I’ve been asked by a few readers of this blog to record a few thoughts about the events surrounding the resignation of Pope Benedict. Over the weekend especially, many rumors circulated, regarding a seedy backstory to the resignation.
I am not surprised to read of such rumors in secular media sources, but I must admit I was surprised to read some of these things reported in Catholic sources.
As for me, it remains a rumor, and rumors are best unrepeated.
I prefer simply to take Pope Benedict at his word. He indicates that, given the effects of age, he thinks is best step back for the sake of the Church. I know of no other walk of life where we have, or expect 85-year-old man to hold a position that would tax a man half his age.
The fact is, the Papacy has changed, even in my own brief lifetime. When I was a child, it was common to refer to the Pope as the “prisoner the Vatican.” For, when a man was elected pope, he went into the Vatican, and was not seen outside again except at the window.
Pope Paul VI began to change this when he flew to the United Nations, and made other trips to the Holy Land and a few other places. At that time it was a stunning and bold move, that the Pope would actually emerge from the Vatican, get on a plane, and go somewhere!
This move opened the door on the modern papacy. Pope John Paul II obviously ushered it in full force. And now the papacy is a jet-set and very vigorous public presence in the world. The Pope is expected to be out and about, and make quick responses to worldwide issues. The pace is quick and the mileage long. All day, there are exhausting meetings with heads of state, and many other significant individuals who expect to meet with the Pope.
Yes, the days are very long and taxing. Even at age 51 I think I would be taxed by such a pace such high expectations. That an 85-year-old man thinks it’s best for younger man to take the position makes a lot of sense. The other alternative would be to dramatically scale back Pope Benedict’s calendar and duties. But his judgment is the Church needs a Pope to meet the current duties and that these are reasonable expectations for the office of the papacy.
This is how I understand the Pope’s resignation, according to what he himself is said. And the rumors and accusations of grave scandals are of no interest to me. Scandals will inevitably arise, but woe to those through whom they come (Lk 17:1).
In all of this let me also state my firm position that I remain very optimistic about the state of the Church today. Not only does she have the promise of the indefectability from the Lord, but I am seeing sure signs of great renewal especially here in America.
While I am less certain about the state of the Church in Europe, here in America our seminaries are beginning to fill again, many new and reformed religious communities are coming back alive, many superb Lay movements, and great clerical and lay leadership is developing. Our numbers in the pews do continue to decline, but I see many things being put in place that will address and prepare the Church for the near future.
It may well be, that a smaller and disciplined army is necessary for what may be difficult days ahead for Western culture as it continues to descend into deeper darkness. Yes, the Church is getting increasingly focused on her main mission, which is to be a light in the darkness, to continuously strive to make disciples, and to bring people into a life-changing, transformative relationship with Jesus Christ.
I think persecutions will probably arise in the near future but maybe that’s just what we need. And besides, the Church has a good track record of not only enduring persecution, but thriving in the midst of it
Even this weekend I have been able to celebrate many great signs of life. In Lent, the preaching circuit really lights up for me, and I’ve had a very busy weekend. I spent Friday and all day Saturday preaching a retreat 30 seminarians from the Archdiocese of Washington. Altogether we have well over 70 seminarians, and we are having to add a new wing to the seminary to accommodate more. These are good men, men who love the Church, who love the truth and are preparing to speak the truth in love. I am confident that all them I met will make great priests. The Seminary named for Blessed John Paul II, is a great place. The Priests who staff the seminary and teach are very solid and orthodox. Liturgies are well celebrated and in the men, both priests and seminarians show a strong faith.
In my parish convent we are blessed with the Servant Sisters of the Lord, a newer order who outgrew their last Juniorate and recently had to move to larger quarters. These are great religious sisters, joyful and passionate for the Lord and His Church. Vocations for their order and of several other orders like them are going strong.
Having completed preaching the retreat at the seminary, I was privileged to celebrate masses of my own parish on Sunday, the Church was filled with many lively and wonderful Catholics, who came to hear the Word of God and to receive Holy Communion.
And then, just this evening, I am returning from Southern Maryland where I preached the first night of a three-night revival in one of our parishes. The Church was filled with people eager to hear a word from God and have their faith strengthened.
Yes, God is alive and he’s gathering his faithful. Even if the overall numbers in the Church are down a bit, those who remain are becoming increasingly vigorous and vibrant in their faith, more clear about what it means to be a Catholic in these days and times.
So put me in the optimist camp, I think God is doing great work in purifying his Church. So many things are improving! I remember some very dark times in the early and mid-80s when I was in seminary and I must say that, in many ways, the tide has completely turned. On-going purification is necessary, but so much has been accomplished!
The Lord Jesus loves his Bride the Church, and His love for the Church is becoming increasingly evident to me.
Yes, call me an optimist, and call me uninterested in the rumors swirling, about Vatican corruption. If there is need for reform in the Vatican bureaucracy, the Lord Jesus will accomplish it. Jesus loves his Bride. I know that first-hand experience what he can do by way of reform.
I realize there are some who read this who will consider my remarks wrong or naïve They will recite to me let me of things they think are still wrong, everything ranging from liturgy to authority and discipline. I do not say the Church is perfect and I know on-going reform is still necessary. But I am saying that I see what God has done is doing and I know He will continue to do.
As we head for conclave, call me the optimist, call me the joyful son of Mother Church, everything will be alright, indeed, everything already is alright because Jesus is the Head of the Body the Church, and the beloved groom of the Church the Bride.
If you call me a fool, at least add that I was a fool for Christ. Call me naïve but at least said that my naïveté is rooted in an undying confidence in the love of Jesus for his bride the Church.
Was that a lightning bolt that struck the Vatican or was it a divine dose of refining fire and dynamic power from on high?