"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Monday, July 11, 2005

The program of Pope Benedict XVI

I think I understand now.

During the interregnum between the death of John Paul the Great and the election of Benedict XVI (above, as Cardinal Ratzinger), I was impressed and heartened by an article about papabile Ratzinger's "program" for the Church by Sandro Magister, one of the few ecclesiastical journalists I respect enough to follow regularly. After the election, Magister followed up in the same encouraging vein, with wider ramifications. But in his first few months, Benedict struck me as more into the role of reassuring grandfather than that of thorough reformer. I was a bit confused though hardly surprised. Last night, the eve of today's liturgical Memorial of St. Benedict, the new Benedict's Sunday homily made clearer to me what he is really up to.

He preached:

Amid the ashes of the Roman Empire, Benedict, seeking first of all the Kingdom of God, sowed, perhaps even without realizing it, the seed of a new civilization which would develop, integrating Christian values with classical heritage, on the one hand, and Germanic and Slav cultures on the other...Benedict did not found a monastic institution oriented primarily to the evangelization of barbarian peoples, as other great missionary monks of the time, but indicated to his followers that the fundamental, and even more, the sole objective of existence is the search for God: 'Quaerere Deum."

OK, what's the lesson for today?

...when the believer enters into a profound relationship with God, he cannot be content with living in a mediocre way, with a minimal ethic and superficial religiosity..In this light, one understands better the expression that Benedict took from St. Cyprian: "Prefer nothing to the love of Christ." Holiness consists in this valid proposal for every Christian that has become a true pastoral imperative in our time, in which one perceives the need to anchor life and history in solid spiritual references.

Though inevitably short on detail, therein lies the germ of "the program." That's what Ratzinger's choice of the name 'Benedict' is about. It hearkens back to the stated thesis of the Subiaco lecture that Ratzinger gave the day before John Paul's death and that Magister so strongly emphasized: What we need most at this moment of history are men that, through an enlightened and lived faith, render God credible in this world.

In other words, the way to restore the Church's credibility today, for believers and unbelievers alike, is for Catholics in general to become genuine Catholics again: to form a more "intentional community" by anchoring life and history in "solid spiritual references." That is why the still-new pope is so interested in improving both the celebration of the Roman liturgy and ecumenical ties with the Orthodox. Solid indeed—and ancient in pedigree. That is why, beyond all motives of ecclesiastico-political self-interest, he is so uncompromising in his opposition to EU secularism and the ever-widening "culture of death." That is why he has appointed to his old job an American archbishop intimately familiar with all aspects of the sex-abuse-and-coverup scandal. It begins to make sense. Benedict wants to re-interiorize Catholicism by redirecting the Church's sources from the polluted waters of progressivism and materialism, drawing her sap anew from the healthiest old roots.

We now have the template for this pontificate. I eagerly await more detail. Not everybody will be pleased—which is just as it should be.

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