Monday, April 19, 2010

Ad Multos Annos

Five years ago I heard the words I, and most of the world, had been greatly anticipating for a little over 2 weeks.
Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum;
habemus Papam:

Yay, we have a Pope, but who??? My anticipation and nervousness grew to levels I could not imagine. There was so much promise! As long as the right pope was chosen. I didn't know who I wanted, but I knew who I didn't want.

The announcement continued as I prayed. The cardinal announced:

Eminentissimum ac Reverendissimum Dominum,
Dominum Josephum

My prayers changed to fervent pleading! No, no, no! Please let it be a different Joseph.

Sanctae Romanae Ecclesiae Cardinalem Ratzinger

I screamed "No!" so loudly the neighbors must have wondered what had happened. I sank into the chair in disbelief. This was the man who would destroy everything!

qui sibi nomen imposuit Benedictum XVI
Ratzinger Report: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church
There was nothing left for me to do but cry so that was what I did. I cried for days and I feared until I came to the point, several months later, that if I was stuck with this guy I should at least read something that he wrote.

The first book I read was "Ratzinger Report: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church". I remember I was sitting in the waiting room of the local garage getting an oil change and an inspection sticker when I came across words that have become burned into my mind.
One is Church and one is member therof, not through sociological
adherance, but precisely through incorporation in the Body of the Lord through
baptism and the Eucharist.
(...)

The Church is not our Church, which we could dispose of as we
please. She is, rather, his Church. All that is only our Church is not Church in
the deep sense; it belongs to her human - hence secondary, transitory -
aspect.
(...)

If the Church, in fact, is our Church, if we alone are the
Church, if her structures are not willed by Christ, then it is no longer
possible to concieve of the existance of a hierarchy as a service to the
baptized established by the Lord himself. It is a rejection of the authority
willed by God...the Church of Christ is not a party, not an association, not a
club. Her deep and permanent structure is not democratic but sacramental,
consequently hierarchical. For the hierarchy based on apostolic succession is
the indispensible condition to arrive at the strength, the reality of the
sacrament.
Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977Suddenly, it was as though questions I had asked for decades were suddenly being answered, but not from the source I wanted. How dare he answer my questions and make sense! I read more and more and I loved it all. Finally, I decided that since I couldn't argue against the writings I had to go after the man. I read his memoirs "Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977" hoping to find something I could take issue with. Instead, I was deeply touched by this depiction of a man with great faith who had extraordinary experiences.

I kept reading and rereading these books when I had the opportunity to visit Rome and Vatican City for the 2006 consistory for the creation of new cardinals. Four of my 7 days in Rome would be spent in the presence of the Holy Father. Oddly enough, I could not bring myself to see the joy and honor in that. I read the books on the plane still searching for something I could take issue with. I had convinced myself that if I liked the message the problem had to be with the implementation or even with the man himself. I imagined an ogre-like man with a cold hard look about him. Someone whose meanness would exude from his very pores.

Upon arriving at our lodgings which were in the extra-territorial zone of Vatican City and directly across St. Peter's Square from the Apostolic Palace I was told that two tickets to the Papal Audience had been reserved for us. My actual thoughts were, "Ugh, I guess we have to go, but do I really want to see the Pope another time!" I decided to make the best of it and we went to the audience.

Pope Benedict came out in the popemobile and rode slowly around the square. I took pictures mainly for posterity and for this blog (although I don't think I ever posted my feelings here). He approached where I was standing along the barricade when someone threw something into the path of the popemobile. Suddenly, I found that he was stopped directly in front of me. People were reaching out to him, and I was one of the few with a camera aimed directly at him and he stopped and looked directly at me as I took a picture. Then he continued greeting the crowds. He took the hand of the woman to my right and reached for mine as well, but I was completly frozen. In the split second, he saw my dazed expression and chuckled softly to himself. It was as though he was wondering what it was about him that made me freeze like that. Before I realized what had happened, the obstruction was cleared and the popemobile was moving again.


It was at that moment that I knew what the expression "hardened heart" and "heart of stone" meant as I felt my heart crack and bleed and the tears streamed down my face. What I saw wasn't the ogre, but a gentle, humble, kind, grandfatherly sort of man who seemed to be in awe of all the attention which was focused on him. I saw him 4 more times that week and each time I was amazed by his gentleness and humility. He never placed any attention on himself, but always directed the attention to Christ. In fact, he looked totally embarassed by the attention given to him.

Throughout that week, I desired his presence as I never expected. I found great comfort in looking out in the evening at the glowing windows of the Papal apartment and I loved sitting on the balcony and watching the lights go out as the Holy Father retired for the night. I remembered those weeks after Pope John Paul's death and the emptiness in the shuttered apartment. Seeing those windows I could say, "Everything is fine, Papa is home and we are in good hands".

Unbelievably for me, I wished I could have told him about my experience. Partially so he wouldn't think I had been some crazy lady, but also so I could tell him of my conversion. I prayed that he would grow comfortable in his new role and accept that the attention given to him shouldn't be a source of embarassment, but is the result of the dignity of his office. He is the successor of St. Peter and the Vicar of Christ. That is no small order! He deserves the trappings and honors and attention which is office brings not because of who he is as a man, but because of his office, who he represents, and our union with Christ to whom all these honors are ultimately directed.

I haven't stopped reading his writings and I haven't been disappointed. Instead, each book I read and reread brings to closer to Christ and deepens my understanding of Christ and His Church.

God, thank you for our Holy Father, Benedict. Thank you for opening my heart which had been hardened by the words of those around me and my own prideful refusal to accept your wisdom.

My dear Holy Father, I love you! May God protect you as you lead His Church. Thank you for showing me Christ and His Church in it's fullness as I had never understood it before. Thank you for showing me the errors of my understanding and for opening my heart to true Catholic teaching. May you have many more years in service of Christ!
Photos by: Domini Sumus

4 comments:

Joe of St. Thérèse said...

Beautiful post, beautiful :)

My convincing was at the requiem Mass for Pope John Paul II, the way he celebrated Mass drew me on my reversion

DominiSumus said...

What amazes me when I look back at this experience was that everyone who I was listening to, the so-called experts, hadn't read his works. When I said that I didn't find anything disagreeable in them, they aaid the problem wasn't with what was said, but was with "what was meant".

By the end of the first year of Pope Benedict's papacy, they had to abmit that the "what was meant" wasn't proving to be as they expected.

Jason said...

That was heart wrenching, but in the end, gratifying.

At the same time you were screaming, "no" as His Holiness was announced as the successor of Peter, I was crying with joy.

I am very happy that you have come to love him and even happier at the thought of how many others have come to love him as well.

My sisters and brothers, we have been blessed with a very very special Priest as Pope. Our Lord is truly a generous and loving Father.

How can we not feel but the deepest humility and gratitude, as we witness great men and women, Priests and Religious, being raised up by our loving Father to serve His children and His Church?

What a great week this has been!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing in such an honest manner your change of heart regarding Joseph Ratzinger.

As a former Protestant agnostic (in terms of the Divinity of Jesus Christ, not God)I knew absolutely nothing about him in 2005 when I watched the Requiem for JPII. I was completely neutral and have never heard of God's Rottweiler and the other (crap) media caricatures. However, Ratzinger stood out from the other cardinals that I saw on TV in one or two group scenes, before the Requiem Mass. It was not his white hair but something else, a gravitas, which I picked up in those fleeting moments.

Then came the Requim Mass. When he concecrated the host and held it up (forgive my wobbly terminology!Elevated it?)in the most concentrated, quiet, still, undramatic manner, I looked at his face and realised that he had forgotten about the millions watching on TV and present before him. All that was a reality for that man was the host in his hands.
Out of the blue I clearly heard the following words in my mind: "This is all true."
Twenty years of doubt vanished in one second. Jesus Christ was not only true man, but also true God. The Incarnationational meta-narrative that has been slashed to pieces by all the liberal theologians I have read and all the hack pop-journalists was the truth all along. I have been duped and what's worse, I allowed it to happen.

God has used Ratzinger to give me back my lost faith. This was 5 years ago. I entered the Catholic Church last year after having read between 35 and 40 of his books. There are more stories like mine.

I am convinced that Benedict XVI is one of the very best Popes the Catholic Church has had in a very long time. I love him to pieces. He has saved my life. If a Pope's first priority should be to bring people to the Truth of the Gospel - and in my opinion this is what it should be - he gets full marks already.

What a pity the media still does not allow the average reader and viewer to get to hear the message of this undoubtedly great intellect and, more important, great and faithful soul. We should NOT allow this to happen any longer.