Yet from a historical perspective this resignation is shocking and even a little bit scary. It has been 600 years since a Pope has resigned the office. All others Popes have died in active ministry or at least acting as Pope. The last Pope to resign, Gregory XII, did so in 1415, 10 years into his tenure, in the midst of a leadership crisis in the Church known as “the Great Western Schism.”
Why be uneasy?
Is there any reason for us to be uneasy in such an unprecedented moment? Ultimately the answer is no. The Pope is the leader of the visible Church on earth. He is the successor of St. Peter to whom Jesus said, “upon this rock I will build my Church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it (Mt. 16:8).” The gates of Hell shall never prevail against the Church because the Holy Spirit as been given to us and Jesus promised us, “I am with you always even until the end of the world (Mt. 28:20).” Jesus is with us through His Spirit.
The Most Blessed Trinity is composed of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This mystery has been explained by some in the following way: The Father loves the Son eternally. The eternal love between the Father and the Son is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was given to the Church at Pentecost. The Spirit guides the Church in such a way that it works through weak humans to manifest the eternal truth of Revelation throughout the history of mankind. The Pope in certain circumstances is infallible when intending to speak definitively on issues of faith and morals. This is to be understood as a gift to the Church from the Holy Spirit to present to all generations the saving truth of the Gospel.
Holy Spirit dwells within us
This same Holy Spirit is given to us at our Baptism. The Holy Spirit dwells within us so long as we do not commit mortal sin or separate ourselves from God. Confirmation is a greater flowering of the Holy Spirit in us through the seven Gifts of the Spirit. God speaks to us in many different ways. First and foremost, the Lord speaks to us through the Sacred Scriptures and Sacred Tradition passed down from the apostles. Also, God does speak to us through the Holy Spirit which dwells within us. We know that this Spirit would never contradict the teachings of Jesus or his body the Church.
The Holy Spirit spoke to Pope Benedict many times over the years. As Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, he asked Pope John Paul II twice to be able to retire from his work in the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. He longed to return to his homeland, Bavaria, and write books about theology to aid the Church. However, the Holy Spirit did not want this. Pope John Paul II asked him to stay on for the good of the Church.
Hear this homily read on the YouTube meditational video at http://www.youtube.com/
Came out as the Pope
When Pope John Paul II died in April 2005, Cardinal Ratzinger once again had the hopes of being able to finally retire to a life of prayer and writing. But, the “Spirit blows where it wills (Jn. 3:8).” Cardinal Ratzinger went into the conclave as a Cardinal and left as Pope Benedict XVI. Each time that Pope Benedict desired to do something that seemed natural and good, the Holy Spirit had a different idea. Thank God that he was always docile to the Holy Spirit who works in strange and beautiful ways!
In these last few months, Pope Benedict has listened to the voice of the Spirit as his health has deteriorated. On Monday, February 11th the Pope stated, “After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.” Finally, the Holy Spirit desired what Benedict did. With the serenity that comes only from uniting ones’ will to God, the Pope can finally step aside.
Guided by the Holy Spirit
The same Holy Spirit that led Jesus into the desert for forty days now leads the Church to prepare for another conclave. It is likely that we will have a new Pope by Easter. Let there be no doubt that the Holy Spirit will work through the Cardinals as they make their historic choice. Let us during our own desert of forty days of Lent join all Catholics in praying for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all involved. We pray for Pope Benedict as he concludes his tasks. We, also, pray for the Cardinals who will be choosing the Pope that they will be docile to the Spirit who “blows as he wills.” Times goes on, leaders change, but the Spirit is ever with the Church guiding Her onward toward her eternal home.
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Homily by Fr. Joseph Eddy, O. de M. Read about Fr. Joseph's Order, the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy, at http://www.orderofmercy.org.