|I grant you a somber audience with Pope Benedict XV. We soldier on.|
I watch the papal abdication with two hearts: first is that of a convert, the skeptic who still sees the fracas as it must look to the secular or Protestant world. Why the fawning, the tears? Why so much love for a man we only ever see waving from balcony? Why is it startling to see him waving from much smaller balcony in a castle just a few miles away from the previous balcony? Why will all of this love be poured out onto the new pope immediately, when most Catholics won't know a shred of his biography?
We recognize the teaching authority, the fate of tradition and our own pastoral needs to be a real and pressing concern to one man. We love Jesus and the church He built, without which we would be adrift in this world. (As an Alaskan kid I've adored all the nautical metaphor PBXVI has used, from the 'digital frontier' infographics a few years ago to the ship as a logo for this Year of Faith. His words yesterday were also peppered with references to the sea and fishermen. Dug it.) We are the children of God, who find not an austere or legalistic pompous parade, but a humble and diligent father who serves our wounded nature with his prayers and guidance. We will love the next pope just as soon as he's revealed to us, because of his awesome duties. We revere Mary because she said Yes. Any soul who echoes her stoic assent is a hero to us.
The answers to these questions are real to me, at my core. This second dimension of my heart finds solace in the two thousand years (and counting) of sojourn which doesn't slow down for anyone. I imagine variations of these questions are asked by many who observe the Catholic world during such a historic time. I know this much --- I wasn't emotional on this day, although my husband and I stood fairly frozen in our pajamas, watching the Today Show's coverage. It wasn't difficult to watch until I saw a rotund little Italian grandmother weeping under the balcony at Castel Gandolfo. She is my sister. She may worship in rags, without upholstered kneelers and perfect acoustics in her parish. She may bear sickness or health in her bones, and I will never know her name. But we're of the same heart, a pilgrims' heart that weeps for the loss of our Holy Father. And he's tired. It's impossible not to see the visage of our fading grandparents, in his face.
I called my own father this morning while running errands around my little city, feeling a bit like the bereaved who watch resentfully as the world keeps spinning around them. "Why do the traffic lights have the gall to just tick along when there's no Pope?" "The Chair of Peter has been vacated, and I'm going to the dentist?" Experience tells me there's comfort to be found in our vocations, and taking care of business --- so after Mass I set about the routine needs of personal healthcare. I was annoyed that the oral surgeon had a fancy inverted cabinet mounted on the wall, containing boxes of latex gloves in various sizes. A box for a box? I was relieved when the dentist entered the room and I saw his very mortal, jagged teeth. My mind flashed on churches without pews. Babies without medicine. I thought of Mother Teresa's words to the American people about our poverty. The poverty of loneliness. Maybe that's why I reached out for the voice of my daddy, which resonates like no other voice on earth to me. Time has not stopped if I can still get my dad on the phone.
The work of a father is tiring, and obviously Pope Benedict XVI has had to contend with duties beyond that of holy shepherd. His administrative calendar has been riddled with difficulty these past few years, and he's kept the wolves at bay to the best of his abilities. That he surmises the demands now outpace his abilities and declares it necessary to step aside --- it's a choice we can only respect.
From today's Mass reading --- so fitting as we take on the demands of praying for the new Pope.
Jeremiah 17: Thus says the LORD: "Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his arm, whose heart turns away from the LORD.
|6||He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land.|
|7||"Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD.|
|8||He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit."|
|9||The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?|
|10||"I the LORD search the mind and try the heart, to give to every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings."|