September 20, 2010

The Papal Visit to England

Pope Benedict XVI with Dr. Rowan Williams

I am still processing the remarkable events of the last few days, as Pope Benedict visited England.  I hardly know what to highlight, everything was so good, so powerful, so charged with meaning.  Clearly the highlight was the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman, which I woke up yesterday morning to watch via the live stream (which was excellent quality--well done!).  But his speech at Westminster was a stunning argument about faith and reason, and about the relationship of Religion to the State.  Standing there, on the very spot where some of England's greatest saints were condemned to death, he charged the politicians of England to consider that Religion "is not a problem for legislators to solve, but a vital contributor to the national conversation."

Also powerful was his meeting with victims of sexual abuse, as well as his firm words to the bishops of Britain that this cannot go on:
Our duty of care towards the young demands nothing less. As we reflect on the human frailty that these tragic events so starkly reveal, we are reminded that, if we are to be effective Christian leaders, we must live lives of the utmost integrity, humility and holiness.
(For more thoughts on this and the "humanist" protestors, I'd encourge you to read this piece by Damian Thompson.)

I'd also like to highlight something Dr. Williams said (oh, the joy in his face when Pope Benedict stepped out of the car at Lambeth palace!) that really struck me: "We live in an age where there is a desperate need to recover the sense of the dignity of both labour and leisure and the necessity of a silent openness to God that allows our true character to grow and flourish by participating in an eternal love."

And then there was the Holy Father's sermon during the Ecumenical Evensong held at Westminster Abbey. The church, dedicated to St. Peter, was--till the time of Henry VIII--a Benedictine Abbey, and is the home of the tomb of St. Edward the Confessor. Pope Benedict came, then, as a pilgrim:
I thank the Lord for allowing me, as the Successor of Saint Peter in the See of Rome, to make this pilgrimage to the tomb of Saint Edward the Confessor. Edward, King of England, remains a model of Christian witness and an example of that true grandeur to which the Lord summons his disciples in the Scriptures we have just heard: the grandeur of a humility and obedience grounded in Christ’s own example (cf. Phil 2:6-8), the grandeur of a fidelity which does not hesitate to embrace the mystery of the Cross out of undying love for the divine Master and unfailing hope in his promises (cf. Mk 10:43-44).
He then set the terms for true Ecumenical dialogue. I imagine there were many there who stiffened at his words, and yet, he left the Abbey to applause (so un-English, I was quite surprised). And the bells rang out with joy.

All these events mean a lot to me as an unabashed anglophile, and as the daughter of an Anglican convert. Pope Benedict's gentleness and gratitude (every speech began with thanks) matched with his great intellect and his steadfast devotion to the Truth he is charged with proclaiming brings into such sharp relief all the things I love in the traditions of England.  These traditions must not die.  There must always be the blond choir boys with their ruffled collars and voices like angels, filling the Gothic halls with the joyful peals of bells.  We must invoke St. Bede, St. Ninian, St. Thomas More, St. Edward the Confessor, St. Margaret of Scotland (she did get a little shout-out--fittingly--when the Pope met Queen Elizabeth), St. David, St. Andrew, and St. George. 
But the words I want to hold in my heart this week were his words to the young people of England (and, consequently, of the whole Church):
Dear young friends, thank you for your warm welcome.

Heart Speaks unto heart, as you know I chose these words so dear to Cardinal Newman as the theme of my visit. In these few moments that we are together I wish to speak to you from my own heart, and I ask to open your hearts to what I have to say.

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 also 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 fulfilment in that Divine love that knows no beginning or end.

We were made to receive love, and we have. Every day we should thank God for the love we have already known. For the love that has made us who we are. The love that is shown us what is truly important in life. We need to thank the Lord for the love we have received from our families, our friends, our teachers, and all those people in our lives who have helped us to realise how precious we are in their eyes, and in the eyes of God.

We were also made to give love, to make the inspirational for all we do, and the most enduring thing in our lives. At times it seems so natural, especially when we feel the exhilaration of love, when our hearts brim over with generosity, idealism, the desire to help others to build a better world -- but at other times, we realise it is difficult to love. Our hearts can easily be hardened by selfishness, envy and pride. The Blessed mother Theresa of Calcutta, the great missionary of charity reminded us that giving love, pure and generous love, is the fruit of a daily decision.
Read the whole speech here.

Heart speaks unto heart.
Lead, kindly light.

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