The Abdication of Pope Benedict XVI
A Gracious Humility, A Beautiful Serenity
While the chattering classes natter on about the strength or weakness of Benedict’s legacy (a topic of this column at a later date), can we all just realize that Benedict’s stunning news is really a family affair? Catholics the world over are amazed at the gracious humility and beautiful serenity shown by our Holy Father who admits to his loved ones that declining energy and the travails of old age force him to withdraw into a peaceful retirement.
Rather than exuberant over this growing news story, Catholics have been touched with a little bit of sadness as a familiar member of our family must say farewell to the world stage. It is a farewell rather similar to former President Ronald Reagan’s "Goodbye to America Letter" when he admitted the ravages of Alzheimer’s curtailed any more public appearances. We have a thankful sadness, and a grateful sorrow as we wish the Pope well.
The Pope will not get a pass by the elite media. He shouldn’t expect to. One of the last pontiffs to resign, Celestine V, found himself placed in hell in Dante’s Inferno for the supposed sin of resigning the papacy. God save us from the opinions of negative people who seek to find the worst in those called to walk the world’s stage and bear the burdens of the day. Fortunately, history and the passage of years are far kinder to popes.
One of the first editorials to be written on the subject started out this way, "He never had a chance." (John Moody, Fox News.com, 2/11/13) Pope Benedict, knowing that he stood in the shadow of Pope John Paul the Great, once said that in history there are big popes and small popes. He was satisfied with being a small pope.
That humble assessment most likely will be proved wrong through the lens of history, but how wonderful it is to see such a virtue in action. Wherever he has gone, his shy smile and his reaching out to the millions who came to see him, captivated people. What he lacked in exuberance, he made up for with real warmth. Surprisingly, the people found a loving father rather than God’s Rottweiler. And the more they discovered this, the greater the crowds grew. And to the dismay of many of the intelligentsia, the youth loved him, sang to him, and embraced him.
There is a beautiful serenity about this Pope. Remember he was elected Pope at 78, a time when most folks yearn to slow down. For nearly eight years, he has firmly and steadfastly guided the Church through a most tumultuous time. Now he is ready to conform his soul to God with the time he has left. No one can or should begrudge him that. A gracious humility, a beautiful serenity–and one more thing: an amazing courage to say goodbye to those of us who have loved him so well.