Today (in our humble parish cluster) we celebrate Mass for Pope Benedict.
We love him. We wish him health and grace. We feel grateful for everything he has done to help us. He has served the Church with humble diligence for a very long time, quietly applying his capacious and disciplined mind to the problems at hand. We pray that God may reward him.
Let’s take note of the dates of a couple feast days. The Holy Father announced his resignation on February 11, which is the feast of…
Our Lady of Lourdes. Because so many sick and handicapped people have been healed at the shrine in Lourdes, February 11 has become the international Day of the Sick. So it’s hardly a co-incidence that the Pope chose to announce his resignation due to age and infirmity on that day.
Also, during the Pope’s final week in office, we will mark the 1,976th anniversary of the day St. Peter began to exercise his office as bishop of Antioch, Syria–the city that coined the term “Christian.” He took his “chair” there on February 22, AD 37. Later, Peter moved to Rome, and the Apostolic See moved with him. We can hardly think that Pope Benedict just co-incidentally decided to relinquish St. Peter’s chair a few days after the Feast of St. Peter’s Chair.
Now, as the Lord warned in the gospel, perhaps we should fear the Ninevites who repented at the preaching of Jonah. We would rightly fear their rising up and condemning our generation–unless we try to understand the papacy from a genuinely spiritual point of view.
The big news from Rome has filled the airwaves with journalists rattling on about this or that aspect of the contemporary condition of the Church, all of which the new pope will inherit: Growing in the southern hemisphere. Reeling in Europe. Governed by an intransigent bureaucracy. Still confused by Vatican II. Stacked with reactionary Cardinals. Riddled with a liberal conspiracy. Afraid of new technology. Over-reliant on contemporary trends. Under-reliant on nuns. Patriarchal. Scandal-plagued. Too worldly. Too otherwordly. Etc. Etc.
Now, all of this informed commentary could be for the good, I am sure. But I think our faith demands that we look at this papal transition in a different light. Let’s not waste mental energy on what this or that new pope might or might not do, or should or should not do. Rather, let’s focus on the simple reality of there being a pope on earth at all.
Everything a pope does or doesn’t do pales by comparison with the simple fact that he is. That there is a father on earth for all the sons and daughters of God.
I may be one of the best Catholic priests with parishes in Franklin and in Henry County. Maybe the best—but certainly the worst. Bad or good doesn’t matter, though–compared to being. Maybe it’s not ideal when people have to complain to each other about how boring Father is. Sure: not ideal. But what if there were no Father? That would be indescribably worse.
Just so, the great miracle is that the whole world has a pope.
Maybe the pope says or does things I don’t understand. Maybe he’s the worst pope in business right now. At any rate, he is definitely the best.
But whether I understand him, or think he’s too professorial, or too liberal about Islam, or too German, or not tech-savvy enough, or smiles really sweetly, or has nice shoes, or writes amazingly thought-provoking books—that’s all fine and dandy. Maybe the new pope will be like that; maybe he won’t.
Does not really matter. The main thing is that he is. That he loves us and we love him. And that we rest secure in Christ’s one Catholic Church by being the people who have a Holy Father. Am I in the Church Christ founded? Well, let’s see…am I with Pope? Is he my Holy Father? If so, then Yes.
We thank you, Lord, for our Holy Father, Pope Benedict. And we thank you in advance for the next pope, too. We pray that, by Your grace, You will keep us united in faith, hope, and love.