Did it seem to you, as it did to me, that we watched Benedict loosen up or break free a little bit at this mass? Watching him exit he seemed bigger and bolder to me, as though he was growing into his part.
I was inclined to like him, of course, through his writings, but I didn’t know if I would be put off by his manner. After half a lifetime watching the effusive, playful and outgoing John Paul II, I wondered if Benedict, in person, could manage to inspire in the same way. He does.
Benedict is shy. His body language is a little self-protective. He does not run out to meet you…instead, he draws you in, and his sweetness and transparent kindliness runs completely counter to the whole “rottweiller narrative,” which I think is taking a beating (as is the credibility of the press who repeated it ad nauseam) in the face of Benedict’s actual presence.
A “liberal catholic” friend of mine emailed: Don’t tell any of my liberal friends (that is, everyone) but I’m starting to really like the guy…
I think that sense of surprised delight is going both ways; I get a sense that just as we’re discovering we like the guy, the pope is also feeling like he likes us. I say that from an introvert’s standpoint (because I am one); it is entirely possible to love people deeply but still cringe at crowds and exposure. You can see Benedict’s discomfort a little in the way he waves – both hands up in the air, almost pushing back against all that is coming forward. I totally understand that. It is of a piece with him holding back a little while shaking hands.
But watching Benedict leave the stadium today, he seemed different – serene but also somehow larger. The crowd was pressing into him in an almost alarming manner; Benedict seemed like he was about to topple over from the waves of people surging on both sides and the Secret Service guys seemed pretty unhappy about it.
But Benedict did not seem unhappy. In a situation that would normally distress and exhaust an introvert, the pope seemed strangely bouyed up by grace, and it was remarkable to watch. People were tugging, touching, reaching out – and in the middle of it all he paused to bless a young man in a wheelchair, stopped to kiss a sleeping baby and each time he did it with such a humble and priestly mien and a manner suggesting that he was in his own little sphere, and all the urgent press of the world touched him not. It was enormously powerful for me.
Meanwhile, Benedict is talking and talking and talking. To Catholic educators at Catholic University of America, to some 200 religious leaders from many faiths, and to our Jewish brethren. He is saying a great deal and none of it is empty or insubstantial. I had hoped to have had a minor analysis of his speech last night, to the Bishops, done for you but there’s been no time. It may take weeks or months to really delve into what Benedict is bringing to America in these six days.
Fr. James Martin has the same sense I did and shares a great story.
Zoe Romanowsky tells what it’s like to attend mass with 46,000 others.
Cobb says: “Benedict continues to speak directly to me”. Seems there’s a lot of that going around!
Sisu is blogging around
Related: Benedict Books You Know you Want