Carrying each others burdens (Galatians 6:2)

Well, what a day...I had said after all to watch this space for the 100th blog post! Little did I know that it would be to pen some thoughts at the end of a historic day. I am sure you all know by now but this morning our beloved Pope Benedict XVI announced his abdication of office as the Pope, the first to do so in over 600 years.

The morning here at Deschatelets started out in somewhat of a fuzz, low blood pressure not helping the situation. Here in our Oblate residence the Fathers have started showing a movie every Tuesday to try and encourage us to further our French and to create a sense of community. This week, irony of ironies the movie showing is ‘Habemus Papem’ (note: the movie was chosen last Friday!). However, yesterday being our foundation anniversary and feastday, I took a break from the study and decided to watch the movie in the original Italian. So all this is in my head when my Oblate confreres come up and tell me about the Pope (granted I hadn’t seen any news at that stage!). To be honest, I only believed them about the fourth priest came up and told me! It was too much of a coincidence and left me pondering for most of the morning.

Anyway, on to more serious matters! This is a historic moment for the Church. Such a decision of gigantesque proportions surely was not made overnight and we need to trust the humility and the wisdom of Pope Benedict. We also need to trust even more the creative work of the Holy Spirit.

My words pale in comparison to many renowned writers, theologians and Catholics spokespersons who have already pronounced their say. I am going to borrow from Fr. James Martin,SJ whose words struck a word with me: “Pope Benedict's resignation shows immense spiritual freedom. Rare is the person who can, and will, relinquish such power voluntarily. It is an example of what St. Ignatius Loyola meant by being "disponible," available, free of any disordered attachments, in order to be able to follow the will of God. Pope John Paul II was free enough to carry on in the midst of a difficult illness, and in the face of having to show to the public his obvious infirmities; Pope Benedict is free enough to accept his inability to carry on as he believes God would want him to. Spiritual freedom is on display today.”

I like that phrase  “spiritual freedom is on display today”. Whilst it acknowledges the Lord as the giver of all gifts, it also acknowledges that the same Lord gives us the greatest gift of freedom because He wants us to use it. We all use our freedom differently. Yet, we will all be accountable to God for how we have used it, even the Pope!  Reading many of the media reports, the general overtone is positive. The majority respect the Pope for his choice and obviously see the human reasoning behind the decisions. Some aren’t as compassionate and ask: "If you're God's chosen one, how do you choose not be chosen?". In the upcoming weeks as we continue with a new chapter of the Church’s story, many questions will be asked. It is a time of us to stand up and be counted too, to show our support and care, our prayers for the decision making process which will give us a new Pontiff to steer the bark of Christ. It is not an easy task as Benedict reminds us.  The statement of his resignation, read by the Pope in Latin, states clearly that his “advanced age” and his declining physical strength “are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry” In his address to the college of cardinals on April 22nd just three days after his election, the Pope spoke clearly about being “aware of my personal limitations and limited abilities”. Nevertheless he described his attitude as one of inner dedication, describing the task ahead as “a service to be rendered with simplicity and willingness, imitating our Teacher and Lord who did not come to be served but to serve.”

The following day, after celebrating Mass with the cardinals in the Sistine Chapel, the Pope spoke of the enormous “weight of responsibility laid on my poor shoulders”, asking the Lord to “compensate for my limitations so that I may be a courageous and faithful Pastor of his flock..”
We need to remind ourselves that the Pope is a shepherd to over a billion brothers and sisters throughout the world. I think of our Mother General who has 1,400 of us to look out for and guide in 31 different countries. I think of presidents, mayors, bishops, parish priests, managers, parents: so many are called to be leaders and above all, examples for others in the world.

As followers of Christ, we have a huge duty to pray for those in leadership, both in religious and civil spheres. Often they are in positions where they can lead or they can force people to follow but obstructing other paths. Galatian 6: 2 is an invitation to help each other bear the burden of life yet a few verses later, St. Paul also says that there are some burdens which we need to carry on our own. However we are never on our own, the Lord prepares the path and will always provide the company!

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