Thursday, February 14, 2013

We're All Only Human

Dear brothers and sisters, as you know I decided to resign from the ministry that the Lord had entrusted me on April 19, 2005. I did this in full freedom, for the good of the Church after having prayed at length and examined my conscience before God, well aware of the gravity of this act.

I was also well aware that I was no longer able to fulfill the Petrine Ministry with that strength that it demands. What sustains and illuminates me is the certainty that the Church belongs to Christ whose care and guidance will never be lacking. I thank you all for the love and prayer with which you have accompanied me.

I have felt, almost physically, your prayers in these days which are not easy for me, the strength which the love of the Church and your prayers brings to me. Continue to pray for me and for the future Pope, the Lord will guide us!

General Audience, February 13, 2013

Reflection – I am going to blog the whole of Pope Benedict’s general audience yesterday, which is quite an extraordinary reflection on Lent and conversion. But, of course, he began his audience with the above personal remarks, which were interrupted several times by prolonged applause from the crowd and great emotion.

I also watched a small clip of his final public Mass, also yesterday, at which Cardinal Bartone publicly thanked him, again with considerable emotion. “You have brought man to God, and God to man,” he said. There was, again, prolonged applause, and it was so very touching to see the various cardinals and bishops removing their miters in a gesture of respect, more than a few of them wiping tears from their eyes, and the Pope himself, looking very drawn and tired, but visibly moved by the outpouring of love and genuine affection.

You know, I keep trying to take my own personal reflections on this whole matter to the next level of depth, to get to the big picture, to the large-scale ramifications of this event for the Church, to the deeper theological and spiritual meanings of it for world and ecclesial history.

Can’t do it. Not yet. Maybe I’ll get there eventually. What really strikes me here, and maybe this is of great spiritual significance after all, is the enormous personal love and affection being poured out for this man, Joseph Ratzinger, our German Shepherd. His own personal love for the Church, for us, which has kept him at this difficult task these past years, and is now motivating him to do this hard controversial thing of resigning, and the love being expressed for him in so many quarters.

Yes, there are politics and wrangling and the usual negative comments from the usual suspects... but who cares about that? What I’m seeing is a whole lotta love for this quiet little man who has really tried to love and serve us with his great intellect and gift for words.

And this is rather important, actually. So often we can lose the humanity of the Church behind the trappings of office or the tug-of-war of controversy or the struggle with obedience and authority. So often people can become symbols: Ratzinger of the ‘conservative’ wing; Martini (say) of the ‘liberal’. But people are not symbols, not primarily. They are human beings, with all the human fraility and foibles, but also with human beauty and grace.

The Church is divine… but it certainly is always human, too. And this humanity is not, as we so often mean when we speak of it, simply the Church’s failures and the sins (horrific at times) of its members and leaders. It’s also a little old man in the Vatican who is sick and tired and is telling us he cannot do it any more. It’s his colleagues and co-workers in the Vatican wiping tears from their eyes as they thank him for trying so hard for so long. It’s all of us with our hearts in our throats and perhaps tears in our eyes as we take in these events and turn to each other for support, perhaps in some confusion, perhaps anxiety, perhaps hurt or even anger.

It’s all of this—all of us gathered together around this little old man—our father in Christ who is also our brother in Christ and who needs our prayers, and all of us gathered together around the college of cardinals who most definitely need our prayers, because they are only human too, and subject to the same frailties and limitations as we all are.
All of us human, all of us needing kindness and compassion, all of us together in this divine project called the Church, this divine mystery that comes to us in our deep humanity to draw this humanity into divinity, and the name and the path of this drawing is one thing and one thing only: it is love, which is made possible by grace, which is given to us by Jesus Christ. Amen.

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