As much as I hate to admit this.... back in 2005 I was not too excited when Cardinal Ratzinger was elected Pope. I was a HUGE fan of JPII....but probably more from a secular perspective than a Catholic perspective. You see, back in those days...I really wasn't much of a Catholic. If my past self could be likened to anyone...it would probably be a textbook Cafeteria Catholic. I picked what I liked and knew that JPII was Pope. I never bothered to read any of his works and I even, up until a few years ago, had the idea that I knew more about how to take care of things than the Pope. In other words, back in the day, I was a mixture of moral stupidity, stubbornness, pride, and overall foolishness. I had the same "I know better than you" stubbornness and "I'll believe what I want" pseudo-morality that could have rivaled that of even the worst National Catholic Register heretics. I thank God to this day for my internal conversion over the past few years because if I had continued as I did then, I'd have paved my own road to eternal damnation quicker than you can say "relativism."
I did not fall in love with Pope Benedict until 2008. That was the year where I, on a whim (or was it divine inspiration?), decided to go to NYC to see the Pope. I never got to see him because of all of the crowds, but my hands saw him. I even got a picture or two of him. I don't know what changed that day...but I do remember my appreciation for him growing exponentially over the years that followed. I started delving into his words and what touched me most, besides his humility, was the fact that he was such a gentle wordsmith. His words, as hated as they are by the media and several special interest groups around the world...are an art in and of themselves. He may not have the same presence that JPII had in his younger pre-Parkinson's days...but he does have an eloquence that gently converts hearts if they are willing to listen. He defends that which needs to be defended, as unpopular is it may be these days to defend life, etc. The world, as a whole, doesn't like him...because people like Papa Bene aren't the type of people that are supposed to be loved by the world. They are supposed to be uncomfortable. They are supposed to fight...perhaps not with swords or a photogenic smile...but with words...with thoughts...with reason...and with TRUTH.
St. Augustine once said, "Truth is like a lion. You don't have to defend it. Let it loose. It will defend itself."
Well, Pope Benedict has been one of few in this modern age who has been unafraid time and time again to set the truth free. He has spoken about every uncomfortable topic you can think of. There are quite a few voices out there that are trying to make it look like Pope Benedict did little or nothing during his papacy...but I beg to differ. Whether it was welcoming disenchanted Anglicans after their swim across the Tiber or making the world aware of its blatant disregard towards the sanctity of life...he's ruffled plenty of feathers. He did not challenge with threats. He did not challenge with spears. He let the lion loose and simply let it defend itself. In a world that accepts half-truths as easily as it accepts comfortable lies, something as absolute as TRUTH can be uncomfortable at times. I know from experience that moral absolutism is not easy to defend or even mention in general society these days. Yet Pope Benedict has done it...time and time again. I truly appreciate what he does and can honestly say that he is a shepherd worth following.
As much as it shocked me earlier this week that he was resigning...I think he is doing the right thing. He is not the type to let decorum get in the way of necessity and there has been evidence of his decline in preceding months. I didn't think much about all of the help he's needed to walk lately until the announcement came out. I am sure he watched JPII's decline in 2005 and knows very well how dangerous it would be to allow himself to lose his faculties today. The world today is not what it was 7 years ago. Some things have gotten better, but the things that have gotten worse...have gotten far worse than I could have ever imagined. Anyone with family in the Middle East right now will tell you just how many are being killed for their faith right now...post Arab Spring. Anyone with family in Europe (as I have) will tell you just how bad things are going there between the economy-induced tensions and growth of radicalism. I have very young relatives in Europe that post pictures on Facebook that promote Communism and make light of atrocities like the Holocaust...and it worries me extensively. I can only imagine what is going on in places like China, etc.
The world is quickly changing...and many of these changes are for the worse. I don't mean to sound like a St. Malachy-Pope-prophecy-"it's the end of the world"-sensationalist, but I have a feeling that things are going to get a lot worse before they get better. Pope Benedict, I am sure, realized that we are in need of a strong spiritual leader to help fix much of what is unraveling today...and much of what will boil over tomorrow. I thank him for having the humility to step down and truly hope that the next Pope will be as great as Pope Benedict. I truly have grown to love him over the years and hate to see him go. His words have helped form the Catholic I am today and the Catholic I hope to be tomorrow. He has shown much strength in character over the years and has demonstrated, time and time again, to be a brave "vox clamanti in deserto." His words may not be appreciated by this age, but I am certain that the world will one day recognize their value. Unfortunately for us, we tend to ignore the bleeding wounds and broken bones of our corrupted and crumbling civilizations....until it is too late. It happened to all of the ancient great civilizations...and the world around us has demonstrated time and time again that we are not immune to the same weaknesses and foolishness that allowed civilizations like Ancient Rome to rot away from the inside.
Thank you Pope Benedict for all of the wonderful work you did. Thank you for consistently defending the TRUTH in a world where relativism is king. Thank you for consistently putting God first. Thank you for selflessly serving Christ's Church. Thank you for everything. May God bless you and grant you peaceful days in the future. You and your successor are certainly in my prayers.