Last night my beautiful and talented wife did something to tie together all of our Lenten observances with the impending papal resignation. She baked home-made pretzels to go with our nightly Lenten dinner of home-made soup. What tied things together was the fact that she baked some of them shaped like the keys of the papal coat of arms!
I bet they didn’t think of this one. Scratch that. I bet they didn’t really care about this one. But the fact remains that my prayer life will change Friday morning of next week.
You see, I have long been in the habit of praying the traditional Morning Offering when I wake up. I try to make it the very first thing I do after silencing my phone-alarm. Sometimes it’s a very bleary interpretation and often times I fall asleep again before the last words are out. But this morning as I was praying this prayer I realized that I will have to omit the last line come next Friday morning.
O, Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer you all my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day; in union with Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world, in reparation for all my sins, for the intentions of all our associates, and, in particular, for the intentions of our Holy Father for this month.
In addition to there being no Holy Father it will also be the start of a new month. Way to go out on February 28th, Holy Father. Thanks for that. I’m positive I’m going to mess this one up for some time to come. Maybe I’ll try to consciously change the line to “and for the swift election of a new pope so I can get back to old prayers.”
I was talking with one of my sister’s earlier this evening. After an hour and a half on the phone discussing, among other things, the Holy Father’s decision to renounce the office of Universal Pastor next week, she shared her take on the reason why he’s stepping down.
“You see,” she said “I know why he’s doing this. Twitter.”
“I’m sorry,” I replied, “but, um… what?”
I know why he’s doing this. Twitter.
“It’s Twitter. He’s probably in the Vatican right now saying to his cardinals ‘I tried it. It’s dumb. I survived the @*$&-ing Nazi’s and now I have to read this drivel? I’m done.”
Hey, there’s a certain logic to it. Either way, I’m still sorry to see you go @pontifex. #popegone
So where do we go from here?
This morning I woke up completely unaided by my alarm. To those who know me, this is highly unusual. 5AM and I sat upright, overcome by a sense that I needed to get out of bed. I thought of lying back down and returning to my slumber. I had, after all, another thirty minutes before I had to be up and moving about in order to make it to the 6:30 mass at the local Cistercian Abbey. But something, a gut feeling, maybe the Spirit, kept calling to me. “Get out of bed and turn on the TV.” To ask my wife, any voice beckoning me to turn on a television could not come from God. But I got up nonetheless and went to the living room. I sat down to check the weather on the local news and was greeted by the stunning news of our holy father’s renunciation of his office.
And like that I started thinking of what I had blogged on this page just six short hours earlier. I wrote that this blog was transforming from one wherein I posted daily vignettes about the lives of the saints to more of a clearinghouse for all things Catholic. I still haven’t figured out exactly where I’m going with this page. I trust that with the help of my sister and, hopefully, other great Catholic (and even non-Catholic posters) we can make this the thing I have in my mind though I cannot articulate it clearly just yet.
As I learned more of the shocking news of Benedict’s resignation I thought of so many things. First I thought it was a joke. Then I realized that it wasn’t and I started thinking about how I named my only son, my firstborn after the pontiff. What would I tell him? How would he respond when I delivered the news that Pope Benedict would not be pope anymore? I got to work and it became clear that, as a Catholic theology teacher, my lesson had already been re-written for me! A young woman who will be shadowing me as part of her student-teaching arrived a few hours into the day and I told her “You chose the most interesting day in 600 years to jump into to teaching theology!”
Where am I going? Where are we going? These are interesting times for all of us in the Catholic world. I’d like your help in shaping the face of this new endeavor. Send me your thoughts and comments and keep praying for His Holiness. And if you know any Catholic bloggers who might like to contribute, let me know.
St. John Climacus
You know that old joke? The one that ends with, “I don’t know who he is, but the Pope is driving him around!”? I have a feeling it was in reference to today’s saint, John Climacus. I’ll explain.
We don’t really know that much about St. John, other than that he wrote was was at the time and continues to be to this day one of the greatest works of Eastern Catholic spirituality ever written. Knowing this, you’d think someone would have asked him when and where he was born, but, alas, no one did, so all we have is conjecture. What we think is that he was born in either the late sixth or early seventh century somewhere in either Syria or Palestine and, at the age of just 16, went to the Abbey of Sinai (now St. Catherine’s Abbey) and joined the monks there for several years, learning about God and the saints. After the death of his spiritual mentor, Martyrius, he moved out to an hermitage at the foot of Mt. Sinai to further practice his asceticism (monk speak for extreme physical deprivation used to attain spiritual perfection) and there he stayed for the next 20 odd years. While alone, he prayed and read the Scriptures and the lives of the saints, making himself one of the most learned men in Christendom.
When the abbot at the monastery died, John was pressed into service, much as he protested, and it was at this time that he was ordained. He spent the next four years leading his fellow monks as they moved closer to God, executing his duties with great faith and great wisdom. He was so well known for his holiness in fact that Pope St. Gregory the Great himself wrote to him, asking for his prayers. Seriously?! The pope. Asked him. For prayers. Awesome factor of 15 (out of 10). Finally, he resigned his post, and died not long after.
During his life, St. John wrote the Ladder of Perfection, also known as The Climax, hence his name, Climacus. A work on spiritual growth and struggle, it is broken into 30 chapters or steps (following the ladder theme), each of which covers one very specific aspect of growing closer to God and climbing the ladder to heaven. The highest rung on the ladder, interestingly, above all the others, is love. The work, originally written as a favor for a fellow abbot of a nearby abbey, was greatly received and has remained a staple of Eastern Christianity to this day. They frequently read it in the days of the Great Lent, leading up to Easter. It is read in their daily Lenten office and often during meal times in Byzantine monasteries. It’s importance is on a level with the Summa Theologica or the Interior Castle for Roman Catholics. Suffice it to say, his book’s important.
So, what can we learn from this man? Despite our best efforts to follow the plan we have decided upon for how best to follow what we believe is God’s will, we need to be open to understanding that sometimes, we aren’t quite right when it comes to interpreting it. While John would have been quite content to live out his days in solitude, God had other plans for him, and John was humble enough to see that his own desires were not the most important and his own ideas were not necessarily the best for him. He followed God’s call, even when it called him away from the quiet solitude of his hermitage where he spent his time in quiet prayer and out into the place where his voice could be shared with many. We need to be open to God’s will, even if it calls us away from what we think is best.