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The Chair of Peter

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator

Today's Feast celebrates the place of the papacy in our lives as Catholic Christians. Pope Benedict's resignation decision will certainly be on everyone's mind as we celebrate this feast day. It offers us the opportunity not only to praise God for the institution of the Church, it also affords us the time to pray for and about the man we call the Holy Father.

In the first reading today, which comes from the New Testament letter we ascribe to Peter, we read: Do not lord it over those assigned to you, but be examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd is revealed, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. (1 Peter 5:3-4) What do we learn from the example that Pope Benedict has given us?

Before his election, some wags in the media referred to Joseph Ratzinger as the pope's Doberman Pinscher. Eight years later, one doesn't hear such references. This is partly because the institution of the papacy itself does bring with it a demand for respect that most in the media observe. However, I believe it also because Pope Benedict has been an example of a man who responded to the grace of leadership which God bestows on all who are called to serve. Another way of saying this is to say that he was able to embrace the pastoral role that is part of the papacy, a role that was far different than that which was his when he was the chief officer of the Curial Office he held before election. His encyclical letters have been particularly important for setting the tone for his reign, letters on love, hope and faith, in that order. He began with the virtue of love, remembering that in the end, three things will last, the greatest of them being love.

A quote on various social media stated that Pope John Paul II remained in the papacy through his illness and diminishment to teach us the value of all human life, even the life of someone who is elderly and frail. Those of us who struggle on a daily basis with illness and disability know the value of that lesson, that example. Pope Benedict XVI has chosen to resign that same office just eight years after his election. He is giving us an example of humility as he recognizes that he simply does not have the stamina and strength to bear the load of the Petrine ministry. Both popes offer us the meaning of St. Peter's quotation. They lead by example. They remind us that the papacy is not about authority but service. They exemplify the fact that our lives are about something other than self – our lives are to be lived for love of God and love of neighbor.

I am sure that all CUSANS have been praying for Pope Benedict as well as for the cardinals who will elect his successor. God be with all of them.

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