I loved JPII. He was the pope of my conversion, the pope whose eyes shouted love for me. There were moments in my youth when I believed the lies the world tells about the Church’s misogynistic and antiquated ways, times when I felt that perhaps it was just some patriarchal bureaucracy. But I knew that my Papa loved me–not loved everybody, but loved me. When I couldn’t believe that God loved me, this Pope who responded to cries of “We love you!” with “Perhaps I love you more”–he showed me the love of Christ in a powerful way.
When he died, I sobbed. And then I rejoiced. I had loved him for so long but I knew that, as much as he loved me, he would never know my name. I studied in Rome for a semester to be near him, but 5 seats in from the aisle was the closest I was going to get. In death, he knew me. In death, he listened to me. In death, he sat beside me at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
I was fully prepared to love his successor, but I knew that I would never adore him the way I adored John Paul.
And I was right. I don’t love Pope Benedict that way–but I love him just as much. See, JPII is my number 2 crush of all time. No joke, I see pictures of him at 60 and I think he’s the handsomest man I’ve ever seen. I don’t even notice that he’s old. I don’t feel that way about Papa Benny; I don’t swoon over his pictures or get butterflies in my stomach when I think about him. He’s not exciting–not the rock star John Paul was–but he feels like home. When I look at his picture or read his words, I know that I am held in the Father’s embrace. I suppose I loved JPII like I love Christ. But I love Pope Benedict like I love the Father.
So this morning’s news stunned me. Not only are we losing him, in essence, but he’s choosing to go. And yet I feel no sense of betrayal, not even confusion. There may not be a holier man in the world today; if he feels the Lord has asked him to abdicate, I trust him.
Nor does any man more deserve to retire to a life of prayer. For 85 years, Pope Benedict has poured out his life for the Church. In recent years, he has prayed and written and spoken and traveled and suffered ridicule and abuse and yet still he loves us. A dear student of mine was blessed to meet him once; she told me that she has never in her life felt more loved than when he looked in her eyes.
And now he feels that he is no longer capable of giving the Church what she needs. I have a hard time believing that any man alive would be better at this work than he, but I trust him. I’m stunned by his humility in acknowledging his limitations, most particularly by his entreaty: “I ask pardon for all my defects.” That such a man would forgo weeks of interviews and accolades from his adoring faithful and instead speak quietly to the Cardinals, proclaiming his weakness and begging their forgiveness–this is the reason the world stands shocked. Not because he resigned, but because even his resignation is not about him. Sr. Mary Theresa of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist put it beautifully: “Pope John Paul II remained in office so that he might show us how to suffer and how to die. Pope Benedict XVI is leaving the Papal Office so that he might show us how to live in humble honesty.”
The Holy Father’s resignation is a great loss to our Church. But it is also a great gift–a gift of humility, of prayer, of discernment. In stepping down, our beloved Pope continues to teach us to live in the Father’s will. I’m glad he’s teaching that lesson. I’m glad he’s living such humility. But most of all, I’m glad he will have some years of peace at the end of his life. The gates of hell will never overcome the Church of Christ; may God bless us with another saint as Vicar.
Aggie Catholics has a great piece on why this is a good thing. Fr. James Martin tells us what this teaches us about discernment. Tim O’Malley explains how this lesson in seflessness should change us all. Jimmy Akin‘s first thoughts help clarify the situation. And my dear friend Christina Grace is just mourning the loss.