Friday, February 15, 2013

The "Scandal" of Abdication

I have seen so many commenters in the past days who have praised the Pope for his decision to step down as reigning Pontiff, viewing it as sign of his humility, his realization that he cannot lead because of his age, even (on the more extreme end) that he is setting a precedent for future Popes to feel free to resign after a term of years.

I must say that I strongly object to these sentiments, as, contrary to the prevailing headlines, the Holy Father did not in fact "resign". What he said was:
"I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005..."

The Supreme Pontiff is not merely an employee, free to retire as he will. He is a monarch. He is the Supreme Head of the Roman Catholic Church, the Vicar of Christ on Earth, endowed by God with the powers to bind and to loose those things pertaining to faith and morals, both on Earth and in Heaven.

What the Holy Father did was to abdicate, to renounce his claim to the throne. And this, perhaps rightly, can be perceived as scandalous.

Although Christ is the Eternal King, reigning gloriously in Heaven, the person seated on the Chair of Peter exercises the temporal rule over Christians universally in Christ's name. One does not abdicate lightly or for trivial reasons such as health or age, or any of the other reasons that have been touted as noble and good and right-- after all, he was chosen by God for the position that he holds.

For this reason, I can understand why many people have reacted to the news that the Holy Father is stepping down, not with praise, but rather with a sense of confusion, anger, and even betrayal-- I know for me personally, I am still trying to wrap my head around the idea that Benedict, a Pope so loved and who has done so much for the building up of the unity of the Church, is stepping down while leaving many projects largely unfinished.

There is a very poignant scene in the film, The King's Speech, which portrays Bertie (the future King George VI) just after his elder brother, Edward, renounces the throne. The scene shows Bertie's reaction to this turn of events, and you can tell that he has a sense of utter desolation, fear, abandonment, anger, an incapacity to handle what is to come-- all because of an act that was seen by many as selfish.

I think that this image, one full of uncertainty about the future, is perhaps an apt comparison to the feeling that many may have about the news of our Holy Father's abdication from the throne of Peter.

Edward VIII's reasons for abdicating the throne of the British Empire were most certainly not noble ones, and had an impact across the globe, especially in light of the rising Nazi powers at the time. However, the decision also paved the way for precisely the right leader at the right time to conquer the evil plight facing Europe.

Whether our beloved Holy Father truly made the right decision or not is something that we will never know-- that will remain between him and God. I do think, however, that if we have placed our trust in Pope Benedict during his pontificate up to this point, then we can at least give him the benefit of the doubt in this particular decision, which I am sure he did not make lightly.

For those who would praise his decision to abdicate, I would encourage you to celebrate the past and current leadership he has given, but not to celebrate his abdication as such-- I have no doubt that, though the Holy Father has deliberated long and has now made a firm decision, it is not one that has come without great personal suffering to him.

For those who are still at a loss at the nearly unprecedented action that Benedict has taken, I would encourage you to remember Christ, and use this as an opportunity to renew your faith in his promise that the gates of hell would not prevail against his Church.

With that faith intact, we can remain in hope that Benedict's abdication was indeed the right decision; but regardless, to trust in the guidance of the Holy Spirit to bring forth the next Pope, who will be the right man for the right time, and through the grace of the Office of Peter, be able to navigate the barque of the Church through the turbulent waters which undoubtedly lie ahead.

In this sense, we are not unlike the disciples, who hoped in the Messiah's kingship to free them from their bondage, only to be utterly disappointed by the scandal of the crucifixion and death of their Lord and Savior.

Perhaps different from the Disciples, we have the benefit in hindsight of knowing of the Resurrection. And so, though perhaps scandalous to some, hopefully this event in the life of the Church may be an opportunity for further growth, vitality, and renewal for the faithful members of the Church Militant, that we too will be brought to the glory of his Resurrection.

Oremus pro Pontifice!


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  2. So, you find yourself confused because Benedict exhibits a love for historical precedent, however ancient... Now you have an opportunity to understand how those who don't share your own personal affinity for Latin in the Liturgy, not to mention Benedict's other Medieval-phile actions, have been feeling for his whole papacy! Popes do some things we automatically like, and some things we have to study to come to understand, and some things that we don't ever really get until we get to heaven. Sorry~! Welcome to the church militant...