Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Pope Benedict, and our duty to him

Pope Benedict announces his resignation (from the B.B.C. Website).
Two years ago today, Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation.  What a shock and a blow that felt.  I don't think I was alone in wondering why this steadiest of shepherds would uproot history with only a fortnight's warning.  Was something wrong?  Was the Successor of St Peter's task so urgent that only a younger and fitter man could perform it?  Was the Church so threatened that not only holiness but also haleness were demanded of a Pope?  What were we to see in the juxtaposed examples of St John Paul II on the one hand (staying at his post in spite of grave suffering, unyielding to the bitter end), and Benedict on the other (acknowledging his age, understanding the limit of his gifts, aware of the Church's mission in history)?  All there was for us was to trust that he and the Holy Spirit knew what they were doing.

Well, I don't regret that approach, because now we are on a remarkable journey with Pope Francis.  Christ is looking after His Church.  Certainly, the urgency in Pope Francis' approach suggests that he, like Benedict, believes that time is short and labourers few for a rich harvest.  Pope Francis is a safe pair of hands, however, and even if he is a taker of risks, his recklessness is to be trusted.  

And there are still many riches to be mined from Benedict's pontificate.  I have been wondering whether he decided, actually from the beginning, to concentrate his powers in certain areas rather than to stretch them too widely, and thereby to sow seed for the future even in a relatively short pontificate.  The Pope Emeritus is an expert on Europe and the Church in Europe, where the New Evangelisation is most sorely needed.  So he decided, without abandoning the world-wide Church, to build up an intellectual, articulate and clear defence of the faith, fit to withstand raucous Western modernity in particular.  Hence, then, the rebuttals of the dictatorship of relativism, the pulling at the plug of secularism, the watertight encyclicals, and the homilies to savour. And hence the name 'Benedict', after the patron of Europe.  

We - the 'Benedict generation' and other church-goers in this off-hand and secular land - have been given a responsibility and a mission; indeed, a 'definite service'.   We need to be New Evangelists.  The New Evangelisation needs to be new because our culture, already having heard the Gospel, has nevertheless forgotten it.  Pope Benedict's efforts were directed at us who already believe and practise for precisely this reason.  He equipped us with the tools of the New Evangelisation, and we have a duty to use them.

This does not mean that we don't jolly well listen to Pope Francis.  It means that we rummage through the riches of the Church's tradition too, and share all we find abroad.  All the same, it is worth observing that Pope Francis, because of his predecessor's work, is free to concentrate on his own strengths.  For instance, he can seek those on Church's peripheries and summon them with, as I see it, his great unspoken message 'You'd better come in for now'.  Then he can leave us, to some extent, to make them properly at home, with catechesis and example.  Our duty, then becomes twofold: to Pope Francis's current pontificate as well as to Pope Benedict's legacy, and ultimately, of course to Christ.

Here's to the Pope Emeritus.  'Prost!' as they say in Bavaria!

From St Peter's

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