Forget Speculation; Search for Spiritual Truth

by Bishop Michael Duca

On February 11, I awoke to the unexpected announcement that Our Holy Father, Benedict XVI, was resigning as pope effective February 28, 2013 at 8:00 p.m.  I anticipate that when you receive this month’s Catholic Connection, near the first of March, several things have or will soon have begun. Since there is no need to wait the required days for mourning the death of the previous pope, the Conclave will be called quickly in the first weeks of March and may already be underway, or soon will be. Certainly you are overwhelmed with an overload of predictions, opinions and viewpoints from the secular press and media, concerning not only who the next pope will be, but also what the next Holy Father will change in the Church.

It is my hope that you have not been caught up in this endless stream of drama, but see that there is a deeply spiritual side to this moment in history. Unfortunately the secular media mostly seem to understand the Church as a kind of corporation or organization where decisions about dogma are made by the pope reacting to public sentiment or opinion. Of course we know the Holy Father’s primary mission is to receive the faith handed down from the apostles to this generation, and to keep that truth the same so it can be handed on to the next generation of believers. In fact, the Holy Father’s mission is to preserve the faith, not change it.  It is true that it falls to the Holy Father to proclaim the Good News in ways that are understood to the present age, to apply the Gospel to new challenges, to seek justice for all in the unique circumstances of life in countries throughout the world.  So while the pope has many opportunities to make an original impact on the Church, he does not do it by changing the unchanging parts of Catholic teaching.  Forget about all the speculation because it is just that, speculation. Our hope in this time of change, will be found in the spiritual truth of our faith. We believe the Holy Spirit is at work in this process and the Church is always bigger than even the pope.

This can be seen a little clearer through the consideration that most popes die in office, rather than resign, because it reminds us that the pope is a spiritual father more than a CEO of a big corporation.  (A president or CEO is elected or hired and will go out of office, or can be fired.  A father, on the other hand, is a father for life).

Remaining in office is also a way to show absolute surrender to the will of God who, through the Holy Spirit, chose the Holy Father for this ministry.  It reminds us that the ultimate authority and assurance of the Church’s survival is not in the pope but in Jesus Christ, who established the Church on the Rock of  Peter and continues to guide its growth and stability through the Holy Spirit guiding the Vicar of Christ on earth.

My mother summed this up for me when I was young and did not want to go to Mass because I thought the sermon was boring. She said, “You do not go to Mass because of the sermon (or the music or for how it makes you feel) you go to receive the Eucharist and to hear the Gospel. Now get in the car!”  In her clear wisdom she taught me that we do not go through the Church to get to God, we encounter Christ in the Church, in the sacraments and in the Body of Christ. It is true that the Mass is better when the music is good and the sermon inspiring and the pope is more effective in some ways when he is filled with energy.  But when these are lacking, the Church is still the Church and Christ is still with us.

I think in this moment of history, Pope Benedict made a selfless act in stepping aside for the good of the Church.  We now are watching the wonderful unfolding of this mystery of the working of the Holy Spirit in our Church. Our response to this mystery unfolding before us should not be speculation or posturing of position, but rather our response should be prayer. Let us pray this prayer, in this Year of Faith, for the pope who is to be chosen.

Prayer for the Church
In anticipation of the Vacancy of the See of St. Peter, O Lord Jesus Christ, Supreme Pastor of Your Church, we thank you for the ministry of Pope Benedict XVI and the selfless care with which he has led us as Successor of Peter, and Your Vicar on earth.
Good Shepherd, who founded Your Church on the rock of Peter’s faith and have never left Your flock untended, look with love upon us now, and sustain Your Church in faith, hope, and charity.
Grant, Lord Jesus, in Your boundless love for us, a new pope for Your Church who will please You by his holiness and lead us faithfully to You, who are the same yesterday, today, and forever. Amen.

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