A world where nobody retires

snowplowIf you want to understand the difference between government and service to the Church, just look at retirement.

I know, it seems like an odd thing to bring up.  But I’m in Rome for meetings this week and it struck me that lots of Church leaders are, well, pretty old.  (Yes, I know, I’m no spring chicken – but lots of these guys are REALLY old.)  But they don’t appear to be fading away or slowing down (too much).

By contrast, I live in the confused State of Illinois, which is plunging into insolvency while state employees retire at age 60 on a full (and generous) pension.  And while I’m sure that many state employees are wonderful people who have worked hard and served the people of the Land of Lincoln, the difference between expectations is sharp.

  1. I’m not going to get into the state budget, political parties or the relative value of a bishop vs. a snowplow driver. So, let’s just assume for the sake of argument, that both the bishop and the snowplow driver are noble, hard-working people with a strong work ethic, responsible, king, generous, etc.

After working for a couple decades for 40 hours a week, the snowplow drive will retire on a nice pension and, if he has been the least bit prudent, have his mortgage paid off and enough money for an occasional visit to Disney World.

On the other hand, 50 years after ordinal, the bishop likely will be working 60 hours a week for very little temporal compensation and the promise that he’ll continue to work until his mind or body or both give out.  When he can work no longer, he’ll live out his days in stark simplicity, praying and reflecting, probably in extremely economical surroundings.

Now, I expect someone is thinking they have read about some famous Cardinal retiring in a massive Rome apartment surrounded by fine art and vintage wine.  Yes, that happens.  But it is no more common than the snowplow driver who fails to save a little and dies broke on skid row.  In others words, most state employees some to a fairly comfortable end – and most bishops serve until their physical nature fails.

This was running through my mind as I watched the Holy Father this morning, arriving in his Pope mobile.  He wound through the crowd, stopping to kiss a few babies and bless a few people with disabilities.

I was close enough as he passed to see that he looked tired.  That’s not uncommon for hard-working people in their eighth decade of life.

Many people view the Pope as a sort of “King” of the Church.  After all, he is the successor of Peter, The Rock.  But he is, above all, a servant.  He has given up his life, his personal wants, his very name to become the ultimate actor in persona Christi.  For the Holy Father, there is no “I” – only Him.

Few of us will be called to be so selfless or generous.  But it is a spirit we should be aiming for, even if we drive a snowplow.


About Jim Fair

Jim Fair is a writer and consultant. He lives in the Chicago area and has a wonderful wife, son and daughter. He enjoys fishing and occasionally catches something. He tries to play the piano and sings a little. In addition to writing for Regnum Christi Live, he blogs at Laughing Catholic. And you can follow him on Twitter: Jim Fair (@fishfair).
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