Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Meaningful Lent, Part 11: Could I Love This Pope Any More Than I Do?

This is from the Letter of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to the Bishops of the Catholic Church regarding the remission of the excommunication of bishops consecrated by Archbishop Lefebvre.

These excerpts display Pope Benedict's depth of sincerity, humility and above all, his charity:

An unforeseen mishap for me was the fact that the Williamson case came on top of the remission of the excommunication. The discreet gesture of mercy towards four Bishops ordained validly but not legitimately suddenly appeared as something completely different: as the repudiation of reconciliation between Christians and Jews, and thus as the reversal of what the Council had laid down in this regard to guide the Church's path. A gesture of reconciliation with an ecclesial group engaged in a process of separation thus turned into its very antithesis: an apparent step backwards with regard to all the steps of reconciliation between Christians and Jews taken since the Council -- steps which my own work as a theologian had sought from the beginning to take part in and support. That this overlapping of two opposed processes took place and momentarily upset peace between Christians and Jews, as well as peace within the Church, is something which I can only deeply deplore.

Can any of us imagine what it must be like to do one's job (granted, the job description for "pope" is a unique one) under the scrutiny of the entire world? A discreet gesture of mercy rose to the top of the news slush pile and suddenly everyone was condemning the Holy Father and his purportedly wrong-headed priorities and decisions.

But, this next section speaks volumes about this man:

I was saddened by the fact that even Catholics who, after all, might have had a better knowledge of the situation, thought they had to attack me with open hostility. Precisely for this reason I thank all the more our Jewish friends, who quickly helped to clear up the misunderstanding and to restore the atmosphere of friendship and trust which -- as in the days of Pope John Paul II -- has also existed throughout my pontificate and, thank God, continues to exist.

How often do we who should know better attack others with open hostility? A question worth pondering in these remaining days of Lent.

A little more from the Holy Father:

So if the arduous task of working for faith, hope and love in the world is presently (and, in various ways, always) the Church's real priority, then part of this is also made up of acts of reconciliation, small and not so small. That the quiet gesture of extending a hand gave rise to a huge uproar, and thus became exactly the opposite of a gesture of reconciliation, is a fact which we must accept. But I ask now: Was it, and is it, truly wrong in this case to meet half-way the brother who "has something against you" (cf. Mt 5:23ff.) and to seek reconciliation?

... Should not we, as good educators, also be capable of overlooking various faults and making every effort to open up broader vistas? And should we not admit that some unpleasant things have also emerged in Church circles? At times one gets the impression that our society needs to have at least one group to which no tolerance may be shown; which one can easily attack and hate. And should someone dare to approach them -- in this case the Pope -- he too loses any right to tolerance; he too can be treated hatefully, without misgiving or restraint.

Dear Brothers, during the days when I first had the idea of writing this letter, by chance, during a visit to the Roman Seminary, I had to interpret and comment on Galatians 5:13-15. I was surprised at the directness with which that passage speaks to us about the present moment: "Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself'. But if you bite and devour
one another, take heed that you are not consumed by one another." I am always tempted to see these words as another of the rhetorical excesses which we occasionally find in Saint Paul. To some extent that may also be the case. But sad to say, this "biting and devouring" also exists in the Church today, as expression of a poorly understood freedom.

Should we be surprised that we too are no better than the Galatians? That at the very least we are threatened by the same temptations? That we must always learn anew the proper use of freedom? And that we must always learn anew the supreme priority, which is love?

My prayer for the remainder of Lent:

Father, let me learn anew the proper use of my freedom, and let me learn anew the supreme priority of love.

Read the entire letter here, and h/t to the Catholic Education Resource Center.


sarah said...

I liked him from the start, knowing nothing about him, and have tried to resist still liking him after learning more about his history - but darn it if he doesn't keep on saying beautiful, loving, often liberal things which make him irresistable to me.

Sarah Reinhard said...

I just love Papa too, and this letter, in particular, was a fine, fine work. I read it, and then listened to Fr. Z read it on his podcast, and now you've brought it to my attention again. For me, it's a lesson in humility (which I can always use). Thanks, Karen! :)