A Father’s Farewell, Shepherding Us Forward

A Father’s Farewell, Shepherding Us Forward February 27, 2013

Cardinals have gathered in Rome to say goodbye to Pope Benedict, to thank him, and to focus in prayer and deliberation on the papal conclave to come, to elect a new man to the Chair of St. Peter.

They do so with full knowledge that there is deep renewal (see George Weigel here) and reform (see George Weigel here) that needs to happen in Rome and throughout the world. The Holy Father has set the lead, focusing the Church on catechesis — creed! –- and prayer.

This next role, one of spending his final days in prayer, might just be the most powerful role of Joseph Ratzinger’s life.

On the eve of his flight to Rome, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, New York’s Timothy Cardinal Dolan, spoke a little about the need for reform, acknowledging the reality of the Church in the world, full of sin, and also grace.

Dolan started first by addressing some of the recent allegations surrounding Wikileaks and gossip surrounding Vatican leaks. He cautioned:

Even from a human, earthly logical point of view it seems that we would react by saying, “Whoa, wait a minute. All of this is speculation. All of this is opinion, all of this is innuendo, gossip, whispering.” We really don’t know what it says, do we? I presume there’s only four people who know what it is says … namely the Pope and the three Cardinals. By the way, what a credit to Pope Benedict that when all this started he said, “I want this looked into and I don’t want any stone left unturned. You find out the news and however difficult it is for me to see, I still want to see it.” So that was laudable, right? So we really don’t know what it says.”

And he added a bit of caution:

“Not that we would ever lose our sense of shock, but we know that the Church is not spared sin, right? The church is sinless; her members aren’t. … The Church, the mystical body of Christ, the spotless bride of Christ, the presence of Jesus on Earth, the Church is sinless. Her members – and the two are pretty closely tied together –- her members are not. So from the beginning we’ve had sin, we’ve had corruption, we’ve had scandal. This can do one of two things from a spiritual point of view, from an otherworldly point of view. Either it can sicken us and so nauseate us that we say, “I don’t want to be part of this Church.” Or, it can say, “You know what, this does sicken me, this does nauseate me, but the Holy Spirit sure must be in charge of the Church because we’ve been going for 2,000 years in the midst of all this garbage.”

That disgust, that adament outrage and horror echoes the Holy Father. And it is backed up by action throughout the Church — with the United States in a leading reform role. And yet we know, even in our diligence: There will be other sins. There will be other failings. That’s not an excuse. That doesn’t make us work any less harder to be pure and to protect, most especially, innocent children. We also must know what we are facing, where we are living, the reality of evil, even as we are vigilant.

Cardinal Dolan continued, on his Catholic Channel radio show Monday:

[A critic of the Church] said, “You know, as a historian and as no fan of the Catholic Church, I have to admit that the Catholic Church is divinely inspired because no mere human institution run with such knavish imbecility” — those were his words — “would have survived a fortnight.” So even he was saying, in one way, the very things that, from a natural point of view, would sicken us — sin, corruption, scandal in the life of the Church — really ends up enhancing our faith because we know that in spite of ourselves, in spite of the sin, the church continues to flourish, doesn’t it? What did St. Paul say? “Where sin abounds…” — and what you’re saying is that unfortunately sin does abound in the members of the Church, sin even abounds within the Vatican — “Where sin abounds, Grace abounds all the more.”

I daresay, this is, in no small part, why the Holy Father has made the decision he has to step aside as pope. We need prayers! We need a vigor he no longer has, that he no longer believes God needs him to pray for for himself. I’ve watched this man for almost eight years, unmistakably asking the Lord to guide the boat of St. Peter, as he put it this morning.

He walks in no small way with Mary, as she keeps Him close to our Lord, pleading for him for the strength he needs.

We’ve got to be for real. Sometimes we won’t be. That’s why we need a Savior! That’s why we need to help one another know our Savior, know how deeply and dearly loved you are! Know how deeply and dearly loved you are!

You can begin by simply asking God: Help me know your love. Help me rest in your peace. And we pray for one another.

Set out to pray. God will take it from there. That’s a bit of the message Pope Benedict XVI. And so he will!

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