Benedict’s Beautiful Reflection on his Prayer in Service of the Church

December 31, 2022 (Steven O’Reilly) – On the occasion of the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, I thought it would be appropriate to look back on what has been an overlooked, beautiful reflection made by Benedict XVI on the occasion of his last audience.  In it, he outlines his love for the “sons and daughters” and “brothers and sisters” he gained upon becoming pope.  He spoke of them belonging to him, and he to them. A true bond of charity.  He continued on to say that his renunciation of the papacy would not alter that bond of charity, and thus, he would continue to pray for the Church as his personal ministry until the end of his life.  Now, having departed this veil of tears, we can be sure that Benedict continues in prayer for his “sons and daughter”, his “brothers and sisters,” the Church in the next life, just as he had the last 10 years of his life as pope emeritus.

I will only comment on one key section of Benedict’s last audience on February 27, 2013, on the event of his renunciation.  Let’s examine the key part of Benedict’s last general audience in which he reflected on his election to the See of Peter:

Here, allow me to go back once again to 19 April 2005. The real gravity of the decision was also due to the fact that from that moment on I was engaged always and forever by the Lord. Always – anyone who accepts the Petrine ministry no longer has any privacy. He belongs always and completely to everyone, to the whole Church. In a manner of speaking, the private dimension of his life is completely eliminated. I was able to experience, and I experience it even now, that one receives one’s life precisely when one gives it away. Earlier I said that many people who love the Lord also love the Successor of Saint Peter and feel great affection for him; that the Pope truly has brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, throughout the world, and that he feels secure in the embrace of your communion; because he no longer belongs to himself, he belongs to all and all belong to him.

The “always” is also a “for ever” – there can no longer be a return to the private sphere. My decision to resign the active exercise of the ministry does not revoke this. I do not return to private life, to a life of travel, meetings, receptions, conferences, and so on. I am not abandoning the cross, but remaining in a new way at the side of the crucified Lord. I no longer bear the power of office for the governance of the Church, but in the service of prayer I remain, so to speak, in the enclosure of Saint Peter. Saint Benedict, whose name I bear as Pope, will be a great example for me in this. He showed us the way for a life which, whether active or passive, is completely given over to the work of God.[i]

In the first of the two paragraphs above, Benedict first enters into a discussion of an “always” and “forever.” Benedict begins (italics added):

Here, allow me to go back once again to 19 April 2005. The real gravity of the decision was also due to the fact that from that moment on I was engaged always and forever by the Lord. Always – anyone who accepts the Petrine ministry no longer has any privacy. He belongs always and completely to everyone, to the whole Church. In a manner of speaking, the private dimension of his life is completely eliminated. I was able to experience, and I experience it even now, that one receives one’s life precisely when one gives it away. Earlier I said that many people who love the Lord also love the Successor of Saint Peter and feel great affection for him; that the Pope truly has brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, throughout the world, and that he feels secure in the embrace of your communion; because he no longer belongs to himself, he belongs to all and all belong to him.[ii]

What does this all mean? Benedict speaks of what his life became when he accepted his election to the papacy. First, he talks about being “always” and “forever” engaged “by the Lord.” What does he mean by this? He tells us. By “always” he speaks of anyone who is elected pope losing his “privacy.” He says of him who is elected pope, meaning here himself, especially: “He belongs always and completely to everyone, to the whole Church.” It is because of this, he says, “in a manner of speaking,” his privacy is eliminated.

Benedict is speaking of his own privacy being forever lost, but only in a sense. By “loss of privacy” Benedict means “he belongs always and completely to everyone, to the whole Church. How? Again, he tells us. Benedict says when he became pope, he “truly” gained “brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, throughout the world.” Thus, Benedict’s use of “always” refers to “always belonging to the whole Church” when he accepted his election as pope.

This is what the “always” refers to, when Benedict speaks of being engaged “always and forever” by the Lord. He becomes a father to the “sons and daughters” he gains upon becoming pope. As he says, the Successor of Peter is loved by the whole Church: “he belongs to all, and all belong to him.” There is formed a bond of charity with his “sons and daughters” that he feels deeply.

It might do well here to pause and reflect on other times where Benedict used similar imagery of the “loss of privacy” and of “no longer belonging to ourselves.” Soon after the death of Pope Paul VI, Cardinal Josef Ratzinger in August 1978 gave a homily on the deceased pope, in part saying (italics added):

Moreover, we can imagine how heavy the thought must be of no longer belonging to ourselves; of no longer having a single private moment; of being enchained to the very last, with our body giving up and with a task that day after day demands the total, vigorous use of a man’s energy.[iii]

Archbishop Ratzinger was reflecting on the life of a recently deceased Pope Paul VI. He spoke of Paul VI as having to bear the “heavy” thought of “no longer belonging to [himself]” and of “no longer having a single private moment.”

Furthermore, twenty-seven years later, during his homily at the mass inaugurating his own Petrine ministry, Pope Benedict spoke of the reciprocity of the bond of charity of himself also belonging to others. Speaking of the weight of the papacy, the new pope said:

I am not alone. I do not have to carry alone what in truth I could never carry alone. All the Saints of God are there to protect me, to sustain me and to carry me. And your prayers, my dear friends, your indulgence, your love, your faith and your hope accompany me.[iv]

Consequently, we see in Benedict’s thoughts over many years the consistent theme that a pope “no longer belongs to himself,” and “no longer having a private moment,” but also of the Church loving him in return—“accompanying” him with their faith, hope, and love — and prayers. This reciprocal bond of charity is key to understanding Benedict’s thought in his last audience with respect to the personal mission or ministry he set out for himself in his role as pope emeritus — as becomes clearer in the next paragraph in his last audience.

In second paragraph under consideration, Benedict speaks of how the “‘always’ is also a ‘forever’” and “there can no longer be a return to the private sphere.” Benedict says:

The “always” is also a “for ever” – there can no longer be a return to the private sphere. My decision to resign the active exercise of the ministry does not revoke this. I do not return to private life, to a life of travel, meetings, receptions, conferences, and so on. I am not abandoning the cross, but remaining in a new way at the side of the crucified Lord. I no longer bear the power of office for the governance of the Church, but in the service of prayer I remain, so to speak, in the enclosure of Saint Peter. Saint Benedict, whose name I bear as Pope, will be a great example for me in this. He showed us the way for a life which, whether active or passive, is completely given over to the work of God.[v]

In the first section we analyzed, Benedict speaks of when he was elected and how the “always” referred to the loss of privacy. That is, of how he gained brothers and sisters, and sons and daughters upon his electionHe specifically speaks of “belong-ing always and completely to everyone, to the whole Church.” He is speaking of a loving attachment, a loving relationship. A bond of charity of the pope, as a father, for his “sons and daughters,” and in turn, the love of the “sons and daughters” for their father, the pope. 

Now, in the second paragraph, Benedict continues with this same theme! Benedict speaks of the “forever” mentioned in the first paragraph, but of which he has not yet spoken in detail. He says, the “always” with the respect to the bond of charity—is “also a forever,” and by this he explains himself—“there can be no return to the private sphere.” The “always” and the “forever” reference the same thing, i.e., the bond of charity we discussed earlier. Just as in Cardinal Ratzinger’s homily from 1978, he speaks of the pope’s heavy thought of “no longer belonging to ourselves” and “of no longer having a single private moment.”

Benedict is not saying he cannot return to a status in which he is not a pope, prior to his election. Rather, he is saying there is no returning to the “private sphere,” that is, to the time when he didn’t yet have the bond of charity, the “belonging” to the Church, i.e., his belonging to his “sons and daughters,” etc. In other words, there is no return for him from the bond of charity — i.e., one does not stop loving the “sons and daughters” one gained upon becoming pope, even if one stops being pope. The bond of charity persists. Rather, when he says the resignation “does not revoke this,” the “this”—grammatically and in context—necessarily refers to the impossibility of returning “to the private sphere.” And, by “no return to the private sphere”, we have already seen he means there is no revoking this bond of charity with the “brothers and sisters, sons and daughters” he gained upon his election.

Thus, reading both paragraphs in context, Benedict’s meaning is clear. His bond of charity with his “sons and daughters” gained at election is a “permanent” one (i.e., a “forever”); and, thus, his resignation will not revoke this bond. Even though he is resigning the papacy, this does not mean his love for his “sons and daughters” is also at an end. It is this bond of charity which will endure, even though he is no longer pope. This is how the “always” is also a “forever,” a love which his resignation cannot, would not, and did not revoke.

Benedict then explains what this means in practice. He says “I am not abandoning the cross, but remain in a new way at the side of the crucified Lord.” He is remaining in a “new way,” not the “same way”—i.e., not as pope. He concludes for us: “I no longer bear the power of office for the governance of the Church, but in the service of prayer I remain, so to speak, in the enclosure of Saint Peter.” Here, Benedict tells us again that though he will no longer be pope, his life will be devoted to praying for the whole Church, i.e., for those who became his sons and daughters, sisters and brothers. The bond of charity endures.

These themes from Benedict’s last audience may also be found later in his interviews with Peter Seewald when he was the Pope Emeritus. For example, speaking of the origin of the title of bishop emeritus, Benedict told Seewald (italics added):

Earlier, bishops were not allowed to resign. There were a number of bishops who said “I am a father and that I’ll stay”, because you cannot simply stop being a father; stopping is a functionalization and secularization, something from the sort of concept of public office which shouldn’t apply to a bishop. To that I must reply; even a father’s role stops. Of course a father does not stop being a father, but he is relieved of concrete responsibility. He remains a father in a deep, inward sense, in a particular relationship which has responsibility, but not with day-to-day tasks as such. It was also this way with bishops. Anyway, since then it has become generally understood on the one hand the bishop is bearer of a sacramental mission which remains binding on him inwardly, but on the other hand this does not have to keep him in his function forever. And so I think it clear that also the Pope is no superman and his mere existence is not sufficient to conduct his role; rather, he likewise exercises a function. If he steps down, he remains in an inner sense within the responsibility he took on, but not in the function. In this respect one comes to understand that the office of the Pope has lost none of its greatness, even if the humanity of the office is perhaps becoming more clearly evident.”[vi]

Benedict’s remarks to Seewald echo what we have outlined above about the last audience. Benedict, making an analogy to himself, says of the bishop who resigns: “a father does not stop being a father.” Of a bishop who has resigned his office, Benedict says that while “he is relieved of concrete responsibility,” the bishop “remains a father in a deep, inward sense, in a particular relationship which has responsibility, but not with day-to-day tasks as such.”

Thus, Benedict’s Seewald interviews echo what he said in his last audience, i.e., his understanding that he is still a “father” who has an inward sense of responsibility to his “sons and daughters” owing to the bond of charity. This responsibility of love leads him, as he says in the last audience, to continue on in the “service of prayer” for the Church even after his resignation.

Benedict’s logic in the general audience may be summarized as follows: (1) for him, as one who was elected pope, he belongs to the Church and the Church to him, the private dimension of his life in a “manner of speaking” is thus lost; (2) yet, one receives one’s life when one gives it away, i.e., he truly gains brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, throughout the world, i.e., the pope becomes a “father;” (3) a pope “always” carries within himself this “bond of charity,” feeling secure in this embrace because he “no longer belongs to himself, he belongs to all and all belong to him;” (4) resigning the papacy “does not revoke” this bond of charity, this loving attachment, as he will “ forever” retain that love for all (i.e., for us in the Church)—just as a father “always and forever” loves his sons and daughters; and thus, (5) after his resignation, he will continue to pray in service for his “sons and daughters,” the Church.

Pope Benedict XVI saw that he became a “father” to the Church, i.e., to “sons and daughters.” He both deeply felt and welcomed this “belonging.” He assured us that in his years after his renunciation of the papal office until his death, he would serve his “sons and daughters,” and “brothers and sisters” the Church through pray. It was quite a beautiful reflection.  No doubt, Benedict will now, in the next life, continue in this prayer.  May his prayers, through the mercy of God, grants us relief from the confusion of these days.

Steven O’Reilly is a graduate of the University of Dallas and the Georgia Institute of Technology. A former intelligence officer, he and his wife, Margaret, live near Atlanta. He has written apologetic articles, and is author of Book I of the Pia Fidelis trilogy, The Two Kingdoms; and of Valid? The Resignation of Pope Benedict XVI(Follow on twitter at @fidelispia for updates). He asks for your prayers for his intentions.  He can be contacted at StevenOReilly@AOL.com  or StevenOReilly@ProtonMail.com (or follow on Twitter: @S_OReilly_USA or on GETTR, TruthSocial, or Gab: @StevenOReilly).

[i] Pope Benedict XVI, excerpt from the General Audience, February 27, 2013.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, “The Transfiguration,” originally a homily given August 10, 1979, Reprinted in L’Osservatore Romano, Weekly Edition in English, 7-14 August 2013, page 3, published online on EWTN (www.ewtn.com). https://www.ewtn.com/catholicism/library/transfiguration-1723

[iv] Pope Benedict XVI, “Mass, Imposition of the Pallium, and conferral of the Fisherman’s Ring for the Beginning of the Petrine Ministry of the Bishop of Rome, Homily of His Holiness Benedict XVI,” Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Sunday, April 24, 2005. https://www.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/homilies/2005/documents/hf_ben-xvi_hom_20050424_inizio-pontificato.html

[v] Pope Benedict XVI, excerpt from the General Audience, February 27, 2013.

[vi] Peter Seewald, Benedict XVI: Last Testament in his own words, p.73 (Kindle version).


6 thoughts on “Benedict’s Beautiful Reflection on his Prayer in Service of the Church

      1. Happy New Year brother.

        It was a wry cocktail (Black humor Manhattan) comment.

        He was a Father who abandoned his family…

        I am impressed with your patience with all of the sedevacantists in the DOA Cult (Disciples of Ann)

        Ask any of them…

        “If I came to your town and asked you where the Catholic Church where would you say it was?”

        It’s prolly be an sspx or private chapel.

        As early as 1991 Mons Lefevbre had usurped (but he didn’t really) the authority and jurisdiction of the Pope

        Like

  1. Happy New Year brother.

    It was a wry cocktail (Black humor Manhattan) comment.

    He was a Father who abandoned his family…

    I am impressed with your patience with all of the sedevacantists in the DOA Cult (Disciples of Ann)

    Ask any of them…

    “If I came to your town and asked you where the Catholic Church where would you say it was?”
    It’d prolly be an sspx or private chapel.

    As early as 1991 Mons Lefevbre had usurped (but he didn’t really) the authority and jurisdiction of the Pope

    Like

    1. Hi VC,

      I can’t say I know what sort of parishes they go to. It will be interesting to see whether they are still going to them after the next few weeks and months. After all the logic of their theories would suggest they not go to a mass which remembers an “antipope” in the canon.

      Bugnolo has declared 99% of the College of Cardinals are excommunicated ipso facto, and they have no office in the Church — not even their own diocesan jurisdictions. Thus, he has issued his own regulations for a potential peoples’ conclave in Rome (see https://romalocutaest.com/2022/12/18/pope-bugnolo-i/), and has even said the faithful could elect their own bishops in those sees where their bishops are ipso facto excommunicated (see https://romalocutaest.com/2022/12/27/the-tome-of-alexis-bugnolo/). But that is just Bugnolo. He really hasn’t explained who would consecrate the one elected as a bishop or bishop of Rome, if not one already.

      I would guess that folks like Cionci, Acosta, and Coffin essentially agree with him, at least in so far as saying most of Cardinals are either not valid — because they were appointed by Francis, or because they are ipso facto excommunicated for having rejected the supposed last ten years of Benedict’s papacy.

      They might agree and say we could theoretically get a pope if the cardinals — as of 2013 — elected a pope. But, as a practical matter, that is not going to happen. So, they are stuck coming up with a way to get a pope. Who knows…maybe they will opt for Bugnolo’s plan — which might even yield a Pope Bugnolo I.

      I don’t think I’ve seen any really thinking on what to do next on the part of the Barnhardtians, aside from wait and see.

      Though my last couple Bugnolo articles had a bit a light, humorous touch…it is sad to see this unfold. Before Benedict’s death, the Benepapists could play make pretend with their absurd theories. However, the bill is now due. Benedict is dead. Now they really have to live it. They’ve backed themselves into a new form of sedevacantism, and I don’t believe any of them have an idea of how they get themselves out of that. Unfortunately, many innocent folks have put stock in the opinions and analytical ‘expertise’ of the likes of Barnhardt, Bugnolo, Acosta, Cionci, Coffin, Minutella, etc. I hope and pray they all may see the light.

      Thanks for the comments.

      Steve

      Like

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