The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Saturday, August 6, 2016

The Popes of My Life and Benedict XVI

Our current pope, Pope Francis, has been a remarkable witness to the love, forgiveness and mercy of God. He has taught us to embrace the sinner, to welcome the outcast, to love the unloved, to forgive the unforgiven. He has taught us to look deeply into our own hearts instead of trying to judge the hearts of others. He has taught us to laugh at ourselves and to share the joys and sorrows of those God places in our lives. He has taught us to be Christians by being Christ-like

Pope Francis was preceded by a series of remarkable men.
When I consider those who have been pope during my lifetime, I realize how God has showered his blessings on today's world.

By the time I was born in 1944, Eugenio Pacelli had already been Pope Pius XII for over five years. During the chaotic years of World War II, he not only saved the lives of thousands of Jews and others who were on the Nazis' death lists, but also managed to steer the Barque of Peter through some of history's most turbulent waters. But then, years after the war, he became the target of a constant stream of vilification from a parade of fools whose hatred for both pope and Church led them to lie blatantly about Pius' efforts to save the lives of European Jews from Hitler's Nazis and Mussolini's Fascists. Fortunately, the Church listened only to the Spirit and has consistently preached the truth about this great pope.

In 1958 the saintly Pius XII was succeeded by Angelo Roncalli, Pope Saint John XXIII. Although his reign was brief, less than five years, he gave us the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), the Church's first truly pastoral council. Now, after five decades of study and implementation, the Church has come to understand, accept, and reap the benefits of the comprehensive teachings of the Council Fathers.

After Pope Saint John's death in the midst of the Council, he was succeeded by Giovanni Montini, Pope Paul VI. Like so many of his predecessors, Paul VI was subjected to attacks from both outside and inside the Church. His external attackers were the usual suspects, but he suffered much from the public criticism of his brother bishops and priests. This criticism reached a crescendo with the 1968 appearance of his prophetic encyclical, Humanae Vitae. 48 years after its publication it has become apparent that Blessed Pope Paul was not only remarkably prescient but also possessed a keen understanding of the modern world, its strengths and weaknesses.

With the death of Blessed Pope Paul VI in 1978, the Holy Spirit elevated Albino Luciani to the Chair of Peter. With his election the "Smiling Pope" took the unique double name, Pope John Paul I. Sadly this first John Paul would serve for only 33 days before suffering a fatal heart attack. Although the last in a long string of Italian popes, John Paul would bequeath his name to his great Polish successor. And it would be a well-traveled name recognized throughout the world.

Karol Wojtyla, a man who had experienced totalitarian oppression first hand and personally battled with the two enslaving ideologies of the last century, was elected pope in 1978 and would serve God's people tirelessly for almost three decades as Pope John Paul II. He has been called John Paul the Great for good reason. He carried the Church into the world, literally into every corner of the world, preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ and sharing God's love with the millions he encountered. Devoted to Mary, humanity's Blessed Mother, he credited her with saving him from the assassin's bullet as he greeted pilgrims in St. Peter's Square. As he traveled the world, visiting well over 100 countries, he stressed the "universal call to holiness" building bridges across the world's religions.

With the death of John Paul in 2005, the Church turned to the man who had served the future saint for a quarter-century as his close confidant, lead theologian, and protector of Christian doctrine. Joseph Ratzinger, a humble, soft-spoken German theologian, who had hoped to spend his remaining years in study and writing, was instead elected to the Chair of Peter and chose the name of the patron saint of Europe, Benedict. As pope, Benedict XVI did what he did best: he taught. His catechesis and his writings addressed a wide range of theological themes, including "Friendship with Jesus Christ", something he believed essential to overcoming the great errors and temptations of our time. He also strongly condemned what he called the "dictatorship of relativism" which he believed was the great challenge facing the Church and the world today. Of course, Benedict shocked the Church and the world when, due to the infirmity that comes with old age, he resigned from the papacy in 2013.
Cardinal Ratzinger and I Meet in Rome
Pope Benedict XVI is the only pope I have met personally, although at the time of our meeting he was still Cardinal Ratzinger. I suppose this brief meeting in the year 2000 has placed the man a step above the others, in my mind at least. For that reason I tend to pay a bit more attention to news stories about him. One of these stories (see the below video) relates to a Master's Degree program focused on the theology of the pope emeritus. Offered in Rome by the
Augustinian Patristic Institute it drew 90 students for its first offering. How wonderful that the life work of this wonderful theologian will be studied by so many. If only I were 20 years younger and lived in Rome.

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