When I found out Pope Benedict will be stepping down, I was a surprised and a bit upset. I’ve found his writings deeply Catholic and intellectually stimulating. He showed that we could, and ought to, value both tradition and revitalization. A different pope, I thought, might take the Church in a bad direction.
Eventually, I realized I was thinking about it all wrong. It’s true that in the history of the Church, some men who have sat in Peter’s seat are better than others. However, Christ didn’t entrust the Church to Joseph Ratzinger personally; rather, he entrusted it to St. Peter and his successors. The same Spirit that guided the Church through Benedict will guide the Church into and through the next papacy. We don’t follow Benedict merely because he is a brilliant theologian, but because he is the Successor of Peter, and the Holy Spirit works through Peter’s successor in a special way. As Cardinal Arinze said recently: “God is always there. The Holy Spirit does not go on holidays. So, there will be another pope!” Our faith is not in a man, but in God.
There’s plenty of speculation over who will be the next pope. I don’t consider myself above such speculation; I’ve got my favorites, and I'll probably spend a significant portion of my weekend reading u p on the papabili (likely candidates), because I'm a nerd for this kind of thing . However, regardless of who the conclave chooses, he’s the Pope. We don’t need to completely subjugate our intellects and wills to him, but he’ll be our shepherd. He’s the rock of our faith. I’ll be upset if he tries to bring back more restrictions on the Latin Mass, or if he doesn’t make speaking against abortion as prominent a part of his agenda as recent popes have. However, I must be loyal to him as a successor of Peter, because I trust in Christ and His Church.
Cardinal Arinze noted, “Some people may be so shaken that it may change their perception [of the Church]. My hope and prayer is that it may help many to get more mature in our faith. Our faith is not on the Pope. It is on Christ, who is the foundation of the Church. Christ is the same yesterday, today, and the same forever.” Grounded in this faith in Christ, we can pray for Pope Benedict, and for the Church in this transition.