There was a lightning strike at the top of the Vatican dome last Monday night. It was very appropriate, because a bolt of lightning struck the Church earlier in the day, too. The news had come down that Pope Benedict XVI was renouncing the Papacy. It has been over 700 years since a Pope had renounced the Papal throne under normal circumstances (the crowd from 1415 renounced the Papacy because there were numerous claimants to the Papal Throne, and that needed to be resolved, so all the claimants resigned at once). The Pope who resigned in 1295 was named Celestine V. He had been elected in his old age, somewhat against his will. A few years ago, Pope Benedict had visited Pope Celestine’s tomb and laid his pallium, a sign of episcopal authority, on Pope Celestine’s tomb. One now knows why Pope Benedict made this gesture, as he saw some of his own life story in that of Celestine. As always, Pope Benedict is to be thanked for his humble faith.
Well, it is shocking news. All the sudden, like a bolt of lightning, change is coming to the Catholic Church. We will see what the change will bring. It is an exciting time, however! The Church has been well served by the charisma and holiness of Blessed John Paul II, and the scholarship and humility of his good friend, Benedict XVI. They have seen the Church through the turbulent years following Vatican Council II. They have given us the key to receive the gifts of this Church council of the 1960’s, which changed church life so much. In doing this, they gave us sound foundations for the new era. Now, we await the man who will lead us into that new challenge of evangelizing a culture badly in need of the Presence of Christ. We will see what the Holy Spirit has in mind. I hope that the Cardinals will prayerfully consider their choice of Pope, and make a bold choice. I pray that they will choose a man who will be suited to the times in which we are living.
It is not coincidence that this process of Papal renewal will take place during Lent. We begin this season with the last words of Pope Benedict’s Papacy. He is starting us off on the journey of contrition that is Lent. He is guiding us through the prayer, fasting, and charity of our late-winter Lent. Then, somewhere in the middle of the Lenten season, we will have a Conclave. From that conclave will emerge our new Pope. He will be the first Pope to have ministered completely in a post-Vatican Council II Church. He will be formed out of the renewal period of the 1960’s and 1970’s. He will begin his Papacy right around St. Patrick’s and St. Joseph’s Day, almost at the start of Holy Week. His introduction to the world will be the Holy Week Masses. Then, he will take us into Easter and Springtime.
Lent and Easter have always been a time of renewal for the Church. This is even more the case this year, now that we will have renewal at the top of the Church. Let us pray that all our leaders will be open to that renewal, and allow the Spirit to bring God’s refreshment. God has many gifts to offer to our world-wide Catholic Church. Now can be a time when we pull together as a family of faith, and pray for a world-wide renewal of faith. This year continues to be the Year of Faith. We are thankful for Pope Benedict’s faith. We are thankful that he has called us back to faith. Now, he has been humble enough to make way for a renewal of the Church in the Year of Faith, during the Holy season of Lent. May we not miss out on the significance of this moment in time, and enter into Lent with vigor and hope.