The recent resignation of Pope Benedict XVI certainly surprised the world. After all, no pope has resigned in about 600 years. Citing his age and health, the Holy Father said he could no longer perform his duties as pope. I give the man credit. Most popes stayed in office until their death. Benedict’s decision says it’s perfectly okay—in fact, it can be good—to let go of major responsibilities, to retire, to hand over the reins to someone else.
Soon we will have a new pope. I was thinking, what would I say to the new pope if I had the chance? I came up with many things. Here are a few of them:
Thank you. Thank you for saying “yes” to this unique and demanding ministry of leadership. As Jesus himself said, leadership among his disciples is essentially service. Remember how, at the Last Supper, before he washed the feet of his disciples, Jesus tied that towel around his waist? That towel was a makeshift apron! Maybe you could add an apron to your wardrobe as a sign of your service to us, the Church.
I’m praying for you. I mean it. Every day. It might not seem like much that you have me praying for you, but it is. Just multiply my teensy prayer by a billion—because that’s how many Catholics there are in the world. Then add a few million more good people of other faiths who will also be praying for you. Now that’s significant!
Stay close to Jesus. I know it sounds trite, but really ask yourself every day, “What would Jesus do? What would Jesus see? What would Jesus think? What would Jesus say?”
Remember us. Go outside that wall that encloses the Vatican. Like your predecessors, visit the world. And don’t just talk at people; talk with them. Everywhere you go, slip incognito into a church and sit with the local congregation during Mass. Remember, it is from the pew (or chair, or bench, or rock, or ground) that the vast majority of us see our church leaders and experience a worshiping community.
Have good women friends. I hope you have (or had) a good mother. I hope you have at least one sister and sister-in-law, some nieces, and (most importantly) some good women friends. Your celibacy and the all-male hierarchy present challenges to your development of a broad and balanced vision of life that includes a healthy dose of the feminine perspective.
Make time to play with children. Jesus did.
Volunteer regularly. At a soup kitchen, a homeless shelter, an inner-city school, a nursing home, a prison, a refugee camp, a hospital, hospice, or wherever individuals are in serious need.
Stay human. Do those things that keep you human: cook occasionally, wash your own clothes, make your own bed, read the comics, listen to opera or jazz or whatever, play chess or Scrabble or whatever, tend a garden, get a dog or cat or canary, balance your own personal check book, go to a movie, haggle over prices at an outdoor market, browse in a book store, cheer madly for a sports team, take the pope-mobile in for an oil change, host a barbecue in your backyard and do the grilling (you can wear your apron!)
Venerate our Tradition. Be open to change. This is one of your greatest challenges you face as pope. I can’t tell you how to achieve this balance, but all the previous suggestions should help you! And don’t forget, Holy Father, I’m praying for you.
Is there anything you would like to say to the next pope?