Tag: Pope Benedict XVI

Our Manifesto: A Look Forward

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This article originally appeared in Renewal Ministries’ September 2019 newsletter.

In our July newsletter, we published Cardinal Mueller’s “Manifesto,” which so clearly reaffirmed important truths of our faith that have been surrounded with fog and confusion, even in Rome. As I meditated on his thoughts, I felt inspired to write a Manifesto for Renewal Ministries that clearly states where we stand in the ongoing spiritual battle, who we are, and what we are planning. I hope you find the below informative and inspiring. I do!

What are we facing?

We’re facing a very grave decline in the life of the Catholic Church. And if the body that is supposed to be salt and light to the world, loses its savor . . . the consequences for the Church and the world will not be good.

The statistics are not improving! Years ago, I used to make use of statistics to try to wake people up to the seriousness of our situation and to elicit a greater generosity and clarity of response to Jesus. But after a certain point, I stopped using statistics because almost everybody knew the situation was bad and didn’t need any more convincing. But because this is an attempt to lay out our vision for the future of Renewal Ministries, I want to review the current situation once more. The headline on the front page of our local Sunday newspaper recently read: “Catholics struggles as numbers fall.” Embarrassing, but true.

And what are the current numbers? Not pretty. These numbers are for the State of Michigan but would be very similar for most states, other than the Sunbelt states that benefit from migration from the north and immigration of Hispanics, who are traditionally Catholic.

A Remnant?

In the state of Michigan from 2000 to 2018, there was a forty-nine percent decline in infant baptisms; a fifty-four percent decline in Catholic marriages, a forty-six percent decline in First Communions, a forty-nine percent decline in enrollment in Catholic grades schools, and a forty-eight percent decline in K-12 religious education classes. During this time, the state’s population stayed relatively stable; in fact, it recently peaked at about ten million, which was similar to population numbers before the 2008 economic downturn.

While these statistics are bad in themselves, what they portend for the future is worse. Out of the approximately twenty-one percent of those nominally Catholic who still attend Mass somewhat regularly, the number of people who attend drops as the ages drop, with young people especially absent from many churches. Nationwide, for every person who enters the Catholic Church, six people leave.

Some Michigan Catholic dioceses are national leaders in the seriousness with which they’ve attempted to “change the culture of the Church” to one of evangelization. I’ve participated in these efforts myself as director of Graduate Theology Programs in the New Evangelization at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in the Archdiocese of Detroit, a very good seminary. But despite massive investments of time and money, the statistics are not yet improving. It is very likely that societal trends are so strong and years of negligence in teaching and preaching the truth in parishes and schools so great, that many Catholics who still attend Church have gone over to the “world” in terms of what they really believe, how they live, and how they are raising their children, guaranteeing that further erosion of attendance and numbers is extremely likely, no matter what efforts are currently being made. We will almost certainly be reduced to a remnant, perhaps a despised remnant, by those who form part of an apostate church and a society that is hostile to true faith and morality. So what shall we do? What is Renewal Ministries going to do in response to this?

We must consider: What are we called to do?

We firmly believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and that He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. We firmly believe that God has permitted all the negligence, cowardice, complicity in evil, and lack of a clear sound from the trumpet, for many years now, and that He has a plan to bring good out of this horrific evil. Negligence and infidelity are being exposed. Corruption and cowardice are being unveiled. Either we will turn to the Lord in humble repentance and ask Him to have mercy on us or the unraveling will continue. We  may indeed be reduced to a remnant. In any case, in God’s perfect time, the unrepentant wicked will be judged, and those suffering for righteousness’ sake will be vindicated.

But God has often allowed His people to be purified and pruned in this way, and He has begun again with a faithful remnant, out of which powerful renewal comes. Out of Noah, He gave a new beginning to the human race that had fallen into wickedness. Out of Gideon and his littleness, the Lord brought victory over His peoples’ enemies. And Jesus Himself started with a small number; out of their radical love, faith, and willingness to give their own lives even to the death, the Church grew. It can happen again. It is happening again where people give their lives to the Lord with generosity and bear the fruit that Jesus asked us all to bear. It may not show up in the statistics for a long time, but under the surface, the Lord is powerfully working, drawing people into deep relationship with Himself and one another.

Isn’t this unraveling what Pope Benedict XVI foresaw many years ago?

“From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge—a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so will she lose many of her social privileges. In contrast to an earlier age, she will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision. . . .

“But in all of the changes at which one might guess, the Church will find her essence afresh and with full conviction in that which was always at her center: faith in the triune God, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, in the presence of the Spirit until the end of the world. In faith and prayer she will again recognize her true center and experience the sacraments again as the worship of God and not as a subject for liturgical scholarship.

“The Church will be a more spiritual Church, not presuming upon a political mandate, flirting as little with the Left as with the Right. It will be hard going for the Church, for the process of crystalization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek.

“The process will be all the more arduous, for sectarian narrow-mindedness as well as pompous self-will will have to be shed. One may predict that all of this will take time. The process will be long and wearisome as was the road from the false progressivism of the eve of the French Revolution—when a bishop might be thought smart if he made fun of dogmas and even insinuated that the existence of God was by no means certain—to the renewal of the nineteenth century.

“But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church.

“Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret.

“And so it seems certain to me that the Church is facing very hard times. The real crisis has scarcely begun. We will have to count on terrific upheavals. But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already . . . but the Church of faith. She may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently; but she will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man’s home, where he will find life and hope beyond death.” (Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal. Faith and the Future. E-book. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2010. 116-118.)

A New Springtime Arises

It is out of decisions like this, of renewed loyalty to Jesus Christ and His Church, to His whole teaching, that the “new springtime” prophesied by St. John Paul II will arise. As some have pointed out, the “first springtime” of the Church came through hostility, persecution, and martyrdom, and so may also the “new springtime.”

It is with joy and confidence that I write these difficult words. Jesus indeed is the Lord, and always will be. He has a plan. That plan includes all of us! Let’s all continue to give ourselves to the Lord in all the everyday ways that present themselves, and persevere to the end! He is with us, and He will give us everything we need. He who did not spare His own Son—will He not also give us all that we need (Rom 8:32)?

I also write this with a sense of great gratitude. Those of us associated with Renewal Ministries have been given the great privilege of being used by the Lord to help many, many people come to the Lord and continue to follow Him. He has “appointed us to bear fruit” (Jn 15:16), and by His great grace and mercy, we are!

Thanks for all you do to further the kingdom in your daily lives and in your support of Renewal Ministries.

What will Renewal Ministries Do?

We will continue as best we can to obey Paul’s advice to Timothy:

“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths. As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” (2Tm 4:1-5)

  • We are interested not in promoting a particular movement or experience, but in promoting the integral Catholic faith as it comes to us through the apostles and as it is articulated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In particular, we are interested in including in our teaching and preaching those aspects of the Gospel that are often being ignored or denied today, such as the reality of heaven and hell; the eternal consequences of refusing to believe and repent; and the full truth about God’s mercy, that it must be responded to in faith and repentance in order to be effectively applied.
  • We want to be clear on the truly good news that God’s plan for human sexuality involves marriage between one man and one woman, and that sexual activity outside of godly marriage will exclude us from the kingdom of God unless we repent.
  • We want to draw from the depth of the Catholic Tradition the profound truths about growing in holiness, how we are all called to holiness, and that holiness is possible—and necessary!
  • We want to embody in our ministry, teaching, and preaching the truth of the powerful work of the Holy Spirit, and how He gives gifts to all the faithful that we must use for the building up of the Church and the extension of the kingdom.
  • We affirm with St. John Paul II that the charismatic dimension of the Church, along with its institutional dimension, are both “co-essential” for its very constitution.
  • We want to not just preach and teach but pray with people for them to encounter the Lord in a deeper way. We want to live and communicate the truth of the Lord’s body and blood given to us in the Eucharist, and we want to honor Mary and benefit from her prophetic and evangelistic missions that continue today.
  • We want to continue to be inspired by the witness of Sts. Jacinta and Francisco and “become like children” in our whole-hearted response to Mary’s request to pray and sacrifice for the salvation of souls and reparation for sin.
  • We want to continue to do what God has asked us to do; we want to fulfill the ministry He has given us.
  • We want to continue—through television, radio, social media, books, booklets, CDs, DVDs, YouTube and Vimeo channels, and more—to speak the word of truth and love, and of salvation, in season and out of season.

Commitment to Missions

We want to continue to help strengthen the Church by our various missions to more than forty countries. Once we get involved in a country, we stay with them as long as we can help. For some countries, like Lithuania, we have been helping for almost thirty years. We want to continue to work with dedicated brothers and sisters throughout the world, our country coordinators, and others, who so generously give of their time in working side-by-side with us in our international missions.

While the main focus of our mission is evangelization, we also help with people’s physical needs whenever possible. We do so regularly in our four annual mission trips to Mexico, in which we focus on meeting peoples’ needs for food and medicine, clothing, and shoes. In other countries, particularly in Africa, we also are often able to assist people who attend our events with meals, toiletries, transportation, and lodging. One of the members of our Tanzania mission teams has even played a significant role in bringing much-needed wells and clean drinking water to the country!

We also, through the gifted people the Lord has joined to us, are able to do really important and ground-breaking “pro-life” education in many African countries that are being bullied by Western secular government to introduce abortion into their cultures.

Salvation of Souls

We want to continue to do all we can to strengthen seminarians, deacons, priests, and bishops by responding to requests to do clergy study days and convocations, deacon retreats, and Life in the Spirit Seminars for seminarians. We have conducted these sessions in more than thirty dioceses in the US and Canada, and in many overseas dioceses as well. As I write this, I’ve just received a report on the recent retreat for seminarians that we made possible in Uganda; eighty-nine seminarians from across the country attended and experienced a real deepening in their spiritual lives, as well as the Holy Spirit and the urgency of evangelization.

We want to continue to write and publish books, booklets, and scholarly and popular articles that advance the cause of the Gospel. A number of our books are being used in universities, colleges, seminaries, high schools, and study groups, and by hundreds of thousands of individuals. We are concerned with the salvation of souls, and all we do has that as its main focus.

Cross-Generational Ministries

We want to be a truly cross-generational ministry involving fellow disciples from each of the generations—from the Greatest Generation, to Baby Boomers, to Generation X, to Millennials, to Generation Z, and to whatever else they name the next group of young people. We want to work side-by-side with old and young, to witness to and extend the love of the body of Christ in our relationships and in our ministry.

We are significantly investing in reaching younger generations through i.d.9:16, which now has eighteen chapters in the US and Canada. We want to be a voice for truly solid young adult ministry, and we are given many opportunities to do this through invitations to conferences, diocesan and parish training retreats, Bishops’ Advisory Councils, and even an international consultation on young adult ministry in Rome.

As the world targets younger and younger children, we are grateful that our ministry has extended to younger groupings of middle-school and high-school-aged boys and girls, and young men and women, through the boys and girls camps that Pete Burak and Debbie Herbeck have led for many years—which bring hundreds of young people to an encounter with Christ—that we have supported and been actively involved with for about three decades now! In fact, this outreach has been actively growing through the Be Love Revolution ministry for girls and a similar group, called Zion, that we are beginning for boys. These ministries currently are mainly incubating here in Ann Arbor, but this is often the seedbed out of which things develop that we can share with wider groups, as was the case with i.d.9:16. In fact, new Be Love Revolution chapters have already begun in Maryland and Lansing, Michigan. One of the reasons we have been able to expand our work with young people so rapidly is that many of those on staff with us now have been able to raise a good part of their salaries from friends, relatives, and fellow parishioners, which we are able to supplement with health insurance coverage.

We are seeing in all this the outlines of the Lord’s “succession plan” for Renewal Ministries. I continue to be in good health and have seen no diminishment of energy, and I feel very confident if anything happened to me, Peter Herbeck would be able to step into overall leadership—which he already shares with me—without missing a beat. And as you know, we have other promising young people, like Pete Burak, coming up behind Peter, as well as an excellent board that will continue to care for the ministry during whatever may come.

Healing Wounds

We are acutely aware that so many of our fellow Catholics, our fellow human beings, are suffering from wounds of the past, abuse, rejection, isolation, sins they have committed and sins committed against them, trauma, disappointment, and evils beyond mentioning. We have been grateful for some time now for the simple method of biblically based prayer that the “Unbound” ministry has developed. We have recommended this simple method to those working with us and are happy recently to have received as part of the Renewal Ministries’ family the Live Free Unbound Ministry, which has helped thousands of people throughout the state of Michigan and elsewhere at home and abroad. Inspired by the work of our good friend Neal Lozano and his international ministry, “Heart of the Father,” John and Michelle Kazanjian have conducted conferences and trained many teams who are able to pray responsibly with people to help them get free from the various bondages that sometimes beset us all. A number of us have gone through their training program and benefitted from it quite a bit.

We have known John and Michelle for years, and they have served with us in many ways. John is one of our country coordinators, and both of them have helped train people who work with us in missions. Their ministry has reached a point where they can benefit from the administrative and legal structure that Renewal Ministries can provide, as well as the closer spiritual fellowship and discernment that is available to those serving with us. They maintain a cooperative relationship with the Lozanos and Heart of the Father as they move forward into a more intentionally Catholic mission, situated within the context of the New Evangelization. We look forward to the new opportunities that will open up as a result of us serving together more closely in the broader work of Renewal Ministries, now very much enriched by adding John and Michelle and the many they have trained to our team.

Co-Workers for the Harvest

We also want to acknowledge our fellow ministries, which inspire and teach us, and with which we are blessed to be engaged in the same battle for holiness and evangelization. I am thinking of ministries like ChristLife, led for many years by our good friend Dave Nodar; and Divine Renovation, led by our friend and Canadian Board Member Fr. James Mallon; the Companions of the Cross and their bishop “graduates,” such as Bishop Scott McCaig, who is one of our Canadian Board members and a frequent mission team member; Neal Lozano and the truly amazing national and international “Heart of the Father” Unbound ministry that is helping so many get free of various bondages; and the great work of the Franciscan University of Steubenville, where a number of us continue to participate in many conferences, and which is now led by their new president, Fr. Dave Pivonka, one of our American board members. I also am thinking of the great Bible studies that are emerging everywhere and helping so many people know the Word of God, including those developed by our American Board Members Lori Manhardt (Come and See Catholic Bible Study) and Sharon Doran (Seeking Truth Catholic Bible Study) and our mission teacher Lavinia Spirito (Catholic Way Bible Study). I think also of the great work being done by Scott Hahn and the St. Paul Center for Biblical Studies, Curtis Martin and the great work being done by FOCUS, the Summers family and the great work being done by Family Mission Company, and so many more—including our longstanding relationship with the amazing work of EWTN, and locally, with Al Kresta and Ave Maria Radio. There’s a lot happening, and there are many signs of hope.

Gratitude and Prayer

Your support makes the work of Renewal Ministries possible, and we thank you for it. In a time of confusion and discouragement, we want to continue to be a voice of truth and a reason for hope, a light in the darkness. You have made it possible. We commit ourselves as we approach our fortieth anniversary to continue the mission, even more so, as the Lord adds to our numbers and continues to open doors.

Let’s pray that all of us in the Church today are able to make the courageous decisions needed in the face of great pressure to the contrary to remain faithful to Jesus Christ and not deny him before men! How prescient the words of the great Dominican moral theologian Servais Pinckaers, who died a few years ago, were in pinpointing the important decisions now facing the Church—and every Christian!

“The Church in its turn must pass through the testing of faith, must stand alone before God far from the world, in order to be rooted in Christ, in God. These are the questions asked: will the Church dare to believe in the Word of God, even when it seems to be a folly, a scandal, the stupidity of a prescientific age in the eyes of the world’s learned ones? Will it have the courage to hope in God when human hope is gone, and renounce human support if need be? Can it love God more than the world and all it offers, more than itself . . . The crucial point in the encounter between Christianity and the modern world is found in the affirmation and audacious preaching of the supernatural, other-worldly character of faith in Jesus Christ. . . . In the measure in which it avoids detachment and the transcendence of human values in order to remain bonded to the world . . . Whatever upheaval illusions, books it may produce, it is self-condemned to spiritual sterility. It recoils before the cross of Christ.” (Servais Pinckaers, OP, The Sources of Christian Ethics, [Washington DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1995], 313-315)

The Future of the Church

Dedication to the Church

 

The following was taken from the Magnificat meditation for November 9, 2017

“The future of the Church can and will issue from those whose roots are deep and who live from the pure fullness of their faith. It will not issue from those who accommodate themselves merely to the passing moment or from those who merely criticize others and assume that they themselves are infallible measuring rods; nor will it issue from those who take the easier road, who sidestep the passion of faith, declaring false and obsolete, tyrannous and legalistic, all that makes demands upon men, that hurts them and compels them to sacrifice themselves. To put this more positively:

“The future of the Church, once again as always, will be reshaped by the saints, by people, that is, whose minds probe deeper than the slogans of the day, who see more than others see, because their lives embrace a wider reality.”

“Unselfishness, which makes men free, is attained only through the patience of small daily acts of self-denial. By this daily passion, which alone reveals to a man in how many ways he is enslaved by his own ego, by this daily passion and by it alone, a man’s eyes are slowly opened. He sees only to the extent that he has lived and suffered….”

“Let us go a step farther. From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge — a Church that has lost much. It will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. It will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices it built in its palmy days. As the number of its adherents diminishes, so will it lose many of its social privileges. In contrast to an earlier age, it will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision. As a small society, it will make much bigger demands on the initiative of its individual members. Undoubtedly it will discover new forms of ministry, and will ordain to the priesthood approved Christians who pursue some profession. In many smaller congregations or in self-contained social groups, pastoral care will normally be provided in this fashion. Along-side this, the full-time ministry of the priesthood will be indispensable as formerly.”

“But in all of the changes at which one might guess, the Church will find its essence afresh and with full conviction in that which was always at its center: faith in the triune God, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, in the presence of the Spirit until the end of the world.

In faith and prayer it will again recognize its true center, and experience the sacraments again as the worship of God and not as a subject for liturgical scholarship.”

» Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI)

Culture in Crisis

negative-space_sea-front-old-young-man-serkan-goktay

“There is some dark chaos in the air.” These words by Rod Dreher, in the American Conservative blog on August 18, 2017, recently caught my eye. Dreher is the author of the much-talked about book, The Benedict Option. The blog post was a reflection on the polarized and deeply confused state of our politics, which for Dreher, is a reflection of the larger cultural crisis that has gripped the country. He began with a Twitter message from Dr. Robert George that expressed a feeling shared by many:

“Things are spinning out of control.”

He then quotes conservative writer Erick Erickson, who expressed a similar feeling and observation about our times:

“This (the political confusion) is not sustainable. Something is going to give. I do not know what, but something will give. The nation cannot sustain this constant state of chaos and crisis.”

Finally, Dreher expresses his own feeling that “there is some dark chaos in the air.”

The blog post reminded me of a strong prophetic sense or word I received in July of 2015, while on mission in Uganda. Our team, Lloyd and Nancy Greenhaw, Deacon Larry Oney, and I were leading a week-long conference for close to 350 priests and bishops, at the major seminary in the Archdiocese of Kampala. Toward the end of the week, during daily Mass, I began to have a very strong sense of the Lord’s presence. I felt simultaneously a deep abiding peace, a feeling of fullness, and a childlike joy filling my heart.

I went to communion and came back to my seat. When I sat down, the Lord began to speak to me, not in an audible voice, but in an unusually clear way, in my heart. I got out my journal and began to write, thinking I would write down a thought or two. I ended up writing for nearly ten minutes. As I wrote, it felt as though the Lord was right there, speaking to me, in a very direct and clear way, in a serious tone. It felt like the Captain of the Armies of Heaven was giving me instructions, personal direction for my life, correction, encouragement, and insight.

At one point, the Lord began to talk about the spiritual battle that is unfolding in the world. I want to share with you the simple, direct words I believe He was speaking to me, knowing that prophesy is imperfect and always needs to be tested. I wasn’t expecting to communicate this publicly, mainly because I wasn’t sure the Lord wanted me to. But given the crisis and chaos we’re experiencing—some of which is completely unprecedented—and with the encouragement of Ralph Martin, I pass it on for your discernment. Here’s what I wrote down in my journal that day:

“Peter, the spiritual battle is about to intensify, it will pick up pace.

Chaos, apostasy, rage, and confusion will increase.

My judgment is coming upon the world, it is my mercy.

What is coming will flatten and expose the emptiness
of all the idols that hold my people in bondage.

Warn, console, inspire, correct.

Proclaim my majesty and glory.

Have no anxiety about anything;
no one can change my purposes.

The mighty of the world are about to be brought down.”

There are a number of Bible passages that give some insight to what I believe is happening that have come back to me time and again since that day. The first is Jeremiah 2:19-21 (NRSV):

Your wickedness will punish you,
and your apostasies will convict you.
Know and see that it is evil and bitter
for you to forsake the Lord your God;
the fear of me is not in you,
says the Lord God of hosts.

We’re witnessing a profound apostasy in our time—a rapid turning away from God. In the words of Pope Benedict XVI,

“Humanity is pushing God from the human horizon.”

The sin of Romans 1, the constant temptation of the human race to “suppress the truth” about God, is at the root of our cultural chaos. The root sin is refusal to “honor him as God or give thanks to him” (Rm 1:21). It’s the sin of idolatry. I believe what Jeremiah prophesied to Israel and what St. Paul wrote to the Romans is the same pattern that we are seeing today. The turning away from God is as Jeremiah prophesied: “It is evil and bitter to forsake the Lord your God” (Jer 2:19). It is profoundly evil for the creature to reject, ignore, refuse to acknowledge, or to be indifferent to the Creator.

To turn away from God, to refuse to obey Him, is to put oneself under a curse. St. Francis of Assisi wrote a letter to the political leaders of his time, warning them of this very thing: “Do not forget the Lord on account of the cares and solicitudes of this world nor turn aside from His commandments, for all those who forget Him and decline from His commandments are cursed and they shall be forgotten by Him” (Letter to the Rulers of the People).

The curse is expressed in the empty futility of a darkened mind:

“They became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened” (Rom 1:21).

The futility of mind is everywhere today: in the denial of human nature, the rejection of God’s design, and the denial of sin; in a world in which a boy is a girl, family is whatever you want it to be, and euthanasia is an act of love; and in the belief that human beings are nothing more than biochemical algorithms, and the bright ones among us can only find hope in a vision of the future in which man’s survival depends upon his becoming a cyborg, part man, part machine. In other words, post-human.

Modern man lacks wisdom, because he no longer fears God. Things are spinning out of control, and a dark chaos is in the air, because, as St. Paul put it so bluntly, “God handed them over to their undiscerning mind to do what is improper” (Rom 1:28, NABRE). In other words, the chaos is a sign of God’s judgment for the sin of idolatry.

God does this so that we will experience the futility of our ways and turn back to Him.
So how should we respond to all this?
» Pray, fast, do penance.
» Proclaim the Gospel.
» Have no anxiety about anything. (Phil 4:6)
» Be of good cheer. (Jn 16:33)
» Set your mind on things above, where Christ is.(Col 3:2)
» Do not be surprised by the fiery ordeal that may come upon you.(1 Pt 4:12)
» Be sober, be watchful, know that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world.(1 Pt 5:8-9)
» Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. (Prv 3:5)
» Set your hope fully upon the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.(1 Pt 1:13)
» Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances . . . do not quench the Spirit, do not despise prophesying, but test everything; hold fast to what is good. (1 Thes 5:17-21)
» Fear God and give him glory . . . worship him who made heaven and earth.(Rv 14:7)

This article originally appeared in Renewal Ministries’ November 2017 newsletter.

The Gift of Peter: Reflections on the Resignation of Pope Benedict XVI by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan

Lord, To Whom Shall We Go?

by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan


On Monday, February 11, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, news arrived from Rome that that has not been heard since decades before Columbus sailed for the new world: The Holy Father had renounced his office, declaring that the See of Peter would be vacant on February 28. This news was startling. While a papal resignation is foreseen in canon law, the Catholic imagination is stretched by it. I am grateful for Pope Benedict XVI’s lifetime of service to the Church, and admire his humility in voluntarily relinquishing his ministry as Bishop of Rome. At the same time, I know that many Catholics have found the news unsettling. All of us are attached to the Holy Father, the universal shepherd of the earthly flock. Our hearts are therefore full of many sentiments, and with these reflections I invite you to consider how we might receive this news in the light of Christ Jesus, our unique Savior, our great High Priest, the Supreme Pastor of the Church.

A Special Day of Prayer

We began Lent last week on Ash Wednesday, and the Church’s liturgy gave us the words of the prophet Joel, inviting us to return to the Lord with all our heart (Joel 2:12-13). Pope Benedict himself made those words the centerpiece of his homily that day: “This ‘return to me with all your heart,’ then, is a reminder that not only involves the individual but the entire community.”

In these days of novelty and uncertainty, when many may be anxious and nervous, we need more than ever to return to the Lord, as individuals and together as the Church. That is why I have asked every parish in the Archdiocese of New York to participate in a novena, nine days of special prayer, between February 20 and February 28, to offer to God our gratitude for the blessing that Pope Benedict has been to the Church, peace and good health in his remaining days, and God’s guidance as we await his successor. I have also asked that tomorrow, February 22, the Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter, we remember Pope Benedict in a special way with special Masses and Eucharistic adoration.

Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter

This Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter is the liturgical feast of the office of Peter in the Church. It commemorates Peter’s role as the head of the apostles, the one designated by Jesus Christ to be the universal pastor of the entire Church. Just as here in the Archdiocese of New York, Saint Patrick’s Cathedral is the place of the bishop’s cathedra, or chair, the symbol of his authority and mission, so too the feast of Peter’s chair marks the Holy Father’s authority and mission for the Church universal.

It is a suitable feast to give thanks for the gift of Peter’s mission in the Church, carried out from the time of Jesus to our own day by Peter and his successors. The news of Pope Benedict stepping down from his office was a powerful reminder of how ancient this office is, given that what we are experiencing has not happened for more than half a millennium! The news invited us to look back over the history of the See of Peter, which has navigated more than a few storms in her path through history. That in 2013 the Church is preparing to receive a new successor of Peter in peace and serenity is not to be taken for granted. The papacy is not to be taken for granted. Even secular historians marvel at the papacy’s endurance; the eyes of faith see in that a testimony to the Holy Spirit’s guidance of the Church, from the day that Peter himself preached on that first Pentecost to today.

We need Peter among us. Without the charism of Peter in the Church, we would be tossed about by every gust of wind, every false doctrine, every silly trend (cf. Ephesians 4:14). Today we know that all too well. It was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, on the day before his own election as Bishop of Rome, who warned us about the “dictatorship of relativism,” in preaching on that very passage from St. Paul. The “dictatorship of relativism” rebels against authority and flounders about in a world of nihilism. The Christian soul earnestly seeks the authority of Christ, of His Gospel, of His Church, and of His Vicar on earth.

Peter is the gift of Jesus to the Church, a teacher to hand on the deposit of the faith, and to be a sign of unity. Ubi Petrus, ibi ecclesia—Where Peter is, there is the Church—as the ancient expression puts it. From the Acts of the Apostles to World Youth Day, Catholics of every time and place have recognized the gift of Peter and his successors in their midst. This archdiocese experienced this in a powerful way when Pope Benedict made a pastoral visit here in 2008, celebrating Mass in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral and Yankee Stadium, praying at Ground Zero, and uniting with our Jewish neighbors, our disabled, and with our young people, at Saint Joseph’s Seminary.

Last year, the Pope chose the Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter as the day for the consistory in which others and I were created cardinals. He wished to emphasize the responsibility of the cardinals to protect the gift of Peter in the Church. This is most evident when they gather in the conclave to renew the gift of Peter by electing a new pope. Yet it is also an ongoing task, to collaborate with the Holy Father in his ministry, and to lead the entire Christian people in praying for Peter, in listening to Peter, in following Peter, and in loving Peter. Soon we will have a new Pope to pray for, to listen to, to follow, and to love. Precisely because we prayed for him, because he was so marvelous to listen to, because he was so gentle to follow, because we loved him so much—for all these reasons and more it will be very difficult when Pope Benedict takes his leave from us. There will be many tears on February 28, 8 p.m., Rome time—not just among the cardinals who will bid him farewell, but among people the world over.

Upon this rock I will build my Church

It was the will of the Lord Jesus to build His Church upon the rock of Peter, after his confession of faith at Caesarea Philippi (cf. Matthew 16:18). Throughout all the twists and turns of history, the Church has remained faithful to the primacy of Peter, which is testified to repeatedly in the New Testament and in the teaching of the Fathers of the Church. These teachings were confirmed by the Second Vatican Council. At the same time as these doctrines were taught, the mass media age made the figure of the Holy Father more immediately present in the lives of Catholics. Those of us who grew up in the 1950s remember that portraits of the Pope Pius XII were in every Catholic parish and school, and we were able to listen to his voice on radio broadcasts, and see him on newsreels. Blessed John XXIII began papal travels in Italy, and Pope Paul VI extended that to the very ends of the earth. With Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict, it became a routine expectation that the Holy Father would visit us, and the Internet made their words immediately available to us.

All of this has increased the profile of the Pope in the lives of Catholics. Consequently, many Catholics found themselves somewhat adrift, perhaps even feeling abandoned, by the news of last Monday. Was the rock of Peter suddenly less stable? To them I would like to address a few words. As much as we love the Holy Father, Benedict himself reminded us this week that it is Christ Jesus who remains always the Supreme Pastor of the Church. Popes, bishops, parish priests—yes, even cardinals—all come and go; Jesus alone remains. Peter is the rock to be sure, but it is the Lord Jesus who is the cornerstone and the sure foundation of the Church. The news of this past week should be a reminder of that.

All of us who witnessed the last years of Blessed John Paul II may have been surprised that Benedict would relinquish the office that his predecessor lived out until he was stripped even of his ability to speak. Pope Benedict’s announcement on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes called to mind the last foreign visit by Blessed John Paul II, which was to Lourdes itself in August 2004. It was an occasion of deep emotion, as he spoke of himself as a sick man among the sick. Pope Benedict has chosen, “after repeatedly examining my conscience before God,” a different path. Catholics ought not be distressed by that, as if one choice implies that something is lacking in the other. Holiness is not uniformity, and the history of the Church provides many examples of holy men and women taking different decisions—think of Peter and Paul, Augustine and Jerome, Ignatius and Philip Neri, or Mother Theresa and Dorothy Day. Even the saints come to different conclusions, and different circumstances require different responses. So it is possible to recall with admiration the decision of Blessed John Paul II to suffer to the end, and, at the same time, to admire Pope Benedict’s humility and courage in laying down, for the good of the Church, the office entrusted to him. And if we remain puzzled as to the will of God in these decisions, then that too can be a gift, for there is nothing more important than to reflect upon the will of God.

I would further add that the personal qualities of Pope Benedict ought to inspire confidence in his decision. He is deeply immersed in the Holy Scriptures and the wisdom of the Fathers, he knows the Catholic tradition better than almost anyone, and he is a disciple who has made heroic sacrifices to serve the Church as she wanted, not as he wanted, first as a bishop and later as pope. Above all, he has a deep friendship with Jesus. All of that should, for those who are unsettled, be a source of confidence and comfort. The gift of Peter in the Church does not mean that each individual successor of Peter corresponds to that gift. But in the popes of recent times, above all in Blessed John Paul II and in Pope Benedict, the whole world has seen transparent holiness. We can trust that.

Strengthening the brethren

When Blessed John Paul II spoke of his Petrine office, he most often referred not to the biblical scene at Caesarea Philippi—a high point in Peter’s life—but of the scene at the trial of Jesus in the house of the high priest – a low point in Peter’s life, the night of the triplex denial. Jesus tells Peter that Satan has demanded to sift all of them like wheat, but that Jesus has prayed for Peter, that his faith may not fail, and when he has turned back to Jesus, his mission will be to strengthen his brothers in the faith (Luke 22:32). That scene, in which our heart breaks for both Jesus and Peter on the night of the denials, reminds us that Peter’s mission of strengthening us in the faith is granted to him not because of his own virtues, but because of the prayer of Jesus Himself.

Pope Benedict told us that he no longer has the necessary strength to continue his mission of strengthening the faithful. That decision matured as the fruit of his prayer. The Holy Father knows that the mission given to Peter on the night of the denials must continue and cannot be left aside. And if he lacks the strength to do so himself, then another must take it up.

Simon, son of John, do you love me?

The night of the triplex denial is reversed at dawn on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus asks Peter three times about his love, and Peter responds with humble contrition: Lord, you know all things, you know that I love you (cf. John 21). Every vocation in the Church is an invitation to love, and to love means sacrifice for the sake of the beloved. The path of love leads to the Cross, which is why every vocation is accompanied by the Lord’s exhortation to be not afraid.

In these Lenten days we need to pray and offer penance for the man who will be the new successor of Peter among us. That man will soon be asked a question both awesome and awful: Do you accept your election? The world may regard those words as a triumph of sorts, but they are put in the Sistine Chapel to a man who knows that they are invitation to walk a via Crucis. Pope Benedict referred to those words as an “ax” that fell upon his neck.

Lord, to whom shall we go?

At a critical moment in His preaching ministry, Jesus teaches the people about the Eucharist. After the “bread of life” discourse at the synagogue in Capernaum (cf. John 6), many of His disciples decided to follow Him no longer. Jesus asks the apostles whether they too would like to go away. Peter gives a beautiful response: Lord, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life!

I chose those words for my episcopal motto—Ad quem ibimus? To whom shall we go? When I was told that Blessed John Paul II had chosen me to be a bishop I went to the chapel to pray, and those words came immediately to my heart. In the face of difficulties, in face of uncertainty, in the face of unexpected missions, the Christian disciple always has the response of Peter for inspiration: Lord, to whom shall we go?

A year ago, when I was created a cardinal, I knew in theory that one day a conclave would come. Now it is a reality, and I ask your prayers for me as your archbishop that I might be an instrument of the Lord’s grace and providence in the days ahead.

In the conclave the cardinals cast their ballots by placing them in a chalice on the altar of the Sistine Chapel. Above the altar is the great fresco of Michelangelo, the Last Judgment. So each cardinal as he ascends the steps to cast his ballot has before his eyes the immense figure of Christ the Judge. The cardinals literally have to go toward the Lord Jesus at this solemn moment. It is our task in these days to go to the Lord more frequently and more insistently in our prayer. Lord, to whom shall we go? There will be many other voices, from the world, and even from enemies of the Church, offering advice on how we should conduct ourselves in the conclave. I ask you to pray for me that, in the midst of all the conflicting voices, I go to the Lord Himself, ascending those steps in a way that will be pleasing to Him on the day of my death and judgment.

With my anticipated gratitude for your generous response to my invitation, I conclude with a succinct Latin prayer that expresses well what it is in our hearts in these days. Omnes cum Petro, ad Jesum per Mariam. All with Peter, to Jesus through Mary!