Benedict XVI: Epitome of humility

on in Ian, Ian J. Riñon, Opinion
Benedict XVI: Epitome of humility
by Ian Joseph Riñon

The Church all over the world was shocked by the intent of Pope Benedict XVI to resign from the papacy, but it is absolutely clear that he did it for the welfare of the Church and because he inevitably believes someone who has a stronger body and a more willful mind than him can exceed him in effectively managing the Kingdom of God upon the earth. Benedict will resign as Pope effective February 28, 20:00H, Rome time (March 1, 03:00H, Philippine time), and is the first to do so after about 600 years. However, two weeks before the sede vacante period, many Catholics and several other secular media agencies sense a power struggle among the Cardinals, as well as who are the best contenders for the Papacy, which the Vatican shrugged off. And this single act had a lot of meaning, not only for the Church, but also in the world of politics.

Joseph Ratzinger and other Bishops Emeriti of Rome

Tomorrow, Pope Benedict XVI would be reduced to the clerical state as a bishop by virtue of renunciation to the Petrine ministry. As to the specific protocol on if he can have the privilege of wearing the white cassock out of his former ministry as Pope, it is all confirmed: after eight in the evening on the 28th in Rome, he would still wear the white cassock and will be called as “His Holiness Benedict XVI, Bishop Emeritus of Rome”.

As it was said earlier, he was the first to resign since Pope Gregory XII, who resigned in 1415. Gregory is the last Pope of the Roman faction of the Western Schism that tore the Church’s leadership apart in the late Middle Ages. His competitors were Antipope John XXIII in Pisa (NOT the Pope who called the Second Vatican Council which was also called “John XXIII”) and Antipope Benedict XIII in Avignon. Pope Gregory resigned as a negotiation with the two antipopes that they would also resign and that all factions would vote for someone which all cardinals would agree upon. And in 1417, the conclave declared Odo Colonna as Pope Martin V, thus ending the Western Schism.

Another Pope who resigned was Pope Celestine V. Prior to the papacy, Pietro di Morrone was a simple Benedictine-offshoot monk who lived quite far from Rome or from the Papal States; but when the College of Cardinals were so desperate to elect a Pope after two years of sede vacante following the death of Pope Nicholas IV in 1292, the Dean, a certain Latino Malabranca voted for Pietro di Morrone and the cardinals unanimously agreed. Pietro does not want to accept his election to the papacy, but inevitably, he was made Pope on July 5 1294. Since he is reluctant of the position given to him, as well as because his critics observed his poor management of the Church, Pope Celestine V resigned on December 13 of the same year and wished to go back to his monastery before he was tapped to lead the Church. But his successor, Pope Boniface VIII was fearful that his enemies would have Pietro Angelerio (the former Pope’s baptismal name) installed as antipope; so Boniface hunted Pietro down and locked him in a castle in Ferentino, within the Papal States, where Pietro eventually died. Pope Celestine V was canonized in 1313.

Pope Benedict XVI was fascinated with the story of Celestine’s papacy that he offered the pallium he wore in his inauguration Mass in 2005 as a gift. No one expected that Benedict would follow Celestine’s footsteps.

Last Feb. 11, Rome time, Pope Benedict read in Latin his intent to resign from the papacy as “a decision of great importance for the life of the Church.” He finds his old age and deteriorating health as the reasons of his resignation.

“After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God,” he started, “I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.”

The Pontiff added, “…[I]n today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.”

He will have a few more final activities to attend before he boards a helicopter from the Vatican to Castel Gandolfo on 17:00H of February 28 (March 1, 00:00, Philippine time). His future home, the Mater Ecclesiae monastery within Vatican walls, is still under repair; so the outgoing Pope would spend two months in the Papal summer residence before returning to the Vatican to retire in prayer.

Papal contenders, media spins

Just as fast as the news of the Pope’s resignation reached all kinds of media outlet, so did the news of the cardinals who are likely to be the next Pope.

Names like Tarcisio Bertone (Secretary of State), Jorge Bergoglio (Archbishop of Buenos Aires), Angelo Scola (Archbishop of Milan), Gianfranco Ravasi (President, Pontifical Council for Culture), Norberto Carrera (Archbishop of Mexico City), Leonardo Sandri (Argentinian Cardinal, Prefect of the Congragation for the Oriental Churches), Marc Ouellet (Canadian Cardinal, Prefect for the Congregation for Bishops), Christoph Schonborn (Archbishop of Vienna, known for being a liberal-minded cardinal), Peter Turkson (Ghanan Cardinal, Prefect of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace), Timothy Dolan (Archbishop of New York), and Luis Antonio Tagle (Archbishop of Manila) appear to be the likely candidates for the papacy as reported by mainstream media: In short, “papabili” (plural for “papabile”).

Another pain in the neck is the media’s signature paraphrasing and framing.

Shiela Liaugminas of MercatorNet ranted, “I couldn’t let nonsense pass without remark or challenge. Or, with fraternal charity, the exhortation to try harder to do better the task we journalists have to seek and report the truth. And seeking is easier these days with global digital access to archives and every thought and utterance expressed in some detectable form.” (More of her statement here.)

But as far as I am concerned, each Catholic should not “place their bets” on who would be Benedict’s successor, because the faithful are not the ones voting, but only the cardinals through the guidance of the Holy Spirit; non-voters and spectators may influence, but it is better if mainstream media should have focused on what the next Pope should consider in his reign, as well as the faithful to consider falling on their knees and praying that the cardinals would elect a worthy successor for Benedict.

Pressed from all sides

Truly, the Church is pressed from all sides.

From the left: the contraceptive mentality; as well as other moral issues like divorce; abortion; euthanasia; same-sex marriage; banalized and Protestantized interpretation of the liturgy in the Novus Ordo and Catholic teachings; ultra-liberalism in how some activists view the Church; anti-Catholic sentiments in atheism, secularism, and sometimes, Sola Scriptura geeks. Bible-based non-Catholic Christians, though may act as the Church’s left flank, is a potential enemy.

From the right: Ultratraditionalism, manifested on irregulars like the Society of St, Pius X (SSPX), acting as the Church’s right flank, which have splintered into those who are sympathetic to unifying with Rome and those who are excessively proud and refused the invitation of the Church to return, thus endangering themselves in venturing into Sedevacantism; other issues include: arrogance, tyrany, etc.

From the front: Oppressive states, radical anti-Catholic leaders, and anti-religious activists

From the rear: nominal Catholics; dissident clergy, religious, and laity; poorly-taught catechists, teachers, and theology professors; and a “laid back” faithful.

In all sides, the devil can have a share of the fight with these attackers of the Church. And in reality, this should be one of the most important things that the next Pope should consider. The Year of Faith might also be a factor to consider on how he would run the Church in these times.


Just to add: In my four years in taking Communication Arts, I have discovered and am fascinated with the SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) used in integrated marketing communications (IMC).

In this case, the Church’s SWOT analysis is the following:

Strengths – numbers, sympathy, originality, contibutions to culture, sciences, and society

Weaknesses – laid back, laxing adherents; leaders prone to sin and controversies

Opportunities – social media evangelization, wide reach

Threats – secularism, and all other issues pressing the Church as stated above.


A lesson in politics, a lesson of humility

So what does this imply, you say?

Aside being a manifestation of the Catholic Church’s longevity, the Pope’s resignation also imply that there are two lessons learned here:

First, in politics, it is considered taboo that politicians, specifically those who hold government positions, to resign from their posts if they felt that their capacity seems to be absent all along. Japanese politicians are like that. Somehow, in the Philippine setting, the resignation of Pope Benedict seems to be a slap in the face of those who wanted to stay in power. Somehow, the Pope’s resignation teaches everyone that there is a termination date for every responsibility held, and that time is not on a politician’s side.

But more important than a political lesson, the Pope’s resignation rekindled the sense of humility, in which Pope Benedct have been an epitome of. He never hid his weaknesses and disadvantages being an old man elected in the papacy. He has examined his conscience very well, and extensively discerned that though the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak. Most men and women deny their weaknesses and pretend they are fine (and I admit I am one of them). But the Pope promoted honesty, in the bottom line. If the Pope can do it, I guess everyone should imitate him for his humility.

Mary, Mother of the Church

Prior to Pentecost, the early Church, composed of the Apostles and a number of other disciples, are accompanied by the Blessed Mother in prayer. The presence of Mary, the Spouse and Temple of the Holy Spirit, strengthened the Apostles in their prayer for the Holy Spirit to arrive.

And arrived He did, and the Catholic Church was born.

As promised by Christ, Peter led the Church until he was replaced by Linus in AD 64. And since then, the succession of leadership in the Church of Rome, and in the Universal Church, never ceased, even if it is sandwiched with interregnums. The Lord is with us, as well as His most holy Mother, in this time of shock and gratitude to His Vicar in his last days as Pope.

We now hope and pray that the conclave that would replace Pope Benedict XVI would work out well; and we pray for an equally-competent Pope that would continue God’s plan of the salvation of souls.

But for now, we should pray with Mary, Mother of the Church, and wait for the white smoke from the Sistine Chapel.


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