In the summer of 2002, I had the amazing opportunity to meet and have a shared conversation with Pope Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, in Rome. I was on a summer fellowship with a group of college students from across the United States, and we finished our time in Europe by making a whirlwind 3-day trip to Italy. Cardinal Ratzinger was gracious enough to grant us 20 minutes of his time, answering our questions and engaging us in a conversation about how we, as young people, could be the light of Christ in the world. I remember him as being patient, intelligent, encouraging, and poignant in his manner of speaking. I also remember being struck by a certain levity of spirit; it was evident that he did not take himself too seriously, even though he took the subject matter of which we were speaking very seriously. It reminds me of a quote from G.K. Chesterton’s book, Orthodoxy: “Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly.”
Since announcing his resignation just a couple of weeks ago, many similar stories of Pope Benedict have come to light – I remember reading one Facebook thread where several people recounted stories of meeting Cardinal Ratzinger on the streets of Rome. One woman said that she was lost close to St. Peter’s Square and tapped on the shoulder of a priest, only to find that the priest was Cardinal Ratzinger! He spent 10 minutes talking with her and giving her directions to where she needed to go, never once making her feel that she was a nuisance to him. Such humility can only come with knowing one’s place before God: in the final equation, we are all the created standing before our Creator. Fr. Robert Barron, in a series of talks on Conversion, says that as Christians, we must all maintain the ability to let all things roll off of our backs. Whether people are praising us or condemning us, and especially when we find ourselves to be very popular, we must keep our perspective and live our lives with faithfulness and humility.
Tonight, I am terribly grateful for Pope Benedict XVI and for all of his years as a faithful witness and servant of Christ and His Church. I know that I have a soft spot for him because his mannerisms remind me of my German grandparents, but I have also benefited greatly from his teaching and his writing over the years. We celebrated tonight with a German-themed dinner – sausages and soft pretzels – and talked as a family about Pope Benedict and what will come next. May God bless him for the rest of his years!
“I wish still with my heart, my love, my prayer, my reflection, with all my inner strength, to work for the common good and the good of the Church and humanity.” Pope Benedict XVI, Castel Gandolfo, in his Final Farewell, February 28, 2013