The most striking word in the pope’s official speech of resignation in my opinion is the use of the word incapacity: “both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me”. In saying this, the pope recognized the incapacity of his team work, the whole roman curia. As a matter of fact, on 28 February 2013, it is not only Benedict XVI who will resign. His resignation leads automatically to the Roman Curia’s resignation. The new pope will choose his own collaborators. Pope Benedict XVI is being honest in recognizing his incapacity, and consequently the incapacity of his curia.
This incapacity, in my opinion, is not due only to the deterioration of the leader’s strength of mind and body. The pope gives us a glimpse at the team’s struggle with the decision by saying “I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering.” The curia might have told him that there is no need to resign since the mission can be done with human weakness. Moreover they are doing the job with him. Indeed the pope does not govern alone and God’s power reveals himself in human weakness. But Ratzinger “repeatedly examining his conscience before God” was faced with a clear question: “in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken (the Latin word is perturbato) by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith” does my team have both strength of mind and body necessary in order to govern the barque of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel?
The answer is NO. Therefore his resignation is due to the deterioration of the team’s strength of mind. We are not going to speculate on the reasons that led to that. It is not necessary. With the resignation of Benedict’s team the Church is faced with a bear truth: the incapacity of the roman curia to respond adequately to the “so many rapid changes and questions of deep relevance for the life of faith” in today’s world, and “in today’s Church”. The traditional historic Roman curia is incapable of fulfilling its mission of evangelization of the present world. The Roman-Vatican governing institution of the Catholic Church is simply incapable of entering into a life-giving dialogue with today’s world. The curia is at a loss.
In resigning the pope said: “After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths (i.e. the strengths of Roman Institution of the Church), due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.” The message is clear: the traditional roman curia does not have any longer the moral and spiritual strength suited to an adequate exercise of the government of the whole Catholic Church and of her mission of evangelization. The Church needs a new way of being present to today’s world. The Church needs a new breath, a new spirit, a new face.
In announcing his resignation at the moment of entering into the Lenten time which is a time to “come back to the Lord with all your hearts”, the pope posed a prophetic gesture. He is calling the Church to bravely come back to the naked crucified poor defenseless Christ. By renouncing to the papacy Benedict XVI renounces to human glory, power, and material riches. I don’t always agree with his western European way of seeing things. I recognize that as an intellectual the only richness of Ratzinger is his faith in Jesus and his knowledge that he had tried to impose on the whole Church. I do believe that his renunciation is a deep spiritual personal journey, the rise to a new consciousness of what it means to be Christian, the realization of what is really essential, what he calls in his speech “essential spiritual nature”.
He renounces to a human way of being Christian in the world to seek a divine, spiritual way of living. He wished “to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.” Indeed a life dedicated to prayer is a devoted service. But a life dedicated to prayer is not the life of somebody whose strengths of mind and body are deteriorating. It is not the life of somebody whose “strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of a ministry.” The truth is that the pope has come to a deep consciousness of what religion is all about: union with the divine reality, the divinization of the human; the mind, the heart, the hands meet in a harmonious way into the shadow of God. All the rest flows from that deep union. A Christ inspired moral law can be followed only by people who are in deep union with Christ. Prophetic voices within the Christian tradition and from the other religions of the world have been calling us to that deep way of existence. But the spirit of conquering the other, competition, victories and domination of civilizations hardened our minds and hearts.
The desire for a life dedicated to prayer is not the fruit of the incapacity to teach and act. It’s a call to seek the Lord in the depth of the heart and to be what the Lord desires us to be. What is going on in Ratzinger’s life is this: ““Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!” Your face, Lord, do I seek. Do not hide your face from me” (Psalm 27 NRSV). The pope is having a deep spiritual experience similar to the one of the powerful prophet Elijah. He is lead now through a “repeated examination of his conscious” to experience the presence of God as “sheer silence” (1 Kings 19: 12 NRSV) Interestingly, Elijah, after such a powerful experience of God, is asked to anoint Elisha as prophet in his place (1Kings 19: 16). This is not about advanced age. This is not about weak health. It’s about meeting God. Joseph Ratzinger has become a pilgrim, a seeker of God, with meekness of heart. Now the Church can enter into deep life-giving dialogue with the world inside and outside.
The resignation of Benedict XVI leads to seeking a new way of evangelizing the world. Evangelization is not a conquista (conquest), never an imposition, neither competition, nor apologetic, nor inquisition. We have been asked to evangelize the world in the spirit of 1Peter 3: 15 “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you”. We have nothing to defend. We have everything to announce. The world, the other, is not an enemy. By seeing the other as an enemy we have in reality turned ourselves as enemies of anybody within or without our church who does not think like us. We have become aggressive, violent, in the name of a zeal for Christ. We have forgotten the “essential spiritual nature”, “blessed are the meek”.
The world we are living in is what it is. It is open to all ways of living, thinking, and feeling. The Church is called to enter into a life-giving transforming dialogue with the world the way it is. Moreover God dwells in this world, as dirty as it is, weeping and laughing. God dwells even in the hearts of the believers of other religions. And there are many people not belonging to the Church, stirred up by the spirit of God, who seek union with him with sincere hearts. Evangelization is seeking and finding God, the “abba” of Jesus, in this world and walking humbly with our fellow human beings to encounter deeply God and be transformed by him, together.
By recognizing the incapacity of the roman curia the pope calls the Church to reflect on a more adequate form of government that will make the Church capable of responding to the challenges. The discussion in the Church is not new. It is simply revived with the recognition that the traditional Vatican-Roman curia’s strengths are no more suitable. A communion of the particular catholic churches (the dioceses) may be best suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. The “so many rapid changes and questions of deep relevance for the life of faith” are not perceived or experienced the same way everywhere. The Episcopal conference of each country, of each continent, has the necessary strength of mind and body to “govern the barque of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel” in their respective context.
We do not need anymore a heavy traditional clerical centralized institution that itself costs fortunes to maintain. We need a light collegial synod-form of government of the Church. We need a new system of governing determined by the catholic faithful themselves. We cannot continue to impose to the faithful of today’s world a historic traditional priest-centered structure that has to be sustained by them. Archdioceses, dioceses, parishes, does this traditional organization foster Christian identity and belonging today? We need to invent a new way of belonging. The particular churches in each continent have the strength of mind to do that. They should also have the power to make and destitute their own bishops.
Christians in each continent have the strengths of mind and body to respond to their own particular challenges. They do not expect the Vatican-Roman Curia to decide for them how they should live their Christian faith. This infantilism has to stop. The gospel of Christ is universal and valid for all. But the way of living the gospel of Christ is contextual. The end of the universal traditional unifying roman curia will lead to different valid contextual ways of thinking God, of celebrating, of organizing the Church, of living the Christian faith. True diversity and not disguised diversity will be a tremendous richness of the Church. Catholics will be eager to discover the beauty of other catholic churches and learn from others Catholics. So far we all have to learn from the western European Catholic Church. What a great joy to learn from one another. This will be real love. Moreover solidarity between the different catholic churches will be a real exercise of charity. Catholics will be more responsible for one another.
I wish the resurrection of contextual theologies, liberation theology, African theology, black theology, Asian theology from the religious experiences of people. I expect the birth of new creative way of praying, adoring, and celebrating human union with the divine, and with creation, from each context of living. I am African. Although I studied in a western European system my soul remains fundamentally African. I have a mythical religious way of seeing reality which is different from a rational dualistic western European mentality. I want to live my union with the divine and with creation at the depth of my African soul and creatively. Religion is not about number of believers. We do not need many catholic churches filled with people with angel masks. Religion is not a carnival. We need people of this world who seek the face of God, ““Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!” Your face, Lord, do I seek.” (Psalm 27 NRSV)