I’m simply a pilgrim': Pope Benedict XVI

“At this hour – 20.00 Rome time, 28th of  February 2013, 2.00pm Canadian time – the Chair of Peter, the Holy See of Rome, is vacant upon the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI.”

I sit at my computer and type, occasionally looking at the snowflakes which quietly continue to fall and join the 30 cm or so of snow that fell over the past 24 hours. There is a somberness in the air: it is not a death so to speak but things have changed. It doesn’t call for tears but for a deepening of prayer which says: “Holy Father, we are with you” In my heart, I hear the gentle words of the Nunc Dimitis:  “At last, all-powerful Master, +, you give leave to your servant to go in peace, according to your promise. For my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared for all nations, the light to enlighten the Gentiles and give glory to Israel, your people.”
Many will continue to judge Pope Benedict XVI for what he has or hasn’t done for the Church, for the world. The Master, God alone knows his heart, his innermost decisions and he stands before Him for this. One cannot be touched by the last words of the Pope as he talked about this stage of his life: “I’m simply a pilgrim that is starting the last stage of his pilgrimage on Earth,” he remarked, “but I would still like with my heart, with my love, with my prayer, with my reflection, with all my inner strength to work for the common good of the Church and of humanity, and I feel very supported by your sympathy.“Let’s go ahead together with the Lord for the good of the Church and of the world,” he said as he finished his brief greeting. Pope Benedict XVI then gave his last papal blessing to the crowd.

So the Pope is on the last stage of the pilgrimage. We recall that the word "pilgrimage" comes from the Latin peregrinus. The root word is per-agrare, meaning "to travel a distance." To be a pilgrim was to travel far, to go to a foreign country and sojourn there. Geographically, Benedict is not going far, he will continue to live in the Vatican. However this may be the stage where he will become a sublime vagabond, a pilgrim of the infinite. At the Angelus last Sunday, he told the pilgrims, “The Lord is calling me to go on top of the hill, to dedicate myself once more to prayer and meditation...but this does not mean to abandon the church."

St. Louis de Montfort wrote: "A Friend of the Cross is one who is holy and set apart from the things that are visible, for his heart is raised above all that is transient and perishable, and his homeland is in heaven; he travels through this world like a visitor and a pilgrim" (FC 4).
Alongside I can’t help but think of the words of Oscar Romero: “Let us not forget: we are a pilgrim church, subject to misunderstanding, to persecution, but a church that walks serene, because it bears the force of love.” (The Violence of Love). Similarly Romero’s prayer comes to mind. 'The long view' of which Romero speaks is that space where we can give thanks to God for all that the Pope has been and done for our Church in these past 8 years of pontificate. The prayer is a little bit long but I post it below anyway. It provides some food for thought at this historic time for our Church, our world. Many are worried about the future of the Church, especially about the holiness and transparency of its structural elements. We continue to walk with faith though momentarily we are without the shepherd of our Church. Christ, the Good Shepherd will not leave his people, we hope and we trust. But in the meanwhile, we wait...and we pray!

Prayer of Archbishop Oscar Romero:
“It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church's mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation
in realizing that. This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well. It may be incomplete,
but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference
between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own."

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