The thrilling events of the past weeks will not fade from our memories anytime soon. It seemed that as the white smoke rose from the Sistine Chape, most of humanity " let alone the world's Catholics " rejoiced. Yet amidst the outpouring of love and gratitude for our new pope, I was also stuck by how quickly our media-saturated culture attempted to “define” Pope Benedict XVI. It was almost as if the jury had to deliver its verdict of this new papacy within the first 24 hours.
In media interviews last week, I was asked over and over again whether this pope would be one who “unites” or “divides”; whether this pope would reach out to people of other faiths or “circle the wagons”; whether this pope would “loosen” the Church's “policies” on issues such as same-sex marriage and contraception, or “tighten” them.
In lieu of these caricatures, I tried to point to the humble man we have seen in recent days; the joyful expression in his eyes; his pastor's heart; the careful and indeed brilliant listener; and his role as the “symbol of unity” and successor to St. Peter, in virtue of which he has the obligation and responsibility to safeguard the Tradition of the Church and her authentic teachings.
To sense our Holy Father's humility, we have only to hear his words at his inauguration Mass last Sunday, “How can I do this? How will I be able to do it? All of you, my dear friends, have just invoked the entire host of Saints. " In this way, I too can say with renewed conviction: I am not alone.”
His joy, evident in the playful expressions of his eyes, is also conveyed by his words. As he said at that same Mass, “[T]he Church is young. She holds within herself the future of the world and therefore shows each of us the way towards the future. The Church is alive and we are seeing it: we are experiencing the joy that the Risen Lord promised his followers.”
Our Holy Father, renowned for his ability to listen carefully, reiterated this last Sunday: “My real program of governance is not to do my own will, not to pursue my own ideas, but to listen, together with the whole Church, to the word and the will of the Lord, to be guided by Him, so that He himself will lead the Church at this hour of our history.”
Finally, amidst the many discussions of our Holy Father's personality, we would do well to return to the heart of his office, which, after all, “is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful” (Lumen Gentium).
Pope Benedict recalled on Sunday Christ's words to Peter, “Feed my sheep.” In moving and challenging words, our shepherd Pope Benedict posed several questions to us: “If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom?”
He closed his homily by answering these questions: “[W]ith great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ " and you will find true life. Amen.”
Amen! Thank you, Lord, for giving us a shepherd in Pope Benedict XVI.