Joseph: Pope Benedict One Year Later

One year ago today we woke to the shock of Pope Benedict XVI doing what popes haven’t done in centuries: resigning. I don’t have too much to add to what I wrote then and in the weeks afterward. He is the man I admire most in the world, and he has taught me more than anyone else about this life and this faith. His wisdom, clarity, gentleness, and good humor marked his 8 years on the throne of Peter with one high point after another.

When I read despicable, ignorant, lying articles about him, an anger starts to bubble up, and then I check it (most of the time). That’s not the way he would respond. He’d listen earnestly, sit silently, and then quietly do what he has done his entire life: teach with love.

I will always be a Catholic, but the years of Benedict were years in which I felt a certain closeness to the papacy that I have not felt before or since. Francis, for all his many skills, is not the careful teacher and meticulous scholar that Benedict was. He is a man in the world looking to overturn tables, and at this point in time he’s the right man for the job. That I don’t feel the closeness to him I felt to his predecessor is a statement on me, not the Holy Father.

Benedict was the last great man of Europe. The last of a type of old world scholar and leader formed in the old ways of learning and forged in the nightmares of war and the upheavals of change. This little man stood astride this century as a bridge between the Church of Then and the Church of Now, and with all his vast power and intellect attempted to reunify them into a single tapestry.

He’s still with us, and still serving the Church in prayer and, I believe, with counsel to his successor. Those who try to drive a wedge between Benedict and Francis are fools. No one who has read deeply in Ratzinger/Benedict could fail to see the continuity of belief and conviction, even as they notice the discontinuity in style. Benedict’s papacy was a time of regrouping and learning between two larger, ebullient figures: John Paul II and Francis. That the shy and thoughtful Joseph Ratzinger was not the globe-trotting John Paul or the gregarious Francis is neither here nor there. To everything its season.

I hope in his retirement he is finding the peace he so desired after the death of John Paul, when he simply wanted to return to Germany and write his books and play his piano. He just wanted to be Joseph: the quiet teacher. But God needed him to be Benedict, so he took that burden until he could no longer carry it. He’s served the faith for decades, and at the end, he’s earned a measure of peace. God be with him always.


Here are the pieces I wrote about the resignation last year at this time and in the weeks after:


Images from the Pope’s Last Major Mass

‘night Papa

The Ring of the Fisherman

Benedict, Dante, and Chickens


Watch Pope Francis Speak to Children on Google Hangout
The Hour of Trial is the Hour of Fidelity
Bobble Benny Joins the Team
The Three Pillars of Lent
About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.

  • roughplacesplain

    This is great – thanks! Benedict was a wonderful Pope, and so thoroughly popularly misunderstood.

  • Maggie Goff

    I’m sitting here with tears in my eyes. I agree with every word that you wrote. He is the one who drew me back to the Church (through Elizabeth Scalia’s posts, which I never would have been reading if Instapundit hadn’t linked to her) after many decades away. I read, watched, and listened and said to myself “I want that.. what they have.” And to God I said thank you, thank you, thank you for putting people in my life to lead me back to Your Church. The gratitude grows daily.

  • Maggie Goff

    One more thing…I just read the “Joseph post” again, and you commented in a reply to someone else (I think it was me) “It was a shock this morning, but my confidence in the Holy Spirit, the Church, this office, and this man is firm and deep. It would be absurd to admire the wisdom of someone as much as I’ve admired him, and then doubt his ability to make such a momentous decision. He’s been signaling the possibility of this decision for a long time.” And that’s exactly what I was thinking about it. I trusted him explicitly. And I love Francis, but in a different way.

  • Manny

    You expressed my feelings exactly. I feel the same connection with Pope B, and sadly the same with Francis. I get the same anger when I see the baseless lies about Pope B. “Benedict was the last great man of Europe.” Strong words but I agree.

  • Frank Brownlow

    Oh yes, beautifully put. And Pope Benedict did indeed bring Catholics back home. Seminaries like the English College in Rome have a full house again–and speaking as an ex-Englishman I never thought I would see a Pope stand where St.Thomas More was condemned or deliver a homily mentioning the English martyrs within a stone’s throw of Tyburn. Let’s not forget that a visit like that took the kind of quiet, undemonstrative courage that makes saints.