Today is the 85 birthday of our dear Pope Benedict XVI, and he speaks very plainly to the day:
“I find myself on the last stretch of my journey in life, and I don’t know what is awaiting me.”
“I know, however, that the light of God exists, that he is risen, that his light is stronger than any darkness and that God’s goodness is stronger than any evil in this world, and this helps me go forward with certainty.”
In a few days we’ll celebrate the 7th anniversary of his pontificate. I cannot think of his anniversary without remembering his words at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where he was advised that his pontificate was, at that hour, precisely three years old:
“I will try to do all that is possible to be a worthy successor of the great Apostle, who also was a man with faults and sins, but remained in the end the rock for the Church. And so I too, with all my spiritual poverty, can be for this time, in virtue of the Lord’s grace, the Successor of Peter.”
Some people think the pope is a very complicated man, but really, he is very easy to get, because he is very open. He is not a politician; he is not a diplomat; he is simply a man who is humbly all-for-God, who lives his faith so completely that there are no shadows. His words are words of Be-ing, primarily.
Do-ing, comes farther down the line.
Even before he was Benedict, back when he was Joseph Ratzinger, I loved his humility; he has always struck me as the shy old uncle who — once drawn out — keeps you enthralled with the openness, depth and breadth of his intellect, which is never pedantic, and always accessible.
That has its drawbacks, of course, particularly in terms of perception. Benedict is an introvert, content with solitude; he allows himself to be subsumed by his servant’s office in a way that is so paradoxical that some do not understand it. Russell Shaw is right when he says Benedict is “still something of an enigma”.
In truth, The Reality of Pope Benedict has always been quite different from the narratives, whether they come from media or “insiders.”
He is perhaps a cloister unto himself — quite simply ready to put aside the man Joseph, or the man Benedict for the Christ to whom he has given his life, from a very young age. He rarely reveals personal feelings, except to children, and then he seems to genuinely enjoy relating to their youthful faith with his own nostalgic memories.
His pontificate, which some thought would be “transitional” may very well end up being transformational. He is sagely stocking the church with what Deacon Greg calls “teaching bishops” — the better to serve an era of New Evangelization and, perhaps an era of New Persecution, in which people will need to understand why some stands matter.
Happy Birthday, Papa Benedict! For me, the dearest and most personally instructive — in word, in action and in be-ing — of our popes.
Related: Benedict in America; The Shepherd who is Led