The Holy Father’s radical fidelity to God’s will

The sound of an arriving text message awoke me. It was from a close friend and it told me that the Holy Father had resigned. I read it and thought, “This cannot be true.” I immediately went to the Vatican website and saw the news. I will never forget that day.

None of us expected to see the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. We are surprised, curious about the reasons, and awaiting a new shepherd. And in the surprise and the curiosity and the anticipation of a new pope, we may have missed something very important. Pope Benedict’s resignation is an example of radical fidelity to the will of God.

If you’ve met the Holy Father, you know firsthand that he is a man of deep prayer—that he is a true disciple of Jesus Christ. If you’re like me, you have been grateful for the leadership of Pope Benedict XVI, and very proud of what he’s done over the past eight years. The Church has been blessed by his ministry.

The more the truth of his resignation has set in, the more my heart has become sad. I will truly miss him—his wisdom, gentle spirit, joy and his teachings and homilies.

I have no doubt that Pope Benedict’s resignation was the fruit of his personal prayer and the genuine discernment of God’s will. The Holy Father, an 85-year-old man, and the Supreme Pontiff of the Church, spends time in personal prayer every day asking the Father what he should be doing—and then he listens. He speaks heart to heart with God.

It is easy for all of us, especially adults, to get into routines and patterns, to expect that we have a clear sense of what God wants from us. But if the Holy Father, at 85, can discover that God is calling him to something completely new—we need to be open to that as well.

It took great humility, honesty, courage and holiness on Benedict’s part to do what he did. Only a man of deep faith, with a profound trust in the Father’s love for him in a personal way, could make his decision. His love for Christ and the Church were his motives for his resignation. He desires what is best for the Church.

The next chapter of Benedict’s life will be a challenge. To dedicate your life entirely to prayer is not easy. To live in a cloistered monastery is not easy. Pope Benedict is not retiring to sunny beaches, the mountains or a Sicilian vineyard. He is beginning a new and difficult task because God has called him.

That is a lesson for all of us.

I pray that each of us will be as open to the Father’s will in our lives as Pope Benedict has been. And I ask that each of you will join me in prayer for the cardinals of the Church who will travel to Rome, and with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, select the next Roman pontiff. Christ promised to be with the Church to the end. He promised that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against her.” With hearts of trust and confidence, similar to Benedict’s, we put all of what is to come in the hands of the true head of the Church, Jesus Christ.

Join me in thanking God for Pope Benedict’s ministry. Join me in praying for the next shepherd of our Church.  And join me in spending each day asking the Lord how he is calling us to serve him, to know him and to love him.

COMING UP: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

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Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.

Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash