finally, we should give our assent to embracing fully the teaching of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church and redouble our efforts to live that teaching in every area of our lives, becoming missionaries in this new missionary age.
Benedict the Builder comes to America. "Be Not Afraid!"
Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for December 2013
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