March 13 Update: Welcome to our new Holy Father, Pope Francis I!
He succeeds Pope Benedict XVI (and St. Peter) as Pope and Bishop of Rome!
Author’s Note: I realize that not all of you dear readers are Catholic, but the current situation with the Catholic Church’s Pope is a very interesting and bemusing one, even if you are not Catholic. So, with that being said, I hope you enjoy the post. (The following was written on Feb. 28, 2013, as Pope Benedict was resigning from the Papal office.)
A Musing on the Holy Father and His Successor
Today, as I write this, the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, is resigning the office of the Papacy – a move that is unprecedented in the modern era.
A few weeks ago, when the Holy Father announced his intention to resign, the faithful had many questions, as a pope’s resignation hasn’t been seen in 700 years or so.
“What do we call Pope Benedict once he resigns? Where will he live? What will he do? How are we supposed to address him, if we were to meet him?”
Pope Benedict has answered these questions, but there is one uncertaintly that has yet to be addressed (and cannot be addressed for some time):
Who will be the Pope’s successor, and what will the relationship be between the two popes?
The Pope’s successor will be elected, hopefully, before Easter by the conclave of cardinals. But, as mentioned above, the relationship between the Holy Father and the Pope emeritus is a relative unknown.
As I was thinking about this earlier today, I remembered a line from the movie The King’s Speech, which portrays Britain’s King George VI’s rise to the British throne after his brother, King Edward, abdicated. In the movie, King George (portrayed by Colin Firth) says:
“Every monarch in history has succeeded someone who is dead. Or just about to be. My predecessor’s not only alive, but very much so.”
Although Pope Benedict has resigned due to his failing health and “advanced age,” his successor will – similar to King George – take the papal throne (the Chair of St. Peter) while his predecessor still lives, God willing.
The Holy Father has pledged his obedience to whomever succeeds him, but what about the new Pope’s relationship with his still-living predecessor?
Will the new Holy Father reach out to our Pope Emeritus? Will he ask Benedict for advice? For counsel about the papacy?
There are probably many things a pope wishes he could have asked his predecessor about, but in most cases, his predecessor was dead. Odds are, the cardinal who will succeed the Holy Father already knows Pope Benedict. But, surely, there are things our new pope will want to ask the pope emeritus.
But, the best precedent I could find for this in the Scriptures was the relationship between Elijah and Elisha.
In 2 Kings 2, when Elijah is making his preparations before being swept up into Heaven, he asks Elisha three times to remain behind and allow him to leave. “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.”
The sons of the prophets who were (there) approached Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that the Lord will take away your master from over you today?” And he answered, “Yes, I know; be still.” –2 Kings 2: 3 & 5
Before Elijah leaves, he asks Elisha “Ask what I shall do for you before I am taken from you.” And Elisha said, “Please, let a double portion of your spirit be upon me.” He said, “You have asked a hard thing. Nevertheless, if you see me when I am taken from you, it shall be so for you; but if not, it shall not be so.” Then, Elijah is taken up, and Elisha inherits Elijah’s spirit, which the people acknowledge.
Elisha shows his obedience to his master Elijah; he refuses to leave him and follows him until he is taken up by the chariot and the whirlwind.
Elijah, in return, shows his obedience to his successor, asking if there is anything Elisha will need from him before they part.
They acknowledge each other’s office and duties as a prophet of Israel – with Elisha knowing his place as the under-study (as it were) to his master and “father” Elijah, who in turn, recognizes that his work is completed and wants to help the new prophet in his duties. In essence, Elijah, by taking his leave of Elisha, acknowledges him as his successor.
While the situation between the new Holy Father and the pope emeritus will be different than that between Elijah and Elisha, they will share a mutual respect and obedience for one another.
Benedict has and will continue to acknowledge whomever succeeds him as the pope – the Vicar of Christ and the Successor of Peter.
But, in turn, Benedict’s successor will show his loyalty, respect, and obedience to his predecessor, and will recognize that he succeeds not only Peter, but Benedict.
He should savor the time he can spend with his predecessor, as Elisha did with Elijah. The new Holy Father will know that, when God wills it, Benedict will be taken from this life.
But, our future pope must be still and treasure this time with his predecessor by following him and learning from him – taking up his mantle, as Elisha did for Elijah.
And, when he is elected, our new Holy Father will fill the office and seat of, not only Benedict, but every Pope who has preceded him – ultimately to Peter who was commissioned by Christ Himself.
So, I pray for our new Holy Father, that he will realize that his predecessors – and the lessons they have taught and will teach him – are precious because they ultimately connect him to Jesus Christ, the Head and Bridegroom of the Church.
For the mantle of Christ is the one every Pope must take up. He is the God-Made-Man Whom each of them must succeed, as the Head of the Church of Christ here on Earth.