Retired pope says aging brings intense prayer, awareness of judgment

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — As he prays in his house in the
Vatican Gardens and, especially, as he ages, retired Pope Benedict XVI said he
finds many Scripture passages “more challenging in their greatness and

Retirement has given the 89-year-old Pope Benedict what he
describes as the gift of silence to enter more deeply into prayer, especially
with the Psalms and the writings of early church theologians, but the
inevitable approach of death also makes his failings and God’s judgment a more
pressing concern, he said.

“Despite all the confidence I have that the loving God
cannot forsake me, the closer you come to his face, the more intensely you feel
how much you have done wrong,” the retired pope told Peter Seewald, a
German writer.

Pope Benedict’s reflections on his life and his discussion
of how his prayer life has changed as he ages are included in Seewald’s new
book-length interview, “Last Testament,” which will be released in
English by Bloomsbury in November. The German and Italian editions were in
bookstores Sept. 9.

“I can now pray the breviary deeply and slowly,”
the retired pope said, “and thereby deepen my friendship with the Psalms,
with the Fathers” of the church.

He said he uses a whole week to prepare his Sunday homily
for his small household, thinking about the Scripture readings, allowing his
thoughts to “mature slowly, so I can sound out a text from many different
angles: What is it saying to me? What is it saying to the people here in the

Pope Benedict listed four current favorite prayers — three
of which were written by Jesuits:

— The “Suscipe” of St. Ignatius of Loyola, which
begins: “Take, Lord, receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and
my entire will, all I have and call my own. You have given all to me. To you,
Lord, I return it.”

— A prayer from St. Francis Xavier: “I do not love you
because you can give me paradise or condemn me to hell, but because you are my

— St. Nicholas of Flue’s “Take me as I am.”

— And the General Prayer composed in German by
St. Peter Canisius, which begins: “Almighty and eternal God, Lord,
heavenly Father. Look with the eyes of your gratuitous mercy at our sorrow,
misery and distress; have mercy on all Christian believers.”

Pope Benedict, who knew and continues to admire the work of
Father Romano Guardini, said he agreed with an affirmation the priest made,
“In old age, it does not get easier, but more difficult.”

“There is something true in it,” he said. “On
the one hand, in old age you are more deeply practiced, so to speak. Life has
taken its shape. The fundamental decisions have been made.”

But at the same time, the pope said, “one feels the
difficulties of life’s questions more deeply; one feels the weight of today’s
godlessness, the weight of the absence of faith, which goes deep into the
church. But then one also feels the greatness of Jesus Christ’s words, which
evade interpretation more often than before.”

Although sometimes comforted by new insights, he said he
recognizes how “the depths of the word (of God) are never fully plumbed.
And some words of wrath, of rejection, of the threat of judgment certainly
become more mysterious and grave and awesome than before.”

– – –

Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden

– – –

Copyright © 2016 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at

Original Article