A remarkable sign of change in our world is the recent “retirement” of Pope Benedict XVI, something that has really never happened before in the Roman Catholic Church. Yes, I know there was the case of Celestine V and some forced resignations in the medieval period, but nothing like this: a fully recognized pontiff, reigning without any challenge to his legitimacy, fully in control of the papal office for eight years, and now stepping down due to age and health concerns. It is a dramatic moment, and probably a healthy thing for the Catholic church. Of course, judgments on this matter will not be concluded until it is known who Benedict’s successor will be, so we still have some waiting to do.
In one of his last communications, Benedict gave an astounding admission as to the troubled times he has experienced in the papal role. He said:
The Lord gave us days of sun and of light breeze, days in which the fishing was good. There were also moments when there were stormy waters and headwinds… as if God was sleeping …
The days leading up to Good Friday, the day Christ died, were tumultuous. At the Last Supper, before he announced that one would betray him, Jesus admitted that his soul was “troubled,” translated by the NLT as “great anguish of spirit.” He later sought comfort in the solitude of prayer at the Garden of Gethsemane, but there his anguish was so great that his sweat was tinged with blood. Luke speaks of this as his “agony” (the Greek word agonia). Did it feel to Jesus like “God was sleeping”? He asked earnestly that the “cup be taken” from him, a plea to be relieved from the cross, however this prayer was not answered. It does not say that a voice thundered from heaven, “Sorry, my Beloved Son, you have to go to the cross.” There seems to be no word from God at all, only silence. These were not days of sun and of light breeze, days in which the fishing was good. This was a time of stormy waters and headwinds.
Benedict never felt abandoned by God. Beyond his frank admission that sometimes it felt like “God was sleeping,” he went on to say:
But I always knew that God was in that boat and I always knew that the boat of the Church is not mine, is not ours, but is his and he will not let it sink … I never felt alone.
Jesus, in his great agony on the cross, was able to ask his Father to forgive those who had crucified him. He did not act as if he were alone. God was with him at all times, and he was keenly away of his presence. If we would be honest, we have all had times when if felt like “God was sleeping,” when our prayers seemed to go unanswered. But we are never alone. During this Lenten season, may we pause to remember his presence, to cast out our doubts, and be renewed in our passion for our Lord. As Longfellow wrote:
God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
Nebraska Christian College