Saturday, April 09, 2005

John Paul considered retiring?

On the 7th many in the media reported that Pope John Paul's testament noted he had considered resigning in 2000. I had hope to find the full text at Santificarnos so that I could read the Pope's words rather than the media's excerpts of his words and their explanation of them. Santificarnos came through with it here.

Having read the testament, I do not see the media's explanation at all. Pope John Paul did not consider resigning, not even in the abstract sense of "Should I resign?", much less the conventional one of "Would it be best for the Church if I were step down?" I see where those in the media announcing it might take to thinking he had considered it, but, as is typical, the media penchant for focusing on a few phrases and not the sentences, paragraphs or even the whole of his Spiritual Exercise of the Jubilee Year 2000 (SE) entry.

While the entire SE is important to understanding what Pope John Paul is telling us (this is a testament, after all), in considering the idea that the Pope considered resigning, the core is the second item:
2. As the Jubilee Year progressed, day by day the 20th century closes behind us and the 21st century opens. According to the plans of Divine Providence I was allowed to live in the difficult century that is retreating into the past, and now, in the year in which my life reaches 80 years ('octogesima adveniens'), it is time to ask oneself if it is not the time to repeat with the biblical Simeone 'nunc dimittis'.

On May 13, 1981, the day of the attack on the Pope during the general audience in St. Peter's Square, Divine Providence saved me in a miraculous way from death. The One Who is the Only Lord of life and death Himself prolonged my life, in a certain way He gave it to me again. From that moment it belonged to Him even more. I hope He will help me to recognize up to what point I must continue this service to which I was called on October 16, 1978. I ask him to call me back when He Himself wishes. 'In life and in death we belong to the Lord ... we are the Lord's. (cf. Rm 14,8). I also hope that, as long as I am called to fulfil the Petrine service in the Church, the Mercy of God will give me the necessary strength for this service.
In this SE, Pope John Paul had considered his last years and his death. When he writes, "I hope He will help me to recognize up to what point I must continue this service to which I was called on October 16, 1978.", John Paul is not considering resigning but asking God to help him understand (recognize) what else is desired of him, for, by his recollections in item 1 of the SE, he believes what he was chosen for has been accomplished: bringing the Church into the Third Millennium, and, possibly, shepherding the Church through the difficult time of the East's breaking free of Communism. In the sentence following, John Paul acknowledges that it is not his will, but His will that be done: "I ask him to call me back when He Himself wishes. 'In life and in death we belong to the Lord ... we are the Lord's."

And in the prefacing paragraph to his second item, John Paul mentions Simeone's "nunc dimittis", the term (the first Latin words of the canticle) by which the Third Canticle is known:
"Now thou dost dismiss the servant O Lord,
according to thy word, in peace;
Because my eyes have seen thy salvation,
which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples:
A light of revelation to the Gentiles,
and a glory for thy people Israel."
Again Pope John Paul, in his writing this, is asking himself if his purpose (or, maybe, asking God if His plan) has not been fulfilled. As written in Luke, "it had been revealed to him [Simeon] by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ the Lord." (Luke 2, 26) The tale of Simeon was not of a plan which would be fulfilled before he retired or went on to other less lofty or more mundane pursuits, but one to be fulfilled before he died. Like all "just and devout" (Lk 2,25) believers, their work does not end until death.

So for John Paul, if God's plan was not only the shepherding into the Third Millennium in connection with all that was currently happening (see item 3 and the end of the so-called 'cold war'), what is next for him to do. Like Simeone, the Pope is not "speaking" in his testament of retirement but only the ability to recognize God's plan for himself and asking God for the strength to carry it out. In this 'consideration' to take the word the media wishes to use, I am sure there were, as I am sure, there always were, his thoughts put to words much earlier in his testament:
"I express my profound trust that, despite all my weakness, the Lord will grant me all the grace necessary to face according to His will any task, trial or suffering that He will ask of His servant, in the course of his life. I also trust that He will never allow me - through some attitude of mine: words, deeds or omissions - to betray my obligations in this holy Petrine See."
If some want to claim that the Pope considered, in media word-smithing, if you will, 'retiring as Pope', they will have to look for his words to that effect in something other than this Testament. John Paul, having believed that the work he knew to do, was done, related in his testament that he considered what his next task was to be and asked for God's guidance, strength and courage to do that just as well, until such time as God wishes to "call me back."

I mention all this because some will return to the retirement meme in the future and will try to use this testament reference in the context of the 'impossible can be considered.' If the next Pope is not who some want, expect the meme to reappear sooner rather than later.

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