- Posted February 11, 2013 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Catholics: Your views on new pope
Resignation as Prophetic Act
- sarahbrowngb, CNN iReport producer
“Il Papa si dimette…” I was incredulous at a text message I received, saying that according to sources from the internet, the Pope had resigned. Even in these times when modern inventions should have made everything more accurate, certain things become even more dubious like the truthfulness of the information that we get. But as I received this note with doubt, it brought in me an uneasy feeling. I was at the Roma-Termini train station. Minutes later, a news brief flashed across the information screen and it confirmed the sad truth: Pope Benedict XVI has indeed announced his resignation.
The uneasy feeling that I had can be explained from many standpoints as far as I am concerned. From a very universal and practical point of view, when we say that Pope Benedict XVI is the spiritual leader of more than a billion people, his resignation will indeed rock the boat and will be felt not only by the Catholics but even by those who do not share this faith. The Pope undoubtedly wields power, with his words reaping either praise or criticism. The bottom line is that he is listened to. Who would ever forget the day when @Pontifex first tweeted to the world? The Pope is always big news. So the solemn announcement of his stepping down is one for the front pages of dailies and later in the pages of history books.
Yes, history. This is another thing that brought me the uneasy feeling. The resignation of the Pope was “not entirely unprecedented”, as how the Vatican Radio puts it, but “virtually unprecedented”, for no one has done it in 600 years. Certainly not among the popes that reigned in my lifetime. Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II—these three died when they were Supreme Pontiff. This is a tiny sample of the more than 260 men who have become pope. But it gives the uneasy feeling because it never occurred to me that it could happen in the here and now, in our lifetime.
But now comes the personal viewpoint. The resignation of the Pope brings an uneasy feeling, a sadness that comes quite spontaneously because I am a Catholic and I am a priest. As a priest I say the name “Benedict” in the daily masses that I celebrate. Every sacerdotal act is always done in reference to him, for he is the visible figure who unites the Catholic Church.
As a Catholic I have followed the events of 2005 through the media: the death of John Paul II, the funeral mass with Cardinal Ratzinger presiding and preaching, the Conclave, the exit to the balcony as Pope Benedict XVI, the liturgy that celebrated his papacy. I followed the transformation of a stern face to a gentle countenance, brought about by the grace of state, I believe.
As an avid reader of Catholic literature I have enjoyed Ratzinger’s works—sound doctrine flowing from Scriptural exegesis. His style was intelligible but profound. This talent he brought with him to the papacy as we enjoyed his inaugural encyclical proclaiming to us DEUS CARITAS EST. Yes, that God is love, among many other beautiful documents. And since the whole world is crazy for trilogies, he completed one in his papacy: Jesus of Nazareth—the ministry, the paschal mystery and the infancy.
In this resignation of Benedict XVI, I see an ultimate act done by a leader for the flock. The words flashed on the screen continue to sear my eyes: “…per il bene della Chiesa”—“for the good of the Church”. But at first I could not believe it. Suffering, if it was indeed his reason for stepping down, ennobles and strengthens a person’s abilities to do more good. The old and infirm John Paul II guided the huge flock with trembling hands and jaw. His infirmity strengthened the case of the moral authority of a suffering man.
Pope Benedict XVI experiences suffering and says his piece: that his ministry is essentially of a “spiritual nature”. With the words and deeds also come “prayer and suffering”. And here he recognizes that this is a tough task. The sharp mind that has produced well-pondered volumes acknowledges that physical deterioration has come so that he could no longer adequately fulfill this ministry. And here is where we come to understand him, precisely because he verbalized this suffering. It was a decision brought about after having “repeatedly examined” his conscience before God. Indeed, it was “for the good of the Church.”
February 11: whether he deliberately chose this date or not, I do not know, but this is the Feast Day of Our Lady of Lourdes, and thus, the Day of the Sick. Pope Benedict’s resignation is prophetic. The acknowledgment of his infirmity may after all bring more healing to the sufferings of the Church, and possibly to the rest of humanity.
(Photos: With sadness I took these pictures at the Vatican at dusk on the day Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation. Conspicuous are the lights in his office/residence. I can describe Piazza San Pietro in only three words: dark, cold, rainy)