The humility of the Emeritus Pope

It’s Day One of Interregnum, and you may have noticed that the Church hasn’t fallen apart yet. As it happens, my weekly scheduled adoration hour is on Thursdays so I was able to reflect somewhat on LBB (Life Beyond Benedict) after having seen the EWTN online coverage of his departure from the Vatican to Castel Gondalfo. Some thoughts:

Feb 28, 2013 at Castel Gondalfo. Pic by Catholic Church (England and Wales)

1. We might not have a Pope, but You-Know-Who was still in the monstrance as I entered the chapel, as He has been since the Last Supper. A secular example might be the American understanding that America is America despite whomever is President. The Constitution is above any particular man sitting in the oval office (no, really, it is).

Likewise, the Church has gone on despite having 264 interregnums throughout its history, some more volatile and contentious than others. That’s why no Catholic would really think of it as “Benedict’s Church” or “John XXIII’s Church;” it is, always has been and will be Jesus’ Church.

2. The first reading in the daily office is Exodus 18:13-27, where Jethro tells Moses that he should delegate decision-making to “able and God-fearing men, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain…Every important case they should refer to you, but every lesser case they can settle themselves. Lighten your burden by letting them bear it with you!”

Jethro’s advice is similar to Benedict’s own words in his resignation announcement:

my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry… in order to govern the barque of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me…With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.

Moses was to attend to the most important cases in Israel, and I don’t think anyone would dispute that Benedict’s, and our own, top priority should be prayer. So, in his decision to resign, Benedict is freeing himself up to the most important thing. I think the Church can only benefit from having someone like Benedict dedicate the remainder of his life to prayer.

3. The Gospel reading for today’s Mass is Luke 16:19-31, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. While in torment and hearing that Lazarus cannot help him, the rich man asks Abraham to

“send [Lazarus] to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they too come to this place of torment.” But Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.” He said, “Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.” Then Abraham said, “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.”

Obviously Jesus is alluding to Himself at the end, but it brought to mind Benedict’s efforts at re-evangelizing post-Christian Europe. Europeans have inherited a glorious Christian tradition going back centuries; they “have Moses and the prophets,” and Jesus Himself and the Church’s teachings. But as is all to clear, Western Europe “will not listen” to them.

My hope is that, in his life of prayer, Benedict continues to devote himself to the re-evangelization of Christendom. His wisdom, humility, compassion, and increasingly his suffering, will lead to prayers that will undoubtedly be of great effect, even if we can’t see their fruits this side of heaven.