Thursday, February 28, 2013

Lessons from my Papa

Today the Church will say goodbye to its physical head as Pope Benedict XVI abdicates his role as Bishop of Rome.

For the first time in my life as a practicing Catholic, the Chair of St. Peter will be vacant.

There will be no Papa.

And oddly, it's not because he's died.

In so many ways, this resignation allows me to rejoice. So many young people of my generation will always hold up Bl. John Paul II as "their" pope, the one who crystallized their faith and encouraged them in times of weariness.

I never had that grace. When John Paul died in 2005, I was still actively involved in the occult. As far as I was concerned, he was not my pope.

And yet I still found myself glued to the TV that day after school, unable to turn away from the vigil taking place in St. Peter's Square.

Something flickered in me then, and I felt it tangibly. Perhaps it was the flame of grace that would lead me back home almost exactly two years later.

The flicker came again a few weeks later, when I watched Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger emerge from what we still all considered John Paul's apartment, wearing John Paul's clothes, giving John Paul's blessing.

It felt strange, even to me.

But that shy man's smile stuck with me that day. And so did the stories that poured in as we learned more: his love for cats, his classically-trained piano skills, and his reluctance to accept the papacy.

Maybe we should have known then that he would leave it this way. Indeed, it seems now that he left us little signs everywhere. We just failed to see it then.

The day Benedict announced his resignation brought a storm of mixed feelings in the Catholic circles I'm in. Most were confused. Some were even angry, asking how he could abandon us, abandon his mission, like it was nothing. They compared him to an absent parent, to a Christ who came down from the Cross because it was just too much.

And they all spoke of John Paul and the hero's death he died after bearing the terrible burden of Parkinson's disease.

But I saw something different that day.

I saw a man who grappled long and furiously with the ever-increasing demands of his Church.

I saw a man who was self-aware, honest and humble enough to admit that the role he held for eight years was now overwhelming him.

But most importantly, I saw a man who was brave enough to let go. He knew that the best thing for the Church and for his flock was to step back, lay down the Cross, and allow Jesus to care for his wounds.

I was in bed that day, still very sick after weeks of a viral infection, and crippled emotionally by the sudden, vicious return of anxiety that's stalked me for years.

And in that moment, my Papa's actions said to me, "You don't have to be superwoman. You can let go. You can get the help you need and deserve as a dignified daughter of God."

He has followed the invitation of our gentle Lord: "Come to Me, all you who labor and are weary, and I will give you rest."

He has gone to rest and gone to heal. And thanks to his example, I will do the same.


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