Archive for February, 2013

The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI has stirred up much thought in those who can see the importance of the event. People who are indifferent to the Catholic Church like many British people, or those in our country hostile to the Church would probably not be bothered and that is perfectly understandable.


Like other Catholics and Christians of other Churches, I have found myself deeply interested in what is going on. At first I doubted the truth of the announcement, then felt sad and sorrowful, confused at what may happen, and uncertain about the future. Later I realised the greatness of Pope Benedict and his response a disciple of Christ. The expressions of sorrow at the departure of Pope Benedict come from all over the world, and I suspect from the humblest Catholic to the most influential dignitaries in the Church.


When Pope John Paul 2 wrote his famous encyclical in 1995 Ut Unum Sint (May they all be One), he asked for all the Churches to join in with the Catholic Church to reflect on the role of the Papacy for all the Christian Churches. Pope John Paul 2 acknowledged that the papacy itself was an obstacle to Christian Unity because of the whole story of the divisions within Christianity.

The theological issues are discussed in learned papers by learned people. The one issue that comes to my mind is the fact that there is increasing interest in the Papal Office in recent times. This in itself may be part of the issue. It is said that one in three of all human beings spent some time watching the funeral of Pope John Paul 2 in 2005. It is also said that those attending Papal audiences have simply increased and increased, and we from the Parish certainly experienced the much longer queues and many more people the last time we were there with a Parish Pilgrimage about five years ago.

Some people may see this huge desire to see the Pope as completely out of proportion. The office of the Papacy is given a kind of “god-like quality” that they may feel is wrong.


Now for the first time in 600 years a Pope had decided to resign. This might begin to throw all the “exaggeration” (if it is exaggeration) about the Papacy into confusion. The fact is that we Catholic Christians say the Papacy is the centre of unity of our Church. To be a Catholic means being in communion with the Pope and this happens through the Bishops of each diocese who are themselves in communion with the Pope. Is it this truth that leads to the millions of people each year wanting to visit Rome and see the Pope? He is the one who guarantees the fidelity to the Apostolic tradition alongside the Bishops of the Church who are united with him. In the end communion with the Pope is not complex; however in practice unity is not always easy to maintain with both Pope and the Bishops. We need to be in communion with both.


If we ask what in our confusing and rapidly changing world lasts for ever, the answer would be the Word of God. “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” (Is 40: 8) Interestingly the Pope and the Curia are having a retreat this week from Cardinal Ravisi, and he speaks in what might seem the opposite sense, of the fragility of the Word : (“The Word) is extremely fragile – because once said, it passes away – but at the same time it has a particular efficacy, because communication would not exist without the Word.” The Word of God is not just words spoken or read (even from the Bible) but we know the Word of God is a person, Jesus himself. The Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us, and He died and rose again and is still with us. “I am with you till the end of time.”( Mt 28: 20) The challenge for us is truly to know and have a relationship with Jesus. In other words it is God who remains for ever and He is Love.


In the light of all this I would like to put into this blog the 20 frequently asked questions that have been answered by Fr. Lombardi, director of the Vatican Press Office. The questions are very relevant and the answers are clear and concise.

In the meantime may we all pray for Pope Benedict XVI and for those responsible for the election of the next Pope.


Some interesting Questions and Answers

about Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation

Benedict XVI’s renunciation has raised many questions, and not only in the Catholic world. Some of the questions are of a practical nature, while others regard more far-reaching doubts.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office, has given several press conferences since the Pope announced his resignation February 11th.

During the briefings, journalists have asked questions to which Father Lombardi gave answers with the information available at the time. Following is a quick and brief selection of 20 of these questions and answers, in summary form. They are not word-for-word quotes of Father Lombardi, but rather a synopsis of his responses.


Pope Benedict on February 16th 2013


1.What will be Benedict XVI’s last public appearance as Pope?

A: Benedict XVI’s last public appearance as Pope will be the General Audience on February 27, 2013, in Saint Peter’s Square. Exceptionally, the general audience will include a liturgy of the Word and moments of prayer. The next day, Thursday the 28th, there will be a private audience in the Clementine Hall of the Holy See with some cardinals. This will be the last audience of his pontificate.


2. Does Benedict XVI have some serious illness in particular?

A: No, Benedict XVI does not have a serious illness in particular.


3. Is it true that Benedict XVI has a pacemaker?

A: Yes, it is true that Benedict XVI has a pacemaker. He has had it since he was cardinal prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. A few weeks ago the batteries of his pacemaker were changed.


4. Will the encyclical on faith be published that Benedict XVI has been writing?

A. No, there is no plan to publish the encyclical, as Benedict XVI was unable to finish it. Eventually, if he decides to publish it, it will not be ranked as an “encyclical.”


5. Why did Benedict XVI choose 8:00 pm on February 28 to end his ministry as Pope?

A: Because it is the time in which he usually ends his work day.


6. Where will Benedict XVI live after he retires as Pope?

A: Initially, for a period of two months, in the papal residence of Castel Gandolfo. Afterward he will return to the Vatican to live in the Mater Ecclesiae cloistered convent.


7. Is it true that Benedict XVI decided to resign during his apostolic journey to Mexico?

A: During his apostolic journey to Mexico and Cuba, Benedict XVI matured in the matter of his resignation as one more stage in his long process of reflection and discernment on this subject. However, the trip had no other particular relevance in this regard.


8. What will Benedict XVI’s name and title be after February 28?

A: It is a matter that is still being reflected upon. There is a certain unanimity that he should keep the name Benedict XVI and that his title should be “Bishop Emeritus of Rome.” In the Pontifical Yearbook Benedict XVI will continue to be the official name used.


9. Will Benedict XVI take part in the Conclave to elect his successor?

A: No, Benedict XVI will not take part in the Conclave to elect his successor and he will not be part of the College of Cardinals.


10. How will Benedict XVI dress after February 28?

A: It is not yet known how Benedict XVI will dress after February 28.


11. Is provision made in the Church for a Pope’s renunciation?

A: Yes, a Pope’s resignation is provided for and regulated by the Code of Canon Law.


12. What will happen to Archbishop Georg Gänswein, Benedict XVI’s private secretary and prefect of the Papal Household over the last few months?


A: Archbishop Georg Gänswein will continue to be Benedict XVI’s private secretary. He will accompany him to Castel Gandolfo (and later to the Mater Ecclesiae convent), and he will also continue to be prefect of the Papal Household. Similarly, it is possible that his second private secretary will go to Castel Gandolfo and accompany Benedict XVI for a time.


13. Who will live with Benedict XVI in the Mater Ecclesiae convent inside the Vatican after his retirement?

A: The Memores Domini (a group of consecrated women, who help the Pope in the ordinary needs of a home), and his private secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, will live with and assist Benedict XVI after his retirement.


14. Did the subject of the so-called Vatileaks scandal influence the Pope’s decision?

A: It had no relevance. If one wants to receive correct information, one must limit oneself to what the Pope has said about his renunciation.


15. When, approximately, will the conclave begin?

A: The most likely dates are that it will begin between March 15-20 2013.


16. Did Benedict XVI change the norms for the election of a Pope in the last weeks?

A: No, Benedict XVI did not change recently the norms for the election of a Pope. He made a small change in 2007 to modify the system of voting. The modification of 2007 establishes that a two-thirds majority will always be necessary in the voting carried out in the Conclave. However, the rest of the norms in force continue to be those of the Apostolic Constitution Universi Dominici Gregis.


17. Are there power struggles in the Vatican?

A: In all institutions there is a dynamic that leads to different opinions, which is always good. The difference and diversity of opinions are positive if they lead to the good of the institution itself. However, such differences should not be given too much weight as they would not correspond to the reality or to persons’ intentions. To say that there are power struggles does not correspond to the reality of what is happening in the Church at this time.


18. Did journalist Peter Seewald interview Benedict XVI before his renunciation?

A: German journalist Peter Seewald, who has interviewed Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI several times in the past, interviewed Benedict XVI two and a half months ago. The interview is to be included in Benedict XVI’s official biography, on which Seewald is working.


19. Will Benedict XVI meet with the new Pope?

A: There is no plan for Benedict XVI to meet with the new Pope.


20. Why has Benedict XVI decided to stay in a convent in the Vatican, after his two months at Castel Gandolfo, and not return to his native Bavaria?

Although Benedict XVI has not explained it clearly, his presence and prayer in the Vatican gives spiritual continuity to the papacy. Moreover, Benedict XVI has been living in the Vatican for more than three decades.

The Work of the Holy Spirit

On Tuesday last nearly all the monks of Ampleforth Abbey were at a special meeting at the Abbey for the election of our abbot.


Some of the monks during an interval in the Election Chapter

It happens when an Abbot retires or every eight years, and is an unusual event that has happened several times so far for me. It is when perhaps a Benedictine Abbey is most clearly distinct from any other Catholic Religious Order and is always a moment for the monks of “excitement in the Holy Spirit”.


After the election monks ready for a photo in the Abbey Church.

On the Tuesday morning of our deliberations, when we came out of a long discussion together, we were greeted by the astonishing news that Pope Benedict would retire at 8pm on Thursday 28th February.

Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict on Ash Wednesday 13 February 2013

That news has caught the interest of the World from China to Cuba and all countries in between! Nobody expected it, and it happened for me when the Ampleforth monks’ minds were distracted. We re-elected Abbot Cuthbert Madden, already abbot for eight years and all of us sensed in different ways that the Holy Spirit had been present with us at Ampleforth as He is always with the Church.


Abbot Cuthbert after his election as Abbot of Ampleforth 12 February 2013

A monastery is a small and complete “Church”, because it is constituted within the living structure of the universal Church, and recognised and welcomed by the highest authorities. The presence of the Holy Spirit will always be there as long as the monks remain in communion with the whole Body of Christ, the Church.


Every authentic natural Christian family is also a complete “Church” when it too belongs to and is in communion with the living Church. The Holy Spirit will be present in such a family, the smallest cell of the Church.


So it is with the Universal Church and it is now to be expected that the Holy Spirit will guide all those responsible for the choosing of the new Pope. Before Easter we will have a new successor of St. Peter, a new Bishop of Rome who is the centre of the unity of the whole Church. People will debate at length who may be the “front runners” for this noble task, and some if not most, will do so forgetting that the Holy Spirit is the one who guides the Church, big, or small. They will look at the process from below, whereas believers are invited to look at it from above. For the whole Church is present “Where two or more are gathered in the name of Jesus”, and the Church, in its universality or its smallest unity is guided by the Holy Spirit.


Bishops in session at Vatican 2 in St. Peter’s Basilica

It is in this context that it is worth looking at what happened when Pope Benedict declared publicly his resignation. It came in a very ordinary way: during a gathering in which he was going to declare that three persons would be declared saints. It came without any fanfare and as bolt from the blue. However Pope Benedict had in fact hinted at this decision when he gave an interview to the German journalist, Peter Seewald. “When a Pope comes to the clear awareness of not being able physically, mentally or spiritually to carry out the task entrusted to him, he then has the right and even the duty, in some circumstances, to resign.”


Nearly everyone seems to think this Pope Benedict has done a brave and noble deed and that is my own opinion. People will speculate about it, but underneath I think we have among us a straight-forward, highly intelligent, wise and loving Pope, a disciple of Jesus like St. Peter, a man who understands his limitations, and who like his master simple says yes when he means yes, and no when he means no. He made his statement below, in a spirit of trust and loving confidence.


“After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me. For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.”


Our Archbishop of Liverpool, Patrick Kelly made a short statement about this too:


“During his visit to this country in 2010 Pope Benedict XVI clearly appreciated the gift of God of Cardinal John Henry Newman. Two phrases from Blessed John Henry Newman’s hymn ‘Praise to the Holiest’ capture for me the Cardinal and then the Pope whom I have been blessed to know: ‘the loving wisdom of our God’ and ’the wisest love’.

Pope Benedict broke open for us, especially during his visit to our country, the wisdom above all given to us in the Word of God and to that Word of God a word of love for us. He has been a herald with only one concern; that in the words of John the Baptist: ‘the Lord must increase and I must decrease’.

Therefore in the deepest sense it is no surprise that such a disciple of the Lord, when he discerns that the resources of body and mind are inadequate to fulfil the mission entrusted to him, comes to the clear humble and selfless decision to resign.”


Pope Benedict bless the ashes on Ash Wednesday, one of his last Liturgical official functions.

Yesterday morning these words from Psalm 102 (103) struck me forcibly: they echoed various reflections I had.

The Lord is compassion and love,

slow to anger and rich in mercy.

His wrath will come to an end;

he will not be angry for ever.

He does not treat us according to our sins

nor repay us according to our faults.

The psalmist takes for granted that we have sins and faults and that God who is compassion, love, slow to anger and rich in mercy will forgive us. Why did the Psalmist think like that? He must have had some special experience of God’s mercy and forgiveness, how, I do not know. He wrote without knowing of the redemption of all humankind and of the whole cosmos through Jesus in his loving death and glorious resurrection


Yesterday, 6 February 2013 I had received a particular daily encouragement to live out my Christian life as a builder of peace. This means to try to spread peace with the particular people that I am in touch with during the day. There is a beautiful blessing given in various liturgical ceremonies taken from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians 4: 7. May the peace of God that is beyond all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God and of his Son our Lord Jesus Christ.


Peace from God is beyond all understanding. Nobody can therefore discover true peace, God’s peace, by his or her understanding! We cannot “think it up” or “create peace by our own efforts”. It is beyond understanding, beyond human thinking and is a gift from God. Nobody can manufacture it: nobody can take it away from me.


Loving our brothers and sisters is the key to this peace! It is hard to know how to love them properly and how much to give in to them, because as I get older I can see the selfishness of the old man of sin coming out in various ways, often subtle in my case. It is often not so subtle in others.


Last Sunday’s Gospel story is really most interesting Luke 4: 20-31.

When they heard this (Jesus’ teaching), all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them on went on his way. (Luke 4: 28-30)


When those Nazarenes wanted to kill Jesus and took him to the top of the cliff to throw him off, I am sure that Jesus – who had lived among them throughout most of his hidden life, and there were no more than a 100 people in the whole hamlet of Nazareth – would not want them all to “go to hell” so to speak because they wanted to kill him. He came to redeem everyone, including them. In the gospel story it says he just “slipped through them” and escaped. It was not the right moment for him to die as his time had not come. Later some of those people from Nazareth, and some were his relatives, became pillars of the first Church in Jerusalem. So later they came to believe and became disciples of Jesus and I am sure they found that peace which passes understanding.

We distribute food parcels to those who are poor and in need. Last Friday when I was particularly busy moving chairs and getting ready for a big conference on Saturday, two rather destitute people came to the door, a young lady and a young man. Seeing me struggling with chairs they immediately came to help: – a good instinct. They got their food parcels, but then pointed out in a strong way that the food was no good to them as they had no electricity with which to cook the food, and they had no place to go anyway, unless we could provide money to buy electricity on their key.


Bishop Michael Cambell of Lancaster diocese addressing our conference on Saturday 2 February 2013


I was busy on that Friday evening, 1st February, pre-occupied with the four guests coming to stay in our house and their evening meal, and still with a mountain of things to do including moving chairs. So I let the two people in need be, and continued my work; but a little niggle in my heart told me: “Jonathan, you must listen and respond to their needs”. So I stopped, talked to them and discovered they needed £8. The SVP (St. Vincent de Paul Society) member gave me permission to use their money and I decided to stop doing what I was doing to serve Jesus in these two poor people.


Small group discussion at the Conference 2 February 2013

It meant a walk to the shop. It was a pleasant breather for me, and gave me a chance to “spend time” with these two needy young people and talk to them. Apart from some moans about how harsh life was from the young man, we had a pleasant walk to the shop: we got the electricity, and after a very cordial and friendly good night I returned. The young girl was particularly friendly and courteous. It was as though we had a moment of peace.


I had to overcome my hardness of heart in their regard, and the young and needy destitute pair had to learn how to overcome their own negativity which they did.


The Lord is compassion and love,

slow to anger and rich in mercy.

His wrath will come to an end;

he will not be angry for ever.

He does not treat us according to our sins

nor repay us according to our faults.


Imagine my surprise when I was told on Tuesday that the young girl “inadvertently” had taken a cocktail of drugs and had died the previous day. I was so glad that I had not been stubborn with those two young people and helped them the previous Friday! I am sure there was a sense of mutual respect and understanding, even of love while we walked to the shop that night. Furthermore we had all gone beyond the faults and sins all of us have. I hope that the moment of peace I had felt, especially with the young girl who died was something she too felt.


I am sure God will not treat that young lady according to her sins nor repay her according to her faults, and I am praying for her speedily to enter the fullness of life in heaven where there is true and lasting peace


I went on a retreat/conference last week, and if a retreat does anything that is meaningful it should help us to grow in our love for Jesus in myself and among us. This is what happened. It was simple and normal and a lived experience of the presence of Jesus for the Diocesan Priests and Religious who came, I suppose about 700 in all. There is a photo below that shows a part of the priests and religious at the mass we had together.


During the course of it all we had a talk about the Vatican Council. The speaker, a respected Theologian and Rector of a University, spoke about there being one Council of the Church that could be compared with Vatican 2.


As he said this I racked my brains to think which Council that could be? I thought of the Council of Trent, in the mid 16th Century. The nineteenth ecumenical council opened at Trent on 13 December, 1545, and closed there on 4 December, 1563. Its main object was the definitive determination of the doctrines of the Church in answer to the heresies of the Protestants; a further object was the execution of a thorough reform of the inner life of the Church by removing the numerous abuses that had developed in it.


But that was not the reason why “good” Pope John 23 called the second Vatican Council – 11 October 1962 till 8 December 1965. In fact there was no specific reason. Pope John 23 had said it was “to bring the presentation of the Church’s doctrine up to date and to promote the unity of Christians”. These two objectives were intended to renew the Church’s relation with the modern world and thus to revive her mission to the whole world.


Nearly all the Ecumenical Councils of the Church were summoned for particular theological reasons, not for “general renewal and to promote unity” even if these would be a welcome outcome always.

The speaker at my retreat finally revealed what he meant. He said “the council that is like the 2nd Vatican Council is the very first Council of the Church, the Council of Jerusalem”.


That council was set up to identify the right direction for the newly born Church in regard to the major differences of approach between the newly converted Christians. At the beginning of the Church a strong group came from the Jewish community, and another bigger group from “pagans or non Jews”. The Jerusalem Council happened about the year 48AD. They needed to discern the right way .to be disciples of Jesus Should they follow Jesus and also many Jewish rituals that Jesus probably had himself followed? Or should they follow Jesus and leave behind the Jewish rituals that were alien to the non Jewish converts? It was St. Paul who wrote on this issue: “I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish in order that I may gain Christ” (Phil 3:8). The words “everything” and “all things” refers precisely to the Jewish practices binding through the Old Testament Law and its interpretations for Jews. The Jerusalem Council came down firmly on following the way that that no longer emphasised the Jewish rituals. Rather to follow St. Paul who goes on in Philippians 3, verse 11: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection of the dead”. It was a new beginning sanctioned by the authority in the Church


The first disciples had a strong personal relationship with the risen Lord who had been crucified within the living body of Christ, the Church. So should we. His Holy Spirit would teach them how to live, how to act, what rules to follow and what ways to worship and so on. The Holy Spirit will teach us also. Yes, there was authority in the Church from the Apostles and their successors and it was an authority of service for the whole body. That authority still exists in the Church.


The right direction for the Church today and each individual in it is exactly what needs to be discovered and the second Vatican Council has given us authoritative guide-lines. In this sense it is a new beginning although it takes away nothing from the tradition of the Church in the past. Our challenges lie in the fact that we do need new ways to express these age-old truths in that sacred and long tradition today.


The expression is not necessarily in words so much as in a living experience of the risen Jesus within his body the Church, who by the power of the Holy Spirit leads us to the Father. Words to explain this real presence of Jesus in each of us and among us will only come later.


Jesus himself spoke about “those who gather in my name will find me among them” (Mt 18: 20). Gathering may or may not be in Church, may or may not include speaking of the Gospel, but He is still there.


So I recommend each reader to find some friends who take living for God as the gospel teaches as a high priority and live it out. That is why I went on my retreat. If a person is lucky he or she will find these companions, and all of us are entitled to, and all of us need such help and guidance today. Furthermore it is an adventure of Love, for the message of the Gospel is indeed one of Love, a message that leads to our fulfilment as human beings as well.


Fr. Dermot Mills OMI, Fr. Bonaventura Marinelli, OFM Cap and self OSB last week