Thursday, February 28, 2013

Pope Benedict XVI, St. Benedict, and Me

On 19 April 2005 I was sitting in the Huether Hotel Café in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada studying for the comprehensive exams associated with my doctoral program at McMaster University.  The Huether was my regular haunt those days.  I would spend hours and hours each day there reading and drinking coffee.

The Huether had two televisions, both of which played the news, and both of which were muted.

On the afternoon of 19 April 2005, I happened to glance up from whatever book I was reading - I'm pretty sure I was reading Augustine's De Trinitate - to see on the television billows of white smoke emerging from the chimney atop the Sistine Chapel.

I was only two when John Paul II was elected, so I of course remember nothing.  What I was witnessing in 2005, therefore, was my first papal election.

And I was riveted.  There was such drama with the smoke, the cardinal announcing the words, "Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum... habemus papam!" - "I announce to you a great joy... we have a pope!", and the new pope being introduced to the crowd.

I still enjoy re-watching the whole process:

At the time I was not a Roman Catholic, at least not formally.  I was an Anglican in theological crisis.  I loved my church, but had realized that theologically, ecclesiologically, and sacramentally I was a Roman Catholic.  As I watched Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger get elected and emerge onto the balcony of St. Peter's as Pope Benedict XVI, I felt a longing that I can't explain to become fully what I was already in my heart.

I was received into the Roman church two years later, and took "Benedict" as my confirmation name, as a nod to both St. Benedict of Nursia and to the man who was be pope when I became a Roman Catholic.

It was, therefore, a moving experience for me to see a much-aged pope leave the Vatican today:

Almost eight years later, the see of Peter is vacant, and while the Pope-emeritus is not dead I feel a sense of mourning this evening.  Pope Benedict XVI was not perfect.  It would appear that he had shortcomings as an administrator.  Moreover, there are facets of his thought with which I humbly disagree.  But he was and is a theologian and scholar whom I respect deeply, a  man of profound depth.  His writings as pope, and particularly his encyclical Deus Caritas Est, demonstrate his depth clearly.  But his resignation demonstrated to me a tremendous humility that underlines what appears to be depth of spirituality.

So now, we wait...

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