The resignation of Benedict XVI is an historical event. I have no desire to evaluate his papacy. There are already many much more qualified than I who are doing that. I do believe, however, that his choice to resign is an act of profound humility and great personal courage. He shows he does not cling to power as so many of the curia and hierarchy seem to do.
At his final public audience Benedict XVI said: “Loving the church also means having the courage to make tough choices, suffering, having always before you the good of the church and not yourself”. While he was speaking of his own choice to retire from the papacy, these words also offer both insight and encouragement to many others in the church who have made and are making very difficult decisions. In a tweet around Christmas he also said: the way to live the Year of Faith in our daily life is “by speaking with Jesus in prayer, listening to what he tells you in the Gospel and looking for him in those in need.” Both of these statements offer encouragement to folks who feel a call to address what they perceive as inadequacies in the current church institutional system.
Few in the hierarchy would argue with Benedict’s words. However, they, as an institution, would say they are they only ones qualified to tell folks just how to live them in their own lives. They see any challenge to them as a challenge to God. Not much is more arrogant than that. Talk about self-righteousness . . . one can only wonder how this will play out in the conclave.
As many good folks are showing us these days, it is possible to love the church and still take issue with it. Loving the church does not mean walking in lockstep and blindly without serious thought accepting every single word that comes from leadership as if from Jesus himself. Many folks are paying severe penalties for even questioning dictates of the hierarchy. Anyone who is in favor of women priests or optional celibacy, or who want the church to get out of their bedroom, is in for a rough ride. The same is true for any who are in favor of same sex marriage or who resent the church’s attempt to impose the hierarchy’s goals and standards on the American citizenry by lobbying to get laws passed which would do just that, or who object to their friends being labeled as “intrinsically disordered”. They object to the current hierarchy’s position that only the the catholic institution’s party line truly deserves the constitutionally declared religious freedom, while other viewpoints or traditions have no rights.
Few of these folks really want to be in the position they are in. Fr Tony Flannery freely admits that being denied the ability to minister in the Church is causing him a lot of pain. The same goes for Fr Roy Bourgeois, for the sisters of the LCWR, and numerous others who have been censured or silenced by the all-knowing hierarchy. They show us the price that may have to be paid by any who try sincerely to live Benedict’s words themselves.
There is also a wonderful and prophetic local catholic community whose parish was closed by the bishop. The parishioners formed their own community and asked the pastor to serve as their pastor, which he is. While Rome ordered the parish reopened, the community remains by itself. It is a model for ministry, liturgy, community involvement, and service.
Who is to say that any of these folks do not love the Church? They demonstrate that they have the courage to make tough choices and endure suffering. Who is to say that they are not speaking with Jesus in prayer, listening to what Jesus tells them in the Gospel, and looking for him in people in need? Who is to say that their positions are not in response to what they see and experience around them? They are prayerfully following their own conscience, which the hierarchy says in wrong because they are daring to think for themselves and not accepting the conscience their hierarchy would impose on them. In our tradition there is a lot to be said for following one’s conscience, but it can be very costly. But, “you gotta do what you gotta do”.
In today’s Gospel Story (Luke 13:1-9) the people think that those who have experienced tragedy are being punished for their sins. Similar attitudes abound today, especially among folks who viciously judge and condemn any who do not share their viewpoints on whatever, or who do not toe the “official” church party line. Jesus tells them they are wrong, and reminds them to repent, to stop judging others, or they will find hard times.
None of us has the right to impose our views, no matter how noble we think they are, on others. None of us knows others’ stories or journeys. We repent by trying our best to live Benedict’s words in our own lives. When we are serious about this our focus needs to be on what Jesus speaks to us in the setting of our own journey and whatever is going in with us at the time, telling us about how to live, not on how we are to tell others how to live. Self-righteousness is easy to come by. It makes us feel superior when we know others who disagree with us are wrong. Its kind of like wearing our own silk, lace, funny hats, and bling, and making ourselves the supreme arbiters of other folks morality.
Benedict demonstrated great humility. Perhaps this is a lesson we might all learn, especially me.
Just sayin . . .