Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Goodbye Pope Benedict!

As you've probably already heard, Pope Benedict has made a rare decision to resign as pope, something which hasn't happened for some 600 years. He will officially quit on February 28, 2013 and then the conclave and election process will begin. I suspect we will see a new pontiff before Easter Sunday which is on March 31st, 2013.

I think this new reality is just sinking in for me. On the one hand, the pope is still alive so there isn't the mourning which came with the death of the last successor of Peter. In my mind I think okay he's still alive. But then it hits me there will be a conclave soon to elect a new pope. This is a huge event, one which has only occurred one other time in my lifetime in 2005. I will be following very closely.

People have already started guessing at who will be the next pope. Of particular interest to me is the possibility that Cardinal Marc Ouellet, former archbishop of the City of Quebec and current Prefect for the Congregation for Bishops, will be chosen as the 265th successor of Peter. Of course, he is but one of the papabile.

This is a very extraordinary event. As I mentioned previously, Pope Benedict will be the first pope in nearly 600 years to resign from the papacy while still living. The last time this happened was when Pope Gregory XII resigned his post in order to settle the conflict of the Avignon Papacy and disputes over the position. The last truly voluntary resignation of a pope happened with Celestine V in 1294 when he specifically allowed a pope to resign and then did so himself. Unfortunately, Celestine was captured from his tranquil life as a monk and imprisoned by his successor in a cell where he would die 10 months later.

It seems as though only 2 other popes in history have stepped down voluntarily: John XVIII in 1009 and Benedict IX in 1045 (he regretted his actions and later returned to the papacy). Basically this means only 1.1% of popes have voluntarily resigned (1.5% if you count Pope Gregory XII).

Many people are using this as an opportunity to voice their personal opinions when it comes to the Catholic Church. Often, these comments come from people outside the Church who have very little knowledge about it. Perhaps because people are very used to democracy, they believe in personally deciding what the Church should teach. I've heard many people proclaim that they Church must modernize and "get with the times". Funny thing is, it's doubtful they would join the Church even if this happened. I'm not sure why non-Catholics who do whatever they want are even concerned about what the Church teaches. If they disagree, why not just leave or ignore it?

Many people simply do not understand the Church. Many people think the pope, on a whim, could change constant moral teachings of the Church, such as laws concerning homosexual acts, abortion, female ordination, etc. As John Paul II and Benedict XVI have made clear, these issues form an important part of the Church's teaching and cannot be changed. Specifically, Pope John Paul II issued a controversial statement indicating the Church not only will not, but in fact cannot, change its stance on female ordination, because Jesus Christ himself did not do this, nor did the universal Church in her entire history.

Many people do not like the Catholic Church because of what it teaches. Instead of coming right out and saying this though, they attack Pope Benedict. They complain about how "conservative" he is. They try to blame him for the sex abuse scandal which he had nothing to do with and tried to stop and later rectify. Some even stoop so low as to criticize Benedict for his physical appearance. People who do this simply do not want to say they disagree with the Church and over a billion Catholics. Instead they vilify good people like our current pope.

The point is, people can choose to either obey or disobey the Church, and if they choose to disobey, the Church has no say in their life. So why do some people feel the need to react so strongly against the Church? I will leave that question to anyone who might want to answer in the comment section below.

Pope Benedict is an intellectual giant and a worthy shepherd. His successor will have big Prada shoes to fill. One interesting thing I heard today (from Karl Keating quoting Jeffrey Tucker) is that by resigning, the pope may possibly have some say or influence on who the next pope will be. Whoever it is, I pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit as our current pontiff leaves the limelight and a new one takes over.

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