Today we mourn for having lost one of our dear leaders, a man who was chosen by the most senior in our Church and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit to lead Jesus Christ's Church.
Pope Benedict XVI (1927-2022) was a man that epitomized what it was to be a shepherd, a teacher, a theologian, and a holy man.
Many people will write about Pope Benedict XVI today and many will write much better stories than me.
However, I will reserve my article to speak to how I saw and experienced Pope Benedict XVI.
For one, I saw Pope Benedict XVI as someone I could trust in Catholic Doctrine. Everytime Pope Benedict XVI spoke or wrote, I never had to hold my breath that he was going to say or write anything to contradict our Faith. I never felt like I had to pray for him to lead the Catholic Church. I know he made mistakes, but during his eight years as Pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI never appeared to go after conservative Catholic belief. He also encouraged certain brands of liberalism too, thus creating a very good balance. And for this, I was very grateful. To be perfectly honest, I never realized how much I enjoyed Pope Benedict XVI until he resigned.
Secondly, I saw Pope Benedict XVI as brilliant. Surely, there probably have been smarter people because Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary were both people, but I always felt that when you took us non-perfect people, Pope Benedict XVI ranked towards the top of that list. Certainly, when it came to theology, Pope Benedict XVI was arguably the greatest writer and theologian to have ever lived since maybe Saint Thomas Aquinas or Saint Augustine of Hippo. His three part series on Jesus Christ was a spectacular work because it brought Jesus to all people who chose to read the series, and he did so in an authentic way. What I took away from his theology that was most important is how we must always put God first in our lives. I know many people say it, but Pope Benedict XVI was able to teach this in a way that really made you aware and encouraged you to follow in the path of the disciples. His ability to guide the Faithful to a more perfect understanding of and faithfulness to Christ is truly a gift I wish we could have back. In other words, he was a father and a shepherd to each one of us because he guided us to be a better version of ourselves in God's image, thus accomplishing the very task of being pope.
Third, I saw Pope Benedict XVI as a flawed man. To me, this was extremely important because in our era of cancel culture, we are often too quick to throw away great people because we lack understanding and forgiveness. Pope Benedict XVI may have not been a friend to the Nazi Party as his cousin with down syndrome was murdered by them and his father was demoted in his work because of his anti-Nazi stances. However, as a young boy in an authoritarian state, Pope Benedict XVI was forced to join the Hitler Youth and then work in the Luftwaffe. To me, this part of his story is so very important because it allowed Pope Benedict XVI to grow into a brave and understanding man in adulthood. He was both able to understand the pressures that society placed on people to be against their Christian teachings, but at the same time, held people to the standards he himself probably wished he would have been held more to during World War Two. Pope Benedict XVI was always quick to call out blasphemy and other anti-Church stances, but at the same time, he embraced the modern age by supporting Vatican II, and he sought ecumenism with others, especially the Protestants. He was focused on fighting sin, but embracing the sinner. His great respect for the Augsburg Confession showed that his sole focus was not on politics, rather, his sole focus was on guiding the Church closer to God. I very much appreciated having a pope that I could look to and see how one can grow into a more perfect human being. It gave me a feeling that more chances existed out there for me to get things right. And as a Church that focuses on forgiveness, is there truly a better example in the modern-age?
His background too brought a sense of awe and mystique that I fail to see in any person today.
What I mean by that is it seemed that everything about him was divinely chosen.
For example, Pope Benedict XVI was born on Holy Saturday to a devout Catholic family.
For another, he grew up near a Marian pilgrimage site, perhaps the most holy site in Germany: The Shrine of Our Lady of Altötting. He also grew up in Bavaria, a perfect place to see the troubles of being too hardline as to erode peace, but also too weak as to encourage schism.
These backgrounds went perfectly into how Joseph Ratzinger chose his papal name. He chose Benedict to honor Pope Benedict XV who sought peace during World War One, and to honor Saint Benedict of Nursia who created the Rule of Saint Benedict, and thus the Benedictines. Benedictine monks were central to creating a Christian Europe as they branched out into many locations across the continent during the Middle Ages to become centers of spirituality, but also of knowledge, science, education, medical care, and all sorts of other expertise.
Pope Benedict XVI stated his intentions best: "Filled with sentiments of awe and thanksgiving, I wish to speak of why I chose the name Benedict. Firstly, I remember Pope Benedict XV, that courageous prophet of peace, who guided the Church through turbulent times of war. In his footsteps I place my ministry in the service of reconciliation and harmony between peoples. Additionally, I recall Saint Benedict of Nursia, co-patron of Europe, whose life evokes the Christian roots of Europe. I ask him to help us all to hold firm to the centrality of Christ in our Christian life: May Christ always take first place in our thoughts and actions!"
Thus, to me, it appeared God picked Joseph Ratzinger to lead His Church so he could rekindle the Faith in Bavaria to make Germany and thus Europe, once again holy, and therefore, the world as well.
But lastly, I think what might have been the most divine intervention was how Pope Benedict XVI became one of Pope Saint John Paul II's most trusted advisors in the Vatican City. The reason for this is due to the pure symbolism of this act. The fact that a Polish man could display such love and trust for a German man following the atrocities of World War Two fully displayed how God moves past our sins and wants us to work with our previous enemies for a better life. If the world was really to regain its Catholic flame once again, it was going to be through an embracement of those who have abandoned it, similar to Pope Benedict XVI's relationship with Pope Saint John Paul II.
Thus, Pope Benedict XVI stood as a bulwark against the bad of modernism, but also for the good of modernism.
Therefore, I will miss Pope Benedict XVI because he served as one of my guiding lights.
I miss him because he stood up for the Church and for Jesus Christ, even when it was unpopular to.
He was a Christian academic and professor at a time when rampant atheism plagued the classroom.
He was a promoter of both Tridentine Latin Mass and our new post Vatican II Roman Rite mass.
He was someone who knew what it was like when people abandoned God, because he witnessed it first hand. Therefore, he guided us to return to God once again.
History will always see Pope Benedict XVI in a strange light because he had to follow Pope Saint John Paul II, a nearly impossible task. But, for me, I will remember Pope Benedict XVI for having created what felt like my most Christian days of my life to date. And I know I am not alone in remembering those days of Christian certainty and belief that filled the air.
Thank you Pope Benedict XVI for your service to the Church. I pray you are in Heaven.