Benedict XVI and the Invitation to Love

The fact that I've dreaded the end of Benedict XVI's time in St. Peter's see will not make sense to all of you, I suppose, and no, I don't blame you. Lived experience depends too much on perspective. If you're not Catholic—judging by my own past experience—the pope is an awkward blend of megachurch pastor and foreign statesman, irrelevant if you don't pay attention to him and likely problematic if you do, and all of that's made worse by the colossal ineptitude of the news media in reporting him. I don't think they mean harm, half the time; it's just that they make the sort of bumbles that happen when people try to pass themselves off as part of an unfamiliar culture. And when they do mean harm, often out of a Skeeteresque penchant for spinning headlines to be interesting rather than truthful, they manage it.

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.


  1. Though I'm not Catholic, this is a very moving tribute. That some anonymous jerk put that hateful paper on your door is appalling...and scary. So many people to pray for!


    1. Well, it wasn't an anonymous jerk... it was a tactless but well-meant argument from someone close to me. On account of which, it wasn't so much scary as painful. It was also later apologized for--for the manner of it, at least.

      And thanks. Disagreement over theology and ideals is part of life--I didn't want to give offense, just to express my honor for a good man. I'm glad to know that in one case at least, it came off that way. :)

  2. I'm going to miss poor, dear Benedict! I like him so much, I LOVE the Christmas photos of him in his Santa hat, and I like his writing almost as much as John Paul II..but I'm sure he's made the decision prayerfully and I'm glad to give my Lent for his intentions! He has been a wonderful shepherd for us, hasn't he!

    Your poor well-meaning friend..that's got to leave a bit of embarrassment, I think. But I can't imagine getting such a letter, especially from someone close..And I thought your tribute was absolutely lovely - very focused on the Pope and the blessing he's been to the Church! :) I'm going to miss having him as pope, but at least we know he'll be there, praying in the background.

    1. "that's got to leave a bit of embarrassment"--well, only when I think about it. For me, at least; I couldn't say how they feel about it now. Like they did their duty, I think, only not in quite the most ideal way. I'm pretty good at forgetting about it most days, anyway. The time of my move from evangelical to Catholic was so painful that I've blacked it out of my memory as far as possible. :)

      I have loved Benedict so much, and yes, he has been a wonderful shepherd! And those Santa photos were ADORABLE. I will be praying for him during Lent, too. And thanks!

  3. More later, but:


  4. First, as a Lutheran let me say that Lutherans have good reasons for being Lutherans & not Roman Catholics & several of those reasons involve the Office of the Papacy.

    That being said, I always liked Benedict. He's not wishy washy but always adhered to his confession of faith. He's one of those Christians the world hates in that he wasn't willing to totally abandon the church's teachings anytime someone took offense at them.

    I could also admire his defense of human life and the sanctity of marriage. Also his piety and scholarship.

    1. Thanks. Yeah, it's not easy adhering to confessions of faith and all that means nowadays... those of us who do have to stick together as best we can. ;)

    2. ...but seriously, that means a lot, and thanks for sharing. :)


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