For the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics and the Christian community writ large, the end of a papacy is a very emotional moment. It has been nearly eight centuries since a pope has resigned the office. Typically, when the chair of St. Peter is vacant, it is due to martyrdom or death.
So to see a pope set the mitre down on his own volition — and alive — is a moment of great humility:
When a pope is chosen, he is asked at the moment of his election what his new name will be. This is in the tradition of the prophets of old — whenever God chooses someone for a ministry, He changes their name: Abram to Abraham, Elisha to Elijah, Simon to Peter, Mary to Full of Grace, Saul to Paul…
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI sounds rather awkward, but it is loyal to the nature of his ministry. Today the Catholic Church is without a pope, and a new conclave will elect a new pontifex maximus — a bridge builder — to lead the Catholic Church into the 21st century and beyond.
In many ways, today was the end of the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI’s predecessor, Pope St. John Paul the Great. Yet in many others, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger does not deserve a second-place status to his predecessor. Benedict XVI was every bit his own theologian, not a sidekick but truly a partner — a bridge? — between the work John Paul II began and the work the next pope must accomplish.
Benedict XVI was placed to steer the ship amidst some of the worst storms and persecutions imaginable — both from outside the Church and from within. Outside, the threat of communist China and the “dictatorship of relativism” still looms. Within the Church, schism and divisions, power struggles over orthodoxy and heterodoxy, the accommodation of the Anglican Church and the SSPX, relations with the Orthodox Church, and our protestant cousins notwithstanding — the scandals between the Vatican Bank and the pederasty crisis continued to loom large, only fueling the viciousness of the secular left’s attack on the Catholic Church. Modern secularism continues to chip away while the threat of radicalized Islam continues to persist.
Catholicism remains one of the last remaining bastions not affected by the modern age. Through mass media, the threat of international Communism, the French Revolution, and even the Reformation it has steadfastly refused to submit. Her 2,000 year history and the monsters the Church has destroyed before make Obamacare look petty in the sight of Catholics who know the true nature and history of the Deposit of Faith.
…yet Catholics are most certainly under threat worldwide.
Catholics and faithful Christians everywhere pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit as the new papal conclave begins to meet in Rome. Our bishops and cardinals have never been in more need of the prayers of the faithful. Our priests most of all. The laity — the body of Christ — must assert its role as members of the laity and do much more to take back what we have lost to the state, consumerism, and political religions.
In short, we need the New Evangelization.