In a society that prods us to cling to possessions, positions, powers and titles, the concept of spiritual detachment is often misunderstood. In some circles, it is completely forgotten. Still, spiritual detachment is a staple of Catholic spiritual tradition. Spiritual detachment has been described as “the virtue that frees man from any inordinate or excessive attachment to another person, thing or state of mind. Detachment should be seen within the overall context of the universal call to holiness . . . detachment is a virtue to be exercised in the midst of the world because it bears strong witness here and now to the ultimate aim of our existence: attachment to God alone in eternity.”
Recently, we saw a tremendous example of spiritual detachment in Pope Benedict XVI’s announcement that he will abdicate his position. Canon law allows this, saying only that the pope must make the decision completely of his own volition, doing so “freely” and expressing it in a way that is “duly manifested.”
When I heard that the pope was stepping down, my heart, at first, was sad. It was like hearing of the loss of a family member. I have long felt a personal, spiritual affinity to Benedict XVI. I have looked to him as a father figure. He is gentle, deeply spiritual and thoughtful. He has shown a pastoral sensitivity and he has been sharing on the nature of the church, friendship with Christ, communion and the New Evangelization. These themes have intimately touched me and the priestly ministry entrusted to my care. To think that he will not be actively present in my life, guiding and affirming me, leaves a sense of sadness and grief.
However, my heart, too, was filled with gratitude. I am grateful that Benedict XVI called us to the simple truth: God is love. I am grateful that he taught us that faith is not based on a lofty idea, but on a relationship with a person — Jesus Christ — that “gives life a new horizon and decisive direction.” I am grateful that the pope formed us in deeper communion, saying that we “cannot follow Jesus alone.” I am grateful that he challenged us to be disciples and missionaries in the midst of the world — to deepen our encounter with Christ so that we might share the joy of that encounter with others. I am grateful that he inspired us to evangelize, to “teach the art of living,” reminding us that “the church exists to evangelize.” And I am grateful that he emboldened the young to take up the torch of faith and share their gifts, teaching them that when we say Yes to Christ and truly let Him into our lives, we lose “nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide.”
Spiritual detachment is a staple of Catholic spiritual tradition. Benedict XVI has given us an authentic example of it. Let us take to heart this lesson and apply it to our own journey toward holiness.
The Rev. Msgr. Michael G. Carruthers, pastor/chaplain, St. Augustine Church and Catholic Student Center, Coral Gables