Here is a translation of the Holy Father’s words to the Cardinals who shared his table for pranzo on Monday. The pranzo was an expression of gratitude for the best wishes addressed to the Holy Father last month on the occasions of his 85th birthday (16 April) and of the seventh anniversary of his election to the See of Peter (19 April). I have added a few personal comments in italics.
Eminence, dear Brothers,
At this moment my word can be only a word of gratitude. Gratitude first of all to the Lord for the many years he has given me; years with so many days of joy, splendid times, but also dark nights. However, in retrospect one understands even the nights were necessary and good, a motive for gratitude.
The Holy Father does not shrink from speaking of the dark nights in his long life. This is an encouragement to all of us who, at various seasons of our lives, experience the disorientation and heaviness of dark nights. Even these, says the Holy Father, can become a motive for gratitude, once we see that were part of a bigger plan, the plan by which God brings good out of evil, and joy out of suffering.
Today the word ecclesia militans is somewhat out of fashion, but in reality we can understand ever better that it is true, that it bears truth in itself. We see how evil wishes to dominate the world and that it is necessary to enter into battle with evil. We see how it does so in so many ways, bloody, with the different forms of violence, but also masked with goodness and precisely this way destroying the moral foundations of society.
Ecclesia militans — the Church militant! This is the core of the Holy Father’s brief message: “It is necessary to enter into battle with evil.” I think of Saint Antony of Egypt, and I remember that the life of the monk is not a retreat from battle, but a readiness to engage in battle, even in the front lines. The Holy Father further speaks here of the evil that masks itself as goodness in order to destroy the moral foundations of society. Let him who has ears hear!
Saint Augustine said that the whole of history is a struggle between two loves: love of oneself to contempt of God; love of God to contempt of self, in martyrdom. We are in this struggle and in this struggle it is very important to have friends. And, in my own case, I am surrounded by the friends of the College of Cardinals: they are my friends and I feel at home, I feel safe in this company of great friends, who are with me and all together with the Lord.
The Holy Father is sensitive to friendship, and to the expression of friendship. No one can be fully human without the help of friends. Holiness itself is, more often than not, sustained and protected by God-seeking friendships.
Thank you for this friendship. Thank you, Eminence, for all that you have done for this moment today and for all that you do always. Thank you for the communion of joys and sorrows. Let’s go forward, the Lord said: courage, I have overcome the world. We are in the Lord’s squad, hence in the victorious squad. Thanks to you all. May the Lord bless you all. And let’s toast.
A communion of joys and sorrows. And a toast. Long live the Pope!