Pastor's Page
By Fr. George Welzbacher
February 24, 2013

This Thursday evening at 8 o'clock (Roman time) Pope Benedict XVI, acting on his own accord, will step down from the Throne of St. Peter, having served with distinction for nearly eight years as Chief Shepherd of the Church of Christ. As Sovereign Pontiff he has won the love of faithful Catholics across the globe and the deep respect of many of the world's preeminent leaders both for his high intelligence and immense erudition and for his humility and unfeigned warmth. His has been a voice of profound wisdom, a wisdom that is the fruit of a lifetime of prayerful meditation on the truths revealed by Christ, truths translated into active loving service. It is a voice to which world leaders at least pay public deference even if, to society's detriment, they often decline to follow its counsel.

As an eminent theologian in his own right and one comprehensively familiar with what other Christian thinkers have had to say about Who and what God is and Who and what He is not, Pope Benedict is unsurpassed among his contemporaries, while remaining always aware of the extremely limited capacity of the human mind in this dark valley here below to cope with the immensity of God. Not long before his death St. Thomas Aquinas, Prince of  Theologians, was miraculously granted a slight taste, a fleeting glimpse of the Divine Grandeur.  He afterwards exclaimed "All that I have written seems now like so much straw!" Such was Thomas' own final estimate of an achievement that centuries later the illustrious Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903) would salute with the words "So many articles, so many miracles!" (the "articles" referred to being the short chapters that together constitute St. Thomas' Summary of  Theology). So, too, Pope Benedict, utterly unimpressed by his own brilliance, has never lost sight of the limited and fragile quality of all that man has achieved. Yet he has kept ever in mind the immense dignity of each and every human being, from conception to natural death, a dignity founded upon the fact that each and every human person has an immortal soul that is uniquely an image of God, a sacred and therefore inviolable image, an image that God greatly cherishes, an image cleansed from the disfigurement of evil by the Blood of God's Only- begotten Son.

Pope Benedict's own writings both before and after he donned the white robe of the papacy together with his always courteous but unintimidated defense of Christ's truth during the years in which he served as Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith assure him a place of honor among God's champions within the world's intellectual elite. But all who have heard him speak or who are so fortunate as to have had occasion to meet him in person will esteem him all the more for his being so gentle, kindly, and authentically humble a man of God.

I count myself blessed as one of those who have had the great good fortune of meeting him, known at that time - 1984 - as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Cardinal Ratzinger had agreed to spend the better part of a week in Dallas, Texas, presiding over an important theological conference. My good friend Father James Stromberg (known to many of you from his years of service on weekends here at St. John's during Father Leo Dolan's pastorate) was at that time (and for many years had so been and would subsequently so remain) Chairman of the Department of Philosophy at the University of St. Thomas. Informed that Cardinal Ratzinger had accepted an invitation to attend the Dallas conference, Father Stromberg, with the concurrence of Monsignor Terrence Murphy, President of the University (and brother-in-law of our parishioner, Georgia Murphy), had suggested to Archbishop Roach that it would be a splendid idea to invite Cardinal Ratzinger to visit the University of St. Thomas to address its faculty and student body. Archbishop Roach issued the invitation, and Cardinal Ratzinger graciously accepted.  Accordingly at the conclusion of the Dallas conference His Eminence flew on a Sunday afternoon to the Twin Cities, was met at the airport and was duly escorted to the St. Thomas campus. Though no doubt fatigued from the demands of the conference, he offered Mass that afternoon in the University Chapel for the seminarians attending university classes under the auspices of the St. John Vianney Seminary. He gave a stirring homily. Afterwards he was the guest of honor at a banquet. He also agreed to meet later that evening with the members of St. Thomas' Departments of Theology and Philosophy and with priest faculty members from other departments as well. As a member of the History Department I was privileged to attend this meeting. Cardinal Ratzinger commanded our attention and our admiration with an exhortation to maintain without equivocation the university's authentic Catholicity, making Christ's revelation, as transmitted by Christ's Church, the integrating bond of all the arts and sciences. And then he agreed, weary though by then he surely must have been, to take questions.

Awaiting my turn I was able to offer a question of my own.  I had recently read a book on the Holy Trinity written by the German theologian Father Karl Rahner, S.J. Father Rahner was one of the lionized experts -the periti - who gave counsel to the bishops assembled at the Second Vatican Council. He had in fact been one of (a much younger) Joseph Ratzinger's teachers and was reputed to be a "giant" among the thinkers breaking "new ground" in the world of theology. He was widely revered as an authority whom it would be presumptuous to challenge.

But I found the central assertion of his book on the Trinity to be profoundly disturbing. He declared that in speaking of the Trinity we should refer not so much to Three Divine Persons as to Three Modes of Existence, "Existenzmodi." I asked Cardinal Ratzinger, arguably the world's most brilliant living theologian: "Your Eminence, isn't what Father Rahner is saying in his book on the Trinity simply a warmed over serving of  the ancient Christian heresy  of Modalism?" (Modalism denied the existence of Three Distinct Persons in God, erroneously holding that there is only One Single Person who can act in three different capacities, wearing, so to speak, in succession three different hats. When the Modatist referred to God as creating, he spoke of God as Father. When he referred to God as redeeming, he spoke of God as Son. And when referring to God as Sanctifier, the Modalist spoke of God as Holy Spirit. But throughout, so asserts this deviation from the truth revealed by Christ, there is in God only One Person, acting in three distinct Modes of Existence.

Cardinal Ratzinger's answer was crisp and precise. "Yes, that is unfortunately what Father Rahner is saying." And then His Eminence went on to speak impromptu for some fifteen minutes as if he were delivering a carefully written paper that had been prepared weeks before, citing this dogmatic decree of the Church and that, this theologian and that, from across the centuries. But his most revealing comment came at the very end of his lucid exposition of the truth that the One Divine Nature is possessed from all eternity by Three Distinct Persons. If so consummate a gentleman as Cardinal Ratzinger could be spoken of a delivering a "punch" line, it was this: "And what Father Rahner forgets is that you cannot PRAY to an Existenzmodus".

That comment says it all, and it testifies to the fact that for the then Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Christ's revelation of the inner life of the Trinity was not just fascinating information to be stored somewhere in the upper reaches of the cerebral cortex; rather it provided the vision that shaped his innermost spiritual life. As so it ought to be for you and me. Pope Benedict, Holy Father, you have served Christ's Church well! And as you entrust the burden of shepherding Christ's Church to new and younger shoulders may your tireless intellect and magnanimous spirit provide new nourishment for us through your prayers and writings for many years to come!

*          *         *         *         *
Both before the Conclave that will select the next successor to St. Peter, and during the Conclave itself, let us storm the heavens with our prayers for the choice of a worthy successor to Pope Benedict, faithful and fearless defender of Christ's saving truths in all their challenging integrity.

*          *         *         *         *
A Faith Unshaken but Unsettled Declarations
by Peggy Noonan
The Wall Street Journal
Saturday/Sunday, February 16-17, 2013

It is disquieting, the resignation of the pope. "We are in uncharted territory," said a historian of the Church. An old pope is leaving but staying within the walls of the Vatican, and a new one, younger and less known, will come before Easter.

In a week's conversation with faithful and believing Catholics, I detected something I've never quite heard before, and that is a deep, unshaken, even cheerful faith accompanied by a certain anxiety, even foreboding. I heard acceptance of Pope Benedict's decision coupled with an intense sympathy for what is broadly understood to be his suffering, from health problems to the necessity that his decision was a lonely one, its deepest reasoning known only to him. There was a lot of speculation that attempting to run the Vatican in the new age of technology, of leaks and indiscretions and instant responses, would have been hard on him.

So here are some things Catholics have been telling me.

From a Catholic journalist: "I trust Papa to know that he is doing the right thing, and the best thing, for the church. She is his whole life and nothing he has ever done has been but for her good....

He would have been deliberate about the timing of his announcement, just before Lent, which "has helped to intently focus us on our prayer for the church at a time when she needs our focused prayer, fasting and sacrifice. It's a little chilling to feel the church NEEDS all three at this moment. The whole world is always a conclave but this time it may be watching more closely with eyes that are both interested and on the lookout for wolves. But ultimately, I am willing to be optimistic. I tend to take the long view on these things, because I know God's hand is always at work in everything, and that all things work for our good - in His time, though, not in ours, which is the thing that gets us unnerved."

From a parish priest in New York City: "The resignation was truly shocking, and hard to imagine. People are concerned about the successor. They're asking, what does it mean for the papacy? Will future popes be pressured to leave? Is it a sign of the technological thing that wears people out?"

From a historian of the Catholic Church: Some have been "unsettled" by the resignation because they think of the pope as a rock of stability "but Benedict's point is that he couldn't be that anymore. Christ is the head of the Church, not him. If his physical and mental circumstances were not adequate then he should get out of the way. It said a lot about his character, just as it said a lot about John Paul's that he should stay."  John Paul gave his last great lesson "by dying a holy death in front of the world." Benedict's lesson is humility and self- sacrifice.

In choosing a successor, "I think age is going to be an issue. I don't know there's any ceiling," but the cardinals will think twice about older candidates. John Paul and Benedict had returned the Church to its biblical roots: "Saint Peter was prophet and martyr, but he wasn't a manager .... The optimal outcome of this process is a vibrant evangelical pastor who hires a good manager to run the Curia for him. We don't elect popes to move slots around on organizational charts."

There is an old saying, God has already chosen the next pope, it's up to the cardinals to figure out who God's choice is. The historian observes: "That doesn't mean they'll figure it out." He remembered Benedict saying long ago when he was a cardinal, "The role of the Holy Spirit in the conclave is to prevent us from electing a pope who will completely destroy the church."

His hope: "As the dying John Paul II put everyone on their best behavior in 2005, the self- effacing humility Benedict is displaying will put everyone on their best behavior again." He's not necessarily optimistic THAT will happen.

In past conclaves there has always been an idea that America's superpower status constituted "a kind of veto" over the choosing of an American. America is so formidable, we're not going to give her the papacy too. "You don't hear that anymore," the historian said, because "people don't see us as a superpower anymore." An American pope is possible, though unlikely....

From a Catholic writer: "I can't quite say I am at peace" about Benedict's decision. But she feels "a unity of divine purpose in what the Holy Father has set in motion" and sees a certain amount of "suffering" ahead. She also sees Benedict's decision as "at once a model, and an urgent plea, and a warning."

Almost everyone I spoke to mentioned that they'd taken comfort from the words of Benedict, in a general audience in the Vatican on Ash Wednesday: "What sustains and illuminates me is the certainty that the church belongs to Christ, whose care and guidance will never be lacking...."
[Emphasis added].

*          *         *         *         *

Joseph Alois Ratzinger was born in Marktl am Inn, Bavaria, on April 16 1927 - Holy Saturday - and baptized that same day -  the first person baptized in the new Easter water. It was a sign of blessing, he wrote in a memoir, that his life from the beginning was thus immersed in the Easter mystery. He entered the minor seminary in 1939 at the age of twelve, but his studies were interrupted by World War II, when the seminary was closed and Joseph, along with most of his class, was drafted into the army at the age of sixteen.

After the war he resumed his education in philosophy and theology, and together with his brother, Georg, was ordained a priest in 1951. During the course of a twenty-year career as a professor of dogma and theology at several German universities, he earned a reputation as a gifted lecturer and learned scholar, and was present as a peritus, or theological advisor, at all four sessions of the Second Vatican Council.

He was ordained an archbishop in May of 1977 and elevated to the College of Cardinals a month later. He settled in Rome in 1981 and went on to become one of the most influential men in the Roman curia. Of the many offices he held, he is best known as the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, an authoritative advisor on doctrinal issues during his predecessor's pontificate. When he was elected the 265th successor of Peter in 2005 at the age of seventy-eight, he became the first German pope since Victor II in the eleventh century. A central theme of his papacy has been the staunch defense of core Christian values against what he sees as moral decline across much of Europe. At the same time, he has sought to improve relations with other religions, trying to determine if a "cultural synthesis" is possible without losing the identity of the faith while engaged in discourse with the Lutheran World Federation, Judaism, Islam, the Anglican Communion, and Christian Orthodox Churches. He has also spoken out against human rights abuses and ongoing political conflicts and warfare, and has advocated better protection of the environment. He has called for a radical rethinking of the global economy, criticizing the growing divide between rich and poor, and has pressed for a "true world political authority" to oversee the economy and work for the common good.

Ever true to his episcopal motto, "Fellow Worker in the Truth," Pope Benedict XVI's teaching and prolific writings have always defended traditional Catholic doctrine and values.

On February 11, 2013, Pope Benedict XVI announced that on February 28, 2013, he would resign as supreme pontiff due to his advanced age and deteriorating health and that a conclave would be convened shortly thereafter to elect a new pope.

*          *         *         *         *