Pope’s Last Angelus Message: The Lord is Calling Me to Climb the Mountain

The Holy Father gave his last Angelus meditation as pope to huge crowds today.

It was a beautiful good-bye, in which he said:

Dear brothers and sisters, I feel that this Word of God is particularly directed at me, at this point in my life. The Lord is calling me to “climb the mountain”, to devote myself even more to prayer and meditation. But this does not mean abandoning the Church, indeed, if God is asking me to do this it is so that I can continue to serve the Church with the same dedication and the same love with which I have done thus far, but in a way that is better suited to my age and my strength.

The complete text of the Holy Father’s Angelus address is below. You can find it on the Vatican Radio website:

Dear brothers and sisters!

On the second Sunday of Lent, the liturgy always presents us with the Gospel of the Transfiguration of the Lord. The evangelist Luke places particular emphasis on the fact that Jesus was transfigured as he prayed: his is a profound experience of relationship with the Father during a sort of spiritual retreat that Jesus lives on a high mountain in the company of Peter, James and John , the three disciples always present in moments of divine manifestation of the Master (Luke 5:10, 8.51, 9.28).
The Lord, who shortly before had foretold his death and resurrection (9:22), offers his disciples a foretaste of his glory. And even in the Transfiguration, as in baptism, we hear the voice of the Heavenly Father, “This is my Son, the Chosen One listen to him” (9:35). The presence of Moses and Elijah, representing the Law and the Prophets of the Old Covenant, it is highly significant: the whole history of the Alliance is focused on Him, the Christ, who accomplishes a new “exodus” (9:31) , not to the promised land as in the time of Moses, but to Heaven. Peter’s words: “Master, it is good that we are here” (9.33) represents the impossible attempt to stop this mystical experience. St. Augustine says: “[Peter] … on the mountain … had Christ as the food of the soul. Why should he come down to return to the labours and pains, while up there he was full of feelings of holy love for God that inspired in him a holy conduct? “(Sermon 78.3).

We can draw a very important lesson from meditating on this passage of the Gospel. First, the primacy of prayer, without which all the work of the apostolate and of charity is reduced to activism. In Lent we learn to give proper time to prayer, both personal and communal, which gives breath to our spiritual life. In addition, to pray is not to isolate oneself from the world and its contradictions, as Peter wanted on Tabor, instead prayer leads us back to the path, to action. “The Christian life – I wrote in my Message for Lent – consists in continuously scaling the mountain to meet God and then coming back down, bearing the love and strength drawn from him, so as to serve our brothers and sisters with God’s own love “(n. 3).

Dear brothers and sisters, I feel that this Word of God is particularly directed at me, at this point in my life. The Lord is calling me to “climb the mountain”, to devote myself even more to prayer and meditation. But this does not mean abandoning the Church, indeed, if God is asking me to do this it is so that I can continue to serve the Church with the same dedication and the same love with which I have done thus far, but in a way that is better suited to my age and my strength. Let us invoke the intercession of the Virgin Mary: may she always help us all to follow the Lord Jesus in prayer and works of charity.

I offer a warm greeting to all the English-speaking visitors present for this Angelus prayer, especially the Schola Cantorum of the London Oratory School. I thank everyone for the many expressions of gratitude, affection and closeness in prayer which I have received in these days. As we continue our Lenten journey towards Easter, may we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus the Redeemer, whose glory was revealed on the mount of the Transfiguration. Upon all of you I invoke God’s abundant blessings!

Pope Benedict’s Legacy is His Faithfulness to the Truth of Christian Teaching

What sustains and illuminates me is the certainty that the Church belongs to Christ, whose care and guidance will never be lacking.

The Catholic Church doesn’t bend on essential matters of faith.

In 2,000 years, through bad popes and good ones, through corruption, wars, plagues and persecution, the Church has held true to the core teachings which define Christianity. This makes the Catholic Church itself one of the most compelling witnesses to the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit available to us.

Pope Benedict has faced direct challenges to the faith that many of his predecessors never experienced. This has not been a “Reformation,” but an attempted obliteration of Christian teaching altogether. We live in a world where the world itself proclaims that evil is good and good is evil. Those who stand for the truth of Christian teaching are attacked, reviled and accused of everything from bigotry to stupidity.

There is no middle ground in the culture wars, no island of neutrality where the combatants can join hands and say “at least on this we agree.” This fight is for our children, our families and our survival as a culture.

Pope Benedict XVI did not falter in the leadership he gave the Christian world concerning core issues of the sanctity of human life and the unique sacramental value of marriage between one man and one woman as the cradle of humanity. He has paid a price for his fidelity. But his leadership in this was critical.

As more and more of the various Christian denominations begin to parse the Gospels to create a false teaching which makes peace with the world at the cost of their discipleship, the Catholic Church is forced to stand alone in its absolute fidelity to the Truth.

It does this despite bishops and priests who fail, popes who age and a laity that wants to go along to get along. There are no perfect people in the Church, only pilgrim people, each of us on our way to our own personal Zion. When that day comes and we stand before God, the media, our friends and the people we’ve compromised for won’t be standing there alongside us. We will stand alone.

That is why leaders who follow Christ and teach us to do the same are so important. Everything depends on them. Those who mislead the children of God by twisting the Scriptures to tell them that evil is good and good is evil do so at their own great peril.

The whole wide world owes the Holy Father a thank you for staying the course and not telling us the easy lies that excuse our sins.

The following CNA/EWTN article discusses what we owe Pope Benedict for his faithful teaching on marriage. It says in part:

 Catholic leaders say Pope will be remembered for marriage defense 

ROME, ITALY, February 20 (CNA/EWTN News) .- Two leaders from one of the world’s largest pro-life groups think Pope Benedict XVI will be remembered for defending traditional marriage and his contributions to bioethics.

“He defended marriage as between a man and a woman and made statements, which later he was attacked for, because we really are in a very concerning situation where same-sex ‘marriage’ is being legalized worldwide,” said Monsignor Ignacio Barreiro, director of Human Life International’s Rome office.

“People are going to realize how the pressure to give legal status to same-sex ‘marriage’ grew in this decade, they’ll will see it as a problem, and they’ll see Pope Benedict as prophetic after having been very clear that this goes against nature,” Msgr. Barreiro told CNA Feb. 15.

Joseph Meaney, the institution’s director of international coordination, pointed out that people raised by same-sex parents are already coming forward to talk about all of the problems caused by marriage being redefined.

“It has become this sort of libertarianism gone wild, where everyone has a right to everything,” Meaney said. (Read more here.)

Should Cardinal Mahony Stay Away From the Conclave?

Cardinal Mahony has a “right” to attend the Conclave to elect the next pope, but at least one other cardinal has broached the idea that he should stay home for the “good of the Church.”

“The common practice is to use persuasion. There is no more than can be done.” Cardinal Velasio De Paolis, told La Repubblica Daily. “Ultimately, it will be up to his conscience to decide whether to take part or not.”

Archbishop Gomez, of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and Cardinal Mahony’s successor, recently announced that he was ending Cardinal Mahony’s public work for the archdiocese. The announcement resulted from the release of years of files that were compiled during Cardinal Mahony’s term in office. According to Archbishop Gomez, the files related “brutal” mistreatment of the Archdiocese’ children.

In his statement, Archbishop Gomez said,

“Effective immediately, I have informed Cardinal Mahony that he will no longer have any administrative or public duties. Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Curry has also publicly apologized for his decisions while serving as Vicar for Clergy. I have accepted his request to be relieved of his responsibility as the Regional Bishop of Santa Barbara.”

Cardinal Mahony has responded to this with a series of blog posts in which he has characterized himself as a “martyr.”

Several Patheos bloggers have commented on Cardinal Mahony’s recent statements. You can find information on Cardinal Mahony’s latest comments at The Deacon’s Bench, or if you want powerful commentary, Egregious Twaddle, Why I Am Catholic and Catholic and Enjoying It have been serving it up with style.

As for me, I just wish Cardinal Mahony would give it a rest. I also wish that he would stay home from the Conclave. I wish that he would stop publishing bizarre blog posts and that he would find the humility to accept that he is not a martyr. He is a miscreant who has been caught in his own sins.

I wish he could have been a better Cardinal and a better priest. If he couldn’t muster that, I wish he had at least been able to be a better man and a better Christian.

In the final analysis, if he had been either a good man or a good Christian, that would have been enough. If he had just been following Jesus, he would never have enabled priests he knew were abusing children to keep on abusing more children. His conscience would not have allowed him to do it.

I am not saying that he doesn’t have many good qualities. I don’t know him, but people are almost always mixtures of good and bad. It’s hard for a man who has spent so many years basking in flattery and cozened by yes men to suddenly find himself “all alone to weep his outcast fate” as Shakespeare put it. It is hard for anyone, but especially so for someone who has been pandered to and pampered for decades to come face to face with the fact that the only lies he has left are the lies he tells himself because everyone else knows the humiliating truth of his dirtiest sins.

I believe Cardinal Mahony is at that place. The blog posts he keeps publishing sound like deep denial with an overcoating of bitterness. They do not sound like remorse or repentance. It seems that he simply will not accept that nothing he says can change what he’s done and that no good he ever did can undo or wash away the harm he’s inflicted.

It appears that he has committed unthinkable crimes against innocent children by enabling and allowing other men to continue abusing them when he knew what they were doing and had the power to easily stop them. No matter how he tries to explain that to himself and to spin his present disgrace as a martyrdom, the facts are the facts and his situation is what it is.

Odd as this sounds, I pray for Cardinal Mahony. His current disgrace is in reality an opportunity. He must face what he has done and repent of it from the heart. There was never a time for excuses. He was always wrong in what he did. Now that the whole world knows it, he needs to stop trying to hide the truth from the one person who still avoids it: He needs to stop trying to hide the truth from himself.

I am concerned where this self delusion will lead him. There is only one way out when you’ve done something this bad and that is the way of the cross. I worry what might become of the Cardinal if he continues down this path of self-deluding self-justification.

He needs to go to Jesus as a broken and sinful man. He needs to grieve the harm he has done, suffer the guilt and endure the shame of it. Only in that way can he find the peace of Christ.

My advice, if I could talk to Cardinal Mahony, would be simple. I would say, Accept that you have sinned, and be quiet.

 

What if Jesus had said yes to Satan?

 Then the devil took him up and revealed to him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. “I will give you the glory of these kingdoms and authority over them,” the devil said, “because they are mine to give to anyone I please. I will give it all to you if you will worship me.”

What would the world look like today if Jesus had said yes to Satan?

What if, when Satan offered Our Lord all the kingdoms of the earth, Jesus had said yes?

What if, like the Saturday Night Live skit, dJesus, Our Savior had used his powers to force people to bend their knee to Him?

These questions strike to the heart of other questions. Why does God allow people to rape, torture and murder innocent children? Why would He allow cancer? Why doesn’t He stop us from harming one another so viciously?

Why, in short, does He tolerate a creation that rejects Him and what He has taught us to do and so often goes in the opposite and entirely cruel and destructive direction?

If He is God, why does He allow so much suffering?

I have heard people say things like this when they were in the extremities of pain and loss. Their question was not so much an accusation as it was a kind of prayer, a cry from the depths.

On the other hand, it has become fashionable in certain circles for privileged people to ask questions like these as a method of self-justification or simply as a way to attack faith. This  nonsense of blaming God for our sins is becoming an increasingly accepted way to brush aside personal responsibility for our actions. Instead of acknowledging what we have done wrong, we point out that someone else is doing just as bad or worse.

Who better to blame for all the sins of humanity than a God who has the power to stop us from harming one another and will not do it? So, the fashion of the day is misplaced blame. We hold God accountable for human depravity.

But what would happen if God stopped us from sinning? What would have happened if Jesus had been the kind of conquering messiah the Jewish people wanted? What, in short, would happen if God was more like us?

I am the first to admit that if I was God every rapist and child batterer on this planet would be a pile of ash. Poof! And they would be on their slimy way to hell.

But God doesn’t operate that way, even when we wish He would.

He was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where he was tempted by the devil for forty days. Jesus ate nothing all that time and became very hungry. 

Then the devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become a loaf of bread.”

Jesus said “No” to Satan’s offer of worldly power. He turned His back on the temptation to use His power for Himself, even for something as simple as turning stone to bread to eat when He was hungry. He said no to all of it, and by doing that took the first steps to the cross.

Our eternal salvation began with that series of “nos” to the prince of darkness and his tempting offers to make right with might.

The truth is that even when God directs us, he always leaves us the choice of saying no to Him. He sets before us life and death, and then He lets us chose. He gives us a radical type of freedom that allows us to literally do our worst, including mocking, criticizing and attacking Him.

When Jesus said no to the control of earthly kingdoms, He was also saying no to the use of force to convert us.

God’s Kingdom is made of free people who freely chose to follow Him. The narrow way is narrow precisely because so many people would rather go the way of power and license, of selfishness and greed rather than give themselves to a Lord Who chose suffering and death over all earthly power.

Why the cross? Why did Jesus have to suffer and die on the cross; beaten, tortured, mocked, naked and humiliated? Why was this necessary to save us? Why didn’t He just reach out and save us with a magical touch?

From the beginnings of Christianity to now the cross has been a scandal. It is the subject of mockery from today’s evangelical atheists just as it was the subject of mockery by the Romans. The Romans saw the cross as ignoble. It was shameful, a disgrace, to die in such a manner; proof that the person who suffered it was from the scum classes of society and essentially worthless. The idea that Christians claimed such a victim as their god was, to them, ludicrous.

Today’s atheists are not so class conscious. They hang their critiques on a distaste for the whole affair. They sneer at the bloodshed and suffering and rebuke Christians for what they claim is a morbid worship of death.

But in truth the cross was the greatest gift of love ever given to humankind. The cross was not the only way God could have saved us. But it was the only way He could have done it and left us free.

Frank Weathers, who blogs at Why I Am Catholic, published an interesting post a few days ago. He commented on the Saturday Night Live skit, DJesus, that mocked our Lord by casting him as a violent, vengeful killer who wreaked havoc on everyone who ever crossed Him. Frank raised the question, “What would things be like if Jesus had been this vengeful god the skit portrayed?”

I think another way to ask that question is, What would things be like if Jesus had said yes to Satan in the wilderness?

The answer is probably along the lines of Jesus as He is portrayed in the SNL skit, only much worse than anything we can imagine. People of the first century were accustomed to gods who hungered for power — over each other, and over human beings. Humanity had long worshiped various deities who craved death and demanded that their followers slaughter their children, captives and other helpless ones as sacrifices to them.

How is that so different from our current culture of abortion, euthanasia and meaningless wars? St Augustine said these early gods were in fact demons. If he was right, then it appears these same demons are working through people today. They have not changed their tactics. They have only changed their names and their arguments.

God doesn’t allow suffering. He allows us our freedom and we cause the suffering. God doesn’t rape and torture. He doesn’t send drones, tell lies and ignore the elderly, sick, poor and helpless in our midst. We do that.

What God does is allow us to choose who we will serve. Jesus was born in a stable and died on a cross to open a path to salvation and eternal life for us. He suffered all this because by suffering it  He could both redeem us and leave us free to reject the redemption He offered.

God lets us chose. He sets before us life and death and then He lets us chose. That is the way things are because on that day so long ago, Jesus made His own choice. He said “no” to satan and turned His face to the path that led Him to the cross.

To Be a Priest

Young seminarians and priests discuss what their vocation means.

YouTube Preview Image

Bishops: Make HHS Mandate a Bargaining Point in Fiscal Cliff Debates

The suggestion is late to the party, but it is about time it finally came.

The Roman Catholic Bishops here in America have finally asked Congressional supporters of religious freedom to do what they should have done in the first place: Make the HHS Mandate a bargaining chip in political “cliff” negotiations.

I’ve maintained all along that if the House Republicans had made the HHS Mandate the bargaining chip in the 2012 cliff fight over extending the debt limit, the HHS Mandate would never have gone into effect. It was one of those rare opportunities when political brinksmanship might have been about something besides the egos of the players and the wishes of the moneyed interests who control them.

What they did instead was engage in their usual fight to get more tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy.

The bishops have finally decided to call for such action directly. They sent a letter to members of Congress, asking them to make the HHS Mandate a bargaining point in the next found of fiscal cliff stand-offs.

All I can say is, it’s about time.

In fact, it’s past time.

It’s not easy for political outsiders to see through the smoke and mirrors of political maneuvering. But it appears that the bishops are beginning to figure it out.

As usual, I support the bishops in this 100%.

A Reuters article describing the bishops’ letter says in part:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Roman Catholic bishops stepped up their battle against President Obama’s contraceptives policy on Friday by urging Congress to use its fiscal debate to free religious employers from a mandate requiring insurance coverage for birth control.

In a letter to all 535 members of Congress, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore suggested two provisions to extend existing federal conscience protections to the contraceptives mandate and strengthen the ability of opponents to seek vindication in federal court.

“The federal government’s respect for believers and people of conscience no longer measures up to the treatment Americans have a right to expect from their elected representatives,” wrote Lori, who chairs the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“I urge you in the strongest terms possible to incorporate the provisions … in the upcoming legislative proposals to fund the federal government,” Lori added.

The conference also plans to send out an action alert via email and text message calling on supporters across the country to visit local congressional offices next week when lawmakers are home on break.

Obama’s 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires employers to provide health insurance coverage through group coverage plans for all contraceptives approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, including the so-called “morning after” pill.

The archbishop’s letter underscored a growing sense of urgency among church leaders over the birth control coverage rules that are due to take effect on August 1 for religiously affiliated employers including universities, hospitals and charities.

The bishops have tried several times to get Congress to act over the past year, amid numerous protests and more than 40 lawsuits by religious groups and employers. But Lori’s letter marks their first attempt to use the debates over deficit reduction, the debt limit and government funding.

“To many people, this looks like the main must-pass vehicle going through Congress this year,” said Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the conference’s Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities. (Read more here.)

Christian Persecution: From the Dali Lama to Great Britain, Six Quick Takes

This week’s six quick takes include examples of the increasing hostility toward Christians and Christianity worldwide.

They range from government punishment of Christian business owners for practicing their faith in Great Britain, to the rise of government harassments and arrests of Christian religious leaders in Eastern Europe. Also included are remarks by the Dali Lama that seem to blame the victims of violence for their own persecution. He specifically pointed to the martyrdom of a Christian missionary in India in which the missionary and his two children were burnt alive as his example.

Please pray for an end to Christian persecution.

1. Open Doors has released is annual World Watch List.  This list details the persecution of Christians around the globe. You can read it here.

2. Great Britain: Christian Bed and Breakfast Punished for ‘Discriminating’ Against Gays   In a victory for the gay agenda, the Christian owners of a Cornish bed and breakfast lost their appeal against last year’s ruling that their policy of restricting double rooms to married couples discriminated against a gay couple.

But, while upholding that ruling, the Court of Appeal warned that a new intolerance should not take root against Christians because of their beliefs about sexual ethics. (Read more here.)

3. Eastern Europe: Persecution on the Rise for Christians in Eastern Europe  Citizens of the former Soviet Union are facing growing restrictions on their religious freedom. On Wednesday a panel of experts in Washington reported that governments are closing more churches, fining and arresting their religious leaders, and destroying church literature.

“Twenty years ago when the Soviet Union fell apart, collapsed, when the Berlin Wall fell, everybody was sort of excited about all the future possibilities. Twenty years later we are again talking about freedom. What happened?” Victor Ham, vice president for the Billy Graham Evangelical Association Crusades, said.

The situation might not be a return to the Soviet era, but the signs spell trouble.

“Churches are being torched, crosses are being burned. There’s a lot of anti-Semitism, a lot of negative things appearing in the press about different organizations. So there’s some reason for concern,” Lauren Homer, with Homer International Law Group, said.

The atmosphere is thick with intolerance in these countries. Individual pastors are reluctant to speak out against abuses and restrictions. (Read more here.)

Note: Taiwan is a separate country from China.

4. China: Christian Persecution in China Rises Over 40 Percent in 2012  ChinaAid, a Texas-based Christian non-profit organization that monitors religious freedom in China, said in its 2012 annual report on Monday that the Chinese government continues its uptick of persecution against Christians in the country for the seventh consecutive year.

The report examines 132 persecution cases involving 4,919 people, finding that persecution incidences rose 41.9 percent from 2011. Additionally, the number of people sentenced in cases relating to religious persecution jumped 125 percent in 2012 compared to 2011, according to the group’s finding.

Read more at http://global.christianpost.com/news/christian-persecution-in-china-rises-over-40-percent-in-2012-chinaaid-reports-89542/#bq7CyE4Zal8lCCcf.99

5. North Korea: Most Difficult Place on Earth to be a Christian  For the eleventh year running, this is the most difficult place on earth to be a Christian. One of the remaining Communist states, it is vehemently opposed to religion of any kind. Christians are classified as hostile and face arrest, detention, torture, even public execution. There is a system of labor camps including the renowned prison No. 15, which reportedly houses 6,000 persecuted Christians alone. Despite the severe oppression, there is a growing underground church movement of an estimated 400,000 Christians. (Read more here.)

6. Dalai Lama’s Statements Against Conversion May Increase Christian Persecution  Mumbai (AsiaNews) – The Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, said he was against conversions and changing from one religion to another. His position is likely to be seen as support for the policies of the radical Hindu groups and the anti-conversion laws that exist in some Indian states.

During recent speech, he touched on the issue of conversions. “I do not like conversions,” he said, because they have a negative impact [on society]. “The two parties, that of the converted and the community abandoned by him, begin to fight.”

As an example of the negative influence produced by conversions, he cited the violence against the Australian missionary Graham Staines, burnt alive in his car with his two sons, and the violence and destruction still ongoing in Orissa and Karnataka.

This is not the first time that the Dalai Lama has spoken against conversions. Last November, at Christ University in Bangalore, he repeated a similar concept: on the one hand, he spoke of religious freedom and on the other of the need to avoid conversions: “Any religion – he said – should be limited to service-oriented interventions, such as providing people education and health care, not indulging in conversions.”

Cardinal Oswald Gracias, who personally knows the Dalai Lama, comments to AsiaNews that the freedom to change religion is a fundamental human right and can not be obscured for any convenience. (Read more here.)

 

Pope Benedict’s Last Mass: “The Church Belongs to Christ”

What sustains and illuminates me is the certainty that the Church belongs to Christ, whose care and guidance will never be lacking.

He “appeared wan and spoke very softly.”

His homily was interrupted repeatedly by applause and he received a standing ovation.

A banner was strung at the back of the room reading “Grazie Santita” (Thank you Your Holiness.)

Today, Pope Benedict XVI celebrated his last public mass as pope. 

“As you know, I have decided to renounce the ministry that the Lord gave to me on April 19, 2005,” he said. “I did this in full liberty for the good of the Church, after having prayed at length and examined my conscience before God, well aware of the gravity of this act … I was also well aware that I was no longer able to fulfill the Petrine ministry with that strength that it demands …”

“… the path of power is not the road of God.” he added.

“ … I have felt, almost physically, your prayers in these days which are not easy for me, the strength which the love of the Church and your prayers brings to me …

“… What sustains and illuminates me is the certainty that the Church belongs to Christ, whose care and guidance will never be lacking …

“… Continue to pray for me and for the future Pope; the Lord will guide us!”

Read more: http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/pope-i-can-almost-physically-feel-prayers-and-love#ixzz2Ko3f8rL8

Here are some photos of our papa’s last mass as pope, courtesy of Tom McDonald.

Remember: Thou Art Dust

And the Lord God formed man from the dust of the earth … 

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust …

I am going to die.

You are going to die.

Public Catholic has enough regular readers that it is a statistical certainty that at least one of us, perhaps more, will die this year.

Our souls, as the Scriptures say, will be required of us.

We have unbelievers who post on this board who tell us that nothing awaits us when we close our eyes on this world, that we will simply drift into the nothingness of non-existence, go back to the dust from which we came, and cease.

Our ending, according to them, will be our end.

But this, quite simply, is not true. I doubt very much that the nonbelievers who say it actually believe it. They use it as a ruse to hide behind when dealing with the existential miseries that their bankrupt philosophy imposes on them. It is an odd and sad outlook on life that finds its comfort in a studied hope for annihilation.

The truth is, there is no death for us. We are immortal beings who will live on past our bodies. Most of us sense this in a deep and incontrovertible way that can either comfort or torment us, depending on what we do with this innate knowledge of our own natures.

God is real. I have felt and known Him. I experienced His Presence in my life as an inpouring of love that I neither expected or sought.

But — and this is something that so frightens unbelievers that they invariably become angry when you say it — the devil and his evil are also real. It is not fashionable to say that. I’ve had members of the clergy chide me and tease me for believing it. But I do not doubt the reality of a malicious personality that hates the light and craves annihilation. I have felt his presence, too.

“If you eat of the fruit, you will not die” he told the woman, and like all really effective lies, this one was partial truth. You will not die … today. That was the truth of it. Turn your back on God. Defy Him. Do your own thing. And you will not die … today.

God lies, Satan told the woman, just as he tells us today. God lies to you when He says “Thou shalt not kill, lie, steal, commit adultery or covet.” He doesn’t mean it when He says “Put no other gods before Me.”

He lies. Because he doesn’t want you to have the pretty things of this world, to be able to enjoy the sexual pleasures He created for you, to live as you choose with your own free and preeminent will. He lies, and you are a fool for listening to Him.

Because you are not dust. You are the Lord of creation, the master of your fate, the god of your own life. There is nothing to fear because there is nothing that matters. At the end of our days, there is nothing but nothing. We stop. And we rot. We are carrion meat that walks for a time. So we should, again as the Scriptures say, eat, drink and be merry.

Like all effective lies, this one contains a bit of truth mixed in with the untruth. “Eat and you will not die … today.”

“Ignore God now and there will be no reckoning … today.”

Because you are dust, and you will die, regardless of how you live. You can run ten miles a day and your heart will still stop at some unknown time in your future. You can eat spinach and beans and forego fast food and steak, but your arteries will still cease to pump blood on some day you don’t know yet.

You can break every moral precept in the Scriptures, and you will not die … today. You will live for a time and you may even appear to triumph over those who do not indulge their darker natures as you do. There will be no reckoning … today.

But God is real. He gives us every opportunity to turn to Him and live life His way. He lets us choose. He sets before us every day life and death, and He lets us freely choose which of these we want.

That is what Lent is about. It isn’t a matter of giving up candy or foregoing wine for forty days. It is not about wearing ashes on our foreheads like religious jewelry or meatless Fridays.

Lent is about conversion. It is about renewal by means of awareness that we need to be renewed. The penances of Lent are signposts to guide us to a knowledge that we are but dust and we have sinned, but that we are also immortal beings who will one day stand before the God Who made us.

Lent is a time of turning again to the roots of our being. It is going back to the garden and acknowledging that we too “are naked and ashamed” before God. We, too are, to paraphrase St Peter, “sinful men and women.” But instead of crying out as Peter did, “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.” We can say, “come close to me Lord, for I am your broken child.”

The difference is the cross. The difference between despair and trust is the certain knowledge that we are bought at a terrible price and we do not have to be masters of our own fate. We do not have to feel our way blindly through life with no idea of what is right and wrong. We do not have to die an eternal death. We can have life, and have it abundantly. Because of the cross.

Lent is a time of penance and reflection in which we take an honest look at ourselves and our tawdry righteousness. Lent is for turning back to the One who can save us from ourselves. We are preparing to go to the cross where we will stand in solidarity with the rest of humanity, united in our sinfulness and our great need of Him and His redemption.

Lent is not about giving up candy and meatless Fridays. It is rather our gentle foretaste of Gethsemane.

Should There be a Retirement Age for Popes?

Pope Benedict’s resignation, effective February 28, is not precedent setting. It has been done before.

However, the question remains: What does it mean for the Church as an institution?

Now that a pope has resigned, the possibility of a papal resignation is much more present than it was before. By doing it, the Holy Father has made it possible for all of us to consider that his heirs on the throne of Peter might do it also.

It is no longer unthinkable that a pope would resign his office.

I am from a political background, so I tend to look at things like this at least partly in terms of a transference of power. In my experience, power, wherever you find it, always attracts careerists who will shove, bully and manipulate to gain that power. The thought that came to my mind almost immediately after I heard of the pope’s resignation was, Will this lead to people hectoring and manipulating in an attempt to force popes to resign in the future?

Modern medicine gives more people the opportunity to live into a frail old age than ever before. This applies to popes as well as you and me. For any man to be elected pope, he must have lived long enough to have the experience and holiness the position requires. It takes years of walking with the Lord to become holy in the sense that a leader of His Church must be holy. Peter himself was a brash young man who had a lot of learn at the beginning.

Pope John Paul II was a surprising selection for pope for many reasons, his relative youth among them.

Yet, in time, everyone ages. So electing younger popes would only delay the questions I’m raising. It would not avoid them.

One possible way to avoid future popes being pressured to resign would be to do away with the possibility of resignation. Pope Benedict’s resignation was conducted by Canon Law, not dogmatic Church teaching. So, the ability of a pope to resign can be eliminated altogether, making the Papacy a lifelong sinecure with no off ramps.

Another way to do this would be to establish a retirement age for popes. I think it would have to be rather elderly, given that our previous popes have done some of their most marvelous work when they were well past 75.

These thoughts are just me, mentally noodling with the situation. They are thinking thinking, not suggestions, or even formed opinions. Still, I think it’s worthwhile to talk about it. Our pope has resigned. What does that mean to the Church in these perilous times?

There will be a new pope and he will lead us without departing from the Gospels of Christ. I do not doubt that.

But all human beings are frail and fallen. It is inevitable that this new pope — and all those who follow him — will be subject to the increasing viciousness of a world that is moving from moral nihilism to moral self-destruction. The pope, as the leader of the Catholic Church, must stand against the gates of hell.

I am praying for this unknown man as he goes about his days, almost certainly unaware of what awaits him in March. I am also grateful to the core for the steady and unyielding leadership Pope Benedict XVI has given us.

May his tribe increase.

 


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X