Friday, December 17, 2010

Like "A Boat Taking On Water" -- Cardinal Ratzinger on the Ninth Station of the Cross

"In your field we see more weeds than wheat. The soiled garments and face of your Church throw us into confusion. Yet it is we ourselves who have soiled them! It is we who betray you time and time again, after all our lofty words and grand gestures. Have mercy on your Church."

Apr. 19 ( - Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger -- now Pope Benedict XVI-- offered a very somber picture of Church affairs less than one month ago, when he led the Stations of the Cross in the Roman Coliseum on Good Friday.

At the March 25 ceremony, as he mentioned the failings of contemporary Catholicism, the German cardinal provided some clear insights into the attitude that he will bring to the papacy. The meditations included an unusually blunt and often grim appraisal of the Church's problems, combined with a serene confidence that God's help will allow faithful Catholics to overcome those problems.

During that Good Friday service, Cardinal Ratzinger prayed that Jesus would "help us to take up the Cross, and not to shun it." That attitude may have crossed his mind as he realized that he would be selected by the conclave to become the 265th Pope. It seems unlikely that this trained theologian, who has openly spoken of his desire to return to his native Bavaria, ardently sought the pontificate; far more likely, he would have preferred not to be chosen. But as he had earlier accepted the authority of becoming a bishop, despite his preference for a quiet academic life, now he accepted the greater responsibility that was thrust on him.

The same Good Friday meditations also contained a condemnation of modern ideologies. The then-cardinal spoke of relativism, as "this attempt to be our own god, creator, and judge," which leads inevitably to a "plunge into self-destruction." Still later he sketched a bleak picture of contemporary trends, observing that "we can also think, in more recent times, of how a Christianity which has grown weary of faith has abandoned the Lord: the great ideologies, and the banal existence of those who, no longer believing in anything, simply drift through life, have built a new and worse paganism, which in its attempt to do away with God once and for all, have ended up doing away with man."

In perhaps the most striking passage of his meditations, the prelate who would soon become Benedict XVI did not shrink from describing the Catholic Church as "a boat about to sink, a boat taking on water on every side." He lamented the "soiled garments and face" of the Church in our day.

Explaining these harsh words, the meditations mentioned the abuses against the Eucharist, the deformation of Catholic teaching, and the failure to defend the dignity of human life. Because of these problems within the Church, he said in his prayer, "the face of God-- your face-- appears obscured, unrecognizable."

Nevertheless, the memorable Good Friday meditations preached by the German prelate concluded with a message of reliance on God and trust in his Providence. "At this present hour of history, we are living in God's darkness," he said. "And yet, on the Cross, you have revealed yourself. Precisely by being the one who suffers and loves, you are exalted. From the Cross on high you have triumphed."

Jesus falls for the third time

V/. Adoramus te, Christe, et benedicimus tibi.
R/. Quia per sanctam crucem tuam redemisti mundum.

From the Book of Lamentations. 3:27-32

It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. Let him sit alone in silence when he has laid it on him; let him put his mouth in the dust - there may yet be hope; let him give his cheek to the smiter, and be filled with insults. For the Lord will not cast off for ever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion, according to the abundance of his steadfast love.


What can the third fall of Jesus under the Cross say to us? We have considered the fall of man in general, and the falling of many Christians away from Christ and into a godless secularism. Should we not also think of how much Christ suffers in his own Church? How often is the holy sacrament of his Presence abused, how often must he enter empty and evil hearts! How often do we celebrate only ourselves, without even realizing that he is there! How often is his Word twisted and misused! What little faith is present behind so many theories, so many empty words! How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to him! How much pride, how much self-complacency! What little respect we pay to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, where he waits for us, ready to raise us up whenever we fall! All this is present in his Passion. His betrayal by his disciples, their unworthy reception of his Body and Blood, is certainly the greatest suffering endured by the Redeemer; it pierces his heart. We can only call to him from the depths of our hearts: Kyrie eleison ­ Lord, save us (cf. Mt 8: 25).


Lord, your Church often seems like a boat about to sink, a boat taking in water on every side. In your field we see more weeds than wheat. The soiled garments and face of your Church throw us into confusion. Yet it is we ourselves who have soiled them! It is we who betray you time and time again, after all our lofty words and grand gestures. Have mercy on your Church; within her too, Adam continues to fall. When we fall, we drag you down to earth, and Satan laughs, for he hopes that you will not be able to rise from that fall; he hopes that being dragged down in the fall of your Church, you will remain prostrate and overpowered. But you will rise again. You stood up, you arose and you can also raise us up. Save and sanctify your Church. Save and sanctify us all.


Pater noster, qui es in cælis:
sanctificetur nomen tuum;
adveniat regnum tuum;
fiat voluntas tua, sicut in cælo, et in terra.
Panem nostrum cotidianum da nobis hodie;
et dimitte nobis debita nostra,
sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris;
et ne nos inducas in tentationem;
sed libera nos a malo.

Eia mater, fons amoris,
me sentire vim doloris
fac, ut tecum lugeam.

Meditations of Pope Benedict XVI (then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger) on Good Friday 2005

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