Benedict Announces Retirement (It’s what he WOULD do!) UPDATES!

(photo source)

In the Pope’s most recent tweet, our dear Papa had this to say to us: We must trust in the mighty power of God’s mercy. We are all sinners, but His grace transforms us and makes us new.

And today, on the Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes, Pope Benedict XVI has announced that he will retire in just a few weeks.

He’s been looking very tired for a while — he is 86 years old. Funnily enough, I was pondering my Pope App this past weekend and marveling the schedule of a man closer to age 90 than age 80.

Maybe he looked at it too and thought. “I just can’t.”

Except I am sure it wasn’t that simple. Benedict being who he is, I’m sure he prayed deeply over this decision.

And because he is known to be a considerate man, I am equally certain that if he felt he could manage the rigorous papal schedule of Lent and Holy Week, he would not thoughtlessly throw a new man into those heavy duties.

Vatican watchers have speculated for years that if any pope might resign due to age or health, Benedict XVI — having watched Blessed John Paul’s deterioration — could well be that man. Seems he is.

Still, all of that said, I am a saddened by Benedict’s move. I was driving a kid to a train station this morning, via ice-sheeted streets while she read the news off her phone and my first thought was, “Noooo!” My second was, “What now? How do we deal with a pope, and a Pope Emeritus, so to speak?”

John Paul II’s deterioration was hard to watch, but one of the lessons it taught us was that age and illness does not diminish the worth of a person; that was an important, nay, urgent message that had to be delivered to this increasingly utilitarian age.

Perhaps Benedict’s retirement is meant to remind this exceedingly busy world — the non-stop, twenty-four-hour-live and very self-important world — that we are none of us indispensable; that there comes a time to step back, throw oneself into the arms of the Lord and trust that all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.

Yes, I am sad. I have loved Benedict XVI; he has been my favorite pope — I loved John Paul, of course, but as I have said before, he was a grand, dramatic pipe organ of a man; he belonged to the whole world and his writings are often so dense I cannot plumb them. Benedict has always been the more accessible tinkling piano, simply inviting one to come closer. His copious writings have been almost avuncular in their gently-voiced but brilliant instruction, and somehow it always felt like he belonged “to me”. I will miss him terribly.

I agree with Ed Morrissey, Fr. James Martin, and others who call this an act of extreme humility, certainly we’ll be checking with Rocco Palmo, and Deacon Greg, Kevin Knight at New Advent and so many great Catholic sites over the course of the day and in the coming weeks.

Listening to some of the inanities coming out of the mouths of cable news anchors, and noting the way they are quickly, predictably, focusing on the “negative narratives” — one voice on cable anchor is making it sound like the church has just endured 32 years of misery and she imagines “great joy” among “progressive” Catholics and “confusion” among “conservative” ones — how grateful I am that, thanks to Benedict’s awareness, there is a hardy and energetic internet presence, well-established and looked upon with encouragement by Rome (and increasingly entered into and brilliantly utilized by smart bishops, priests, religious and layfolk). Thanks to that, we’ll explore this very new ground, together, with our diverse points of view laid out and hashed out, all while trusting that the Holy Spirit is guiding what occurs, as has been true since Pentecost. Benedict has done a great deal to help unite Christians, even while his own church has been roiled; and he has throughout much of his pontificate been an obedient Peter, led where he would perhaps rather not go.

The story goes that when he was a POW during World War II, the young Joseph Ratzinger shot craps with another prisoner, Gunter Grass, while they argued philosophy. “There are many truths,” Grass said. “No,” answer the 15 year-old Ratzinger, “there is only one.” He went from war to seminary and has spent his entire life in service to Christ and the church. Perhaps this shy, transparently holy introvert — whom the mainstream media have never “gotten” — has earned some time for quiet prayer, and reading, before he takes his leave.

:::UPDATE::: One more thought before I put this post to rest — I’m kind of appalled at how some members of the press are reacting to this. The announcement wasn’t two hours old when the cable news gasbags started in with their “wish list” and expressing hopes that the next pope “gets it right” on the “important issues.” A few sound like they’re all but crossing a line through this pontificate with zero understanding or appreciation of what it has actually been. And some of the comments in the Facebook threads are just so…awful. People are so busy thinking about their personal “agenda” for the church — be it “progressive” or “Conservative” — that they’re not even taking a breath to consider that the man and his pontificate will be more than a footnote to John Paul’s; they have no idea what a force for Christian unity he has been in the midst of so much division.

But on consideration, this almost seems typical of Benedict, particularly if his health is failing. He would have hated a long drawn out affair with pilgrims waiting within the basilica courtyard for his death. If John Paul went out like the sustained note of a grand organ, fading into silence, Benedict simply senses his tiredness and the hour, closes up his piano, and bids us adieu. Ratzinger, in the end, is still Ratzinger: he does his work, kisses it all up to the Holy Spirit and moves on, not particularly concerned about the peripheral yakking of man or media.

Despite the “preferred” secular narratives, he has always been more “glory of the olive” than “rottweiler.”


Get Religion is already chronicling the early media failures. There will be tons of them. Not only does the press not “get religion” they’ve never really even tried to understand Benedict. Negativity is always the easier way.

Reactions will be coming fast and furious. Because these sorts of articles are kept in readiness for news of a papal death, Our Sunday Visitor already has a look at “top candidates” to take Benedict’s place. There will be so much to read, it seems almost pointless to try to collect it all, as we did in the days before twitter. Frank Weathers has made a fair start on doing it, though, as has Dean Esmay.

But please check back. I’ll try to serve up the juiciest of what I find. Like this fast Q&A from America Magazine, for instance.

UPDATE II: Scott Hahn on the early clues that Benedict would do this. Check it out!

UPDATE III: Michael Sean Winters, has conclave considerations and, “This fascinating man who might well be the most thoughtful, cultured, deeply read public figure of our time deserves more than a quick blog post, written hurriedly.”

UPDATE IV: 10 reasons why this is a good thing and a good piece by Melinda Henneberger.

Here are some Patheos reactions:

Father Michael Duffy has video and first thoughts.

Thomas McDonald brings us the crying room, and second thoughts and more video

Fr. Dwight Longenecker on Benedict the Precedent-setting Pope

Deacon Greg has Cardinal Dolan’s first statement.

Joseph Susanka: “he sounded tired to me; incredibly tired, and deeply emotional…”

Lisa Hendey on what you ought not say to her, today.

Deacon Greg on what happens next.

Sam Rocha: “Profound humility and grace”

Rebecca Hamilton has a few quick takes.

Mark Barnes: Benedict is an academic and an artist.
Last Update:
For some It’s all about the hate. Because hating is easy and unchallenging.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • votermom

    “What now? How do we deal with a pope, and a Pope Emeritus, so to speak?”
    A unique situation, I agree.

    Thanks for your article; I am exploring the links now.

  • benning

    ‘Gentle’ has seemed to me to be who and what Pope Benedict is/was. As a Christian fundamentalist, not a Catholic, I find the Papacy interesting, though not an important part of MY Christian life. But the silliness of the opposition to Ratzinger’s elevation made me look closer at him than I had when John Paul II was elected. I like Pope Benedict. His detractors remain rather hate-filled.

    I read at Da Tech Guy that Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, claims he knew at Christmas that the Pope would resign. Why Pope Benedict would tell that ‘gnostic’ a thing, I cannot say. I wonder if Williams is trying to remain in the public eye. Sheesh!

    Much of the so-called scandals in the Vatican/Roman Catholic Church that Benedict was trying to handle, of course, occurred before he was Pope. John Paul may have lost the strength, or the grasp, to handle them, and so it was ‘bequeathed to Benedict. In that vein I see John Paul, in a way, a bit like Joe Paterno: Two aging men, cloistered in their own worlds, unable to fully grasp some of the evils that were happening in those worlds. *shrug*

    Benedict could, I guess, become a Bishop. Bishop of … Ganbdolfo?

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  • Cherie

    My thought might seem a bit strange, but I think that it is good that he is retiring. The younger generations need to step up and carry the cross. We need to become the new defenders of the faith, the new martyrs, the new saints. I have come to see my generation (late 30′s early 40″s) as one that forever wants to play and to take. We see only what we want, and ignore the truth if it is inconvenient. It is time to let our elders (the people of the Holy Father’s generation and maybe even the generation behind him) rest. It is time for younger catholics to give and sacrifice. I pray that the Holy Father will enjoy his retirement.

  • benning

    ‘I’m kind of appalled at how some members of the press are reacting to this. The announcement wasn’t two hours old when the cable news gasbags started in with their “wish list” and expressing hopes that the next pope “gets it right” on the “important issues.”’

    Quelle surprise! The Faithless progressives of the MSM want a Christian denomination to mirror their own political agendas.

  • Brian English

    “Yes, I am sad. I have loved Benedict XVI; he has been my favorite pope — I loved John Paul, of course, but as I have said before, he was a grand, dramatic pipe organ of a man; he belonged to the whole world and his writings are often so dense I cannot plumb them. Benedict has always been the more accessible tinkling piano, simply inviting one to come closer. His copious writings have been almost avuncular in their gently-voiced but brilliant instruction, and somehow it always felt like he belonged “to me”. I will miss him terribly.”

    An exact match to my views on the two men, their writings, and this event. JPII was the rock star; B16 is the kindly professor. I hope he keeps writing.

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  • Mandy P.

    I feel exactly the same way about Pope Benedict as you do, Elizabeth. I was not even a Catolic at the time he was raised, although I have since converted. And yet, I remember at the time thinking that he was sort-of a kindred spirit (a monk at heart called to a much larger vocation). I love that he is so understated, quiet, thoughtful, wise, gentle, humble, etc. I’ve read through quite a bit from JPII and while he seems like a great man, I just don’t feel the connection with him like I do to Benedict. I pray he will be able to live out his days in peace and quiet with lots and lots of those cats he loves so much.

  • Clare Krishan

    Joseph Ratzinger was born on 4-16 the feast of St Bernadette… there’s a deeper reason for him choosing this date: its his gift to the Church. He’s calling us to ponder anew a hurting world in dire need of the Good News of Christ
    Leonard Cohen knows, Aaron Neville knows, Linda Ronstadt knows but there’s still too many souls out there who do not. Isaiah’s words echo from Sunday’s first reading Whom shall I send? Here I am Lord
    Tomorrow’s Mardi Gras colors of purple, green and gold remind us of our personal call to be prophets, priests and princes/princesses this Lent… pray, fast and give ’till it hurts in imitation of Him who will deliver us from evil…

  • Vicki

    My first thought on hearing the news this morning was, “I wonder what the Anchoress will have to say?” It will be interesting to see what follows and I appreciate your insight.

  • NBW

    I am saddened too by Pope Benedict XVI’s decision, he was also my favorite Pope. May God Bless him. I am DISGUSTED by the MSM. As Catholics, we should all boycott the MSM and their sponsors to show our displeasure at how they treat our Pope and our Faith.

  • Ann

    I admit that I am heartbroken.
    I feel just as you do Elizabeth. Benedict has been such a gift to to the church and to me personally. I pray that he will continue to write and share his beautiful insights, but knowing him, he won’t want to take away anything from his successor.
    Prayers all around.

    and by the way…CNN is a disaster.

  • Penny

    My favorite pope as well. God bless him.

  • Skay

    I too have grown to love Pope Benedict. There is something very special about him. I will continue to pray for him, his health and his intentions daily.

  • Louise B

    I remember a statement made when Pope Benedict was first elevated to Pope. People feared he would be a rottweiler, but he was a German Shepherd. That remains true even as he retires.

  • Ann

    Interesting Clare. I immediately thought that the Feast of OLL was significant especially since Pope Benedict is highly symbolic with his actions. I am sure that he figured it would be good for the Church to have a new leader for Easter. Remember that he was born the day before Easter, as he said “on the way to Easter…but not there yet.”

  • Patricia

    Wouldn’t the real shocker/ successor be Cardinal Raymond Burke? Of course, electing a pope from the world’s only superpower is not something I ever imagined living to see. On the other hand, I never thought I’d be alive to see such a moral and religous decline of America, soon to be followed by our “power.”

    God does have mysterious ways of working.

    In the long shot chance that would come to pass, America wouldn’t know what hit them; for sure to shut up the current papal naysayers.

  • benning

    Y’know, in days past a ‘retiring’ monarch – and the Pope does qualify as a monarch – would either be ‘confined’ to a Monastery, or be found conveniently dead shortly after leaving the throne. A competing ‘Court’ was simply too dangerous to the new monarch. One needs only look at the lunacy surrounding the former Edward VIII to see the possibilities of mischief.

    And, of course, the idea of a retiring Soviet leader only became somewhat more peaceful by the time of Khrushchev. I expect Benedict will be a support to the incoming Pope, and to the Vatican, in his retirement. :)

  • DCB

    The Pope has done this, in large part, to ensure he can influence the college to select an appropriate successor, rather than allow the cardinals, some of whom I suspect he does not trust, to make that decision without his influence. I believe Pope Benedict has been guided by the Holy Spirit to take this action because he understands the challenges to the Church will only increase over the next several decades and the Church needs a orthodox conservative steady hand at the helm in this hour of danger.

  • Sue Korlan

    While I have respected Benedict and accept the fact that he is resigning, for me there will really only ever be one Holy Father, however dense his writings may be. I came back to the Church due to John Paul II and I still feel his strength when I pray to him. Benedict is a good person, and I respect his gentleness and the way he has led us to incorporate the rites of those converting en masse into the liturgies approved for these new Catholics. But neither he nor anyone else will ever be the same.

  • Fiestamom

    I wish I would have prayed for him more.

  • Amy

    Please don’t listen to the cable news. Give them all up for Lent….stick with catholic news, radio, ewtn, and our wonderful Catholic bloggers. My prayer is that individual Catholic churches will specifically pray aloud, to include the church body in praying an Our Father, 3 Hail Mary’s and a Glory Be for our Pontiff after Holy Communion.

  • Manny

    On the differences between JPII and Benedict, I agree with you. In many ways Benedict was much more profound, though I admit didn’t have as big an impact overall. But Benedict set the theology straight post Vatican II and in these turbulent times of moral relativism. In the end over the course of history Benedict may have the more consequential Papacy. I’ve really grown to admire him, mostly through the Catholic blogs and perhaps from yours the most Anchoress. The media really just don’t get it. They are a bunch of jackasses. (sorry I don’t mean to insult any donkeys)

    I just came back from lunch with my boss who’s a sort of nominal Catholic (goes to church every Sunday but mostly for his kids and family instead of deep faith) and all he mouthed off were the media talking points. He said he was very disappointed with Benedict. To show you his ignorance he thought Benedict’s big achievement – which he didn’t even like – was the new mass translation. When I told him that was only an English language thing and had nothing to do with the Pope, all he could say was, “oh.”

    All in all I was shocked and even choked up when I read the Pope’s letter. But it’s understandable. I thought there was a vacuum the last year or so of JPII’s life, and I bet Benedict didn’t want the Church to go thrugh that again. You know, humilty is the operative word with this decision.

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  • Anglican Peggy

    What now? I think he gives a clue in his statement. He will retire into seclusion to devote himself to prayer. I imagine a monastery somewhere. He will no more get in the way than George W Bush has in his retirement. Both men are profoundly humble as well as profoundly misunderstood. Some people will just never get it and will choose to see just the opposite in spite of the evidence.

    I have so much to say about this Pope. I will spare everyone my usual novel length comments though and just say that this Pope was my favorite between the two I have known the best. He is the only Pope I was ever inspired to call “Papa. He will always be Papa to me. He is a holy man. While his exit is a surprise, seemingly out of nowhere, now that I have had a minute to think about it, it doesn’t actually surprise me at all. I will sure miss him though.

    [I expect he'll go to Subiaco, which is where he retreated just before he was elected Pope. -admin]

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  • Joseph

    “My first thought on hearing the news this morning was, “I wonder what the Anchoress will have to say?”

    Mine too. It will seem strange referring to him as “former Pope”… Which raises the question: will he still be called Benedict XVI? And will he still be referred to as “His Holiness”?

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  • Meri

    My husband and I just received a Papal blessing for our 15th wedding anniversary. We were told by the sisters that were trying to attain it for us that they normally don’t process a request for Papal blessings for people who have been married such a short time. They promised us that they would try to get one for us anyway. We were pleasantly surprised to receive our parchment raised seal and all in the mail just a couple of weeks ago.

    We love Pope Benedict as well! One of the first things out of my mouth this morning was that we got our Blessing from the Pope just in time! My husband was thinking the same thing. We are both looking at what is unfolding with heavy hearts.

    I hope that the Holy Spirit picks somebody just as wonderful as Pope Benedict! It’s all in God’s hands now. We shall wait and see.

  • LisaB

    Hearing this news made me so sad. I am eternally grateful to Pope John Paul II, he taught me to love the Church. However, I felt more of a kindred spirit with Pope Benedict XVI and not so alone in the world. He will be missed.

    I like the terms faithful or unfaithful Catholic rather than liberal or conservative. Oh, and what’s that old saying… if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans… personal agendas for the Church included.

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  • CarolHS

    Of course the media doesn’t get it. The entire message of the Gospel is foolishness to them, hence their foolish wishes for a Pope to bring the church “into the 21st century” (meaning, usually, loosened moral standards.)

    The fact that there is truth, much less one truth, is a foreign concept to many. So their view that the Pope is some kind of CEO that needs to update a business plan makes sense to them. Universal truth that was and is and ever will be–what’s that?

    Poor souls! They miss out on so much!

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  • Ken Prescott

    Maybe he’s giving up the Papacy for Lent. :)

    In all seriousness…Benedict XVI has served well and faithfully, and I’m sure he has the guidance of both the Holy Spirit and his own prudential judgement in this decision. I’m not going to argue with either one.

    That said…somebody needs to do a Sweet Sixteen/March Madness brackets chart for the upcoming papal election. :)

  • Gayle Miller

    Already the chattering classes are “instructing” the Church, a Church which they know little about, on what it should do next. My own post on this matter requests that non-Catholics refrain from commenting. It has long been a major annoyance to me that those who know little to nothing about the tenets and practices of the Catholic Church feel enormous freedom to criticize and discuss what Catholics should believe. My rather snarky response has always been, “We’ve survived over 2000 years without your assistance and we’ll survive another 2000 quite well without further input from the likes of you!” The glory of our beloved Papa Ratzi is that he DID listen and he DID hear. He didn’t see fit to accept their advice most of the time, but he did hear it and that is also another reason to love him. May his last years be filled with the feline companionship and the music of Mozart which he so enjoys. God bless him, now and always. WE have been blessed by his pontificate.

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  • Zmama

    Before he was elected Pope, I had learned a bit more about then Cardinal Ratzinger through friends of mine in Germany who are part of an intentional community. I was impressed while visiting to learn of his support as their bishop. The community had sprung from the remnants of the student resistance at the University of Munich during WWII and the leaders and members of the community have over the years established strong relationships with Jewish leaders and communities in Israel. I hated whenever I would read comments implying Pope Benedict was a Nazi when he himself was deeply involved with establishing these relationships with those of the Jewish faith. Yet had I never visited the Catholic Integrated Community in Germany I might have believed such negative comments since the media would avoid writing about the many positive aspects of Pope Benedict’s character.

  • Alice

    I am sorry to see the pope resign, but fully sympathize.

    I wonder too if Pope Benedict’s experience of previous Vatican administrations and Vatican life when a pope could not fulfill all his duties contributed to his decision to resign. There could have been internal, organizational problems when Pope John Paul was ailing, for example: problems that would never need to be made public, but could be avoided with the transition that a resignation provides.

  • MaxedOutMama

    I was deeply moved by the news. I had not realized what strong feelings I had about him until today.

    I find myself fearful of the pope who will follow. It would be hard to follow two such great men of faith as JPII & our Benedict anyway, and the pressures on the church at this time are immense.

    I too hope he keeps writing – perhaps herein lies the wisdom and grace of this choice. If laying aside the office allows that voice of faith to be heard for a few more years, then perhaps this is the providence G_d is now vouchsafing the church. JPII was great because of his life and soul of faith, but our Benedict is great because of his true faith, and in selecting him, the cardinals were choosing that faith. A traditional faith, but a warm, patient, humane faith. It must surely change the focus of the new pope to have that voice remain alive. It may even change the choice.

    [I've had a lot of emails from folks, today, saying that they've been surprised by how deeply this news has moved them, and how surprised they are to discover that they've come to love Benedict, without even realizing it. -admin]

  • yan

    I am sad to hear this news. As others have written, I also have strong feelings for this Pope. With them, I hope he will continue to speak to us from his solitude, or from wherever he goes. He was to me, a leader, and a wise man I felt that I could trust.

  • Miriam

    Our dearest Abba/Papa who has served the Church for so long will be missed. He is my favorite and I wish him many more years though I fear that is not to be.

  • yan

    Isn’t there any way to undo this? We need this man. Can we start a petition to refuse his abdication?

    Did you ever see ‘The Year Without a Santa Clause’? That is what is really going on here. Our pope needs our support!

    Just because he is Pope does not mean he has to have a full schedule. He can be a scholarly Pope. He can give fewer homilies. He can pare back his busy schedule. He can delegate tasks to people. Not every pontiff from now on has to be JPII!

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  • Oregon Catholic

    I can’t help but find myself reading between the lines:
    the lack of a specific illness
    his mention of the need for mental as well as physical strength for the job
    his repeated examination of “conscience”
    the recent theft of documents by his secretary who stated he was trying to protect the pope
    his intention to spend his life in prayer in a monastery
    and now the tweet about mercy and sin

    I think he may be overcome by the sin and corruption in the hierarchy and no longer has the strength to fight against satan – and perhaps he is recognizing that he has been a big part of the problem, maybe by sins of ommission as he sat and watched JPII ignore the clergy sex abuse crisis and host Maciel at the Vatican.

  • Hart

    Pope Benedict XVI wins the “what did you give up for lent” prize!

  • PewSitter

    Wow! I fear that the ancient Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times!” applies here. First Papal resignation in close to 600 years. Do you realize Christopher Columbus hadn’t even been born yet when Gregory XII abdicated? That the Muslims still controlled what is now Spain!

    What is disheartening is the almost total absence of Catholic commentators in the comboxes of yahoo, google, huffpo, etc. While the sheer amount of absolutely evil comments are intimidating, I see no attempt to correct or educate or evangelize there.

    We have a serious problem in that we have allowed ourselves to become digitally ghettoized. We do not venture outside of the Catholic blogs/websites and that is a shame.
    It’s not easy taking on evil digital face to digital face, but it needs to be done. We are being shoved into the trash heap. We need to shove back, hard.

  • J Carr

    He is one amazing human being. The confidence with which he has led the Church through these historic times has been supernatural. Like John Paul II, he has been a historic figure. Lets face it, all the Popes have been historic figures. Men that have impacted the course of history. The problem with us is that we live for today and our memory is short. All the Popes have been men of destiny. How could they not be men of destiny, they all have been the stewards, the shepperds of a Church created by Christ himself, and they have the distinction of being in a line of men started by our first Pope, Saint Peter our Rock.

  • Hantchu

    It may interest you to know that the Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Metzger, said that Benedict had been an ally and had promoted cordial relations with the Jewish people.
    Frankly, I have heard nothing here in Jewish Jerusalem but sorrow, concern, and quiet respect. Older European Jews here are sometimes deeply suspicious of anything connected with the Catholic Church, and yet to the extent that the resignation has drawn attention at all, there is none of the snark you mention in the American media.
    Sometimes quiet sincerity, humility, and a humble bearing can make that impression. More than a few Israeli Orthodox commentators have expressed hope that some of our own current religious leaders whose physical and mental stamina age has diminished might profit from a good example.
    Personally, I said years ago that you all had been blessed by good leadership in the past two popes, and I pray that you will receive more of the same this time
    Then again, maybe I’m just a sucker for a sweet religious fellow in a yarmulka with a sincere smile. We do know that look around here. :)