The Papacy: A Time Of Decision

By Father John Walsh on February 12, 2013

Momentous occasions and defining moments are not everyday occurrences.  The sudden stepping down from the Chair of Saint Peter by Pope Benedict XVI was a worldwide surprise.  It was unexpected and unsettling.  The Papacy is in a time of transition and of decision.  

No one can predict the future and Benedict himself disclaimed limbo, so we are confronted with the challenge to discover new images and new metaphors to describe our present experience.  I happily recall the words of Pope John XXIII who, in his opening address at the Second Vatican Council, situated the Church at a new dawn, in need of an “aggiornamento,” an updating and a renewal of the Church. John XXIII offered us the image of a new dawn, John Paul II offered us the morning of new discoveries found in his world-wide travels and in the many firsts he brought to the community of the Church.  Now with the resignation of Benedict XVI we are in the afternoon of the life of the Church after having passed through the heat of the noonday. 

We passed through the heat of midday when we lived the pain and suffering of the priest pedophile scandal, the cover-up of the Bishops, the low morale of priests, the scarcity of vocations and empty churches.  Today we are invited to leave the beauty of the dawn, enter and leave the early morning of exploration and perhaps discontent, and slowly move into the afternoon when we learn of where we have been without any fear to enter where we have never been.  In the afternoon we experience a quiet and a denouement of what the day is offering us and we welcome the rest of the day with openness and with our attention focused on what is, not yet what will be.  We are content in the afternoon sun to appreciate each moment that seems to last beyond the moment we enjoy its warmth.  In the afternoon we relish our friendships and take long walks to appreciate all of creation’s gifts until the setting of the sun.  In the evening we take rest from the day and slowly prepare ourselves for a renewal of our bodies in relaxation and sleep.   

Vatican.jpgWe are in a momentous and defining moment of our Church when we can go forward without fear and cast out nets into the deep water.   We can take leisurely walks and relearn the Gospels to discover the person of the Risen Lord who is hidden and concealed within God and whose Spirit is within all of humanity.  In the afternoon we have time before the darkness sets and again envelops us in silence to invite humanity to abandon that which drives sisters and brothers apart and offer the Good News of forgiveness and reconciliation.  In the afternoon the Church disrupts and disturbs the world by its hope that tomorrow will come once more and faith will be renewed because the Good News is that God’s love will never fail to renew the Church when she is concerned for the good of all.  Faith is not a leap into the void but an invitation to walk with those who dare to walk together on the road that all humanity must walk – the road from death to life.  The Papacy of Benedict began with his encyclical God Is Love and though he traveled rough roads and reached dead ends, his courage to see himself as he is, unable to physically and spiritually lead all of us, the People of God, he leaves us to treasure the image he leaves us, an image of promise in the afternoon. The metaphor for leadership is one of service.  

There are also theological ramifications to the Pope’s resignation.  The Church as the People of God can now be emphasized and any sense of a papal Church is deemphasized with a rebirth of the grass-roots church Jesus intended, the Church led by the collegiality of the bishops replacing the theological affirmation of the pope as the Vicar of Christ, and the true head of the Church is the Risen Jesus who reveals God to us in the Jesus of the Gospels.  So it was that between interviews on CJAD in Montreal and CFRB in Toronto I prayed on the day of his resignation the psalm prayer of the Office of Readings for Monday:  “Lord God, you love mercy and tenderness; you give life and overcome death.  Look upon the many wounds of your Church; restore it to health by your risen Son, so that it may sing a new song in your praise.”


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