Pope Benedict XVI
This morning 85 year-old Pope Benedict announced his resignation – the first pope in over 600 years to do so. One main concern was his advancing age, and as the 5th oldest person to ever be elected (at the age of 78) – that is certainly understandable.
(You can read his official letter of resignation here)
Born Joseph Ratzinger, he spent much of his early years developing into a true academic theologian, serving as a professor of theology at several German universities and authoring 66 books to date – as recently as 2012.
Nicknamed “God’s Rottweiler” by many of his critics – Benedict’s legacy is certainly mixed. With speculated correlations between his resignation and the airing of HBO’s documentary “Mea Maxima Culpa” earlier this month, the blogosphere has been exploding with conjecture and supposition.
Despite these and other rumors, Benedict has been clear that his decision to resign was not made under duress, in accordance with the Cannon Law of the Catholic Church which states:
“If it should happen that the Roman Pontiff resigns his office (munus), it is required for validity that he makes the resignation freely and that it be duly manifested, but not that it be accepted by anyone.” (The Canon Law of the Catholic Church – Canon 332)
Truthfully – there are many details I am not privy to – and I’m pretty okay with that. Even if I somehow was aware of every aspect of this papacy – the decision making authority is not my own. Regardless of the rumored scandals and hearsay – I personally think that Pope Benedict XVI is one of the most significant religious thinkers of our era.
While it’s probably no surprise that I do not agree with every decision and position the pontiff has taken, I believe there is much wisdom to be gleaned from his life and ministry.
For example – in taking a strong Augustinian stance on the issue of human personhood, Benedict has helped make enormous strides in the religious arena to better understand humankind as a union of flesh and spirit, not simply a machine made up of nerves and cells that function as a machine to carry out tasks.
He has deeply embraced the theology of Imago Dei and stood valiantly against nihilistic ideologies that reduce human worth to notions of power and usefulness – speaking out boldly for those that many would consider to be a burden on society. He has many times articulated well that such people are not simply things but image bearers of a Creator God.
Benedict’s fervent efforts to live out a Gospel of grace has been evident in many, many ways .
Looking back on the last eight years of this papacy – it’s no surprise to me that years earlier Benedict would write these beautiful words:
“Love without truth is blind – truth without love is empty.”
You may not support every (or any) decision that is executed by the Vatican. You may disagree with the merging of civil and ecclesial power. There may be great affection for or great heartache towards the very crux of the Petrine ministry – but that, for me, in no way releases me from my responsibility to pray for the important men and women in these highly scrutinized positions of authority and leadership and to do battle for those who fight for the dignity and liberty of the human person at any level. Whether I believe someone is getting it all or even mostly right or not is never an excuse for my lack of prayer for them. Ever.
I think that it is strangely poetic that the last thing Benedict tweeted before his resignation this morning was:
“We must trust in the mighty power of God’s mercy. We are all sinners, but His grace transforms us and makes us new.”
The beauty and scandal of the cross is that, wherever you stand, the invitation for new life beckons – it cries out. Whether pope or pauper the empty tomb proclaims to sin, death, scandal, and heartache that they do not have the last word – that in Christ Jesus, we are free. In Christ Jesus we are redeemed. His grace – this scandalous, unsettling grace truly does make us new.
So let’s pray for this pope as well as the next one – as we also pray that God continues to stir in us the mysteries of his restoration as well – and let us celebrate the divine invitation of a heavenly Father who loves us in our brokenness and poverty.
If you are thirsty, come here; come, there’s water for all. Whoever is poor and penniless can still come and buy the food I sell. There’s no cost—here, have some food, hearty and delicious, and beverages, pure and good.
I don’t understand why you spend your money for things that don’t nourish or work so hard for what leaves you empty. Attend to Me and eat what is good; enjoy the richest, most delectable of things.
Listen closely, and come even closer. My words will give life, for I will make a covenant with you that cannot be broken. – Isaiah 55:1-3 (The Voice)