The news of Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation sent shock waves on- and offline. In general, the world was awed at the humility of the man who dared to acknowledge personal frailty and poverty of body and mind brought about by the natural processes of old age. In a culture embarrassed by weakness, afraid of physical frailty and obsessed with reversing the consequences of time on the flesh, the Pope’s message was nothing short of prophetic.
Others stopped to reflect on the legacy of a papacy fraught with controversy. While elected to re-invigorate the Church especially in the Old Continent, Europe—including Malta—continues to be disillusioned through the march of spiritual lethargy as well as the much publicized scandals (in particular, sex abuse scandals) that have shocked Catholics and the world alike. The promised (re)new(ed) evangelization remains stunted in its growth, while the Church continues to seek a strategy for communicating the Gospel in a world where it is fast losing its authority.
And still, in this context where Pope Benedict’s papacy might appear to have failed to achieve its goals, His Holiness’ personal example of retreat from “public” ministry to end his days in prayer and reflection might, in fact, bear sweeter fruit. Not only through the dignity that he bestows on the papacy by acknowledging the need for a vigorous presence at the helm of Christ’s Church, but also through the witness of prayer as contemplation in a world afraid of silence, solitude and stillness.
By Easter, perhaps earlier, the Roman Catholic Church will have elected a new Bishop of Rome and heir to St. Peter’s mission in the world. It is fitting that Pope Benedict chose Lent, a time of reflection, repentance and renewal, for Cardinals to fulfill the difficult task of discernment that will shape the Church to come at such a delicate moment in its history. Yet the final message and promise that Pope Benedict appears to be sending to the faithful is precisely that the Church will rise again with Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. This Easter the Church will celebrate again. This Easter the Church will eagerly await another Pentecost.
It is perhaps also ironic (or perhaps, providential?) that simultaneously, our country is going through its own process of discernment to elect its leaders. As one of the so-called “last bastions” of “cultural Catholicism” fast collapsing under new cultural pressures, perhaps—just perhaps—we could attempt to drink once more from our roots, to reflect on the values that have nourished us, and to consider with responsibility the future of our country. Church and state might (and must) be distinct, but human flourishing remains one and our Christian heritage has much to illuminate on the form of authentic human development that we all—Catholic or not—desire.
Do we dare to walk the road less traveled and ponder with responsibility, rather than buy into mere propaganda (and our biased self-interest), what kind of society do we want to live in?
Do we dare to take our civic duty seriously, and demand that all our leaders (politicians or not) be accountable and deliver opportunities for true growth, rather than misleading rhetoric, impossible promises or mere smokescreens?
It was the philosopher Joseph de Maistre who shared the wisdom that “every nation gets the government it deserves.” How do we all participate in the political process—not only on E-Day, but every day, through actively shaping the political agenda and contributing to the common good?
Perhaps—just perhaps—the example of a man who humbly stepped own to accomplish even greater work might open our eyes that it is not pomp, not glitz, not spectacle that makes good leadership, but knowing in one’s conscience what is right, pursuing it with conviction and commitment… and yes, even with a hefty dose of humility.
Perhaps—just perhaps—we could then demand the same of our leaders and ourselves.