Musing on the Holy Father & His Successor

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.

Musing on Mother Seton

Author’s Note: This musing turned out longer than I had planned, so there will be no musing/meditation tomorrow. Sorry, but I feel like this one is two days’ worth of reading, anyway. Still, I hope you enjoy it!

A Musing on Mother Seton (and Why I Admire Her So Much)

Anyone can be a saint. A saint can be anyone from anywhere at any time in history. We are all called to holiness — to be a child of God who strives to preach the Gospel.But, when I say “think of a saint,” you probably think of an Apostle, early church martyr, or Doctor of the Church – odds are, they’re male, they’re European (or from the Holy Land), and they’re a religious or priest.

Saints can come from any walk of life, but the majority of the canonized saints — and the most well-known ones — are European (or Middle-Eastern) male religious/priests: Saints Peter and Paul, and any of the other Apostles; St. Benedict; St. Augustine; St. Francis of Assisi; St. Dominic; St. Thomas Aquinas; St. Ignatius of Loyola; St. John of the Cross and so on.

That is not to say that any of the aforementioned saints are not worth studying, imitating, etc. They are. They are awesome, and I want to imitate their love for Christ and His Church in every moment of my life.

However, I’ve found that sometimes it’s harder to relate to these saints. They were from another country, another time, another vocation, etc. But, in my own life, I have been blessed to spend time at parish named for St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.

Mother Seton is awesome, as are all the saints – canonized or not. But, unlike many of the aforementioned saints, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton seems more ‘approachable’ to me — as a lay, American woman — for three very simple reasons:

She was an American woman.

The Church recognizes 17 canonized American saints, but only three of them were born in (what is now) the United States: Mother Seton and Saints Katherine Drexel and (newly canonized) Kateri Tekakwitha.

Mother Seton was born in the British colony New York in 1774 — so, the American Revolution took place during her childhood. During her lifetime, she would have experienced things like George Washington become the first U.S. President; Washington D.C. established as the nation’s capital; and the newborn United States fight with former mother-country Britain during the War of 1812.

Today, Mother Seton’s remains are enshrined at the National Shrine in Emmitsburg, Maryland. There is also a shrine to her near her former home in New York City.

Mother Seton is the patron saint of Maryland and American Catholic schools (as she founded the first free ones in America).

As a relatively new country, there aren’t very many canonized American saints yet.

But the ones that we do have truly embody many of those ideals and virtues that Americans and Catholics alike greatly value: courage, independence, a strong will, generosity, benevolence, kindness, and so on.

She was a wife and mother.

Tying into the above point, Mother Seton’s life attests that people from any vocation can become saints. Everyone is called to holiness, and people in all vocations and walks of life will have their trials to overcome.

Elizabeth Bayley was married to William Seton when she was 19. They had five children together, and – despite her busy life as wife and mother – she helped organize a lady’s charity group that would distribute food to the poor.

Her husband, whose shipping company had went bankrupt, was in poor health, and the family sailed to Italy for William’s health. He died on the way, and Elizabeth Seton landed in a foreign country as a widowed mother to her five children.

As a wife and mother, Mother Seton had her own struggles; but she was still able to live a noble and charitable life. We do not have to be a religious or a priest to do the same.

She was a convert.

Saints can come from any kind of initial religious background, and Mother Seton can attest to that. She grew up in a devout Episcopalian household. Her husband and children, too, were raised in the Episcopalian faith.

After her husband died en-route to Italy in 1803, Elizabeth stayed with the her late husband’s friends – the Filicci family, a prominent Italian Catholic family.

The Filiccis introduced Elizabeth to Catholicism, and when she returned to New York, she continued studying the Faith and finally converted in 1805.

After her friends and neighbors found about her conversion, she was shunned and avoided by many members of her community. Many parents withdrew their children from her school, which she had started to support her family.

In the years following, Mother Seton founded the first free Catholic school in America and started a religious order – the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph – in Emmitsburg. Her daughter Catherine was among the first sisters to join her.

In common with many saints, St. Elizabeth had a special devotion to the Eucharist and the Blessed Mother. Truly, her conversion was whole-hearted, and despite the social stigma of the time, she became an important figure in the Church’s history in the United States.

In Summary

I believe that we like to find people that we can relate with – someone who’s on “our level,” so to speak. Whether it is in life, literature, or anything else, we like encountering people who are like us in some aspect.

Our mindset is: “If she can do it, then I can do it, too.” If we are like them, in some aspect or other, whatever they achieve, we realize we can achieve, too.

So, why should our spiritual lives be any different? If the saints can share God’s Love and Joy in the world, despite all the adversities in their way – torture, loneliness, abandonment, persecution, alienation, and personal attachments – why can’t I do the same?

That’s why I admire St. Elizabeth Ann Seton so much: because, as a lay, American woman, she and I are alike. And, if she can become a saint, then I can become a saint, too.

We all have saints that we relate to because we have common ground with them – shared life experiences, trials, vocations, etc. We admire them because they are like us – and they are holy.

And that is why I love all the saints, including Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton! They all give me the hope that…

If they can do it, then I can do it, too.