Friday, September 16, 2016

Dishing Pope Benedict's 'Last Conversations'

Yes Holiness, I wrote everything you wanted me to say 
- they all think I resigned on my own.
Can I get a kitty now?

Endless fodder for discussion.

Nothing wrong with that.

But first.  Did anyone notice that Fr. Z stepped into it?  In wondering if Benedict is the last Pope of the old era or first of the next?  Or was JPII the last?  My first thought was - let's get through this now - let history decide.  We can't decide these things while living in the midst of it.  Is someone looking to a more glorious past, attempting to revive it, hoping to re-establish the old traditional structures of European life  - such as courtly choir dress, galleros with tassels down to the elbows, cappa-magnas swept onto the street, and ornate heraldic crests on letterheads, door posts and vestry?  But I digress.

Fr. Z stepped into it when he pondered out loud, the Garabandal prophecy about the end of the era and the last Pope: 
“After His Holiness Paul VI, there will be only two more popes before the end of the present period (el fin de los tiempos) which is not the end of the world. The Blessed Virgin told me so, but I do not know what that means.”
Why do people do this?  Why do they keep spinning this stuff which gets embedded in 'popular' piety, feeds conspiracy theories, and actually contributes to 'faithful dissent'?  Not to mention leading to the boast of being more Catholic than the pope.

Garabandal - despite what everyone seems to say, is not approved.  Not approved.  I actually visited there on my way to Compostella.  It's a lovely place.  I never got the impression it was authentic or false, what impressed me at the time, was the poverty of the place and very few pilgrims.  I met one of the seers without knowing who she was until after my visit.   I was concerned about the veracity of the phenomena after reading the Bishop's letter posted to the parish church door, rejecting the claims, stating there was no supernatural validity for the apparitions.  It doesn't make me an expert, but I know well enough that the local ordinary, the bishop of the place has the authority to discern the authenticity of the claims.

The recognition of apparitions are not considered a requirement of faith.

Nevertheless, there have been numerous claims that saints and popes have 'believed' the events at Garabandal.  In fact I know many good priests and contemplatives who still believe in the authenticity of the apparitions.

They can do that, I suppose, but it adds nothing to the faith.  In some cases it may even 'retard' belief.  Not a few focus upon things such as 'the last pope at the end of an era' prophecy - which can lead to rejecting one and accepting another, to give credence to one and reject the other, and so on.  Likewise, spiritual life can be left in a sort of 'suspended animation' if you will - waiting for the warning and chastisement, hoping you get 'raptured' or saved in the process.  It can become an obsession and a subtle 'replacement for an authentic spiritual life' if one is not careful, leading to faulty interpretations as regards the 'signs of the times' and real life.

That said, Fr. Z is getting some notice for his speculation - and he will continue to get more as he decodes Last Conversations.  Nothing wrong with that - it's what he does.  He's also met, and spoken with the man, and so he really knows Benedict Joseph Ratzinger.

I'm just pointing out these discussions are pretty much parlour games, little more.  I'm just the footman muttering to himself about the guests ...

Second speculation on Last Conversations.

A friend sent me a very interesting article/letter from Dr. Robert Moynihan on a discussion regarding the Dark Night, as discussed by Pope Benedict in Last Conversations with Peter Seewald.  It must be a letter to subscribers, since I can't find Moynihan's article online.  It is an excellent essay on the subject of the dark night of the soul understood in the Carmelite sense of John of the Cross.  Because I can't find the text online, I include it below - edited for brevity.

The Dark Night of Emeritus Pope Benedict
The term "dark night (of the soul)" is used in Roman Catholicism for a spiritual crisis in a journey toward union with God.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux, a 19th-century French Carmelite, wrote of her own experience. Centering on doubts about the afterlife, she reportedly told her fellow nuns, "If you only knew what darkness I am plunged into." 
But St. John of the Cross, the 16th century Spanish Carmelite mystic, tells us that this "dark night" is not something to be feared or avoided, but rather a great grace and a healing experience for the soul that seeks to draw ever closer to the ultimate it may experience, that is, the soul's Beloved — God.
In his new interview-book, published on September 9 in German and Italian as Ultime Conversazioni ("Last Conversation"), German author Peter Seewald asks Emeritus Pope Benedict whether he has ever experienced a "dark night" of the soul.
And the former pontiff responds "no," adding, with humility, "Perhaps I am not holy enough to have plumbed the depths of that obscurity."
Benedict then tells Seewald that he has had difficult spiritual moments, moments when things have happened to the people around him, causing his to question how God could have permitted such a thing, moments when he has asked himself "how all this evil can be reconciled with the omnipotence and the goodness of the Lord."
So we know that Benedict has suffered from the things he has seen occur around him.
And we know he has even questioned the dispositions of God in these circumstances: How could these painful and evil events be reconciled with God's goodness?
Benedict doesn't dwell on this. His words are concise. He doesn't give examples of what he is referring to. So, in a sense, he is revealing his experience of passing through a sort of "intellectual" night of darkness, when he did not understand, try as he might, how a good God could allow such things to be.
Seewald asks him: "How do you face such problems of faith?"
Benedict replies: "I face them first of all by not abandoning the underlying certainty of the faith and remaining, one might say, immersed in it. And knowing that if I do not understand something, it is not because it is wrong but because I am too small to understand it. Sometimes it has happened that I arrived bit by bit at understanding. And it is always a gift when, unexpectedly, one sees something that one did not see before. One understands that one must be humble, that is one does not understand the words of the Scripture one must wait until the Lord discloses them to our comprehension."
The striking thing about this answer is that it gives us a clear insight into the working of Benedict's mind and soul.
We all know that he is a profound intellect, a man of deep study, much knowledge, and brilliant insight.
And yet, he is revealing to us here that he not only has had difficulty with accepting the evils of this life, but also with understanding the words of the Scriptures.
And we know more: we know that he has experienced moments of understanding as he has sought to comprehend the meaning of those events, and of those Scriptures.
He tells us that these moments have been "gifts" to him.
He tells us that he has received these "gifts" of understanding after patient waiting: "one must wait until the Lord discloses the meaning."
And Seewald, rightly, asks: "And does he disclose the meaning?"
Benedict replies: "Not always. But the fact that there exist moments in which he does shows me the grandeur (or "the greatness") of that experience."
Here we are being given an invitation to contemplate the daily experience of Benedict as he sought to understand the mind of God and the meaning of the Scriptures. Benedict is telling us that, in those moments when he could not understand why something had happened, in those moments when he could not understand the meaning of a passage of Scripture, he waited in an attitude of patience for the Lord to give him light, understanding, insight. And he tells us this happened to him more than once.
Partly for this reason, I think -- because Benedict has explained how his intellect, in moments of lack of clarity, has been enlightened by the Lord -- Seewald then asks the rather odd question: "Would you consider yourself an enlightened one?" (In Italian, the question is: "Si considerebbe un illuminato?")
"No, no," Benedict replies, and Seewald tells us that he was laughing. "No," he says, a third time.
Seewald then asks: "But doesn't the life of a Catholic-Christian also tend by definition toward illumination (or "enlightenment") as it does toward holiness?"
Benedict replies: "The concept of the 'enlightened' one (Benedict uses the word "illuminato" in Italian) has in it something of elitism. I am an entirely normal Christian. Naturally our task is to recognize the truth, which is a light. And through the power of the faith, even a simple person is enlightened ("illuminata"). Because he sees what others, even in their wisdom, do not perceive. In this sense, the faith is enlightenment ("illuminazione"). The Greeks called baptism Photismos, enlightenment ("illuminazione"), coming to the light, acquiring sight. My eyes are opened. I see a dimension which is entirely different, that I cannot perceive with the eyes of the body."
And with these words, the first chapter of this book ends. - Moynihan
"Perhaps I am not holy enough to have plumbed the depths of that obscurity."

Thanks to Ray for sending me the article.  It is indeed edifying.

My very first response is that this is very insightful. Pope Benedict is genuinely and authentically humble - very much like the saints - it seems to me he considers himself unable to judge himself - in the sense St. Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians 4:3, although in a different situation of faith. I'm not sure St. Therese was able to judge her night, nor more recently, if Mother Teresa of Calcutta was able to judge her experience. Spiritual directors and mystical theologians have that job. I think what Benedict does beautifully in this interview is demonstrate these things are common to the ordinary Christian.

 I wish I was smarter - but I think - if we ponder what is revealed in this conversation, the Holy Father is explaining what it means to live from faith. A living faith is supernatural - so he speaks of the underlying foundation of faith while he continues to puzzle as to why and how God permits evil - to the point it seems to triumph. That is the cross, that is the dark night of faith. I think that the dark night of the soul should always, in cases like this, be identified as the dark night of faith - it is not purgative for the soul as much as it is an actual participation in the passion of Christ - in the loftiest sense - and in that way it is an act of reparation.

I could be wrong.

However, I think it is more important to consider the life of faith which Pope Benedict reveals, than the novelty of this or that obscure prophecy from here or there.  Know what I mean?

Yeah, you can still drink and be holy.
A toast!
Now let's turn the bar around ad orientem!


  1. No stuffed cassock is he, our beloved Papa Emerito!

    I am grateful, grateful, grateful, our Lord Jesus Christ has gifted us with such holiness in our present day. I know Papa Francis much appreciates it and so do I.

    Thanks Terry for the post. A good read and one that gives me hope.

    1. Aren't they great? I love them both!

  2. "Turn the bar around ad orientem." You crack me up.


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