Well done, good and faithful servant

26 Feb

Benedict-waveMy hat’s off to him. Pope Benedict XVI sure knows how to make headlines. His Feb. 11 announcement that he would step down as the Church’s 265th successor of St. Peter was heard around the world.

The Pope’s decision took many by surprise — including New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan who said he was “startled” by the news. But after some reflection, many Vatican-watchers said they had noticed the Holy Father’s decline in energy and his loss of weight over the last couple of months — two of the reasons Benedict gave for stepping aside.

On Thursday evening, the Church will enter a period of sede vacante (Latin for “the seat being vacant”). It’s a time of prayer and reflection — prayer of thanksgiving for Benedict’s papacy and prayer for his successor. A time also for reflecting on what Benedict taught us.

One thing I’ve pondered is the remarkable complementarity between Blessed John Paul II and Benedict. One was a philosopher and poet, the other a theologian and teacher. One an extrovert, the other an introvert. Effortlessly charismatic, John Paul was a natural communicator. Benedict, on the other hand, didn’t shrink from the spotlight, but he didn’t crave it either.

While the two men may have differed in temperament and personality, they were of one mind and one voice when it came to proclaiming the Gospel and the teachings of the Church. Benedict was the natural successor to the man who unpacked and implemented the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. John Paul gave us the new evangelization and Benedict gave it shape and substance — then made it one of the Church’s top priorities in the West.

In the final months of John Paul’s life, he gave serious thought to stepping down. After prayer and reflection, he opted to live out his final days publicly. Who can forget his Easter Sunday 2005 appearance at the window of the papal apartments? Aides had readied a microphone, and he tried to utter a few words but was unable to speak.

While John Paul the extrovert showed us how to die with grace, Benedict the introvert taught us a lesson in surrendering, of not clinging to power and things of the world. This prayerful servant of God knew it was time to hand the Keys of Peter to a younger man. Now let’s beg the Holy Spirit for his guidance for the next Vicar of Christ.

PATRICK NOVECOSKY is Legatus magazine’s editor-in-chief. He will be in Rome to report on the conclave to elect a new pope. This article appears in the March issue of Legatus magazine.

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