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Moving On: Why the Pope Abdicated, and Why I Quit the Cello

By Eamonn Morris in Opinion & Politics

Last week Pope Benedict XVI, leader of the Catholic Church worldwide, announced that he would resign the papacy on February 28th. The announcement sent shockwaves throught the Vatican and astonished church-goers, priests, world leaders, and ordinary people. A Pope has not resigned since the 15th century Anno Domini.

On or around October 30th of 2012, I decided to quit the cello. I had been playing for over seven years and had been quite serious about it. In the months previous I had fully intended to continue playing through college and then go professional. I loved it more than anything. Then all of a sudden I knew I couldn't do it anymore. Some people were shocked and some saw it coming a mile away. But I think most people saw it as a strange choice at the very least.

Pope Benedict XVI was born Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger in Germany in 1927. I was born Eamonn Fitch Morris in Denver, Colorado in 1994. We are very different people. But one thing we do have in common is that we made the decision to give up the very most important thing in our lives; the thing that people know us for, and the thing that we loved, or thought we loved, more than anything on Earth.

From what I've read about Ratzinger, he's not the type of person that I would normally see as a fantastic Pontiff. Bookish and reserved, he seems to love writing more than being a leader. His academic credentials are numerous and impressive. He has decided that, after his resignation, he will retire to a monastery in the Vatican gardens and continue to write and "live a life in prayer."

After I stop playing the cello in May, I will continue to be a musician, but as a bass guitarist rather than as a cellist. Academic musical life holds no allure for me. My obligations as a player will be less demanding than before, and I am looking forward to pursuing new passions and activities, like writing.

Benedict is an unmatched theologian and he is one of the more astute religious scholars of modern times. But he does not have the charisma of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, and his leadership has generally been seen as less effective. There have been numerous scandals since he took office.

I think I have a lot to offer as a musician. I have diverse taste, I do a lot of reading about the subject and I play with lots of different people in lots of different settings. But I have played in honor orchestras and at music intensives, and pound-for-pound there are cellists who are years ahead of me and are filled with a fire and a passion that I cannot hope to match. There have been a lot of times where my teacher had to push me extra-hard just to get me to practice enough.

So why, exactly did Ratzinger become Pope? And why did I play the cello so seriously if I was just going to give it up a few years later?

The answer to that question is that neither of us really chose our paths ourselves. Pope Benedict the Sixteenth, and Eamonn Morris, have that in common. I love music, and Joseph Ratzinger was determined to be a cardinal from an early age. But when I think about it, I always wanted to be a bass player in a jazz band more than a cellist in an orchestra or a quartet. And from what I know about Benedict, he never wanted to be the Pope. He was elected to that position by a panel of cardinals. I chose cello on a whim and probably would have given it up long ago if it hadn't been for the pressure put on me by my teachers, my parents, and especially, myself.

But things happen for one reason or another, and Benedict and I ended up doing our best despite the circumstances. I worked hard and became first chair in the school orchestra. Pope Benedict settled into his new role quite well, and carried out meetings with world leaders, brought the Vatican into the 21st century by joining Twitter, and made informed declarations on a host of issues.

Eventually, though, people have to break out and do what is important to them, and sometimes go in the face of conventional wisdom in order to make the change. When Benedict announced his resignation he flew in the face of about 600 years of tradition. It must have been a tremendously hard decision. But Benedict is getting old, and his health is failing. He must realize that he does not have forever. He says that his "strengths, due to advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine Ministry." It's now or never for him. And I admire him, truly and deeply, for his decision, which by all accounts he made with no external pressure.

I decided to gave up the cello in the days preceding the Western States Honor Orchestra, which is hugely prestigious when it comes to the high school level of string players. I had just barely squeaked through the audition after three years of denial. Before that week I had seen Western States as the crowning achievement of my musical life, something that would mean that I had "made it." I realized that it would be no such thing. So why keep up the facade that playing cello was what I loved, and that I intended to continue to pursue it in college? It seemed pointless to continue. Getting my pieces off the board sooner rather than later made sense.

And so Pope Benedict the Sixteenth and Eamonn Morris, two men who have never met, who were born generations apart, and who could not possibly be more different, have both made the decision to give it all up and move on to new things. Who knows what we'll remember Joseph Ratzinger for in a hundred years. And who knows what I'll be doing when I'm fifty. The important thing is that we listened to our hearts and decided to do right by ourselves and not just by others' demands. I understand, Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict the Sixteenth, and I salute you.

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