Because I Can Identify with My Pope

Posted by Webster 
If you’ve ever lost a parent, as I have, you have to read Pope Benedict’s account of the death of his parents in his memoir, Milestones: 1927–1977. For all the theological observations (many of them over my head), for all the professional history, these personal passages are the ones that convince me. (Our Pope is the younger brother at left in this family photograph.)

First, the death of his father, just four months after Joseph Ratzinger assumed his first full professorship, in Bonn:

There was in August [1959] an ominous drum roll that came with unexpected force and harshness. . . . In the summer of 1958 Father had had a mild stroke while carrying my sister’s heavy typewriter to the repair shop on a very hot day. . . . At Christmas he gave us gifts whose generosity was beyond belief. We sensed that he took this to be his last Christmas, and yet we could not believe it, because exteriorly there was nothing wrong with him. In the middle of August he experienced an acute indisposition, from which he recovered only very slowly. On Sunday, August 23, Mother invited him to take a walk to the old places where we had lived and enjoyed our friends. On this hot summer day they walked together for more than ten kilometers. On their way home, Mother noticed how fervently Father prayed when they made a brief visit to the church and how restless he was awaiting the return of the three of us, who had taken a ride to Tittmoning. During supper he went out and collapsed at the top of the steps. He had had a serious stroke, which took him from us after exactly two days of suffering. We were grateful that we were all able to stand around his bed and again show him our love, which he accepted with gratitude even though he could no longer speak. When I returned to Bonn after this experience, I sensed that the world was emptier for me and that a portion of my home had been transferred to the other world.  

I am struck that not only his father but also his mother seemed to know that death was near. She invited him for a long walk to visit the old places. He gave generous Christmas gifts. He stopped to pray. . . .

And I am struck with the realization that when my father died, a piece of me went to heaven with him.

Four years later, as the Second Vatican Council was gathering momentum, Joseph Ratzinger lost his mother:

Already since January my brother had noticed that Mother was eating less and less. In mid-August her physician announced to us with sad certainty that she had cancer of the stomach, which would follow its course quickly and relentlessly. With what was left of her energies she kept house for my brother until the end of October, even though she was already reduced to skin and bones. Then one day she collapsed in a shop, and then was never again able to leave her sickbed. Our experience with her now was very similar to what we had lived with Father. Her goodness became even purer and more radiant and continued to shine unchanged even through the weeks of increasing pain. On the day after Gaudete Sunday, December 16, 1963, she closed her eyes forever, but the radiance of her goodness has remained, and for me it has become more and more a confirmation of the faith by which she had allowed herself to be formed. I know of no more convincing proof for the faith than precisely the pure and unalloyed humanity that the faith allowed to mature in my parents and in so many other persons I have had the privilege to encounter.

My mother is still very much alive, and a lively inspiration to us all. But I encounter that “pure and unalloyed humanity” every morning at Mass. Have I told you about Frank and Carrie K.? Have I boasted to you about Frank G.? (That’s him at left. How could you not love that face?) How about the Pietrini brothers? Or my big brother in the Church, Ferde?

These dear friends are my most “convincing proof for the faith.”

  • Maria

    I am overcome, at times, by the great debt I owe, not just my parents, but my grand-parents, who were remarkably holy men and women. I, on the other hand, was not. I am convinced, after many years in the wilderness and now safely home, that I would still be in a deep and dark wood, were it not for their faith and prayers. And yes, part of my home is now with them. What remarkable language. As ever, thank you, thank you.

  • Webster Bull

    Thanks, Maria. As I wrote somewhere, the 4th commandment, Honor thy father and mother, is the linchpin of the whole Ten Commandments. As I didn't write, but should have, the 4th commandment is the hinge between 3 statements of "honor God" and 6 of "don't be a jerk." We could all do more of #4. That our Pope is so sincere about it I find terribly moving and, yes, "convincing."

  • Maria

    Pope Benedict XVI's humility is so vividly obvious, don't you think? I was amazed by how he re-bounded after he was attacked Christmas Eve. At 82. And then he is off to a soup kitchen the next day delivering gifts, for heaven's sake! I was in bed.On another matter, let's get to know Warren a little better and then we can gather names for nomination and vote. Yes?

  • Maria

    Webster: One of the reasons I love being Catholic is that when there is a natural disaster we are always the first ones at out the gate to help. See notice below re how to help:How You Can Help Victims Of Haiti QuakePowerful Earthquake Strikes Outside Port-Au-PrincePOSTED: Tuesday, January 12, 2010UPDATED: 9:04 pm EST January 12, 2010PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. — Some organizations in South Florida are accepting donations to help victims of the earthquake that struck near Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, on Tuesday afternoon.The Archdiocese of Miami is accepting financial donations to help the victims. The Archdiocese asks that anyone who wants to donate send a check made out to Catholic Charities/Earthquake Victims to:Catholic Charities1505 NE 26th St.Wilton Manors, FL 33305Att: Earthquake VictimsHope you don't mind my posting this.

  • Warren Jewell

    Yes, Webster, though my parents were very poor as Catholics, I regarded the Fourth Commazndment as sacrosanct – not just for them, but for every relationship in my life. I think that my obedience to the Fourth caused my late wife Sharon to greatly admire my regard, and feel assured of my faithfulness. The hub of the wheel that is the family is Mom. Dad is that wheel rim that hits the road. Without them, the family grinds to a halt.God's greatest blessings to families are Mom and Dad. And, with that in mind, now thank we all our God.

  • Webster Bull

    Maria, I am going to use your comments on Catholic Charities' response to the Haiti Quake in my weekend roundup. This is indeed good Catholic news! Thanks.

  • Webster Bull

    Warren, Love the metaphor of hub, rim, and road! That's masterful.

  • Maria

    Ditto the hub/rim metaphor. So precise.

  • Maria

    Webster:Pope Benedict issued a statement today, 1/13/09 on Haiti's suffering: “I appeal to the generosity of all people so that these brothers and sisters of ours who are experiencing a moment of need and suffering may not lack our concrete solidarity and the effective support of the international community. The Catholic Church will not fail to move immediately, through her charitable institutions, to meet the most immediate needs of the population.”See?And this from http://www.catholictradition.org/Mary/olph3.htm—Haiti is consecrated to Our Mother of Perpetual Help. "Haiti has many devotees of the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, the country itself is actually consecrated to Our Lady under this title. In 1881 Haiti was afflicted with a horrible epidemic of smallpox, particularly in the capital of Port-au-Prince. The doctors saw no solution other than intense storms to cleanse the atmosphere. But that time of the year was known as the "dry season." One woman had brought a copy of the icon from france and offered it to the rector of the Cathedral of Port-au-Prince, hoping that invoking the Holy Virgin would alleviate the plague. On February 5, 1882, a solemn procession was held during which the image was carried to a small chapel overlooking the city. The Novena began. Five days later, contrary to all weather predictions, several cloudbursts occurred. From that moment the epidemic began to diminish and no new cases were reported. The people of Haiti had no doubt that it was Our Lady's intercession that had saved them. Since then she has been called "The Virgin of the Miracle." The picture of her is found in almost every home. Even the civil government officially place the nation under her protection." The Rosary…

  • Webster Bull

    Thanks, M. I need to visit the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Boston. There are so many times I think of returning to Europe (Rome, Lourdes, Assisi) when I haven't even seen the gems in my backyard!


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