Why Benedict XVI sees
monastic life as an example
for those of waning faith
by VITTORIO MESSORI
May 23, 2009
Why does a Bavarian Pope in the 21st century favor a Sabine monk of the 6th century so much as to take his name and consider him the patron of his Pontificate?
Why, among all the places which have been inviting him, has he chosen to visit Montecassino for a Sunday of 'full immersion' [English term is used in the original]
in the Benedictine world?
Why was it, that just the day before the death of his beloved predecessor, he went to Subiaco - where the adventure of Western monasticism began - to lecture on what could have been a program of government?
To understand such attention, one must remember that the lucid theologian, the post-modern intellectual who has become a pastor of souls, has always had - now, more than ever - an obsessive concern: aboutthe weakening of the faith, of which he is both custodian and guarantor.
A faith, he recently wrote, "that appears to be dying out like a candle that has run out of wick'. Hence, the need to rediscover the reasons for believing, to reconfirm the reasonableness pf 'wagering' on the truth of the Gospel.
The enormous ecclesial edifice hangs in the balance (St. Paul's expression) on the historicity of an empty tomb in Jerusalem. If this certainty should waver at all, then nothing will remain.
Something has been taking place for decades that was very disturbing to Joseph Ratzinger as head of the Holy Office and disturbs him even more now as Benedict XVI.
And it is the fact that what remains of a Christianity mowed down by secularism has tended to transform itself into an international association of volunteers, a socially-committed non-profit organization
The love that the Gospel urges is understood only in the horizontal sense, which means the charity of giving bread and championing socio-political commitments for a more peaceful, just and less polluted society.
This, in effect, is the 'trinitarian; slogan proposed as the new Creed by the Ecumenical Council of the Churches of Geneva: "Peace, justice, and protecting creation".
Well then, behind this clearing away of the authentic Christian perspective - which has become 'horizontal' as a consequence of its 'verticality' in looking at the things of the earth because it believes in heaven - there is a crisis of faith which is the true and tragic problem of modern Christianity.
With hope dimmed in an eternal life in the hereafter, the survivors who continue to feel 'engaged' seek pacification in working for a better life in the present, and dedicate themselves to the tangible certainties of the here and now.
Faith in man and history has replaced faith in God and eternity - and the militant for good causes has replaced the praying man and the ascetic.
Christians (but without Jesus as Christ-God! - please let us not use gross words!] as philanthropists, volunteers, labor unionists, environmentalists, custodians of human rights...
It is a disquieting deformation that in the recent past, went through the clerico-Marxist stage and which has now assumed the robes of the new hegemonic ideology - that of political correctness, of Western liberal radicalism.
What is the point in adhering to dogmas and wasting time in prayer, when there is a world which can be saved thanks to human powers, of whatever Credo or lack thereof, provided it is well intended?
This trend was a cause of anguish for Paul VI, opposed by John Paul II's extraordinary mix of mysticism and concreteness, and for Benedict XVI, the absolute priority for intervention.
All the last Popes were well aware that - through the logic of the 'et-et' ['and-and', i.e., inclusive] which has always guided the Church and the rejection of every 'aut-aut' [either-or] - Christianity is called on to humanize the City of Man, but while believing in the heavenly Jerusalem, it is mired in the world, and while it prays, it concerns itself with mortal beings insofar as they are called to immortality.
A balancing act, a synthesis, that seems to be everything. The weakening of faith has unbalanced those who, even without explicitly refuting the Credo (noisy contestation has ended out of sheer exhaustion, a sense of irrelevance, or even out of dissimulation), do not think it is necessary to their actions in any way.
And even this - or perhaps, this above all - can explain the attention that even before he became Pope, Joseph Ratzinger has always had for monastic life.
A life that is absurd, insupportable, even inhuman. A life sentence -since one chooses for life - worse than that in public prisons: a renunciation of the family, abstention from sex, no personal property, eight hours of daily communal prayer in addition to prayer by oneself, nocturnal vigils, penances, frugal vegetarian fare interrupted by frequent fasting, heat and cold, prompt and absolute obedience, prohibition from going beyond cloister walls, rare news from the outside world and what there is, filtered through one's superiors, close living together that is continuous and has no term, with companions imposed on you - a hell, in short.
But a hell that can be turned into Paradise. If, and only if, one has a vision of faith that does not hesitate about the truth of the Gospel and its promises. A Paradise only for he who believes, without a doubt, that Jesus Christ is really who the Church announces him to be.
It's a vocation for only a few, certainly. In which one manifests a total, radical faith. That does not hesitate to push to extreme consequences, and of which Montecassino has been an illustrious example for 15 centuries.
The Benedictine shows with his very life that the flame of his candle has plenty of wick. Perhaps it is this light, so rare and precious, that Benedict XVI wishes to show us believers who are increasingly unbelieving, we who have kept of the monastic dualism only the 'labora', forgetting completely about the 'ora'.
Famous monk Popes
Ildebrando of Soana (ca 1020) became Pope in 1073. He clashed with the Emperor Henry IV and died after the pillage of Rome (1084).
Urban (ca. 1040–1099) was the Prior of teh Abbey of Cluny and one of the most active supporters of the Gregorian reforms. In 1086, he became the 159th Pope.
As a young man, he was a monk at the benedictine monastery of Santa Maria di Falfoli. Celestine (1215-1296) is venerated as a saint adn was the only Pope who ever abdicated. [The Pope Benedict XVI visited in L'Aquila after the earthquake].
And not a Pope:
Dom Pierre Perignon
The French monk (1639-1715), who invented champagne, according to legend, was the superintendent of the Abbey of St. Pierre d'Hautvillers.