Saturday, 27 November 2010

The paradox at the heart of Benedict

This is the title of a piece by John Haldane in today's Times. It can be found on p.119, in the section dedicated to Faith. The piece combines being a review of "the book" and a commentary on how Pope Benedict is viewed by others. Given the hostility of much writing in the media about Pope Benedict XVI, it is a remarkably beautiful piece of writing.
As one reads the interviews in total, however, it becomes clear that Benedict wants to reassert orthodoxy while offering it with gentle gestures and outspread hands. Whatever the subject ... Benedict quietly but firmly restates the old teachings while recognising the need to find ways of re-expressing them for a complex and often confused world. It is as if, finding it impossible to pass unnoticed or to avoid major controversies, he has reconciled himself to the nature and burdens of his office and set about the task of evangelisation. affirming unambiguously the authority of the papal role he also disavows its accumulation of princely grandeur, and distinguishes sharply the office and the occupant. He speaks often of his limitations but also of the conviction that he is supported by God. This feeling goes back, I think, to the day of his election as Pope when in the course of minutes his own weakness began to be replaced by the strength of another. He says: "Even at the moment when it hit me, all I was able to say to the Lord was simply: 'What are You doing with me? Now the responsibility is Yours. You must lead me! I can't do it. If you wanted me, then You must help me!'"

It is clear that Benedict believes that his prayer on that day of election is being answered: "Now I entrust myself to the Lord and notice, yes, there is help there, something is being done that is not my own doing. In that sense there is absolutely the experience of the grace of office".
I think that this experience of the grace of office puts into context the "obvious irony in Pope Benedict's remarkable capacity to attract attention" to which John Haldane refers in the first sentence his piece (and the adverse or misleading nature of much of that publicity) and the reference towards the end of John Haldane's piece to the "humiliation heaped upon [Pope Benedict] and his Church" providing a fresh compulsion to the Holy Father's preaching of "Gospel Catholicism".

Perhaps we, too, should try to have the same confidence in the grace of office, in that grace given to Pope Benedict and also in that grace which is proper to ourselves as Catholic lay people, priests and religious.

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