A happy day in many respects for the Holy Father today, the beautiful Mass this morning and the exhilaration of the Vigil this evening, the peace of the adoration of the Holy Eucharist – 80,000 in silent prayer and worship of the Lord under the appearance of the eucharistic bread. His words to us seem to be addressed so personally, as if he were speaking to one directly, and they move the heart and penetrate the soul. It is so fitting that the theme of his visit to us is cor ad cor loquitor for truly the heart of the Pope to our heart speaks, quiet, but clear, profound, full of humility, of love, but of power and strength too. It is difficult for me to express how deeply hearing the Holy Father speak affects me and opens my mind and heart to the beauty of our great and holy faith; such is his love for Christ and for the Church of Christ that it appears to me like a lamp which can guide us too into the solemn and joyful mysteries of that love.
At the same time there have been difficulties for Benedict today too – the hard task of speaking about the unspeakable, that is to say the abuse of children and young people by priests. And also the meeting with some victims of abuse must have been personally difficult for the Holy Father, who we know suffers with them and always holds them in his heart. Yet Benedict is beginning, from the horrors of these events, to build through prayer and through action, a sort of “theology” of them, that is to say a way of understanding them whereby God is the predicate and it only he who can ultimate act to restore the Church and to heal the victims. This will require much from us, in penance and prayer.
Nevertheless, I cannot appreciate those people who have been victims of abuse and who have now thrown in their lot with the many other activists of the anti-pope campaign. Perhaps it is that they feel they have not been heard by the Church authorities, or by their fellow Catholics, and that the sympathy they so lack from the Church will be found with those who also feel “outsiders” to religion. Some reports estimated that 20,000 No-Pope protesters turned out (Daily Mail), although the more sober Daily Telegraph puts the figure at about 11,000 (claimed by the organisers themselves). The police, normally so reliable for figures of this kind, apparently have no idea. Whatever the case may be, and it is not about numbers in the end, it seems to me that the atheists do not have such broad-based support as they imagined before the visit. They so often accuse the Pope and Catholics of living in a bubble, that they have failed to recognise that they are doing so themselves. Those marching were a mixed bag; indeed, one might say, strange bedfellows: fundamentalist Christians who hate the Pope because he is the “anti-Christ”, alongside well-formed young men in speedos with gold wings strapped to their backs looking for all the world like versions of the rather camp “hawkmen” from the 1983 film Flash Gordon and calling themselves “Gaydar Angels” (Gaydar is a gay dating site, on which a number of British politicians have been pictured in their underpants, apparently), alongside fully-veiled Muslim ladies with quotations from Muhammed and placards reading “God curse the Pope” alongside men with multi-coloured umbrellas adorned (if that is the right word) with brightly coloured condoms. I saw a brief clip of Richard Dawkins (who appeared pretty drab in such company) addressing the crowd of atheists, standing behind him was Peter Tatchell. Neither looked very happy, and Dawkins is filled with bile and hatred. I actually felt quite sorry for him, deluded and self deluding, and corrupting all those who listen to him uncritically or with their own difficulties in relationship to religion. I have decided to dedicate a decade of my rosary to him, in the hopes that if he cannot come to love Christ, he might at least not hate the human race so much that he wishes for its destruction.
One highlight for me today was to see the Holy Father pray before the image of Our Lady of Cardigan, Our Lady of the Taper as I think of her. The original image was, of course, destroyed in the iconoclasm of the so-called “reformation”, but the modern image has much to commend it, especially as it returns to our beautiful land of Wales as “a lasting reminder of the Pope’s love for the Welsh people and his constant closeness both in prayer and in the communion of the Church”.
Finally, some snippets from the Pope’s addresses of today:
I ask each of you, first and foremost, to look into your own heart. Think of all the love that your heart was made to receive, and all the love it is meant to give. After all, we were made for love. This is what the Bible means when it says that we are made in the image and likeness of God: we were made to know the God of love, the God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and to find our supreme fulfillment in that divine love that knows no beginning or end.
Heart speaks unto heart. With these words from my heart, dear young friends, I assure you of my prayers for you, that your lives will bear abundant fruit for the growth of the civilization of love. I ask you also to pray for me, for my ministry as the Successor of Peter, and for the needs of the Church throughout the world.
In our own time, the price to be paid for fidelity to the Gospel is no longer being hanged, drawn and quartered but it often involves being dismissed out of hand, ridiculed or parodied. And yet, the Church cannot withdraw from the task of proclaiming Christ and his Gospel as saving truth, the source of our ultimate happiness as individuals and as the foundation of a just and humane society.
Newman’s life also teaches us that passion for the truth, intellectual honesty and genuine conversion are costly.
One of the Cardinal’s best-loved meditations includes the words, “God has created me to do him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which he has not committed to another” (Meditations on Christian Doctrine). Here we see Newman’s fine Christian realism, the point at which faith and life inevitably intersect. Faith is meant to bear fruit in the transformation of our world through the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the lives and activity of believers. No one who looks realistically at our world today could think that Christians can afford to go on with business as usual, ignoring the profound crisis of faith which has overtaken our society, or simply trusting that the patrimony of values handed down by the Christian centuries will continue to inspire and shape the future of our society. We know that in times of crisis and upheaval God has raised up great saints and prophets for the renewal of the Church and Christian society; we trust in his providence and we pray for his continued guidance. But each of us, in accordance with his or her state of life, is called to work for the advancement of God’s Kingdom by imbuing temporal life with the values of the Gospel. Each of us has a mission, each of us is called to change the world, to work for a culture of life, a culture forged by love and respect for the dignity of each human person. As our Lord tells us in the Gospel we have just heard, our light must shine in the sight of all, so that, seeing our good works, they may give praise to our heavenly Father.
How much contemporary society needs this witness! How much we need, in the Church and in society, witnesses of the beauty of holiness, witnesses of the splendour of truth, witnesses of the joy and freedom born of a living relationship with Christ! One of the greatest challenges facing us today is how to speak convincingly of the wisdom and liberating power of God’s word to a world which all too often sees the Gospel as a constriction of human freedom, instead of the truth which liberates our minds and enlightens our efforts to live wisely and well, both as individuals and as members of society.
Oh and, as a very final word, I should say: God bless Msgr. Dr. Gänswein, who appears to be looking after to the Holy Father with all the attentiveness of a most dutiful son.