Papa Ratzinger

02-24-2013Fr. John LettersFr. John

Dear Friends,

So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded to do, say, “we are unworthy servants, we have done only what we ought to have done.”
—Luke 17:10

On February 28 at Noon (MST) we will lose our German Shepherd. Maybe history will remember him as the little pope from Bavaria with a big mind. But right now he is seen as the first pontiff in 600yrs to abdicate. Not withstanding the reasons why, this act is one of profound humility. Pope Benedict is saying to us “this is not about me but about the Church”. This is a lesson our culture can certainly use. Just as John Paul II taught us to affirm the dignity of every person even the most debilitated and the dying through his own suffering and death, Pope Benedict is teaching us a different lesson in his abdication. We are so used to the cult of the personality, the celebrity culture where we promote ourselves to the point that we think the earth will fly off its axis without us so it is refreshing to see a world leader that actually puts principles before his ego.

To put this into context, I suppose the last shocking resignation was that of Richard Nixon. But Nixon resigned because of troubles of his own making. Pope Benedict abdicates because of troubles of other peoples making. Remember that as Cardinal Ratzinger the future Benedict XVI watched the decline and death of Pope John Paul II. And while it was an heroic witness to suffering and the dignity of the dying that the world needed to see, it was also a time when so much of Church life and administration got put on hold. What ensued was administrative mayhem. This is usually how it goes at the end of papacies. But as Benedict XVI pointed out “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”.

Pope Benedict knows that the same could happen if he becomes incapacitated. But sadly it seems he also knows that he cannot trust those who run the Vatican to safely steer the bark of Peter. We saw a glimpse of this with the “Butler scandal” which had to make the Holy Father realize he could not trust those closest to him not to undermine him. The Vatican is so often a typical European bureaucracy with bureaucrats that like to hold on to their power and act out of their egos. Over the past 8 years there are plenty of examples of how the various Vatican Departments did not serve Benedict well. Pope Benedict realizes he does not have the strength to tackle this and whatever other headwinds are blowing against the Church in the way that is required for the good of the Church. I don’t think he has made this decision out of despondency or cynicism but from a simple honest look at himself, his health and strength at 85yrs old and what is needed for the Church at this moment in history.

This is not about personality, politics or power, the things the world sees as important. Which is why so much commentary is about all sorts of intrigue and scandal and conspiracy. What Pope Benedict is reminding the Church, is that this is and always must be about Jesus Christ.

Benedict XVI has always outperformed his critics. When he was elected many feared he would bring the Church back to the past with his conservative views. But little did they realize what a creative thinker he really is. His allowance for example of both forms of the Mass (Tridentine and Vatican II) to coexist allowed the Church to hold to the treasures of the past without negating the progress of the present. He was often called “God’s Rotweiler” because as head of the Congregation for the Faith he had to deal definitively with thorny theological issues. Yet he certainly did not live up to the name and instead was a gentle and kind servant. Even in his abdication he has surprised his critics with a rather progressive move.

What’s even more baffling to the critics of Pope Benedict is that he is not trying to rig the next conclave nor influence the Cardinals. Nor will he be a “shadow pope” trying to manipulate things behind the scenes. While the world may be suspicious of this move we the disciples of Jesus should not be. “He must increase and I must decrease”.

The shoes of the Fisherman are not easy to walk in. What is first and foremost required as St Peter himself showed us is acknowledgement of our human weakness. It is that weakness that allows us to entrust ourselves to Jesus so that He can guide our life:

From that day, Peter "“followed” the Master with the precise awareness of his own fragility; but this understanding did not discourage him. Indeed, he knew that he could count on the presence of the Risen One beside him.
From the naïve enthusiasm of initial acceptance, passing though the sorrowful experience of denial and the weeping of conversion, Peter succeeded in entrusting himself to that Jesus who adapted himself to his poor capacity of love. And in this way he shows us the way, notwithstanding all of our weakness. We know that Jesus adapts himself to this weakness of ours. (Pope Benedict XVI 2006)

Thank you Papa Ratzinger for your service. May we your children follow your example of humility and love of the Lord Jesus.

Love, Fr. John B.