For those who know Pope Benedict XVI he will be remembered as a fatherly and kind leader, different from the perception of many who knew him only through reports in the media or impressions gained from decisions he made or theological statements.
His first encyclical God is Love (Deus Caritas Est) belied the persona projected by critics of his work as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a position that by its very nature required making tough and frequently unpopular decisions. However, during those years as the Auxiliary Bishop of Washington, I had several occasions to meet with him regarding doctrinal matters and always found him kind and understanding.
He showed his great love for the Church by the courageous decision he has made. The Holy Father’s willingness to voluntarily step down from what is arguably one of the world’s most respected and powerful positions shows his great humility and self-awareness.
Many have described him as a “teaching” pope, and that he was. He loved the faith and that is why he loved the Church. That is also why he was a superb teacher and theologian, because those gifts enabled him to transmit his great faith to others.
In his decision to resign the Pope called attention to the complexity of the Pontifical Office that requires the strength and stamina of a younger man to deal with the demands of a Church that embraces more than a billion faithful throughout the world and is growing constantly.
Pope Benedict not only taught us with his intellectual works, but also by the witness of his life. As his predecessor’s final lesson to us was how to suffer, the Holy Father Pope Benedict’s final lesson is how to let go. In making his monumental announcement, he has also taught us how to keep a secret…a rare talent these days.
Let us continue to pray for him as he steps into retirement and for the power of the Holy Spirit in choosing a new captain for the Barque of Peter.