Friday, 1 March MMXIII
A Word of Introduction to this Blog
At 8:00 p.m. on February 28, 2013, the Roman Catholic Church officially entered into the sede vacante period (literally, “vacant seat”) – that is, the only time in the life of the Church when there is no one occupying the Chair of St. Peter. In a word, the Church is without a Pope. She is without her spiritual and temporal leader, her supreme pastor, her servant of the servants of God. She is without the Vicar of Christ. And so now the Lord entrusts His Church to the prayerful discernment of the Sacred College of Cardinals, who will choose a worthy successor to St. Peter in the coming days – a servant in the Lord’s vineyard to guide God’s Church in wisdom and fidelity during the years to come.
These recent days have filled us with a plethora of emotions, from the painstakingly surreal to the sublime. Amidst the obvious excitement surrounding such a momentous time in the history of the Church, as well as the obvious intrigue which precedes the mystery surrounding the conclave and the election of a new Pope, there is also a deep solemnity to these days. I would even go as far to say that these days are somber. They are meditative – not purely reflective or nostalgic, but meditative in the true sense of the word: we are drawn to mental prayer, in union with the Church universal. For all of us, it was a moment of utter shock to learn of the Holy Father’s resignation – as if a meteor had struck us from above, yet we were left unaided as to its origins, from where it came, and the effects it would have on the Church. We were surprised, even shocked. We were confused, and many of us remained incredulous to the news. How could the Successor of St. Peter, the Holy Father, the Pope and Supreme Pastor of the Universal Church, resign? Was it possible? Of course it was canonically legal, but the precedent for such an endeavor, which had its roots in the 13th century, didn’t seem to help any. Our hearts were filled with a weight unknown to many, since the circumstances were so unique: we were going to lose one of the greatest figures in modern Church history—our leader, our Holy Father—and the emotions attached to such a loss were real. And yet, we were not losing Benedict at all, for he was still among us, and would remain with us until the end. This meteor of a decision struck us hard, but it struck us not as a destructive force, annihilating everything in its range. It struck us to the core of our hearts, like an infusion of grace in the soul, teaching us that such a “monumental decision” in the life of the Church – a “game-changer,” as the political pundits termed it – came from the Lord. Pope Benedict XVI would leave the Chair of St. Peter – the man whom we have come to know and deeply love for these past years; a man of great wisdom and fidelity, compassion and fraternal charity – and yet, another will assume the seat which we now term vacante. God always provides for His Church—always.
Some claimed that Benedict was “retiring” in the midst of criticism and scandal. Others, like the New York Times, went as far as to say “good riddance” to a man whose allegiance to the truth amidst the storm of cultural critique they found reprehensible. But for those of us—and this is no small number—who knew him as our Pope, who had studied his words , who were formed under him, who prayed for him daily, and who heard his name recited in the Canon of every Mass, knew that this was a man who had made his decision with great faith and trust. We who knew what this man stood for knew that this moment was precisely in line with his person – he was teaching us. He made this decision not for himself, certainly not. He did not even make it because he didn’t “want the papacy” (no one wants the papacy, and yet he accepted it and thus loved it in the fullest sense of the word). He made it because he knew that, in conversation with the Lord, this was for the good of the Church. And thus his final teaching moment—the last lesson of the German professor made Pope, was an extraordinary act of humility. We will surely miss him–he was a father to all of us, and we loved him as spiritual sons and daughters. He was a giant of a man who will surely not be forgotten, but we know that he has made the right decision from the depths of prayer. There is nothing more that I can say here in words, for the meaning and the significance of such an act of humility and love speaks for itself. Yet the words of Benedict himself, the Pope-emeritus, seem fitting here:
I always knew that the Lord is in the barque, that the barque of the Church is not mine, not ours, but His – and He shall not let her sink. It is He, who steers her: to be sure, he does so also through men of His choosing, for He desired that it be so. This was and is a certainty that nothing can tarnish. It is for this reason, that today my heart is filled with gratitude to God, for never did He leave me or the Church without His consolation, His light, His love.
A few of you have mentioned that I should keep a blog so as to catalogue the events here in Rome, which I intend to do, and provide pictures and videos. But I also will use these pages for my own personal reflection on the events of these days, for they remain dear to all of us, and some catharsis is warranted when this sort of thing occurs in the life of a person, in the life of a Church.
We pray for His Holiness, Benedict XVI, Pope-emeritus and Bishop-emeritus of Rome, and we pray for the sacred College of Cardinals, that with the proper discernment and the grace of the Holy Spirit, they might write into the annals of the Church the name of the man the Lord has chosen to shepherd his flock in the third millennium, as those who have come before him have done with great fidelity and love. And now we wait.