Friday, February 15, 2013

Rick Malloy, S.J., on Pope Benedict's Decision!

 Pope Benedict XVI Steps Down.
 Richard G. Malloy, S.J., Ph.D.
Vice President for University Mission and Ministry, the University of Scranton
(Front Page Story in the University of Scranton's paper, the Aquinas, Feb 15 2013)

This week we saw something that hasn’t happened in 719 years.  A Pope resigned.  This is a wise and humble choice on the part of Benedict XVI.  He has led the church since 2005, taking over from the charismatic and beloved John Paul II.  Admittedly more shy and less media savvy and charismatic than his predecessor, Benedict has charmed many he visited, e.g. his USA trip in 2008.
Celestine V in 1294 A.D. was the last Pope to voluntarily resign as the leader of the Roman Catholic Church.  (Gregory XII was forced to resign in 1415, and so ended a painful schism, in the Western church where two Popes were claiming the Papacy).
Benedict’s eight years as head of the world’s more than one billion Catholics have not been easy.  He had to deal with the never ending revelations of priests’ sex scandals and Bishops mishandling of these matters.  Benedict XVI has been less the conservative enforcer some predicted and has certainly not made the conservative –liberal logjam any worse than it was when he took office.  Still, relations with religious women, and especially two well respected female theologians, Margaret Farley and Elizabeth Johnson, did not please the Catholic left.  But the Catholic right has not been pleased with what some see as his unwillingness to take a hard line and “crack down” on dissenters. 
This Pope is a brilliant theologian and an astute reader of the signs of the times.  He realizes that women and men of faith gain more by the patient and prayerful work of persuasion than the bludgeon of deafening dogma.  In the long run, dictators never win true allegiance of hearts and minds. 
Especially in his writings (hundreds of articles, multiple books, Encyclicals and three recent popular books on the life of Jesus), Benedict has been a voice of faith grounded in solid biblical scholarship.  Jim Martin, S.J., notes, “in [his] books, the pope brought to bear decades of scholarship and prayer to the most important question that a Christian can ask: Who is Jesus?  This is the pope’s primary job--to introduce people to Jesus--and Pope Benedict did that exceedingly well.”
Benedict’s voice calls for faith in an age where faith is fragile.  The erosion of faith in European and First world countries threatens the life of the church.  Yet hope rises where the church is blossoming, in places like Africa, Asia and Latin America.  China has seen Christianity grow exponentially in recent decades.
In his Introduction to Christianity, Benedict writes, “one could very well describe Christianity as a philosophy of freedom” and “The Christian message is basically nothing else than the transmission of the testimony that love has managed to break through death here and thus has transformed fundamentally the situation of us all.” (1968, p. 158; p. 307)
Jesuit Father Drew Christiansen argues that Benedict’s “encyclical Caritas in Veritate, with its affirmation of structural reform as ‘political charity’ and his call for a global authority to regulate the financial sector, may be the most radical since John XXIII's Pacem in terris 50 years ago.”
In Jesus of Nazareth, Benedict movingly reveals his view of God who exists in loving relationship.  “We see that to be God’s child is not a matter of dependency, but rather of standing in the relation of love that sustains man’s existence and gives it meaning and grandeur.  One last question: Is God also Mother?  The Bible does compare God’s love with the love of a mother.    The mystery of God’s maternal love is expressed with particular power in the Hebrew word rahamim, … ‘womb,’ later used to mean divine compassion, … God’s mercy.  The womb is the most concrete expression for the interrelatedness of two lives and of loving concern…” (2007, p. 139).
Joseph Ratzinger was born in 1927 and ordained a priest in 1951.  He has been serving the church in many capacities for over six decades.  He merits some time to relax, read and pray.  Maybe he’ll even have some more time to write.
College students know how to use twitter.  “Tweet” the Pope at his twitter handle “@pontifex” and say, “Thanks.”

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