“Pope Benedict has announced that he is resigning.” Mother M. Regina Pacis spoke these words on February 11, 2013 at 6:00 a.m. just before we started Holy Mass. These are the words that bolted me awake on a morning when I was severely struggling to stay awake during Morning Office and meditation. I was completely shocked. Of all the announcements I may have been expecting, this one was not on my radar.
As my day continued, I started to process this shock and what it meant for the Church and for myself. At the age of 27, I have only known two Popes within my life. The first is my patron, Pope John Paul II. The second is Pope Benedict XVI. Both of these men have had a profound impact on the world and within my own life.
In 2002, at age 16, I traveled to Toronto for World Youth Day (WYD), Pope John Paul II’s last. I was a typical small-town, public-school teenager involved with sports, music, and academics. In between all of this I also crammed my faith in. I was aware of my local Church area and had an idea of what it meant to be part of the Diocese of La Crosse and how we were interconnected as a large Church body within the whole world. It was in Toronto that one, holy, apostolic, and Catholic became more than Church marks that I had memorized for Confirmation. It was here that I really began to understand what it meant to be part of the universal Church. Here there were thousands of people on fire for their faith, most of them young. We all spoke different languages and came from countries ranging from the U.S to Canada to France to Korea to Brazil and beyond. Despite our differences and because of our shared faith which united us on a much deeper level, we were able to communicate.
Looming above all these people was Pope John Paul II. I knew who he was and the role that he played within the Church, yet I never really thought much beyond these facts. In Toronto, I grew to realize that he really was a shepherd and a father to all of us within the Church. Here was a man who was extremely frail due to age and illness; yet, one would never realize it by the way he reached out to each person there. One man with no discernible fame in the common usage of the word could set a vast crowd cheering for him yelling out “JPII, we love you.” His response was, “John Paul loves you, too.” He was one who showed us what it meant to love Christ, to love God’s people and his Church, and not count the cost.
In March/April of 2005, I was a college freshman. I remember quite clearly following the news and waiting to hear that my beloved Pope had died. It was with a profound sense of sadness and one of love that I was listening to all that was happening. When Pope Benedict was elected and I heard that WYD in Cologne would still be taking place I wondered what the difference would be. In Germany, with our new Pope, the atmosphere was much the same. I could still look out and wonder at the universal Church in action. Once again, among all the people gathered, the Pope stood out. One knew that he was the shepherd and father of the universal Church and that he embraced his role with great love and concern for his flock.
At WYD 2008 I felt Pope Benedict, as Christ’s vicar and spokesman, really speaking to my heart. It was here at the closing Mass that he said the words, “One mission is better than a thousand options.” I had just finished my fourth year of college, having jumped around a bit and changed majors. I was fighting God about a religious vocation. On one hand, I knew I was called and had begun to realize the beauty of religious life. On the other hand, I was still clinging to the idea of doing things my way, even if I was not completely satisfied. It was these words that really helped me to embrace the truth that living and loving God’s Will in my life was better than any option I could conceive on my own, no matter how I might justify it.
Pope Benedict has given the Church much during his time in the office of Pope. He has endured many trials while remaining firmly grounded in and courageously preaching our faith. During his time, he has left us a treasury of teaching to unfold. His Angelus message of 2/10/13 proclaims: “It is the work of God. Man is not the author of his own vocation, but he replies to the divine proposal; and human weakness must not trouble us if God calls. We must have confidence in His strength, which acts precisely in our poverty; we must more and more place our trust in the power of His mercy, which transforms and renews.” Our Holy Father was speaking of vocations to the priesthood and religious life but to me this is also a commentary for the whole Church.
It is in God’s hands that the Church and her people lie. Though we may not always understand God’s workings, we have confidence in His plan. Reflecting upon Pope Benedict’s resignation, I was sad but also grateful for his work and his docility to God. I received it in confidence, knowing that the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit.- Sister Karol Marie, FSGM