Wednesday, February 20, 2013

It Is Time To Pray

Catholics are encouraged to pray for divine guidance for the college of cardinals when they meet to elect a new pope.

It is our hope that the election of the new pope will be the direct choice of the Holy Spirit, but, given papal history, there is no convincing reason to maintain that this is necessarily so.

Pope Benedict was once asked whether the Holy Spirit chooses the pope. His answer was nuanced: "I would say that the Spirit does not exactly take control of the affair, but rather like a good educator, as it were, leaves us much space, much freedom, without entirely abandoning us. Thus the Spirit's role should be understood in a much more elastic way, not that he dictates the candidate for whom one must vote."

Then why pray? If even the Holy Spirit does not necessarily get the candidate she wants, what good is our prayer?

As I wrestle with this question, and indeed with the whole concept of prayers of petition, I begin with the notion that God does not like to do things for us. Rather, God much prefers to do things with us.

Many a grandmother brings her grandchild into the kitchen to bake cookies. Grandma could mix the dough and cut out the cookies more efficiently, more cleanly, by herself, but she willing puts up with the extra mess and misshapen dough in order to bond more closely with her grandchild.

God, I think, does much the same. The Father, prompted by love, prefers to have his children intimately involved in the plan and process of salvation.

There are various kinds of prayer: adoration, thanksgiving, contrition, and petition. Through the prayer of adoration we worship God, acknowledging awesome divinity. In prayers of thanksgiving we express gratitude for heaven's blessings. In contrition we admit our sinfulness and express a spirit of amendment.

But what are we doing in prayers of petition? We are asking God for something: maybe for health or wealth, for success or protection, or for any number of perceived needs.

Are we asking for these things because God is oblivious to our needs? Of course not. Do we pray for the restoration of a loved one's health because we need to earn God's intervention? That makes no sense, since God loves our loved ones more than we do.

If our prayer of petition neither wakens God to our needs nor earns a response, why ask?

Perhaps the first reason we petition God for anything is that such a prayer awakens within us a sense of our dependence upon the Divine One. By such prayer we acknowledge that we are not in control, that we are powerless in many situations of life. We are simply admitting the truth that we need divine providence, that it all depends on God.

A second reason for petition (indeed for all forms of prayer) is that in this exercise of raising our hearts and minds to God we are releasing into the world a force for good!

This reason may seem mystical, but it is not to be ignored.

We know that there is evil in the world. Recall the advice in 1 Peter 5:8, "Be sober and watchful, for your adversary the devil like a roaring lion is prowling about the world seeking someone to devour. Resist him steadfast in the faith..."

When grandmother cooks a pot of cabbage the aroma soon wafts from the kitchen into the rest of the house. In a similar way, when we do evil (when we sin) we release evil into the world. And, conversely, when we do good (when we love) we release goodness, a force that confronts and counterbalances evil.

All our prayers, including petition, release the force of good, and that force can influence the world and the mentality around us.

Since God does not like to do things for us (except in special situations --for God is God, and God does whatever God wants) but rather prefers to do things with us, God patiently waits for us to release goodness into the world, and allows the things of this world to be influenced by either the presence of evil or the force for good.

Our failure to pray does not necessarily shackle God's power nor prevent divine intervention. Nevertheless, if my interpretation of salvation history (including the history of the Church) provides a clue about God's modus operandi, I am persuaded that God often waits for us to do our part.

All prayer, especially petition, is to be couched in an attitude of  "thy will be done."

It may well be, however, that God's will awaits our cooperation.

It is, then, possible that our next pope is not necessarily God's choice. Our encouragement to pray for the guidance of the Spirit at the conclave is found in Luke 11:9: "And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you."

If our prayer releases a force for good into the world, may that force finds its way into the closed doors  of  the Sistine Chapel. May the "Extra, omnes" of the Master of the Papal Liturgical Celebrations drive out all evil forces from the conclave and let remain only the good ones, blessed by the Holy Spirit.

If we do not ask, we shall not receive. Let us release the good. It is time to pray!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Text of Pope Benedict's Resignation

Vatican Radio issued the following English translation of Pope Benedict XVI's announcement that he intended to resign on February 28, 2013:

Dear Brothers,
I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church. 

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.

Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects. And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff. With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.

From the Vatican, 10 February 2013