It's been only a few months
since Pope Benedict's historic resignation, and the world is just
beginning to grasp the style and spirituality of Pope Francis. With
the benefit of some perspective, I'd like to share some thoughts on
Pope Benedict, as well as our new pontiff and what it means for the
A pope resigning (instead of
dying in office) has happened only a few times in the 2,000-year
history of the papacy. Why did Pope Benedict do it and what is the
significance? Of course, the secular press just couldn't help
prognosticating that there was some big scandal, or perhaps he was
"forced" to resign by the unruly Roman Curia.
While only Benedict XVI (aka
Joseph Ratzinger) knows the reason for his resignation, on a few
prior occasions during his pontificate he had spoken publicly about
the miracle of today's modern medicine. The good news is it can
save and transform lives. The complicated outcome of this is modern
medicine's ability to prolong life way beyond a person's ability to
For someone living out their
senior years in privacy at home or in a facility, this is one
thing. Living a compromised life while head of the largest, oldest
and most complicated organized religion in the world is another.
Long before he was elected pope, and during the 25+ years of Pope
John Paul II, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger served in the second
most powerful position in the Church.
His tenure in these two positions
is akin to serving as vice president and president for a combined
total of 33 years. This would take its toll on anyone. Most
popesdodie in office and Benedict saw his friend and predecessor
John Paul II hang on to the end. However, during the last several
years of JPII's papacy, he was infirm and not in total control of
the Church - unable to address some serious issues, including the
priest scandals that erupted during this period.
Benedict was turning 86 and knew
that some time ago his age and health had begun to significantly
diminish his ability to lead the Church, which is arguably one of
the hardest jobs in the world.
His stepping down showed a
personal humility - a Benedictine humility - and a desire to pull
the Church into the 21st century in the hope of creating
a new tradition - one where an aging pope can step down to make
room for a younger person to take on this awesome responsibility.
I, for one, think this was a positive development and a courageous
and selfless decision on the part of Pope Benedict.
Now I segue into my personal
connection to all of this and my affinity for Pope Benedict….
When Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger
was elected pope, he immediately and instinctively took the name
"Benedict" and credited his papal name selection to none other than
St. Benedict, the founder of western monasticism. Having grown up
in Bavaria - which is rich in monasteries, the future pope was very
familiar with Benedictine spirituality, monastic prayer and
I recall reading that, as a young
diocesan priest, he became an oblate of a monastery in Germany and
made retreats there over many decades - even while he was pope.
While John Paul II was a formative figure in my personal faith
journey, it was during Benedict's pontificate that my initial
interest in, and study of, Christian mysticism and monasticism took
root. This culminated in my novitiate, formation and profession as
a Benedictine Oblate two years ago at Saint Meinrad Archabbey.
So for these reasons, this old,
brilliant and humble pope will always be near and dear to me. As
the first "Pope Emeritus," he will spend the rest of his life in
prayer, within a monastery and, for security reasons, one within
the walls of Vatican City. There he will immerse himself in
monastic prayer for the Church, Christianity in general, and the
world at large. His life and priesthood have come full circle. How
As for Pope Francis, all I can
say is wow! The first Pope in history to take the name of
"Francis." A Jesuit with the heart of a Franciscan. A simple,
devout, orthodox, yet pastoral soul. In a very brief period of
time, he has captivated the imagination and hearts of many.
Betting against the resiliency of
the Church has always been a bad wager - and still is. The Church,
founded by Christ and handed down to the apostles and their
successors, has shown and proven time and again that, in spite of
human sinfulness and weakness, the heart and the soul of the Church
and its teaching are of divine origin.
As the 266th successor
to Peter, Pope Francis will carry the Church into its next chapter.
While watching and following whoever is pope at any point in time
is interesting and lends itself to opinions and discussion, it's
never really about "the man." The pope is only a caretaker.
What's clear to me is the Church
has been and will continue to be led by the Holy Spirit that Jesus
promised His Church and that gave birth to the Church on
The Church lives on. Be not