Rare is the person who will voluntarily relinquish immense power.
I agree that Benedict XVI’s retirement is what many will respect and remember most about his legacy. It is indeed extraordinarily rare to give up power – especially the kind of power that can decree what a whole gender can and cannot do in religious leadership, among other things. Pope Benedict’s decision to relinquish his power was the perfect example of Lenten devotion.
Every Protestant pastor I know has former Roman Catholics in our congregations. In fact, they might still self-identify as Catholic although they’ve officially been Presbyterian, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Methodist, or non-denominational for years. They tell us how they disagreed with the faith of their childhood that limited women’s leadership, forbid the use of birth control, and required their priests to be celibate. And so they left.
Some of them left any semblance of any kind of church.
Many of our local and global neighbors are Roman Catholics – and not the kind whose annual spiritual highlight is the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. I’m talking about devout, committed, faithful followers of Jesus like Fr. James Martin and millions of others. They staff hospitals and schools, they fund life-saving projects throughout the world.
People from Bill Maher (really?) to me (a lifelong Presbyterian Christian) have something to say about who should be the next Pope, as if any of us has any influence in the matter. But we who are trying to follow Jesus – no matter how we live out our faith – should care about this. Why?
- The next Pope might loosen the restrictions on divorced parishioners at the communion table, while Benedict XVI refused to do this. The pastoral benefits that would come from including divorced people at the table are enormous. I, for one, want the world to know that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of Jesus – or from Jesus’ table. Nothing.
- The next Pope might be more receptive to talking with those Nuns on the Bus – or any women religious who work face to face with the people every day. Maybe he’ll even listen faithfully to what they have to say.
- The next Pope might allow hospitality and justice to trump regulations and appearances (something we Protestants need to do as well.)
- The next Pope might keep that Twitter account but then also branch out to talk with Biblical and Canonical scholars who interpret God’s message differently – and maybe even more faithfully.
- The next Pope might understand The 21st Century Church in such a way that the hopes and hungers of the world are met and fed in abundance.
All of us can do better in following Jesus as a way of life. Some of us live and work alongside cultural Roman Catholics, practicing Roman Catholics, anxious Roman Catholics, former Roman Catholics. We also live and work alongside people who have given up on the church, people who consider Christians to be at least as hateful and selfish as the rest of the world.
Let’s pray for the man who could change this at least a little bit, for the sake of Christ and Christ’s reign on earth. In spite of what E.J. Dionne opined, what we do know is that he’ll be male.