Looking back, now, at the great guidance and leadership that Pope Benedict XVI has demonstrated to us in his papacy, I am awed by his humility in his Holy Spirit-inspired wise decision to resign as the 264th successor of St. Peter. Despite whatever frailties he has been experiencing in his elder years that may have diminished his ability to continue serving in this role, the pope has shown great fortitude and strength in acknowledging his need to step down.
This decision by the pope was certainly a painful one, in which he must have certainly struggled. As I studied in my gerontology (study of aging) emphasis of graduate social work in the past, and had learned many years ago per Eric Erikson’s “Stages of Life,” all of us, at some point, have to come to grips with “Ego Integrity versus Despair;” Pope Benedict has certainly shown us his alignment with the former and, through his wonderful encyclicals, teachings and resignation to the Holy Spirit, has certainly guided us on how to cope with and overcome the latter.
Aside from my graduate school studies involving the biological, economic, psychological and spiritual aspects of aging, as well as my professional practice time in the field, they have both taught me that “too often old age is hidden not just from our eyes but even more from our feelings,” as was noted by the late spiritual writer Henri Nouwen; the latter also remarked that “we not only tend to deny the reality of old men and women living in closed rooms and nursing homes, but also the old man or woman who is slowly awakening in each of us.”
So, during this wonderful season of Lent, when one can strive for less of a me-ego emphasis and more humility (“He must increase and I must decrease.” John 3:30) the way our beloved outgoing shepherd has shown us, I’m also praying for the Holy Spirit to guide the church in the selection of the new pope to continue the seamless apostolic succession of leadership for it since St. Peter was chosen by Jesus.
And I give thanks to God for how Benedict XVI has humbly shown us, per the integrity of his papacy, to bring together people of all denominations and walks of faith and to demonstrate being the “servus servorum Dei“ (servant of the servants of God) — a term noted by Pope St. Gregory, Blessed John Paul II and many other previous popes.
Keith John Paul Horcasitas