Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Pope Benedict XVI's Resignation - Further Reflection

As early as 2010, BXVI was asked whether a Pope could resign. In hindsight, the answer he gave in the book Light of the World was ominous: "Yes. If a Pope clearly realizes that he is no longer physically, psychologically, and spiritually capable of handling the duties of his office, then he has a right and, under some circumstances, also an obligation to resign" (p. 30).

Fr. Raymond De Souza offered a theological explanation for the Holy Father's resignation. According to Fr. De Souza, papal resignation is "canonically possible" but "incomprehensible to the Roman Catholic imagination". Essentially what the Holy Father did had made this canonically possible but almost unused option (used before by Gregory XII in 1415 and Celestine V in 1294) alive and available again, paving the way for future Popes to follow suit for the good of the Church when necessary. As the Pope, BXVI considers himself the Servant of the Servants of God. When poor physical and mental health causes the Servant of the Servants of God to lose the ability to serve well, he should have the humility to accept his inability and step down.

BXVI has never been shy in admitting his personal admiration for the Blessed JPII, the former Pope. But the two of them are two very different persons. Their differences are clearly reflected in how they faced the issue of papal resignation. When asked whether he would resign due to poor health, JPII's response was that Christ did not come down off the cross and neither would he, the Vicar of Christ. This is vintage JPII. Unlike BXVI whose emphasis is on being a good and responsible servant, JPII's appeal is to one's heart and faith. These are two very different approaches that are not in direct contradiction to one another in and of themselves. The goal is the same: to follow Christ, but the means of achieving it are different. One does so by serving and the other by suffering; one is honest and humble in admitting personal inability and the other courageous and persevering in suffering together with Christ until the very end. Both are excellent role models.

Today when we think of JPII, the image that surfaces in our head is not his younger and robust self that had caused communism to crumble. It is rather the haunting look of a frail, hunch-backed, hollow-eyed old man with a bland face that reflected painfully the tortures of many years of Parkinson's disease, and unsteady hands that hung tight to a crucifix that for all practical purposes was his cane - an unmistakable image of the Suffering Servant of the Lord.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Pope Benedict XVI to Resign on February 28, 2013

This is definitely very sad news for me personally. In the last few years, I've read the Holy Father extensively. I admire his traditionalist viewpoint, scholarly insights, and uncompromising opposition to relativism which mistakes personal penchants for religious practices, and individual ideology for cosmic truth. He and JPII are like two very close spiritual fathers to me. I am going to miss him very much.

At this crucial moment of the Church, which is but one of many in 2000 years of her history, let's pray for the Holy Father's personal health and for the Church as she awaits a new leader.

On a more cheerful note, as great as JPII and BXVI are, we know that Christ - not even St. Peter - is the Church's true rock and foundation. Surely there will be days ahead when we will be "sifted like wheat" (cf. Lk. 22:31), as Satan is prone to do throughout Church history. But Christ will be there to ensure she continue to battle well so that the forces of evil will never prevail (cf. Mt.16:18).

Friday, February 1, 2013

My Early Retirement – 4 Years Later

On this spiritual journey of faith that is full of good companions and exciting activities, the Good Lord is constantly sending people my way: people whose hearts He has touched in one way or another; good followers of Christ who work with me to spread the Gospel; friends whose lives and mine are in some ways intertwined because we share the same passion about the Catholic faith and the Church, or we have a good fit in personality, or we can engage in discussions meaningful and intelligible to each other. I accept it as part of my ministry to interact and care for these people whom God brings into my life and makes them special to me. This morning I had a good chat over coffee with a church friend who had retired only a month ago. After a brief exchange of pleasantries and a cursory review of a project we were working on, our attention quickly turned to her life after retirement, for which I gave her a special greeting card containing a note I hastily scribbled before coming to the meeting as follows:

Retirement is not about golfing and cruise trips; it’s rather one’s last chance for self-emptying and complete self-giving.

This pretty well sums up how I see retirement. It is no “piece of cake”, no time for “enjoying life” (if enjoying life is understood as indulging in earthly pleasures), no more time to waste. It’s our last chance to make up for past errors and failures; to catch up on below expectation progress; to make life fulfilling and meaningful. It is make or break; it is dead serious. As we cruise into our twilight years, many of us have failed to achieve the only goal that counts: living a fulfilling and meaningful life. Older but hopefully wiser, bruised but hopefully tougher, we must make up for lost ground before the last flicker of light disappears on us and leaves us in complete darkness.

Four years ago, I decided that my life had reached a new crossroads, and that God’s will was for me to enter into a new level of self-emptying and self-giving. (See My Early Retirement Story - a 5-part series on this blog.) I accepted the challenge – hence my decision to take early retirement. In four years of retirement, I was totally unencumbered by the daily chores and earthly obligations necessitated by one’s need to make a living. Have I been able to make good use of this special privilege from God? Retirement is an invitation to love in a deeper way, to give with greater generosity, and to do God's will with utmost urgency. What have I done in response to God’s invitation? What progress, if any, have I made to enable my inner self to become smaller – small as a child - as my physical self continues to age as an adult? How well have I fared in achieving the lofty ideals that God requires of me – complete self-emptying, complete self-giving? Retirement, after all, is a blessing; not in the sense that now we can indulge in earthly pleasures that we couldn't have while working, as people are often inclined to believe, but in the sense that God has graciously granted us a second chance to do what many of us have failed to do - living in complete sanctification.

These are tough, tough questions to answer. But answer them I must; if not now, then certainly on the day of reckoning before God. If I can’t answer them well today, I won’t be able to answer them any better when kneeling in front of the judgment seat of Christ. Trust me, I ask myself these questions almost everyday, especially in those reflective moments at the Too Good Pond (see article on this blog on Too Good Pond). They are the reason why I do what I do in my retirement. Retirement, after all, is serious business!