The Pope Who Came To Me

Kassie facebooked me the news this morning before I had even kissed my kids good morning and turned on the coffee pot. I thought at first that she must be wrong, there could simply be no way Papa B would bow out. But as I scrolled through Facebook and Twitter, the kids clamoring for breakfast, toast burning, milk forgotten on the counter, I started to feel like one does after a swift, hard punch to the gut. Like I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t stand up straight, couldn’t take it in.

Pope Benedict is the only Pope I’ve ever known. Coming from a Protestant background, “in persona Christi” is an entirely foreign and much-despised concept. Who needs someone to be Christ for us when we have Christ in our hearts and the Holy Spirit to guide us? Well, I did. I couldn’t ever figure out what the Bible meant, and half of what I thought it meant seemed pretty heinous to me. Reading the Bible became, in my latter years of Protestantism, a form of self-torture. I started to hate the God of the Bible, because I couldn’t understand him or some of the awful things he said. My own interpretations were limited by my limited understanding of…everything. I wanted to believe, but I didn’t know how.

The Church unfolded before me gradually, starting with my friends, then teachers, the Mass, my godparents, my in-laws, and then that dear, beloved Cistercian. After my official conversion, the outer reaches of the Church began to open up for me. Bishops who wrote books and priests who blogged. Ignatius Press. George Weigel. First Things. The Anchoress. And Benedict XVI.

I had heard that he was “tenacious”, like a bulldog, a “conservative powerhouse” who would be “a champion for the return to orthodoxy.” But what I saw was a gentle, intelligent, humble man who astounded me above all with his love. His love for the Anglicans, the SSPX, the Eastern Orthodox churches. His love for the poor, the ill, the oppressed, the downtrodden, the disenheartened. And just in the last year, his love for my generation, my peers, in my country, in this time. He didn’t brush off the burgeoning world of the internet as irrelevent, but encouraged us to embrace it by embracing it himself. The whole world watched with something like a collective suspension of disbelief as the Pope Tweeted. It was truly remarkable. It is truly remarkable, to have the Pope’s words show up in my Twitter feed. To read a letter he wrote aimed specifically at bloggers and social-media users like me. To see the Pope be in persona Christi…not pontificating from his golden throne in the Vatican, but braving the hatred and abuse of the tweeting masses to say something to me.

Papa B, my Pope, has shown me what “in persona Christi” really means. It doesn’t mean always being right, inexorably driving the heathens back to orthodoxy or out the door, or rescuing the Church from the abysmal desecration of Vatican II. It means loving us, no matter who we are or where we are. He got on Twitter to meet us where we are. We’re not in Vatican City. We’re not filling up churches and cathedrals. He knows that. So, like Christ, he came to us.

The potential loss of that is what I felt so keenly this morning. In the end, it isn’t a great champion of Truth who will vocally drive away all dissenters and restore the Church to glory. It’s a man who comes to us humbly, and loves us even though we’re tweeting instead of going to Mass. Like Christ did.

I have faith in the Church, and even though it will be particularly difficult for relatively new converts like me to weather the changing papacy, I trust that it is for the best. But I will miss this Pope who with his tweets and letters serves as a reminder of what it truly means to be in persona Christi.


  • Beth Turner

    As a fellow convert, this hits the nail on the head! I will miss him so!

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  • Theresa

    Luke 11:9-13. These lines seem to be really reassuring for me. :)

  • Laura

    So lovely! Thank you for sharing this.
    I’m going to miss him too.

  • Ellen

    What a lovely and touching reflection. Well done, Calah. I found your blog for the first time yesterday, when I came home from an all-day meeting and wondered what the Catholic blogs were saying. So glad I happened upon yours.

  • prasad

    The text of his resignation is awe-inspiring, and certainly comes from a person deeply rooted in the person of Christ, and his Spirit filled vision for the Church and the Society. He shall continue to guide the Church with his reflections and theology, and above all deep love and prayer.

    Let’s continue to pray for him and the College of Cardinals and the Church at large, that the Spirit may guide the Church and the one to take over from this Holy Father. After all, Christ is the Supreme Head and so He sees to it, and we can join in prayer.

  • Manny

    I really enjoyed reading this. Thanks.

  • Will

    Oh don’t worry, I’m sure they’ll locate another out-of-touch authoritarian celibate *somewhere.*

    • calahalexander

      It’s kind of hard to insist that someone who is willingly stepping down from power for the good of his people is “authoritarian”. Also, I don’t find him out-of-touch at all. Nor do I think “celibate” is an insult.

  • Stephen

    This was a beautifully written and I was very moved by it. As someone in the process of coming to the faith now, I appreciate and have learned from your reflections. I also misjudged you when I first read your tirade against Michael Voris and Catholic traditionalists. Holy mother church may be a one big, dysfunctional family but at its heart we truly are brothers and sisters in Christ. Your post reminded me of this and reassured me after a lifetime of struggle and doubt that I have made the right decision.

    • calahalexander

      Stephen, thanks for giving me a second chance. For what it’s worth, if that was the first post you read of mine I don’t think you really misjudged me. It was a pretty awful post, and I regret it very much. And I really have nothing against Catholic traditionalists. In some ways I’m kind of a traditionalist. Modern music makes me want to cover my ears and run screaming from the building. Modern “art” makes me ill. I like the Novus Ordo, though, because my Latin is atrocious and I like to be able to understand what’s being said. What I don’t like is the idea that only Tridentine Mass Catholics are “real” Catholics, or only Novus Ordo Catholics are “real” Catholics, or only social justice Catholics are “real” Catholics, or only pro-life advocates are “real” Catholics, and on and on. As you say, we are one big, dysfunctional family, but we’re all brothers and sisters. That’s why posts like that one I wrote on Michael Voris are, I believe, the worst thing about the Catholic presence online. And I’m ashamed to have contributed to that.

  • peggy aplSEEDS

    This made me teary eyed. I was at world youth day in Madrid and I remember how the youth would chant his name and wait long hours just to catch a glimpse of him. We will miss him.