Pope Benedict Steps Down: Let the Secular Media Scrum Begin

For the first time in six centuries a pope has retired. Early this morning the chattering classes on the networks were “handicapping” the “frontrunners.” One eagerly suggested that since the Church was growing mainly in Africa and Latin America that the next Pope should come from that part of the world.  Do they know something we don’t know?  Can the Holy Spirit select a pope from a list provided by the Secular media?

In my many years face to face encounters with national radio and television newscasters and regional print and electronic media, when the subject of religion came up, most of them simply shrugged their shoulders without verbalizing their ignorance on the subject. You might find, dear reader, that you would enjoy visiting a website with the artful moniker Get Religion which chronicles the cluelessness of the major mass media when it coming to reporting on religion.   (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/getreligion/)

In 2005 I had a student from Nigeria in my International Politics class; and I commented that many thought that Francis Cardinal Arinze, an African, would be seriously considered by the College of Cardinals as the Consistory was called to select a successor to Blessed John Paul II.  The student commented that he was not Catholic, but he thought it would be a political coup.  Tried to explain the Holy Spirit’s role in all of it, but he was not buying.  With whom, I wondered, would the Holy Spirit need to be playing politics?

It took tremendous faith and courage for a 78 year old man, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, to take on the burden of the Papacy especially in light of his intimate friendship with his beloved predecessor of happy memory Blessed JP II.  Who could ever fill those shoes?  To his credit, Pope Benedict had the courage to be himself and not try to be a clone of his charismatic predecessor.   In keeping with that courage today, he recognized his own infirmities and chose the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes to return his stewardship of the Church to the Holy Spirit who had selected him and the Mother who graced the infirm .  None of the media folks, to my knowledge, even noted the date he chose. Many more of the physically infirm who make the pilgrimage to Lourdes have returned spiritually healed with acceptance of the cross the God the Father fashioned for them to carry (see: God’s Plan by John Henry Cardinal Newman).

Benedict bore the crosses fashioned for him first accepting then coming to terms with his deteriorating health and his papal duties.  He accepted them both with the same spirit as his Master, who took up His cross and bore it to Calvary.  Neither was merely resigned to his fate, but both took the cross upon their shoulders to return lost sheep to the fold at the Father’s direction as any Good Shepherd would hope to be able to do.  Benedict no doubt realized that his predecessor had already demonstrated the redemptive power of suffering.  During those last years of JP II’s life, Cardinal Ratzinger was forced to take on the role of administering the papacy.

His selection as Pope and choosing the name Benedict was especially joy producing among the students here at Benedictine College.   There is no evidence to date that he chose the name in order to specially honor Benedictine College.  Nevertheless, students really celebrated “Pope Day. ” He actually chose the name as a sign of his respect for the monastic tradition which Benedict represented, but more than that, it was his signal that he was bent on reclaiming secular Europe for Christ.

St. Benedict, as you may know, was the Patron Saint of all of Europe.  In the last few months, no doubt with evangelization in mind,  Pope Benedict began sending out morning “tweets” on Twitter to the faithful and curious all over the earth.  His papacy has taught all of us that accepting the call of God can be the ultimate witness of evangelization. Benedict, unlike Moses, did not say send my brother he is a better speaker.  Instead, in the spirit Isaiah he said “here I am, send me.”

During a meeting of the Society of Catholic Scholars in Baltimore a couple of years ago, I remember visiting with Archbishop Charles Chaput who had just been assigned to shepherd the scandal riddled diocese of Philadelphia.  It dawned on me to say to him,” you are going out of the frying pan into the fire, can’t you turn things like that down?”  He told me something to the effect of “I am a Capuchin, Frank, we accede to the requests of our superiors whatever our personal feelings might be.”

For that reason, he did not turn down the call to oversee the tinderbox diocese that Pope Benedict had in mind for him.  Chaput, like the man who appointed him, Benedict XVI, assumed the burden out of humility and love for God and His Holy Church.  What more humility could a Pope display than to step down to make room for a successor more able of body than he who could travel the world, evangelizing it for Christ.  Not sure what title is given to a Pope emeritus  Regardless of whether he becomes a Cardinal again,  I pray he will keep tweeting for years to come.

Edward Mulholland

Dr. Edward Mulholland is the Sheridan Chair of Classics at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, where he co-directs the program: Great Books: The True, the Good and the Beautiful. Born in the Bronx, New York, he earned his master’s degree in classics from the University of London, England, and received both a licentiate and a Ph.D. in philosophy from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. From 1996-1998 he served as the head of the Humanities Department and the dean of the Journalism School at the Centro Universitario Francisco de Vitoria in Madrid, Spain. From 1998-2005, he was Professor of Philosophy at Our Lady of Thornwood Education and Training Center in Thornwood, New York and Professor of Classical Languages at the Center of Humanities in Cheshire, Connecticut. From 2005-2011 he headed the Departments of Catholic Formation and Classical Languages at Pinecrest Academy in Atlanta, Georgia.