Fr John Zuhlsdorf of “What Does the Prayer Really Say?” has for years now described the Holy Father’s work and philosophy as a “Marshall Plan”. This has always irritated me a little, since the original plan was named for George Marshall and thus this new one would rightly be styled the “Benedictine Plan”. Nevertheless, even the slowest of friends and enemies alike are starting to realise the overall consistency of this pontificate. Pope Benedict was initially lauded for his conspicuous warmth to the Eastern Orthodox Christians, particularly Russia and Greece. He then set firmly the practice of offering the Most Blessed Sacrament only on the tongue, to kneeling communicants at all his Masses. Shortly after he took the initiative entirely upon himself to recover for posterity the Mass of heredity. Two years later, acting again on his own initiative he dispensed the four illicitly consecrated bishops of the Priestly Society of St Pius X (“SSPX”) from their excommunications. He went to America and Australia, fortifying the youth in their struggle to find and sustain a Christian identity in an increasingly idolatrous world. He went to Africa and prayed with the people struggling just to live. Then last week, he stunned the world by welcoming the Anglicans back home.
For such a long time, each of these steps have seemed like isolated gestures – “Pope goes to Africa, holds the line against condoms” or “Pope welcomes holocaust denying bishop back to church” but it has now become abundantly clear that above all else, the Holy Father’s utmost ambition for the Church is unity. What confuses people is that he does not see this unity as being merely amongst all Christians who happen to be alive and vocal at the moment, but rather as a true unity both horizontally and vertically.
Pope Benedict’s first overtures to the East echoed (and repeated) the earnest desire of his predecessor (of great and holy memory) that the Church “breathe with both her lungs”. Seeking unity with the East is often cynically explained as a “tactical manoeuvre of conservative bigots against the modern world”, but the reality is that the schism between East and West did catastrophic damage to the development of history and culture on both sides of the divide, most dramatically played out in the events of the 20th century. The reunification of the various Orthodox Churches to Rome (Mater et Caput) would do good of an equal if not greater magnitude to the world at large… even in my feeble lifetime.
Then there were the matters of internal unity: the recovery of reverence for Our Lord’s Real Presence in the Most Blessed Sacrament began at the Holy Father’s own Masses. Then with the promulgation of Summorum Pontificum, he himself expressed his desire that there be a “mutual enriching from both forms of the Roman Rite”. Here the Holy Father has acted for unity for the many extant forms of the Roman Rite (not only “ordinary” and “extraordinary”, but also those of religious orders (eg Dominican) and ancients local rites (Ambrosian, Mozarabic), but also for Christian devotional practice in both the contemporary world and ages past. Our ancestors (biological and spiritual) sacrificed everything they had, from possessions, employment and homes to blood, bones, and internal organs to preserve the integrity of Christian Faith. Hundreds of men and women as young as 9 years old suffered martyrdom rather than permit the defilement of the Sacrament, armies marched to preserve the Mass from vandalism and defacement. For a generation that has forgotten how precious are the treasures it currently possesses, Benedict has been sent to remind us, and strengthen us.
And now, we come to the Lefebvrists and the Anglicans. These groups became separated under vastly different times and for reasons that couldn’t be more different, but both belong distinctly to the Latin Rite. In both his words of welcome and his magnanimously generous actions (giving far more concessions than anyone expected), the Holy Father has demonstrated just how dearly he values unity, and how much he is willing to invest for the sake of obtaining it. One thing he has not surrendered, however, is the primacy of Truth. Without it there can be no Love, and all who have promoted a false “love” by forsaking truth have been heaping hatred, lies and nonsense on the throne of Peter. Pray, pray, pray that the host of heaven may protect him from his enemies – they are not all of this world.
Long live Benedict XVI, the Great Unifier! The Pope of Christian Unity!
Sancte Michael Archangele,
defende nos in proelio;
contra nequitiam et insidias diaboli esto praesidium.
Imperet illi Deus, supplices deprecamur:
tuque, Princeps militiae Caelestis,
satanam aliosque spiritus malignos,
qui ad perditionem animarum pervagantur in mundo,
divina virtute in infernum detrude.
Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle;
be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray:
and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan and all the evil spirits
who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.