by Sister Constance Carolyn Veit, l.s.p
As Ash Wednesday approached, I was thinking that this was going to be a Lent like most others. And then came the news on Feb. 11! Even as I pondered what a papal resignation signified, my thoughts drifted back to another season of high emotion – Lent 2005. A proud member of the JPII generation, I will never forget the images of John Paul II publicly living out his last days like a long and deliberate Way of the Cross.
Benedict XVI’s final papal Lent has an entirely different tenor. Much ink has already been spilled over the possible reasons and implications of his resignation, and one might ask what more can be said.
We Little Sisters of the Poor would simply like to offer profound thanks to God for the gift of Pope Benedict at a very challenging time in the life of the Church. We would like to thank him for the canonization of our mother foundress, St. Jeanne Jugan, in 2009 and for imparting a message of hope to our Sisters and elderly residents during a visit to our home in London in 2010. We are deeply grateful for his encyclicals and books and for his emphasis on the place of organized works of charity in the life of the Church.
We would also like to reflect on Pope Benedict’s example from the perspective of women religious dedicated to the elderly. In visiting our residents in London, Pope Benedict readily admitted that he came among them as a brother who knows both the joys and struggles of advanced age. During a visit to an old age home in Rome in late 2012, he identified himself as “an old man visiting his peers,” even exclaiming that “it is beautiful to be old!” Rare is the public figure who so readily admits his own frailty.
At the beginning of his pontificate, Benedict said that “Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.” In 2010, he repeated this message to the residents of our home in London and again in Rome. Directed at the infirm elderly, can we doubt that this message was uniquely intentional? It is worth pondering at any age but especially as one feels his or her strength and abilities diminishing under the weight of old age.
In his first encyclical, Benedict wrote about humility and service. Now he is showing us the way: “We are only instruments in the Lord’s hands; and this knowledge frees us from the presumption of thinking that we alone are personally responsible for building a better world. In all humility we will do what we can, and in all humility we will entrust the rest to the Lord. It is God who governs the world, not we. We offer him our service only to the extent that we can, and for as long as he grants us the strength. To do all we can with what strength we have, however, is the task which keeps the good servant of Jesus Christ always at work: ‘The love of Christ urges us on’ (2 Cor. 5:14)” (Deus Caritas Est, n. 35).
There can be no doubt that the love of Christ – and love for the Church – are urging Benedict XVI on as he pursues a life of prayer, hidden from the world.Sister Constance Carolyn Veit, l.s.p., is the director of communications for the Little Sisters of the Poor in the U.S.