Monday, February 18, 2013

B16: "It is Finished"

It's always difficult to say farewell to a father--and especially to a holy father. 

I was struck by the following line in Pope Benedict XVI's brief announcement that he would be renouncing the office of the papacy on February 28th:  "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" (emphasis added).  Anyone who has looked beyond the secular media's portrayals of the pope has been able to see that he is a man who is not only theologically brilliant but also "meek and humble of heart" (Mt 11:29).  He has certainly resisted pressure to simply remake the Church in the image of the world and instead continued inspiring the Church to transform the world with the good news of the risen Lord.

But prayer and suffering struck me.  We know that all good fathers rely not only on words and deeds, but on much prayer for their families.  But how often do we appreciate that the prayer is often linked to suffering on behalf of the family?  In the case of the Holy Father, I feel like we have virtually seen his profound prayer for holy mother Church throughout the courageous teachings and insightful leadership.  But how could I have not realized the depth of this suffering?  What must it feel like to be "bruised, derided, cursed, defiled," as lyrics of the Sabat Mater put it so beautifully?

Of course, in a world marked by so many soundbites, it can be difficult to get beyond first impressions.  But if I had just one "tweet" to summarize the message of Pope Benedict's pontificate for the Church and the world (140 characters, including spaces!), this would be it:

Jesus of Nazareth reveals that God is love; in this hope we were saved.
The door of faith opens us to share the gospel joy with our weary world. 

  • Jesus of Nazareth:  This trilogy on the life of Jesus as revealed in and through the Gospels navigates the often murky waters of scriptural scholarship with piercing clarity; the simplicity and depth of Benedict's insights reveal the face of the crucified and risen Lord, who is the center of our faith.
  • God is Love (Deus caritas est): Benedict's first papal encyclical provides a meditation on the fundamental mystery of the Christian faith, the Blessed Trinity; this communion of self-giving love is the root of reality itself and is present in and through all authentic expressions of human love.
  • In Hope We Were Saved (Spe salvi): In his second encyclical, Pope Benedict addresses that hope, with a capital "H," which surpasses all of the hopes that carry us through our daily lives; it is the hope of a fullness of eternal life offered in Christ.
  • The Door of Faith (Porta fidei): By calling forth a Year of Faith to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the promulgation of the Second Vatican Council and the 20th anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Benedict focused the world's 1.2 billion Catholics on the need to rediscover, reclaim and re-propose a faith which opens our eyes to the deeper realities of life; we await the promised third and final encyclical on Faith!
  • Sharing the gospel joy (the ongoing call for a new evangelization): In convening a synod of Bishops on the theme of the new evangelization, the pope reminded Christians everywhere that we are bearers of good news which the world longs to hear; joy, a fruit of the Holy Spirit, should be a hallmark of our witness to the world.
  • Our weary world (and the threats of radical secularism): Benedict identified one of the root causes of so much misery in our times--the fact that people attempt to live their daily lives as if God doesn't exist; a new ideology, a dictatorship of relativism, seeks to impose itself by denying that there are any universal truths about the human person which ought always to be protected and defended; only a "civilization of love" can adequately counter this drive toward a "culture of death."
Finally, if the only commentaries you've seen so far have been from the secular media, I encourage you to check out Fr. Barron's brilliant nine-minute commentary on Benedict's Legacy.  It focuses on Pope Benedict's interpretation of Vatican II, his presentation of an "affirmative orthodoxy," and his Christ-centered vision of reality.

In the end, all we can say is: "It is finished" (Jn 19:30).  And yet the mission of the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit and led by the successor of St. Peter, continues: "you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church,* and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it" (Mt 16:18)!