18 April 2010

Pope Benedict XVI: Bastion of Christian Unity

A series of brief essays has been commissioned by the National Catholic Register to honor Pope Benedict XVI on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of his election. I was asked to participate, and wrote the following essay, Bastion of Christian Unity.

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In 1983 I was a young priest, so recently ordained it seemed the chrism was still clinging to my hands, and I found myself at the dining table of the future Pope Benedict XVI.

Of course, those of us together that evening in Rome could not have known that His Eminence, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, would become the Successor of St. Peter. We had been invited by him to celebrate the completion of our work on the Book of Divine Worship, which would be for liturgical use by the Anglicans entering the Church through the Pastoral Provision of Pope (now Venerable) John Paul II.

To those of us who are converts from Anglicanism, it is not altogether surprising that Pope Benedict XVI should have issued Anglicanorum Coetibus this past year, outlining the establishment of personal ordinariates for the purpose of preserving and nurturing an Anglican patrimony in full communion with the See of Peter.

It is the capstone to his longtime interest in helping Anglicans return to their spiritual roots in the Catholic Church. In fact, it appears to be one component in his larger purpose of bringing about Christian unity.

When we consider this generous response to Anglicans, along with his outreach to those with a particular attachment to the traditional Latin Mass through his “motu proprio” Summorum Pontificum and his constant articulation of the urgent need for the Church to follow his predecessor’s call for a New Evangelization, it is evident why there are increasing references to him as the “Pope of Christian Unity.”

Nisi Dominus ædificaverit domum, in vanum laboraverunt qui ædificant eam (Unless the Lord builds the house, they who build it work on a useless thing). During all the years of his public ministry — as a priest, a bishop, a cardinal and now as Pope — it is plain that the Holy Father has always known in whose house he labors. It is in his forthright love for the Church — the house built by the Lord — that he is at his most compelling.

Certainly, he is a brilliant scholar and a forceful writer; but it is as the Pope that he shows himself to be a papa who loves his children, and who has the paternal desire that they be united in the one house built by the Lord.

Pope Benedict XVI has the particular gift of clarifying the truth, and with that gift is his ability to help those who are seeking a fuller experience of the Christian faith to understand that the completeness of truth is to be found in the Catholic Church. In this way, he is a pontifex (bridge-builder) providing a clear way into the security of Christ’s holy Catholic Church for the growing numbers of those who recognize the uncertainty of remaining outside full communion with the See of Peter.

Our Lord was not expressing a vague hope when he prayed “Ut unum sint” (May they be one). It was a divine command, and it appears that Pope Benedict XVI is taking it as a direct and personal order from Christ himself.