The Catholic Moment: The Legacy of Pope Benedict
In April of 2005 when Blessed John Paul II passed from this world, it was a totally new experience for me. I was less than one year ordained to the priesthood, but yet I had never known another name to be prayed during his spot in the Eucharistic Prayer. (I was not quite two when John Paul was elected!) It was odd, I felt the same I did when my Grandfather had passed away a few years earlier; and in some ways, I still miss the charism of the man who did so much in his years on the Chair of Peter.
The morning of February 11, 2013, will stick with me as well, but for much different reasons. Pope Benedict XVI did the seemingly impossible: stepping down from the same Chair of Peter to spend his last days in prayer and study. My initial thought was: “How can the Holy Father ‘retire’?!?!” But as word slowly came out of the Vatican that day and the days the followed, we learned of his declining health and the great humility that led Pope Benedict to acknowledge that he no longer had the strength needed to shepherd God’s people. Knowing my own internal debates when I have had to make a change in my life, I can only imagine the fervent prayer that led him to this conclusion. I have certainly kept him in my prayers ever since!
I only had a few encounters with Pope Benedict, two stick out in particular: with my parents and with Archbishop Schnurr. A few years back, my parents and I made a small pilgrimage to Rome, just the three of us. (My siblings still are upset that they did not get to go along!) The highlight of the week for my mother was the Sunday Angelus Address. We stood with the huddled masses in the vast array of St. Peter’s Square as Pope Benedict appeared at his study window to give us his reflections on the day. Despite the fact that he was several stories above us, we could still very much feel his presence. It was as if he looked down on the crowd below and did not see the crowd, but he saw each person individually. And in that look, loved us all.
A few years later, I was back in Rome as part of the pilgrimage group that journeyed with Archbishop Schnurr as he received the Pallium, the strip of wool worn over the shoulders as the sign of office for a territorial Archbishop, from Pope Benedict. I was lucky enough to serve as a Communion Minister for that Mass, which meant I was at the foot of the Main Altar in St. Peter’s during the Mass, within twenty feet of our dear Holy Father. However, my enduring memory is of Pope Benedict as he rounded the Confessional of St. Peter and saw the cohort of priests and smiled proudly at us, his sons in the priesthood. He came over and shook hands with the few lucky enough to be seated in the front row. One could see very clearly his love for the priesthood, his love for the Church, and his desire to be a good and faithful servant before the Lord.
During his brief seat on St. Peter’s Chair, Pope Benedict has left a lasting impression on the Church. Thinking back to the day of his election, I doubt any of us saw the impact that he would truly come to have, from the liturgy, to Christian Unity and inter-religious dialogue; Pope Benedict was never afraid to follow the guidance of Our Lord.
The legacy that Blessed John Paul II left us was one of grace in the face of immense suffering. Pope Benedict leaves us one of humility in knowing one’s own personal struggles and limitations. As he, too, now goes forward from this chair into the quiet of prayer and solitude, might we all echo ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’
More on Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation:
Citing health, Pope to resign
Cincinnati Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr releases statement on papal resignation
CNS Video: See the pope announce his resignation
Women religious respond to news of pope’s resignation
St. Ursula Academy teacher uses pope’s resignation as teaching moment