A Few Thoughts on Today’s Big Announcement
I was a college sophomore when Pope John Paul II went to the house of the Father. He was the only pope I’d ever known. For many of my students, who are high school sophomores, Pope Benedict XVI is the only pope they’ve known. It’s not that they weren’t alive during the reign of JPII, but they don’t generally remember him. I expect some of them to be shocked by today’s news.
I can’t say I’m not shocked. There had been indications that he might be in ill health, given his unconventional choice of timing for the November consistory to create new cardinals. Nevertheless, I expected that he would not resign the office. Because I trust Pope Benedict – and trust him immensely – I accept that he made the right decision with facts available only to himself.
Making the rounds on Facebook this morning, I saw one commenter decrying the Holy Father’s decision as something less-than-virtuous. I think it’s dangerous to jump to that conclusion. Celestine V, probably the most famous for resigning the office, was canonized in 1313. He is a saint. Gregory XII resigned in order to end the Great Western Schism that was afflicting the Church. The retirement of a pope can be act of virtue, and I daresay usually is. I view Pope Benedict’s decision as nothing less than an act of supreme prudence and justice, and I think it unfair to assume anything less.
As a teacher, I have to recognize the timing of this announcement. The world’s attention will be focused on the Vatican during the Lenten Season. There’s no helping the curiosity of journalists. What might happen in the days to come? One thing is for certain, Catholics the world over will be thinking more about their Catholic faith at a critical time.
Also as a teacher, I have to recognize the teachable moment. Already, I hear Andrew, my co-blogger and colleague, down the hall addressing students about the impending conclave. My classes were preparing to study the Sermon on the Mount this week. It appears the Holy Father has seen fit to rearrange our lesson plans a bit. We catechists will doubtless be asked numerous questions over the next few weeks. Andrew just asked me one I don’t know the answer to: How do you address a former pope? Pope? Pope Emeritus? Does he return to being Cardinal Ratzinger? Technically, is he as pope no longer a Cardinal, so that he will not retain that distinction upon retirement? Just Archbishop Emeritus, then? One can’t be blamed for knowing the answer to a question that’s gone unanswered for 598 years. Please just don’t let it be Monsignor Ratzinger. We don’t need two of those.My classes will be watching the conclave. We’ll see the cameras get pushed away at the extra omnes! and we’ll put up an interregnum chart on the board to track the voting progress. In the meantime, we’ll have to deal with the flurry of speculation from secular journalists who choose their “likely candidates” from a list of cardinals they believe will favor their own political views (yes, I’m including the National Catholic Reporter, because, well, they’re secular journalists). MSNBC probably doesn’t share our faith in the guidance of the conclave or the pope by the Holy Spirit.
The upcoming weeks will be trying for all, a time for shock, for sadness, for hope, and for joy. Fortunately, the good Holy Father has aligned the whole thing with Lent. Let’s offer our fasts, prayers, and almsgiving for his good, for the conclave, and the good of the universal Church.