February 15, 2013 – Once Every 600 Years

Well even though it’s been several days since his announcement, the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI is still sending shock waves around the world.  So much has already been written about it, I’m not sure that I really have anything to add to it except my own personal feelings.  I just caught a few minutes of news before I left the house Monday morning and nothing was said about it.  I did not find out until I checked my cell phone later on and saw Facebook and Twitter blowing up.  I definitely was surprised at first.  After all, this is an occurrence that has not taken place for 600 years.  However, as I started to think about it a little more, it made more sense to me. 

There were subtle signs that B16 was leaning this way.  In 2009 he visited the tomb of Pope Celestine V and left his pallium on top of the tomb.  Not much was thought of this at the time, but Celestine V took on the papacy under similar circumstances to B16 – he was close to 80 years old and was somewhat reluctant to take on this position.  Just 5 months into his papacy, after issuing a decree that allowed Popes to resign, Celestine V exercised that right.  So I’m sure B16 felt a bond with this previously “obscure” Pope.  There was also the scandal involving the Pope’s butler and the leaking of confidential documents which I’m sure stayed with him.

There are also of course the health and aging issues.  Though it appears he is not suffering from a particular disease, he does suffer from the normal rigors of an 85 year old man.  He has a pacemaker, now has difficulty walking, was reported to have fallen last year in Mexico and suffered a minor head injury, and has been advised by his doctors not to take any more lengthy, trans-Atlantic flights.  B16 was of course a close confidant of Blessed John Paul II, who suffered greatly in his final days, and I don’t think B16 wanted to find himself in the same position – being unable to perform the leadership and pastoral duties of the papacy.  So in retrospect the fact that B16 would come to this decision was not that surprising.  I think the shock factor came at the abruptness of the announcement.  He gave only about 2 ½ weeks notice that he would step down.  And judging from the reaction of the people in the room when he made the announcement, even his closest advisors did not see this coming, though I’m sure B16 had given this much thought and consideration.

Time will tell what the legacy of B16 will be.  He certainly had a tough act to follow in JPII.  While JPII was relatively young when he assumed the papacy and was a very outgoing person, B16 was much older and is a much more reserved personality.  However, he leaves behind some excellent writings, and I also admire the fact that he has allowed the Vatican and the church to join the fray of the internet and social media as a means of evangelization.  He of course has his critics.  There are those who do not believe he did enough for those who were victims of sexual abuse by priests.  Some others believe there should have been more changes within the church to “keep up with the times”.  But overall, given the position he was thrust into, I feel he did his duty in a spiritual and thoughtful way, and I think we owe him a great debt of gratitude and also our prayers as he moves into the final phase of his life.  “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

So the question now is what happens next.  According to Vatican spokesmen, there will be a conclave 15 to 20 days after B16 resigns to elect a new Pope.  The secret vote will be among the Cardinals under 80 years of age.  Normally this 15 to 20 day period includes a time of mourning and the funeral for the Pontiff who passed on, so this period is necessary.  However, in this case the time period will not have that, so I think it will allow for some “behind the scenes” discussions before the conclave takes place.  It would not surprise me if a Pope were elected quickly after the conclave convenes, but this is just my gut feeling, which of course has been wrong many times.  I assume that part of the reason B16 resigned so abruptly is to allow a Pope to be in place for Holy Week and Easter, and I would think the Cardinals would want to respect his wishes.

This of course leads to the other question: Who will be the next Pope?  Who knows.  You could make the case that he could come from Africa or South America, since those are places in which the Catholic faith is thriving.  Or they could continue on the “safe” route and elect an Italian or European.  I don’t think they are ready to take the leap and elect an American such as Cardinal Dolan, though I would love to see it.  My hope is that the next Pontiff will be someone who is in good health and energetic, can relate to young people, is willing to continue to use the tools of technology to spread the Gospel message, and will also stay true to the Scriptures in dealing with social issues.  I know there are many people who will say “elect someone who will let priests be married”, or “elect someone who will ordain women”, etc.  I think the main task of the Pope is to help keep the church in a relevant place in our culture while also staying true to what Jesus commanded of us.  A delicate balance indeed, which is why the Cardinals also need our prayers during this process.  It will be a very interesting month or so ahead.

I hope your Lenten season is off to a good start.  We had a nice crowd for Mass Ash Wednesday evening.  I also encourage you to participate in our adult education series the Tuesday evenings of Lent at 7:00PM in the parish house.  We will be watching episodes of Fr. Robert Barron’s series called “Catholicism” and discussing them.  Also, with Fr. Gene on vacation, you are welcome to attend our communion services on the Wednesday evenings of Lent.  This photo came across my Facebook page, and I thought Catholics, especially those who are fans of Seinfeld, would appreciate it:


Have a great week.  Peace.


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