We're all thinking it: Ok, now what? Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI's graceful exit from the papacy yesterday left us sad, grateful, moved and maybe a little anxious about what comes next. But Word on Fire contributor Christopher Kerzich, in Rome to witness the events, has a few ideas about how to properly say goodbye.
Saying goodbye is rarely an easy task. Throughout our lives we have and will continue to say goodbye to friends, loved ones, bosses and neighbors. People will move away, pass away, change jobs and we may never see them again during our earthly journeys. It seems the more this person has impacted our lives the harder it is to say goodbye. As we know this is rarely a joyous task.
In these past days the world has been experiencing something quite foreign, saying goodbye to a pope. This is not the same “goodbye” that Catholics experienced during the fall of 1978 or the spring of 2005. This is a different type of goodbye since Benedict XVI is still with us in prayer. In one sense, it is easy for our hearts to be sad and confused over the resignation we witnessed yesterday at 8 p.m. in Rome. Watching the man we have come to know and love these years tenderly depart the Apostolic Palace brought tears to many eyes. Watching the helicopter circle the Vatican and head away from the setting sun brought heaviness to many hearts. Despite these emotions we must remember that our goodbyes can be accompanied by gratitude.
The most striking things about the final audience of Pope Benedict XVI was the apparent mixed emotions of many of us in the crowd. Surveying the crowd before the event I observed many sad faces. With the appearance of the Popemobile came a great swell of joy and gratitude throughout the square. Signs of “danke,” “grazie” and “thank you” flew over the heads of many. Flags of countries and Church movements flapped in the wind. Little Italian nuns were standing on chairs and young people were clicking away on their digital devices to capture one last encounter with this holy man we have come to love...
Catholics the world over continue to reel over the news of Pope Benedict XVI's resignation, which officially takes place today, and are trying to grapple with what this all means. A group that has a particularly important lesson to learn is the young, a demographic that has had a tenuous relationship with the concept of power. What can a powerful man ceding his impressive post teach us? A lot.
One reason I think that this generation yearns for religious authorities who can step away from power is because they are, in many ways, a generation without power. By stepping away from power, religious authorities can go and meet the younger generation where they are. It has been said that this younger generation of Americans will probably be the first to financially make less than their parents. It is not their fault. It is the cards that they have been dealt primarily due (in all honesty) to the greed and narcissism of older generations. Theirs is a generation that cannot find jobs once they graduate college (partly because older generations are not retiring). They are weighed down by exorbitant student loans due partly due to the fact that benefits afforded previous generations have not been passed down to them. They are not planning on social security being around once they retire. Many are facing unemployment or underemployment. One student recently told me that out of five of her friends who just graduated college, four have had to return home to live with their parents. If we as ministers can step away from the security of power we can go a long way in meeting these young people where they are.
This calls for a creativity in ministry, because it means “going to” rather than “waiting for them to come to us” — which has been the dominant model for a long time. But it should be recognized that this dominant model is a model of power. When “they” need to come to “us” we know how things operate, we know how things should be done. In other words, we have the power and they do not. The Catholic Church is a church of weighty institutions — we have schools and universities, we have hospitals and far-reaching charity organizations, we have large and expansive parishes — these all have a role and they are not going away, and neither should they, but we should recognize that sometimes the maintaining of institutions diverts energy away from the work of evangelizing and the ability to go outside the walls of the institution. We need to creatively think a space apart from these weighty institutions where we can meet and welcome this generation without power...