Today is a historic day for the Catholic Church. It is the first time that a Pope has resigned since Pope Gregory XII in 1415. Many will report on this event and many will share opinions about the causes, impacts, and conclusions that can be drawn from Pope Benedict XVI and his decision to step down. The entire world is watching the event with fervor — much like last November’s election here in the United States. Yes, this is an event of global significance, but few people have taken the time to even consider the spiritual nature, the Godly reasons, behind this humble action.
Pope Benedict’s decision to leave the Papacy was not a political one and most of the media cannot fathom why anyone would give up the power he held. His decision was one made in peace, in solitude, and only after hours and days of prayer. Yes, it did shock the world. It’s not, however, for the reasons the media would have you believe.
The most shocking aspect of the Pope’s decision is that it was a decision made in love, with all humility. It was the sacrificing of human will –power and fame — for Divine will. Pope Benedict will leave St Peter’s and potentially never been seen again. As one reporter put it, he has “acknowledged the frailty of the human condition.” This gentle, loving man who has given his life to Christ is still choosing to humbly follow God’s will. He is following the words he generously shared with us:
“Faith, hope and charity go together. Hope is practised through the virtue of patience, which continues to do good even in the face of apparent failure, and through the virtue of humility, which accepts God’s mystery and trusts him even at times of darkness. Faith tells us that God has given his Son for our sakes and gives us the victorious certainty that it is really true: God is love! It thus transforms our impatience and our doubts into the sure hope that God holds the world in his hands and that, as the dramatic imagery of the end of the Book of Revelation points out, in spite of all darkness he ultimately triumphs in glory. Faith, which sees the love of God revealed in the pierced heart of Jesus on the Cross, gives rise to love. Love is the light—and in the end, the only light—that can always illuminate a world grown dim and give us the courage needed to keep living and working. Love is possible, and we are able to practise it because we are created in the image of God. To experience love and in this way to cause the light of God to enter into the world.”
― Pope Benedict XVI, God Is Love, Deus Caritas Est: Encyclical Letter
Pope Benedict understood, both when writing this amazing text and when deciding that he would step down from the Papacy, that to “practice the virtue of humility” means to accept God’s mystery and trust God in all circumstances. We have faith and faith “gives rise to love.”
Today is a historic day for many reasons.
Today a client walked through our doors considering an abortion. She is alone and doesn’t know how she could ever be a good mother and provide for the new life within her. Embracing Pope Benedict’s words, we pray for her, serve her, and love her — and trust God.
Today a homeless youth in crisis came to the Drop-In at our shelter with only the clothes on his back. Through his tears he told us the horrible story of his childhood and how he came to be on the streets. He has nowhere to go and no one to turn to but our staff. What can we do but pray, love, and serve in faith?
Today a couple came to us seeking counseling because their marriage was crumbling. They don’t know if they love each other anymore and he has been unfaithful. We must have faith, hope, and love as we embrace the courage which can only come from God and serve that couple in humility.
Perhaps closer to your world, tomorrow the United States Government begins sequestration. Yet in light of all of the uncertainty about this process and how it will touch our lives, Pope Benedict’s words still ring true. We trust God in all circumstances. We patiently love and serve.
We are so grateful to Pope Benedict for allowing God to use him to teach us so many things. To inspire us. To help us understand that “Love is the light—and in the end, the only light—that can always illuminate a world grown dim and give us the courage needed to keep living and working.” We are blessed to be able to do this work and illuminate the darkness of the lives of those we serve. We, like Pope Benedict, are not foolish enough to think we can do this work without God. We know that God holds the world — and our lives, and our work — in His hands. Pope Benedict helped us to have the courage to live and work with faith, hope, and charity. He modeled love, courage, and humility both as Pope and in his decision to resign.