Monday, February 18, 2013

Having a clear faith, based on the creed of the church is often labeled today as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, which is letting oneself be tossed and swept along by every wind of teaching, look like the only attitude acceptable to today's standards.

~Pope Benedict XVI 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

A Faithful Encyclical

Courtesy of the rather startling news of his retirement, the question of the expected fourth encyclical from Pope Benedict XVI has only recently appeared in a few Catholic blogs and news sources.

As it was not expected for a while, now that he is retiring, there is doubt whether we will see this fourth proposed encyclical.

Maybe we will. Maybe it just is not one that we will see in print. Maybe this encyclical is a living one.

Perhaps, this great treatise on faith, is not one that scholars will have a text to pour over for centuries to come. Perhaps instead, this testimony to the call to faith will be a lived example.

The Pope lives in tension between an extraordinarily public life and incredibly well-protected secrecy. The mysteriousness, real and imagined of what goes on in the closed doors and back rooms of the Vatican leads to many speculations and novels of varying degrees of quality. Yet the Pope is one of the most recognized individuals in the world. His words whether spoken, written, or even tweeted become the source of debate, adoration, animosity, and completely dissected.

There is much that we do not know of the Pope's resignation. For every bit of information we learn, there is likely an encyclopedia's worth of knowledge we are unaware of in regards to this historic move.

Perhaps Pope Benedict is using this final, shocking and humble act to show us his fourth teaching - faith. 

Maybe he is challenging the Church to a renewed faith. Through the inevitable examination that the Cardinals will make in conclave and the overwhelming discussion of Catholics and non-Catholics the world over we can come to have fruitful discussions of the essence of our faith and the call to live that faith in our lives and the world.

Maybe he is challenging us to live lives of humble faith. In a world that will encourages you to shout, "I can do anything you can do better!" we have a Pope saying, "Enough." He is admitting that he has reached his limit. He is saying that for the greater good, he needs to step back.

No matter what the Pope may wish for us to see in his retirement, one thing we can assure ourselves. It is an act of faith. Faith that he is doing his best to follow God. Faith that the Church will discern a new leader. Faith that the Spirit will guide the Cardinals in the conclave, the faithful in their prayers, and the world on its journey. Faith that the Son walks with him into this new phase of life just as he walks with each of us on our sometimes rocky and troubled ways. Faith that the Father holds us all, the Pope, the Church, the believers, the unbelievers, in the palm of his most loving hand.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

When a girl in black met a man in white

No, this is not a Valentine's Day post.  Rather it is the day I will forever associate with Pope Benedict XVI.

On March 28, before the sun even rose, I climbed into what Italians likely call a car. That is a generous term. Two young women from Africa in beautiful native garb joined me as we squeezed ourselves into the backseat. For some time we were driven through winding roads that a woman from India had described as, "Just like Goa but a bit prettier." She did not mean it as a compliment, I think.

Finally, we reached a wall, with a gate. The three of us peeled ourselves out of the backseat and stretched a bit in the chilly early morning air. The African women were freezing, even this Midwesterner was a bit chilled. We took in our surroundings. We were somewhere in the Vatican. There were buildings and shrubbery and who knows what else. It was early, we were bewildered, we were cold. Our driver and the car left.

Our escort motioned for us to follow. He spoke Italian only it seemed. My German, Spanish, and English were not too helpful this morning. The Africans knew a few words of English, but French was their language of choice. We followed this man who I never identified but was known by all the guards. He took us through walkways and driveways out the side entrance  We walked to a small cafe where he kindly bought us espressos to warm us and energize us for what was to come.

The Palm Sunday Mass at St. Peter's.

I had been attending the Pontifical Council for the Laity's Youth Forum on Human Sexuality. You can see some posts I made about it here. The shock of the week came with the request that I read at Sunday Mass. I agreed, no big deal, right? My laid back attitude lasted about 3.2 seconds until it dawned on me that the Sunday Mass was at St. Peter's with the Pope presiding. Insert awkward moment of falling over about five people at this point.

Back to St. Peter's on March 28, 2010. We were taken to our seats, in a reserved section. I left my bag under my seat. Only when you are a row away from Italian royalty and the Cardinals of the Church do you feel comfortable leaving your backpack in Rome. The Swiss Guards nearby didn't hurt either.

I could go on as it was an amazing experience.

However, I want to focus on the Pope. I was reading the first reading from Isaiah:
The Lord GOD has given me
a well-trained tongue,
that I might know how to speak to the weary
a word that will rouse them.
Morning after morning
he opens my ear that I may hear;
and I have not rebelled,
have not turned back.
I gave my back to those who beat me,
my cheeks to those who plucked my beard;
my face I did not shield
from buffets and spitting.
The Lord GOD is my help,
therefore I am not disgraced;
I have set my face like flint,
knowing that I shall not be put to shame.

Besides being one of my favorite passages (and thankfully without some of those particularly challenging Old Testament names), in retrospect it could not be more appropriate for my encounter with the Pope.

I come from good, hearty German stock so perhaps that is why I feel like Pope Benedict could be my grandfather. My Grandpa D had a thick shock of white hair, was feisty and loved his music (he sang in a barber shop quartet). So maybe the two aren't clones of each other, but somehow my mind links the two.

With the news that Pope Benedict is retiring, I feel like a grandfather I nearly knew is fading away. I find the words of Isaiah floating in my mind and I think Pope Benedict could claim them for his own. Though given a difficult era to shepherd the Church, I believe history will be honest and Pope Benedict "shall not be put to shame."

Just as the Suffering Servant in Isaiah, Pope Benedict has given the Papacy his all. When most men dream of fishing or watching their grandchildren's baseball games and dance recitals, Pope Benedict took on perhaps the most challenging 'job' in the world.

No matter what history, the press, or the plethora of social media commentators may say, I will think of my day, standing on the steps of St. Peter's proclaiming Isaiah. The day when I was a Midwestern girl in her plain black dress, reading for the Pope. It was an honor and a pleasure.

May you find peace, rest, and fulfillment in your retirement, Pope Benedict. And if you want, I make the best Gingersnaps - translated the recipe from my great-grandma's German handwriting. Just let me know, I'll send you some.