The Church is not a party and it doesn’t need a ‘Clause 4 movement’

Benedict XVI celebrating Christmas Eve Mass in St Peter's Basilica in 2011 (CNS)

Following my blog for Monday in which I indicated why I was underwhelmed by Radio 4’s programme about Pope Benedict, which was presented by Ed Stourton, a friend has kindly pointed me towards a blog site called “GenerationBenedict.” Its purpose is simple: “40 days, 40 reflections, 40 young people on how Pope Benedict has touched their hearts and why they are proud to be part of GenerationBenedict.” The blog states, “Pope Benedict will be truly missed by our generation. Those who have met him look upon him fondly as a gentle grandfatherly figure, as he has pointed us towards Christ at a point in time when many of us were at a crossroads, telling us not to settle for second best but to strive for sainthood.”

Someone outside the Church who happened to tune in to the Radio 4 programme on Benedict aired last Saturday evening could be forgiven for thinking that the Church is merely a political body, much like the political parties in this country, where ideological think tanks and focus groups pore over the careers of outgoing prime ministers – I mean pontiffs – who they think made this or that mistake in earlier decades: where the Pope, like a party boss, should appease, or appeal to, this or that constituency; which gaffes/scandals are likely to sink him and his cronies; which is the way forward for the Party – I mean the Church – in a modern, multicultural world in which diversity, equality and feminism play such a huge part; how he has to abandon the old “Clause 4” bit in his manifesto – I mean encyclical – and get wise to contraception; and how “New Church”, much like “New Labour”, could be a rallying point to attract floating voters from the middle classes and so on.

In contrast to Radio 4’s dreary take on Pope Benedict, entirely monopolised by yesterday’s men, GenerationBenedict is crammed with young people – the next generation who will form the future hierarchy and the future laity if the Church is to survive and thrive at all – who have worked out the obvious: at heart the Church is about holiness, getting to heaven, and the Holy Father’s main task is leading, teaching and preaching the way to arrive there. Lisette, who is studying for an MA in Marriage and Family at Maryvale Institute, remembers hearing Pope Benedict’s words when he came to London in September 2010: “We were made to receive love. Look into your heart each day, to find the source of true love. Jesus is always there.” In Hyde Park, she recalls kneeling in Adoration, forgetting the tens of thousands of other pilgrims and thinking “it was just Jesus, the Pope and me.” She feels certain that the Pope has inspired her generation “to become part of the New Evangelisation, to discern their vocation and to strive for holiness.”

Fr James Bradley, a young priest of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, thinks that the Pope had “acted in the way that only Peter’s successor could”, in bringing about the possibility of Anglicans joining the Church in parish groups. “We have to be part of this” he realised, when surrounded by thousands of Catholics in Hyde Park in 2010. He reflects, “Pope Benedict has shown us how to pray the liturgy with true reverence and devotion… and how to become friends with Jesus Christ.”

Michaela Blackwell, a medical student, was inspired by Benedict’s message at World Youth Day in Madrid to realise that “I was being called to live a life that was “counter cultural”, one that many people shunned me for.” Fr Paul Moss, Vocation Director for the Archdiocese of Birmingham, thinks it is for the Pope’s “gentle yet firm teaching that he will be most remembered.” Charles Bradshaw, who lives in Oxford, is currently discerning his vocation; he writes, “Benedict has been an inspiration in my life, as a young man called from a young age to be a priest…I look to him to guide me by his holiness, humility and love, to guide me to understand the Mass as key to my life.” He refers to the Motu Proprio on the Mass as “a gift that no one could ever have imagined.” Ryan Service, a 25-year-old seminarian at the English College, remembers the Pope’s words in front of Westminster Cathedral in 2010; it caused him to “climb off the fence I was sitting on” and to understand that a vocation to the priesthood is an act of “pure and generous love…for the building up of the Church and the redemption of our world.”

After reading these testimonies I feel uplifted again; I am reminded not to get too bothered if the BBC or Ed Stourton misses the point of this papacy; they are looking at the Church from a worldly perspective alone. I heartily encourage others who read this to follow the 40 days’ reflections by these and other young people on their website. Then you will come to grips with the true heart of Benedict’s papacy and his real legacy.