How Will We All Know When It's Time to Go?
When is it time to check out, to cash in our winnings and call it a career? Milton Bradley's game of "Life" made it quite clear. You cross the bridge, hit the "Retire" space and figure out whether you're Millionaire Estates material or destined for Countryside Acres.
You cash it in, kick the kids out of the car and finish watching the other players, hopefully with a cocktail in hand.
Bully for Benedict XVI, who earlier this week shocked the world by becoming the first pope in 600 years to say he wanted to stop the ride and hop off. As career-enders go for popes, that's a rarity. The last one to do so was Gregory XII in 1415, and he did that just to put an end to the Western Schism that made the battle for the papacy look like a forerunner to the reality show "Survivor."
I was raised Catholic. Served as an altar boy, went to Catholic school, have told or heard all the Catholic jokes I think there are to tell and hear. We had crucifixes in all our bedrooms and a piece of that year's palm from Palm Sunday woven into the cross.
And though we didn't have any pictures on the wall of the popes of our time, we knew, literally and figuratively, they were "The Man." Goodness, we were all pretty intimidated by the parish monsignor and flat-out deferential when a bishop would visit. You can imagine the level of esteem in which we held the pope.
When I was born in 1966, Pope Paul VI was well into his third year on the papal throne. He ruled until his death on Aug. 6, 1978. I remember the day clearly: I was on my way to the movies with one of my older brothers. We were going to see "Grease" and the radio announcer broke into whatever song was on. As reasonably impressionable Catholic boys go, this was big news.
We didn't have long to wait until we got a new pope: John Paul. Today, he's known as John Paul I, but back then his election and decision to take the names of his two immediate predecessors were pretty stirring in our community. It was the first double name for a pope.
But 33 days after his election, on Sept. 29, 1978, John Paul was discovered dead, sitting up in his bed. He was just 65. I'd just woken up that morning for school (Mount Calvary Catholic School, seventh grade) and come out for breakfast to hear the news on the radio.
Oddly, that's my only recollection of the day, but surely our school routine was turned upside down. There were all sorts of rumors of foul play and uninvestigated claims. John Paul's death even figures into the plot of "The Godfather Part III."
The church moved on quickly with Pope John Paul II, whose legacy extended to 2005. By then, I'd long since lapsed as a Catholic and become an Episcopalian. I could admire the pope and his work in a somewhat more objective fashion without having to accept every utterance as infallible. Same with Benedict XVI.
Today I have a measure more of respect for Benedict, a man who knows the demands of the job and honestly determined he was no longer up to it.
"Both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me," Benedict said in his message.
That's a hard thing to admit for someone at the very top, be they sports star, politician, CEO or religious figure. Heck, that's a hard thing for any of us to admit. The Roman Catholic Church is more than a billion members strong. It's a massive undertaking for one man who, even with a vast support network, still must possess the vim and vigor for such a prominent role on the global stage.
So bully for Benedict, for showing the quality of his strength. The papacy demands much of its occupant, and congratulations to a man who knows his Earthly abilities.
Contact John Nagy at (910) 693-2507 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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