Thursday, February 28, 2013

Apostolica Sedes Vacans

Thus the Vatican website announces the end of one papacy, and the hope of another.

I feel sad.

It's a Holy Saturday kind of day. Still mourning over a loss, even while knowing resurrection will soon dawn.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Thank you, Pope Benedict!

Valete, Pope Benedict!     
Thank you for the gift of your pontificate!    

The Pope said today in his final general audience:

"The Lord has given us many days of sunshine and gentle breeze, days in which the catch has been abundant; [then] there have been times when the seas were rough and the wind against us, as in the whole history of the Church it has ever been - and the Lord seemed to sleep. Nevertheless, I always knew that the Lord is in the barque, that the barque of the Church is not mine, not ours, but His - and He shall not let her sink."

Monday, February 25, 2013

My amazing discovery about St John Bosco and his vision of the Popes

Our convent library has the 14 volume set of The Biographical Memoirs of St. John Bosco. This is a very authoritative source for information about the saint, written by Fr. Giovanni Lemoyne (1839-1916) who knew Don Bosco and carefully chronicled his life, working from eyewitness and other reliable sources.

St. John Bosco

Vol. 7, pp 107-110, has the account of the famous dream of the two columns. It's true, of course, that such things have to be interpreted carefully. They are not meant to give us photo ops of the future, so we will know exactly what will happen. But I must confess I have gotten intrigued by Pope speculation following Benedict's resignation. And saints are good sources to go to, rather than the rather absurd speculation of most media outlets right now.

So last night I sat down with vol. 7 to read about the dream. And what I found out was rather shocking. This new information puts the dream in a completely different light. That's why it's so important to go to the primary source.

But first, here's some background about the dream. Don Bosco told it to the boys in one of his "Good Night" talks, which were spiritual pep talks he gave them at night. It was May 26, 1862. Four of the boys wrote it down and Fr Lemoyne gives the details of their names etc., which I'll skip here. Suffice it to say that the Salesians have their manuscripts which basically agree on the details. Except for one thing--the number of the popes on the ship.

Lemoyne says, "Some claimed that the popes who successively commanded the flagship were three, not two." Three popes? I never heard that before! Two of them fell while steering the ship, and then the third took over and brought it to safety.

None of the accounts of the dream that I found on the internet mentions three popes, only two.

One detail Fr Lemoyne gives is quite interesting, about a priest named Fr John Bourlot, who was present when Don Bosco gave the talk. He visited Don Bosco in 1886 (Bosco died in 1888) and reminisced about the old days. The dream came up. Fr Bourlot insisted that there were three popes and said, "When the first was struck down, the captains of the other ships exclaimed, 'Let's hurry! We can quickly replace him' whereas when they gathered a second time they did not say that. While Canon Bourlot was speaking, the author of these Memoirs was talking with the one next to him at the table. Noticing this, Don Bosco said to him, 'Listen carefully to what Fr Bourlot is saying.' "

Fr Lemoyne writes, referring to himself in the third person, "When he replied that he was well acquainted with the matter, thanks to the manuscripts in his possession, and that he believed there had been two popes--no more--on the flagship, Don Bosco rejoined, 'You know nothing at all!'"  (That made me laugh, because I could just hear Mother Paula, who started our congregation in America, talking the same way. She was from the same Piemonte area of Italy and the people there brook no nonsense.)

Lemoyne concludes by saying that Fr Bourlot always insisted on the three popes. "In view of the above, which of the two versions is correct? Events may still resolve the doubt. We shall conclude by saying that Caesar Chiala--as he himself told us--and the three above-mentioned clerics took this dream as a genuine vision and prophecy, even though Don Bosco in telling it seemed to have no other purpose than spurring the boys to pray for the Church and the Pope and fostering their devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and Mary Immaculate."

So let the speculation begin. If there were indeed three popes, perhaps John Paul II was the first one, the one who fell, then Benedict was the second one. And the third one? Will it be the next pope, the one who will safely bring the Church through persecution into an era of peace? A long conclave might give us a hint. It only took 2 days to elect Benedict, with a mere 4 ballots. What do you think?

Adopt a cardinal

Prayer is the top priority now as the cardinals prepare to gather in conclave.

Click here to "adopt" a cardinal to pray for!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Benedict: "The time of testing is here"

As Pope Benedict's pontificate runs out, his words now take on a special meaning. At his recent Angelus message he said:

“The Tempter is devious: he does not push us towards evil directly, but toward a false good, making us believe that the real things that matter are power and whatever satisfies our primary needs."

In the first volume of his work on Jesus, Benedict writes about Satan tempting Jesus. The Pope points out that in the second temptation, when Satan urged Jesus to throw himself down because certainly God would not let him get hurt, the devil quoted Psalm 91: "For to his angels he has given command about you, that they guard you in all your ways."

The Pope commented that Satan presents himself here as a Scripture scholar, so the temptation is like a debate between two theologians. Then Benedict mentions a short story by the Russian writer Soloviev called "The Anti-Christ." In it, the anti-Christ is precisely that: a theologian and Scripture scholar. He even gets an honorary doctorate from the University of Tubingen. The Pope then reflects that certain types of scholarship have done great damage to faith.

What an example that is of Benedict's point at the Angelus, that the devil directs us toward a false good. Theology and Scripture study are certainly good things, but even they can be put into the service of the devil. Which is why we need to implore the grace of the Holy Spirit to know the truth and not be misled by the errors of the day. Pope Benedict has spent his life as priest, bishop, and Pope teaching the truth of the Catholic faith, the truth that brings freedom.

Bishop Emeritus of Rome

This report indicates that Pope Benedict will be called "Bishop Emeritus of Rome" after his retirement. Good to know!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Benedict: alone before God

I've been reading Pope Benedict's recent book on the infancy narratives of Jesus. He wrote something about the Annunciation that makes me think of his own life as Pope. It's about the last line of that Gospel, "And the angel departed from her." (Lk 1:38) Benedict says that Mary's great hour, her encounter with the angel that changed her whole life, comes to an end, "and she remains there alone, with the task that truly surpasses all human capacity. There are no angels standing round her."

The Pope reflects that during the many difficult moments of her life, Mary must have recalled that brief encounter with the angel and pondered it anew, especially the words, "Do not be afraid!"  "The angel departs; her mission remains, and with it matures her inner closeness to God, a closeness that in her heart she is able to see and touch." (page 37-38).

Right now there are no angels standing around Benedict either (at least visible ones, for surely there are many invisible ones). It must be a lonely task, being Pope, for despite all the crowds, all those who wave flags and cheer, at the end of the day Benedict stands alone before God. He stands alone before that God whom he has served so well. And while many of the faithful may feel lost, confused, or even abandoned by his decision, we need to respect it. We need to let him draw back the curtain on his conscience. In these days when the media is filled with speculation and stories, we need to let him stand alone before his God.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Blog Makeover

A big "thank you" to Sr. Theresa Noble, one of our novices, for giving my blog a long overdue makeover! I love it!
Be sure to check out Sr. Theresa's blog, Pursued by Truth, for her very insightful thoughts on the faith today.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Don't panic--the anti-Christ is not about to become pope

The news of Pope Benedict's resignation has sent off shock waves in the world of private prophecy conspiracy theorists. Interestingly enough, while the Catholic world has its own share of these (and I admit I am intrigued by prophecies from reputable people like saints--"Do not despise prophecy" said St. Paul in 1 Thes 5:20), most of those speculating about Peter the Roman are Protestants.

A book was published last year about this by two Protestant authors. I heard part of a radio interview about this, and they are basing themselves on the famous prophecy of St. Malachy, who supposedly had a vision of future popes and described them in cryptic Latin phrases. Pope Benedict corresponds to "the glory of the olive." (The tie-in may be that the Benedictine order has also been called the Olivetans). The next and last pope on the list is Peter the Roman.

This is where the hysteria comes in, because if he's last on the list, wouldn't that mean the end of the world is around the corner? If you search for "pope resigns" on youtube or any search engine, you will see a huge list of end-times sites that think exactly that.  But don't panic or be disturbed. Keep a few things in mind:

1. The prophecy of St. Malachy may or may not be authentic, and has been the subject of much debate. But it's probably not really very reliable, even if it is fun to speculate about.

2. Even if it were true, it has been misquoted as referring to the final persecution of the Church. But the original Latin doesn't say that; it only refers to the extreme persecution of the Holy Roman Church. That has happened many times before, and will likely happen often again. For a good discussion of this point see here.
It actually reads:

"In the extreme persecution of the Holy Roman Church, there will sit Peter the Roman, who will pasture his sheep in many tribulations, and when these things are finished, the city of seven hills will be destroyed, and the terrible judge will judge his people. The End."

3.  Keep in mind that some of the fundamentalists are so excited about this because they think it will spell the end of the papacy and the Roman Catholic Church, which they consider to be the "whore of Babylon." They're wrong about that.

4. There's no indication in the prophecy that Peter the Roman is going to be a bad pope. On the contrary, he is said to pasture his sheep in many tribulations. So he's going to be a good pope (if the prophecy is even true, which we don't know).

5. My concern is that all this will distort some people's attitude toward the new Pope. They will only see him through the glasses of what they have already decided must be true. But God is with the Church and he will give us the good shepherd that we need.  My own view is that the next Pope will be a very holy priest and bishop. But whoever he is, he will be the vicar of Christ and our pastor and shepherd. That's enough for me!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Give up sin for Lent

In today's Office of Readings, St. Leo the Great gets right to the heart of Lent: give up sin.

He says that the main point of this season is that "the whole Church rejoices in the forgiveness of sins." To have our sins forgiven is truly a cause for joy. What a relief to have that burden lifted, the burden of our sins.

Other Lenten practices like fasting are meant to help us give up sin. Conversion from sin is an ongoing process. Even after we commit our life to the Lord, we still have to struggle against sin, not big sins perhaps, but the smaller ones that can cling to us. Maybe it's a habit of gossip, or of making cutting remarks, or laziness, or some over-indulgence.

A good Lenten practice would be to identify one of those sins that trip us up more and make an effort to root it out of our lives. That will make us more open to grace and able to receive God's love.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Pope Benedict and the Vision of St. John Bosco

    In light of the surprising news of Pope Benedict's resignation, I thought of the famous vision that St. John Bosco had about a future Pope. (Bosco died in 1888 and was known for having a charism of prophecy).

In a symbolic way the vision was a prophecy of the spiritual battles the Church would face against the forces of evil. The vision uses the imagery of ships, a common image for the Church as the barque of Peter. But the interesting thing about it is the way it describes the succession of two popes:

  "Suddenly the Pope falls, seriously wounded. He is instantly helped up, but struck a second time, dies. A shout of victory rises from the enemy, and wild rejoicing sweeps their ships. But no sooner is the Pope dead than another takes his place. The captains of the auxiliary ships elected him so quickly that the news of the Pope's death coincides with that of his successor's election."

That last part is what never made sense to me--how could the Pope die at the same time his successor is elected?--but if this vision does indeed refer to Benedict as the dying Pope, it could possibly happen. Now, I fervently hope that it doesn't, but if it does, it would seem to be a confirmation of what Bosco says.

However, keep in mind that all such visions fall into the realm of private revelation; they are not part of the divine revelation that makes up the truth of the Catholic faith. So no one has to believe in such a vision even if it came from a saint. And being symbolic, they can be interpreted in various ways. Or maybe it refers to some future time. Still, I find it intriguing. The hopeful part is that the new Pope is the one who will successfully guide the Church through the spiritual battles into a new age of faith.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Pope Benedict resigns

This morning we heard something that Catholics haven't heard for about 600 years--the Pope is resigning. I was shocked. But then the thought came to me that certainly he would only do this after a very careful discernment. And of course there's much that we don't know. Is he suffering from an undisclosed disease, perhaps one that may affect his cognitive abilities? We don't know at this point. But there are a few points to note.

1. The Pope is doing God's will. Benedict has been Pope for almost 8 years, and in that time he has given us some wonderful gifts. This includes the Year of Faith we are now living.

2. Benedict is willing to give up power and prestige when God no longer wants him to exercise those things. The point of the papacy is not power, of course, but the pope certainly has a lot of power in the Catholic world. He has a moral prestige too, one that millions of people look to for guidance. And Benedict is willing to give it all up when he believes that God wants him to do so. What a wonderful example that is.

3. New times call for bold moves. Benedict evidently doesn't put much stock in the argument, "We never did that before." After all, it's been 600 years since  a Pope has resigned! The world is changing in unprecedented ways. Whatever the future may bring, the Pope has to lead the Church in meeting the challenges of life today with the light of Christ. The Pope is at the forefront of the new evangelization. In handing over the torch to someone who can carry it now, Benedict is teaching us to recognize when we have completed our mission, and to have faith that God will always raise up in the Church new apostles who will pick up where we leave off.