Well, folks, what a day it’s been. I was coming back from a run this morning (yes, Mom, I went running at 5am today) and went to check the news as I do each morning when I saw reports saying that the “pope is retiring!” or “Benedict leaves papacy,” “Benedict makes history.”
Only one report means its usually an inside joke of sorts, two reports means someone believed it and caught on, much like those “Facebook is going to charge beginning February 11, 2013!” scams, but three posts in the same feed usually means something is up. So I went where all good seminarians go for news at 5:30am: Twitter. And there it was….Catholic News Service, Vatican Communications Office, USSCB, various Catholic bloggers, even the mainstreams like ABC, CNN, MSNBC, and CBS had reports. This was not a rumor; no, it was real: Pope Benedict XVI had announced his retirement.
And the Catholic world woke today, looked to the skies, and in one voice acclaimed: “Wait, what?”
Only a few of my professors here at seminary were alive when the last pope, Pope Gregory XII, resigned in 1415 to end the Great Western Schism when there were two popes: one in Avignon, France, and one in Rome. No pope in anything close to our lifetime has stepped down because of health reasons. Surely you all remember the reports of JPII considering it when his health declined, but he hung on until the end.
So why not Benedict? Why is he leaving? It should be obvious that more time in prayer has gone into this one decision than I’ve spent over the course of my lifetime. An exaggeration, maybe, but it’s probably close. To be the pope, the Vicar of Christ, the Bishop of Rome, the one who sits upon the Chair of Peter, who is the Successor to the Chief of the Apostles, the Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church and to think about giving it up for something other than death is practically unheard of. But the fact of the matter is that there aren’t too many jobs out there that are equal in difficulty, demand, level of criticism, work load, and schedule to that of the Pope. I suppose the President of the United States coming to mind but, while it’s nice to have, the President doesn’t have the added responsibility of representing God on Earth and doesn’t necessarily have to have a reputation of holiness added on top of it all. And to be elected at an age older than almost any other pope in history with plans already to retire and live the rest of life in the peace and quiet only the hills of his Bavarian homeland can offer but still lay yourself down humbly as a humble servant in the vineyard of the Lord is something remarkable.
From the day he was elected, it was no secret that Benedict’s papacy was to be one of transition; it would have been impossible for him to fill the shoes of Blessed John Paul II. But Benedict climbed right up into those shoes and went to work. His most notable work has come in his writings (of course I’m thinking of the Jesus of Nazareth series) and his work on the New Evangelization of the world…a call for all the world to return to the root of faith, Jesus Christ, and experience him directly. It is a call for all Catholics to wake and up and be proud of their heritage, their Tradition, their Truth. Benedict also championed the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, many Synods, Consistories, and other events of that nature to build up and ensure the future of this Church.
Lest we forget the most important player in all of this…The Holy Spirit. This Church is Christ’s Church and he may do with it what he pleases. The Holy Spirit has guided the Church from its Apostolic beginning to its work in our present day. Pope Benedict XVI knows these facts better than anyone; it was the Spirit who got him elected, who convinced him to say yes despite his plans, who guided his mind, mouth, and pen, and who now, through gentle whispers as only the Spirit can utter that it was his time to go. The Holy Spirit has it covered, guys! He’s got this. Let’s pray for the Church, for the future pope, for Benedict, and for all people that we might be as open to the Holy Spirit as Benedict was, is, and will be in the future.
I’m shocked, but hopeful. Surprised, but inspired. Caught off guard, but have found a new fire for faith and desire to commit my life to this Church which Christ founded on that Rock named Peter and who sustains through those things called Faith and Hope and Love. He who is love is not leaving us but is just picking us up in a whole new way.
So for those who are like us here at seminary and are hopeful or those who spend time nay-saying, let’s take our emotion and convictions out of this and look at the facts, at the truth, and pray pray pray.
In the words of my main man Rocco Palmo, well, Church, away we go…
In Christ, I am