Does anyone still want to read something about Pope Benedict XVI, and his abdication of the papal throne? Is anyone still around, thanks to Lent? (It's been a few days since the news broke, and only one day since Ash Wednesday, so the odds—I realize—are stacked decidedly against me.)
If you're still interested, it may suggest that you—like me—are intent on unpacking the recent papal drama in a way that the media and flashbang soundbites don't help. It may also mean that you (like me?) aren't quite set on a particular Lenten practice that participates fully in what's been shown to be a momentous age in the life of the Church.
One thing we know: that the Holy Father's abdication was an act of sober judgement and a free exercise of his will. And that it was done for love of the Church. Yet these facts don't answer all of our questions. Indeed, they produce even more.
It's a normal enough occasion, in the life of prayer, to reflect seriously on the dolors and mysteries of Christ himself—the Mass, Divine Office, and Rosary all point to them above all else. Similarly, it's impossible to escape reflection on these same phenomena at the level of the local Church—to participate in the struggles and victories of parochial life. On the other hand, a rather unique opportunity is afforded, here, to contemplate the sorrows and transformations of the Christian mystery alongside a peculiar figure: the Vicar of Christ on earth. To be sure, the Holy Father's spiritual journey is no substitute for the redeeming work of Christ; however, it is something more than our own—by virtue of his office—and something that we should take the chance to understand and meditate on as best we're able.
For Lent, I plan to pray with the pope, as much as I can, by working to understand and meditate on the spiritual awareness that formed him, and that brought him to make this almost unprecedented—and no doubt monumentally difficult—decision. I will make an effort to participate in this unique age in the life of the Church by studying and reflecting on the substantial contributions of her most recent and humble pastor, whose recognition of his own frailty and need for deeper prayer, alone, is worth my admiration.
For Lent, I offer the suggestion to pray with Pope Benedict by studying and praying with Joseph Ratzinger. And by doing so, that we might come to understand better the faith and charity that called him to return to the latter.