Unlike many analysts, I tried not to spend too much time trying to handicap the “winner” of the recent conclave. My rationale was that the important thing was to be ready to embrace and follow the new pope, whoever he might be, as the legitimate successor of St. Peter.
6. What a Name!
The name a pope selects speaks volumes. At some point Pope Benedict might reflect publicly as to why he chose the name Benedict, but there’s much that we can say even now.
St. Benedict is known as one of the great monastic figures in the history of the Church. Choosing a saint known for prayer and the contemplative life (and who is especially revered in Bavaria) is a refreshing sign of contradiction to a frenetic, increasingly secularized world.
St. Benedict also has been declared a patron saint of Europe. The pope’s choice can be seen as an unmistakable sign of his commitment to reclaim Europe for Jesus Christ.
The last Pope Benedict reigned 1914-22. He was known for his efforts in support of the cause of peace during and after World War I, as well as myriad charitable efforts to relieve human suffering. At the same time, he authored 12 encyclicals, including Spiritus Paraclitus (1920), issued on the 1500th anniversary of St. Jerome’s death, which called for a renewal of the study of Scripture.
The name Benedict itself means “blessing,” and the principal associations and connotations that go with the name at this time in the Church’s history are positive and relevant to the pressing needs of today’s world.
7. He’s Not Afraid
Pope Benedict has already taken on Pope John Paul II’s mantra to modern man: “Be not afraid,” and applied it to his new role as the Supreme Pontiff. Pope Benedict doesn’t have the larger-than-life, celebrity-type personality that Pope John Paul II had. He’s in good health, but at 78 he can’t be expected to carry the workload and especially the travel schedule that Pope John Paul maintained until slowed by Parkinson’s and age. His record at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith will result in a short or non-existent “grace period” before dissident elements and critics within the Church vent their full fury against him. The issues facing the Church and the world today are immense and in some ways unprecedented in world history. On paper, all this seems to be way too much for a pious, self-effacing prelate who was ready to retire.
Yet, Pope Benedict has answered the call with faith, serenity, and yes, courage. He knows whose Church it is, and he knows that our Lord will more than compensate for his own personal limitations. His “Yes” to the Lord’s call still sends shivers down my spine.
Watching Pope Benedict the past couple weeks, I find myself growing in faith, serenity, and courage. Yes, he is the man. He most definitely is the man. Thank you, Jesus.
Viva il Papa!
Leon J. Suprenant, Jr. is the president of Catholics United for the Faith (CUF) and Emmaus Road Publishing and the editor-in-chief of Lay Witness magazine, all based in Steubenville, Ohio. He is a contributor to Catholic for a Reason III: Scripture and the Mystery of the Mass and an adviser to CE’s Catholic Scripture Study. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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But once I heard that Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger had been elected and had chosen the name Pope Benedict XVI, I was ready to explode. As I told the national media, my first reaction was nothing other than elation.
As I’ve now had some time to reflect on all this, I’ve discovered that there are indeed many good reasons to be elated. Here are seven of them:
1. Habemus papam! (We have a pope!)
First, it’s an awesome thing to “have a pope.” The pope is, after all, nothing other than the Vicar of Christ on earth, the true successor of St. Peter the 264th one to be exact.
This is 2,000 years of Church history coming alive in our midst, pointing us back to Jesus Christ Himself and to the specially chosen Apostle to whom He entrusted the keys of the kingdom.
During the interregnum period after Pope John Paul II’s death, we were without a Holy Father. This came home to me in a startling way at daily Mass, when the priest would stumble through the part of the Eucharistic Prayer that mentions the pope by name. But the Lord continues to pour out His Holy Spirit upon the Church through the ministry entrusted to St. Peter and the other Apostles. This fact alone is cause for rejoicing.
2. Consensus fidelium
There was much speculation that the cardinals would be sharply divided, leading to the longest conclave in over a century. Pundits discerned no clear frontrunner. Cardinal Ratzinger surely was mentioned among the papabili, but he was dismissed as too old, too “divisive,” and too closely associated with the Vatican curia.
Plus, since the Italians no longer dominate the college as in the past, the field was wide open the next pope could have come from anywhere, from Central America to Africa. There was endless discussion of “compromise” candidates and the new rules that kick in after the 34th ballot.
So what happened? Pope Benedict XVI was elected in near-record time, on only the fourth ballot on the first full day of voting. While we’re not privy to the exact count, his election required a landslide he was the choice of more than 2/3 of the cardinal electors. No hanging chads or recounts here!
The College of Cardinals, aided no doubt by divine grace, had the sense that this was the man our Lord has chosen to shepherd His Church. It’s exciting that our Lord’s will became so manifestly evident to those charged with the unfathomable responsibility of choosing the next pope.
3. John Paul II’s Man
To say that Pope John Paul II will be a tough act to follow is really an understatement. Unfair comparisons to “John Paul the Great” will probably follow Pope Benedict to his grave.
Of course, we don’t know with certainty whom Pope John Paul II would have voted for in this conclave. Yet we do know that Pope Benedict was Pope John Paul’s closest collaborator over the past quarter century. While the media has treated them very differently Pope John Paul II being the charismatic, world traveling “good cop,” and Cardinal Ratzinger being the strict, authoritarian “bad cop” the truth is that they were together on all the major issues confronting the Church.
We also know that 112 of the 115 cardinal electors were made cardinals by Pope John Paul II himself (Cardinal Ratzinger was one of the three exceptions). So, at the very least we can say that Pope Benedict was the overwhelming choice of Pope John Paul II’s men. This is very reassuring to the millions of people especially the youth who still mourn the death of their beloved Polish pope.
4. Uniter, Not a Divider
The pope by nature is the visible source and foundation of unity for the entire Church. It’s not surprising that Pope Benedict is reaching out to all people as the “pontiff” or bridge that brings us together in Christ. His is a refreshing message of unity, dialogue, and reconciliation.
Yet, that’s just part of it. Pope Benedict acutely understands that truth is unifying, but sin and error are divisive. Our Lord Jesus Christ revealed Himself as the “truth” (Jn 14:6) and prayed at the last supper that His followers would be “consecrated in the truth” and thereby truly be one (Jn 17:17-21). For that reason, Pope Benedict is already targeting “relativism,” or the denial of objective truth, as one of the prevailing ideologies today that must be decisively overcome.
Some have questioned whether Pope Benedict would unite people as the Supreme Pontiff. However, the basis for their apprehension is the fact that Pope Benedict won’t change perennial Catholic teaching on hot-button issues such as birth control, abortion, women’s ordination, and homosexuality. No pope has the authority to tamper with divine Revelation or the natural moral law. Is the pope Catholic? Yes, and that’s a problem for those bent on remaking the Church according to their own preferences and opinions.
5. The Right Stuff
Pope John Paul II would have gone down as one of the greatest philosophers of the past century even if he had never become the Successor of Peter. His Christian personalism and “theology of the body” not only made a lasting impact on intellectual circles, but they enabled him to connect with people and shed light on mankind’s deepest questions and longings.
Something similar is at work with Pope Benedict. Even without his ever becoming the pope or for that matter, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for over 20 years he would have gone down in history as one of the most formidable theologians of our time.
Pope Benedict is a pious, gentle man a remarkably far cry from the “rottweiler” persona the media has thrust upon him. He has the patience and intellectual muscle not to mention spiritual depth to challenge the Church and the world. Those who are sincerely searching for truth will find this pope engaging and ultimately convicting. Those who do not have the fullness of truth may disagree with him, but they will be edified and perhaps surprised by his humility, intellectual honesty, and openness to authentic, respectful dialogue.