Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Stray thoughts on Benedict XVI

For many of us, it's been a year or so of klongs*.   First there was the surprise Obamacare decision by the Supreme Court; next it was the not-particularly-suprising-but-still-disappointing reelection of the President in November.  Now it's the abdication of Benedict XVI.  One wonders how many more klongs the heart can take before it blows up completely.

*This is a wonderful term I've used now for many years, which comes from William Safire's novel Full Disclosure, which he describes as  "A sudden rush of s**t to the heart" (minus the asterisks).  As Safire puts it, "It's the feeling you get when you're having a drink with a friend at your friendly tavern and all of a sudden it dawns on you that at that exact moment four people are standing on your doorstep, ringing the bell and expecting the dinner to which you've invited them." 

Of the three, Benedict's announcement on Monday was probably the biggest klong of all.  Whereas there had been at least a possibility of the other two events happening, this one was completely out of left field.  Yes, I know that in the past he'd talked about the propriety of a pope resigning, but it still wasn't something one could expect

One of the reasons this ranked as a particularly brutal klong was the knowledge of how the story would be played.  Predictably, the media have made a hash of it, trying to apply theories of temporal politics to a spiritual situation, with an added dollop of ideological hatred thrown in.  And in truth, it is a hard situation to grasp.  As the American Spectator's Aaron Goldstein recounted a conversation he had with co-workers, "The consensus [which Goldstein did not share] was that he was either forced out or that he had done something untoward."

The Catholic blogosphere has been equally alive with speculation, rumor and opinion, and - in my opinion* - most of it has been just as ill-informed and, let's not beat around the bush here, stupid. (One reason I've largely abandoned that arena.)  Some of it has been negative ("Benedict is shirking his responsibility!  Why couldn't he have hung in there like JPII?") while others, like Goldstein's co-workers, see an ulterior motive ("The Curia forced him out!  He finally threw up his hands and gave up!").  Some are emotional ("I feel betrayed!  When I heard the news I wept uncontrollably!"), and some are coldly Machiavellian ("He's using his German cunning to prepare a trap for the Wolves chomping at his heels!").  Some despair, seeing nothing but calamity in store for the Church. Some even look at the prophesies of Malachy and see the end of the world approaching.

*An opinion which I happen to hold in high regard.

The ones I like the most, the ones that mirror my own feeling, say simply - we can't know.  Understanding this is above our pay grade.  I don't know the truth of what goes on in the Vatican.  I don't know the truth of Benedict's health.  I don't know what he feels the Holy Spirit is compelling him to do, and I'm not privy to his conversations with God.  I don't know what the future of the Catholic Church looks like other than Christ's assurance that the Gates of Hell would not prevail against it.

If you were to ask for my educated guess, I'd say that Benedict believes the Church is in a perilous time, facing a grave and immediate threat - one that requires a Pontiff with physical as well as mental energy, one who can not only stand up to the threat, but fight back.  It's all well and good to suggest, as some do, that God would have provided whatever Benedict might have lacked, but as Christ says, His ways are not our ways.  Perhaps what God provided him with was the courage to abdicate in the face of people who would not understand.  But again, this is just speculation, and I've no more insight into this than the average man on the street.

Again, we don't know, and we shouldn't pretend that we do.  It's time for us to take "His ways, not ours" a little more seriously.  Don't second-guess the Pope - if we believe that he is indeed the Vicar of Christ, we have to assume that he might have just a little more insight into things than we do.  If we believe that the Gates of Hell will not prevail, we shouldn't worry unduly about the future.  If the Holy Spirit does indeed drive the Cardinal electors, let's let the Spirit do his thing.  And, in the name of all that is good and holy, let's stop analyzing this as if it was American politics and the Pope was the president.  Let's quit thinking of Benedict as a CEO and the Papacy as a "job."   If we direct our minds in the spiritual, rather than temporal, direction, I think we'll all feel a lot better about it.

This rampant speculation, opining and, no pun intended, pontificating, isn't doing anyone any good, and in some cases it may be causing scandal.  Want to do something?  Try prayer instead.  Take our Lent a little more seriously.  Sacrifice and do penance.  Release the burden of worry and uncertainty - a very real burden, by the way, which I think a lot of us feel - and, in the immortal words of Bart Simpson, "Don't have a cow, man." 

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