Pope Benedict shows us the importance of letting go

varisco    It looks like Pope Benedict XVI is setting the bar for Lenten sacrifices very high this year. Giving up the papacy? How can anyone match it?
    All jokes aside, though, we are finding ourselves in the midst of an almost unprecedented moment in history. For the first time in six centuries, a pope is resigning.
    We’ve all been watching the story unfold, and I’m sure we will continue to hear every response in the book:
     “I heard your pope is quitting. He must be dying, right? How sad.”
     “The pope is resigning? It must be because of all of that child abuse stuff he was involved in.”
    This is only a small selection of the things that have been floating around the media – and we know they usually get it wrong when it comes to the church. The pope has made the reasoning behind his choice very clear. At his age and condition, he genuinely feels that he is no longer capable of handling the duties of his office.
    The chair of St. Peter is a big deal (to say the least), and Benedict is trying to do us a favor. He is not abandoning us or running away in cowardice. He is doing what he thinks is best for his bride, the church, whom he loves and has always been willing to sacrifice himself for.
Courage and humility
    What the Holy Father is doing is not only historic; it is also very courageous and humble. In its own way, it is a gift to all of us – especially during this liturgical season of Lent. Pope Benedict XVI, through his witness and example, has given the church a new expression of living fully the paschal mystery – of dying and rising with Christ.
    The word Lent means “spring.” Spring is about death and life; it is a season that shows us we must first die in order to rise. Lent should be for us a spiritual wake up call that prepares us for Easter and reminds us that we need to die to ourselves.
    This means dying to our own desires in order to focus on what it is that God wants for us, and this is exactly what Pope Benedict has done. In doing so, he is showing us how to live.
    Maybe we think we know what Lent is all about: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. We wouldn’t be wrong in saying so; however, there is also a necessary element of “letting go” involved.
Letting go
    The man with arguably the most important job in the world is letting it go. In our modern society, this seems highly illogical. We strive to get, to own and to control; we are used to holding on. But Benedict is saying, “It’s OK, my beloved children. You can let go.”
    During these 40 days of Lent, we are given a unique opportunity to take a good look at the things in our lives we are holding onto too tightly. As we do this, we have grown accustomed to say that we are “giving something up” for Lent.
    Perhaps this year, in the Year of Faith, we should try to see things from Benedict’s perspective. Don’t just give something up. “Let it go.”
    Maybe the pope does have us beat, in a sense. We can’t all let go of such a powerful position as his – but look at all the other things that we have allowed to define who we are and what we do. In particular, we should take a careful look at the choices that are leading us to sin.
Roadblocks to God
    What are they? We need to let them go. Along with them, we need to let go of our constant desire to have all the answers. We need to let go of our hostility and our fear. Plain and simple, we need to let go of anything that is coming between us and God.
    There is no better time for this than now. We can all learn a great deal from Pope Benedict’s extraordinary example this Lent. He is teaching us the lesson of a lifetime.
    This is a man of deep faith, with the fullest knowledge of the world and its realities. Yet, he also knows with confidence what God wants of him – what the world needs of him. It takes a vast amount of prayer to be able to have the inner peace to make a move like this, and also tremendous trust.
    Now is a time of great trust for us, too. We know that popes will inevitably come and go, regardless of circumstance. As Cardinal Francis Arinze reminded us last week, “Our faith is not on the pope; it is on Christ who is the foundation of the Church.”
     Scripture also reassures us that only “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).
     If we gain anything from Pope Benedict’s retirement (although I know it sounds ironic to gain at such a time), it should be the understanding that there comes a time to step back and simply throw oneself into the loving arms of the Lord and trust that all will be well.
    The Holy Father’s post on Twitter at the time he announced his resignation is itself an honest prayer of this kind: “We must trust in the mighty power of God’s mercy. We are all sinners, but His grace transforms us and makes us new.”
    What a beautiful thought to dwell upon during this Lenten season! It is true that within a matter of days the chair of St. Peter will be vacant. Many questions will remain, but they will be answered in time.
     While we wait, however, we know that God’s throne of grace and mercy in heaven is never truly empty. As Pope Benedict himself has said, “We are in God’s hands, which are the best hands.” Hopefully, we will allow ourselves to remain there long after this Lenten season has reached its completion.
    Rachel Varisco can be reached at rvarisco@clarionherald.org.

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