Thu 30th Oct 2014 | Last updated: Thu 30th Oct 2014 at 16:43pm

Facebook Logo Twitter Logo RSS Logo

Comment & Blogs

Pope Benedict is not ‘abandoning the Cross’

Benedict XVI’s abdication is a blessing in disguise

By on Friday, 1 March 2013

The faithful watch a screen showing Benedict XVI in St Peter's Square yesterday (AP)

The faithful watch a screen showing Benedict XVI in St Peter's Square yesterday (AP)

Now that the Church is in the rare position of “sede vacante” as we await the election of a new Pope, is good to ponder the final speeches of His Holiness, Pope Benedict. As his last public legacy they contain a great deal to remember. In particular, his final address of Wednesday February 27 was full of faith, hope and love – the three supernatural virtues. It is very heartening for all believers to know that throughout his Petrine ministry the Holy Father was sustained by his closeness to God who “has truly guided me, he has been close to me, I have been able to perceive his presence every day.” Only a person with a very deep inner spiritual life could say this.

Pope Benedict also put the trials of the Church – with which we are all familiar – into their divine context: likening the Church to the boat on the Sea of Galilee, weathering storms in which “the Lord seemed to be sleeping”. Pope Benedict strongly affirmed that “he [Christ] does not let it sink”. Indeed, despite all the burdens of his office here referred to, Benedict’s message was one of great Christian hope: “My heart is full of thanksgiving to God that he has never deprived the whole Church and me as well of his consolation, his light, his love.”

Reminding his audience that we are still in the Year of Faith, initiated by him, the Pope called on them – and all of us hanging onto his words throughout the world – to “renew our firm trust in the Lord” adding a glimpse of his own faith: “I would like that each one should feel the joy of being Christian.” Over these past days, ever since he revealed his plan to renounce his office, we have seen an outpouring of sadness from around the world, and keenly felt a sense of bereavement on the part of Catholics. The Holy Father knows this – and he points us back to Christ from whom his own gaze has never wavered.

Implicitly teaching us the right response in our own lives when our own powers diminish, Benedict showed his own trust in God and “serenity of spirit”, despite his clearly indicated increasing human weakness. Well aware of the “gravity” and the “novelty” of his decision to resign, he stated – as we knew, despite the wilder media commentary – that he had been motivated solely by his love of the Church. My own thought on reading this was the Gospel text: “He must increase, I must decrease” (Jn 3:30). The Holy Father, as ever, concedes to the activity of the Holy Spirit in renewing the Church; in this case by acknowledging the need for a new incumbent of the chair of St Peter.

Again, although the Pope defined more exactly his new role as one of serving the Church “though a life dedicated to prayer,” he made it clear that he would not be “abandoning the Cross.” Perhaps this was an allusion to the Archbishop of Krakow’s comment, referring to the late John Paul II’s last years, that one “does not come down from the Cross.” The Holy Father will not be returning to a private life, that of an elderly clerical scholar, with conferences, travelling and meetings. Whatever speculation there may be in the secular press on this, Catholics will have known this instinctively: Benedict’s life will now take the form of a permanent, prayerful retreat, interceding for the Church even as he visibly withdraws from it. Instead of regarding this as a loss, we should see it as an unsought blessing at the heart of the Vatican, a place where plots and intrigues are not, alas, unusual.

In his farewell address to the cardinals yesterday, the last day of his pontificate, the Pope delicately reminded them that they are meant to be “like an orchestra” – full of “harmony”; rather than the disparate group of discordant voices that the world would like to imagine. Quoting his own intellectual and spiritual mentor, the liturgist Romano Guardini, he reminded them that the Church is not “an institution” but a “living reality [whose] nature remains the same. At Her heart is Christ.”

It’s important to quote these passages above, and to draw attention to them in our discourse, because the internet – inevitably – is currently swamped with a very different message. Its general drift is that the world is ending: lightning has struck St Peter’s, the prophecies of Malachy are about to be fulfilled, the Anti-Christ is waiting to take over the Church and so on.

Thus it was reassuring to watch Michael Voris of ChurchMilitant.tv in his latest YouTube broadcast. “Knock it off with all the Pope prophecies!” he tells us in his typically trenchant style, reminding us that no-one knows when the end of the world will come – but that we will all have to face our personal end time when we die. Everything else, he says, is “spiritual pornography” and Catholics have “no business dabbling in it”. It is “speculative nonsense” and it is “not the job of ordinary lay people to discern prophecies.”

I think I might print out the text of what he says for the good of my own parish.

  • andHarry

    ‘ Its general drift is that the world is ending: lightning has struck St
    Peter’s, the prophecies of Malachy are about to be fulfilled, the
    Anti-Christ is waiting to take over the Church and so on.’

    The world will not end until Christ has reigned on Earth with the saints for 1000 years. However, His return in glory to set up His Kingdom is imminent.

  • jae

    What you are saying here is NOT a Teaching of the Catholic Church, what protestant group do you belong anyways?

  • Peter

    “likening the Church to the boat on the Sea of Galilee, weathering storms in which “the Lord seemed to be sleeping”.”

    There is a lesson for non-believers here.

    By providing no ready evidence of his existence, God seems to be sleeping i.e. non-existent, to those looking for obvious signs that he is there.

    Just as a sleeping Christ was always in control of the boat, so too is a sleeping God always in control of creation, sustaining it at every moment.

    When his panicking disciples woke Jesus up, he scolded them because they had no faith that he was in control while asleep.

    So too will God who appears to be asleep, i.e. non-existent, scold the non-believers for having no faith that he exists and sustains creation.

  • Domstemp

    I am not sure about this resignation. Cardinal Pell says it sets an uncomfortable precedence for future popes. For example, what if some cardinals don’t like the pope? Will they pressurise him to resign? There is a danger of more than 1 retired Pope. Also I find it odd that Emeritus pope Benedict is going to live in the same grounds. The Benedictine rule is that retiring Abbots have to flee from the new Abbott. Also why is the secretary going to work for both Popes? That could put undue pressure on the new Pope if grand papa doesn’t approve of something. We all witnessed John Paul 2 and how he really carried ‘his’cross (there was always a corpus on the one he carried). Pope Benedict adopted a different cross – quite ornate with different symbols on but no Christ anywhere to be seen. Take a look. I feel the Papacy has changed forever. Maybe this is what Our Lord wants. Interesting times indeed. But Cardinal Pell does have a point.

  • Maria

    Thank you Francis. These observations are the most encouraging and edifying I’ve read about the extraordinary events of recent days. You have achieved what many commentators have failed to do – to lift a low spirit and lighten a heavy heart.  

  • scary goat

    Yes, indeed.  Sometimes the way things are can make us feel like we are in end times (and we’re probably not the first people to feel like that) …..maybe we are, I don’t know.  Even if we are, how long do end times last? I don’t know. There’s a lot of stuff I don’t know….but when I don’t know I find the best thing to do is just trust in God.  Whatever He brings is just fine thanks.

  • Guest254

    Despite your title which comes in defence of the Pope. We understand his old age and his declining energy. But with this resignation did not the shepherd desert his sheep?

  • http://jabbapapa.wordpress.com/ Julian Lord

    No.

    Christ continues to guide us.

  • andHarry

    ‘What you are saying here is NOT a Teaching of the Catholic Church, what protestant group do you belong anyways?’

    I was brought up as a Catholic, lapsed early, and was agnostic for many
    years while engaging with other agnostics, Catholics, Mormons, and
    Baptists, etc. It was a Baptist associate who led me to the Bible, but I still resisted committing to any authority, while being generally law-abiding. But a few years later an experience generated by drugs led to my handing authority to Christ; indeed appealing to Christ to save me. I lost an argument, and my secular world was turned upside-down.
     Complicated circumstances led to my returning to the Catholic Church; but I was particularly attracted to the Charismatic movement, since I detected the movement of the Holy Spirit there. However, my questioning of the Catholic Church, with an interest which had not existed during my early association with it, led to my gradual movement away from it, and into the pentecostal/evangelical groups which look to the Holy Spirit for leadership rather than to Peter’s successors. It works for me and an increasing number of searchers after truth; after all, this was the promise associated with the sending of the Holy Spirit upon believers. I identify with the early, mainly Jewish, ‘Followers Of The Way’, and take it from there.

  • andHarry

     ‘ For example, what if some cardinals don’t like the pope? Will they pressurise him to resign?

    Exactly. Benedict’s detractors never for a moment saw his resignation as a possibility; hence the absence of such a call. His successors will be urged to emulate him, or join him in retirement.

  • JFJ

     The answer to your question is, of course, absolutely not, in fact, it is because he cares for the sheep so much, that he has discerned that it is God’s will for him to step aside, because of sheer magnitude of the office and what it takes to properly carry out the duty as the Vicar of Christ.  I suggest you read Phillip Keller’s amazing book(Keller was a shepherd), called “A Shepherd looks at Psalm 23″.  However, if you are not inclined to do so, consider this passage.  It will explain why His Holiness did exactly what he should have. Keller is speaking of God, but it applies here to Pope Benedict XVI.

    “From early dawn until late at night this
    utterly self-less Shepherd is alert to the welfare of His flock. For the
    diligent sheepman rises early and goes out first thing every morning without
    fail to look over his flock. It is the initial, intimate contact of the day.
    With a practiced, searching, sympathetic eye he examines the sheep to see that
    they are fit and content and able to be on their feet. In an instant he can
    tell if they have been molested during the night — whether any are ill or if
    there are some which require special attention.

    Repeatedly throughout the day he casts his
    eye over the flock to make sure that all is well.

    Nor even at night is he oblivious to their
    needs. He sleeps as it were ‘with one eye and both ears open’ ready at the
    least sign of trouble to leap up and protect his own.

    This is a sublime picture of the care given
    to those whose lives are under Christ’s control. He knows all about their lives
    from morning to night”

  • Pam Ruigh

    I do hope whomever is elected will clean out “the filth” in the Vatican once and for all so the Church can regain her moral authoriy once again

  • Guest254

     Some parts are OK..But besides being a Shepherd is the pope not also the vicar of christ. Did christ give up on his suffering? did christ give up on his passion and salvation. Did christ say as he was scourged, I think this is too much for me. The Pope far from being brave was HIGHLY TIMID. Despite his age and declining health, he should have instaed prayed fior god’s grace to CARRY ON…He is a leader and he surrendered? What sort of leader is that? JFJ you might be proud of that, but I certainly AM NOT!

  • Guest254

     all simply parroting church like phrases which the pope himself mentioned. Of course he has to justify his going, guys

  • http://jabbapapa.wordpress.com/ Julian Lord

    Look, we’re not “Popians”, we’re Christians.

    So, this is the first Papal renunciation in nearly 600 years. And ?

  • Creationist56

    you mean his saints will come back too. What a load of baloney. You mean saints like Ignatius of Loyola who was a mass murderer in the crusades who forgot the Moses commandment of Thou Shalt not kill….

  • Lplulu

    your religious life is complicated to say the least. Why not the Lutherans then…they have everything that Rome has except the Pope….

  • Nr24

    yes the prophesy of st. malachy are upon us and also Nostradamus. Apparently there is only one place for a potrait of the pope – the last pope and he will be black and be called Peter. Peter Turkson?

  • andHarry

    ‘What you are saying here is NOT a Teaching of the Catholic Church, ..’

    It was a belief held in the early church – and see here:   http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10307a.htm

    ‘The fundamental idea of millenarianism, as understood by Christian
    writers, may be set forth as follows: At the end of time Christ will
    return in all His splendour to gather together the just, to annihilate
    hostile powers, and to found a glorious kingdom on earth for the
    enjoyment of the highest spiritual and material blessings; He Himself will reign as its king, and all the just, including the saints recalled to life, will participate in it. At the close of this kingdom the saints will enter heaven with Christ, while the wicked, who have also been resuscitated, will be condemned to eternal damnation. The duration of this glorious reign of Christ and His saints on earth, is frequently given as one thousand years. Hence it is commonly known as the “millennium”, while the belief in the future realization of the kingdom is called “millenarianism” (or “chiliasm”, from the Greek chilia, scil. ete).’

  • andHarry

    ‘ your religious life is complicated to say the least.’

    On the contrary my religious life has become much simpler as a consequence of my acceptance of the leadership of the Holy Spirit. In comparison, the church of ‘the wise and learned’, which Peter’s successors lead, is an intellectual maze.

  • andHarry

    ‘Peter Turkson?’

    Possibly.

  • andHarry

    ‘You mean saints like Ignatius of Loyola who was a mass murderer in the
    crusades who forgot the Moses commandment of Thou Shalt not kill….’

    Only God knows the hearts of those who profess belief in him. Also I am using the word saint as it was used in the early church. Wait for it.