Missing Papa Benedict

Today is the anniversary with incredible memories of a frail Pope Benedict waving farewell, climbing into the helicopter and flying across the rooftops of Rome into retirement.

I miss him, and here’s why.

First of all, I think Pope Benedict shared my love of England and Anglicanism. He made a historic trip to England, giving an amazing speech in Parliament the very place where St Thomas More was tried. During the visit he went out of his way to beatify a saintly man so close to his own heart and character: the gentle scholar John Henry Newman. Newman is the mentor and guide to countless Anglicans on their way to Rome, and Pope Benedict understood him not only with the head, but with the heart.

Benedict also took the amazingly historic step of establishing the Anglican Ordinariate. Instead of simply continuing endless detente-style ecumenical discussions with the Anglicans he actually DID something. He took a great risk in establishing the ordinariate, and showed tremendous faith and leadership–trusting the Anglicans who were knocking at Rome’s door and offering them a way to full communion. This step of his, so momentous for us former Anglicans, and so overlooked by the rest of the world, may be one of those seeds that Archbishop Ganswein in a recent interview, believes Benedict has planted.

What do I love about Pope Benedict? His scholar’s mind and artist’s heart. Here is a world class theologian and Bible scholar who is able to write with clarity, humility and grace. Here is a musician–a quiet man who likes cats and wanted no more than to retire to his study and be with his musician brother, and yet at the point of possible retirement took up the mantle of the papacy declaring to the world in his first appearance just exactly who he was–a simple laborer in the Lord’s vineyard. His eventual resignation from the papacy was another mark of his remarkable courage, complete humility and amazing faith. He did it, he said, out of obedience to the Lord–just as he took up the white cassock as an act of obedience to the Lord.

I love Pope Benedict because I am a Benedictine oblate. I have spent many happy hours and days visiting Benedictine monasteries on retreat, writing books about Benedict and his rule and sharing the Benedictine way with others. That Joseph Ratzinger took the name of Benedict was music to my ears because St Benedict is one of the greatest, and yet quietest and most stable and seemingly unremarkable of saints. It was a perfect papal name for a man who has a monastic, scholarly mind and a cultured prayerful heart. As St Benedict and his monks are cut off from the world and not understood by the world and even mocked and persecuted by the world, so this introvert was willing to take up the most terrible of tasks in the papacy and open his tender heart to the mockery and scorn of the world.

Do people think he was not hurt by comparisons to the Dark Sith Lord Palpatine? Do they think he was not hurt by being referred to as a Nazi and God’s Rottweiler? Do they think he was not hurt at being mocked for wearing red shoes and fine vestments when he wore all those things not because he liked dressing up but because he really believed in a principle called “the hermeneutic of continuity”–in which the traditions of the past are treasured because they keep us linked and rooted in the past so we can live positively in the present and move confidently into the future. Do they think this gentle scholar and shy musician was not hurt by the mockery of the world, the infighting in the Vatican, the scandals and the conflict? And yet he bore it all with a grace, a dignity and a gentle forbearance.

Finally, I love Pope Benedict for the personal reason that in 2006 he was the one who approved the paperwork for a dispensation from the vow of celibacy which opened the door for my ordination to the Catholic priesthood. He’s the one I have to thank for the speedy delivery of the decision and the agreement that I might go forward to serve the church despite having a wife and children.

History will show Pope Benedict XVI to have been one of the great popes of this modern age. A gentleman, a scholar, a true man of faith and the Holy Spirit–a man full of grace and blessing:

Long Live Pope Emeritus Benedict.

We miss you.