Today, I have been thinking about St. John Bosco's 1862 vision of the two pillars, concerning the future trials and tribulations of the Church. In it, he sees arising out of the sea two great pillars. One is topped by a statue of the Blessed Virgin with the legend "Auxilium Christianorum" (Help of Christians). This pillar symbolizes devotion to the Blessed Virgin. The other, topped by a great Host and the legend "Salus Credentium" (Salvation of the Faithful), symbolizes frequent Communions.
On the sea, the great Barque of Peter, commanded by the Pope and escorted by a fleet of smaller ships, is being assaulted by many enemy ships, which stand for persecutions. The battle rages relentlessly, and the Pope's great ship sustains many blows and even great breaches in her hull, yet never sinks. The enemies, in a frenzy, strive to fight hand to hand, cursing and blaspheming. Then, says Don Bosco,
All at once the Pope falls gravely wounded. Immediately, those who are with him run to help him and they lift him up. A second time the Pope is struck, he falls again and dies. A shout of victory and of joy rings out amongst the enemies; from their ships an unspeakable mockery arises.
The Church is full of enemies within, near enough to fight hand to hand. How many within the Church there are, even among bishops and priests, who hate and despise the Holy Father and openly defy him. He has not been safe even within his own household. Some of the Pope's enemies publicly demanded his resignation. How they must be crowing tonight over the end of his reign. Will they have the last laugh? Don Bosco:
But hardly is the Pontiff dead than another Pope takes his place. The pilots, having met together, have elected the Pope so promptly that the news of the death of the Pope coincides with the news of the election of the successor. The adversaries begin to lose courage.
The new Pope, putting the enemy to rout and overcoming every obstacle, guides the ship right up to the two columns and comes to rest between them; he makes it fast with a light chain that hangs from the bow to an anchor of the column on which stands the Host; and with another light chain which hangs from the stern, he fastens it at the opposite end to another anchor hanging from the column on which stands the Immaculate Virgin.
Then the enemy ships are put to confusion and chaos, scattering and wrecking each other; meanwhile, other ships, some of which had retreated during the battle, approach and also fasten themselves to the two pillars. Then a great calm descends over the sea.
Is Pope Benedict XVI the slain Pope in this vision? Who can say, until the events precipitated by today's stunning announcement have unfolded? We can only completely understand prophecies in their fulfillment. But whether or not we are witnessing the actual events Don Bosco describes in his dream, there are lessons to be taken from it:
-- God is in charge.
-- The enemies of the Barque of Peter will never sink her, try as they might.
-- God is in charge.
-- We have been provided with the means necessary to overcome our present trials, if only we will avail ourselves of them: devotion to Mary and frequent Communions.
-- God is in charge.
Have I mentioned that God is in charge? God bless our present Holy Father -- and he is still the Holy Father, until the end of the month. The liberals hoped the successor of John Paul II would be a mere "caretaker Pope" who would be out of touch and not rock the boat, and under whom they could start things sliding back their way. To their consternation, however, Pope Benedict has done great things for the Church, out of all proportion to the length of his reign. Among other things, he has restored the Mass of Tradition and the traditional forms of the Sacraments and the Breviary, thus suddenly making the life work of the Bugninians merely optional; and he has opened a path of re-entry into the Church for the long-sundered Anglicans.
I am sad that Pope Benedict intends not to die in harness, and that some will view him as a coward and a shirker for not staying on the throne of Peter to the end. I do not want to see this set a precedent. On the other hand, we are not in a position to know all that the Holy Father knows, and see all that he sees, and I believe that he sees farther and deeper than most. Perhaps he is taking the extraordinary step of abdicating in order to avert some great evil that would otherwise come as a result of others assuming more of his responsibilities as he grows weaker and sicker. Or perhaps he is abdicating because he foresees wrenching trials in the immediate future that only a younger and/or stronger man can cope with. I would not rule out the possibility that he has some insight into who that man will be, and that he is making way for his successor so that the latter can take over while still in his prime.
I say again, God bless our Holy Father, Benedict, the sixteenth of that name. And God bless the man who will succeed him.
P.S. I will venture a couple of predictions. (1) The next Pope will be Raymond Cardinal Burke. (2) He will take the name of Benedict XVII, to signal his intention of continuing the work of Benedict XVI. Meanwhile, God's will be done.