Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

16 February 2013

Considerations on the Papal Abdication

"You may be wondering why I've called you here today."
(Photo: www.euronews.com)
Since our Holy Father announced that he will abdicate the Throne of Saint Peter on the 28th of February, much ink has been spilt over the reasons for his departure.  I ascribe to Qoheleth's dictum, nihil novi sub sole ("there is nothing new under the sun").  Having read a fair amount of posts (from such as Fr. Z, Fr. Rutler, and Jennifer Fulwiler) that cover the "What?", the "What For?", and the "What Now?", I scarcely can add to the conversation.  But scarcely has that stopped me from trying!

Here is the English text of the Pope's declaration.  Its availability in Latin (the language in which it was delivered!), and on video to boot, made it a must-see.  Latin headings are from the declaration; the simple commentary, from the Rev'd Blogger:

decisionem magni momenti: Pope Benedict is the last since the Western Schism to abdicate (since no one is qualified to accept a papal resignation, no one being higher on the ecclesial chain, the Pope does not "resign" his office).  We can trust that he ascribes no "greatness" to the fact that he is abdicating.  The Church herself is in the "great moment," though not "great" in the sense that Tony approves of Frosted Flakes.  He will amplify the greatness of the moment later in the declaration, specifically in terms of the present spiritual, religious, and moral landscape.  He has referred to this moment, in fact, from the beginning of his papacy, and most especially in light of the "filth" in the Church--her diverse scandals, division, etc.

Conscientia mea...explorata: The Holy Father has not arrived at this decision without profound and repeated (iterum atque iterum) soul-searching, which is completely in accord with his human nature and his office as Supreme Pontiff.  He is the great "bridge-builder,"and as such his blueprints deserve careful contemplation.  The papal program entails "doing and speaking...suffering and praying" (agendo et loquendo...patiendo et orando).  It is a higher level of strategic planning that involves the Pope's consideration of his own abilities and how they are serving, or will serve, or may serve, the Greater Good of the Church.  That level is accessible only to the Pope himself.  The secret domain of conscience is wholly our own--though never in the sense that we can defiantly refuse formation in the truth.

suam essentialem spiritualem: The "essentially spiritual nature" of the papacy defies comparison to the C.E.O. model of governance currently exercised in society and (alas!) in the Church.  Of course, the Church exists in the world, carries out the administration of temporal goods, pays salaries, etc.  Never having been the Administrator or Pastor of a parish--though, with some excitement, awaiting the likelihood of the munus gubernandi at some point--I will expect to learn much about matters financial.  But as for the papacy, so for the pastorate: we are spiritual officers.  Suffering and praying will be the marching orders we first must take, if we are to give them.

temporis rapidis mutationibus subiecto: Pope Benedict is almost 86 years old.  He was ordained a priest in the year my mother was born.  He has been "subject to" the swiftly changing times.  Could he or anyone have predicted the directions the world would take with the sexual revolution, conflicts around the globe, and the fallout after the Second Vatican Council?  I admired his interest in the new media, tweeting as @Pontifex (read blogger Elizabeth Scalia's take on his digital doings).  He was being more than a good sport by sending those messages.  He was sharing the solicitude of a Holy Father and an Elder Brother.

quaestionibus...perturbato: When one of our former bishops celebrated an anniversary of ordination he released a holy card with (more or less) this line from St. Augustine: "I am a bishop over you, a Christian with you."  Can we permit a man of Benedict's erudition and rank to be disturbed to the point of questioning?  Not his own faith (fides qua), mind you, nor the Church's faith (fides quae)...so what, precisely, is he questioning?  It would not scandalize me if he were questioning--as many do--how in this world, amid these thorny and rocky and shallow conditions, the Kingdom of Heaven will continue to grow.  I do not mean to ascribe to Benedict the words of Cicero: o tempora! o mores!  Some have opined that the VatiLeaks scandal had a tremendous effect on the Holy Father.  I don't know enough about it to comment, nor do I care to know.  Whatever treachery may have taken place in this particular instance, there is plenty more where that came from, if you count the abuse scandal.  We have seen the Holy Father reaching out to abuse victims and discover precisely as pope the nature and extent of sexual abuse.  I remember people weighing in on those meetings, wondering what effect they may have had on the Pope.  Now, perhaps, we know.  If this speculation holds any holy water, I experience only compassion for the heaviness of the head that--until a couple of popes ago--wears the tiara.  It's another lesson in not criticizing anyone until you've walked in his shoes, whether they're Rockports, Bobos, Skechers, or Pradas.
Compassion...I often tell people that I was trained to be a theological practitioner and not a community organizer.  Let's say that my good seminary, understandably, weighted the formation in that direction.  If a bloke had gifts for organizing community, as did my high school classmate, good for him and good for the Church!  As for those of us who did our damnedest to get by on undisciplined talent... It would have been helpful, I think, for all of us to have a kind of "Eagle Scout Project" to propose and execute.  
I know that other seminaries have classes in Basic Economics, Child/Adolescent/Abnormal/Paranormal Psychology, Educational Philosophy and Methods.  The subjects of Philosophy, Theology, and Language were more appealing to me anyhow at the time (and, to a great degree, still are); but I appreciate the value of the former much more than when I was in the seminary.  Guess that's life.
vigor quidam corporis et animae necessarius est:  Permit yet another personal diversion.  I am almost fifty years younger than the Holy Father.  I realize that youth is a curable disease; yet certain aspects of it appeal to me, and I'd like to preserve them as much as reasonably possible.  Since about halfway through the seminary I started exercising regularly and trying to eat more nutritiously.  With a few peaks and valleys, these habits have stayed in place and have improved in some ways.  As pastoral demands have increased, there have been certain spiritual and physical practices that I feel I must keep in place in order to be of maximum service to God and the people entrusted to my care.  Letting go of any of them for a second is difficult.  That, too, is Peter being bound and taken where he would not go (cf. Jn 21:18).  If I chose, I could kick and scream; but "it is hard for you to kick against the goads" (Acts 26:14).  Better to summon my irascible drive to more productive uses, like disposing myself to the divine life.

ultimis mensibus in me...minuitur: The New York Times reports of some of the physical debilitation that Pope Benedict has been experiencing.  The Times article also relates Benedict's appraisal of the misrepresentation of the Second Vatican Council, which he has spent his papacy trying to correct.  Also, Philip Lawlor's piece acknowledges how the Pope's corporeal condition has likely prevented the completion of his encyclical on faith, even as his intellectual vigor has not abated.  In his own estimation, the Pope simply cannot summon strength appropriate to the many responsibilities of the papacy.

ex toto corde gratias ago: Gratitude is the optimal response to the charity shown us.  Pope Benedict, the "Servant of the Servants of God," recognizes how his servants do him a service.  The greatest service we render one another is both the petition for and the offering of forgiveness, which the Holy Father seeks from the cardinals (and, no doubt, from us all): veniam pro omnibus defectibus meis.  We'll likely hear more along these lines as the Day approaches.

in eligendo novo Summo Pontifice: This is the matter for intense speculation and debate: who's next? I prefer to follow reputable sites such as Whispers In The Loggia for the latest word on the via.  The cardinals among the papabili are diverse in personality, national origin, and theological bent.  Canada,  Austria, and Ghana are appearing on the radar; and of course, Italy (no link, because there's a few to choose from).  The whole subject displays the media's hardness of heart concerning the Church's nature, as one historian deftly notes.  Of this we can be sure: Whoever it is, is the 265th Successor of Saint Peter, worthy of respect and obedience.

toto ex corde servire velim: In the final sentence of the declaration, the Holy Father announces his future plans to "serve by a life wholeheartedly dedicated to prayer for the Holy Church of God" (my translation).  He will live in a monastery within the Vatican.  Though his public appearances may be few, he will not lose sight of the flock.  He may not retain the titles or trappings of a pope, but he certainly will retain a mind and a heart for the Church, whom he has faithfully served for over sixty years.

Pontifical wardrobe malfunctions did not deter Benedict from exercising a gentle rule

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