At 1pm, our time, this Thursday, something will happen that hasn’t happened for over 600 years; the Church will go into a period of Sede Vacante; without the death of a Pope. Sede Vacante, Latin for Empty Chair, is the term used when the Chair of St Peter is vacant. Pope Benedict, due to failing health; and understanding that he can’t serve the demands of the Chair has decided in all humility to step down. This great act of love for Christ and his bride, the church, resounds throughout the Catholic world. Pope Benedict stepped into the shoes of Blessed John Paul the Great during the Year of the Eucharist and is leaving during the Year of Faith, which speaks strongly of this Pope’s ministry.
These two Popes have led the church back into a stronger understanding of what it means to be catholic. They have urged us, and given witness to, that being Catholic is more than just a description of who we are; it is integral, foundational to our very existence. If we don’t live our faith to best of our ability then we don’t really understand what Catholicism is about.
Throughout his whole life Pope Benedict has spoken strongly about the prevailing attitudes in the world, especially in the 1st world nations of Europe and North America. He has alerted us to the dictatorship of relativity, where nothing is absolute and truth is subjective. Pope Benedict and Blessed John Paul the Great both lived through the horrifying times of the 20th century when man felt no need for God – when man felt that they were the answer to every question and problem. They saw first-hand that when mankind has no need for God, then mankind fails to understand the beauty and dignity of themselves. When mankind ignores the absolute truths then truths are just what the powerful think they are. Pope Benedict’s legacy will be, in part, his drawing a line against the attack on God and his children; his standing up for the truths of our faith.
But another aspect of Pope Benedict’s ministry, and maybe the most important, is his teachings on what Christianity is foundationally about. From the first paragraph of his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, he says: ‘“God is love, and He who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in Him” (1 Jn 4:16). These words from the First Letter of John express with remarkable clarity the heart of the Christian faith: the Christian image of God and the resulting image of mankind and its destiny. ..We have come to believe in God’s love: in these words the Christian can express the fundamental decision of his life. Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction. Saint John’s Gospel describes that event in these words: “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should … have eternal life” (3:16).
Being Christian is, first of all, being in a personal relationship with God! We don’t follow abstract ideas and self-help improvement strategies; we follow God, who loves us. We walk with him; we talk with Him; we live with Him. We are His as He is ours! And more to the point; we follow someone who we see, know personally. From his first book about Jesus of Nazareth: “The great question…: (but) what has Jesus really brought, then, if he has not brought world peace, universal prosperity, and a better world? What has he brought? The answer is very simple: God. He has brought God! He has brought the God who once gradually unveiled his countenance first to Abraham, then to Moses and the prophets, and then in the wisdom literature—the God who showed his face only in Israel, even though he was also honored among the pagans in various shadowy guises. It is this God, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, the true God, whom he has brought to the peoples of the earth. He has brought God, and now we know his face, now we can call upon him. Now we know the path that we human beings have to take in this world. Jesus has brought God and with God the truth about where we are going and where we come from: faith, hope, and love.”
Brothers and sisters, this is what our journey of faith should be about, this is the real Catholicism, not multivalent theologies that address political and social wrongs in the world; but a personal loving relationship with our creator and savior. From knowing this Love within us we can go out and address the ills of the world, but without it? Well, we will just repeat the past century’s ideologies about truth that relegate truth the whims of the powerful which never satisfy; never address the source of ills; never produce lasting fruit.
In today’s Gospel we once again go up Mount Tabor with Jesus and Peter, James, and John where we witness the greatness of our Lord in his transfigured body. We can see the Mass ‘typed’ in this event and we can see the beauty of Jesus both on Mount Tabor and on the Altar. But at the end of today’s Gospel we hear: ‘After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.’ In Mark: ‘they no longer saw any one with them but Jesus only.’ And in Matthew we hear: ‘they saw no one else but Jesus alone.’
Jesus alone – that is what we are given, Jesus alone. Pope Benedict comments on this in his February 28th 2010 Angelus: “Jesus alone is all that the disciples and the Church of every epoch have been granted; and this must suffice on the journey. The only voice to listen to, the only voice to follow is his, the voice of the One going up to Jerusalem who was one day to give his life to “change our lowly body to be like his glorious body”’ This is who we have a relationship with, the real God, the God made man, the God who wants man to be like himself. This is what Christ’s Church is foundationally built upon.
A loving dialog with a family member who urges us on, leads us. With Him we are strengthened. And no matter what stage of life we are in we always have this relationship, our talents and strengths might change but Jesus with us never changes. We can rest assured and at peace that with Jesus we are whole. And maybe this is Pope Benedict’s last teaching moment as Pope, by renouncing the Petrine Chair he put into action what he spoke about in in his first encyclical: “In all humility we will do what we can, and in all humility we will entrust the rest to the Lord. It is God who governs the world, not we. We offer him our service only to the extent that we can, and for as long as he grants us the strength. To do all we can with what strength we have, however, is the task which keeps the good servant of Jesus Christ always at work: “The love of Christ urges us on” (2 Cor 5:14).”
At 1pm this coming Thursday we will be without a Pope, but we will always have our Lord, and he alone will suffice!