Yesterday, I conducted a Lenten Day of Reflection for the diaconal community of the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin. We reflected on Evangelization, the New Evangelization, and the Transmission of Faith. I couldn’t help but think if the topics would be ones that the new Holy Father, whoever he might be, will pick up and centralize in his papacy. As I was preparing and delivering the three conferences, I had a strange feeling that perhaps these themes may fade away in the near future with whoever becomes the 266th successor to the Chair of Peter. On an obvious level, Evangelization and the New Evangelization – and most certainly the transmission of our faith – can never but be forefront in our lives because it is for this that the Church lives in our modern world, i.e., to present the person of Jesus to an unbelieving culture. On a less obvious level though, I wonder if the new pope might steer us into a new direction by way of emphasis. Pope John Paul I called for the new evangelization of the baptized the day he died, and Pope John Paul II took up that call and carried it forth as has Pope Benedict XVI. I have a sense that the next pope will take this momentum of energy and focus and hone it down to something more specific, if you will, something incisive. Perhaps the reconciliation of the Orthodox and Catholic Churches after a 1000 year schism. Perhaps a kenosis in the Church where the riches of the Church are dispersed among the poor.
Regarding reconciliation with the Orthodox, I have no doubt that a lot of work has been done and is being accomplished to bring this about. My own thought is I don’t know how we can effect unity among other Christian communities, such as the Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists, etc., if we are not united with the Orthodox who share with us a common faith, common understanding of the sacraments, valid orders and sacraments, a history extending 2000 years. We remain split because of an unwillingness to come to consensus about Apostolic Authority and a word or two in the Creed (on a theological level) and perhaps more importantly by old ecclesial wounds that have in the centuries past spilled over into politics and nationalism (my opinion only).
Regarding ecclesial kenosis, have you ever wondered what would happen if a pope were to divest the Church of any and all material wealth? It nearly happened in the 19th century when the Church gave up the Papal States and retreated to the Vatican. Another withdrawal from earthly attachments could happen again, a voluntary renunciation.
These are only my random thoughts, but maybe what Benedict XVI is showing us by his resignation and renunciation of papal responsibilities and power – and his willingness to become withdrawn from the world’s view – is how the Church is to live in the future. Perhaps he is demonstrating to us where the Church can now proceed, i.e., to focus all its energies on engaging the world of today by detachment from that which is burdens it from doing so.
I think Pope John Paul I was intending to do just that – again just my thoughts – but God must have know Luciani was there to just plant the seed and JPII and BXVI would cultivate and water that seed and whoever succeeds Benedict will see it to fruition.
To divest oneself of power is an act of extreme bravery and faith. This is what Benedict is doing. To give away one’s material wealth (for that is what gives us power in the secular world) is also an act of faith and bravery. Go ahead and try to do so in a substantial way in your own life and you will experience this fear. For the Church to do so would be an act of martyrdom, a giving of herself so others may live freely.
Let us all pray that the needs of the poor, needy, marginalized, oppressed, and persecuted in today’s world be known to the Cardinal electors as they deliberate and select for us our new pope.