I woke up from a hard night’s work (security not the other thing) to hear my mom telling me the pope had resigned. I responded, “Don’t joke around with me.” However, learning it was true, my cantankerous bout of denial changed into thoughts summing up to something more like: “WHY, GOD, WHY!!” This was very bad news and I didn’t know which messenger to shoot.
Allow me to explain why I had such intense feelings about this. For those of you who don’t know, I became Catholic 5 years ago, back in 2008. At this time Benedict XVI was the pope and in my rebelliousness, I deemed him as a person who must earn my respect. I immediately set out to know more about this man and procured some of his writings from the Newman Center Library. Still influenced by growing up Protestant, I held his writings to Scripture and what I understood as Christian orthodoxy. What I gathered from the pope was a central message of God’s love and our need to know Jesus Christ personally. I was yet getting to know Christ personally and during this journey, the pope’s writings were greatly helpful. They erased former preconceptions about Catholic belief, laid bear some of the difficult mysteries of Scripture and established a rational basis for faith. Even though hundreds of miles away, the pope became my teacher, my father in faith.
I remember a time, shortly after I expressed interest in Catholicism and enrolled in RCIA, when the pope visited the United States. He was in New York, I think. I hounded my Catholic friend (and RCIA sponsor) to watch some of his visit with me. Coming down into my dorm-room lounge, we turned on the big TV and tuned into the pope. There were crowds of people around him, showing a bit much enthusiasm in my opinion; however, I remember the peaceful look on his face. For all his powerful estate and glory, he seemed genuinely interested in those people, eager to give them God’s word. In his presence was the true presence of an apostle. I never had that. Pastors always had been big men, too big for their britches, who had to insert weight into their words because they were opinions. There was no real unity in the churches I attended in my youth and later during college. I had no way of knowing what any given pastor said was authoritative, solid or in line with the teachings of Christ. We had the Bible- but too many different ways to interpret it. Now, here before me was a brazen trail leading back to the apostles, told of in the very Scriptures and with a guarantee from Christ himself. I already knew and studied the Biblical basis of the papacy. Now I understood it.
Fast-forward about two years. As a new Catholic, I zealously defended the papacy and the pope’s ministry from many objectors, some of whom were not so gentle. While visiting a friend’s Baptist Church, I was basically screamed at and called a child of the anti-Christ for objecting to their charges against the pope. Here was a man who wasn’t evil so much for anything he did but because he was simply the pope. The Baptists didn’t care that John Paul II or Benedict were good guys who preached an unwavering Gospel. They didn’t care that the popes brought hundreds-if not thousands to believe in Christ as the Savior of mankind. All they cared about was that they held a position as “The Vicar of Christ”. Of course, they didn’t believe Christ had any vicars. No one could speak for Him or clarify what He taught us. Only confusion under the guise of “Biblical-believing Christianity” was acceptable.
Benedict XVI was a bastion of intellect, kindness and Christian truth for me. It was he who taught me to have hope in suffering, to find friendship in Christ, to love sinners, non-Christians and those who hated us. For a man so frequently called “homophobic”, he taught me to love gays. For a person dubbed “misogynist”, he taught me the true worth of a woman. For someone called “demonic” and “anti-Christ” he taught me to love Christ more deeply.
Back to 2008: During RCIA, I had acquired a certain nickname amongst my fellow Catholics: Latin Girl. This was because of the Latin Masses I attended (which drew me to Catholicism), the fact I prayed in Latin and because I went crazy-happy every time I heard a Latin hymn. Little did I know that Benedict XVI was to become a champion for the Latin Mass. He allowed for wider celebration of the Extraordinary Form and even promoted it as an equally-valid form of liturgy to be esteemed. Perhaps, the good pope saw how much of our priceless culture and heritage was being lost in the average parish. He understood Vatican II in its original terms; that the Latin language is to be preserved in the Roman Rite- not done away with and shoved in a corner never to see the light of day. Let me clarify that I have nothing against vernacular in the Mass or against the Ordinary Form, I just want to acknowledge that many people haven’t properly heeded Vatican II or the pope as to how Mass should be done.
Anyway, I’m getting off topic. In short, this Pope Benedict XVI was a man after God’s heart and a man after my heart. I didn’t respect him or love him at first. He had to earn my admiration- and earn it he did. I feel as if I’d lost a friend or my dear, old granddaddy. He was, for the most part, blameless yet others sought blame in him. He devoted himself to faith, the Scripture and the liturgy yet many took offense at him. He was misunderstood, introverted and coldly rational yet scorned for not being another John Paul II (another pope, by the way, I really love). Everything he did was wrong. Do it or don’t, he was damned. Everything he said was twisted and everything he lived for was mocked and ignored by the world. In the manner of our Lord Christ, he was a sign of contradiction. I pray that he, in the manner of Lord Christ, will lead a life of faith, eventually die in faith and by his faith, be reborn into life eternal.