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Navigating the Uncharted Waters of Pope Benedict’s Retirement

The final Angelus – 24 February 2013. Handout photo provided by Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano. EFE/EPA/OSSERVATORE

So, we’ve had 16 days to accustom ourselves to the retirement of Pope Benedict XVI, our 266th pope in the line of succession beginning with the Rock, St. Peter. By now most of us have shaken off the fog of shock and have taken a more resolute pose. As the leader of the world’s 1.2 Billion Catholics, however, Benedict’s unusual step has left us as quite the Papa-ratzi. News reports by the dozens appear hourly to feed our need to know. What will we call him, where is he going, and what about that all important Twitter account with its 1,582,730 followers? For that matter, what about those indulgences that we obtain for praying for the intentions of the Holy Father when we have no sitting Pope? In an effort to answer some of the questions that have caught my fancy, I will share some answers and their sources.

Q: Since this is an unprecedented occurrence in modern times, what in the world shall we call him when he leaves?

A: His Holiness, Benedict XVI, Bishop Emeritus of Rome will be his new title according to both Patheos and Zenit.

Q: What changes has he made to the rituals for new pope’s inauguration?

A: “One of the most visual changes, he said, would be the restoration of the public “act of obedience” in which each cardinal present at the pope’s inaugural Mass comes forward and offers his allegiance.”

Q: So what will he be doing after 8:00 p.m. (Rome time), February 28, when he steps away from the Seat of Saint Peter?

A: According to his own words, “I, retired in prayer, will always be with you, and together we will move ahead with the Lord in certainty. The Lord is victorious.” After a brief stay at Castel Gandolfo, the Papal summer home, he will dedicate himself to a life of prayer and study in a Vatican-based monastery.

Q: But isn’t he abandoning the Church at a very tumultuous time?

A: No, Benedict is not abandoning the Church. Perhaps in anticipation of this question he clarified, “…this does not mean abandoning the Church,” he qualified. “Indeed, if God asks me this it is just so that I can continue to serve with the same dedication and the same love with which I have done so far, but in a way more suited to my age and for me.”

Q: What about the indulgences that are obtained by those who pray for the Intentions of the Holy Father when we have no sitting Pope?

A: Surprisingly, the answer is yes! According to a post by Fr. Zuhlsdorf, “The faithful are able to obtain plenary indulgences during the “Sede Vacante” time, where there is no Pope.As a matter of fact, the Church holds matters of internal forum and of indulgences to be so important for the faithful that the office of the Major Penitentiary (who oversees these matters for the Apostolic Penitentiary) is one of the few that does not cease when the Pope dies or resigns”.  Actually, this question was addressed after the death of Pope John Paul II after his death in 2005.

Q: Doesn’t this move us closer to the Prophecy of St. Malachy and his list, where he predicts that Benedict XVI’s successor will be the last pope? Are we to conclude that we are nearing the end?

A: There are strong indications that the List of St. Malachy is a fraud. According to Catholic Answers, “(t)he consensus among modern scholars is that it is a 16th-century forgery created for partisan political reasons”. We must remember that predictions of the end times were warned against in the Bible…“but of that day or hour no man knoweth, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father”.

Q: Will the conclave begin earlier, shortening the expected month long wait, and how many Cardinals will participate?

A: In his motu proprio Normas nonnullas (22 feb 2012), Pope Benedict has given authorization for the conclave to begin earlier. Sources at the National Catholic Register report that “the conclave to choose the next pope will likely begin between March 9 and 11”. We may have a new pope by Easter! This decision, however, now “falls squarely within the pontifical provisions for a conclave, and one may leave the choice of a start-date to the competent authority without further concern for the legality of the assembly” according to canonist Ed Peters.

There will be 118 Cardinals in the conclave.

Q: Will the virally popular Papal Twitter account, @pontifex, be shut down when the Holy Father steps down?

A: In a word, no. It will go dormant while we await the election of our new pope, however, as soon as he steps into his role as Vicar of Christ he will be free to take up what his predecessor started. It appears that Benedict chose the name “Pontifex”  wisely, in anticipation of a seamless transition from pope to pope. The name means “bridge builder” or “pope” .

This is but a small sampling of the questions that have arisen since Pope Benedict XVI made his announcement. Catholic Sistas (CS) is also involved in a Q & A endeavor over at Electing the Pope. Here you will find many more questions and answers, with sources, some of which are being provided by Ink Slingers. You will also able to post questions of your own.40 Days of Prayer for the Pope

Don’t forget that CS also has their 40 Days of Prayer for the Seat of Saint Peter posted on our Facebook fan page. There we post a brief prayer every day – from February 22 (Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter) through April 1. Won’t you join us in praying for Pope Benedict XVI and his successor? You might also be interested in reading our Open Letter to Our Beloved Papa, where the Ink Slingers share their thoughts, prayers, and admiration of this wonderful pope who has given us so much in his eight years as our Pontiff.

May we never forget the good done by this gentle German Shepherd of ours!

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Pope Benedict XVI to Step Down – Were the Signs There ?

The historic news of the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI came as a surprise to laity and Church leaders alike; he will be only the 5th pope to do so, in the history of the Church founded by Jesus Himself. Faithful Catholics had reveled in the firm yet gentle reign of our German Shepherd as he worked diligently to reform the reform of the Church. The reversion back to a more accurate translation of Mass responses, prayers, and form was met with a tepid response by modernists but those of us who take pride in our ancient practices were heartened to have more solemnity and reverence reintroduced into the living sacrifice that is the Holy Mass. As a German myself, I felt a kinship with Papa Benedict and found myself smiling and nodding whenever he spoke or wrote about all things Catholic.

He was also a staunch protector of the unborn and reiterated time and again the supreme importance of the sanctity of life. As a pro-life advocate, I found myself frequently quoting a never ending supply of his pronouncements on the subject. The poor and forgotten were also consistently championed by him as were all people, regardless of religious affiliation. He worked tirelessly and traveled extensively with no regard for his personal safety or comfort but was greeted with joyful welcome wherever he went. I prayed, on a regular basis, that he would be with us for many years to come, as I saw the Church begin flourishing in renewal under his reign.

What we are seeing in retrospect, however, is that there had been clues to be found, pointing toward this unusual step he has taken. On April 29, 2009, few pundits or faithful took particular notice when Pope Benedict visited the tomb of Pope St. Celestine V in Aquila, Italy. Celestine was a rather obscure medieval Pope, whose reign began in 1294. As was the case with Josef Cardinal  Ratizinger (aged 78 at the time of election), Fr. Pietro Angelerio was a devout and holy priest who was also reluctant to become Pope at an advanced age (he was 80). In fact, just a brief five months after his election, Pope Celestine V issued a formal decree that allowed popes to resign. Shortly afterward, he exercised that right.

We can now look back and remember that Pope Benedict XVI prayed and then left his palluim on top of Celestine’s tomb. The leaving of the symbol of his episcopal authority as Bishop of Rome appears to have had significance that was lost on the world at the time. Additionally, he went out of his way to visit and pray in the Cathedral of Sulmona fifteen months later. There reside the relics of the same St. Celestine V. It would be a stretch to attribute these actions as mere coincidence, given today’s news, since they point toward a spiritual journey leading to his decision to step aside. Considering Pope Benedict’s analytical style of thought and his thorough attention to detail gives these actions new meaning in light of the announcement made today. Although the obvious symbolism is not lost to us, we now see a deeper more profound intent come to light. Pope Benedict XVI was signalling his intention to resign and the minor rumors that had arisen a few months prior, bear more weight now that his decision has been announced.

On a very human level I feel bereft, as if some indispensable member of my family is moving far away.This pope, with his gentle yet firm hand, has been one to whom I could relate so well. Our German Shepherd’s words and writings resonated with me as if he were my own Opa (grandfather). I love him with a depth that surprises me and pray that the twilight of his years will be spent in the peace that comes from a job well done. He has served us well and his toil for the people of God will stand the test of time. Well done, good and faithful servant. You have given me the gift of a deeper faith and a stronger determination for serving the Church founded by Christ Himself. ‘And the gates of hell will not prevail against her!’. Vielen Dank und möge Gott Sie segnen*.

 ‎”After the three days of darkness, St. Peter and St. Paul, having come down from Heaven, will preach in the whole world and designate a new Pope. A great light will flash from their bodies and will settle upon the cardinal who is to become Pope. Christianity, then, will spread throughout the world. He is the Holy Pontiff, chosen by God to withstand the storm. At the end, he will have the gift of miracles, and his name shall be praised over the whole earth. Whole nations will come back to the Church and the face of the earth will be renewed. Russia, England, and China will come into the Church.” (Prophecy of Blessed Anna Maria Taigi (1769-1837 A.D.) who was Beatified by Pope Bendedict XV in 1920.)

*Many thanks and may God greatly bless you!

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Breeding Power

Idiocracy, 20th Century Fox Film, 2006

A few months ago, a movie rental named Idiocracy arrived in a familiar red envelope to our home. It features Luke Wilson as perfectly average Private Joe Bauers who is selected for a military experiment to be kept in a state of hibernation, which accidentally lasts 500 years. When his little time capsule opens up, Joe hatches to a very, very different culture, as you would imagine. Joe finds himself to be, by far, the most intelligent, educated and civilized person on the planet. The movie compares two schools of thought in the early 2000’s by contrasting a well off, educated, career driven couple to a particular man, living in a trailer park, not so well off, not so well educated, and utterly unrefined. The couple is interviewed several times through their lifespan, each time agreeing that it’s just not the right time to have a child. They have many different reasons for postponing or preventing pregnancy, whether their goals are in the way, or the world just doesn’t seem fit for bringing forth a child. The couple goes on to never have children. Meanwhile, their counterpart, the man in the trailer park, proceeds to have many, many children with his wife, and with his mistresses, presumably because he just can’t seem to control himself. Therefore, Private Joe awakens 500 years later to a world populated by the offspring of the man and his many partners, which results in a movie displaying mostly crass and disgusting behavior.

Idiocracy, however, did get one thing very right. Our world is indeed changing demographically, generation by generation, due to the birth control mentality. There are two mentalities working to change the population 1) post-poning, preventing and terminating pregnancies due to less than ideal circumstances (finances, convenience, career, desires, fetal medical issues) and 2) embracing fertility by having several to many children. The philosophy of those in the first camp are literally practicing themselves into endangerment. Sure, world wide, our population is at an all time high of seven billion, but certain groups are dwindling none-the-less.

“Children, our future, are perceived as a threat to the present.”

Pope Benedict XVI

In New York, home of Planned Parenthood, 41% of all pregnancies end in abortion. However, it is not 40% across every race, 60% of all African American pregnancies end in abortion. Just think about how the demographics of daycare centers and schools are changing because of these numbers. And think about how much older the city is getting as those who have been allowed to live are living longer due to amazing medical advances, yet the pre-born are being avoided or snuffed out. Planned Parenthood gets to sit by and watch these chilling statistics (as they help eliminate not just people, but races of people) with the excuse this isn’t eugenics, it’s “choice”. Now, these are only abortion statistics, just think of the number of children across all races that are never conceived due to other methods of birth control.

Europe seems to be a leading example of a culture practicing themselves into extinction. A birth rate of 2.1 children per woman is accepted as the replacement rate for a group of people to remain at the same population, to account for the woman, a man, and to make up for others who never have children (by infertility, by choice, by vocation or by death). However, parts of Europe have a birth rate that has plummeted to 1.3 births per woman. This rate is leading Europe into endangerment as, within our lifetime, their population will be cut in half and the damage will become statistically irreversible. Towns have already become desolate, and government incentives exist for simply having a baby.

Photo by David L. Ryan, The Boston Globe 2005

A third example I would like to site is the decline of “Mainline Protestant” churches. The leading factor for the trend is the low birth rate due to their teachings on contraception and abortion. They simply aren’t having enough children to replace themselves. Meanwhile, conservative Evangelical/Fundamental churches, and the Catholic Church are maintaining and and even rising in population, in part, due to higher birth rates. For example, the Roman Catholic Church has always taught a married couple is to remain open to life, and that it should only be under grave circumstances a couple avoid or delay pregnancy. While certainly not all Catholic couples adhere to this teaching, enough couples are such that there is a correlation between teachings on openness to life and birth rate.

I once read a quote from Mother Teresa where she said the way to end abortion is to have another baby. I didn’t really get it at the time, and thought she was just being a sweet holy lady. But no, this advice is profoundly wise. She’s pointing out the power of people, the power of human life, especially the power of a future activist and voter.

The populations that are embracing abortion and contraception are not having enough babies to pass along their population control teachings to. They are championing for reproductive rights, yet their practice prohibits contribution to future generations who should “benefit” from those rights. Just how good is a philosophy if it works against someone in such a basic way? Here’s where the Idiocracy movie comes back in. As the generations continue, we’ll see the results of all the birth controlling. Those controlling their reproduction will have left a small, dwindling legacy behind, while the descendants of those open to life will have gained more than the majority’s share and will be taking over, so to speak. Just think about how common the name Duggar will be in Arkansas in just a handful of generations (even if all 19 kids don’t go on to have 19 of their own). Meanwhile where did the Joneses go? What will the world look like, demographically, in the future? As Idiocracy pointed out, the future does lie in the hands of those who are having (and teaching) the most children. Opponents of openness to life degrade the philosophy as “breeding” in an attempt to devalue the very thing that will triumph over them. Yet, the future undeniably lies with those who embrace the power of the human fetus.

P.S. I do not encourage you to watch Idiocracy, it’s not worth your time.


The Beauty of Truth

I plucked a red pepper out of the garden yesterday.  It was well formed with rounded quadrants at the top and bottom.  The skin was soft, smooth and ruby red.  The stem was perky and green and still had a leaf attached.  It had a scent of pepper mingling with sweetness.  It was simply beautiful.  It sits on my window sill and I gaze at it when I am at the sink.  I tend to put small beautiful things on my window sill.  A small painted animal or a miniature vase of flowers from the yard.  I spend a lot of time in my kitchen and I like to surround myself with beautiful things.   Making beautiful things gives me great pleasure, too. When I cook, I am aware of the color and presentation of the food as much as the taste.  I consider the color of the platter and how it will complement my entree.  There is something about beauty, wherever it is found, that captivates us and makes us pause for a moment.  But, what is in that moment?  Why do we desire beauty in our lives?

My appreciation for beauty in art led me to Florence, Italy when I was in college. There,  I had the opportunity to explore the San Marco Monastery in Florence, a former monastery turned museum.  In the hallways and on each dormitory wall, Fra Angelico, had painted a fresco depicting moments in Christ’s life.  I stood in each nearly empty dorm and imagined what it must have been like to awaken in this spartan room to nothing but walls, the floor and a beautiful fresco.   The intent of the fresco was to put each monk into the contemplative, peaceful mindset that is required of their vocation.  These colors and lines and symbols telling the story of our Lord gave an ethereal richness to the impoverished life of these monks.  In the enclosed courtyard of the monastery, another monk was tasked with maintaining a beautiful rose garden.  Each plant was carefully tended to produce a perfect rose.  Others spent their days creating manuscripts with elegant calligraphy and illuminations.  I left the monastery thinking that it was as if they traded all the fleeting treasures of this  secular world to live amidst the beauty of  eternal truth.

The life of Christ has inspired some of the most magnificent works of beauty known to man.  A beauty that is set apart from a secular idea of beauty that only seeks to display an individual’s wealth or to celebrate the empty promise of hedonism.    During my time in Florence and Rome, I was able to experience coming face to face with transcendant beauty created by  many gifted painters.  Not just Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, but their many apprentices, too.  And not just painting, but literature, architecture, and music has also been created by man over the centuries to glorify God.  We have G.K. Chesterton, Flannery O’Connor, and  Robert Southwell to name a few authors whose writings use the beauty of language in either its poetic or reasonable character to reveal the truth.

By stark contrast, when beauty is absent, we find darkness, confusion, destruction and despair.  When the towers fell, ten years ago on September 11, 2001, we witnessed the opposite of creation.  We witnessed destruction.  The images that emerged from that tragic day were filled with darkness, confusion, destruction and despair.  In the same way, we pause and we are captivated.  But there is something very different that moment when we behold ugliness. When something is created to glorify God, there will be transcendant beauty.  If we really believe this to be true, we must question how war and acts of war can ever be considered acts that glorify God.  In light of the recent conflicts, Pope Benedict has said that we need to be “asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a ‘just war’.”  This weekend, as we revisit the tragic events of ten years ago and the attendant images,  I hope we can pause and reflect on how we can resolve the problems in the world without turning to acts of war, but rather by seeking to build up God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

When the first tower was struck ten years ago, I was eight months pregnant with my first born son.  I was also working part-time as an art therapist with children in foster care.   Art therapists use art to encourage healing from trauma.  It occurred to me at that time that we, as a country, had been traumatized.  And we have needed healing.  Since September 11, 2001, we have each done our part to restore beauty to the landscape of our life.  There are so many little ways that we can participate in God’s ongoing creation.  We can start in simple ways each day.  Plant a garden, knit a scarf, paint a picture, play a song on the piano, write a poem and take moments to experience and appreciate beauty wherever you can find it.  And create it where it is lacking.

from New Heaven, New War by Robert Southwell

With tears He fights and wins the field,

His naked breast stands for a shield,

His battering shot are babish cries,

His arrows, looks of weeping eyes,

His martial ensigns, cold and need,

And feeble flesh His warrior’s steed.
Botticelli, Madonna of the Magnificat, Ufizi Musem, Florence

Be “in” the World, not “of” the World

Pope Benedict speaking to the masses at World Youth Day

Interested in seeing what sort of news there was about World Youth Day in Madrid, Spain this year, I Googled “Pope visits Spain” to see what came up. What  surprised me was not the many articles on World Youth Day and his goals of inspiring the masses, but the several articles that came up detailing him being protested.

I’ve always found it interesting how bad news makes for the most popular stories, and it seems ever more likely that bad news regarding the Catholic Church is bound to get far more press than good news. These articles ignore the nearly 1 million attendees at World Youth Day while promoting the cause of the roughly 1,000 protesters whose range of complaints stretch from the Church’s stance on gay marriage to the Pope’s perceived culpability in sexual abuse scandals.

More loathsome than the emphasis on protests are the comments from readers that follow the articles. Any Catholic, and indeed any reasonable Christian, would feel at least a little nauseated after reading some of the vitriol posted about the Church, the Pope, or Christians in general. To summarize their general flavor, the Catholic Church, the Pope, and indeed all Catholics are nitwits, pedophiles, and intolerant hateful bigots. I was about to get angry about all this, and then I realized something.

This is what is supposed to happen. The hate, the disgust, the bad media—these only prove that we are doing something right. Christ even told us, in John 15:18-19, “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you.”

The poor reaction of the world to our Church only highlights the need to be ever more present with our faith. And what better way to be present in the world (without being “of” the world), especially as the younger generation continuing the faith, than to participate in an event like World Youth Day?  What is more evident today of the strength of our Church than a mass of young people coming together bearing rosaries, scapulars, bibles, prayer books, and catechisms. And most importantly, bearing a common prayer of thanksgiving for the faith we’ve been given and for the most holy sacrifice our Lord made for us so that we might be able to stand together, cleansed of sin, and pray for the transformation of those protesters whose hearts have been hardened to Christ’s love.