A week or so ago, reporting on the interview that the Holy Father gave en route to Portugal, John L. Allen Jr. wrote:
In as clear an example of a pope changing the Vatican’s public tone as one is ever likely to see, Benedict pointedly insisted that the real “persecution” facing him personally, and Catholicism generally, comes not from external attacks but from the reality of sin within the church.
What Papa Benny said was this:
In terms of what we today can discover in this message, attacks against the pope or the church don’t come just from outside the church. The suffering of the church also comes from within the church, because sin exists in the church. This too has always been known, but today we see it in a really terrifying way. The greatest persecution of the church doesn’t come from enemies on the outside, but is born in sin within the church. The church thus has a deep need to re-learn penance, to accept purification, to learn on one hand forgiveness but also the necessity of justice. Forgiveness does not exclude justice. We have to re-learn the essentials: conversion, prayer, penance, and the theological virtues.
Then just yesterday, addressing a crowd of 150,000 who had gathered at the encouragement of the Italian Bishops Conference for a public show of support for the Holy Father on his return to the Vatican from Portugal, Papa BXVI drove the point home with a hammer (source: Cathnews):
“Today you show the great affection and profound closeness of the Church and the Italian people to the pope and your priests… because, in the commitment to spiritual and moral renewal, we can always do better,” Benedict said, addressing the crowd from the balcony of his Vatican apartment.
“The real enemy to fear and to fight is sin, spiritual evil, which at times, unfortunately, also infects members of the Church,” he said.
Here on Sentire Cum Ecclesia, we have sought to show our support for the Holy Father in the virtual reality of the blogworld in the same way in which that crowd of 150,000 has shown it in Rome. Yet at the same time we have highlighted from the first that what Pope Benedict has been calling for (and explicitly called for in the Irish Letter): a renewed spirit of penitence through fasting, prayer, works of mercy, the reading of scripture and regular recourse to the Sacrament of Penance, and at the same time an increase in Eucharistic Adoration in the presence of the Lord as reparation for sins committed within the Church and by her members. I said at the time that the letter was released that Benedict saw the real problem to be a spiritual one which could only – in the final analysis – be combated with a spiritual revolution.
At the time, I remember Pastor Mark asking for a greater explanation of what reparation meant – a important task to which I will devote myself at some time in the future. But it is even more clear now that the Holy Father sees himself and the Church, far from being “under seige” from forces outside the Church, is under attack from human sin and pride within the Church.
There is an old saying, often quoted by those who work for social justice: “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” We might well say that what Pope Benedict is saying to every member of the Church is: “Let there be holiness in the Church, and let it begin with me.” That is a point which I need to have driven home to me every day in my own life, and which my stubborn heart still in so many ways refuses to hear, but I thank God for the pastoral leadership of the Holy Father, and pray that I may hear this message first of all in my own heart and that it may make a change in the way I live my life – for the sake of the Church.