The Twofold Message of Benedict XVI

Readers may have gleaned today that I am somewhat concerned about the state of Catholic blogging and in particular how we interact with each other online in a 'virtual world' in which it is so easy to forget that a person's presence on the internet does not render them in some way less than human.

I am open to the idea that I am completely and utterly wrong about this and there is 'no problem' here, but it seems to me that there is a genuine disconnect between how we relate to other Catholics - and 'the other' online and how we would behave if we were in the same room as them. There is then, of course, the scandal that with some Catholics, we would not wish to be seen dead in the same room as them. The ease with which the internet allows words to be so easily used or thrown about, without face-to-face contact, gives us plenty more temptations than normal custom would permit to indulge our anger, frustration and even our hatred of an opponent. There are things we say online that we would never dream of saying to someone's face - no matter how much we disagreed with them, or thought their opinion to be entirely false and wrong.

As Catholic bloggers, we are often wistful in our remembrance of the reign of Benedict XVI because of the assurance with which Benedict XVI governed the Church. There was never any question under Benedict XVI that any article of the faith or any doctrine handed down to him was in any way 'unsafe'. Benedict XVI's clear belief, before, during and after his resignation, was that truth would win and that the Catholic Church's Head was and is Our Lord Jesus Christ Who will keep the Church and be with the Church until the end of time, nourishing Her and feeding Her in time of trouble and persecution or time of peace and liberty.

Yet, love of and adherence to the Truth was not the only reason that Benedict XVI was admired. There was a gentleness and holiness to the personality of Benedict that remains deeply attractive to those who lived through his reign. The depth of his knowledge of the Scriptures, his personal humility, his gentle manner, his courtesy and respect for others, his fervent life of prayer, his prudence, his wisdom, his obedience to the Church's holy tradition, his self-effacing manner and penetrating spiritual insights. Benedict XVI was - and is - graced by many heavenly virtues for which we may earnestly thank the Lord. His pontificate was marked by the building of bridges towards those who had strayed from or who were placed outside of the path leading to Salvation. Benedict XVI's liturgical vision was about manifesting, showing forth - the beauty and attractiveness of Jesus Christ and His Gospel. For him, everything was - is - centred on Christ. Contrary to popular belief, Benedict XVI was not about expelling those in the centre to the peripheries, or pushing those on the peripheries out of the Church, but was about bringing those on the margins into the centre to discover the joy of the worship of God and the discovery of His mercy and truth.

Benedict XVI: Not a liberal, but a Pope, a scholar and a gentleman
Benedict XVI, before he departed from the Throne of St Peter lamented the sin and disunity that wounds the Bride of Christ. His thoughts were thus:

The readings that have just been proclaimed offer us ideas which, by the grace of God, we are called to transform into a concrete attitude and behaviour during Lent. First of all the Church proposes the powerful appeal which the prophet Joel addresses to the people of Israel, "Thus says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning" (2.12). 
Please note the phrase "with all your heart," which means from the very core of our thoughts and feelings, from the roots of our decisions, choices and actions, with a gesture of total and radical freedom. But is this return to God possible? Yes, because there is a force that does not reside in our hearts, but that emanates from the heart of God and the power of His mercy. The prophet says: "return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and relenting in punishment" (v. 13).
It is possible to return to the Lord, it is a 'grace', because it is the work of God and the fruit of faith that we entrust to His mercy. But this return to God becomes a reality in our lives only when the grace of God penetrates and moves our innermost core, gifting us the power that "rends the heart". 
Once again the prophet proclaims these words from God: "Rend your hearts and not your garments" (v. 13). Today, in fact, many are ready to "rend their garments" over scandals and injustices – which are of course caused by others - but few seem willing to act according to their own "heart", their own conscience and their own intentions, by allowing the Lord transform, renew and convert them.

As a blogger, and from my experience of social media, I know that I am more zealous for the conversion of others than I am of myself. I know that I am guilty of various offenses against charity on social media. Sometimes it is a 'heat of the moment' thing. I am glad I am off Twitter - that is a blessing from God after I received a 'virus' that blocked me out. Many of us Catholic bloggers would say we loved Benedict XVI and his message, but perhaps, now that he is out of the 'limelight' we forget that the example that he gave us was not only one that spoke of the truth of the Gospel reflected in each every teaching of the Church, but of the gentleness, humility and quiet courage with which it can be communicated.

We love Bishop Philip Egan, but we don't like it when he tells us to love 
our enemies and to exercise charity on the internet. We know better!
He never insulted his enemies, though he had many. His language was courteous, modest and respectful. His esteem for the dignity of each human being he encountered was quite visible. He seemed, to me at least, much more interested in 'the other' than he was of himself. Readers may think, 'Well that is how each Pope is', but the brash and sometimes coarse language in which his Successor communicates himself would suggest otherwise. As Catholics, many of us lamented - and still mourn - the loss of this wonderful Supreme Pontiff in terms of the Papacy and we still speak of the legacy which he will have left the Church. His tone was dignified, gentle, wise and prudent, generous and charitable, but there was never any suggestion that he was in any way guilty of abandoning the Catholic Truth.

It is worthy of note that upon leaving the Office of the Papacy, Benedict XVI identified 'sin' as the cause of the disunity within the Church, where we would perhaps imagine he would use the word 'error'. I wonder whether we have really accepted the Benedictine message in its fullness, since it seems clear to me now that Pope Benedict XVI did not consider only error to be a threat to the Church, but sin itself, which can manifest itself in so many different ways, in such sins as pride, lust, envy, malice, greed, slander, detraction, and the loss of our inability to 'love tenderly, act justly and walk humbly with our God'. I ask the question - and I ask it of myself - did we who claimed to be the loyal spiritual sons and daughters of this holy Pope really accept the full message of Benedict XVI or did we, too, reject him?


FrereRabit said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Bones said…
Sorry, can you perhaps explain why the model of evangelisation put forward by this great Pope is a scandal and a disgrace?

I must say you sound rather contemptuous of other bloggers. Have you ever considered joining the Guild?
Damask Rose said…
Er, um....

...Off-topic, but are you going to put pics up of "how your allotment is growing" on your blog?

I miss Papa Benedict. Lovely pics of him in the post.
Joe Potillor said…
Definitely good things to meditate upon, but I must say the present occupant of the chair does not help manners...I think the reason that some of us are so defensive of Pope Benedict XVI is that the humility was authentic, and quite frankly I do not feel the same of Pope Francis...nonetheless I pray for him.

I try to keep my comments charitable and specific, but I'm enough of a failure as it is, pray for me.
viterbo said…
"There are things we say online that we would never dream of saying to someone's face - no matter how much we disagreed with them, or thought their opinion to be entirely false and wrong." I think not so long ago this would not have been true. Not so long ago people could argue and disagree with quite a bit of gusto and this could all happen face to face. But the new 'charity' prevents us from speaking with authenticity anymore because we are being 'mean' if we strongly believe we are right and someone else is wrong - since the new charity is, 'everyone is right' in their own waaaaaay, like a starry summer night or a snow covered winter's day... Clearly we can't all be right all the time. I would think most people getting heated over a topic online would in no way wish harm on those with whom they are having a dispute. (Disputation and debate used to be the same thing) Heated disputation was crucial for the Church in striving to eliminate error (disputation doesn't have disunity as a natural bedfellow by any means).

That said, the Internet is the perfect forum for the non-sitcks-and-stones variety of venting. (as an aside I don't think anyone could ever accuse Benedict of using his public platform to 'vent'.) The internet has horizontalized communiction in a way that would make the French Revolutionaries drunk with joy. So it's easy to spend alot of virtual ink tilting towards one's betters. But these days, I wouldn't have a clue who my betters were unless I started tilting - that's the nature of a fervently horizontal society and committedly horizontal church.
viterbo said…
p.s. I don't think one could accuse you of lack of charity, at least in patience, bones - you allow the likes of a 'viterbo' to dispute here.
viterbo said…
p.s. and I really don't agree with Brother Lapin de Frerehare - there is nothing tawdry about your blog. The rhetoric of Bergoglio certainly descends into the tawdry but this is a burden we must, in charity, at least get a moments entertainment out of, for our own and others welfare.
Anonymous said…
Our Blessed Lord's words about "you whited sepulchres"come to mind. Nothing gentle there, nor in the five mentions of hell in the Sermon on the mount by the "meek and mild Jesus".
FrereRabit said…
I deleted my comment, since you misrepresented the meaning of it and added the word "scandal" which was not in my comment.
TLM333 said…
I miss Papa Benedict as well Damask. Papa Benedict was SOLID in the faith. The Catholic Church was 'well grounded' under his guidance. Many many red flags with this dear Papa. The very first was the adulation of the media. I feel he is too anxious to 'welcome back' those that are not in full communion, and to more or less 'bend' the teaching in order to swell the ranks in order to fill up the pews. Almost like he wants to get into the cesspool with the world just in order to bring them all in. Very dangerous move. Someone needs to remind him maybe that TRUTH is very attractive. LIES will cause confusion and chaos. He seems to be talking out of both sides of his mouth. Pray for him.