With the startling word of our Holy Father’s abdication, much has been said about his humility. What sort of man holds the most prestigious religious position and then relinquishes it, ask the newspapers and the television reporters?
The answer is, a man who is not his own.
In 2011, I had the gift of attending my third World Youth Day. In reality, World Youth Day would be more accurately named, “World Youth Week,” but the “Day” in its name refers to the 24 hour period that is meant to be the pinnacle of the experience for the young people. There is a several-mile hike on Saturday afternoon, an overnight vigil and a papal Mass on Sunday morning.
In Madrid, Spain, the several-mile hike was done in scorching heat and unmitigated sunrays. As we marched to the vigil site, kind Spaniards hung their showerheads from the bathroom window in order to give the weary pilgrims below a touch of water for momentary relief.
When we arrived at the massive field to set up makeshift sleeping bags for the overnight vigil still several hours away, we saw fire trucks letting powerful streams flow from their hoses, offering water to the people who needed something cool and refreshing. We took our meal tickets to the proper tent and took the only cold item in the bag – some plastic-wrapped ham – and placed it to our faces.
It probably goes without saying that in the intense heat, with one million young people sitting as close as possible, that there were many prayers lifted up for relief.
Just before Pope Benedict XVI arrived to begin the Eucharistic prayer vigil on Saturday night, the wind picked up, the sky darkened, ominous clouds raced in the sky. As much as we wanted relief, we didn’t desire a storm. We had come all this way to spend this night with the Holy Father.
But the storm began and the vigil stopped. Pilgrims huddled under the blankets that were to be their sleeping bags. Everyone, including the Pope, waited for the storm to subside enough for the vigil to begin.
And so, eventually, when the wind was calmer and the rain was slower, Pope Benedict XVI began. He didn’t give his long, prepared address. He simply said a few words and brought out Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, humbly within the monstrance.
Everyone was silent. Pilgrims from around the world knelt in mud puddles that had been created from the just passed storm. All of these people had traveled to see the Pope. And the Pope looked at Christ under the appearance of bread and wine as if to say, “No, this is who you came to see.”
Pope Benedict XVI is not his own.
One and a half years later, Pope Benedict XVI is once again acting in great humility. It’s a sign of another humility – the humility of the Church.
In our day, people often ask why the Church doesn’t change her teachings. Why not ordain women? Why not allow two men to marry? Why not allow contraception?
The Church is not her own.
The Church is the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ. One cannot separate the head from the body. The Church, in great humility, is called to do Christ’s work on earth, not her own. The Church is called to uphold the beautiful teachings that have been entrusted to her, not to recreate what it means to be human.
Pope Benedict XVI is not his own. The Church is not her own. We are not our own.
We are Christ’s.
We were given to ourselves. The Church was given to us. Our Pope is given to us. And it’s all for the purpose of returning ourselves in love to the God who created us and redeemed us.
When we look at this final gift of Pope Benedict XVI – his witness of humility in serving the Church – it’s an incredible reminder to us that as Catholics we are called to a similar humility, acknowledging that God is not made in our image, that the Church is not some arrangement that we concoct to suit our desires, that the Church’s teachings cannot be manipulated or reversed.
These things are given. There’s a humility to accepting them and to realizing that we are creatures. We are not our own. We are His.