Whenever I give a talk on anxiety, I ask the audience if they know what phrase Blessed Pope John Paul II used three times in his first speech as Holy Father. Invariably, several people cry out…
“Be not afraid!”
Echoing a familiar Biblical theme, used several times by Jesus, the late Holy Father reminds us that God is in control. No matter what happens in our life, the Lord is right there beside us. While it can be a very comforting reminder, it is also really easy to forget…especially when change or suffering arises in our lives.
Today, many of us woke up to some shocking news. Our beloved Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI will resign on February 28. While this is certainly sad news for those of us who love and respect the Holy Father, it is also a time to put our trust in the words of Jesus to St. Peter, the first pope:
And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. (Mt 16:18)
In other words, we can relax because the Church isn’t going anywhere. We will get through this, just as we survived the death of Blessed John Paul II and every other pope before him. Now, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be sad. I have a deep love and respect for Pope Benedict and the Church has been blessed to have him as a leader. However, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit (Jn 16:13) who guides us to the truth.
I’m starting to see a lot of traffic on social media outlets, expressing unhappiness about what is sure to come in the mass media: mainly speculation on whether the new Holy Father will be “liberal” or “conservative”. The individuals who can be classified as “conservative” are hoping that the new pope will “straighten out the Church”. Those who consider themselves “liberal”, on the other hand, are praying for someone who will eliminate priestly celibacy and permit the ordination of women. Unfortunately, my friends, when we spend time dwelling on either of those positions, we can easily lose sight of a very important fact.
In two days, we enter into the holy season of Lent. This is a time given to us by the Church, to allow us to reflect our shortcomings and inordinate attachments and focus on moving closer to the Lord. There is not a day that goes by when I don’t sin in one way or another. Whether it’s by commission (doing things I shouldn’t do) or omission (not doing things I should do), I fall into this trap every single day. And, like it or not, I’m going to be judged for these sins one day. Even worse, I’m going to stand face to face with the Lord and try to explain why I let Him down so many times. Fortunately, Lent allows me to address some of my shortcomings and express remorse for them. It gives me a chance, with God’s grace, to become a better person. Right now, that has to be my main focus. None of us know if we will ever get to experience another Lent. It would be a shame to waste the opportunity!
Considering today’s news, it’s normal to feel sad and be concerned about the future of the Church, but don’t get carried away. My family and I pray for the Holy Father every day. This morning, my wife reminded our children that our prayers (and the prayers of all who pray for him daily) helped Pope Benedict to make this decision. He is a prayerful man and he is guided by the Holy Spirit. Continue to pray for him and for the Church and don’t forget to invoke the intercession of Our Lady, who was instrumental in praying for the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Church (Acts 1:14). In the meantime, let’s get ready to enter into Lent, mindful of the fact that it is a great opportunity for purification. If you’d like some company along the way, don’t forget that the Following The Truth Lenten Radio Retreat begins on Ash Wednesday. I’d love to have you join us!