It’s odd saying goodbye to a pope who hasn’t died. But, saying goodbye to this pope in particular is very personal to me. It seems that Pope Benedict and I have run a course of ironic similarity over the past nearly 8 years.
Don’t worry. I don’t consider myself papal or even close to the holiness and greatness that is our former Holy Father. However, as my husband and I were discussing all of this and making our predictions about who might be elected next (and, calculating that there will probably be at least 2 more popes in our lifetime), I realized that good ol’ Benny and I have some major things in common.
John Paul II was a major influence to our most recent vocation.
Though JP2 didn’t appoint Pope Benedict to be a cardinal, he had been a cardinal only one year before John Paul was elected to the papacy. Which means, the majority of his time serving on the College of Cardinals was under JP2. He was also a very close friend and confidant of JP2 and was assigned to many important roles as such. There is no doubt in my mind that the guidance, inspiration, teaching, and formation that Benedict received from John Paul played a huge part in why his fellow cardinals chose him to be JP2’s successor.
Obviously, I was not ever Pope John Paul II personal confidant or friend. The closest i ever was to him was about an arm’s length at a Wednesday morning audience in Rome where I received a blessing along with thousands of other people. So, yeah, I wouldn’t say I had a “personal relationship” with him.
However, John Paul II was the pope of my entire life until my mid-20s. He was the only pope I knew of as a child and saw in the media. I learned more about him through my young Catholic education and eventually fell in love with all he taught and wrote as a college student. I went on to write a senior thesis about many of his works AND saw and heard him at World Youth Day in Toronto at the completion college in 2002.
Especially as I was discerning my call to youth ministry, he was the one who inspired me. And, his words called out to me, moved in me and ultimately helped me to realize that serving the young Church is where my true desire lay and where my gifts and talents could best be used.
“Do not be afraid. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity. Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” (Pope John Paul II)
Our most recent ministry to the church was aligned.
I began my position as high school youth minister in mid-March 2005. On Apr. 2, 2005, Pope John Paul II died. I cried. The only Holy Father and leader of the Catholic Church that I had known in my 24 years of life was gone. Who would replace him? Would he love the young Church like JP2 had?
I had barely begun my service of the Church and the person who had inspired me, comforted me, told me over and over again not to be afraid in my mission, was gone. Seventeen days later, Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI. I was taking it all in, just like everyone else, wondering what he would be like with him at the helm and how he would guide the Church through the the ever-changing, dangerous, and unpredictable waters of the world we live in.
Needless to say, he was awesome. How could I ever wonder if Christ would allow there to be a sub-par successor to Himself as the leader of His own Church? Benedict quickly became the pope of my ministry.
He reminded me that “joy must always be shared” – when I experienced great things with the youth, everyone needed to hear about it.
When I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders through difficult times with young people, the parish, or my own life, Benedict reminded me to “remain firm in faith, confident that Christ is at your side.”
And, he was rational. reasonable and level-headed when it came to transmitting the faith to others…“Only creative reason, which in the crucified God is manifested as love, can really show us the way.”
Yes, I quickly came to love my Papa and looked to him as my “German shepherd”.
An Early Goodbye
If you’ve been following our blog, you know that I retired from youth ministry last summer, after nearly 8 years of service. And, after 8 years of service as the pope, Benedict also retired.
Of course, this is merely coincidental. But, being that I have recently been through this type of transition, I can understand on a very small scale, how he might be feeling.
Making the decision to leave full time ministry is difficult and is a decision that you don’t make in a matter of a few days or weeks. It was with over a year’s worth of prayer and discernment that I finally saw the time was right for me to make my departure from full-time ministry.
Though there is a HUGE sense of relief from the stress and responsibilities of something like the formation of souls (and, for him, the formation of the ENTIRE CHURCH’S SOUL!), it’s impossible to just “walk away”. You still have a great love, worry & concern for those involved in it, and nervousness, questions, and fear about who will take over and how they will handle and perhaps change the things you poured your heart, soul, and life into during your tenure there.
And, of course, there’s a need to make a clean break, “disappear” for awhile, and give your predecessor space and breathing room to take over the position, make it their own, and not feel like you are looking over their shoulder or correcting everything they’re doing. It’s probably the most difficult part of leaving, but it has to be done.
It’s become clear over the past few weeks that Pope Benedict has been prayerfully discerning this decision for a while. I am sure for this aged man who has done such a physically, emotionally, and spiritually challenging ministry, he is relieved about being loosed of his papal responsibilities. But, I am sure he’s not just “happily walking away”, leaving us in the lurch. For him, it was no doubt a bittersweet goodbye. And, yes, it is a necessary and purposeful choice for him to fade into the background of the Church and we surely won’t see or hear from him for quite some time.
“Do not be afraid to say ‘yes‘ to Jesus, to find your joy in doing his will,” Benedict once said. I know he was speaking as much to and about himself as he was to all of us and to me, specifically, as I found my new calling to serve the Church in my own domestic church.
So, to the pope of my time in ministry, I say a hearty thanks and Godspeed. You touched many lives deeply – mine included.