Benedict XVI on the “Two Councils”

In one of his last public speeches last week, Pope Benedict offered a powerful reflection on the time he spent as an expert or peritus at the Second Vatican Council. The speech is at once chilling and hopeful. As we Catholics continue our journey in this year of faith, it is particularly valuable to consider what Vatican II actually taught vs. what people think it taught–and, most importantly, how we can put into practice what we now know it taught. The following part on the “two councils” is especially timely:

I would now like to add yet a third point: there was the Council of the Fathers–“the real Council”–but there was also the Council of the media. It was almost a Council apart, and the world perceived the Council through the latter, through the media. Thus, the Council that reached the people with immediate effect was that of the media, not that of the Fathers. And while the Council of the Fathers was conducted within the faith–it was a Council of faith seeking intellectus, seeking to understand itself and seeking to understand the signs of God at that time, seeking to respond to the challenge of God at that time and to find in the word of God a word for today and tomorrow–while all the Council, as I said, moved within the faith, as fides quaerens intellectum, the Council of the journalists, naturally, was not conducted within the faith, but within the categories of today’s media, namely apart from faith, with a different hermeneutic. It was a political hermeneutic: for the media, the Council was a political struggle, a power struggle between different trends in the Church.

We know that this Council of the media was accessible to everyone. Therefore, this was the dominant one, the more effective one, and it created so many disasters, so many problems, so much suffering: seminaries closed, convents closed, banal liturgy–and the real Council had difficulty establishing itself and taking shape; the virtual Council was stronger than the real Council. But the real force of the Council was present and, slowly but surely, established itself more and more and became the true force which is also the true reform, the true renewal of the Church. It seems to me that, 50 years after the Council, we see that this virtual Council is broken, is lost, and there now appears the true Council with all its spiritual force. And it is our task, especially in this Year of Faith, on the basis of this Year of Faith, to work so that the true Council, with its power of the Holy Spirit, be accomplished and the Church be truly renewed. Let us hope that that the Lord will assist us. I myself, secluded in prayer, will always be with you and together let us go forward with the Lord in the certainty that the Lord will conquer.

Benedict’s entire talk can be found here. For a much fuller treatment of these issues and more, I recommend reading Ratzinger’s book Theological Highlights of Vatican II which comprises his expert reflections written soon after the council.

Pope Benedict XVI’s Resignation: An Act of Holiness, Humility, and Courage

When I awoke to the news of Pope Benedict resigning the other day, I had to check my calendar to make sure it wasn’t April 1. Too bad on two counts: it was not April Fool’s Day, and it was not Spring in Kansas. To say the least, I am very sad that our Holy Father is stepping down–not the least reason being that he still has two important documents (on Faith and the New Evangelization) that are–or were–due out. Much ink has already been spilt in the media covering this event. What I’d like to do is summarize a few key points and link to some of my favorite pieces which attest to the truth of this post’s headline.

2009: Benedict left his pallium at the tomb of Pope St. Celestine V. As Scott Hahn puts it in this piece, Celestine did not resign because he was a saint. Like Benedict, he resigned in order to become a saint–to complete his earthly pilgrimage in a life dedicated totally to prayer for the Church.

2010: In his book Light of the World, Benedict argued that there are times a pope could, and should, resign. That year, according to Benedict, was not the right time. A pope should not resign in times of particular turmoil or when people are calling for one’s resignation–as was the situation at the height of the clergy abuse crisis that year and in the case of John Paul II in his declining years. Benedict was already tired in 2010, already using a pacemaker, but like JPII he kept fighting the good fight.

2013: In his papal resignation speech, Benedict explained that his strength had deteriorated over the last several months to the point where he was incapable of exercising the Petrine governing office. In making this decision, Benedict broke a centuries-old precedent, and went out in a markedly different manner from his predecessor, Blessed John Paul II. Why? As we saw throughout his pontificate, Benedict was his own man. He was JPII’s right-hand man, but he wasn’t JPII. Whereas JPII’s aim was to demonstrate the sanctity of life and dignity of redemptive suffering while remaining in the Chair of Peter to the end, Benedict wanted to achieve something different but complementary. His action exuded the humility and courage that are only possible in a person of great holiness. He did what he had discerned God was calling him to do, knowing he would be misunderstood and that people will feel he failed to live up to the heroic expectations they took for granted in the life of JPII.

2/11/2013: Why did Benedict choose this day to give his 2-week notice? Popes always do things for a reason. Here something at first very subtle appears more clearly when you consider the day in light of the Catholic liturgical calendar and in view of Benedict’s comments in 2002 before becoming pope. First, this is World Day of the Sick, and Benedict is sick. It makes sense he would unite with his sufferings with those of the whole world by vacating the Chair of Peter on that day. Second, and more importantly, this is the memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes, the famous shrine in France where countless healings have occurred. In his book God and the World, Benedict discussed how he felt a special closeness with St. Bernadette of Lourdes, “a simple girl…surrounded in a century of rationalism.” Nearing her own death, Bernadette had said, “My story is quite simple. The Virgin made use of me. Then I was put in the corner. That’s my proper place; I’m happy there; that’s where I’ll stay.” Sound familiar?

Finally, here are a few local media outlets for whom I was blessed to share my reaction to the pope’s resignation: