The former pope, Benedict XVI, is 85 years old. He is from Germany. His garb has been known to include red shoes, a giant gold cross, and a tiny hat. For the past eight years his entire life has been scheduled from daybreak to dark. His most recent gig was to shepherd a Church of nearly 1.2 billion people.
I am 28 and from the US. I usually wear ballet flats and gold dangly earrings. Generally I manage my own schedule, which is not all that busy. Needless to say, I don’t shepherd any churches.
Benedict and I live pretty different lives.
Since his announcement of his resignation I’ve been wondering what his life (and I’ll admit, his resignation) means to me and other young Americans. So I set out to do a little research and thanks to the Vatican website, Zenit, the Denver Post, and other trusted sources, I’ve come to discover that Benedict’s whole life brings a refreshing amount of wisdom to mine. Despite obvious lifestyle differences, Pope Benedict the XVI has quite a bit to teach me about the art of living.
1. Love and pursue beauty; it’s worth it.
Benedict is no stranger to the presence of suffering and tragedy. During his eight years as pope alone, he was exposed to poverty and grief throughout the world, not to mention the suffering he witnessed during World War II. But in an address to some 250 artists given in the Sistine chapel in 2009, he cited beauty as a path for restoring hope. He enquired, “What is capable of restoring enthusiasm and confidence, what can encourage the human spirit to rediscover its path, to raise its eyes to the horizon, to dream of a life worthy of its vocation — if not beauty?” Later in the address he goes on to say, “Beauty, whether that of the natural universe or that expressed in art, precisely because it opens up and broadens the horizons of human awareness, pointing us beyond ourselves, bringing us face to face with the abyss of Infinity, can become a path towards the transcendent, towards the ultimate Mystery, towards God.” His love and pursuit of beauty did not end at mere sentiment. Despite a grueling schedule, Pope Benedict has continued to play the piano throughout his life, including the whole of his papacy. The beauty that he loved and believed in became a key component of his life.
2. Don’t allow your weakness to paralyze you.
From the first moment of his election to the Chair of Peter, the newly elected Pope Benedict XVI realized the weight of his task. His first words – out his balcony, no less – to the crowd below spoke of his confidence in God and the weight of his office. “Dear brothers and sisters, after the great Pope John Paul II, the Cardinals have elected me, a simple, humble laborer in the vineyard of the Lord. The fact that the Lord knows how to work and to act even with insufficient instruments comforts me, and above all I entrust myself to your prayers. In the joy of the Risen Lord, confident of his unfailing help, let us move forward. The Lord will help us, and Mary, His Most Holy Mother, will be on our side. Thank you.” He did not feel ready to be Pope, yet he was elected and trusted more in God’s strength than his weakness.
3. Take the opportunity to bless others from your heart.
I once asked a priest who spent a fair amount of time with Benedict, “What do you know about the Pope that I couldn’t by just reading about him?” The priest answered, “He is incredibly peaceful; he brings an air of tranquility with him wherever he goes.” I was delighted by the priest’s response because at that moment I realized that Pope Benedict’s friendship with Christ is more than an intellectual exercise, it is a romance. This romance brings him sustaining joy and pours out into the lives of those he meets. This reality was evident in his first Tweet, “Dear friends, I am pleased to get in touch with you through Twitter. Thank you for your generous response. I bless all of you from my heart.” Even in 139 characters, Benedict acknowledged the dignity of his followers and the power of the love of Christ to impact them.
I probably won’t be retiring to the garden house at the Vatican any time soon, but I can say that I’d like to follow in the footsteps of Benedict. I think Archbishop Samuel Aquila said it best with his remarks on the Pope’s resignation to the Denver Post: “Benedict XVI has never been interested in power or influence. He has been interested in friendship with Jesus Christ — his own, and mine, and yours.”
Article courtesy of Focus.