One of my nun friends wrote to me yesterday that it felt strange and sad to remove Benedict’s picture from their walls at the moment of sede vacante, and I admit I hadn’t thought of it until she said it. All over the world, in churches, hospitals, colleges, food banks, monasteries, counselling offices, rectories and so forth, people were doing this:
That’s the subprioress of the Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary in Summit, New Jersey — where they will celebrate the first professions of two young women this month — and they processed this moment in light of the closed-door moments of their own lives:
It reminded us of the day we entered the monastery as postulants!
No matter how many times a man or woman visits a monastery, even living inside the enclosure, the day one formally enters to begin monastic life there is, for most monastic traditions, the symbolic entering through the formal enclosure doors of the monastery while family and friends look on. The postulant enters and then the doors are closed shut. Her new life, hidden in God, has begun!
The taking down of a picture, the formal closing of a door, these are just the small but meaningful rituals that reverberate in our hearts and — more powerfully — illustrate to us, and to the world, that time moves forward; it comes, it passes, the new moment is gone. Yesterday is not today; tomorrow forgets everything that seems to matter at this moment.
Any experience deeply felt makes some men better and some men worse. When it has ended, they share nothing but the recollection of a commitment in which each was tested and to some degree found wanting. […] The consequences of the journey change the voyager so much more than the embarking or the arrival.”
― Murray Kempton, Part of Our Time: Some Ruins & Monuments of the Thirties
Yesterday, I wondered what the history books will say about Benedict’s vacated papacy, 200 years from now? Will they say this was a turning point — a moment when the church began to reclaim itself as a sacred entity that had hewn too closely to secular protocols and expectations, or lost itself by venturing to embrace the ever-passing, ever-changing times and trends? Or perhaps, vice-versa?
Then I looked at some of the political headlines, particularly that staggering business of mediafolk eating their own to protect their presidential squeeze-toy, and wondered, what the history books would say about yesterday, too. Would they say this was the moment the U.S. Press vacated its right to a public trust, by disallowing any challenges to (or demands of accountability from) a presidential administration?
Back to Benedict: Although I understand, as some in the press appear not to, that he is utterly serious about withdrawing from the world (“I do not return to private life, to a life of travel, meetings, receptions, conferences and so on. I do not abandon the cross, but remain in a new way near to the Crucified Lord…”) I am rather hoping we’ll get a picture of the Pilgrim Pope Emeritus, in his simple robe and moccasins.
I have a sense it will be the most natural picture of him we have ever seen.
Rebecca Hamilton on the Washington side of things
Frank Weathers: To Embrace the Reality of Mystery
Ed Morrissey: the world’s most-watched job search
Thomas McDonald: Also thinking about passages and time