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.