The Pope’s swan song
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SOME years ago, in one of my initial forays into opinion-writing, I wrote that a pope cannot resign from his post. My only argument, without consulting my Canon Law and Church history, was: to whom should a pope tender his resignation? He is already the highest authority on earth.
This was the time when Pope John Paul II was already seriously ill, his face frozen, his hands trembling, and saliva dripping from his mouth. Some people asked him to consider resigning. But he said no. And for that, my love for him even grew.
Of course, a priest-friend promptly corrected me, and I learned my precious lessons. He pointed to me the provision in Canon Law and the similar cases recorded in history. And it was this thought that immediately sprang to mind when I first read about Pope Benedict’s renunciation of his Petrine ministry some days ago.
But I cannot deny that like many others, I was shocked in disbelief at first. I thought the breaking news was a prank. My thoughts went wild, since the first report I read did not mention the reason for the resignation. So, I scrambled to investigate.
I began to be pacified when I finally read the statement of the Pope himself. It was his failing health, and I took note that he said he arrived at that decision after examining his conscience thoroughly before God, that he did it freely without any pressure from outside, and that things will just be all right.
I immediately took his words at face value. I find no serious reason to doubt them. The only thing I thought I read between the lines was that the Pope was being humble to acknowledge his failing health, prudent to avoid compromising the effectiveness of his office due to his health, and courageous to make that decision.
Though I would have wanted him to do a Pope John Paul, I know it is very unfair to compare Popes. Each one is different, and each one has a special charism that will always redound to the good of the Church and the world. We just have to be satisfied with this truth of faith even as we rein in our personal curiosities and views.
This is something that we have to grapple with seriously at this time. In any issue, even one that is purely mundane, we should not ignore the spiritual and supernatural considerations offered by our faith. We would be distorting our appreciation of things if the inputs of our faith are shut out.
We have to go back to what Christ told Peter, the impulsive head of the apostles: “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Mt 16,18) These words have to be accepted by faith. They will sound funny outside of that context.
And so, we just have to hold our horses, and instead pray for Benedict XVI, for the next Pope and for the Church. No use speculating and worrying. Of course, we cannot deny that the news acted like the sword Simeon spoke about to Mary—how it would pierce her heart to reveal the thoughts of many. (cf Lk 2, 35)
Some people started to spin a conspiracy theory. Others talked about some arcane prophesies that seem to be fulfilled. There was one person who lamented that the Pope seemed to be fleeing from his responsibility. Another one claimed it was a bad precedent.
But mostly, the reaction was one that expressed dismay and sadness at the beginning, then turned to hope soon after. In this regard, we have to thank our Church leaders who set the proper tone as to how to receive this news.
But one thing Pope Benedict is showing us with his resignation is that no one, no matter what power he yields in the world and especially in the Church, is indispensable.
We are all instruments of God. We try to be the best instrument, but time will come when our usefulness expires, and we just have to be ready to be discarded at any time and in any manner that may fit at the moment. We need to be game in this life.
As far as I know of the Pope, he will retire hidden in silence and prayer. And so we just have to join him now in his sweet swan song, and thank him profusely for what he has accomplished. But we need to get used to Popes resigning.
A priest of Opus Dei, Fr. Roy Cimagala at present is chaplain of Paref-Springdale School, Lahug, Cebu. Visit Fr. Roy's Facebook page.