This is the Room of Tears: the place where popes traditionally retire after being chosen. Here, they contemplate the burden they are about to assume: a 2000-year-old office founded by Christ himself not on a book or a government or a place, but on a man named Simon, thereafter known as Cephas, petros, rock: Peter.
It’s an impossible burden only upheld with the aid of the Holy Spirit. It’s likely that Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger wept when he retired to this room, for he truly did not want this office. A quiet, scholarly, humble man, he had labored in the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith for many long years, and wanted nothing more than to retire quietly to Germany and write.
But when the Holy Spirit calls, you answer. All of us serving in the faith know that, none so well as he did. Some gnashed their teeth and railed when he was chosen to assume the office of Peter. I didn’t. After my return to the faith, I read Cardinal Ratzinger closely and came to love the man, his wisdom, his clarity, his charity. He was the master catechist of our age, and as one called to the catechetical ministry, I felt a connection to this pope that I never had with Bl. John Paul II.
He is the person I admire most in the world, now more than ever when this man caricatured as an “arch-conservative” (and who anyone with eyes to see knew was nothing of the sort) has once again done something bold and unexpected. He has recognized his limitations, and acted accordingly.
There are those who will point to Bl. John Paul II who suffered and bent under the burden of the Petrine office as illness consumed him. They will be right to do so, because it was a powerful witness to the dignity of human life. It also affected the way he managed the church, and as the abuse scandal exploded, that was something we could ill afford. Perhaps this potential for failure loomed large in Benedict’s mind when he made this decision.
He will never again be just another man. What he will be is, right now, uncertain. After being Pope, Cardinal, Bishop, Father, Professor, I think, for a little while at least, at the end, he wants to just be Joseph.
May God bless and keep him in this and in all things, and may He continue to guide our Church.