It’s been a while since I’ve wanted to write anything here, but given yesterday’s events, I feel the need to put my thoughts down. The internet has been a strange, sometimes difficult, place to be over the last 24 hours or so, and I wanted to make my corner feel safe to me and remember 11 February 2013 as clearly as I remember 19 April 2005.
At first I didn’t believe it was true-why would the pope abdicate? It might have been because it was early, as I have a terrible habit of checking Facebook from my phone before I get out of bed in the morning, but the person who posted the news wasn’t someone whom I believed would joke about such a serious matter. When I finally woke up to realize that it wasn’t some sort of strange joke and it registered that this was indeed real, I went into a bit of shock. I’ve been a bit numb since then-sad, yes, but mostly just stunned.
My sadness stems from the fact that Pope Benedict XVI is the pope under whose reign I became an adult in the Church. Pope John Paul II was the pope of my childhood, but I had just turned 16 in the spring that he died and it was around that time that my faith began to become my own; I had been confirmed years before (we were attending an Eastern Rite Catholic church at the time, so I received confirmation at the age of 10), but it was under Pope Benedict that I grew up as a Catholic and made the decision to live according to the Church’s teachings.
While he has always been a stalwart defender of the Faith, Pope Benedict’s intellectualism is gentle-brilliant, but accessible-and I love that about him too. As I began to study theology as an adult, going beyond the Baltimore Catechism of my childhood, I appreciated the way his work opened up the richness of Tradition for me; not that Pope John Paul’s didn’t, but Pope Benedict’s work touched me in a different way and I am truly grateful for that.
The strangeness of this whole situation is rooted for me in that he’s still alive; I don’t wish him gone by any means, but since it’s been centuries since a pope has voluntarily abdicated, things are a little different. There is no mourning period and, even after the new pontiff is chosen, there will still be the knowledge that, cloistered in a monastery, the previous pontiff will be praying and (I hope) writing more theology. That’s hard to wrap my head around in some ways.
But everything else is still familiar: I know that the cardinals will convene in their conclave and we the faithful will pray and wait for the white smoke and then, when the new pontiff is announced, life will go on as always. I don’t worry about that side of things; I trust that the Holy Spirit will guide the conclave as He always does and that God is still in charge, keeping his promise from Matthew 16:18-“you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Even though the world has lots of negative things to say about Pope Benedict and the Church, we’re assured that God keeps and will keep his Church safe and He’ll give us another shepherd who will take care of the Church’s needs.
I’ll close with this, from Creative Minority Report, which is the best summation of this event that I’ve found:
Pope Benedict is a great man with a great mind, a scholar and author with great insight. Many people waited for a man like this to be pope: deeply traditional, intelligent, able to take on today’s crises in thought and praxis. His meekness as a person, joined to the clarity and depth of his writing, made for a strong shepherd for the Church.
What to say of his resignation? All I can think of are humility and trust.
A prideful man would say “I want the power, I want the prestige of being pope.” A different kind of prideful man would say “With all of the threats out there against the Church, I must cling to power, I must exert my will upon the curia and the culture at large.”
A man who did not trust would say “I must stay in office, because what if someone else comes to power who doesn’t share my views?” A man showing lack of trust would say “I must stay here as long as I can…”
A man of God, a man of Christ, a man of the Holy Spirit, a man of the Church says:”This is Christ’s Church. It is guided by the Spirit. I can give up this power, this authority, and trust that God’s will shall be done.”
Pope Benedict is not a worldly politician, not even a worldly politician for Christ. He is a shepherd guided by humility and trust.
He says “You, Lord, must guide Your Church. Your will be done.”