Pope Benedict has thrown me off again


This morning Pope Benedict announced that he would step down from the Papacy at the end of this month. I’m both sad and encouraged.

I came to love Pope Benedict XVI through his writing, a book of meditations called Benedictus: Day by Day with Pope Benedict. As with the best writers, his writing revealed little personal information about himself, but intimated that he understood humanity and its problems with belief very well. In fact, I’d never put down a book (each day, no less) feeling so personally understood, and encouraged towards Christ.

In 2008, I went on pilgrimage see the Holy Father in New York.

I had seen Pope John Paul II several times, on earlier trips to Rome in college and shortly thereafter. I’d enjoyed the energy at the Vatican as he drove through the cheering crowds, and people reached out to touch him. He would reach back, kiss the babies, and smile that benevolent smile that made you feel loved and embraced by the Church.

But I felt connected to Pope Benedict in a way I’d never quite connected with Pope John Paul II. I wanted to see him in person the same way it seemed he had already seen me. I was older, pregnant with my fifth child, still in love with my faith, but I’d seen the dark side of it too. I’d wrestled with it in concrete ways in my personal life, and felt at times like the hemorrhaging woman, reaching out for healing, even if it was just in the shape of someone saying, “Yes, I know, it’s hard.”

Pope Benedict knew it was hard. He was in the midst of a tremendous battle, purifying the Church after countless allegations of priestly sexual abuse.

An excerpt from my account of that trip:



At two o’clock, the entire Dunwoody Seminary had a lockdown. Helicopters began to circle overhead. I tried to get close to the pylons, though my friends had stayed up near the food and chapel to pray and eat. We didn’t know there would be no movement between the two areas—the food court, and the lawn where Pope Benedict would be. My friends were locked out, as were about 5000 other people.

I was one of the lucky ones who stood in sweltering heat at the pylons for two hours trying to secure my spot. I accidentally bumped into an elderly nun, and she gave me a sharp, swift elbow in the back. A group of women had made a pile of their belongings in front of the pylon to hold their place. I suggested they might want to move it, so that it wouldn’t get trampled when the Holy Father came. “Not yet. It’s only three o’clock” they said, not ready for the crowd to make its inevitable encroachment. Things were getting ugly.

We’d been there since 7 a.m. We were tired and hot. Lines were long in the food court and now it was closed. We were hungry. We were thirsty. We wanted to see the Pope and touch him.

A young couple was taking advantage of the closeness and anonymity of the crowd to grope one another and stick their tongues in each other’s ears. I tapped the boy on the shoulder and told him to knock it off. There were nuns and priests standing all around. He loosened his hold on the girl, and avoided eye contact with me for the rest of the day.

A security guard then came by and told us that the Pope would not be coming into the crowd, so we could relax. Our standing and ribbing had been for naught and a palpable disappointment and shame rippled through the crowd. Poor, miserable people. So hungry for Christ, so clueless about how to find him.

A quiet young voice began to sing, “Jesus, I adore you…” People looked around. Was it one of the nuns? A child? Who was it? A few other voices sang too, “And I lay my life before you.” Others joined in, and it was a round, “How I love you.” Within seconds, our shame and loss had become a song of adoration for the One all of us were really seeking.



This was my first intimation that Pope Benedict was not going to succumb to my desire to idolize him. He was not going to do things the way we expected him to do them. Whenever we looked to him, he would redirect us, in some unexpected way to seek God himself.



The Anchoress has all the links 

My New Favorite Folk Album: Interview with Jack Baumgartner, Part I
“Hunger”: Interview with Jack Baumgartner, Part IV
What I’m Not Writing, and Why I’m Not Writing it
“Go On”: Interview with Jack Baumgartner, Part III
About Elizabeth Duffy
  • http://roughplacesplain.tumblr.com/ nancyo

    Thanks for this reflection and your fascinating account of your 2008 pilgrimage. As Pope, Benedict has not followed the script that any of us have written for him, and I love to watch him: humility and devotion in action. He won me over early and I have loved his papacy.

  • http://obhouse.blogspot.com Ellyn

    I understand the Holy Father’s wisdom and the direction of the Holy Spirit in this. And I can handle it all very intellectually – but my first reaction when I heard the news this morning (besides wondering if it was a NyQuil induced hallucination) “How can you quit? I can’t quit. I’d like to resign from my flock sometimes, maybe with less than two weeks – how can you?” So I fought the urge to go back to sleep and make it all go away and instead went to Mass before work, with a modest group of fellow stunned parishioners. Slowly it is sinking in and I am seeing the wisdom and humility in his decision..

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  • Owen

    He was the Pope of my Conversion. I began the journey in earnest as his predecessor died but it was B16 with whom I most connected. I suppose it’s rude but it’s not really; I don’t care in the least to read one note of posturing, pontificating or predicting in secular or Catholic media. I’m sad but only in the way one is sad to see a good parent and a good leader decline. Otherwise, I am full of hope and confident in the Holy Spirit. God bless our Holy Father for his goodness and wisdom and Veni Sancte Spiritus. He’s made a wise call and has blessed. I heart and I respect the B16. [ I should really start a blog again and let everyone know what *I* think ;-) ]

  • Elizabeth Duffy

    I agree with you all. As the day has progressed, I’ve become more and more at ease with the whole thing.

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