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SATURDAY HOMILY: Preparing for the papal transition

By Fr. G. Peter Irving III
2/23/2013 (5 years ago)
Catholic Online (

In the days and weeks ahead, the Catholic Church with both her splendor and her wounds exposed, will be put on display before the world as we bid farewell to one pope and welcome another. There will be moments of grandeur and pageantry which will captivate even the most cynical of observers. There will also be interludes filled with the same banal anti-Catholic drivel about a church still stuck in a medieval time warp.

LONG BEACH, CA (Catholic Online) - This time next week the Chair of St. Peter will be vacant. Our beloved Pope Benedict XVI "with full freedom" will have already renounced the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of St. Peter. By then we will all have become very reluctant "sedevacantists" and will remain so until the Cardinal electors choose the next pope.

The election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as the successor to Blessed John Paul II was perhaps even more of a surprise than Benedict's stunning announcement that he would step down as pope on February 28. While faithful Catholics could think of no one more qualified than Cardinal Ratzinger to succeed John Paul II, the idea of a Pope Ratzinger seemed too good to be true.

On the other hand, dissident Catholic media "pundits" like Richard McBrien and Peggy Steinfels had convinced themselves and everyone else that a Ratzinger papacy was a complete impossibility. Then came the announcement of April 19, 2005, and the impossible became reality. The omnipresent Notre Dame professor Scott Appleby reacted to the news with a lament: "This is the worst nightmare come true."

No doubt, with a new conclave around the corner, the same tired media experts will be propped up before cameras to proudly pontificate in a way Benedict never did. And this is precisely the point. Joseph Ratzinger is so unlike the self-appointed know-it-alls whose empty words fill the columns of dying newpapers and provide copy for TV's ephemeral talking heads. Pope Ratzinger lives in a different dimension.

He is the Vicar of Christ on earth, not by his choosing but by God's. He became pope not because he desired it but rather because he desired only to do God's holy will. A more humble servant of God you will not find. Even his most vehement critics have made that concession.

In the days and weeks ahead, the Catholic Church with both her splendor and her wounds exposed, will be put on display before the world as we bid farewell to one pope and welcome another. There will be moments of grandeur and pageantry which will captivate even the most cynical of observers. There will also be interludes filled with the same banal anti-Catholic drivel about a church still stuck in a medieval time warp.

How should we prepare for these coming events? Our first response must be to seriously pray for the unity of the Church, invoking particularly the intercession of St. Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church. The next conclave will necessarily begin in the month dedicated to St. Joseph and must start no later than March 19, the Solemnity of St. Joseph. What a beautiful reminder of the Lord's solicitude for His Church on earth!

Second, don't get too caught up with all the intrigue and speculation as to who will be the next pope. There's nothing wrong with this to a point. But in the end it is an exercise in futility. No one knows (save for God Himself) who the next pope will be until the figure of the new pope makes its appearance on the loggia overlooking St. Peter's Square.

Learn the lesson of ex-Jesuit priest, Peter Hebblethwaite, who was once considered the world's pre-eminent expert on the papacy. As Pope John Paul II began to show signs of declining health, Hebblethwaite wrote a book entitled The Next Pope, exploring the question of who would succeed the ailing John Paul II. As fate would have it, Mr. Hebblethwaite's book was published posthumously. Pope John Paul soldiered on to outlive him by more than a decade.

Third, be humble. The long knives will be out to tear down the Church, to mock the Successor of St. Peter and the teachings of Christ. Yes, we should do whatever we can to set the record straight and to instruct the ignorant, but never with anger or hatred.

In today's Gospel Jesus tells us: "You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father."

"You shall love your neighbor" is straight from the Bible (Leviticus 19:18); "Hate your enemy" is not. Here Jesus is acknowledging the common rabbinical interpretation of the time which narrowly defined "neighbor" to mean "fellow Israelites." Our Lord issues this corrective to that false interpretation making it clear that there can be no "haters" among His disciples.

Strictly speaking, a true Christian should not view anyone as his enemy. This was the attitude of Our Savior nailed to the cross: "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." This was attitude of the proto-martyr, St. Stephen, and of today's saint, St. Polycarp and so on down the line.

This has also been the attitude of Joseph Ratzinger throughout his life of service to the Church. It's hard to think of any contemporary figure who has been the object of more mockery and invectives than he. Through it all he has always remained a Christ-like figure, who like a lamb led to the slaughter never opened his mouth.

To everyone, friend and foe alike, Benedict has been the paragon of graciousness, whether it be his former colleague and inveterate heretic, Hans Kung, or the papal butler, Paolo Gabriele, who violated the trust of the pope by leaking confidential documents to the press. Benedict invited Kung to dinner at the Vatican and he chose to give a Christmas pardon to his butler who had just begun to serve his 18 month jail sentence for the crime.

Those who follow us will see even more clearly the greatness of the man and the brilliance of the Benedictine papacy of Joseph Ratzinger. How blessed we are to have lived in these times! In the nearly eight short years of his pontificate, he has produced volumes of eloquent and inspired writings and has conquered hearts throughout the world with his gentle demeanor. In spite of his age and opposition from without and from within the Church, Benedict XVI has guided the Barque of Peter over the waters of our turbulent times with a steady hand.

He entered the world stage in the shadow of a giant, Blessed John Paul the Great. All too soon he will unceremoniously retire from the spotlight to commence a life dedicated to solitude and prayer for the Church he so deeply loves and has so faithfully served.

May we show him how much we love him and appreciate him by entrusting him to the care of the Mother of God.

V.    Let us pray for our Sovereign Pontiff Pope Benedict XVI.

R.    The Lord preserve him and give him life, and make him blessed upon the earth, and deliver him not to the will of his enemies.

Father G. Peter Irving III is a priest of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and is Pastor of Holy Innocents Church, Long Beach, California.


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