My piece at First Things this week looks at the point and the lesson behind Pope Benedict’s embrace of monasticism over his remaining time on the papal throne:
The failure is heard in the shrieks of pain, ignorance, and hatred directed at the Church throughout the chambers of mainstream and social media; it is seen in the faithful priests and laypeople who read one awful headline after another and continue on, but with increasingly slumped shoulders; it stands before the pope’s very eyes, in the form of priests and religious who have served idols and theologies formed within themselves, and in the bishops and cardinals who have handed in their resignations, or who should bow out and won’t.
Noting the glimmers of promise coming from Africa and Asia, anyone looking with honest eyes must also acknowledge the worldwide social and institutional wreckage that threatens the Church from the West. Benedict, having faced it, realized that the Church’s disorientation—and thus the world’s—would not be righted by yet another professorial speech, or another pilgrimage. A ship in profound danger requires a profound action, and Benedict has taken it. He is throwing all of us into the arms of the Lord in the belief that, as he said after his announcement, “the Church belongs to Christ, whose care and guidance will never be lacking.”
You might call it a supernatural gambit (and it wouldn’t be Benedict’s first) as in one move Benedict is both teaching by example and subverting the world in a way perhaps only the evil one understands; the prayers and penances of a Vicar of Christ, unimpeded by the trappings and distractions of an office, will be powerfully efficacious.
Those who think Benedict has simply lain down his staff do not understand that he lays it down to pick up a flamethrower of sorts. For however long he lives as a monastic, he will be a conduit of prayer, praise, adoration and supplication for the rest of the world. He is taking on huge duty.
In faith he will have delivered the powerful lesson that a life of faith is never without resources, because prayer extends beyond time and space, through darkness and into light.
And perhaps we will need to learn that lesson well, to face our future, together.
Benedict has said that “the core of monasticism is virtue”. He is stepping into a great virtue in the face of a world that heaps scorn on virtue or mislabels it.
But he’s not going into that supernatural arena alone, as the Dominican Nuns of Summit note, they get what he is doing, and how efficacious it will be, and they will be joining him in prayer and of course praying especially with him during the conclave.
We’ve never seen this before in our lifetimes; it’s remarkable to ponder that the pope, along with monastics around the world, will be so very focused on the selection of the next pope.
A monastery is a kind of powerhouse of prayer, but with distractions and impediments removed from its functioning; in enclosure, Benedict will become “a house of prayer and a temple of intercession” for us all. His hope and ours may reside, as it has before, in the simple yet profound reach of a monk.
Read the whole piece. Interesting times, we live in.
Btw, since writing my piece yesterday, Benedict’s new title has changed.
“This Pope has removed two or three bishops per month throughout the world because either the accounts in their dioceses were a mess or their discipline was a disaster,” said Archbishop Miguel Maury Buendia during a Feb. 20 address at the University of San Pablo in Madrid.
“The nuncio went to these bishops and said, ‘The Holy Father is asking you for the good of the Church to resign from your post.’”
Nearly all of these bishops, when approached by the Pope’s representative, were aware of the “disaster” and accepted the request to resign, he added.
UPDATE II: “It shook me to the core”
This is the essence of Benedict’s gift to us: He used his very existence on Earth near the end of his days to teach others to reach and correspond to a personal relationship with God, driven by conscience and consistent with Church teachings, via the sacraments and personal sacrifice, no matter what the world thought.
Such a quiet, personal, Christ-like submission of the will is not the essence of a rock star; it is the essence of a Rock. Human salvation has been advanced immeasurably because the Church had both popes at its helm — each to complement the other in ways we could not have imagined.
There are all kinds of theological lessons before us, if we’re willing to see them.