|Benedict XVI at a Wednesday audience in Rome, November 2009.|
Lou took the picture. I stood on my chair and grinned and waved.
Anyway, the pope resigned today due to age and failing health, and the white smoke should rise again before Easter. And I, honestly, am grieved over it. He's been a good father: firm and reliable and generous, intellectual and wise, careful and thoughtful in his relations to both church and world. And holy. Everything I ever heard him to say, everything I knew of him—not his handlers at the Vatican, but him personally—doing, aimed at an increase of faith, hope and charity, at pressing close enough to touch the hem of Christ's robe.
And that's what mattered these eight years, to his spiritual children at least. The see of Peter, like everything else about Catholicism, is a work too great for one man. Trying to keep a manifestly varied horde of fighting, straying, searching people on track to find God through Christ would be impossible for a hundred, or a thousand. Benedict XVI buckled down to the work almost against his will; he would have preferred, I hear, to retire and write; but he took up the pallium with humility and steeled himself to drive the thundering chariot of Chesterton's vision, struggling to hold "the wild truth reeling but erect."
He made serious effort toward the reunion of all Christians, which endeared him quickly to me. Again, a work too great for one man; despite five hundred years of Protestantism and a thousand years of East-West schism, the wounds of division are on both sides still sickening and bloody—as I well know, having un-taped a long what's-wrong-with-the-Catholic-Church letter from my own door with shaking fingers. But entire Anglican congregations have reconciled with Rome under his watch. It's a start.
He wrote. This, too, made me love him. I find his heady, theological style difficult to read, and have never even made it through one of his encyclicals, let alone the books. But when I've read sections thereof, the thick phrases contain straightforward, innocent and loving truths.
More than anything else, he invited all of us to know and love God. From his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est:
Faith, hope and charity go together. Hope is practised through the virtue of patience, which continues to do good even in the face of apparent failure, and through the virtue of humility, which accepts God's mystery and trusts him even at times of darkness. Faith tells us that God has given his Son for our sakes and gives us the victorious certainty that it is really true: God is love! It thus transforms our impatience and our doubts into the sure hope that God holds the world in his hands and that, as the dramatic imagery of the end of the Book of Revelation points out, in spite of all darkness he ultimately triumphs in glory. Faith, which sees the love of God revealed in the pierced heart of Jesus on the Cross, gives rise to love. Love is the light—and in the end, the only light—that can always illuminate a world grown dim and give us the courage needed to keep living and working. Love is possible, and we are able to practise it because we are created in the image of God. To experience love and in this way to cause the light of God to enter into the world—this is the invitation I would like to extend...The invitation stands, and God help me take him up on it. As for Benedict himself, he closed the announcement of his resignation with the words "With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer."
I'll miss his quiet, fatherly leadership. But I'm ever grateful for his prayers.