Bishop's Column

Benedict’s Reforms should Inspire us to ‘Cooperate with the Truth’ During Lent

These days of Lent are filled with historical significance in so many ways. We are in a time touched by sadness, as well as a time filled with grace and hope. We heard Pope Benedict XVI’s beautiful parting words to the world Feb. 27; we watched his departure from the papacy Feb. 28.

Benedict XVI’s public farewell on Wednesday, the last General Audience of his pontificate, reminded me of St. Paul’s departure from Ephesus, in chapter 20 of the book of Acts. Paul had lived among the Ephesians for three years. When God called him to leave, he wept and they wept, as he encouraged the Church to persevere in love.

We have witnessed the departure of a living apostle. Though his pontificate has ended, we know that Benedict XVI will continue to hold us close in prayer. His spiritual fatherhood will continue, though in a very different form. "We will always be close in prayer," he assured us on Sunday at his last Angelus address from Saint Peter’s Square.

The timing of Benedict XVI’s retirement, during these early days of Lent, seems fitting. He is entering a life of solitude and prayer, at a time when the whole Church is called to imitate Christ’s 40 days of prayer and fasting in the desert. Perhaps our former Pope’s true "final message" is in this contemplative silence – directing our attention away from him, and toward Almighty God.

But it is also worthwhile to look back, during this penitential season, on our retired Pope’s accomplishments – both during the last eight years, and over his two and a half decades as a cardinal in Rome.

It is especially instructive to think about Benedict’s efforts to reform the Church, as we strive to turn from sin and reform our lives during Lent. We should learn from our Holy Father’s unfailing willingness to confront darkness and falsehood with the light of truth.

A good summary of Benedict XVI’s last three decades of service, as cardinal and Pope, is found in his episcopal motto: "Cooperatores Veritatis," a phrase sometimes translated as "Co-Workers in the Truth." Cardinal Ratzinger said this motto expressed the importance of "following the truth and being at its service," since "everything collapses if truth is missing."

From 1981 to 2005, under Cardinal Ratzinger’s leadership, the Church’s highest doctrinal office reaffirmed dogmas and moral teachings that had come under attack. As a leading advocate for the orthodox interpretation of Vatican II, he helped to correct dangerous misunderstandings of that historic event. One of the greatest tools of Church reform, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is largely the fruit of his labors during this time.

As Pope, Benedict XVI oversaw a wide range of initiatives to ensure the Church acted consistently with the truths of the Gospel. He established new procedures to address allegations of sexual abuse. Efforts were begun to strengthen the religious identity of Catholic charities. New communities, new movements, and the new evangelization were brought into the bosom of the Church’s wisdom.

The Holy Father’s desire to cooperate with truth is most especially apparent in his desire for worship, as Christ says, in "spirit and in truth." The Church prays what she believes. Sacred worship, which is rooted in truth, reconciling reform and tradition, reflects the beauty of what we believe. The Holy Father has tirelessly worked to help the Church worship "in spirit and in truth."

Pope Benedict’s reforms were not the product of a personal agenda. Rather, like all authentic reforms, they stemmed from a desire to help the Church become more consistent with the unchanging truths of the Gospel. The Church’s source of revitalization and healing lies in those principles which are neither "new," nor "old," but eternally true.

Benedict XVI has labored for many years as a humble "co-worker in the truth." In his absence, the whole Church must carry on with this same work – seeking reform and renewal in the eternal truths of our faith.

But we cannot reform the Church, or change the world, if we are not willing to change ourselves first – by looking inward, taking stock of our own faults, and humbly seeking God’s grace to correct them.

St. John, the same apostle who urged us to be "cooperators with the truth," had strong words for those who thought they had no need for personal repentance: "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us."

As "co-workers in the truth," we can’t afford to lie to ourselves in this way. Rather than running from the unpleasant truth about ourselves, we should deal with our own sins courageously – in the same way Pope Benedict dealt with what he called the "filth" in the Church.

We should make an effort, during Lent, to reform our lives through heartfelt repentance and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. If we do, St. John assures us that God "is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing."

Pope Benedict XVI has shown us how to reform the Church – and our own lives. The key to both is in "cooperating with the Truth."

During Lent, I hope we can all face our sins courageously, and make a good confession – so that we can emerge as better "co-workers in the truth" by the time Easter arrives.

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