Tweeting retreat – Sharing in Cardinal Ravasi’s reflections

ravasi retreatEvery year at the start of Lent, the Pope and the Roman Curia go on a weeklong retreat. They don’t go anywhere, but remain at the Vatican in prayer and reflection, and all appointments and regular duties are postponed. Every retreat is led by a prelate personally chosen by the Holy Father, and this year the honour fell to the President of the Pontifical of Council of Culture, and a papabile himself, Gianfranco Cardinal Ravasi (pictured at left, with the Holy Father in the background, in the seclusion of retreat).

What makes this retreat different is that Cardinal Ravasi not only offers reflections on the prayer of the Psalms to the prelates on retreat, but also to all the faithful. He has been tweeting short quotes and Vatican Radio has been posting summaries of his talks.

These days, leading up to the conclave, it is very interesting to be able to read and reflect on the theological thoughts of one of the cardinal electors, but, perhaps more importantly, it also offers us a guide through this important season of the Church year. A week in, it is perhaps good to ask: “How is your Lent going?”

Cardinal Ravasi’s tweets may offer us a hint of where to start. Short as they are, they can not offer very deep and detailed reflections, but they may point the way, so to speak. Let’s take a look at some and use them to reflect on our own life in the faith. I have put some tweets together, since they clearly form one line of thought.

“1st Meditation: breathe, think, struggle, love: the verbs of prayer. Prayer is not just emotion, it must be reason and will, reflection and passion, truth and action. Not just “speaking about” God, but “speaking to” God, in a dialogue in which we look lovingly at each other in the eye.”

“The longest of the Psalms (Ps 119) invites us to listen to the divine Word present in the Bible. In the verses of Ps 119 we can hear the love for this Word which shines even in the darkness of existence.”

“3rd Meditation: The song of the twofold sun: the Creator God. Psalm 19. The high and impressive silences of the starry heavens are symbolically broken by the song of faith. Biblical faith does not see space as a neutral thing, but as an epiphanic horizon, where God is present. Authentic ascesis is not only negation, it is also harmony between bodiliness and interiority; renouncing and practice for genuine fullness. The word of God irradiates its splendour in the horizon of the conscience, melting our coldness and spreading light and hope. Before creation in its richness, we can raise our thanksgiving to God for our existence and for so many marvels.”

“Our journey becomes a real pilgrimage towards the “meeting tent”, the sanctuary in its sacred culmination. The divine Person is there, manifesting himself, speaking and embracing the faithful. “As an eagle watching its nest, flying over its offspring, the Lord unfolded his wings, took him and raised him up” (Dt 32).”

“The great gestures of God’s love: creation; exodus from Egypt, sign of liberation and hope for a people experience of the desert guided by a pastor who protects from every natural and historical danger, and the journey towards freedom. We consider the Lord as an ally, a strong and loving companion on our journey.”

“Son of God, priest and just: these three features of the messianic figure at the centre of the psalms we meditate. The prophets criticised the prevarications of power and indifference in the face of injustice. God is the advocate for the undefended, the “father of the poor and defender of widows” (Ps 68,6). Before us shines the face of the Messiah, the Christ of God.”

The communications issue

In his recent comments on Pope Benedict’s announced abdication, Bishop Gerard de Korte also reacted to the media reporting on this subject. He wrote:

dekorte2“These days it is once again striking how carelessly and  without knowledge of facts the various commentators speak about Benedict. In my opinion the fact that most newspapers and broadcasters no longer employ journalists that specifically follow Church life becomes clear here. Sometimes provocative oneliners are connected to each other and an unbalanced judgement is made.”

I think this is a correct assessment of the facts, but it points to a deeper reality: apparently most media no longer consider it worthwhile to have professional employees with in-depth knowledge about matters of religion contribute to their publications. Religion is not considered important or relevant enough to have staff writers for. And the result is something we saw virtually every day of the past week. Generally, the commentary and reports are left to people who are experts in other fields or, more frequently, to people who have an opinion they want to share.

roderick vonhögenEvery now and again, someone who does know the details about such matters is a guest in a  tv show or contributes a guest writer to a magazine or newspaper. But are these taken seriously? There were two incidents, both involving priests, that illustrate the gap between mainstream media and the reality of Church life. Father Roderick Vonhögen (pictured) was confronted with a barrage of verbal abuse and mockery in a very popular daily talk show, and Father Antoine Bodar expressed his anger at a very biased report on the Pope in a generally respected news show.

The fact that many media outlets will write about the Church and faith, but without employing staff who know their stuff, almost inevitably results in such confrontations. For most people, the media, especially those concerning itself with the news and honest interpretation of facts, is something that is almost automatically trusted as honest, objective and factual. For many, the idea that these media could be subjective, incorrect and biased simply does not occur.

And why should it? There is virtually no criticism, at least none that reaches more thana  few people. In my social media activities, I encounter enough of it, but that is because I follow many Catholic people and organisations. But how many people do likewise? On the whole not many, I would wager.

And that is the problem we need to confronting as Catholics, both as faithful and as Church. Our voices, our Catholic Voices, deserve to be heard, and they can. But we must work for it. It requires effort, input, time and, indeed, money. But most of all we need the willingness to contribute, the ability to take the time, to learn and to be factual, positive and honest about what we can bring: nothing less than the Good News of God. And that news, despite what others make of it, and what media choose to focus on, is positive. It represent, in fact, the best news, the best attitude and contribution to life and society, and it is so desperately needed in today’s world.

Gaps in the College

CardinalsAlthough with 117 cardinal electors, the upcoming conclave will be nearly at its maximum of 120, there are some striking gaps in the roster. Pope Benedict XVI created 90 cardinals in 5 consistories, and although it seems that his abdication was conceived many months ago, he left some countries rather unrepresented.

From northwestern Europe come eight cardinals, one each from the Netherlands and Belgium, and six from Germany. Those numbers are nothing out of the ordinary. But when we look further afield, we see that some of the major players are missing.

husarIn the United Kingdom, only the archbishop of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh, Cardinal Keith O’Brien takes part in the conclave: the archbishop of Westminster is not a cardinal. In the Ukraine, the major archbishop of the Ukrainian Church, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, is not a part of the proceedings. His predecessor, Cardinal Lubomyr Husar (pictured), turns 80 two days before the sede vacante begins and this can’t take part in the conclave. In Africa, the major Catholic countries of Angola and Mozambique have no cardinal electors. And in the Curia, finally, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Gerhard Müller has no red hat either.

Is this something to be concerned about, then? Not really. The College of Cardinals is not in the first place intended as an accurate representation of the world Church, although there are merits to drawing from the various cultures and nationalities that compose the Church. But it is striking that, although some of the prelates mentioned above were appointed only fairly recently, the Holy Father chose not to include them in the most recent consistory, although at that time he must have had some idea that a conclave would be coming up. An oversight, or a conscious choice? Or a simple case of wanting to adhere to the rule that said that there can be no more than 120 cardinal electors?

Whatever the reason, the cardinals who will elect a new Pope in March are a reflection of the world Church in one respect: they are just as human as all of us, and from their ranks will come a Supreme Pontiff who is, in that respect, one of us.

Picture Pope

Because of a lack of words on the blog today, here are some photos of the last days, a period of farewell and gratitude:

benedict ash wednesday

Shaking hands with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, after the latter had given an emotional thank you message on behalf of the Curia.

benedict ash wednesday

And so, the last public liturgy of Pope Benedict XVI ends, as he is helped off the steps of the sanctuary on Ash Wednesday.

benedict vallini

Cardinal Agostino Vallini welcomes the Pope, father and teacher.

benedict vallini

Professor Pope. Benedict in his element, speaking to the priests of Rome about the Second Vatican Council, spontaneously and without prepared notes.

Business as usual – Pope Benedict’s last weeks

benedictIn a third press briefing in as many days, Fr. Federico Lombardi shared the schedule of Pope Benedict’s final days as Pope. As indicated earlier it is nothing out of the ordinary (if you can call such a busy schedule normal for a man of almost 86…) and befitting the personality of the Holy Father. His decision to abdicate, momentous as it is, is also an exercise in humility.  And, if anything, Pope Benedict is a humble man, never working for himself, never seeking the spotlight. Reflecting this, Fr. Dwight Longenecker has a lovely anecdote:

“I met Joseph Ratzinger once on a visit to Rome. I was walking across St Peter’s Square when I noticed the famous figure of the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith heading across the square wearing a cassock, overcoat and simple black beret. I smiled and bid him good morning. He smiled back politely and nodded and went on his way to the office. He always did seem better behind the scenes.

His farewell this week was rather like my meeting with him. A simple man walking across the public square of history–happy to be headed to the privacy of his study–where he has some work to do.”

Anyway, on to the schedule:

ash wednesday st. peter's squareWednesday 13 February, Ash Wednesday: In his last public liturgical celebration, Pope Benedict XVI will offer Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica. Thousands of people are already queueing on St. Peter’s Square to attend this Mass, as pictured at right.

Thursday 14 February: The Holy Father will meet with priests of the Diocese of Rome.

Friday 15 February: A meeting with President Traian Basescu of Romania, followed by a group of Italian bishops on their ad limina visit.

Saturday 16 February: Meetings with President Otto Pérez Molina of Guatemala, a group of Italian bishops on their ad limina visit, and Prime Minister Mario Monti of Italy.

Sunday 17 February: Pope Benedict will pray the Angelus with faithful in St. Peter’s Square, and in the evening he and members of the Curia will start their Lenten retreat. Cardinal Ravasi will lead this retreat, and no activities are planned until the 24th.

Sunday 24 February: Pope Benedict will pray the Angelus with faithful in St. Peter’s Square.

Monday 25 February: A meeting with several cardinals.

Wednesday 27 February: Pope Benedict will hold his final general audience in St. Peter’s Square.

Thursday 28 February: Following a farewell address to the College of Cardinals, a helicopter will take the Pope to Castel Gandolfo at 5pm. At 8 o’clock in the evening, the See of Peter falls vacant.

Photo credit: [1] l’Osservatore Romano, [2] Catholic News Service

Pope Benedict: “I have felt your prayers”

Today, Pope Benedict spoke to the faithful for the first time since he announced his abdication. At the general audience he was visibly moved by the standing ovation he received from a Paul VI Hall that was completely filled (it fits 7,000 people).

benedict“Dear brothers and sisters, as you know I decided -” [prolonged applause] “Thank you for your kindness. I decided to resign from the ministry that the Lord had entrusted me on April 19, 2005. I did this in full freedom for the good of the Church after having prayed at length and examined my conscience before God, well aware of the gravity of this act.

I was also well aware that I was no longer able to fulfil the Petrine Ministry with that strength that it demands. What sustains and illuminates me is the certainty that the Church belongs to Christ whose care and guidance will never be lacking. I thank you all for the love and prayer with which you have accompanied me.

I have felt, almost physically, your prayers in these days which are not easy for me, the strength which the love of the Church and your prayers brings to me. Continue to pray for me and for the future Pope, the Lord will guide us!”

For the next two weeks, Pope Benedict is still our Pope, and the rest of the general audience was very much as it usually is: catechesis and messages to and from the various groups gathered in the hall. As Fr. Lombardi indicated yesterday, all planned activities will continue until the Holy Father’s last working day. These include ad limina visits from Italian bishops, the general audiences, today’s Ash Wednesday Mass, a meeting with the priests of Rome tomorrow, the Angelus prayer on Sundays and visits from the heads of state of Romania and Guatemala.

After the official statement, the bishops reflect

On Monday the Dutch bishops quickly released an official response to the announced abdication of Pope Benedict. Today, some of them shared personal recollections and opinions about the Holy Father. Here is a selection.

kardinaal-EijkCardinal Wim Eijk, Utrecht: “I remember him as a very approachable, congenial and pleasant man, and of course exceptionally erudite. […] I must say I have very good memories of him.

His high points I still consider his encyclicals, which are of course fantastic. I also have the best memories of his homilies – very often you discover the personal touch of the theologian in them. They were often very profound homilies which witnessed of a very close relationship with Christ and a deep spirituality. I always found them very impressive, and I noticed that others felt the same way.”

Mgr. Jan LiesenBishop Jan Liesen, Breda: “He is an incredibly wise man. I recall the first meeting of the International Theological Commission that I attended. That was in 2004. Pope Benedict XVI, then still Cardinal Ratzinger, chaired that meeting. There were thirty new members. After the deliberations he summarised the highlights of the meeting and he did so in Latin. Everyone understood what he said. I have never seen anyone do that.”

hendriks-sBishop Jan Hendriks, auxiliary Haarlem-Amsterdam: “I did notice that his health was deteriorating and the last time I met him, last September, he was clearly very much fatigued. The Pope has clearly considered this decision with his closest associates and doctors and before the Face of the Lord.

We are very grateful to our Pope for the leadership he has given our Church as successor of Peter, in simple servitude, loving and conciliatory. There will be time later to reflect on the many achievement of our Pope Benedict XVI. Let us thank God for this pontificate and ask God’s blessing for Pope Benedict, over this month until the abdication and the rest of his life.”

dekorte2Bishop Gerard de Korte, Groningen-Leeuwarden: “Last October I was in Rome, together with a number of faithful from my diocese, and I was able to speak briefly with the Pope. Up close it was clear how old the Pope had become. I think that we can call the decision of Pope Benedict a wise one. No one is called to an impossible task. Leading the Church requires a physical and spiritual strength that the current Pope no longer has available.”