By Father Roch Kereszty
Special to The Texas Catholic
Because of the momentous events stirring up the waves around the bark of Peter, I interrupt again my meditations on the act and the mysteries of the faith in order to reflect on how Pope Benedict’s resignation affects the understanding of the papal office.
To catch your attention, I will start with a few outlandish reactions from both inside and outside the church. A professor at a Catholic university expressed his shock at the absurdity of the claim that a man would be infallible until 8 p.m. Roman time on Feb. 28 but at 8:01 p.m. on the same day would lose that infallibility. A journalist, sympathetic to Pope Benedict, was musing about how much the resignation rendered the papal office less sacred and reduced the pope to the stature of a CEO of a multinational corporation.
My point is exactly the opposite of these views.
Pope Benedict’s decision, along with his eight years in the Petrine ministry, has clarified the nature of the papal office more dramatically than any magisterial statement could have done.
It has made visible the distinction between the papal office and its occupier, and has extolled the former by presenting the latter as its servant.
Moreover, his action shed light on the largely forgotten fact that the charism of infallibility as defined by the First Vatican Council is not the pope’s personal privilege, but God’s gift for his church, a charism in which the pope, as long as he is pope, participates in a special way.
The resignation, however, was just the final act revealing that the power of God’s grace at work in the papacy has transformed this shy, privacy-loving German professor into an effective universal teacher and father. He whose personal desire was to study and teach theology had to convince a hostile world of the light and power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
In spite of the media’s efforts to belittle and blame him, those who listened could not but be impressed by his lucid and deep expositions of the Catholic faith. He became a highly respected teacher even among non-Catholics. After his address to the British Parliament, Prime Minister David Cameron, an Anglican, publicly acknowledged, “Holy Father, you made us sit up and listen.”
God’s grace made Pope Benedict not just a world-class teacher of the faith but also a loving father. Even as a young priest, he was a tender-hearted, loving pastor, but his love has constantly grown to become more universal. At his last public audience on Feb 27, 2013, we could see how God’s grace “enlarged” his heart to the dimensions of the entire world. In his own words:
[W]hoever assumes the Petrine ministry no longer has any privacy. He belongs always and totally to everyone, to the whole Church. His life is, so to speak, totally deprived of its private dimension… The pope truly has brothers and sisters, sons and daughters all over the world, and he feels safe in the embrace of their communion; because he no longer belongs to himself, he belongs to all and all belong to him.
It was in stretching wide open his heart and in accepting the “burden of all the churches” that Pope Benedict gradually consumed his energies, and at the same time revealed the victory of the cross in his own life. By leaving the office on his own initiative, he has not diminished but rather validated the greatness of the Petrine ministry: the world can now see that his teaching and his love were not an effort at self-aggrandizement but the gift of the one whose call made him go where he did not want to go (John 21: 18).
Father Roch Kereszty, O.Cist., is a theologian and monk at the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas in Irving. His column will appear occasionally in The Texas Catholic.