Sorry for not posting yesterday; it's starting to be a busy spring around here! Which made me think, as usual.
Last week, I saw various people post reflections and thoughts about the pope emeritus and his last day as Pope Benedict XVI. I didn't write anything then myself, mainly because his last day coincided with Thad's birthday and we were out celebrating instead of home glued to the EWTN feed. But the biggest jolt I got came from the priest who said Mass a week ago Sunday, who reminded us that in the space of that week we, who already don't have a bishop--he was sent to Orange, CA--would now also have no pope.
That pause in the Canon is getting longer and longer...
Still, I realized that there is something I'm really grateful to the pope emeritus in all of this. The late Pope John Paul II gave us all a wonderful example of perseverance in the face of physical decline, but Pope Emeritus Benedict is giving us something else our age needs: a model of what to do when discernment tells us that it's time to stop doing something, to step back, to step away.
I think we need this.
Too often in the modern age discipleship has been taken to mean "For God's sake (literally--not flippantly) do something!" Our churches are teeming with volunteers and opportunities to volunteer, our communities demand more and more action, our lives become a race--not toward the glorious finish as envisioned by St. Paul, but more like the caucus race in Alice in Wonderland: we're going in circles, but boy, are we going fast.
Our culture is addicted to activity. It starts young, with the pressure to sign our children up for things before they have technically even been born--or, sometimes, before they've even been conceived. Stopping to smell the roses is only a virtuous activity if we're also weeding around them and laying mulch in the flowerbed simultaneously. Family mealtime, family game time, family anything-time has to be centered around action, and we can sometimes find ourselves even trying to turn family prayer-time into a quest to say more prayers and add more devotions instead of slowing down a little and allowing for a bit of contemplation.
Unfortunately our parishes have fallen victim to this bias for action as well. There's always something else to sign up for, to bring baked goods or car wash equipment for, to volunteer to do or to join, to be a part of or a member of or on the committee for. None of these things are unimportant in themselves, but too many times we don't really seek discernment before signing ourselves or our families up for one more thing...
And in the hustle and bustle and hubbub, sometimes we forget to ask whether any of this is really helping us to grow closer to the person of Jesus Christ, to our own families, to each other in our communities--or is the action just a substitute for that intimacy, that closeness, that "Be with me!" call of love to the beloved other that is the most important thing in life?
We are, quite simply, a culture of Marthas. We need to remember that Jesus said that Mary, who sat at His feet and listened and loved, had found the better part.
Pope Emeritus Benedict gave us quite a gift the other day: the gift of being able to discern when God's will is calling us not to do something, or to stop doing something, or to step aside and let others take over. We are too inclined to think that it has to be us, that we have to be involved, that the world or our family or our parish will stop functioning if we don't keep overstretching ourselves to the breaking point. But that's not true. God wants us to know, love, and serve Him--and how and when we are to serve Him is something we should work out quietly and prayerfully, not by jumping to add our names to every list that circulates. It is sometimes okay to discern that what God wants us to do, for His sake, is to stand down for a while, so we can sit at His feet and listen to Him.