While that process of returning the papacy to a more benevolent office was supported by the second Vatican Council, it will fall to the current generation of Catholics - many of us under the age of thirty five - to interpret what the Holy Spirit wants for the future of the church as set out in that historic gathering of the college of bishops. After all it is only fifty years since the council was held, too soon, too near to be seen in its proper context and in continuity with the history of our faith and tradition. Historians usually say it takes a hundred years or more for the ideas of the current age to be really understood, rooted and faithful. Perhaps as one commentator discussed during the week in doing what he has done, Benedict XVI has once more shown that the dynamic radical theologian that was at the council is still inside this elderly man in white by showing us that while God is the God of surprises, perhaps God’s bride should also be full of surprises as well!
In this Lenten season, the teaching Pope is reminding us through this act of faith that we are called to trust in God. Like Jesus in the desert, we are called to remember that we rely on God, on God’s gifts to us. That despite the power games we try to play, ultimately we need to fall on our knees and say “Lord I believe, help thou my unbelief”. It is also perhaps an act of deepest faith – truly a sign, a symbol in the Year of Faith which we are marking at the moment. For only a man of faith could turn around and echoing Pope John XXIII almost say “Well, Lord, it's your church. You take care of it. I'm going...”. Reflecting on his papal coat of arms, one blogger made the point that “A shell of water can never transfer the entire sea. Pope Benedict is not frustrated by such limitations. He does what is possible. The rest is up to God. Similarly, he is the bear that has carried the heavy pack of the pastoral office of Pope. If this pack is now too heavy for his weary body, then the Holy Father is able with a joyful freedom to entrust that pack to another”.
As Benedict enters into the solitude of his retirement in the weeks ahead, perhaps it will be a reminder to us all that in the end we too must enter the deserts of our lives at some stage. But remembering that “The flight to the desert is not an effort to spurn the "world" and its secular inhabitants. Instead the desert is a school of love, a school of prayer, where we can learn to enter more deeply into the mystery of God who, out of love, entered so intimately into our humanity”
- Shane Ambrose