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Palm Sunday- Sunday 24th March

Its a day of rest on the Generation Benedict blog.

francis-slum-feet_2510124b

Why not join the #CaptureEaster initiative? Set up by a a couple of guys Stateside, Edmund and Jonathon, the goal is to take photos during Holy week of where you see beauty and where you see God and post them on Twitter and Instagram with the hashtag #CaptureEaster.

In the video below, Jonathon reminds us of the words of Pope Francis earlier this week in his meeting with journalists;

The Church exists to communicate precisely this: Truth, Goodness and Beauty in person.

The #CaptureEaster initiative invites us to use social media to attempt to capture Truth, Goodness and Beauty during the forthcoming week.

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Day 34: An Exemplar of Courage, Service and Love

IMG_5331Jim Carr is a pharmacist in Dublin.

When Pope John Paul II came to visit my home town of Drogheda in 1979, the town, like the rest of Ireland, came to a standstill. In that unique moment, our still-young republic was united as never before in celebration and pride. Everyone, it seemed, was going to see the Pope. Everyone except me. On the cusp of my third birthday, it was deemed that my tiny legs were unequal to the 5km hike to the Mass site on the edge of town (or perhaps it was felt that the cacophonous wailings of a turbulent toddler might be construed as a precocious attempt to ‘protest the pope’?!). And so I missed out on the chance to say: ‘I was there’.

Almost exactly thirty-one years later, in September 2010, in different towns, a different country, and an utterly changed world, I finally got the chance to say ‘I was there’ when I saw Pope Benedict in Edinburgh and London. In 2009, I had commenced a PhD in theology addressing the problem of reconciling religious faith with modern democracy and one of the pivotal thinkers in my research was one Joseph Ratzinger. Needless to say, I was a wee bit excited to see one of my heroes in the flesh! But more than this, I was enthralled by the bracing clarity and challenging profundity of his various speeches and homilies, above all his address to civic leaders at Westminster Hall on September 17th. And yet, however inspiring these words were, my abiding memories of the visit are visual: Benedict beaming gently among the children at St. Mary’s, Twickenham; his delighted smile on meeting Paschal Uche on the Piazza at Westminster Cathedral; the elderly Pontiff visiting people his own age at the nursing home in Vauxhall; the lovely warmth in his embrace of the Archbishop of Canterbury at Westminster Abbey. But the stand-out event for me was the prayer vigil in Hyde Park (I can still hear the hauntingly beautiful performance of ‘Lead Kindly Light’ and ‘Adoramus te Domine’!) And the crowning glory of the vigil was the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and the image of the Holy Father knelt in serene prayer. Spine-tingling stuff!

Pope and Newman

One of the reasons that Benedict came to England in 2010 was to show his esteem for John Henry Newman whose beatification at Cofton Park marked the end of the Papal Visit. Newman was a major figure both in the development of modern Catholicism and in the personal theological development of Benedict himself. Indeed, the two men had much in common. Newman’s life spanned almost the entirety of the turbulent nineteenth century; Benedict has lived through the traumas of the twentieth century. Newman’s theology had a profound influence on both Anglicanism and Catholicism. Benedict, very much an heir to Newman’s legacy, helped ensure its full flowering at the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) and was indefatigable in championing fidelity to that Council over the last fifty years. And just as Newman, after his conversion, suffered, for a time, estrangement from his dear Anglican friends, so Benedict has endured rejection, and at times vilifcation, from friends with whom, at one stage, he worked closely to help renew the Church. Newman is still revered by educationists for the profound and holistic conception of education elaborated in his ‘Idea of a University’. Benedict articulated a similar Christian humanism that offers a beautiful and transformative vision of human flourishing.  At the heart of this vision is education, understood as the humble, patient, pursuit of truth. And like Newman, Benedict, shy in person, firm in debate, was always respectful of those with whom he disagreed.

Maybe Benedict didn’t have the same charisma that John Paul II had. But there are different types of charisma. There are many ways to inspire. Benedict was, and continues to be, an inspiration to me. When I find myself sliding into the indecision of relativism, he reminds me that there is indeed such as thing as Truth and it is found in a personal encounter with Christ. When I find myself becoming satisfied with myself, he rouses me from my complacency and reminds me that we are all called to be saints. And when my spirits are low and I become discouraged, he reminds me that God is Love and He loves me more than I can ever imagine. I miss Benedict and as I pray for Pope Francis in his daunting ministry, I also pray in a special way that God will bless the humble Bavarian whose life of service, courage and love will be remembered with fervent gratitude by many generations to come.

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Day 33: Meeting Benedict on the train to Dublin

Rev Paul MurphyRev. Paul Murphy, 29, is deacon of the Archdiocese of Armagh.  He will be ordained to the priesthood in June.

When Cardinal Ratzinger was elected to the papacy I was an Art History student at Trinity College, Dublin. I had come across the Cardinal’s name in newspaper articles and knew precious little else about him. Contrary to everything that was said at that time about the papacy being “irrelevant”, the name of this quiet, unassuming scholar priest from Bavaria was enunciated by many in the Buttery Bar and Arts block with great authority.

 
I took the train to university every day and as such had two hours of spare time, usually allocated for sleeping, or day-dreaming while listening to music. In the wake of the election I took a copy of one of the Cardinal’s interviews with Peter Seewald, Salt of the Earth, with me so as to acquaint myself properly with the thought of our new Holy Father. There was also a biography, which I had finished in a week or so and had dutifully reread so as not to have missed anything important. What a life he had led! I could empathise with this young seminarian who preferred study to sport, who had a soft spot for Mozart, who came from a close knit family deeply rooted in its Faith, in its love of Jesus Christ. I found myself defending him in coffee shop debates between lectures.

 
I began my studies for the priesthood in 2007 in Belfast and from there was sent to Rome to study theology at the Gregorian University. Benedict had made quite an impression on us all by then. We attended his audiences, we read his books, his encyclicals, and in 2011 had the privilege of serving for him at the Chrism Mass in St Peter’s. That will remain one of the most moving experiences of my life because it was from Benedict that we had learned of the timeless power of the Roman Rite. By his example Benedict demonstrated so eloquently that the liturgy is not something we should try to personalise, but rather is to be entered into with awe and humble deference. It is the prayer of our local parishes and also of the Church Universal. The Church spread across the world has its own language to bind us together so that we can pray with one voice.

 
Benedict taught me that liturgical reform is at the heart of safeguarding the mission and purity of the Church, because the liturgy and our prayerful participation within its order reflects our relationship and rapport with each other, and most importantly, with the Lord. May God grant Pope Benedict the retirement he truly deserves. May the prayers of all the faithful console Pope Francis, and may God give him the strength and stamina necessary to continue his good work.

 
Oremus pro invicem!

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Day 32: Young, Catholic and Professional

Aug 31 nightJennifer Baugh, from Dallas, Texas, is the Founder and President of Young Catholic Professionals. She is passionate about encouraging a culture of Catholic community in all aspects of our lives, especially in the workplace.

At the age of 24, I had just graduated from a rigorous MBA program and was set to embark on an intense career path as a financial consultant in Dallas.  My new employer had given me quite a bit of time off between grad school and my employment start date.  In fact, I had eight months off before starting my new job. Looking back, I can see God’s hand in it all.

I had grown up in the Catholic Church, but had never fostered a personal relationship with Christ. I had always been a high achiever, and I was often too distracted by papers or projects to question my faith, my relationship with Christ, or my purpose on earth. God knew I would need time off to ask those questions and to open my heart to Christ. For four months, I lived in Dallas with few obligations or distractions.  And in April of 2010, I finally acknowledged my real need for Christ.  Immediately after, I felt overwhelmed by an outpouring of Christ’s Divine Mercy. Because of that mercy, I knew for the first time that I wanted to become an authentic Catholic.

My enthusiasm for learning about our Catholic faith naturally led me to Pope Benedict. When I read his writings, I felt as though he were speaking directly to me. He spoke of our Faith reverently and clearly—in a way that I knew, without question, was the Truth. This simple German was answering the most profound questions of my heart.

Benedict wrote often that the Christian experience is not passive and cannot be experienced alone. At the time, I was meeting a lot of other young people, and I could sense the struggle we all had for something deeper in our lives.  We were all so restless!  Though our culture does not encourage discussion on faith or virtue, I began talking to my peers about Pope Benedict’s writings. I had read Pope Benedict say many times that we can always speak the Truth with Love.  His words gave me confidence that I had never before possessed! Somehow, this humble pope empowered me to share the love of Christ. What surprised me even more was that my peers were interested…

 

Anticipating the next step in my career, I was very invested in not losing this new-found faith once I began working. I sought out young adult ministries in my community, looking for other Christians to help me stay accountable. Many of these young adults ministries seemed to lack vibrancy. Because of Pope Benedict’s writings, I knew there could be something more – a ministry that wasn’t afraid of sharing the Truth in a way that was loving and inspiring.  As Pope Benedict says;

If you follow His Word, it will light up your path and lead you to high goals that will give joy and full meaning to your lives

25th World Youth Day Message, 28/3/2010

A couple of months before beginning my new job, I started a non-profit organization in response to the challenges offered by Pope Benedict. The name of the ministry is “Young Catholic Professionals.” We seek to encourage young adults working in various professions to Work in Witness for Christ. 150 to 200 young people come together on a monthly basis to listen to executive speakers who provide credible witnesses as we seek to pass on the legacy of faith to our coworkers and families in this secular age.

Today, YCP is working towards national expansion. We rely on Pope Benedict’s writing to inspire our ministry on a daily basis to greater authenticity, zeal, and dependence on Christ. As young professionals struggling against the tide of secularism, we hold tight to Pope Benedict’s words of encouragement: 

My dear young friends, I want to invite you to ‘dare to love.’ Do not desire anything less for your life than a love that is strong and beautiful and that is capable of making the whole of your existence a joyful undertaking of giving yourself as a gift to God and your brothers and sisters, in imitation of the One who vanquished hatred and death forever through love.

22nd World Youth Day Message, 27/1/2007

DSC_0668Without Pope Benedict, Young Catholic Professionals would not exist, and I would not have received the encouragement and education in the Faith that I so desperately needed. Pope Benedict will always be my shepherd – the man who led me to Christ and offered me the depth of our Catholic faith at a time when I was so thirsty.

 

I hope Pope Benedict may know that his humble service has made a profound impact on my life and the lives of many. I pray for him in thanksgiving every day, and I promise to persevere in faith holding close to my heart all that Pope Benedict has taught me.

May we remember always his challenge: The road stretches before us! And yet, we must not lose trust; instead, with greater vigor we must once more continue our journey together. Christ walks before us and accompanies us. We count on his unfailing presence and humbly and tirelessly implore from him the precious gift of unity and peace.”

 

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Day 31: A Long Search for Truth

UntitledStuart is currently in his first year of studying for the priesthood at Oscott College, for the Archdiocese of Birmingham

 

When Pope Benedict XVI was elected in April 2005 I had little idea of who he was or where he would help lead me.  Finishing off my A-Levels, I was intellectually open but unsure as to what I really believed or understood about life.  Friends and I would spend afternoons in the pub not only avoiding Spanish but sometimes touching on those deeper questions. In retrospect, those hours spent pondering the “big things” were more useful and important than chasing exam-marks.  Yet with the best I got out of Sixth Form I had a springboard into a deeper view of life, one poetic but true, impossible with man but glorious with God, a life in which all that was noble in me might flower, that is, a life of Christian conversion.

At University, a fire kindled deep inside me to live such a life.  Soon enough, the Anglican Chaplain asked me whether I had thought of a vocation.  The long road to seminary began there.  In France, working among the poor, my prayer and reflection deepened, leading me to the remarkable Cardinal Ratzinger.  In him, I found someone who made Catholicism intelligible, speaking to those deep desires.  There was no bitterness between faith and reason, prayer was primary and all was held together in “the beauty of holiness”.  My heart and mind began to find a home amid the altars of the Church of God.
This, of course, left me feeling not only respectful but deeply grateful.  Still an Anglican, I prayed and waited for the right moment to convert.  With the announcement of the Ordinariate in late 2009, I felt that time had come.  The man who had led me to knowledge of the truth through his love of the truth now invited people like me, through truth in love, to enter the barque of Peter.  Yet despite Benedict’s intellectual sophistication, I felt he shared that same humble Christian faith which is so attractive and so winning.  Such a faith can see God’s providence in people, places and events.  In my own life, the great testimony to my sharing the faith of Peter and Benedict came with his Visit.  My first Sunday Mass in full communion with the Catholic Church was at Cofton Park for the beatification of John Henry Newman.  On that remarkable day, a seminal moment in my life, a long search in my life for truth and the beauty of holiness came to an end when I was able to offer to God that long search in the Eucharistic Sacrifice with and through the man who, as Pope, is the meeting point between heaven and earth.  Yet the pilgrim’s road never ends.  The road that led me there led me very quickly too to the gates of Oscott College where, once again where the shadow of Peter had fallen, I would feel called to renewed conversion and renunciation in the service of God and His Church. 
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Day 30: Three Things I’ve Learned from Pope Benedict

BrandonBrandon Vogt, 26, is a Catholic writer and speaker who blogs at BrandonVogt.com. He’s also the author of The Church and Media: Blogging Converts, Online Activists, and Bishops Who Tweet

As an Evangelical Christian in 2008, “God’s Rottweiler” worried me. From what I heard, he was a cold and stodgy disciplinarian with a hyper-traditionalist streak, more likely to crack a whip than save a soul. But then I became Catholic. I devoured his books and studied his speeches, and I discovered a much different man. He was humble, spiritual, and wise—more Gandalf than Stalin.

In the five years since becoming Catholic, Pope Benedict has taught me several lessons. But three stick out in particular: the priority of encountering Christ, the proper interpretation of the Bible, and the astounding power of the new media.

First, when you study Pope Benedict’s work you’ll quickly notice his evangelical bend. He incessantly reminds us that Christianity is not about a philosophy, a set of doctrines, or a moral list of do’s and don’ts: it’s about a relationship with Christ. Those other things certainly matter but they aren’t central—they aren’t the “one thing necessary” (Luke 10:42).

For instance, in a recent speech to Filipino prelates, Pope Benedict defined their sole mission as to “propose a personal relationship with Christ as the key to complete fulfillment.” Likewise, in the Introduction to his second Jesus of Nazareth book we see the same focus: “I have attempted to develop a way of observing and listening to the Jesus of the Gospels that can indeed lead to a personal encounter.”

Coming from an Evangelical background, which stressed the importance of “knowing Jesus in a personal way,” this vision immediately captured me. I saw it as a bridge to my Evangelical friends, for here was a Pope even they could love. In fact, during a roundtable discussion of the Pope’s Jesus of Nazareth series, a well-known Protestant biblical scholar revealed that he would gladly assign the books for his seminary class. He explained that if the series didn’t say “Pope Benedict” on the cover, his students would probably not know they were reading Catholic books. Now, that’s not to say Pope Benedict softens Catholicism for ecumenical purposes—far from it. Instead, it testifies to the central role he gives to encountering Jesus Christ, a “mere Christianity” to which most Protestants happily agree.

The second thing Pope Benedict has taught me regards the interpretation of Scripture. In his recent exhortation on the Word of God, Verbum Domini, he reiterated the Bible’s proper interpretive home: the Church. Just as I wouldn’t make sense of The Lord of the Rings without consulting Tolkien’s intentions, nor determine the Constitution’s meaning without heeding the Supreme Court, I can’t fully understand Scripture without listening to the Church.

Without proper interpretation, critics suggest Tolkien’s epic was really about racial divide and class warfare. Or that the Constitution really supports abortion and “same-sex marriage.” Or that Scripture really advocates slavery and holy wars. Pope Benedict taught me that the same Spirit who inspired the Bible guides the Church today and therefore we must look confidently to her lead when interpreting the written Word of God.

Church-and-New-Media-large-196x300Finally, the new media. While researching my book on the the Church and technology I read everything Pope Benedict said about new media. And that was a lot. Despite being in his mid-eighties, this Pope keenly grasped the power and potential of new media better than most of his younger contemporaries.

In his annual World Communications Day messages, for example, the Pope called these digital tools “a gift to humanity.” Over the years, he’s covered topics like the dangers of self-promotion, the value of silence, and seeking truth and authenticity in the digital world. His latest message, which I consider his best, is titled “Social Networks: Portals of Truth and Faith, New Spaces for Evangelization.

These tools are especially helpful in reaching non-Catholics: “New horizons are now open that were, until recently, unimaginable…[the new media] stir our wonder at the possibilities.”

With my Facebook profile I can connect with more people than St. Paul, Genghis Khan, Constantine, or Napoleon. With my cell phone I have more evangelical reach than St. Augustine, St. Francis Xavier, or Ven. Fulton Sheen. Pope Benedict agrees and has thus encouraged Catholics to respond to this technology with creativity and ardor.

Pope Benedict has left an indelible mark on my life in the five years I’ve known him. He’s taught me that nothing matters more than knowing and loving Jesus Christ. He’s shown that to understand the Word of God I must view it through the Church’s continuous tradition. And he’s invited me to join an evangelical adventure, riding the barque of a 2,000-year old Church onto the shores of the digital world.

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Day 29: The Professor Pope

Andrew speaking at the U.K. national vocations festival, Invocation

Andrew speaking at the U.K. national vocations festival, Invocation

Dr Andrew O’Connell is Communications Director for the Presentation Brothers in Ireland, where a key part of his work is the promotion of vocations. 

“Oh no!”

It’s rare to find oneself speaking out loud in an empty room. But that’s what I did and those were my words on that April evening in 2005 when Cardinal Estévez announced the name of the new Pope. “Ratzinger,” he rasped.

My disappointment had nothing to do with the theology of the newly elected Pope. Instead I knew that the warm glow of favourable media coverage since the death of John Paul would give way to a more predictable and tedious narrative of criticism based largely on caricature.

Caricature and controversies certainly provided much of the mood music for this pontificate but it would be a great pity if some of the touching and revealing human moments were forgotten. Moments such as when Pope Benedict broke his wrist during his summer vacation in 2009. He presented at a local hospital where he was told his injury would require an X-ray and an operation. Benedict asked the doctors to respect the order of the queue and simply joined the line of patients awaiting treatment.

A helpful key to understanding this man lies in a story from his youth, recounted in his memoir, Milestones. The 18-year-old Joseph Ratzinger arrives home to Traunstein having been released from an American Prisoner of War camp. His arrest weeks before had “cut my good mother’s heart to the quick”. He was anxious to be reunited with her. It was the evening of the Feast of the Sacred Heart and she was in the local church. As he walked past he could hear the praying and singing. He walked home though and waited for her there instead. “I did not want to create a disturbance,” he wrote.

He did not want to create “a disturbance” as Pope either. That is why he tried to tone down the celebrity dimension of the papacy lest it become a liturgical distraction. He was worried too perhaps that it was feeding the postmodern world’s unhealthy appetite for the cult of the celebrity.

Benedict wasn’t a pop star – he was a professor. And he used his papacy to teach. His Christmas Eve and Easter Vigil homilies in particular became moments of catechesis on the fundamental mysteries of the faith.

As his pontificate unfolded I started to read more of what he had written. In addition to his encyclicals and homilies I tried to catch up on his works from earlier years. It was like discovering an Aladdin’s cave of theological treasures.

Salt of the EarthAs a guest lecturer at a teacher training college I placed Ratzinger’s Salt of the Earth on the reading list for the students. It raised more than a few eyebrows. Later when I would meet the students the reaction was always the same; “It wasn’t what we expected. His thinking is so clear. His words are so beautiful.”

Pope Benedict’s primary aim was to invite people to foster an intimate relationship with Christ. It would be in the liturgy, celebrated with reverence, that Christ would “become our contemporary and come in to our lives”. He wanted to rescue the Lord of faith from the excesses of historical-critical biblical scholarship and place a fresh focus on the spirit and nature of the liturgy.

A second thrust was to open the debate between faith and reason. His addresses to the Bundestag, at Westminster Hall and at the College of Bernardins in Paris will stand as the three pillars of this effort. He readily admitted that religion can give rise to fundamentalism and so needs the influence of reason. But reason, without the contribution of faith, can be dangerous too. Interestingly, as we contemplate the possibility of a Pope from the developing world, he also cautioned against the hubris of Eurocentrism in this debate.

Papal Visit Day 2: Key note speech from Catholic Church (England/Wales) on Vimeo.

A Pope’s worst enemy is the man who defends everything he does. And this was not a pontificate without flaws. It would be wishful thinking too to imagine that it has had much of an impact among the wider public.

For those who were listening though, Pope Benedict provided gentle encouragement over the last eight years by reminding us that a relationship with Christ is possible, and essential.

And, as this pontificate reaches its conclusion, I can say that I think I know God better because of Joseph Ratzinger.