It was November 30, 1406, and all the Cardinals were gathered to elect a new pope. Angelo Corrario was among them. There was tension in the air. Before anyone had even voted, let alone been elected, he had sworn to resign from office. In fact every cardinal had sworn to resign from office should he be elected.
This was the Western Schism and not only was Corrario elected as Gregory XII, but there were two other “popes” or claimants to the papacy at the time – Benedict XIII and Alexander V. Elections at that time were difficult with many political and economic pressures. At times substitute elections were organized to elect the “true pope”, leaving the Church oft in confusion and uncertainty.
As it turned out, Gregory didn’t resign for almost another ten years, during the Council of Constance in 1415. And he died two years later before seeing the end of the schism with the election of Martin V.
That was 1415, and no other Pope has resigned until 2013, 600 years later! What happened? Why is Benedict stepping down?
What was I going to talk about? Homilies are never easy and less in a foreign language! Here I was preparing one in Spanish with hardly a clue. Then it came to me: Illogic - God’s lack of logic...
In the Gospel of Luke, Christ asks Peter to let him step into his boat and preach. Peter helps spread the Good News by letting Christ be heard. But look what happens next!
“Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Peter has been fishing all night. They caught nothing. Now he’s cleaning the nets. He already let Jesus use the boat. This is a little much – row back out there, through the nets in, they get all dirty again, and to top it off – it’s broad daylight.
Well, Peter does just that, and he catches more than two boats can hold. God wasn’t too wrong after all.
The next morning, it was another Mass in Spanish. But someone stopped me before I could get ready. He wanted me to look at something on his Iphone. I almost told him to stop distracting me, after Mass would be fine, but he looked pretty serious.
He showed me the latest message, “Pope Benedict's Address on…” Great, we’ll pray for the pope and his intentions. A nice touch. “…Resignation From the See of Rome” Wait a second, I did about a triple take, RESIGNATION. I did’t know what to think.
It wasn’t (and still isn’t) easy to take in, but God was trying to tell me something. During Mass two things came to mind: the previous homily and the feast we were celebrating, Our Lady of Lourdes.
What to do?
Second - how should I react? Sit back and be confused? No! What did Mary do? Now she had a confusing life – promises virginity, finds out she is going to be pregnant with God’s Son, her almost husband almost leaves her to have her stoned. She finally gives birth to her baby in a stable, and then everyone seems to want to kill him so she has to flee the country. That certainly wasn’t in the small print or even remotely logical.
Yet what does she do? Treasure everything and think about it in her heart. It seems to me that we should be doing the same, and I would dare to guess Benedict XVI did exactly that.
What he said?
Let’s have a look at his own words.
In 2005, on the occasion of his election:
After the great Pope John Paul II, the Cardinals have elected me, a simple and humble laborer in the vineyard of the Lord. The fact that the Lord knows how to work and to act even with inadequate instruments comforts me, and above all I entrust myself to your prayers. Let us move forward in the joy of the Risen Lord, confident of His unfailing help. The Lord will help us and Mary, His most holy Mother, will be on our side. Thank you.
In 2013, on the occasion of his resignation:
After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me. For this reason… I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter…
What it all means?
To me, it doesn’t sound like much has changed. Benedict accepted the ministry because God asked it, and he lays it down because God asks it.
Today's media just don't get it. They're not talking about Benedict because they're too busy with the fictious power struggle to become the next pope. Yet, it seems to me that God might be trying to help us solve our uncertainty and confusion just like 600 years ago. And not just us in general, but you and me!
How are our lives? Do we live trying to please God and fulfil his plan and only that? The Cardinals will soon be walking into the Sistine Chapel only to be met by a bigger than life Terminator-Jesus (okay, sorry for the comparison but he's no weakling). Michelangelo’s Last Judgment is not a fingerpaint. It’s not vague, abstract, or ambiguous. We will be judged on our decisions. But Christ’s greatest desire is to save us from sin and bring us up to heaven to live with him for eternity. Benedict XVI certainly has that clear? Do we?
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