Monday, March 25, 2013

Benedict: The Suffering Christ In Our Midst

Pope Francis Pope Benedict Castel Gandolfo Two Popes meeting.
Pope Francis continues to charm the world with his simple and holy ways.  Though I have not had time to blog in the last week, I have been watching the discussion around the Holy Father and it seems the political model seems to the only one many use to interpret the new Pope and his actions.  It still hasn't dawned on people yet that Francis is like Benedict who was like John Paul II.  One commentator hit the nail on the head, though I do not think they were speaking positively, when they said that Pope Francis revealed a progressive way of being traditionally orthodox.  Yep, I think that sums it up well. 
The Holy Father's style seems to be upsetting many: thankfully the myth of the "Carnival" jibe has been put to rest, Francis is just a simpler man when it comes to liturgy: this is not a condemnation or rowing back on Pope Benedict's reforms - they will continue, and should continue.  Francis has a different mandate, if I can say that - the liturgical reform has begun, now another reform has to happen and Francis will grab that nettle as Benedict grabbed the liturgical one.  But that said we must remember that a Pope is not an elected official who comes into office to do a particular job.  Yes, each Pope has his talents and abilities, and these will be used by the Holy Spirit in the service of the Church at a particular time to deal with particular problems.  But there is more to the Pope: he has been raised up to lead the Church, to confirm us in our faith and to be Peter in this time.  While it is valid to talk about reform of the Curia etc etc, Francis must be more than that - he is Peter.  He is our Holy Father.  And we thank God for him - the Lord has, once again, given us a wonderful pastor.
I watched with deep sadness the Holy Father's visit to Pope Emeritus Benedict last Satuday - I was stunned when I saw Benedict - he has failed even in the few weeks since his abdication.  He is a very frail man - I think the conspiracy theorists can give up their musings on the resignation: Benedict did not hide anything from us, he is going down and he knows it.  I could not help think that we may not have Benedict for much longer.   Reflecting on his papacy, I see what those eight years did to him - he has suffered, and he is suffering still. 
Talking with friends last week about Benedict's papacy we all agreed that perhaps part of Benedict's call in being Pope was suffering - he was to "take the hit" as the Church tried to crawl out of scandals and deal with various crises.  It was said that Benedict may well be "Benedict the martyr".  In the minds of many this holy and learned man, who always tried to do what was right, who tried to deal with the abuse crisis and take abusing priests out of pastoral appointments and out of the priesthood, was pilloried and blamed for the crisis.  Our own Taoiseach here blamed Benedict for cover up.  We know this was untrue, but those who seek to benefit from the Church's crisis don't care about truth, and sometimes those who have been hurt are, understandably, unable to see the truth in its fullness because of their pain.  In all this Benedict took the blame though he was innocent, and this has now taken its toll on him.  I believe it may well cost him his life as the burden of the Church and the difficulties claim their victim.  In this I think Benedict is Christ-like.  It was because of this that we agreed Benedict may well be Benedict the martyr.
One of the group suggested that in the last three Popes we see a fulfilment of St John Bosco's vision.  In this vision he saw one Pope who fell, but got up; but fell again  but did not get up; and a successor who, in the barque of Peter, led the Church through the pillars of the Eucharist and Our Lady to safe haven from storms and attacks.  John Paul II fell - his assassination attempt, but got back up; perhaps the second fall represents another Pope who is engaged in the same battle as the first: according to my friend this is Benedict who has fallen and will not get up; his successor Francis will lead the Church through the ever increasing storms and attacks.  I do not know - Don Bosco's vision, while I believe it is true, never identifies who the Popes were, and perhaps the vision represents the role of the Pope in times of crisis and persecution.
We should continue to pray for Benedict - this was his only request of us as he resigned: to pray for him, as he promised to pray and offer his sufferings for us.  Now, hidden with Christ in God, he continues to carry the cross.  Many of us thought he would have a blissful retirement, praying, reading his books, taking his walk - not so - now he suffers in silence, away from our eyes.   This man will be a great Saint!   
I will not be surprised when the news of his death comes: then we will mourn openly as now we mourn inwardly for losing him.  But then, I hope, Pope Francis will open the Cause for his Beatification, perhaps even dispensing the requirement to wait five years.  And I agree with those who say that perhaps one day Benedict may well be declared a Doctor of the Church.  But we shall see.

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