What do you seek? Perfection or Holiness?

holy

I was watching the breaking news on CNN, when my phone rang. I looked at the caller ID; it was my mom, and I immediately figured what she wanted to tell me.

“Have you heard?” She jumped straight to the point the minute I picked up, skipping all the usual pleasantries. “The Pope’s resigning!” Her voice was frantic.

“Yes, I have,” I replied nonchalantly. I was glad my voice didn’t betray me; I was in extreme panic mode, as I tried-with immense difficulty-to wrap my mind around the shocking announcement. I had figured it wouldn’t do any of us any good if I also let my anxiety take over. One anxious person was enough, so for sanity’s sake I chose to act calm. “They say it’s for health reasons,” I added.

“I don’t know what’s supposed to happen, this has never happened before.” She said, still anxious.

I didn’t know what to tell her; I was beside myself with anxiety and that was interfering with my reasoning. I took a while, dug deep into my heart then replied, “Relax mom, just believe it has happened that way because that is how God wills it. So everything will work out eventually. We just have to wait and see.”

To my relief, that eased her angst. We talked for a while before hanging up. As I sat there staring blankly at the TV screen, my mind drifted back to when I was small. I always felt the Pope was the holiest person on earth; subconsciously I likened him to Jesus, so I had this eerie thought that the world would come to an end the day he died.

Apparently, He-Pope John Paul II-died in 2005 and the earth’s still rotating on its axis, everything’s still intact; I was wrong, obviously. Nonetheless, that didn’t erase my earlier presumptions, that the Papal throne has a very sacred significance to it. Its first occupant was St. Peter (referred to by many as Simon), who was given the keys of the kingdom of Heaven by Jesus…(Matthew 16:18) and watching the process of electing a new Pope only confirmed what I already knew; it is an intricate process, with a divine touch.

I couldn’t understand how/why the Pope would resign from a post I always thought was a till-death-do-us-part thing. Was it even allowed? I had many thoughts running through my mind, and the more I thought about it the more I got nervous. The last Pope to resign was Gregory XII, in 1415, almost six hundred years ago, so who/what had inspired Pope Benedict XVI to make that surprising move? I imagined the Holy Pontiff was supposed to hold on to his post until he breathed his last. As far as I was concerned, it wasn’t normal.

I thought about what I had told my mom; if God didn’t want him to resign, he wouldn’t let him, so if it was happening, God really wanted it that way. I focused all my attention on those words, to calm any negative thoughts. The announcement was made on Monday, 11th February, and the lent season was starting 13th February, on Ash Wednesday, two days later.

Of all lent seasons, it’s during this year’s season that I feel I learnt a lot. I’ve learnt to look at things differently. Normally, those who know me think I’m a real optimist, but truth is my everyday life is a constant inward battle; I’m constantly trying to quell pessimistic thoughts which flow in my head, without me even trying.

The Pope had about two weeks before resigning on 28th that same month. I was waiting anxiously to see how things would unfold, as I had nothing to reference his resignation to. When the lent season started, I made a personal commitment to travel the way of the cross every Friday evening. Basically it entails retracing the final steps Jesus took before His crucifixion; it’s like a miniature pilgrimage to the actual places in Jerusalem. It was particularly the 13th station, which opened my eyes regarding the Pope’s resignation:

The Thirteenth Station: Jesus is taken down from the cross.

My Jesus, it was with deep grief that Mary finally took You in her arms and saw all the wounds sin had inflicted upon You. Mary Magdalene looked upon Your dead Body with horror. Nicodemus, the man so full of human respect, who came to You by night, suddenly received the courage to help Joseph take You down from the Cross.

You are once more surrounded by only a few followers. When loneliness and failure cross my path, let me think of this lonely moment and total failure-failure in the eyes of men. How wrong they were-how mistaken their concept of success! The greatest act of love was given in desolation and the most successful mission accomplished and finished when all seemed lost. Is this not true in my life, dear Jesus? I judge my failures harshly. I demand perfection instead of holiness. My idea of success is for all to end well-according to my liking.

As I read this prayer, the one thing that came to mind was the Pope’s resignation; how I’d felt he wasn’t doing the right thing by resigning. I realized sometimes God doesn’t intend for things to end the way we think they should.

That thought subsequently reminded me of the times I felt disappointed when things didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped they would. I realized that sometimes we achieve so much more when we feel like we’ve lost; sometimes there is success in failure.

For most people, success is measured in terms of how much/long one can endure a difficult situation; our pride makes us feel like giving up on a difficult task would be deemed a failure, so we keep tolerating things we don’t like, afraid that people will judge us. I learnt that so long as one is doing what’s right in the eyes of God, it is okay to  ‘call it quits’ sometimes. God doesn’t expect us to be perfect, He only expects us to lead holy lives.

So instead of feeling like the Holy Pontiff had made a wrong move, I applauded his courage. He resigned when he knew people would judge him for it; he did something rare, but the thought that he said he was at peace with himself after seeking God’s guidance on the matter, made me feel it was okay too.

God doesn’t expect us to be perfect; He knows we’re only human.

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