Benedict at 85: a Cloister Unto Himself

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

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Susan

    Dear Elizabeth,

    Have you seen the new Catholic video regarding the upcoming elections? It’s stunning! If you already posted on this, please forgive me for missing it.

  • Sissy Willis

    Beautiful post. For me too, the Pope who loves cats and Mozart has been “the dearest and most personally instructive.”

  • Katherine

    He is perhaps a cloister unto himself

    I love that line, it says so much about him. Thank you for your writing.

  • Mandy P.

    I looooooove Pope Benedict. I’m a convert and before I was confirmed I watched the beatification of Cardinal Newman in the UK and was blown away when he led the crowd in Adoration. It was a joyful, sobering, and humbling experience for me to see this man who seems to have so much temporal authority bend his knee for Our Lord. Whenever they zoomed into his face, you could see his genuine love for Christ in the Eucharist shine through in his expression. It made me tear up (which is extremely rare) and left quite the impression. I’ve since read through as much of his writings as I can get my hands on. I especially love his two Jesus of Nazareth books, which came across to me like love letters and are just beautiful. What a mind! And more importantly, what a heart!

    [And what a great comment. Thank you for reminding me of his stunning visit to the UK and that evening of Adoration.. -admin]

  • Victor

    Hey Happy Birthday Your Holiness and to think that we’ve got so much in common! Well,
    I’ll be 66 tomorrow and he’s 85 today! :)

    I hear ya! That will be enough out of ya sinner vic! Can you never take anything seriously? :)


  • Sydney

    Pope Benedict has probably done more for my religious formation than anyone else. If he had never become pope I never would have heard of him or delved into his writings. I hope he has many more productive years.

  • Stefanie

    Agree with you, Elizabeth — as an RCIA director, most of the time, I find I just print out his weekly Angelus lesson and that’s what we discuss. Or print out his Sunday homily and that’s what we discuss at Sunday dismissals. I mean, how we possibly improve on what his teachings? I do admit,I email almost all of his homilies to myself and self-comment on them so that I can ‘chew’ on his words. Helps me remember them better.
    Oh, and if you want to email birthday greetings, as of this morning, the Vatican created an email address for you to do so — got it courtesy of the Catholic Herald in the U.K.
    It didn’t bounce back, so it must be legit!

    [How funny, my husband just wondered if there was an email address for birthday wishes! Thanks! -admin]

  • Bender

    Happy Birthday to both Pope Benedict and St. Bernadette, who was born into heaven this day in 1879.

  • Sue

    Since I converted in Nov. 2010 I know I’ll always think of Papa Bene as “my” Pope, if you know what I mean. As another commenter said, what a mind and what a heart! Happy Birthday to our dear Holy Father!!

  • Pingback: My B16 Birthday Album: Freedom as Challenge

  • Mark Greta

    When Pope JPII died, I wondered if any Pope in the rest of my life would win my heart like JPII. I quickly learned that there are many rooms in our heart if it is open for love and this Pope has found his own special room prepared for him in my heart. I will never forget JPII, but as with each of my grandchildren and great grandchildren, there are many rooms if we allow Christ to have open access to our heart, soul, and mind.

    Susan, great link on that Catholic voting video. It is a site I have supported from its infancy with a nice donation and one that I am working to bring them additional funding. I urge all to donate and you can be assured the money will be well used. They have a lot more in the works and some excellent talent.

  • Laura

    Beautifully written. Happy Birthday Pope Benedict!!!

  • Waldo

    Thank you Holy Father. You remain me of Peter, the rock, al the way.

  • Gayle Miller

    I find that on bad days I think of our dear Papa Ratzi and I smile – then I pet my two cats and smile again. Like our beloved Pope, I also love Mozart but am nowhere near as wise or intellectually gifted. Just happier for having known him these 7 years.

    It’s also reassuring to know there is someone vital and contributing in this world who is older than me!

  • Victor

    I must apologize on my birthday for being a little sarcastic here yesterday and I’m sure that today’s Saint Benedict would forgive me for my lack of humility and like Stefanie said above, I could always use the site provided by her if my ego needed a little more attention. :(


    [Happy Birthday, Victor! God bless! -admin]

  • Lorra

    Has anyone else here noticed that his words have unction? There is something very special about this particular pope.

    [I have to think the people who actually have bothered to read or listen to Benedict must have noticed it. A balm in gilead! :- -admin]

  • MaryW

    Happy Birthday to our dear Pope. Wishing him many more years. Beautiful post, Elizabeth, what an example he is for all!

    “Cloister unto himself”, lovely.

  • Hal Duston

    As a non-catholic who has great admiration for the Catholic church I like to contrast BXVI to JPII. Where as JPII seemed to mostly live in the office of priest and did the work of a pastor to the whole church, BXVI seems to live more in the office of bishop and does the work of an administrator of the whole church. Where as JPII was the pope of love, BXVI seems to be the pope of joy.

    [Great insight. But it's a very quiet joy -- quiet and deep, not shallow and loud! -admin]

  • terry nelson

    I also like that – a cloister unto himself.

    I think he is such a simple, humble man, so full of charity and truth, that many mistake him as complicated. He is a man without guile, absolutely no artifice.

  • Sherry

    I find his readings like a breath of fresh air, readable Holy Spirit on every page.