February 27, 2013

In My Opinion: A pope to meet church challenges


---- — There are a lot of strange and unusual events in the news these days, but one of the most unusual of all is the resignation of Pope Benedict.

This hasn’t happened in 600 years. The last time that this happened was before the whole reality that we know as modernity and the modern world.

So there’s no precedent for what we’re going through, and it’s a unique moment for the church. It is a real turning point in church life and for me, personally, because of the times in which I entered the ministry.

Even before I entered the seminary, I would hear people talking about Cardinal Ratzinger and what a strong and powerful and important figure he was. Any conversation about the universal church would eventually revolve around him.

This was the last thing that he wanted; he just wanted to be a scholar and write books. But he kept getting jobs that put him in the middle of the controversies of today’s world, and he did those jobs as best he could according to his understanding of church teaching and tradition.

One of my profs in Baltimore, who is now deceased, got in trouble back in 1984 for a book that he wrote on ethics. That’s one way to get a trip to Rome — write a book that gets you in trouble with the teaching of the church. So he had to go to Rome and explain what he intended to say and that sort of thing, and he returned to his job in Baltimore and continued teaching for another 23 years. So that wasn’t so bad.

He always spoke highly and fondly of Joe Ratzinger, as he called him. Like others, he spoke of his kindness, his personal graciousness and, of course, his knowledge and wisdom.

I saw the pope, in a crowd setting, at World Youth Day in Cologne in August 2005 and at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Yankee Stadium in April 2008.

There were different facets of his personality, some of which didn’t show easily in the public eye. And he brought many themes to the papacy, including the importance of creation and the care of the Earth. This has always been our belief, coming from the Scriptures, but he certainly emphasized it.

My professors and textbooks didn’t always agree with him, but they always acknowledged the quality of his scholarship. He’s not just an authority figure but a fellow thinker, and more importantly, a fellow Christian and human, as we all journey to God.

Now things are wide open, and anything could happen. We could have a pope from South America, from the Philippines or from Africa. Or, just a few hours from here, we could have a pope from Quebec, New York or Boston. All of those have been named as possibilities. Or we could go back to Italy, after 35 years of popes from elsewhere. Nobody knows.

In any event, we must call on the Holy Spirit to meet the needs and the many challenges of our time and to guide the church in choosing the successor of Peter. 

The Rev. Bernie Menard is associate pastor of St. Peter’s Church in Plattsburgh. He was ordained in 2007 and previously served in Massena and Malone.