“Benedict turns 85 in the new year, so a slowdown is only natural. Expected. And given his age and continued rigorous work schedule, it’s remarkable he does as much as he does and is in such good health overall: Just this past week he confirmed he would travel to Mexico and Cuba next spring.
But a decline has been noted as Benedict prepares for next weekend’s grueling Christmas celebrations, which kick off two weeks of intense public appearances. [...] Back at home, however, it seems the daily grind of being pope — the audiences with visiting heads of state, the weekly public catechism lessons, the sessions with visiting bishops — has taken its toll. A spark is gone. He doesn’t elaborate off-the-cuff much anymore, and some days he just seems wiped out.
Take for example his recent visit to Assisi, where he traveled by train with dozens of religious leaders from around the world for a daylong peace pilgrimage. For anyone participating it was a tough, long day; for the aging pope it was even more so.
“Indeed I was struck by what appeared to me as the decline in Benedict’s strength and health over the last half year,” said Rabbi David Rosen, who had a place of honor next to the pope at the Assisi event as head of interfaith relations at the American Jewish Committee.
“He looks thinner and weaker … which made the effort he put into the Assisi shindig with the extraordinary degree of personal attention to the attendees (especially the next day in Rome) all the more remarkable,” Rosen said in an email.
That Benedict is tired would be a perfectly normal diagnosis for an 84-year-old, even someone with no known health ailments and a still-agile mind. He has acknowledged having suffered a hemorrhagic stroke in 1991 that temporarily affected his vision. And his older brother, who has a pacemaker for an irregular heartbeat, has expressed concern about Benedict’s own heart.
But Benedict is not a normal 84-year-old, both in what he is called to do and the implications if he were to stop.”
Our dear Papa is old and has more than earned his rest. But he has important work to do — miles to go before he sleeps. Pray for this transparently holy and humble servant of Christ, that he finds truly restorative rest, comfort and consolation when he needs it, and vigor when he needs that, too.
This seems a sudden and troubling decline. Of course he cannot live forever — and what a remarkable life he has had, lived entirely for Christ — but I pray we get to have him among us for a while, yet! Not as glamorous as his predecessor, but nevertheless, a punch-packer, a quiet riot; I do dearly love this pope, whom I believe we will someday call a saint.
My husband and I were privileged to be at this audience wherein he discussed Hildegard of Bingen, whom Benedict will canonize and name a Doctor of the Church. He looked perfectly hale and hearty last year, and my husband and I both marveled at his energy and steady step.
We are coming into the last week of Advent. With Vespers, tonight, we begin to chant the gorgeous O Antiphons. Today, O Spaientia!
O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti,
attingens a fine usque ad finem,
fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia:
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.
O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care. Come and show your people the way to salvation.
My evening prayer tonight will remember the intentions of Benedict, who even as a young Joseph Ratzinger, had been imbued with a certain wisdom:
Günter Grass, in his memoirs, recalls an encounter with the young Joseph Ratzinger while both were held in an American prisoner-of-war camp in 1945. The young Grass, a Nazi who had been proud to serve in the Waffen-SS, was taken aback by this soft-spoken, gentle young Catholic. Unlike God, the future pope played dice, quoting St. Augustine in the original while he did so; he even dreamt in Latin. His only desire was to return to the seminary from which he had been drafted. “I said, there are many truths,” wrote Grass. “He said, there is only one.”
He was 16, at the time.