All over the Internet, from social media to blogs to (some) news outlets, Pope Benedict’s announcement seemed to have shocked many of us – Catholic and non-Catholic – to the core.
And shocked they were. It’s a joke in some Catholic circles: Catholics do not take kindly to surprises. The scariest thing for a Catholic, especially at Mass, is when they don’t have a clue as to what’s coming next.
As the day continued, Catholic and non-Catholic folks began to show support and understanding. After all, not many 85 year olds are working any more, let alone trying to keep up with the demands of shepherding a flock of 1 billion or so.
And let’s not forget, before being chosen as the next Successor of St. Peter, the then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had planned a happy, quiet, and prayerful retirement in a few short years.
God had other plans I suppose.
As I was pondering the incredible outpouring of support and love shown to him by Catholics today, I couldn’t help but think about the “outsider’s perspective” on all this.
I mean, really, what’s the big deal? The Pope? Why does anybody even care anymore? After all, all that the Pope has really done is bring division and scandal to the Church. He is a neo-nazi conservative, hates women, and is way too old-school on sexual moral ethics.
Isn’t that what we hear from the culture these days? Yes, it is.
They’re obviously wrong.
I’ll be honest: I thought for a moment that I was being too judgmental of the culture at large when I sat down to write this. But by 9am this morning, my suspicions about what some in culture might think were confirmed. I nailed it.
The justification of my concern was evidenced this morning on CNN’s initial video report, in which the majority of the 3-minute or so factually-flawed news highlight consisted of a ‘highlight’ reel of the divisiveness, flaws, and mistakes of a German hound, who for some reason still has a sizable flock of backwards-thinking followers.
It’s really just embarrassing, on CNN’s part, but certainly not surprising.
So I wanted to give my perspective. After all, I’m known for speaking my mind when I feel so moved. And to clarify, I’m speaking as a ‘normal’ Catholic: I’m a 20-something young professional. I have a real job with real-world problems. I’m a realist and don’t live in a fantasy land. I have no theology degree or doctorate. And above all, ’m not a “Vatican insider.”
With that, I wanted to spell out why this is a big deal Catholics, in case somebody from the ‘outside’ was perplexed:
- First, this is a big deal to Catholics because as a Catholic Christian, we see the Pope as our Supreme Pastor. He’s the ‘senior pastor’ of the entire church. And, he has given his entire life to care for the spiritual well-being of people like me. The humility in that alone is astounding, knowing that at any time, he could have simply walked away and lived a ‘normal’ life. Instead, he stayed, out of love for the members of the Church, to ensure that the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ would be taught and experienced by current and new generations. As I am included in the fruit of that labor – I became Catholic shortly after he became Pope – I am eternally grateful to him.
- Second, this is a big deal to Catholics because Pope Benedict is an intellectual and spiritual giant from whom we have gained incredible insights into the love and mystery of God. I have often commented that Pope Benedict, in my estimation anyway, might be one of the smartest Catholic intellectuals to be alive in our time. But did you know that he is a writer? While most people don’t have a clue about what a Pope even does, the fact is that one of his main ministries is to instruct, a task he often carries out through writing. For those of us who know about this, and who have taken the time to feast on the richness of what he has written over the years, whether it be his books, his Sunday and Wednesday homilies, or his encyclicals, we have grown 1,000-fold in our spiritual lives.
- Third, this is a big deal to Catholics because it signals a renewed chapter in the life of the Church, and consequently, a renewed direction for my own life and in the lives of my Catholic friends and family. When I say the Church might take a ‘new direction’ I do not mean that the next pope will permit women priests (he can’t do that anyway, by the way). The office of the pope is to “bridge”, coming from the word ‘Pontiff’. So therefore, the next Pope is going to ‘bridge’ us from March until whenever, a time that will be new and exciting for the life of the Church. In his statement of resignation, the Holy Father made it crystal clear that his decision was made in intense prayer and with great seriousness, which signals that the Holy Spirit is in fact ready to move again in a renewed way among us all, and that, for those who walk by that Spirit, is a very exciting thing.
So, why do people care so much about this? Because we believe that this is the workings of a God who is crazy in love with us, his Church, and while we are extremely thankful for the gift that Pope Benedict has been to us, especially for his leadership and spiritual insights, we also trust his judgment and are now waiting in joyful hope for the coming of the next chapter in the life of the Church. What it holds? We don’t know, and that is a little bit scary. But we trust and know that God is moving. And we’re ready.