On February 28, 2013, our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI became the first pope in 600 years to retire as head of the Catholic Church. As I reflected on what this meant for me as a Catholic, I realized what a great act of submission this might have been for our Pope Emeritus, and the significance of it occurring during the holy season of Lent.
In my youth, Lent was synonymous with personal deprivation. We were expected to give up something meaningful and to abstain from meat and poultry on Ash Wednesday and on Fridays. Any digression warranted a trip to confession. Although I still abstain from meat on the required days, my Lenten practices have transitioned from deprivation to thanksgiving.
Lent culminates with Easter, which celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is significant because it brings meaning to our faith. St. Paul reminds us that if Christ had not been raised, our faith would be useless and we would still be in our sins. Therefore, I strive to make my Lenten journey less about what I give up and more about what I can do. It is about preparation, thanksgiving, and being engaged prayerfully and reflectively to celebrate Jesus Christ’s victory over sin and death.
Options for Lenten practices include community prayer, such as Stations of the Cross, daily Rosary recitations, and daily Mass, or personal prayer and daily devotions. Another means of service is to contribute to the Catholic Relief Services Rice Bowl project, a simple yet meaningful way to fulfill St. James’ directive in his New Testament letter:
If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2:15-17).
This is my personal perspective, and one that I feel honored to share. It is not intended to represent the views of the Pastoral Counseling program at Loyola University, Maryland, which is home to many faiths and Christian denominations.
As the journey towards Easter continues, I encourage everyone to be mindful of each other, and the blessings that we have individually and collectively received. I pray for our Pope Emeritus, that his decision was one of acceptance of God’s will. I especially pray that we acknowledge God’s favor in our lives with generous and prayerful acts of thanksgiving.