February 24, 2013
February 24, 2012
Genesee Tribute to Pope Benedict XVI
Homily of Fr. Isaac Slater, OCSO
Feast of the Chair of St. Peter
February 22, 2013
On this feast day celebrating the gift to the Church of the Chair of St. Peter, it’s impossible not to recall that in just a few days that Chair will be empty. In the long history of the Church, monks have become popes, but this may be the first time a pope has become a monk! It’s no coincidence Joseph Ratzinger chose the name “Benedict.”
St. Peter counsels pastors: “Do not lord it over those assigned to you, but be examples to your flock.” In less than a week, Pope Benedict’s last act of power will be to renounce power. How can we see in this act, an “example”—for bishops and clergy, religious, and the Church at large?
Jesus appears to his contemporaries to be a man like others, at most a prophet. By a special grace from the Father, Peter alone recognizes Jesus as “Christ” and “the Son of the living God.” He catches a glimpse of the great mystery by which, “though he was in the form of God, Jesus did not hold equality with God something to be grasped; rather he humbled himself and became man.” So Pope Benedict, in the image of his Master, has not counted equality with Peter as something to be grasped but humbles himself, even to becoming a monk.
“Do not lord it over those assigned you.” Christian authority is a radical subversion of the domination and violence of worldly power: The first must be last, and the greatest a servant. Too often through history the Church has simply transposed the lust for wealth and power that prevailed in the surrounding world into a “sacred” copy. Pope Benedict has kept alive the vision of a truly Christian authority. The freedom and humility he has shown in resigning from office is an expression of that faith on which the Church is built, a humble faith and non-attachment against which the gates of hell cannot prevail. Against a pseudo-church dominated by greed and the lust for power, the gates of hell have already prevailed.
In stepping down from office, the Pope has recognized and accepted his real limits. While it is true that “with God all things are possible,” it is also true that “grace builds on nature.” Both fortitude and prudence are virtues. Benedict could have toddled along for years, going progressively senile, clutching desperately to his office while the rest of the Church went to ruin. Putting the good of the Church before his own, he is stepping out of the way to make room for new life and new energy. He trusts the Spirit, and the Church, enough to know he doesn’t need to be the one to steer the ship.
Many aging religious communities in Europe and North America could follow his lead: instead of hoarding resources and turning their monasteries into state of the art multi-million dollar nursing-homes, why not close up shop and give the money to communities in Africa and South America… where there’s life!? Civil leaders and really anyone with an enviable position of influence can profit from Benedict’s example of putting the common good first; the freedom and detachment he’s shown in not holding “equality with Peter” as “something to be grasped.”
So we pray for Pope Benedict XVI as he leaves St. Peter’s and begins his life as a monk; we pray in thanksgiving to God for the gift of his singular witness and pray that his successor may show the same humble faith… against which the gates of the underworld… don’t stand a chance.
What does "the following of Christ" really mean? Is this following a real possibility for modern men and women? Does it perhaps even point out the only way of becoming and being a human person?
If so, then a Christian may assert that the following of Christ embodies the decisive possibility for the human race and that only this following brings to light the real nature of the enigma that is man.
To follow really means to go behind, to move in the direction prescribed, even if this direction is completely contrary to one's own wishes. Precisely because the word "follow" is meant so literally, it affects the innermost depths of the human person.
The words "Follow me!" contain, first of all, a summons to give up a precious calling. At a deeper level, however, they are a summons to give up one's very self in order to live entirely for him who, for his part, willed to live entirely for the Word of God: so much so that later reflection could recognize in him the incarnate Word of God himself.
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