Random Thoughts on Benedict’s Example

Yesterday, I conducted a Lenten Day of Reflection for the diaconal community of the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin. We reflected on Evangelization, the New Evangelization, and the Transmission of Faith. I couldn’t help but think if the topics would be ones that the new Holy Father, whoever he might be, will pick up and centralize in his papacy. As I was preparing and delivering the three conferences, I had a strange feeling that perhaps these themes may fade away in the near future with whoever becomes the 266th successor to the Chair of Peter. On an obvious level, Evangelization and the New Evangelization – and most certainly the transmission of our faith – can never but be forefront in our lives because it is for this that the Church lives in our modern world, i.e., to present the person of Jesus  to an unbelieving culture. On a less obvious level though, I wonder if the new pope might steer us into a new direction by way of emphasis. Pope John Paul I called for the new evangelization of the baptized the day he died, and Pope John Paul II took up that call and carried it forth as has Pope Benedict XVI. I have a sense that the next pope will take this momentum of energy and focus and hone it down to something more specific, if you will, something incisive. Perhaps the reconciliation of the Orthodox and Catholic Churches after a 1000 year schism. Perhaps a kenosis in the Church where the riches of the Church are dispersed among the poor.

Regarding reconciliation with the Orthodox, I have no doubt that a lot of work has been done and is being accomplished to bring this about. My own thought is I don’t know how we can effect unity among other Christian communities, such as the Lutherans, Methodists,  Baptists, etc., if we are not united with the Orthodox who share with us a common faith, common understanding of the sacraments, valid orders and sacraments, a history extending 2000 years. We remain split because of an unwillingness to come to consensus about Apostolic Authority and a word or two in the Creed (on a theological level) and perhaps more importantly by old ecclesial wounds that have in the centuries past spilled over into politics and nationalism (my opinion only).

Regarding ecclesial kenosis, have you ever wondered what would happen if a pope were to divest the Church of any and all material wealth? It nearly happened in the 19th century when the Church gave up the Papal States and retreated to the Vatican. Another withdrawal from earthly attachments  could happen again, a voluntary renunciation.

These are only my random thoughts, but maybe what Benedict XVI is showing us by his resignation and renunciation of papal responsibilities and power – and his willingness to become withdrawn from the world’s view – is how the Church is to live in the future. Perhaps he is demonstrating to us where the Church can now proceed, i.e., to focus all its energies on engaging the world of today by detachment from that which is burdens it from doing so.

I think Pope John Paul I was intending to do just that – again just my thoughts – but God must have know Luciani was there to just plant the seed and JPII and BXVI would cultivate and water that seed and whoever succeeds Benedict will see it to fruition.

To divest oneself of power is an act of extreme bravery and faith. This is what Benedict is doing. To give away one’s material wealth (for that is what gives us power in the secular world) is also an act of faith and bravery. Go ahead and try to do so in a substantial way in your own life and you will experience this fear. For the Church to do so would be an act of martyrdom, a giving of herself so others may live freely.

Let us all pray that the needs of the poor, needy, marginalized, oppressed, and persecuted in today’s world be known to the Cardinal electors as they deliberate and select for us our new pope.

About Deacon Bob

Moderator: Deacon Bob Yerhot of the Diocese of Winona, Minnesota.
This entry was posted in Church News, Ecclesiology, Evangelization, Papa Luciani (Pope John Paul I), Popes. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Random Thoughts on Benedict’s Example

  1. Michelle Rifenberg says:

    Benedict knows that we must deal with the wolves baying at the door and that it will require an energy and strength beyond the fraility of natural human aging. May the Holy Spirit give us a leader who knows the real crisis we face.

    This sounds too much like the critics of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Adoration, worship, and reverence to the God who made and saves us deserves nothing less then the glory and best of beauty that we can offer. Divestiture in those things belittles justice in what is owed to God.
    Over the last five hundred years we’ve seen too often the damage done to the Church by those who have desecrated and plundered her beauty. Why would we finish the job to continue to feed that false notion that somehow the Church doesn’t care for or do enough for the poor. No institution on the face of the earth has done more for the poor than the Catholic Church and it’s time we start telling the truth about our story.

    The Cardinal who praised God through the granduer and beauty of that Shrine knows that the wolves are at the door and understands the real crisis of the times we live. What a blessing that would be for our church that the Holy Spirit would call him. Being an American matters not. No one thought of a Pole being a pope either.

  2. Deacon Bob says:

    Just to be clear, I think the Church cares deeply for the poor. No institution has done more for them in history.

    Have you ever wondered, though, what would happen if the Church would lose its material wealth? God forbid, for instance, if an earthquake would destroy St. Peters and the Vatican Museums?

    As we will hear in tomorrow’s Gospel, how we treat the poor among us will be the standard by which we are judged when we die. Something of which to be mindful.

    It is interesting that my post raised in your mind the controversy in years past about the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe near La Crosse. It is a very beautiful place. I have spent many hours there in recent years. To be honest, though, it wasn’t something of which I was thinking when I wrote the post.

    Thanks for the comment, Michelle!

  3. Michelle Rifenberg says:

    Considering that we live on a single income in our household, a level that would surprise many, our daily lives are lives of detatchment from much of the activities and stuff that friends, neighbors, and relatives don’t give a second thought about. That practice is so rare today that people think that you are wealthy because you don’t live the big feminist lie. We don’t even own a cell phone. The things that we do are done with the upmost thrift. The place where we spend extra is on the open door hospitality we offer in our home for our friends and family.

    I could give a detailed account of the charitible things I do week to week but to do so would dignify the hurtful insult that I don’t think about what the gospel says nor care about it. If someones approach to charity and the poor doesn’t conform to a someone elses notion those people are marked as not caring. The ways of addressing the Works of mercy are many and can be accomplished with prudential exercise.

    Being nearly half way through volume 5 of Warren Carroll’s wonderful history of Christendom, I’m more than familiar with distruction and plunder that has happened in Rome and the Vatican since the time of the fall of the Empire; antiquities that were lost forever. Over 3000 plus pages provides ample reflection. Following every civilizational collpse, there has been only one institution standing to pick up the pieces-the Catholic Church. Everytime the forces of evil have been unleashed it was the churches, the monstaries, the art, the sacred vesssls for the Mass, and the Blessed Sacrament itself that was desacrated and distroyed. The reason there was so much povery in Elizabethan England was because she finished off the job started by her father and Thomas Cromell of pillaging and destroying the monestaries and Abbys where the Church did what it has alwys done,; take care of the poor. Yes, I include in my study a history that is fair to the Church and I don’t engage in perpetuating the anti Catholic bias that prades as truth. Too mnay Catholics engage in that thinkng that it makes them sound learned.

    All those things of beauty and grace made for the glory of God to teach, nurish, and edify the souls with the aesthetic Beauty that leads to the true, the good and to God. It was the works of beauty that were used to teach the gospel to those who couldn’t read and had little. Several generations of rich, middle, and poor alike all had a hand in the beauty of Chartes, Rheims, Cologne, and Saint Peters. To know the heart and soul of the poor is to know that even they know what it is to do something beautiful for God. Look what the poor east Eurpean immigrants did for God at Saint Josephat’s in Milwaukee or a young blacksmith in 1917 helped build so his grand daughter to grow up in church in Hokah that was beautiful and left a permanent mark about what it is and means to live totally immersed in being Catholic.

    I can’t read these historical accounts about how this Church has suffered by people inside and outside the Church bent on destroying it without tears in my eyes weather it be the iconoclasts, the peasant riots in Germany, Elizabethan England, or the carnage of the French Revution. It’s been ne tough slog. Nor can I think about what my grandparents built and what it meant to be raised to be really Catholic without getting a lump in my throat.

    I spend almost an hour most mornings before Mass praying over everything I read from scripture, the great spiritual works of the saints, their biographies, solid long established traditional Catholic prayers and devotions, the history of western civilization, and much more. While some of my best friends believe that their Catholic faith is private and not something to be talked about, their are others who show little if any concern about the serious immediate issues against the faith in our own country because they take a false comfort in the platitue that “it will never happen here, I’m somehow the weird one because I ready, study, pray, and try and be prepared to have the courage and strength to do what God may ask someday. I’ve developed a great love and affection for Saint Thomas More lately. God has blessed me over the last few years by showing me that I’m no longer alone and that I’m not some oddity from the past. It’s such a comfort knowing that there are people who know what you are talking about when you talk about particular Catholic works, authors, and subject matter and don’t give you the glazed over disinterested clueless look when try and expose them to what Catholicism can offer the mind.

    Final point. The criticism of the Shrine being isn’t an old and over thing. It’s alive and well. Many of my friends and I hear it currently from friends who are Catholic. What is old is secularist, free thinker, anti Catholic bigot types that are always telling us to sell our cultural treasures or destroy them at the beginning of times of terror. We don’t need to give fodder to these wolves because all it does is dimiinish the truth about what we do for the poor and deny our role as the only glue that really holds this western culture together. Just write an LTE defending the faith and see how fast the fangs come out. The enemy hates that notion and will twist and use it in it’s attempts to destroy.

    You can only sell the Pieta once just like a government can only take a man’s business once. Rev. Robert Sirico from the Acton Institute wrote an interesting book recently on how to really help the poor economicly. Not to long ago the Holy Father issued a document instructing Catholic charitable efforts to disentangle themselves from the cohersions and compromises that come from accepting government money. That is the detactchment he is asking the Church to do. Some say by doing so he is giving the Bishops the sea legs to deal with the public scandal against life and marriage because they no longer have to weaken against the fear of not getting the money.

    I think it’s pretty clear how time, study, and attention I put on reflecting on these things in a full and comprehendsive fashion. I just wish God would grant me the gift to remember everything I read. Small retention has been an exercise in humility but not an excuse for being silent when it comes to issues of faith. But, if anytime anyone demonstrates what they know from personal experience and encounters; much study and reflection; or presents a view learned from good Catholic sources it is presumed that they don’t think about things or ignores the basic charity that comes from the gospel in their personal life this isn’t a forum for people who prefer not to substitute thought for platitude. You can get a platitude from anyone but there aren’t many takers when it comes to extensive study.

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