Thanks to Pope Benedict
Jeff Chua is a teaching assistant in the department of Philosophy of the Ateneo de Manila University. He obtained his AB Philosophy degree from the same university in 2012, and is currently taking his master's degree also in philosophy. He plans to work for a PhD in the near future. Aside from reading and writing, he loves outdoor activities and photography. This article was originally posted on his blog.
My mind has yet to fully recover from the shocking news that Pope Benedict XVI will step down. Needless to say, I was quite surprised, disturbed, and at some point, grateful for how I received the news.
In all honesty, I have never encountered such sadness (at the same time a profound sense of hopefulness) in my life as an oftentimes-erring Church member, never fully integrated, always along its fringes. I have just realized I really am a member of this troubled but loving family.
As I look back at my own history with this Regensburg professor, who I got to know through the media, his countless publications, televised speeches, homilies, and Wikipedia articles, I still could not help but wonder about the man.
I remember encountering him in the requiem mass for our beloved John Paul II. He was a peculiar character; his slouch mirrored conservatism; his deep eyes reflected late nights of writing. His white hair showed his advanced age. I thought he was bent on plunging the Church into the Middle Ages, that he was out to get other religions. One cannot forget his striking resemblance to Emperor Palpatine. Truly, I believed the empire was returning.
I accepted the fact that I was going to confront him (or his thought) eventually, since Ateneo education bombarded me with theology. Reading his work, I surmised he was difficult to understand. I felt I was listening to someone who had not heard about inculturation, and that oftentimes, it was not such a good thing. I remember a friend of mine trying to push me to read Ratzinger’s “Introduction to Christianity,” which I didn't relish.
But things started to become a little more different. As I continued my studies, I eventually had to read up on Benedict. My research interest lies in religion, and in this day and age, one cannot “do” theology (or religion from the point of view of the Christian) without going through Benedict.
In one Lenten retreat about two years ago, a good friend of mine left a copy of the second volume of Benedict’s “Jesus of Nazareth” series at my doorstep. I felt like St Augustine as I picked up the book, and read it in the garden outside the retreat house. In 3 days I finished the book. And I guess things were never the same again.
I started to read up on Benedict, not because I was forced to, but because I found his thoughts interesting and intriguing. Not long after, I realized that every time I spoke of theology, or of faith and spirituality, I would always go back to some insight or intellectual nugget from Benedict.
I rediscovered him. And by then, after pages and pages of Logos and charity, and the uniqueness and salvific priority of the body of Christ, I learned to love him. He was a compassionate servant of truth, always humble to admit his own limitations, and always fiery in his zeal for the truth of the Word. I was always in awe every time I read his work, always moved by his solemn recitation of Latin verses, always emboldened by his struggle to find unity in our otherwise-broken Church, a family that has longed enough for its return home. In time, I also learned to share in his struggles.
Which is why, I think, his resignation left an indelible mark on my faith journey. I finally found someone whom I could call my ecclesiastical father. There was a strange attraction to his passion for the truth of Christ – it was infectious that he strove to be a beacon for a family that was in shambles. It was inspiring that he stood by the conviction that if Christ was true, then everything must make sense in light of this truth. It was awe-inspiring that he treaded the thin line between uncritical dogmatism and the fullness of the unicity of the Church through the magisterium.
“Being strong for the family” was never a distant idea. I should know; I come from a broken family. It is no joke to be “strong” for the family, just for the sake of getting the family together again. It is a mighty task reserved only for those who know that it is not up to them to make things better, but God’s.
As I read the pope’s statement, I couldn’t help but feel his pain and weakness. It is indeed no joke to hold on to the family when its members have come and gone. He was getting older and more ill as days went by – I felt the pain and the humility in his resignation. In his critics’ eyes, he was such a weak person.
On the contrary, I believe that by his resignation, he exercised his power to the fullest: it is pure power to acknowledge one’s finitude. As Christ asks for water on the Cross, so too do we see our beloved and ailing pope ask for some time off. Such is the glory that is found in the littlest of things: stepping aside for somebody else to take the lead. In God’s eyes: rest now, my son. “Come all of you who are weary and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”
And this “somebody” is not the soon-to-be new pope. Nor is it the college of Cardinals; it is none other than Christ himself.
It is difficult to love something (and most especially somebody!) that is broken. The Church indeed is broken, and at some point, I think beyond repair. But Benedict chose to believe otherwise. If Christ was true, then the Church should stand in all its glory and honor. In all, I think that I learned to love the Church because of this man.
To be sure, he has his own defects and limitations – let us not sugarcoat his papacy. His emphasis on the unicity of the faith will most definitely not sit well with other religions (I remember Dominus Iesus!) Nor will the simple facts of his involvement in the numerous cover-ups of the sex scandals that have rocked the Church in the recent decades. But at the same time, I ask: what makes it different from our very own lives? For some, there were failed promises or lies, treachery and discord and division even among our closest friends.
The struggle of the Church is the struggle of the individual, just as the struggle of the individual also reflects that of the Church. Benedict will forever be the face of this struggle. But this struggle is not one of deception and violence, but of a profound sense of hope, a hope rooted in the risen Christ. Benedict did not create these problems; they were inherited. The fact of his reign remains: in his struggle to heal the wounds, he might have succeeded in touching a few hearts.
His papacy will always be for me a papacy of conversion. Through him, I realized my own sinfulness, and have come to share in the struggles of other members of the Church, including the pope himself. Finally, it is in his papacy that I finally realized that the Church is a family, and that a sinner such as I will always find a home in this family.
Only now do I feel a sense of filiation. Thanks to Benedict, I think I can say that I, too, would want to share the love that I have experienced in the Church with other people -- starting with my own family. - Rappler.com