Benedict the Builder "Be Not Afraid"
By: Deacon Keith Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC
"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?"
Our 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, Pope John Paul II, Benedict XVI is not so obsessed. In fact, he approaches the world in an entirely different way. That way is the ever ancient but ever new way of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as lived, loved, proclaimed and taught by the Catholic Church for two millennia. He, like John Paul, cannot be fit into the tired labels that so many try to fit him into. He is simply a faithful Catholic Christian.
I must admit, I was overcome with joy, gratitude and profound hope for the future when I heard the news while I was visiting with a priest friend in Richmond, Virginia. We were immersed in an intense conversation when another friend, 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.
My priest friend and I immediately turned the television on and, with the entire world, witnessed history. One day later, I realize just how significant it was that a Christian from another community told me, a Catholic Deacon, the "we" have a Pope. I believe it is only the beginning of the movement of the Holy Spirit, under this pontificate, toward the coming full communion of the whole Christian Church.
What has occurred in the last two weeks is nothing short of miraculous. First, the eyes of the entire world 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 knew what he was saying. 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 had not only embraced himself but had written about several months before, the whole world became a participant in the events occurring in that 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 is 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 will be a builder.
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 who left behind a treasury of extraordinary work in the encyclicals, exhortations, letters and allocutions that he authored.Now, Benedict the Builder steps up, supplied with the bricks and mortar, to begin the work. As I have written before, John Paul became, like the Savior he followed, a "grain of wheat". Now, having fallen to the ground, we will begin to see the sprouting of the very 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 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 for "a New Evangelization" and he understands the challenges that the Church faces as she walks forward to the future in this Third Christian Millennium.
He fully comprehends the beautiful legacy of Pope John Paul II and knows full well that his predecessor left these resources to help bring about the authentic renewal of the Church and the transformation of contemporary culture. He has plumbed the depths of theology and philosophy symbolized in the 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. These phrases summarize the themes of the last pontificate.
Benedict actually 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 his 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 is a gift from the God who chose to miraculously turn the eyes of the world toward Rome in the last two weeks. He has been given to carry forward the plan of the Holy Spirit and he will lead the Church forward to a future that she, renewed and refreshed, will help to build this new millennium.
In his homily prior to the convening of the conclave where he would be chosen to fill the Chair of Peter, then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger gave a prophetic insight into the challenges of the 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 already attempted to misuse this prophetic insight to paint him as rejecting the modern world. That is nonsense. 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 that paves that path to authentic human flourishing and freedom. It is to be found in Jesus Christ who proclaimed 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." Benedict will be his mouthpiece and Vicar.
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.
Our new Holy Father chose the name Benedict. One of the young priests, who, delightfully, filled the airwaves over the last two days, noted that then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger visited Subiaco before all the events in Rome began. 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 s "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. Additionally, his own holiness also attracted the young. He left behind an entire generation who many Church leaders and even the media 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 these past two weeks 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 is no accident that the next World Youth Day will be held in Cologne, Germany in August of this year. This year, the young men and women who gather in Germany will hear from the first German pope in 1000 years, Benedict XVI. He will, no doubt, call them to the re-evangelization of Europe, indeed of the whole world. He will continue, without missing a beat, to proclaim the same inspired Gospel message and issue the same challenging call to discipleship and missions that his predecessor and friend Pope John Paul II proclaimed. Benedict the builder understands that the task now falls to him to teach the next generation and enlist them in the mission of the Church for this Third Millennium.
Finally, there is that first homily. Wow!
"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 affirmed all that Pope John Paul taught and recommitted himself to continuing its implementation. He particularly 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 is a gift from heaven. I believe that he will be a builder, through whom the great treasure left by his predecessor will become reality. I also believe he will surprise many, particularly in the area of ecumenism.
He will dynamically lead the Church into a Catholic Millennium and we will see the springtime that his predecessor, our beloved Pope John Paul, prophetically anticipated. We will witness the beginnings of the coming full communion of the Church. We will 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 will see 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 will be like his namesake and help to bring the Christian influence back to Europe and beyond.
This will not be easy. Those who want to try to change the teaching and doctrine of the Church are understandably 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".
Long live Pope Benedict XVI, Benedict the Builder. "Be Not Afraid"
Deacon Keith Fournier is a married Roman Catholic Deacon of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia who also serves the Melkite Greek Catholic Eparchy with permission. He is a graduate of the Franciscan University of Steubenville, the John Paul II Institute of the Lateran University and the University Of Pittsburgh School Of Law. He is a human rights lawyer, policy activist and consultant. Deacon Fournier is the author of seven books and his eighth "The Prayer of Mary: Living the Surrendered Life" will be available in June. He is the Senior Editor of Catholic Online and a Contributing Editor of traditional Catholic Reflections and Reports.
Third Millennium, LLC
https://www.catholic.org VA, US
Deacon Keith Fournier - Deacon, 757 546-9580
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