Wednesday, 20 February 2013

A humble labourer in the vineyard of the Lord

The reactions around the world to the imminent abdication of our Holy Father Pope Benedict have made interesting reading during the past week. Whilst there have been a variety of slants taken on why he has made this decision to retire into seclusion, there has been an overwhelming sense of shock and sadness, but also joy at what will inevitably be a great turning point defining the course of the Church for the next decade or more. We are grateful for the submission of the guest post below from the author of Beauty and the New Evangelisation, now in full communion with the Holy Father, who shares his thoughts on Pope Benedict's papacy and resignation.

I was just shy of fifteen when the Holy Father was elected in 2005, and growing up in a strongly Anglo-Catholic environment, the events around the funeral of Blessed John Paul II and the election of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger fell conveniently within a family holiday to Rome. I was there on the night that Blessed John Paul II died, and flew back shortly before the funeral. At the time, my interest in the Papacy was limited to niche historical oddities, I was more focused on the characters than the office itself. Pope Benedict XVI has been the Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church during my entire formative years, so it is natural that he’s had such an affect on me: if I’d turned fifteen in the late 1990s, Blessed John Paul II’s pontificate, particularly his heroic witness to the value and integrity of human life from birth to natural death, would have no doubt had the same affect.

The most profound part of my Christian journey has been worked out during the reign of Benedict XVI, and to say that his personal holiness and theology was a key part of my eventual conversion would not be over stating the matter.  But the key, for me, to his pontificate was not necessarily any of the large gestures, such as the Ordinariate, or the major theological works, like Jesus of Nazareth, it was the theological underpinnings of his focus on, and attachment to, Christ that made all of this possible.  Without the Holy Father’s focus on the identity of Christ, and his belief that human beings set apart from Christ cannot be understood as complete, his pontificate would not have been marked by so many extraordinary events.

To produce any kind of complete account of the Holy Father’s academic output is simply beyond this short article, but the two of most importance for me, personally, are his understandings of ecclesiology and the liturgy, and more broadly within the areas of politics and philosophy, his attacks on relativism and immoral political and economic systems.  In terms of his reform of the liturgy, his primary focus has been very simply on the beautiful: the beauty of the Church’s teachings are mirrored throughout every aspect of her life, including the liturgy.  Whilst some of his reforms have received a bad reception in some parts of the Church, these reactions seem not to gain a full sense of what these reforms have sought to bring about.  In a Church which is still trying to receive and understand the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, an attempt to enrich both forms of the Roman Rite can only be a good thing, and to more closely define the Council as a continuation with the past, not a break away from the old.

Clearly, as a former Anglican, our Holy Father's understandings of ecclesiology have been immensely important.  A clear line runs through his thought, particularly from Dominus Iesus, which defined more exactly the relationship between the Church and ecclesial communities, to Anglicanorum Coetibus, which created a specific structure to allow members of the Anglican Communion to become Catholics.  In this part of his work, the Holy Father has tried, and succeeded, in creating something tangible which goes beyond the long series of discussions which have run and run since the Second Vatican Council.  In many ways, as one person put it, he called everyone’s bluff by offering the most generous provision which was within the Church’s gift.

But underpinning all of this is the Holy Father’s focus on Christ which creates within his theology a humanism which is not simply founded on Christian principles, but which has Christ at the very centre.  He took on the concept that humanity could ever be understood as complete without being focused and centred on Christ.  He challenged the tendency of secularism and liberalism to paint humanity as beyond salvation; something which these two ideologies achieve by either portraying humanity as not needing, or as being beyond the hope of salvation.  The tendency of liberal Christianity to create a view of the human which everyone can agree on, with Christian doctrines simply being added on the end, is not acceptable to Benedict XVI. Indeed, in his analysis of Gaudium et Spes, the then Ratzinger asked, “why exactly the reasonable and perfectly free human being” described by the document “should suddenly be burdened with the story of Christ.” Without Christ, for the Holy Father, there is no proper humanity, because our whole nature and being have been so much changed by Christ.

And it is this that undergirds all of the Holy Father’s time as Supreme Pontiff.  All of humanity is called to centre their life on Christ, a call which he has lived out through his resignation.  And it was the reign of this Christ centred man who ultimately taught me the importance of the Catholic Faith and of being in communion with the Holy See.  This focus on Christ leads to the Holy Father’s teaching of the beauty of Christian unity, of the Church as the Universal Sacrament of Salvation, of the beauty of a prayerful celebration of the Liturgy of the Church, and that all hope is futile, unless it is hope in our Saviour’s Resurrection.

1 comment:

  1. From a regular Orthodox reader... may I say that I thoroughly enjoy reading your articles. I may sometimes disagree (sometimes strongly!), but I am always enriched by the experience, and I look forward to each installment.

    Happy fast!