Two days ago we woke up to the starling news that Pope Benedict XVI would resign the papacy at the end of the month. Questions filled our hearts. Was the Holy Father ill? What would happen to him? But when the dust settled and we finished asking questions, one fundamental answer came to each of us: Benedict had one last lesson to teach us—a lesson in humility. One of the first thoughts that came to me was that this would not be an ordinary Lent. We begin this sacred season with one Pope and will likely end it with another. We are indeed entering into a desert as a Church like Jesus did fully relying on the Holy Spirit and ready to be transformed and renewed. Our Holy Father recognizing that the Church belongs to Christ humbly steps aside to devote himself to prayer and reflection during his final years. No one aspires to the Papacy. It is almost imposed on the Vicar of Christ as a cross to be carried. Benedict knew this when he was elected. A shy priest and teacher who preferred to communicate the beauties of Christ with his pen was suddenly cast into the spotlight so that the world may know what many in the Church already knew: here was a man of extraordinary genius who reintroduced us to the person of Jesus of Nazareth. His depth lifted our hearts to new heights. His eloquence took us into those “deep waters” that his predecessor had invited the Church to explore.
Now as he walks off that great pulpit for the last time, he does so offering us a lesson of deep humility. He did not assume the Papacy for power but out love for his Church, and it is that same love that compels him to serve the Church now in prayer and solitude. And these final years may be Benedict’s finest as he teaches us what Christ did in today’s gospel, that it is away from the public eye that our greatest deeds are performed.
No, this will not be an ordinary Lent. The strong winds of the Spirit started blowing two days before the season started. One last grand gesture by a heroic teacher who even this morning told us: “During the season of Lent which begins today, we renew our commitment to the path of conversion, making more room for God in our lives.” During the next 40 days, may that Spirit move us to rid our hearts of clutter and to make more room for God. Let us offer our Lenten fasting and sacrifices for a great man who has served his Church valiantly and for the man who will soon succeed him. The Lenten winds are indeed blowing…where will they lead the bark of St. Peter at journey’s end?