Pope Benedict XVI, A Pilgrim's Progress - A Personal Tribute

Tom Bartolomeo
3rd Sunday Lent C 2013
Reproduced with Permission

As I began to prepare for this Sunday's liturgy, the 3rd Sunday of Lent, a labor we bear together in living out the Word of God at Mass my thoughts turned to the momentous events of last week, the retirement of His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI. The readings for the Mass and the Pope's final words and farewell melded as one in my reflections.

There were moments of joy and light, [the Pope said] but also moments that were not easy. . . there were moments, [he continued] as there were throughout the history of the Church, when the seas were rough and the wind blew against us and it seemed the Lord was sleeping. ("Excerpts from Pope Benedict's final address", NBC News.com, 2/27/2013).

A powerful image I recalled from a gospel event, Jesus and his Apostles in a boat crossing Lake Galilee when a "violent storm" rose up while Jesus was asleep in the stern of the barque and his disciples were overcome with fear, how the Apostles woke Jesus and pleaded with him, "Lord, save us. We are perishing." Jesus, I imagined, looked at the Apostles calmly, motionlessly and mildly rebuked them saying, "Oh, you of little faith" and then proceeded to calm the sea. (Matthew 8, 24-26). He was their "Rock of Ages", asleep or awake, the same rock from which Moses found 'living water' for his people in the desert while en route to the land God had promised his people after freeing them from slavery in Egypt though they did not know where they were going. All they had was a cloud to guide them as the Apostle Paul described in his letter read at this Sunday's Mass. (1 Corinthians 10, 1-2). God, we also know, provided for their food, manna for bread and quail meat for their meals over a forty years journey to a land of "milk and honey" which they were promised. (Exodus 3, 17).

My thoughts then returned to Pope Benedict's final remarks before leaving Saint Peter's, his total immersion in and care for the Church in the body of Christ when he explained that he could not serve our Lord well enough in his failing health and decided to resign the papacy and allow a more physically adept man to replace him as the Vicar of Christ, the Servant of Servants of our Lord's Church which he had borne. I thought again about Benedict XVI's remarkable journey, elevated to the papacy at the age of 78, two years shy of Moses' age when he was called to lead God's chosen people to the promised land. How instinctively this saintly man understood his place in the Church as each assaulting wave rose and fell against the bow of the Church's barque labouring through a sea of trouble. Wherever the barque would take him did not matter. Christ was aboard. Again, like the great Apostle Paul Benedict knew that this had happened before, that all of them were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. All ate the same spiritual food, all drank the same spiritual drink for they drank from a spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was the Christ. (1 Corinthians 10, 2-4).

We may believe, falsely, that Joseph Ratzinger, formerly Pope Benedict XVI, had retreated or escaped to some lonely exile, but nothing could be further from the truth.

In these last few months [ he explained ] I felt my strength had diminished, and I asked God earnestly, in prayer, to enlighten me to make the best decision, not for my sake, but for the good of the Church. I took this step in the full knowledge of its gravity and its newness, but with a deep serenity of the spirit. To love the Church also means having the courage to make difficult choices, painful choices, always putting the good of the Church before our good. ("Pope Benedict's final address", NBC News.com, 2/27/2013).

The most spiritually powerful man in the world, the Vicar of Christ, knew that through it all he was simply "a pilgrim" in the world like any one of us but grateful for the service he had been called to bear despite the weight of the scandals in the Church especially of so many priests' which he carried in grace on the Cross of our Lord.

Finally, Benedict shared with us, what most filled his soul at his departure,

I feel I am carrying all of you with me in prayer [ he said ] . . . gathering together every meeting, every trip, every pastoral visit. I gather everything and everyone in prayer to entrust them to the Lord, because we have full knowledge of his will in every wisdom and spiritual knowledge, and so that we can behave in a manner worthy of him and his love, so that every good work bears fruit. (ibid.)

I'm just a pilgrim," he said, "who is starting the last part of his pilgrimage on this earth."