First of all, readers, I apologise for the sporadic nature of my posting of late… You would not believe it, but I am still in the throes of moving, so life is currently filled with the joys of commuting/hotels/living out of a suitcase/being permanently surrounded by boxes… As soon as I am fully installed in the wonderful city of Portsmouth, a proper service will resume, I promise…
I don’t think there was a single Catholic who was not thrown by the Holy Father’s news this week. Once I’d finally stopped pretending the text message from my dad didn’t exist, sitting there on my desk, intrusively telling me something I did not want to believe, on that jam-packed Monday morning, I began to let the news sink in.
The range of reactions from many ordinary Catholics was very interesting and got me thinking. Here is one reaction I kept hearing in many forms: ‘I can’t believe he’s doing it. The previous Pope carried on, didn’t he?’ It’s a reaction which reveals our longing for constancy and certainty, tossed around as we are by the wind and waves of secularism and post-modern fragmentation of our world.
Then, on the train on one of my many commutes, I read an article in a women’s magazine entitled, ‘Generation Cancellation’, on how (and this is true, in my experience) we, as modern women, are flaky when it comes to keeping engagements and cancel way too easily. It regaled readers with a checklist of (morally minimal) cancellation protocol: “Sometimes the day comes and we’re so hungover or wrung-out from work that a coffee-and-cake date with a friend feels less like a treat, and more like yet another chore on the endless to-do list.” The article promised “the definitive guide to cancelling – without losing all your friends in the process.”
Now, moral dubiousness of this article aside, it is terribly revealing of our modern mindset: we are part of a society that loves to bail out. I am sure we stick at things far less than previous generations would.
And so, to people saturated more in the mindset of the world than of the Church, perhaps it seems like this is what Pope Benedict has done. And let’s face it, the majority of ‘Catholics in the pews’ do have minds conformed to the world, not to the Word of God revealed in the Church.
Therefore, how we catechise on our Holy Father’s abdication is crucial.
Pope Benedict’s abdication could not be further from our flaky failure to turn up to something we said we’d be at, to do the thing we’d promised someone we’d do. No – Pope Benedict XVI has given us two great gifts:
- He’s shown us, contrary to the encouragements of the world, not to go for the easy option, our own will; the measure of holiness – without exception – is to do the will of God (think of his beautiful words, “After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God…” – these touched my heart enormously)
- And he’s shown us a powerful witness of the true, authentic meaning of “letting go” (not because it’s too hard, or I can’t be bothered anymore, but because it is God’s will). A man with the most important job in the world is letting it go. As I read in an email a friend sent me this week: “In our modern age, that is almost unthinkable. We are used to climbing the ladder and enjoying the view. We’re taught to work for the best office in the building and the best seat at the table. We strive to get, to own, to possess, to control. We’re used to holding on.”
For those who struggle to understand, or whose understanding has been marred by a secular worldview, this event in the life of the Church calls us to a deeper spirituality, to think with the mind and heart of the Church about what Pope Benedict’s action means, and how it models for us authentic holiness, at odds with the ‘easy options’ presented us by the world.
Today, I stumbled across these words from Pope Benedict himself in Deus Caritas Est, which couldn’t explain it better:
“There are times when the burden of need and our own limitations might tempt us to become discouraged. But precisely then are we helped by the knowledge that, in the end, we are only instruments in the Lord’s hands; and this knowledge frees us from the presumption of thinking that we alone are personally responsible for building a better world. In all humility we will do what we can, and in all humility we will entrust the rest to the Lord. It is God who governs the world, not we. We offer him our service only to the extent that we can, and for as long as he grants us the strength. To do all we can with what strength we have, however, is the task which keep the good servant of Jesus Christ always at work: “The love of Christ urges us on” (2 Cor. 5:14)” Deus Caritas Est, 35