So today is the day before. At eight o’clock GMT, Thursday, Benedict XVI will relinquish the papacy and retire. At that point the Church enters unknown territory in modern times. What will happen in the next few weeks as the Conclave meets and finally selects a successor to Benedict is all a matter of conjecture. Names are tossed around by the media, anxious for a story or just wanting to report plain gossip. Articles are published that suggest intrigue and plot, usually unsourced, but they whet the appetite and keep people talking.
But let’s be clear, in spite of all the innuendo, all is not right with the governance of our Church. There are significant issues that a new pontiff has to address for the sake of us all. Mistakes have been made across the world, people have been hurt. It must not happen again. Throughout this time, the regression of power to a central Roman Curia has continued apace as the open vision offered by the Council has been severely limited, stage by stage.
Faith can be shaken by events as the trust of the people of God is betrayed. None of us is perfect, neither Joe Soap in the pew nor the Parish priest preaching his Sunday sermon, nor the local Bishop who carries a huge trust for his diocese, nor indeed the Bishop of Rome.
But all must, in charity, help one another, critical where we have to be, understanding where failings occur, caring where support is needed. A perfect church is unreal, a weak and failing Church speaks of the need of Redemption.
I have been re-reading some of Thomas Merton’s writings in recent days. If ever there was a man who was far from perfect but who sought perfection in God, then his life is an example to us all.