In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI gave us "a mandate" to "go forth and be witnesses of God's mercy, a source of hope for every person and for the whole world."
Photo: Marie Romagnano, RN
'The Humble Pope from Bavaria'
By Chris Sparks (Feb 9, 2014)
One year ago, on Feb. 11, 2013, the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, Pope Benedict XVI made history. He announced that he was renouncing the office of Bishop of Rome.
When he was first elected, I was a senior in high school. I knew nothing about Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger other than a brief newspaper profile of the conservative, controversial doctrinal enforcer of the Church — and that this man was the right-hand man of the late Pope John Paul II. I'd read George Weigel's Witness to Hope a year or two previously and had come to the conclusion that Pope John Paul II was great and good, so anyone whom he trusted for so long and so deeply as Cardinal Ratzinger surely had to be good.
But I wanted to find out for myself who this new pope was, what he thought, what the truth was. So I went to the local bookstore, found Salt of the Earth, German journalist Peter Seewald's first interview with the man who would be pope, and settled down to read.
I didn't understand everything I read, but I knew we were blessed when I encountered Seewald's introduction. He said that he had asked the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith how many roads there were to God. He fully expected Cardinal Ratzinger to say, "One." Instead, Cardinal Ratzinger replied, "As many as there are people." The rest of the book was similarly unexpected and wise. Here was no ideologue, no grouchy conservative, no hidebound reactionary. Here was wisdom; here was grace; here was peace. Here was a man who knew that God is God, and man is man, and all things are held in the all-powerful hands of eternal love.
Pope Benedict XVI is a man so deeply imbued with trust in the mercy of God that he could stand to step aside from the papacy, sure that the Church was in the safest of hands, the best of hands — the hands of Jesus Christ. If ever anyone lived the phrase "Jesus, I trust in you," it was the humble Pope from Bavaria.
It's rare that a human being gets to do something for the first time in 600 years, but there it was, within our lifetimes: A pope announced he was stepping aside. How often does anyone of international stature make so trusting an act? How often do the important ever acknowledge their own humanity? How often do world leaders ever publicly accept that the world can go on without them, that they are replaceable? And yet this very humility, this holiness, to a certain extent, makes Pope Benedict an irreplaceable man.
Pope Francis acknowledges the great good of his predecessor. "You cannot begin to imagine how humble and wise this man is ... there is no way I would turn down advice from someone like him, it would be foolish of me to do so!" Pope Francis said to Jorge Milia, a journalist and former student of his.
Pope Benedict's wisdom has been poured forth for decades to the great benefit of the Church and world in books and articles, encyclicals and other papal documents, in speeches and homilies, in a life lived in the service of Christ and His Church. We shall be reaping the fruits of his labors for centuries to come.
Pray for the Pope Emeritus on this anniversary of his historic announcement, and pray for his successor Pope Francis, another humble and wise servant of the Lord, that both men may do the will of Jesus Christ faithfully and lead us all to heaven in the unity of the Holy Spirit, the Love of God.