Monday, February 11, 2013
I find myself in awe of the amount of confidence and certainty of having correctly heard the call of God that Pope Benedict XVI must possess in order to take the step he took, this shattering of 600 years of precedence. My only personal encounter with Pope Benedict came when he presided over Mass at a conference I attended at the Vatican, a few weeks before he was elected Pope. The sermon was a reminder that those of us attending the conference could do all the reasoning & philosophizing & theologizing we wanted, but at the end of the day, the most important thing we could do was this -- attend Mass and encounter the truth of Christ in our prayer and the Eucharist. Perhaps a prescient piece of advice for himself?
I also find myself thinking about this description of Pope Benedict's personal confidence, from a John Allen column back in 2006:My thesis is this: After 18 months of Benedict's papacy, one defining characteristic is what we might call his "Chestertonian assurance," a tranquility in the face of diverse currents of thought, as well as the respect that one deeply cultured soul naturally feels for another.
By the way, I am not comparing Benedict and Chesterton on a personal level. Chesterton was irascible and curmudgeonly; Benedict, on the other hand, is unfailingly gracious, polite, and kind. As a personality type, he's closer to Emily Post. Yet Benedict breathes the same air of Christian enlightenment as Chesterton. His approach to modernity is neither the craven assimilation that Jacques Maritain described as "kneeling before the world," nor the defensiveness of a "Taliban Catholicism" that knows only how to excoriate and condemn.
Facing disagreement and differing cultural visions, Benedict is not afraid -- and because he's not afraid, he's not defensive, and he's not in a hurry.
Such a spirit is largely alien to our fractured and hair-trigger era, and so Benedict has been something of a paradox- this avatar of Catholic traditionalism espousing a positive message, willing to engage in reasoned reflection with people who don't think like him. For 18 months, people have been speculating about when the "real pope" will emerge from beneath this serene, gracious façade. Ladies and gentleman, I suggest to you tonight that the façade is the real pope.