February 22, 2013

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

Learn a lesson in humility from Pope Benedict XVI

Sean GallagherEarlier this winter, my 5-year-old son, Victor, looked out our living room window and saw snow falling quickly from the sky. He then asked when he would be able to go out and shovel the snow off our driveway. Ah, the enthusiasm of youth.

I told him that it wouldn’t be necessary because a weather forecaster said that we would only get an inch of the white stuff. Without missing a beat and with total innocence, Victor replied, “How does he know? Was he just guessing?”

Victor’s words made me chuckle, considering that a lot of jaded adults feel the same way about weather forecasters.

But later on, what Victor said gave me pause. He reminded me that we often take for granted that certain things will take place or continue to exist in the future. We take this for granted even though history in general and the history of our own lives show us just the opposite.

In reality, there is no certainty in the conclusions we make about living here or there, working in this job or that, or even being alive at a certain point in the future. All of these conclusions are just our best guesses. In the end, weather forecasters might actually have a better grasp on tomorrow’s weather than we do of what will happen in our lives in a week, month or year.

St. James warned against such guessing in his New Testament letter and called it by its real name—arrogant boasting.

“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we shall go into such and such a town, spend a year there doing business, and make a profit.’ You have no idea what your life will be like tomorrow. You are a puff of smoke that appears briefly and then disappears. Instead you should say, ‘If the Lord wills it, we shall live to do this or that.’ But now you are boasting in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil” (Jas 4:13-16).

We Catholics were recently given a shocking reminder of the uncertain nature of the future when Pope Benedict XVI announced on Feb. 11 that he would resign as leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics effective on Feb. 28. The announcement stunned even some of the pope’s closest co-workers because a pope had not resigned in some 600 years.

But Benedict’s choice showed forth one of the main features of this man with so much spiritual authority—his humility. He looked honestly at his declining energy, at what was needed by the pope at this time in history and humbly concluded, after much deep prayer, that God was calling him at this time to step aside.

A man more driven by pride might have resisted such a call and instead held on tightly to the papal throne. But not Benedict. He didn’t even add drama to his announcement. It came simply at the end of a small meeting of cardinals who minister in Rome.

Pope Benedict is a spiritual father for all of us. And in his resignation, he has taught us all a valuable lesson in humility.

As I pondered what I as a father could learn from him, I playfully thought at first that maybe I should step down after I’ve had one too many hard days taking care of my four rambunctious boys and live a life dedicated to prayer. I think my wife, Cindy, might want to tag along with me.

But in all seriousness, we parents would do well to foster a spirit of humility in our homes—one that is imbued with prayer woven into our loving service of one another.

When we live that way, we’ll more and more enjoy the sweetness of the present moment, look forward to its fulfillment in heaven and not yearn for a future that may never happen. †

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