February 19, 2013
No Pope will ever win the universal applause of the world. The Pope proclaims divine revelation. The world wants only human opinion. The Pope is bound by the Word of God. Along with the college of bishops, indeed with the whole Church, he listens attentively to the Word, and, then, by the charism of his office, he offers the saving truth of our redemption. While the world proclaims that all truths are relative, the Pope speaks of absolute truth and the unchangeable deposit of faith entrusted to the apostles by Christ. While the world speaks of progressive and conservative, the Pope speaks of truth and falsehood.
No Pope will ever satisfy those who disregard or reject outright God’s plan for his creation. The Pope has no authority to depart from the moral order to appease a particular age. Society may turn away from God’s design for human sexuality, for marriage, for birth and death. But the Pope must always hold fast to what God reveals through the natural law and Sacred Scripture. Even if he is the lone voice calling a world back from the brink of moral bankruptcy, he must speak the truth for the good of all. His words are a resounding “yes” to the goodness of creation.
The Pope is servant of the Church. Christ himself has divinely instituted her with a hierarchical structure for the service of truth and love. He has gifted her with the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist, for the sanctification of his people. As shepherd of the whole Church, the Pope safeguards and protects her. Holding fast to Sacred Tradition, he will always be seen as behind the times. For some, he remains a stumbling block to their efforts to pressure the Church to modernize on essentials. But for others, he stands firm as the Rock upon which Christ promised he would found his Church.
No Pope will ever perfectly lead the Church. The Church embraces saints and sinners in her midst. From her birthday on Pentecost and Peter’s first words, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins…” (Acts 2:38), the Church has been about the continual conversion and holiness of her members. But a time that vigorously denies sin and abandons the moral order sees no need of turning from sin. In fact, a materialistic, skeptical age that denies the mystery of grace will always indulge in endless criticism of the human side of the Church.
So while there was stunned surprise when Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation because of advanced age, there is no shock that some in the media, like vultures around carrion, began to criticize him. For some, the first papal resignation in 600 years became simply another occasion to attack the Church. But many of their criticisms are actually a tribute to a holy man who has faithfully and courageously fulfilled the office given to him by God eight years ago.
The papacy is, as Morris West once described it, “a leaden cope.” Now that Pope Benedict XVI has humbly recognized that it is time for a man of stronger health to assume this essential ministry for the Church, it is a moment for us to thank God for the gift he leaves us. Long after his gentle voice falls silent and his strong pen no longer teaches, his words will continue to guide the Church for generations to come.
Pope Benedict XVI has had the courage to call us back to the basic kerygma, that is, the fact that Jesus Christ is Lord of all. The one teaching that he has returned to again and again in his homilies, speeches, messages, and writings is our friendship with Jesus. On so many occasions and in such amazingly clear and deeply spiritual ways, he has brought us back to the words of Jesus at the Last Supper: “I no longer speak of you as slaves.... Instead, I call you friends” (Jn 15:15).
As he said in the General Audience of October 21, 2009, “this, dear brothers and sisters, is true for every Christian: Faith is above all a personal, intimate encounter with Jesus…”
This encounter, Pope Benedict never tired of reminding us, even in his last homily on Ash Wednesday, is not an isolated friendship, but rather a friendship or journey of love that we make together in the Church.
Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, as you humbly leave the shoes of Peter the fisherman to someone else to fill, you leave us a testament of love. And so, we who have loved you as our Supreme Shepherd, remain one with you as fellow disciples called to deepen our friendship with Jesus in the Church that he has established to last to the end of time.