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Saturday, February 11, 2017

Four years ago today: Benedict XVIs resignation

Today is the four-year anniversary of the momentous day when Pope Benedict XVI stunned the world by announcing his resignation from the role of Bishop of Rome.  To mark this date, Father Thomas Rosica, CSB, Chief Executive Officer of the Salt and Light Media Foundation has written his reflections about the role that Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI continues to play and the continuity of the role of Bishop of Rome that has been carried on by his successor.

What Benedict stored, Francis scatters
A Reflection on the Fourth Anniversary of Pope Benedict’s Resignation
by Father Thomas Rosica, CSB

Four years ago today, February 11, 2013, Pope Benedict XVI stunned the world and the Church in announcing his resignation from his role as Bishop of Rome. Benedict XVI Leaves the Papacy, reads the stunning headline of the Vatican’s L’Osservatore Romano. The announcement of Pope Benedict’s resignation caught many in the Roman Catholic Church and the world by surprise. But perhaps it shouldn’t have. Pope Benedict XVI submitted his resignation freely, in accordance with Canon 332 of the church’s Code of Canon Law.
Can. 332 §1. The Roman Pontiff obtains full and supreme power in the Church by his acceptance of legitimate election together with episcopal consecration. Therefore, a person elected to the supreme pontificate who is marked with episcopal character obtains this power from the moment of acceptance. If the person elected lacks episcopal character, however, he is to be ordained a bishop immediately. 
§2. If it happens that the Roman Pontiff resigns his office, it is required for validity that the resignation is made freely and properly manifested but not that it is accepted by anyone.
It is an unprecedented decision in modern history and offers the Church and the world a profound teaching moment.  It is perfectly in line with one of the greatest teachers of the faith that the Church has ever known.

I remember the day of his election to the papacy on April 19, 2005. After the great Pope John Paul II, the cardinals have elected me, a simple and humble labourer in the vineyard of the Lord. With these words an ecstatic but nervous-looking Benedict XVI prefaced his first Urbi et Orbi (to the city and to the world) blessing. People were surprised to hear the new Pope describe himself as simple and humble. Yet that is exactly who he is and who he has been for the church, especially over eight years of his Petrine Ministry.

He was pigeonholed from the beginning as the conservative pope. His resignation is one of the boldest, most liberal decisions that any pope has ever made. He has set a new course for the church. For eight years on the chair of Peter, Pope Benedict turned to Scripture far more than doctrine, making connections between the early Christians and people of our time struggling to live their faith. He tackled contemporary social and political issues by emphasizing a few main principles: that human rights rest on human dignity, that people come before profits, that the right to life is an ancient measure of humanity and not just a Catholic teaching, and that efforts to exclude God from civil affairs are corroding modern society. A world emptied of God, a world that has forgotten God, loses life and falls into a culture of death. Ultimately, for Benedict, Christianity is an encounter with beauty; the possibility of a more authentic, more exciting life. His mantra was about friendship with Jesus and with God.

Joseph Ratzinger’s extraordinary intelligence, kindness, gentleness, clarity of thought and expression moved me as a young seminarian and over the past 31 years of ordained priestly ministry. His masterful homilies, talks and reflections were and remain a source of great spiritual nourishment for me and for millions of people.

When he took possession of the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran in 2005, he said: The one who holds the office of the Petrine Ministry must be aware that he is a frail and weak human being – just as his own powers are frail and weak – and is constantly in need of purification and conversion. On February 11, 2013, he showed us that he took those words to heart and put them into practice.

In the Old Testament, we find the moving story of Joseph, who, after generations of family turmoil, disunity and even hate, united his family in forgiveness and love. In emotional scenes that could easily be part of a great opera, Joseph questions his brothers, who do not recognize him, about their beloved father, still grieving over the supposed death of his missing son. When he confronts them and sees that they have undergone a change of heart, he embraces them and utters the immortal words, I am Joseph, your brother (Genesis 45:4).

Pope Benedict has shown us in a remarkable way that he is indeed Joseph, our brother. The occasion of his resignation four years ago stands as an important moment in the life of the Catholic Church and in the life of the world. The past four years have been a time for us to take stock, a time to give thanks for this brilliant pastor and a time to learn eternal lessons from a great teacher.

Benedict and Francis

My favorite biography of Saint Francis of Assisi is that of the great British writer, G.K. Chesterton. I have read that work many times throughout my life, and one passage has taken on new meaning for me over the past four years.  Chesterton wrote:
Saint Francis must be imagined as moving swiftly through the world with a sort of impetuous politeness; almost like the movement of a man who stumbles on one knee half in haste and half in obeisance.  The eager face under the brown hood was that of a man always going somewhere, as if he followed as well as watched the flight of the birds.  And this sense of motion is indeed the meaning of the whole revolution that he made; for the work that has now to be described was of the nature of an earthquake or a volcano, an explosion that drove outwards with dynamic energy the forces stored up by ten centuries in the monastic fortress or arsenal and scattered all its riches recklessly to the ends of the earth.  In a better sense than the antithesis commonly conveys, it is true to say that what St. Benedict had stored St. Francis scattered; but in the world of spiritual things what had been stored into the barns like grain was scattered over the world as seed.  The servants of God who had been a besieged garrison became a marching army; the ways of the world were filled as with thunder with the trampling of their feet and far ahead of that ever swelling host went a man singing; as simply he had sung that morning in the winter woods, where he walked alone.
On this momentous anniversary, we must look back over the past four years, give thanks, and then look forward to the journey ahead.  Many of us in both religious and secular media have been a bit too quick to interpret Francis’ gestures as a sign of discontinuity with the work of his predecessor. What we forget is that more than any of the choices made by Francis, it was Benedict XVI’s resignation that represented the greatest change of the papal office.  Benedict’s decision does not in any way undermine the papacy.

Pope Benedict XVI taught us that the Petrine ministry is not about externals, power, prestige and privilege.  He brilliantly emphasized the need for intense theological life, constant prayer and quiet contemplation which would naturally give way to good moral living, a commitment to others, and a life of charity and justice. With Pope Francis, it seems that the perspective is the other way around – it is concrete, charitable actions and visible human affection that redefine the theological life, giving it depth and breath.  And such actions attract others to Christ and the Church and serve as privileged instruments of evangelization.

What Benedict stored, Francis scatters…  Francis’ striking symbolism is becoming substance. Francis seeks a simpler church, more closely identified with the poor.  He is undoubtedly aware of the scandals, the corruption, the hypocrisy, the challenges, the leaks and the lobbies, and the things that need to be fixed inside the Vatican.  But many around the world, inside and outside the Church, from the left, right and centre of the Church are witnessing something new happening.  Smallness of mind and meanness of spirit are slowly transformed into wideness of thought and generosity of spirit. Could this not be a gift of the Spirit and a sign that the New Evangelization has begun in some unexpected places?

What Benedict stored, Francis scatters…  In the world of spiritual things what had been stored into the barns like grain was scattered over the world as seed… .  Let us never forget the deep continuity between Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, Bishop of Rome. It is manifested in their outlook on faith and their awareness that it is the Lord who leads the Church, not the Pope.  Francis teaches the doctrine identical to that of his predecessors.  He reminds us of the words of his predecessor Saint John XXIII at the beginning of the Second Vatican Council: The substance of the ancient doctrine of the Deposit of Faith is one thing, and the way it is presented is another.  With Francis, it’s the same Petrine brand but the packaging has changed! If today we are basking in the light of the Franciscan papacy of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, it because we owe a debt of gratitude to Joseph Ratzinger.
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