Shock, sadness, relief, fear, apathy. These represent the range of emotions felt by Catholics all over the world as Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation this week–a resignation which does not step outside of his character.
But who is this octogenarian German Pope? Christians and non Christians alike were all familiar with the previous leader of the Roman Catholic Church, John Paul II. To some, Benedict seems more enigmatic. Some know him as the “Nazi pope” and others know him as the pope who had to deal with all the abusive priests. If one bothered to look at any evidence from Pope Benedict’s past one may discover that not only was Pope Benedict never a Nazi, but that Pope Benedict is in fact a pope who has gone to significant lengths to protect Judaism and is widely admired among Jewish leaders. In addition, Pope Benedict vastly improved management and administration of priests in the Vatican during his papacy and made excellent bishop appointments.
My favorite quote about Benedict was said a few years ago by Elizabeth Scalia, on her Patheos blog titled The Anchoress. Scalia says of him, “[Benedict] is warm, pastoral, approachable, quite paternal, and as easy to glean as a dear old uncle sharing fellowship over a cup of tea. John Paul was a mighty pipe organ, dramatic, transcendent, soul-rattling – almost overwhelming. He brought you to your knees, before God in hushed awe. Benedict is a piano being played by a musician who plays for love of the music, and he draws you into his sphere, to sing along in praise.”
John Paul’s papacy was dramatic, energetic, emotional, awe inspiring, and engaging. Who can duplicate the part the Polish pope played in the fall of the iron curtain? In contrast, Benedict has been a theologian and a professor most of his life. While John Paul was a master in engaging a crowd, Benedict seemed a little overwhelmed facing so many people.
While John Paul II greatly expanded the Church in an external sense, Benedict XVI continued this spirit of globalization by strengthening the inner life of the Church. Pope Benedict’s encyclicals and books are very accessible and while scholarly, still deeply personal. His recent books have focused upon the New Testament as the way to encounter the person and mission of Jesus Christ.
Benedict fervently defended the dignity of human life and spoke out against the destructive nature of relativism. During a short pontificate of eight years he pastored his 1.2 billion flock of Catholics with 54 journeys throughout the world, weekly Wednesday teachings, and a social media ministry that included Twitter. His fearless ability to speak against radical Islam and condemn Catholic liberals, who support abortion and activities contributing to the degeneration of families and morality in our culture, is truly inspiring for our generation of conservatives.
As college students, we are constantly urged to promote ourselves in order to get ahead. Everything we apply to seems to have some essay where we have to elaborate on our “significant accomplishments” and talk about how awesome we are. In an age consumed by worldly materialism, self-touting narcissism, and inflated over-confidence, Benedict’s gentle humility is refreshing. His resignation reveals what most people forget Catholics believe about the pope, the fact that he too is “a humble servant in the vineyard of our Lord.”