February 12, 2013
What a tremendous surprise awaited us on Monday morning, February 11, 2013! No warning! No anticipation of this historic event! On that historic Monday I was at St. Mary’s Seminary where I presided at the conferral of the Ministry of Lector the day before, my phone rang at 6:00am. I thought it was my alarm. “The Pope has resigned” I heard from a brother priest in Amarillo. I could not believe what I heard.
At first I was shocked! Then, as I reflected on Pope Benedict’s decision, I had different thoughts. I was last in his presence at the Canonization of our two newest American saints, Marianne Cope and Kateri Tekakwitha in late October, 2012. He looked well then. However, by New Year’s Day, he did not appear so well.
I reflected, “How courageous is this Pope”, that he would set aside the Office of the Petrine Ministry and cease being the Pope for the sake of the People of God of the Catholic Church! He knew the energy required to minister to 1.2 billion Catholics. He did not have that strength anymore; so for “The Good of the Faith” he decided to step down. Precedent not-with-standing, other popes have resigned; yet knowing the pressure to continue until death, for our good, he chose to resigned.
A second thought I had was this; only a very humble man could do this. Only a truly spiritual man would do this. After much prayer and reflection…in my conscience before God I am certain of this decision. Who can argue with that!
When Joseph Ratzinger was elected to fill the Chair of St. Peter as the bishop of Rome, and thus the Pope, many said that he couldn’t follow Pope John Paul II. Carol Karol Wojtyla was elected; he brought his gifts and his personality to the papacy. John Paul II was very charismatic and gave the Church an image of warmth and welcome to the world. Joseph Ratzinger brought his gifts. Through the gift of his mind and his wisdom he helped to enlighten some of the great theological mysteries of the Christian Faith and help the faithful and non-churched alike, to better understand and live these mysteries in their daily lives.
Though different personalities, they each told the same story…God’s tremendous love for human beings. Pope Benedict’s contribution to the Church came in the form of helping us to discover anew the Truth of our Faith, the Beauty of God, the Freedom that comes from following Christ and the Call to Unity both in the Church and of all of humanity.
I have personally met Pope Benedict over 20 times. He was always very warm and welcoming. He knew that I was from Amarillo. He always stated “You have many Mexicans in the diocese”. I would respond yes, along with many other refugees from many, many other countries. He always inquired, “What are you doing to welcome them and integrate them into the Church? Are you helping them to integrate into the civic society also?” He was also concerned about the relationship between Catholics and Evangelical Christians in the diocese. He was pleased with what was happening in Amarillo.
Needless to say, I will miss him! It will seem strange when I return to Rome. He is still living, but not the Pope! In a way, my final thought is, “This is almost like a death!” I will mourn his absence.
However, I will also pledge my love, fidelity and obedience to his successor…whoever he may be. I also ask each of you to join with me in praying for his health…that God may grant him peace and comfort.
I am also asking each parish to offer one of the weekend Masses for on Sunday, February 24, the Second Sunday of Lent and the last Sunday in which he will preside over the Catholic Church as Pope. Let us pray in thanksgiving for his Petrine Ministry and his solicitude for the Universal Church.