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Saturday, February 23, 2013

Mending a Broken Heart After Pope’s Resignation…

And, I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven. Whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Mat 16:18-19)

A final farewell?...
Much debate has been generated among Christians from the passage above. What did Jesus mean when, while exulting Peter for having answered the question correctly about His identity, He then promises to build His Church upon the rock of Peter and give him the keys to the kingdom of heaven?

For the first 1500 years of Christianity, it was mostly an understood fact (although one can argue that the Orthodox Church went into schism with Rome in the 11th Century, mostly over this issue), yet since the Protestant Reformation, in the early 16th Century, it has caused much strife, division and contention between otherwise faithful and benevolent followers of Jesus Christ.

Two weeks ago, when my wife’s alarm went off and, as usual, she turned on Fox News, I was lying there in my slumber and trying desperately to catch the last few seconds of sleep before the morning routine of waking the kids, making sure they get ready, giving them breakfast and rushing out the door (mostly all done by my wife!), I hear on the TV, “This is a Fox News Alert, Pope Benedict XVI has just announced his resignation.”

Say what? I immediately pulled off my C-PAP machine and sat up in bed. I couldn’t believe my ears.

Yet, as historic as it was, in modern times it has never happened and the last time was over 600 years ago, believe it or not, as a defender of my faith, the first thing I thought was “Oh no! What happened?” My mind started racing, “Was there a scandal? Was the Pope dying? Could a pope, who, as a Catholic I believe, has been chosen through the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit, even renounce his God-given authority?”

For several minutes, there was a lot of confusion swirling in my mind.  I felt like I had been sucker punched, while I was sleeping!

I finally started calming down after learning that Pope Benedict was not the first Roman Pontiff to resign. At least there was a precedent; whether it was six centuries ago or not!  I also was comforted by the fact that it wasn’t because of a scandal and that he wasn't dying, any more than any soon-to-be 86-year-old, or any of us (for that matter) are dying on any given day or time.

But, then it hit me.

People of other religions, non-Catholic Christians, and even lapsed or strayed Catholics, probably can’t understand what the pope means to those of us who try to live faithfully, in accordance with the Church.

He’s not just a figurehead, the leader of a worldwide institution, celebrity or guru, he is, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “the perpetual and visible source and foundation of unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of faithful.” (CCC 882) Moreover, we believe he is the direct descendant, in an unbroken line of successors, of St. Peter (see here), the Rock, who Christ built His Church upon, gave the keys to and instructed to tend and feed His sheep and lamb (John 21:15-17).

Servant of the Servants of God...
But, it's more than that; there's an even more profound reason, at least or me, of why Catholics hold him in such esteem.  He is our spiritual father in faith; hence we call him pope, from the Latin word papa.  And, as our spiritual father, I’m not ashamed to admit, I love the old man. I love his writings.  I love his holiness and gentleness, and the way he has carried out his mission as the Servant of the Servants of God with undeniable humility, dignity, respect and love for the Lord and His Church, over the past eight years. Yes, at the risk of sounding like an old Bud Light commercial, beer or no beer, I can’t help it but to say, "I love him, man."

This is a reserved and pensive theologian who wanted to retire into a life of writing, prayer and meditation many years ago, only to be told by Bl. Pope John Paul II that he needed him. As the loyal servant that he is, not only did he stay to help Pope John Paul and was beside him through his deterioration and ultimate death, but, when the College of Cardinals selected him to be the next pope, at the ripe old age of 78, he accepted the burden of filling arguably the hardest and, although greatly loved by millions around the world, also much maligned and hated positions, just because of what he and the Church stand for.  Not to mention, he was going to be filling the shoes of one of the most beloved popes in the history of the Catholic Church.

Needless to say, although, after giving it some thought, I could understand the reasons behind his decision, especially when World Youth Day in Brazil is fast approaching and he was told not to travel any more, and was sure he did not take his decision without deep reflection, soul searching and prayer, the news still broke my heart a bit.  Yes, I am man enough to say that, as my wife and kids got ready that morning, I teared up while watching the news.

Even though, he wasn't immediately dying, I couldn't help but think that I was loosing a part of my family, and the Church was loosing one of the greatest minds in its history, and that's saying a lot, considering the Church has been around for two thousand years! 

Therefore, when I got to work later that morning, I was still reeling and downcast.  Then, as if that wasn't enough grief to chew on, a friend, who happens to be a fellow Catholic, comes up to me and says, "He should never have been pope."  It was as if the dagger were getting pushed deeper.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"He was no John Paul II," she continued.

I expressed how much I loved Pope Benedict and that, while he may not have the same charisma of Blessed Pope John Paul II, he certainly has been an excellent shepherd of the flock and embodied the same holiness and love.

Pope Benedict was often misunderstood and misrepresented in the mainstream media, and thus in the culture, which everyday is becoming more secularized and, as he warned, becoming more like a dictatorship of moral relativism, where the only absolute truth is the one that each person comes up with.  

Despite being the catalyst for change in the way the Church dealt with priests that had violated their sacred vows, he was often attacked, criticized, and ridiculed.  But, then again, the pope will always be attacked because he stands in the face of the prevailing influences of the culture.

Bl. Pope John Paul II often pointed out that just as Christ was a sign of contradiction in society during his time on earth, the Church (and its leadership) will always be a sign of contradiction in the culture.  And, just as the Lord was hated for speaking the truth, the Church will always be hated, since truth never changes; it was the same in the time of Jesus, it's the same today and will be the same tomorrow.

The Flock of God...
I remember when Fr. Alberto Cutie left the Roman Catholic Church to become an Episcopalian priest, so that he could get married, an Episcopalian Bishop stood behind a podium at a press conference and, with much disdain, said, "Unlike others, we are not governed from the top down like a dictatorship.  We take the faithful into full consideration and operate from the bottom up."

Say what?  Oh sure, that may sound great on the political campaign trail but was he really suggesting that truth is determined by the masses or according to public opinion polls?  In other words, does God adjust to the whims of His creation, or does man have to adjust to God?

As far as I know, it is called the Kingdom of God for a reason.  And, all kingdoms, from the creation of time, have always been hierarchical, including God's.  You have the king, which is God, and, as Catholics, we believe we have the Prime Minister, appointed by Christ with the same authority that King David appointed Eliakim in the Book of Isaiah. 

In fact, King David says, “I will place the key of the House of David on his shoulder; what he opens no one will shut, what he shuts, no one will open.” (Isa 22:22) Sound familiar?

In any account, regardless of where you stand on the papacy, the point is that soon there will be a new pope, the 266th in the line of successors of Peter, and while he may never be as charismatic as Bl. Pope John Paul II or be as profound and scholarly as Pope Benedict XVI, I'm sure I will learn to love our new spiritual father and shepherd with the same enthusiasm as I loved his predecessors.

As our pastor told us this week, Pope John Paul taught us how to die gracefully and with dignity.  Pope Benedict is teaching us how to live by knowing our own limitations, humbling ourselves and putting the greater good of the Church above our own needs. 

Moreover, what greater gift then celebrating the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday with the springtime of a new pope in place and the eyes of the entire world focused on the Roman Catholic Church?

Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, "No chain is stronger than its weakest link, and the weakest link of the chain of Popes was the first. But that weak link was held in the hands of Christ. That is why the papacy will never fail."...

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