Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Last General Audience

The Pope is due to hold the last audience of his pontificate in front of tens of thousands in St Peter's Square on the eve of his historic resignation.
No doubt many of you watched Pope Benedict's last General Audience.  As a man of the Word and word he rose to the occasion as he always does, and this time he gave us one of his most personal and affectionate talks.  The Catholic Herald has the text.  It was deeply moving, and once again that aggravating question was going through my head: "Why resign, Holy Father?"  Of course I understand and accept it, but I do not want to let go of this holy pastor. But God's will be done.
Benedict has ended as he began.  In his homily at the Mass for the Inauguration of his Pontificate he said that "the Church is alive", and he mentioned it again today at the Audience.  In the midst of all the scandals and difficulties, the Church is still a living body made up of brothers and sisters who love Christ and love the Church.  We should never forget this.  One of the great legacies that Benedict has left us is that even when things are bad and the world seems to be against us, we are still the Church and can still take pride in her - in her teaching, in her history, in her Saints and, most importantly, in her Lord - our Saviour, Jesus Christ who founded the Church and who guides her through the work of the Holy Spirit who will never abandon us.
In his personal reflections he admitted that the Papacy was a burden, and he said that to the Lord on the day of his election.  He spoke about being the boat in the midst of a storm, no doubt holding tight to the Lord who is also in the boat with him.  This is a piece of Scripture that means a great deal to me too, and I pray it often, particularly when I am being attacked for my ministry.   And the Pope seems to recommend this passage to all of us in these times.  As a holy nun once said to me: "Yes, you are in the boat and there is a tremendous storm waging about you.  But never forget, Jesus is in the boat with you."    As Benedict took comfort in that, may we all take comfort in it.  The Church is living in the difficult times, and she has done so before.  In fact for most of her history the Church has had it hard - we have in one way or another been persecuted.  And yes, at times those persecutors were men and women who considered themselves members of the Church.
I was impressed by Benedict's words about his retirement - he is not leaving the foot of the cross - he is staying put.  He is not entering a blissful retirement to travel and do his own thing.  He is aware that he can never renounce the mission he accepted when he was elected to the Petrine Ministry - he will no longer be Pope, but his life is no longer his own.  Benedict, hidden in prayer and suffering, will continue his total gift of self to the Church by that very prayer and suffering.  Indeed the new Pope will have an ally living in the Mater Ecclesia Monastery, the Pope-Emeritus who accompanies the new Supreme Pontiff in his carrying the burden of the Church.   And this may well be God's plan: in these difficult times, as the Church faces persecution in many places in the world, and indeed in the West, the new Pope will not be alone: Benedict in prayer and silence will be offering himself to God for his successor and for us.
There is a mystery here - the mystery of intercession in the heart of the Church, a mystery akin to that of victim soul.  Benedict the teacher continues to teach by his example - we are all reminded that we must live in the heart of the Church as intercessors too.  But I think Benedict the teacher is also Benedict the Mystic, and now he will join all those holy men and women who, hidden away in life, offered themselves for the Church, praying, suffering, loving for the Church's sake. 

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