Life is full of unexpected twists and turns, and this new year as already offered its share. The stunning decision of Benedict XVI to renounce the papal throne is settling in, and we now should be face down in prayer for his successor and the transition. The world doesn't understand, and has proven to be full of venom and vitriol -- what is to be expected by those who don't understand the Church? There is so much to be said in support of this excellent man who led us for the past few years. Even in such a short time, he left a significant mark: on the liturgy, on the ecumenical front, and in regards to the priest scandal. He inherited a Church infected with some serious toxins and did a heroic job to sanctify those corners that had slipped into decay. He knew this would be difficult (remember his pre-conclave homily) and can rest now after his labours.
There is one thought I can add to the insights of so many faithful Catholics, a thought which I haven't seen written elsewhere. I think this extraordinary step--which takes us into unchartered territory--will go a long way towards combating our tendency to idolise our pontiffs. We have been blessed with excellent men, theologians and philosophers of the highest rank, but it's not the men who should be the object of our veneration. It's the office -- the See of Peter.
Perhaps (as Pete Vere alluded to here) it was the idolisation of the men and their preferences that fed into the blossoming of a full-blown cult in the bosom of Holy Mother Church. "The Pope likes us!" became a form of subterfuge, causing perfectly reasonable adults to set aside their gift of reason, leading them to embrace things that they never would have otherwise. "The pope had dinner with us at our seminary!" "The pope gave a shout-out to the Legion at a Wednesday audience!" "The pope thinks we're spiffy" all translated into carte blanche for deviousness and further injury, and a cudgel against any who questioned their methodology. All wrong and bad.
I declined an interview with NPR this week concerning the papal renunciation, realising there was little to say to the secular world. A follow-up question came anyway. Did I think the pope's decision was in any way based on his inability to reform the Legion? Good heavens, what nonsense! Benedict walks away a heroic, humble, realistic man who knows that the Throne of Peter is surrounded by wolves--some of whom wear cassocks. May the next man be fully prepared for the battle, may we support him with ardent and unceasing prayers, and may we absorb the wisdom that this decision offers us: The Church will survive; the Blood of Jesus is our only refuge; and the Legion will not survive if it is not of God.
Blessed Lent, my friends, and keep the faith!