Matt C. Abbott
February 15, 2013
'Am I alone?'
By Matt C. Abbott

    'I decided to resign from the ministry that the Lord had entrusted me on April 19, 2005. I did this in full freedom for the good of the Church after having prayed at length and examined my conscience before God, well aware of the gravity of this act....The tests which modern society subjects Christians to, in fact, are many, and affect the personal and social life. It is not easy to be faithful to Christian marriage, practice mercy in everyday life, leave space for prayer and inner silence, it is not easy to publicly oppose choices that many take for granted, such as abortion in the event of an unwanted pregnancy, euthanasia in case of serious illness, or the selection of embryos to prevent hereditary diseases. The temptation to set aside one's faith is always present and conversion becomes a response to God which must be confirmed several times throughout one's life....'

    – Pope Benedict XVI, Ash Wednesday 2013


Reader John M. wrote:
    Am I alone in my assessment of the abdication of Pope Benedict? Am I the only one who sees this as an act that reduces the throne of Peter to an appointment and not a calling to the charism of the Holy Spirit?

    I am very shaken by this event. In my lifetime every pope, with the exception of John Paul I, has used his final suffering as a magnificent statement to the Church and the world as his total commitment to Christ and the Cross. Benedict has demonstrated by his recent statement that he is mind is lucid and vital, and that he is far more physically capable than John Paul II was at the same age.

    From what is he running away? Is the charism of the Holy Spirit something to be accepted and then put aside? Does he realize the precedent he is encouraging? A precedent of the pope as a mere officeholder, a functionary? If he truly viewed himself as the descendant of Peter, the true voice of Christ on earth how could he even think of resignation?

    I believe that Benedict has struck a blow at the Papacy from which it will never recover. The eyes of the world will never see the Chair of Peter as the location of the representative Christ on Earth, but as a job that can be picked up and then put aside.

    Am I alone?
I've asked two Catholic priests and a Catholic author (laywoman) to comment on John's email. Below are their responses (slightly edited).

Father Anthony Brankin wrote:
    I cannot see it that way. I cannot help but think the pope did the most humble act he could have ever done: admitting to the whole world that he is too frail (and maybe even dying) to do the job the Church needs done. I think he is afraid; not for himself, but for the Church he loves. He is afraid perhaps that as he gets older, he will miss that which cannot be missed; that he will forget that which cannot be forgotten; that he will unavoidably let the Church be hurt by those who have no scruples or compunction about hurting Jesus.

    It is a fine thing to say he should let his last suffering be a magnificent statement to the Church, but what if that last suffering is not so dramatic but instead more prosaic and lasts 10 or 15 years? What if it is simply not the case that he will heroically show the world how nobly he can die? What if it is more likely that modern medicine will allow him to survive a little longer? Live, yes, but only as a shell of his former self, unable to do nearly enough.

    Then watch the wolves! Watch the toadies, the wise-guys and wastrels make their moves on the Body of Christ. They will have smelled blood and it will not be pretty. Pope Benedict XVI loves the Church too much not to want to best those who hate her – and I think he did just that.
Father Jeffrey Robideau wrote:
    'Am I alone?' I have asked myself that question many times. Poor Bride of Christ. She has many problems dealt to her at the hands of man. I love her and want so desperately to take care of her as any good husband would take care of his bride. Protecting her, cherishing her, guiding her, and, most importantly, letting her use the God-given gift of grace to uplift and empower me to be the man God wants me to be.

    I find little to no support from the hierarchy in protecting and promoting the Church and the faith she professes. What I have found is something similar to what the reader asks: Does this act of resignation of Pope Benedict XVI 'reduce the throne of Peter to an appointment,' 'a mere officeholder, a functionary?'

    Ask most priests if they want to be a bishop, and what you will hear is something along these lines: 'No, I just want to be a parish priest. I would not want the headache that goes with the job; it would limit what I could do; they work too hard...'

    I look at it differently. I have been called by God to be a priest. To be a priest means something. When one is ordained, he undergoes an ontological change called an indelible mark. That is, his very being changes and he becomes in a real way a new creation, a new man. This change is not a lateral move but a vertical move. Man is elevated to be 'another Christ,' or 'the person of Christ.'

    Do not mistake this language to mean that he becomes Christ. Rather, we mean that he becomes so closely associated with the ministry of Christ – His arms, His voice, His leadership – you might as well call him Christ. If a priest truly lives up to this real change that happens to his soul, as he is reconfigured to act in the person of Christ, if he truly surrenders his will, his ambitions, then what you would have left is Christ present to His people. To the extent that a priest is selfish, he fails to bring Christ to his people.

    Too many priests see the priesthood as a job rather than a way of life. And so they answer the way they do when asked if they want to be a bishop. Let me answer the question. I would be most honored if God would choose me to be a bishop for Him and His people. Why? I love the priesthood. I love the challenge I have to undergo everyday to surrender myself to God and be a priest – be Christ – to His people.

    The priesthood makes me a better man, and I feel as though this is where God means for me to get holy. While I am a priest, I do not embody the fullness of the priesthood. Not due to any lacking in myself, but in that I am not a bishop. A bishop is the fullness of the priesthood. You cannot become more of a priest than you can as a bishop. It then stands to reason that if I love being a priest, why would I not want the fullness of it? (Setting pride and ambition aside, of course.)

    Being a priest is not something I do, but something I am. It is not a burden when people call me at 2 a.m. any more than it is when a child cries at 2 a.m. for his or her feeding. I love the people God has placed under my care – and, indeed, all His children.

    What of Pope Benedict XVI? It is not like the role of a priest or bishop. They retire when they can no longer fulfill their mission. The age of retirement has changed from this to that over time, and some retire and some die with their boots on. The office of pope is different. It has been seen as a position that is 'until death do us part.' We know this is the way it has been done most of the time, but we also know that some popes have retired. Is this, then, a question of the will of God, or the will of man? I do not know. I do know the pope sets the rules as the Vicar of Christ, and it is within his jurisdiction to make this decision.

    This leaves us with the question, 'Is it the best decision?'

    Let me share one more tidbit about my priesthood. I want to die with my boots on. I want to go to my grave giving the last and best example I can of tirelessly and relentlessly giving my life for the glory of God and the salvation of souls with complete hope and trust in God. This means I want to remain in the mainstream for as long as I can. Once a priest retires he can easily fall into obscurity; thus, he can give little or no example. The people hear he died; they go to his funeral and remember what a great priest he was. There is a disconnect in his ability to witness how to die with full hope and trust in God. The people missed that part of his life.

    What again of Pope Benedict XVI? His role as Vicar of Christ is paramount, second only to Jesus Himself. My temptation is to say Jesus, Mary and then the pope, but I might get in trouble for that. His role is not simply a function, a cog amid the works; it is the lifeblood. Without the successor of Peter, the Church is finished. He is the glue that binds the universal Church together as the Body of Christ. Not by any power of his own, but by God's design. As we know, only one can hold the office of the chair of Peter.

    We ask: Can there be one who does hold the office of the chair and one who did hold the office of the chair? Can God take the authority he gave to one man and give it to another? Yes – he can and has.

    From our perspective as the faithful, we love our pope. Though he lives far away, there is still an intimacy we have with him. He is special. God chose him from among all men to be His Vicar. We want to be a part of his life. For him to step down is like a slap in the face in many ways. We can ask: Do you not love us anymore? Have we offended you? Why are you leaving us, abandoning us? These questions are from emotion and not from reason. We know that, but it still hurts.

    The papacy is not just about fulfilling a role, being able to 'run' the Church. It is about a majestic presence in the world that reminds us of His True Royal Majesty, Jesus Christ, who is Lord and King of us all. As to the 'running' of the Church, the cardinals have always done this in the final days of the pope's life and continue to do so after his death until the next pope is elected.

    The ability of 'running' the Church is the least of our concerns. We look to the pope not to write lengthy discourses, travel around the world, and so on. We look to the pope to be the Vicar of Christ. If a pope can do that for us, he can forget the rest.

    I can only imagine how difficult it would be to remove myself from such an office. If he truly has discerned this decision with God and it is the will of God, then my hat is off to him. If he loves his priesthood, he has indeed made a very difficult decision – and one, I am sure, he did not take lightly. In an age where everyone wants to be in the limelight, he is being counter-cultural and taking himself out of it.

    Will his stepping down have an impact on the future of the office? Yes. We will have to see where it goes. Pray and pray hard. In the end, we have no choice; we are going to have to trust Pope Benedict XVI that this is the will of God. We thank him for his service to God and man. The Church has overcome many trials in her history, and we pray for the Church that she will overcome any obstacles this may bring.
Catholic author Susan Tassone wrote:
    Pope Benedict XVI is a man of deep faith, has the mind of 12 professors, humble, holy and prayerful. I am satisfied with his response. Long live Papa Bene!


Catholic commentators Steve Jalsevac and Christopher A. Ferrara have a more ominous take on the pope's abdication.

Jalsevac writes:
    'There is a growing sense that something evil is on its way, and the greatest bulwark against the evil can only be a strong, unified and faithful Catholic Church working together with all other authentic believers of the loving triune God. Benedict knows this. That is why he has suddenly stepped aside for the new pope, who will be called to do the necessary battle that Benedict is no longer capable of.' (Source)
Ferrara writes:
    'Whatever the pope sees coming must be the motive for his abdication, unless we are willing to conclude that he simply wearied of his office and decided in his weakness to abandon it. No, there must be more. I echo the sentiments of the editor [of The Remnant Catholic newspaper] in concluding that Pope Benedict has sacrificed himself to the wolves, lying down in front of them while they sniff the corpse of his pontificate in puzzlement, surprised by their ultimately easy prey, and momentarily distracted from what may already have been put in motion respecting the next conclave.' (Source)
I'm inclined to agree with them.

© Matt C. Abbott

 

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Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic commentator with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication, Media and Theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. He has been interviewed on MSNBC, NPR and WLS-TV in Chicago, and has been quoted in The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. He can be reached at mattcabbott@gmail.com.

(Note: I welcome thoughtful feedback from readers. If you want our correspondence to remain confidential, please specify as such in your initial email to me... (more)

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