When news of the Pope's retirement was announced, my son asked me if I was going to write a blog post on the subject. I mentioned that I had thought about it, but suggested that he consider doing so instead of me. The interesting thing about that proposal is that in some ways this is an extension of the type of discussions he and I would likely be having anyway if he were home for a visit. Though we do not always see eye to eye on theological matters, we both love discussing them. In that sense, he really is a "chip off the old block"
So without further ado, it gives me great pleasure to welcome my son, Nick Rochow, as a guest blogger here on Rethinking Faith and Church.
Recent news of the Pope’s retirement has troubled me quite deeply, and I cannot help but feel as though it should trouble Christians around the world, Catholic or not. This is an event that has not happened in 600 years, and that in and of itself is significant. Pope’s don’t retire; they are … called home, so to speak. So what would make this Pope want to call it a day?
The cited reasons are health concerns, which don’t get me wrong, are reasonable. He is 85 years old, after all. And yet, when one looks at the bigger picture, it is difficult to not imagine that there are more reasons than that, or at the very least, more reasons that would lead to such high health concerns. Our world has been changing rapidly for the last couple hundred years. The Catholic Church was once the universal church, and part of me wishes it was still so … but that is a topic for perhaps another time.
What was once a very theistic world changed to a more deistic one – a more secularized world that the United States, coincidently enough was founded on. Deism, the belief that God created the world and then left it to its own means, worked fairly well with the new scientific theories coming about in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. Yet it was a far too natural progression to go from deism to atheism, after all, if we want to say a divine being created the world then left it, why not just take the divine being out of the equation altogether? That is the world that the Catholic Church, and all of Christianity, for that matter, finds itself in. It has been taken out of the public sphere and thrown into the private one. It has been made into a free enterprise along with the rest of the Western world, leading to tremendous conflict amongst churches, and even more between religion and the rest of the world.
Now that I have bored you all with a historical review of the issue, I will say why I think we should be so concerned with the Pope’s retirement and the state of the Catholic Church in general. Whether it likes it or not, the Catholic Church is probably the greatest representation of the Christian faith to the outside world. It is an incredibly broken entity, but nonetheless, when people think of Christianity, the Catholic Church is one of the first things that come to mind. The Pope was placed into a situation where he needed to try to make the Catholic Church relevant in the face of the forces of secularism and modernity that have been trying their best to eliminate it. The fact of the Pope's retirement shows a failure to be able to do that. If there was no way for the Catholic Church to right itself, what would that say for Christianity in general in today's world? Would it remain relevant? Or has it already lost that relevance too, and it was just not as noticeable because the massive entity that is the Catholic Church was overshadowing it?
Some might say that the greatest problem with the church is its quest to be relevant, and that the last thing we need is the sort of power and authority that the Catholic Church try to enforce. But I am not convinced. I am all for a church that takes the New Testament seriously, and as literal as possible, but I also refuse to believe that we should sit back and accept our failures in this world and let the forces of modernity eliminate the necessity for religious belief.
Yes, the Catholic Church is broken, and has screwed up on numerous occasions. But maybe that is the best ministry we can give to a broken world: that we are broken too. That is why I believe in the institution that is the church as being an incredible force in the world. It is a failure, and the people with it are failures. Yet we love each other enough to keep on trying to make this "church" thing work. Religion has been constantly falling apart because of the forces that are consistently working against it. If one of the most significant leaders of our faith feels the need to abandon the post, I think maybe, just maybe, it is a call for us to get over ourselves and find some semblance of unity, so that the world can see the church as it was meant to be. Broken. Hurting. Yet unified in love for one another.