Pope Benedict on Christian Hope

In honor of his birthday, some words by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on hope:

“To have Christian hope means to know about evil and yet to go to meet the future with confidence. The core of faith rests upon accepting being loved by God, and therefore to believe is to say Yes, not only to him, but to creation, to creatures, above all, to men, to try to see the image of God in each person and thereby to become a lover. That’s not easy, but the basic Yes, the conviction that God has created men, that he stands behind them, that they aren’t simply negative, gives love a reference point that enables it to ground hope on the basis of faith.”

Happy Birthday, to Pope Benedict!


Praying With St. Dominic

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the memorial of St. Dominic, founder of the Order of Preachers. Dominic was part of the battle against the Albigensian heresy, countering it through his preaching and example. His ideal was “to speak only of God or with God.”

Pope Benedict XVI had this to say of Dominic’s prayer:

After reciting the liturgy of the hours and after celebrating Mass, Saint Dominic prolonged his conversation with God without setting any time limit. Sitting quietly, he would pause in recollection in an inner attitude of listening, while reading a book or gazing at the crucifix. He experienced these moments of closeness to God so intensely that his reactions of joy or of tears were outwardly visible. In this way, thought meditation, he absorbed the reality of the faith.

How often do we sit in conversation with God without setting any time limit?

Do we approach our prayer with “an inner attitude of listening”?

We might all benefit from the example of Dominic.

A Pope Resigns

Earlier this week, Pope Benedict XIV announced that he would resign the papacy – something that hasn’t happened in over six centuries. The Pope prayerfully came to the conclusion that his “strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.”

Although he has many admirers, the current Pope is not the beloved figure his predecessor was. He faced controversy over remarks that angered Muslims, his handling of the sexual abuse crisis before he became Pope, his dealings with the Society of St. Pius X, and a number of other things.

My own views on the resignation are mixed, but I thought I’d share a couple of reactions to the news.

First, it takes wisdom, courage and humility to step down from a position of power and authority. It is actually pretty rare for someone to say, essentially, “I am no longer able to do the job to which I have been appointed in the way I believe it needs to be done, so I am stepping down.” That is especially true of this position, since there is no precedent in modern times for a Pope to resign. So I have enormous respect that Pope Benedict was able to do so. Whatever one thinks of the wisdom of Pope John Paul II remaining Pope through years of illness until his death, I think the Catholic Church right now can not afford years of a pope incapable of putting full energy into the position.

Second, I think Jim Martin is absolutely right that one of the greatest legacies (Martin says “most lasting legacy”) of Pope Benedict’s papacy are his books on Jesus. Martin opines

Far more people will most likely read those moving testaments to the person who is at the center of his life—Jesus of Nazareth—than may read all of his encyclicals combined. Others may disagree about this aspect of his pontificate, but in these books, the pope brought to bear decades of scholarship and prayer to the most important question that a Christian can ask: Who is Jesus? This is the pope’s primary job–to introduce people to Jesus–and Pope Benedict did that exceedingly well.

If the Pope’s resignation allows him to write more books like this, that will be a great contribution, perhaps a greater contribution than he could make staying in the papacy. Whether that will happen is not clear; I read something yesterday suggesting he may not even write anymore.

Fraternal vs. Agapic Love

I mentioned the other day that I was reading an essay titled The Open Circle: The Meaning of Christian Brotherhood, written by Pope Benedict XVI while he was still Fr. Ratzinger. The essay, as its title suggests, seeks to elucidate the concept of Christian brotherhood.

As the essay discusses, Jesus uses the term “brother” in the Gospels in two different ways. First, he uses it to refer to those “who are united with him in the will of the common acceptance of the will of God.” In Matthew, for example, when Jesus is told his mother and brothers are outside, he responds, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother.”

Second, however, Jesus uses the term brother in a broader sense in the judgment parable in Matthew 25. There Jesus refers to all of the needy of the world as being “my brothers,” expressing a universality not found in passages like the earlier Matthew one. Similarly in Luke the term neighbor refers to anyone in need.

Fr. Ratzinger suggests that one finds in the Gospels and in Paul’s writings the idea of two zones. “The attitude of agape (love) is appropriate toward every man, but philadelphia (brotherly love) only toward one’s fellow Christian. The use of this idea for those other than blood relations seems to be specifically Christian. But it shows very clearly that the Christians together form an inner ring in their ethos, that they are (or should be) held together by a spirit of brotherly love which is even greater than that of the general agape.”

I think it is important to keep both senses of the term brother in mind. While I am uncomfortable with some of the possible implications Fr. Ratzinger draws from the distinction, particularly his citing sources that suggests that Christians “must strive for the greatest possible independence from non-Christians and not choose them for their habitual companions” (which he admittedly says presents difficult questions when such statements are transferred from their original setting into the present), there is something to being part of a community of fellow believers that is strengthening to one’s faith.

On the other hand, we need constant reminder that our call to agapic love is a call to love all, regardless of who they are and what they believe. No one is outside the ken of our universal brotherhood of caring and agapic love. As Fr. Ratzinger puts it, while it is true that the Chruch “must unify itself to form a strong inner brotherhood in order to be truly one brother,” it does so not “finally to shut itself off from the other; rather it seeks to be one brother because only in this way can it fulfill its task toward the other, living for whom is the deepest meaning of its existence, which itself is grounded wholly in the vicarious existence of Jesus Christ.”

The Eucharist as a Sacrament of Brotherhood

I spent a couple of hours the other day reading an essay titled The Open Circle: The Meaning of Christian Brotherhood. It was written by Pope Benedict XVI while he was still Fr. Ratzinger, a decade before he became an archbishop and a cardinal and long before he became head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. Although published in book form in English in 1966, it is based on an essay first read to the Theological Congress of the Austrian Institute for Pastoral Works in Vienna at Easter 1958. The views expressed in the essay, as well as other writings of then Fr. Ratzinger were influential in conciliar documents of the Second Vatican Council.

In light of the enthusiasm among many for the return of the Tridentine Mass, I found the essay’s discussion of the Mass to raise considerations worth thinking about. Fr. Ratzinger writes

The recognition that ekklesia (church) and adelphotes (brotherhood) are the same thing, that the Church that fulfills itself in the celebration of the Eucharist is essentially a community of brothers, compels us to celebrate the Eucharist as a rite of brotherhood in responsory dialogue – and not to have a lonely hierarchy facing a group of laymen each one of whom is shut off in his own missal or other devotional book. The Eucharist must again become visibly the sacrament of brotherhood in order to be able to achieve its full, community-creating power. This does not imply a social dogmatism: the vocation of the individual Christian can often be fulfilled quietly in a life of retirement. But even a vocation like this is a form of brotherly service and therefore, far from invalidating the brotherly nature of the community rite of the Church, further confirms it.

I think we should pay heed to Fr. Ratzinger’s words in this essay and make sure we are promoting a Eucharistic celebration that is “visibly the sacrament of brotherhood in order to be able to achieve its full, community-creating power.” Some of what I have heard people say in arguing for the Tridentine Mass seems to call for a return to exactly what Fr. Ratzinger criticizes here – a noncommunal celebration where the priest does his own thing and the people do theirs.

Let me be clear. I am not suggesting that there is an inherent problem with Mass in Latin. It happens not to be my personal preference – I don’t think in Latin and I want to listen and speak in a language I understand. However, I appreciate the beauty of Latin and that many people may understand the language better than I do and want to worship in it. But we need to be sure that we retain a Mass that is able to accomplish the worthy aims of which the essay speaks.

As an aside, Fr. Ratzinger’s comments in the essay about the importance of local church communities also raises important points in light of today’s realities. He suggests that the size of a parish community ought to be governed by the original Christian meaning of ekklesia, “which at first meant the actual realization within the particular local community of the one Church.” That means, he says, that a parish should be of such a size that it is “possible for everyone to know everyone else.” How one achieves this in practice in today’s world is not an easy question to answer.

Christ the King

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King, which, among other things, signals for us that the liturgical year is coming to an end and Advent is almost here. We hear in our first reading the prophesy of Daniel, who saw “one like a Son of man coming” and saw this son of man receive “dominion, glory, and kingship.”

Calling Jesus a king is part of what made some people nervous during his lifetime; it certainly made Pilate nervous. (In today’s Gospel we listen to Pilate question Jesus about being King of the Jews.) Misunderstanding the nature of Christ’s kingship, people like Pilate and Herod saw His being king as a threat to their own power. Misunderstanding the nature of Christ’s kingship, others thought it meant a relationship of subjugation.

But Christ’s kingship is not political. As Pope Benedict explains, Jesus is a new kind of king. “This king does not break the people with an iron rod (cf. Ps 2:9) – he rules form the Cross, and does so in an entirely new way. Universality is achieved through the humility of communion in faith; this king rules by faith and love, and in no other way.”

Thus, today’s feast, in Pope Benedict’s words, “is not a feast of those who are subjugated, but a feast of those who know that they are in the hands of the one who writes straight on crooked lines.”

Happy feast of Christ the King!