With the entirely unexpected resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, everyone has been developing a different take on this remarkable moment in our Church. On the one hand, I find myself admiring the Holy Father’s bold decision. And, upon deeper reflection, I’m inspired by his courage and the freedom and trust he so peacefully displays. His decision has caused a surprising response of conversations, interviews and wondering at all levels, from the secular to the sacred. In fact it seems to me, God’s loving Spirit is active in this moment to “stir up” people’s curiosity and perhaps lead them to a place more open to God’s Grace.
To say that our God is a God of surprises is more than true! God chose Abram to be the father of a great nation, and yet the man was old and childless. Abraham believed in the surprising promise of God and now, thousands of years later, we hail Abraham as “our father in faith”. God chose the zealous, Saul, persecutor of Christians, to become Paul, the “apostle to the gentiles”. A surprising choice by any measure! And the surprises go on and on. From the unlikely fishermen to the “absurdity of the cross”, our God acts in unexpected and wonderfully surprising ways.
When I was a young man, my own career path did not include being a parish priest! God had a plan that surprised me then, and to this day it continues to amaze me. Often I meet with engaged couples as they plan to celebrate their wedding in the parish. The conversations are rich and, inevitably, lead to a moment of recognition that God has been active in their lives and they are delighted to discover the surprises of God’s Grace. And your own life: can you see surprises that are amazing? Have there been events, encounters, discoveries and relationships that have been transforming and enriching? Likely they are a part of all of our lives.
Yet there is a danger. A life lived without reflection can miss the surprises that are awaiting our discovery. Our world and these times do not encourage quiet, reflection and prayer, so it must be a specific intentional choice. It is a choice to slow down and/or stop and place oneself in the presence of God, breathe deeply and listen. Invite God’s presence and recognize God’s blessings with gratitude. Prayer like this need not take long and is best when it is a consistent part of each day.
For me, the consequence of prayer is openness to this God of Surprises! As such when the unexpected happens (and it so often does), I find myself pondering, “I wonder what God is doing in all this?” I expect to be surprised. And all this is to say that God is present in our world in ways big and small. The level of fear and anxiety so many carry is not of God’s Spirit. As Jesus aptly taught, “Fear is useless—what is needed is faith.”
In these Lenten weeks our beloved Church is preparing to elect a new Pope. Speculation is absurdly high as the media attempt to insert their point of view and explain this moment as they do the elections of other world leaders. Fortunately, it does not work that way. As it has been for so many hundreds of years, the selection of the next Roman Pontiff will take place in secret and will be done under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I have no doubt that the decision will include surprises for all of us.
Our God seems to delight in surprising us!