Tuesday, February 12, 2013

On Pope Benedict XVI: From disbelief, to unsettled and fearful; and, finally to understanding and acceptance

Post Updated at bottom with news from Rome

In the title is the range of emotions I felt all within about a half-day of learning about Pope Benedict's resignation.  It was like being in Michigan for one day of all four seasons (not uncommon here, you know). I share this because I know many of you are probably in that same range and have still other emotions.  Maybe something I offer can bring comfort to a few souls troubled by all of this.

There will be more time to talk about what comes next, and who may come next.  Right now, I want to focus on a man who became a giant in my life when he was thrust to the throne in 2005.  His pre-conclave homily grabbed me out of my complacent Catholic life and launched me into a faith journey I never expected.  The rest is history.

Like many of you, I went through a range of emotions.  When someone posted the words, "Pope resigning???" on Facebook, I laughed and recalled all the other times the media rumored the Holy Father's resignation.  A few minutes later, I saw the UK Catholic Herald putting the news up on Facebook.  Still in disbelief, I went to the Bollettino and there was nothing.  So, I went to Vatican Radio's website, and there were the words of Pope Benedict XVI.

There I stood staring at my computer screen like a deer in headlights.

Anxiety gripped me as my mind tried to grasp what was going on.  First, there was the concern for his health and well-being.  Did his doctor tell him he had just months to live? Did someone pressure him?

I set that aside and I made my post to share the news, but not before forcing myself to recall that the Holy Spirit is in charge and that the gates of hell were not in the process of prevailing against the Church.

I left for work still unsettled, if not shaken by the news.

As the day went on, I was cast into deep reflection as were many of you. I thought about all that was left undone that I had hoped the Holy Father would complete.  Only a few weeks ago, I expressed to someone that I hope God feels as we do, that we need Pope Benedict XVI a few more years.  Unbeknownst to us, the Holy Father had been in deep discussions over that very thing, but with the highest authority he could find.

Then, as I lamented his loss over things that seemingly won't get done, or may not get done the same way, my thoughts turned to his very tired face.  I too have noticed for some time that he looks exhausted.  I wondered if he would be able to make World Youth Day - an important evangelical event, in my humble opinion.  I learned from one report yesterday that Pope Benedict's doctor wanted him to stop traveling.

As I reflected on that, I began to feel selfish - selfish for wanting the Pope to continue in a position he felt would better served by someone with the strength to keep up the rigors of a modern day papacy, which includes much travel.  If the Pope never left Rome, his words would be known only to enthusiasts.  But when he travels,  his words become known to more nominal Catholics, some of whom take their faith more seriously, or go on to become priests and religious.   His words become more accessible to non-Catholics, some of whom convert to the faith.  It was this part of his statement that struck me:

However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.

I recall when Pope John Paul II deteriorated. Travel was greatly reduced, then ended.  Others had to go in his place.   How would the youth who traveled from around the world to Brazil feel when a high-ranking member of the Curia filled in for Pope Benedict?  I think World Youth Day, in particular, weighed heavily on him - the fact that he probably just could not do it.  World Youth Day will have a Pope, but it won't be this one.  He is giving a new generation an opportunity to bond with a new Holy Father. The next WYD is years away. Think about that.

My thoughts then shifted to Holy Week.  There can't be a more physically grueling period for a pope.  The Triduum is hard enough on a priests and bishops at any age, but especially in their 60's and 70's in a typical parish.  I can't imagine how much greater this is for the Bishop of Rome.  I realized then, that the Holy Father's choice of time may not have anything at all to do with some prediction that he had just months to live. Where others are perplexed with his timing, I see great significance:  We emerge from Holy Week with triumph through the Resurrection.  How symbolic is that to kicking off a new papacy?

I've talked to people who feel betrayed or very deeply saddened that this father figure could abandon us rather than carrying on until he died in the saddle.  But at what cost?  Through his thoughts and in his prayers, he must have been contemplating the possibility that he could go on for years in a compromised state that might slow evangelization.  That is where I saw his profound humility.  He's not stepping aside because he's not tough enough for the battle that Pope John Paul II fought as he aged.  He's stepping aside because he feels there are more pressing battles at this time to fight, and someone else can do it better at this point.

Some are talking about the difference between Pope John Paul II staying in the saddle and showing us how to die with dignity.  To that, I say, that is precisely what God wanted us to learn - the value of redemptive suffering.  God has lessons to teach us through each pope, and that is how he wanted Pope John Paul II to end his papacy.

Others are concerned that this will set a precedent, whereby others will try to pressure future popes into resigning before they should resign.  Let's keep in mind that those who do such things are trying to tango with the Holy Spirit.  I don't think we should worry about things that have not happened yet.  Pope Benedict XVI has shown us that he is willing to bring back good traditions that were rendered to the Smithsonian; and, that he is willing to start new traditions.  Make no mistake: Even with his resignation, he is still teaching.

Some of who love the Traditional Latin Mass and the Pope's work towards liturgical reform are concerned about the future.  Once again, the same Holy Spirit who influenced the last conclave to elevated Joseph Ratzinger to the Papacy*, and who brought us Summorum Pontificum through him, is the same Holy Spirit who will influence the next conclave*.   The Holy Spirit does not work against himself.  I think liturgical reform will continue because I think that it is being driven by the Holy Spirit.

I am deeply saddened by Pope Benedict XVI's departure.  I am in mourning already, at the thought of his disappearance from the world stage.  But, I understand and I accept his decision because I trust his discernment process, and I trust God all the more.  I'm in pain, but I am at peace, all at the same time.  It's very odd, but it's true.

Some advice I would give you is to recall that the same Holy Spirit that gave Pope Benedict XVI to us may very well be prompting him to take this nearly unprecedented step (it's been 600 years).  God loves this Church more than anyone else can, and he loves us equally.  I suggest staying clear of apocalyptic, end-times, doomsday panic; from prophecies not found in Scripture; and from pessimism which shows little faith in the Holy Spirit.

Thank you Holy Father for all you have done and for the many prayerful sacrifices you will make in the future for the good of the Church.

* Two sentences above in the paragraph discussing liturgical reform were altered to clarify that the Holy Spirit influences the conclaves (I had written that he makes the choice).  Make now doubt, that while men make the choice, hopefully allowing themselves to be prayerfully influenced by the Holy Spirit, if the wrong man were elected - one whom God did not want as Pope, he can take him out.  Period.  Therefore, do not have anxiety over these things. 

UPDATE: Here is something from VIS (emboldened is text relating to what I said above.  While it says travel fatigue was not the cause, it was, "another reason in the development" of his decision.  Here is the full text:

Vatican City, 12 February 2013 (VIS) – Wednesday, 13 February at 5:00pm, the Holy Father will celebrate the rite of blessing and imposition of ashes in the Vatican Basilica, instead of the Roman Basilica of Santa Sabina, where the celebration is traditionally held. The reason, as Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, explained, is that, as this will be Benedict XVI's last public concelebration, a large number of participants is expected.

For the same reason, the Pope's annual meeting with the pastors of Rome, scheduled to take place on 14 February, will take place in the Paul VI Hall and will focus on―according to Fr. Lombardi's information―Vatican Council II, as the Roman clergy requested. Also, in expectation of great numbers, Benedict XVI's last general audience, scheduled for 27 February in the Paul VI Hall, will probably be moved to St. Peter's Square.

"The Pope is well," Fr. Lombardi said, "and his soul is serene. He did not resign the pontificate because he is ill but because of the fragility that comes with old age," he affirmed, recalling that the pontiff, recently underwent an entirely routine procedure to replace the battery of the pacemaker he wears, but that this had no impact on his decision. Likewise, Fr. Lombardi explained, the trip to Cuba and Mexico, due to his fatigue, was another reason in the development of Benedict XVI's decision, but not its cause.

The director of the Press Office confirmed that the Pope's calendar will continue as scheduled until 28 February, the last day of his pontificate, with ad limina visits from the Italian bishops, visits with the presidents of Romania and Guatemala, etc. However, the expected encyclical on Faith will not be published because the text still is not ready.

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