Southwestern Indiana's Catholic Community Newspaper

Pope Benedict's Decision Shows Humility, Trust In The Holy Spirit

By Father Jim Sauer

Almost before the alarm clocks went off, news traveled throughout the U.S. on Monday, Feb. 11 that Pope Benedict XVI was resigning the papacy, an unprecedented event in our lifetime, but not in the history of the Catholic Church, we have since learned.  

Then the “alarm bells” started going off! Oh, the Church will certainly experience a schism now with a “Pope-emeritus” breathing down the neck of a new Pope. The new Pope might be a progressive who will undo many of the things that his two predecessors had implemented. With two leaders at the helm, a rift in the Church is inevitable! Such alarmists!  

There would be only one leader at the helm — the new Pope! Besides, Pope Benedict XVI would much rather write his books, play his piano and enjoy his cats than be Pope. Why resign if he still wants to meddle in Church affairs? Most likely, any man would rather do anything than be Pope – maybe not before their election; but how many weeks does it take for reality to set in regarding the papacy’s burdens?

Some say the Pope was very courageous in resigning. Personally, I think “humility” is the order of the day. It took a great deal of honest soul searching and humility for Pope Benedict XVI to honestly say he is tired, physically and mentally, to the point that he can no longer be a viable leader of the Church, and for the good of the Church he is resigning the Petrine ministry entrusted to him. For a Pope to recognize that another man will be able to run the church after him, that he has done his part, and it’s time for someone else to take over takes humility and trust in the Holy Spirit.

Our senior Catholics who have experienced many changes in the church often exhibit this same humility and trust in the Holy Spirit. They know the church will continue on doing quite well once they are in heaven. (Then there are others, laypeople and ordained, who want to control every aspect of Church life. Such restless souls are they!)

Naysayers, doomsday people and bad news bearers have yet to hear of the Holy Spirit. Or they don’t believe the Holy Spirit is really guiding the Church in 2013. There are indeed many fractious issues the Church needs to address. We humans are the greatest obstacles to the Holy Spirit. Church history certainly proves that God’s Spirit must be guiding and preserving this very human, divinely-filled yet sinful people the Lord calls into existence generation after generation. Otherwise we would have foundered long ago!

TV pundits are discussing whether a “liberal,” “conservative,” “progressive” or “moderate” pope will be elected to succeed Benedict XVI. I despise such labels. They do nothing but divide us. Labeling people puts them in boxes difficult to escape from. Labels are an injustice against people demonstrating a great lack of respect. We sin against people we label because we can no longer listen to them, or recognize God’s wisdom in them or even love them. Our labels make us afraid of them. Our suspicions of them lead us to avoid them. Such behavior is never a sign of God’s presence among us.

We all have our expectations of what the next Pope will be like. I want the new Pope to be a man dedicated to Jesus and his Gospel, a person who understands ordinary people and their day-to-day struggles, a prayerful person, a collegial Pope who makes decisions by consulting with his brother bishops, a man open to the Spirit’s promptings whom Jesus said would guide us into all truth, who listens to the Spirit speaking through all God’s faithful people and someone who can laugh knowing God is in charge. (Like Pope John XXIII is reportedly to have prayed every night before retiring, “Dear Lord, it’s your world and your church. I’ve done the best I could today. Good Night!”   

Names are already being tossed around — they are called “papabile” (those electable to be pope). There’s an old saying in the Vatican, “He who enters the conclave as Pope comes out as a cardinal.” No doubt politicking will take place during the coffee breaks. Is politicking bad? Not necessarily. Politicking actually comes from the Greek word “polis” meaning “people.” So if the cardinals discuss which man will be the “best Pope for the People of God,” then politic away! If they politic to maintain a certain position in the Church, only Almighty God can judge the sincerity of their actions.    

Hopefully we have already begun to pray to the Holy Spirit for the cardinals preparing to elect the new Pope, for the man who gets elected Bishop of Rome and thus Pope, and for Pope Benedict XVI. If I were he, I would retire back to my beautiful Bavaria, live with my aging priest-brother, play my piano, write books, pray, have fun with my kitty cats, drink a few beers each day and enjoy some daily Scweinehaxen (grilled pig knuckles)! But he hasn’t telephoned me for my advice yet . . .