Don’t Panic: Pope Benedict XVI Announces His Resignation


If you have access to any sort of news outlet today, you must have heard the news: Pope Benedict XVI has announced his papal resignation effective February 28.  This is certainly shocking news, given the fact that the last pontiff to exercise this authority was Pope Gregory XII who resigned 598 years ago to put an end to the Western Schism.  As the day progressed more news came out: the Holy Father grappled with this question for quite some time, he isn’t going to participate in conclave to elect his successor, and he is going to move to the papal residence at Castel Gandolfo for awhile and then possibly to a cloistered monastery for prayer and reflection.

Saint Corbinian’s Bear

Pope Benedict XVI's coat of armsOne particularly interesting piece of commentary from The Catholic World Report notes Pope Benedict’s affinity for the symbol of Saint Corbinian’s Bear.  I always find it interesting to explore the inspiration for the great thinkers of the Church, so I was interested to find out more.  Saint Corbinian was an 8th-century bishop who carries a legend wherein his horse is killed by a bear.  The saint rebukes the bear and enlists him to carry his burden back to Rome.  Pope Benedict has used the symbol of the bear on his heraldry starting when he was Archbishop of Munich.  His autobiography quotes:

The bear with the pack, which replaced the horse or, more probably, St. Corbinian’s mule, becoming, against his will, his pack animal, was that not, and is it not an image of what I should be and of what I am?

At the end of the legend, the saint lets the bear go free… seems like an appropriate symbol today.  I strongly recommend reading the rest of the commentary that I linked above, it is quite thought provoking.

As the day progressed, most of my coworkers stopped by to ask if I had heard the news and ask questions.  Here are a few:

Can the Pope even do that?

Yes, he sure can.  The Code of Canon Law 332 §2 states:

If it happens that the Roman Pontiff resigns his office, it is required for validity that the resignation is made freely and properly manifested but not that it is accepted by anyone.

So all he has to do is freely resign through an official manifest.  There is no process of acceptance, what he says goes.

What happens next?

From the sound if it, Conclave will begin on February 28.  If it follows normal procedures after a pope’s death, voting begins 13-15 days after Conclave begins.  This being a rather rare situation they may begin Conclave much quicker since no official mourning period is required, but it’s anyone’s guess at this point.  I’m sure we’ll know more as the 28th approaches and we get more details about what is planned.  The Conclave process will apply in this situation, and there’s no direct cause for alarm… this isn’t uncharted territory, it’s just rather antique territory.

What’s the Pope going to be called once he steps down?

That one is a little tricky, since it has been so long since this has happened.  Surely he will return to being known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.  I have heard some news agencies report that some Vatican officials are beginning to use the title Bishop Emeritus of Rome but again… I’m sure this will become more clear as the end of the month approaches.  I strongly suspect that mainstream media will continue to call him Pope Benedict in some regard, mostly because it’s easier.

What’s going to happen to the Pope’s recently minted Twitter account?

This one actually made me laugh, despite it being a sobering reflection of the times we live in.  I haven’t heard one way or another whether Pope Benedict will continue to maintain his Twitter account after his reign as Supreme Pontiff ends, or if it will be turned over to his successor.  I do hope that the next pope embraces new media with the same zeal as Pope Benedict, because it was really interesting to get insights into the thoughts of the pope 140 characters at a time.

What do I think?

This was the most popular question, as if I was going to come up with some sort of poetic or crushing insight.  The truth is, I am sad.  I think that Pope Benedict is an enlightened teacher and a truly spectacular scholar.  He was a champion for the old guard of orthodoxy and traditionalism, both of which ate sorely lacking in today’s society.  His background and story are extremely interesting, as is his reluctance to progress through the priestly ranks.  In the end he heeded the admonishment of his predecessor Pope John Paul II: “Be not afraid!” and took the visible and demanding role that he is leaving behind at the end of the month.  I find that very inspirational, that he would sacrifice so much to be the Vicar of Christ on Earth.

I am also concerned for his health.  I suspect that any reason that would cause the Pope to resign just before Lent and during the Year of Faith that he himself instituted must be a grave one.  I noticed that he seemed more frail in the last few years when viewed on TV, but I chalked it up to his advanced age and the demands of the job.  In the end, I hope that he receives some peace and is allowed to quietly return to a life of peaceful prayer, and that he continues to release books to help the rest of us along in our faith journey.

At the same time, I am excited for the future.  This is only the second Conclave that I have been alive for and it is always a mysterious spectacle.  I am hopeful for another pontiff in the same mould of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict: big personalities with a great love of Christ and a great capacity for explaining the Truth that is within them.

Vivat Papa!


Saint Thomas Aquinas…

Saint Thomas Aquinas painting by BotticelliToday is the feast day of Saint Thomas Aquinas (c.1225-1274), one of the greatest philosophers of the Church.  He is one of the 35 Doctors of the Church (he is often referred to as the Angelic Doctor), whose writing greatly influenced Western thought and provided us deep and rich analysis of Scripture and application of Catholic Tradition.  Strongly influenced by Aristotle, Aquinas performed his work much as a scientist would – citing both sides of an argument and then exploring each to form a conclusion. The continuation of this exercise has formed the philosophical school known as Thomism, which continues to thrive to this day.

Why Saint Thomas Aquinas still matters

At Mass today, our priest declared: “Today is the feast day of Saint Thomas Aquinas, the Blessed Angelic Doctor of the Church.  He is the source of many headaches for seminarians or laypeople that chose to study his theology.”  This is very true, based on the small amount of reading that I have done in Saint Thomas’s “Summa Theologica“.  His writing is inherently rational and logical, but it is challenging.  He presents very complex theological concepts in very clear terms and explores them so fully that I often find myself pondering a single page or two for a very long time.

This is why I feel that Saint Thomas Aquinas is still important: he presents a framework of exploration and argumentation that can still be used today.  It proves that the scientific method can be applied to theological research and discourse.  In fact, I once heard a modern Thomist explain that one of the main principles is that any argument can be presented for analysis, so long as both sides are willing to maintain civility during the discussion.  I believe this is constructive given the secular focus on scientific research as a tool… the more it appears in theological discussion, the more relevant Aquinas’s work becomes.  To me, it appears as a grand example that science and religion need not be enemies, and that religious people can explain their beliefs using rational thought.

My prayer today is that I am granted a small amount of the grace that Saint Thomas Aquinas had, so I might better understand the nature of God and the teachings of the Catholic Church.  I think that continuing deeper into Summa Theologica will be one of my Lenten projects this year!



March for Life…

Today hundreds of thousands of people participated in the March for Life nationwide, garnering news coverage and even solidarity via Twitter from the Holy Father himself.  I know it is popular to paint the Catholic Church as old fashioned, out of touch, and backwards in light of secular sensibilities.  I’m not going to go into intense theological debate here, I’ll just state some facts:

The CDC reports just under 49 million abortions performed in the United States between 1970 and 2008 (more recent years have not been released yet).  I saw someone refer to abortion as “the silent Holocaust”, and this caused me to look up those numbers as well.  The estimated number killed during that time was 11-17 million.  I think applying the silent Holocaust term is appropriate.

Now there will be some people that cry out “how dare you compare these two events?”  It is simple.  I know the value of one unborn life.  Just one.  You cannot quote me a scientific fact to convince me that the child we lost last year to an ectopic pregnancy wasn’t a child.  If you place each one of those pregnancies even one second after birth and then kill them in the numbers cited above, I strongly suspect you would have a war-causing outrage from any rational society.  To live at a time when we have rejected the fundamental notion that a pregnancy causes a person to be born, I don’t see any rational way that you can argue that society isn’t completely backwards on this topic.  This is in no way intended to minimize the Holocaust, that was also a grisly and unfathomable act of murder the same as this situation.

So what’s to be done about it?  Prayer for one.  Marches, protests, speeches, and rallying to continue to fight against this Culture of Death that we live in.  My job prevented me from marching today, but I did get to spend part of my workday discussing our recent ectopic pregnancy (interestingly, a coworker came up and wanted to talk to me about it) and why the March for Life was important to me.  Because it is important.

Last Sunday, Archbishop Aquila gave a truly amazing homily that outlined why, as Catholics, we must build a Culture of Life.  He explicitly warns Catholics that have bought in to the secular status quo against continuing in this vein:

Those Catholics who take a pro-choice position, those Catholics who support a so-called “right to abortion,” those Catholics who support same-sex unions, those Catholics who reject the truth about the nuptial meaning of the human body put their souls in jeopardy of eternal salvation, and we cannot ever forget that.

They are strong words, but ones we must hear and act upon.

My personal prayer for today is for all of those unborn souls that they might find eternal happiness with God, for the healing of the families affected by this grave issue, for the souls of the medical practitioners that they might have a conversion of heart and refuse to perform this grisly act, and for our country and our society to come to it’s senses and respect life.

Still confused as to why this is such a big issue for Catholics?  Read my Five Facts about Abortion article published last year.


Do you want to know a secret?

If you want to know many secrets of the Faith, then allow me to introduce you to Mr. Jimmy Akin.  He is an apologist of the highest order, and I first came to know of his work as a Senior Apologist at Catholic Answers.  Beyond his work answering questions on the radio program, I found that Jimmy is a great author as well.  He has written several books and keeps his own blog, as well as being a contributor to the National Catholic Register.

But we’re here to talk about secrets today.  I decided to write this article because I am proud to be a member of Jimmy Akin’s Secret Information Club, where he provides exclusive articles and insights from his own research.  The information is presented in a whimsical way (being part of a secret information club is a lot more fun than joining an email newsletter list!) and tackles some very interesting subjects, such as:

  • 1st century Christian writings that *aren’t* in the New Testament (and what we can learn from them)
  • What the Vatican considers the absolute *worst* liturgical abuses
  • What Pope Benedict wants you to know about the mystery of Purgatory
  • How Pope Benedict understands the sinister figure of Judas Iscariot–and his eternal fate
  • What Pope Benedict wants you to know about that perpetually thorny issue: private revelation
  • Among many other interesting things!

I bet he paid you a lot of money for this!

Actually, quite the contrary.  I don’t know Jimmy (maybe one day I’ll get to meet him!) nor am I getting any sort of kick-back, indulgence, thank-you card, or any other form of compensation for this recommendation.  I’m just sharing the Secret Information Club because it’s awesome.  The information that Jimmy provides – free of charge – is a tremendous resource for the budding apologist, interested RCIA student, or lover of Truth.  I particularly enjoy his mock interviews with Pope Benedict, where he culls answers and insights out of Pope Benedict’s public writings and presents them in a question-and-answer style.  These nuggets of wisdom from the Holy Father have caused me to dig deeper into Pope Benedict’s writings, and this was a nice entry-point for the otherwise intimidated.

So there you have it, gentle reader.  The secret is out.  Head on over to The Secret Information Club and sign up for free, you won’t be sorry.  I just hope that Jimmy doesn’t revoke my membership card for cluing you all in!


Blessing with Epiphany Chalk

Epiphany Blessing of our doorway!

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany!  Our priest encouraged us to do a blessing one’s home with a chalk inscription, as you can see above.  At Mass, the priest blessed the chalk according to the Bishop’s Book of Blessings.  It was distributed to parishoners along with a prayer to say while writing the inscription, which I have reproduced here:

Blessing with the Epiphany Chalk

Chalk is used because it symbolizes the dust of the earth from which we were made.  The Chalk is used to mark the following letters and numbers over the main door of your home.  The following blessing may be used as they are written by one of the parents as the other writes:

20 + C + M + B + 13

The numerals consecrate the new year.  The initials remind us of the legendary names of the magi – Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar – and also stand for the Latin motto: Christus Mansionem benedicat, which means May Christ bless this house.

Let us pray:
Lord, as we begin a new year in this home, we ask your protection and seek your guidance as we welcome others into our hearts.  May our visitors always find the presence of Jesus in our home especially as we welcome the stranger who seeks to know Christ among us.  Bless our home and all who join us.  We ask this through Christ our Lord.  Amen!

I had never heard of this type of blessing before, but I think it’s a nice way to consecrate the home and the new year.  After doing some reading, it seems that this is a more traditional observance and more common in Europe.  Here is more information via CatholicCulture.org.


Who will you follow?

photo (25)

The new calendar year is upon us!  This is the usual time of year for resolutions and refocusing on the things that should be important in our lives.  As I sat down to reflect on which resolutions I would attempt this year, I kept being reminded of one of my favorite Bible versus from the Book of Joshua:

But if it seem evil to you to serve the Lord, you have your choice: choose this day that which pleaseth you, whom you would rather serve, whether the gods which your fathers served in Mesopotamia, or the gods of the Amorrhites, in whose land you dwell: but as for me and my house we will serve the Lord.
Joshua 24:15 (Douay-Rheims Bible)

Resolve Differently

I came across this verse unexpectedly several years ago at my great-aunt’s Christmas party.  Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted my name on something on the floor of her living room as I was breezing through to get a drink for my wife.  This was right at the beginning of my inklings about investigating my faith further, and it seems as if this stonework decoration was placed here just to get my attention.  I stopped dead in my tracks and read the verse over several times, trying to commit the chapter and verse to memory.  Then I remembered: I had my new iPhone in my pocket so I snapped a picture.

This felt like (and literally was) a sign for me, marking the beginning of my deeper dive in my spiritual life.  I resolved at that point that I would try better to serve the Lord, and I had absolutely no idea what that meant.

Something’s Happening Here

In time, I read this entire verse in the context of the rest of the chapter.  This is Joshua’s clarion call, his prime question to the tribes of Israel.  They had continued worshiping the false gods of their fathers or the local gods of the territory they resided in.  Joshua reminded the tribes of all that almighty God had provided for them and then offered them a stark exhortation to put away these old, false gods and follow the Lord.  He concludes with the powerful verse quoted above.

It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see a corollary in today’s society which places the false gods of wealth, social justice, and creature comforts before just and true service of the Lord.  I see even well-intentioned Catholics and other religious friends often making choices or placing more focus on these things instead of their own spiritual development.  It’s not about the rights and wrongs of what your fathers did, or what society is doing, or what is fashionable, trendy, or feels good.  It’s about obedience in understanding and following God’s Will.

Further, I am reminded of this verse each time someone has harsh or derisive comments to make in regards to religion.  If it’s so bad to be religious and follow God’s Command, that’s fine… you have your choice.  I am proud to echo the sentiment of my much greater namesake: as for me and my house we will serve the Lord.

Wherein an in-flight movie improves my life

Imagine my surprise to see this verse show up again a year later.  I was on a long business flight from Germany to the US and I remembered my mom’s recommendation for a movie called Courageous, because it reminded her of the That Man Is You! program that I had just started participating in.  Luckily, this film was on the in-flight roster of movies that we could watch for free.  It tells a story of a group of men who  make a contract to be better husbands and fathers, and this verse is central to their deeper spirituality as well.  I won’t ruin any of the film for you, but suffice it to say that I identified strongly with it.  Do yourselves a favor and watch it.

I began this article talking about resolutions.  I challenge everyone out there to ask themselves this question when you set your resolutions for the new year: “Who will you follow?”  From there, simply ask “How?” a few times and see where that takes you.  If you need further inspiration, grab a copy of Courageous… it should fire you up.

Lastly, I want to thank my Great Aunt Shirley for putting this decoration in a prominent location in her living room.  I’m not quite sure where I would be if she didn’t.


Get the Catholic Voting Guide App now!

The Confraternity of Catholic Clergy has produced a free mobile application to help educate Catholic voters on vital issues this election cycle.  This application is non-partisan and does not tell you who to vote for, but does outline the important issues that should matter to every Catholic voter.

I have noticed two things this election year: confusion about moral and religious topics, and apathy.  This application will help clear up the confusion, in hopes that Catholics everywhere vote on the basis of their Faith this election year.  Not Catholic?  I think there is some value here for you as well: you get a very succinct and clear outline of the Catholic stance on these issues.  God willing, these views align with your own and you too can use this tool to form your own conscience and vote accordingly this year.

Please note: aside from being a Catholic, I am not affiliated with the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy.  I’m just a big fan of what they do.



Election Coverage next week!

Early mail-in ballots began arriving this week here in Colorado, so I’m going to devote next week to covering hot-button election year topics: abortion, homosexual “marriage”, and the Health and Human Services Mandate.  For each, I will provide the Catholic teaching as I understand it, some reflections, and some resources for further education.

My real aim is to answer the question “Why is this such a big deal to Catholics?” for each of these topics, since it’s a question I am often asked.  Why am I doing this?  Because this election year it is critical that all Christians and religious form our consciences well and vote accordingly.  This series will be my small way of helping this process.

Did I miss a topic near and dear to your heart?  Let me know on the feedback page or by posting a comment and I’ll see if I can work it in next week.


Read the Catechism this year!

Thanks to the wonderful CatholicMom.com blog, I came across this wonderful way to expand your understanding of Catholicism during the Year of Faith.

FlockNote is providing an email service that will send you a little bit of the Catechism each day and by the end of the year you will have read the whole thing!  Signing up is simple and easy, and you can do so by following this link.  As I mentioned before, catechesis was somewhat difficult when I was younger so this offers a great opportunity to get the entire Catechism in bite-sized chunks.  I’m looking forward to it!

For the record: I am not a partner with FlockNote, and this is the first time I am attempting to use anything they produce.  I just think it’s neat!