by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
With everyone else, I was stunned by Pope Benedict’s announcement of his retirement at the end of this month. Consistent with his actions throughout his papacy, he reached this decision after much prayer and with the decisive criteria being what is best for the church.
Even at 22 years the pope’s junior, and carrying much less responsibility, I can understand Pope Benedict’s desire to retire. He accepted the responsibility of shepherding the universal church at a time when most people would be already long retired. Even with his advanced years and his natural desire to be relieved of his responsibilities, I know that if the Holy Father thought his continuation as pope was best for the church, he would not have chosen to resign.
His papacy has been full of surprises and, in that sense his resignation will be just one more. It reveals again the pope’s beautiful humility. There is a temptation for all of us, no matter the level of our responsibility, to think the world will not go on without us. For those of us who serve in church leadership, we must remind ourselves that it is not “our church.” The Lord entrusts popes and bishops with important responsibilities, but only for a season.
We will be digesting for years the full impact of Pope Benedict’s papacy. The Holy Father has had a tremendous impact on the ongoing renewal of the church. The Holy Father’s three-volume work, entitled “Jesus of Nazareth,” will influence the directions of Catholic biblical scholarship for many years. I remember hearing Scott Hahn, himself a biblical scholar, remark after the publication of the first volume of “Jesus of Nazareth” that this work by the Holy Father would impact Catholic biblical study in much the same way that the theology of the body influenced moral theology.
Similarly, Pope Benedict’s emphasis on the beautiful and reverent celebration of the liturgy will guide the celebration for the sacraments for generations to come. The Holy Father took great care to remind the church that the liturgical reform of Vatican II can only be properly understood as in continuity with the pre-Vatican II Mass, rather than a rupture from the liturgical tradition.
Perhaps Pope Benedict’s greatest gifts have been his ability to communicate profound truths with remarkable clarity. I am particularly grateful for the theme found throughout his teaching during the past eight years that the essential foundation of our Catholic faith is an encounter with the person of Jesus Christ.
Our Holy Father has invited us frequently to strive to enter more deeply into the personal friendship Jesus desires to have with each of us. Our Holy Father has also written and spoken often about the joy that is the natural fruit of our Catholic faith. Our awareness of God’s personal love for us provides us with a capacity for joy even in times of loss and suffering.
Please pray for the Holy Father as he completes his service as pope. Pray that the Lord will bless him abundantly in the years ahead. Pray also for the Holy Spirit to guide the College of Cardinals as they prepare to select the next pope.
The new Holy Father will be the seventh of my lifetime. Each of the previous six popes have brought extraordinary gifts to the church. As much as I am sad that Pope Benedict’s service as the successor of Peter is coming to an end, I am excited about whom the Holy Spirit will raise up to lead the church in the coming years. I am confident that, like his predecessors, the new pope will be a wonderful gift to the church.
Come Holy Spirit, come and enlighten the church in selecting the next Peter for the church!