In certain Catholic circles, there has been no small amount of alarm over Pope Emeritus Benedict’s abdication, and the possible circumstances that precipitated it. Those who have always looked to Benedict as a dauntless pillar of strength in a very tumultuous period for the Church found it suspicious that he would step down from his duties unless in some way, his hand was forced. To many, he always seemed to be the sort who would carry that cross until his dying day, come what may.
Personally, I’ve never doubted that the Holy Father acted in good faith and of his own volition. Whatever else the world may think about him, there are few who would argue that he is not a man of keen intellect and tenacious adherence to principle. But this does not mean that his decision was not influenced by forces that he feared might overwhelm even his capacity to forestall.
Dr. Robert B. Moynihan, founder and editor-in-chief of Inside the Vatican magazine wrote yesterday of an encounter he had with a member of the curia that lends credence to this concern. After recognizing a certain unnamed cardinal of his acquaintance dressed in the manner of a simple clergyman on the streets of Rome, Moynihan approached him to speak a concern that had been on his mind.
“Your eminence,” I said.
In his eyes he was saying to me that he could not answer any questions.
But he was not excluding all conversation. And so I ventured…
“I only wanted to tell you one thing,” I said. “That I loved Pope Benedict.”
He stood still.
“I did too, and I do love him,” the cardinal said.
“And so I have been troubled and a bit off balance since February 11,” I said.
And then, as if filled with a sudden emotion, I saw the cardinal’s face grow dark and sad, and he said, forcefully: “I love him, but this should never have happened. He never should have left his office.”
I was silent.
“It is like a man and a woman, a husband and wife, a mother and father in relation to their children,” he said. “What do they say?” It seemed he was asking me the question.
I was silent.
“They say, ‘until death do us part!’ They stay together always.”
So I understood him to be saying that he felt a Successor of Peter should not step down from the throne, no matter how weary and tired, but continue until death.
I felt the words he was speaking were the words of an argument that may have been used even among the cardinals, but of course, that may not be the case.
But I felt that I was catching a glimpse of how at least one cardinal was thinking about the Pope’s renunciation.
“Your eminence,” I said, “I’ve forgotten. Are you already above age 80, or not?
“I am not yet 80,” he told me.
“So you will be voting tomorrow.”
He nodded, and a look passed over his eyes which seemed filled with shadows and concerns. I was surprised at his intensity. I was surprised by the whole conversation.
He squeezed my hand. “Is there anything else I can do?” I asked.
“Pray for us,” he said. “Pray for us.”
He turned as if he needed to go.
“I have to go.”
He took a step away from me, then turned again.
“It is a dangerous time. Pray for us.”
I think we should do as he asked.
It is good that we trust in the wisdom of Benedict’s decision, that we believe that whatever the reason, he knew what he was doing. But this should not put us at our ease. I believe in the very core of my being that the cardinal is right. It is a dangerous time for the Church. I can feel it. The forces of darkness are alert, and there is something afoot. What it is, we may never know. But this is far from an ordinary conclave.
In any conclave, Catholics who love the Church pray for the election of a good and holy pontiff. In this conclave, we should pray all the more, and invoke St. Michael’s intercession. Remember the reason for the prayer’s composition:
Pope Leo XIII (reigned from 1878-1903) composed the now famous “Prayer to Saint Michael” after celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass with a group of cardinals. During the Mass, the Holy Father fell to the floor at the foot of the altar. It seemed that the Holy Father had died or suffered from a stroke. Suddenly, the Pope revived and said, “What a horrible vision I was allowed to see.”
Apparently the pontiff saw a future influx of demonic forces into the Catholic Church. He subsequently authored the following prayer to Saint Michael, seeking to gain further protection for the Church. Pope Leo XIII also ordered this prayer it be prayed by the priest and faithful at the end of every low Mass.
Sancte Michael Archangele, defende nos in proelio; contra nequitiam et insidias diaboli esto praesidium. Imperat illi Deus; supplices deprecamur: tuque, Princeps militiae coelestis, Satanam aliosque spiritus malignos, qui ad perditionem animarum pervagantur in mundo, divina virtute in infernum detrude. Amen.
Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in the battle, be our safeguard and protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil; may God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all evil spirits who wander through the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.
As a Catholic attached to the Traditional Latin Mass, I have had the privilege of seeing the old practice of praying the St. Michael prayer at the foot of the altar after every low Mass. Here in Northern Virginia, many parishes that celebrate the Novus Ordo have restored the tradition of the St. Michael prayer at the conclusion of the liturgy. If you are a pastor, I urge you to pray it with your parishioners. If you are a parent, pray it with your family. If you believe that the Devil is at work both in the world and in the Church, pray it on your own. Every day. If you want to really stick it to the Devil, pray the longer version of the prayer.
May God grant us a holy and wise pontiff. May He grant us a strong pontiff. May He grant us a better pontiff than we deserve.