By now everyone should have received the Catholic Missourian dated March 1, 2013. In that issue there is an article containing the reaction from Rev. Mr. Jason Doke and myself to Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to resign.
I was asked by the editor of the paper to e-mail some of my gut reactions to the announcement. When he wrote the e-mail I was traveling during our break after finals. Nonetheless, I wanted to send in some thoughts. The editor then worked my some of my comments into a wonderful piece about the reactions of both myself, and Rev. Mr. Doke. Below you can read the entirety of my reaction.
By no means was this a complete set of thoughts, nor do I feel that they fully expressed my emotions at the time. Please excuse any grammatical errors or incompleteness, as I mentioned these were sent in a somewhat rushed fashion.
Ever since the Holy Father announced his resignation last Monday I have constantly been reflecting and praying about my own emotions and reactions to such news, as well as those emotions and reactions of the whole Church. Obviously, the emotions have been many and varied. But in short I can summarize them with two words, sadness, yes, but also gratitude and hope.
Ever since arriving here in Rome in July 2011, I have attended many Papal Masses, audiences, Angelus’ etc. I remember most especially during our orientation when we attended an Angelus at Castel Gandolfo, and the Holy Father spoke directly to us, the New Men at the Pontifical North American College in the middle of his address.
The past few weeks have been our “exam period” and this past week I was done with exams and enjoying a little bit of a break. Thus, I was able to attend both the Wednesday Audience and Ash Wednesday Mass. The audience was the Holy Father’s first public appearance after the announcement of his intention to resign. The Mass, later in the evening, was his last public Mass.
At the audience when the Holy Father entered the Paul VI Audience Hall, everyone erupted with applause. Later when he began to speak we all began to clap once again, to thank him for his many years of love and service to the Church. Hearing him speak of his resignation from his own mouth really solidified the reality of what was undoubtedly a somewhat surprising announcement.
Later in the day, I attended Mass for Ash Wednesday. The Mass was moved to St. Peter’s Basilica to accommodate the crowds. I arrived even earlier than usual, the line was much longer than usual. Thankfully, I was able to get in and get a seat. As I waited in line I reflected a lot on all the other times I had waited in line for other events, and now, this was the last one. I felt a certain amount of sadness, but also gratitude that I would have the opportunity to see him celebrate Mass one last time. At the end of Mass, Cardinal Bertone got up to thank the Holy Father on behalf of the College of Cardinals and the whole Church. After his words, everyone broke out in applause. An applause that seemed to last forever, the moment was one again, of sadness and gratitude. After Mass, after a long day I ran into some nuns who are my friends and we all just kind of stood there. They asked how I was and I just kind of smiled without saying many words, when I asked them, they did the same. We didn’t have a lot to say because it had been such a powerful, emotional day, yet we were able to smile because of our gratitude and our hope that the Church continues under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
This is just the first week of what will undoubtedly be a strange few weeks, first there will be the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, then the excitement of the Conclave, followed by the joy and gratitude of a new Holy Father. Whoever the new Pope will be I look forward to getting to “know” him by going to many more Masses and prayers with him. Though I will never forget the impact of Pope Benedict XVI on these first two years of my time in Rome. While many priests of the last few decades might refer to themselves as “JPII Priests,” I am a part of an even younger generation. While active in the faith my whole life, it was not until after JPII that I began to really get more into my faith. Thus for the entirety of my more mature faith life, Pope Benedict has been the leader of the Church, and as a student of theology, he is a man whom I admire quite a bit. It is for this reason I feel more sadness now, but I also have gratitude for his gift to the Church and great hope in the future of the Church, a hope which he has embodied and taught me as well.
Original text composed on February 16, 2013