OK, so I am now out of poustinia, and of course prayed much of the last few hours for Pope Benedict and for the Church. My goodness, what a turn of events.
First... it may have come to the attention of the more discerning readers of this blog that I kind of like the Pope. I try to hide it, but it just keeps on popping out all over. It's not just respect for the office, which is high, nor is it regard for his writings and insight, which is very high indeed.
I like the man. I think he is a good and gracious man. I think if I was ever so blessed as to meet him, we would get along quite well. I have enormous personal affection for Joseph Ratzinger. So... my first reaction is still a deep filial concern for him. I hope he's OK, and I can only think that all of this must be very painful for him. My impression of him has always been that he is a shy, private man, more interested in expressing ideas and insights that sharing his own personal business with others. So please, if you haven't already done so, pray for him, eh? I have to think he needs it especially today.
Also, somewhere in the world there is a man who God has been preparing to be our next Pope. I will not enter into the fevered speculations as to who this man might be. The old saying about conclaves holds true: Go in a Pope, come out a cardinal. But we do need to hold up this man in prayer, as well, whoever he is.
Now, of course all of this leads all of us to think of Pope John Paul II and the way he moved through his own illness and death. And of course, while I haven't plunged into the Catholic social media world just yet, It occurs to me that some might be subjecting one or the other of these two men to invidious comparisons. "Well, JPII didn't resign, and look how sick he was. BXVI is a quitter." Or, "BXVI has the common sense to know when to quit - what was wrong with JPII?"
OK, everyone knock it off. We are seeing here, once again, how very different these two men are in personal style and charism, even as they were one in mind and in heart throughout their lives together.
Pope John Paul II was an actor, and lived much of his life under atheistic Communism. He understood deeply the importance of the symbolic act, and of the charismatic leader inspiring by dramatic gesture and singular deed. Communism is by definition an ideology that crushes the human person, reducing man to a faceless cog in a revolutionary machine. The power of one individual to stand up, to show forth the emptiness of the ideology, to manifest the courage and nobility of the human spirit by a grand dramatic gesture was very much part of his own personal vocation and his own personality and style.
And so, in a world where old age is despised, where euthanasia looms around the corner, where strength is worshipped and where commitment is optional, he chose to make the end of his life a grand dramatic statement of love to the end in a most public forum
Pope Benedict is not dramatic. He is a teacher, a man of ideas, a man of the word. 'John Paul made you cry; Benedict makes you think.' So said a pundit whose name escapes me right now. And... well, he's making us think today, isn't he? Making us think about the papacy, about the nature of authority, about the place of authority in the Church and the ways in which this authority can and should move in our times. About time and age and the proper discernment of our place in the world and how we are to love and serve at the different seasons of life. About many things - he is inviting us to think deeply and pray seriously about our Church and about its mission.
It's not all about the Pope, you know. It's not all on him - the mission of shepherding humanity into the kingdom and towards the King. There will be a new Pope shortly, and he will doubtless be a good and wise man - I trust the Holy Spirit. But all of us are in this together, and all of us are 'shepherds' in our proper way. The Pope has a job to do, and Pope Benedict has decided he personally can no longer do that particular job; you and I have a job to do, too, and may we take it up and take in on most zealously as long as God gives us strength to do it.