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Monday, February 11, 2013

The Bavarian Bear finds rest

It's not the kind of news one wants to wake up to on a dreary Monday morning.  I was in a fog when the San Antonio television newscast blurted out words that I never thought I would hear: "Breaking news:  Pope Benedict XVI announces his resignation."

Forget the snooze button. The words that rolled off the anchor's lips took away whatever grogginess I was experiencing.  I stared at the television transfixed, in stony silence.  A wave of anger, sorrow and disbelief swept over me.  Betrayal even reared its ugly head.  As I got ready for work, I was still trying to process the news.

I love Pope Benedict XVI, loved him even before April 19, 2005.  Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was my hero.  He was like an extended member of my family.  Through his books and writings I was able to grasp the faith and to deepen my love for Christ and the Mass.  How could he do this to me, to the Church?

I heard the words over and over again on my way to work.  But, it was not until I actually sat down to read the text that the German professor (with a lot of help from one of my dearest friends via Skype) was able to knock some sense into this thick Italian skull.  The spirit in Pope Benedict is certainly there.  His mind retains its sharpness and its agility.  But, the body cannot keep up.  The Holy Father had the humility to see that.  He had the grace to literally let go and let God.  As I re-read the text, I realized that perhaps Pope Benedict XVI was living out Christ's prophecy to St. Peter, "When you are older, they will fasten the belt around you and lead you where you do not want to go."  He had come to that point and freely made his decision to step aside in humility and in love for the Church.

Pope Benedict leaves behind a Church that is all the richer because she had him as her Supreme Pontiff.   He set the wheels in motion to restore sacredness to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  At his installation Mass, he told us that Peter must feed the sheep.  Feeding means loving and he opened up his Bavarian heart and found a space for all of us.  He fed us with eloquent homilies that reminded us of God's love for us and challenged us to return that love.  His pastoral heart desired unity and he opened the door for Anglican to return to the Faith and even invited them to bring the rich patrimony of their rites with them, infusing these liturgies with the Truth of the Church.  He remains the best gift that God could have given to His Church.

I am sorry I was selfish earlier today.  I wanted Pope Benedict XVI to stay with us for a long time.  I wanted him to keep guiding us along this vale of tears.  However, in my selfishness, I did not see that this is indeed a crushing load for him.  He once called himself God's pack animal, citing the example of the bear on his coat of arms that had to carry a load for a saint.  Now it is time for the mighty Bavarian bear to rest.   I have no doubt that Pope Benedict still carries all of us in his heart.  As long as I live, he will remain forever in mine, whether he is Benedict or Joseph Ratzinger.

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