Habemus Papam (We Have a Pope)
April 19, 2006
It's hard to believe that a year has passed since Pope Benedict XVI was elected to lead the Roman Catholic Church. Much has transpired in the year since the former Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was called forth to lead the Church following the death of our beloved Pope John Paul II.
Among recent popes, Benedict XVI was probably the most known, primarily due to the very vocal performance of his role at the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). During the days of the Interregnum and following the announcement "habemus papam," there was much media coverage and lots of speculation as to what the ascent of then-Cardinal Ratzinger to the papacy would mean for the Church and the world.
Left, right, and center -- virtually everyone had something to say. In general, "liberals" felt catastrophe pending and "conservatives" predicted restoration and reformation on the horizon. Neither extreme prediction was right, and once again, we were, as we continue to be, reminded that the Church, that the selection of a Pope, is not an expression of democratic right with the expectation of rule according to the will of the masses but rather it is an outcome of the work of the Holy Spirit to select the person who serves in personae Christe as the visible head of the Church and leads according to the movement of the Holy Spirit.
The clarity of this truth, this distinction, came to me once the College of Cardinals were convened to (s)elect the next Pope. It dawned on me that then-Cardinal Ratzinger could be (s)elected Pope. Because of the seeming severity of some his pronouncements as head of the CDF, I had a moment of concern but almost simultaneously I realized that I am a Roman Catholic, a baptized and confirmed member of the Church, and if then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was (s)elected Pope I was making the choice to honor him as such and accept his (s)election as the Will of God. With open heart and full faith, I accepted and received Cardinal Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI and reaffirmed my place within the Church. As my father often reminded, the Church is not a democracy (and that's a good thing). This is God's Church. He leads us and will not abandon us, and as we see today, following the death of Pope John Paul II, God has left us a holy man to lead the Church and be a visible sign of the Church's presence throughout the world.
On a human level, reflecting back on the predictions of an assortment of commentators, Pope Benedict XVI has surprised most, highlighting that one cannot pre-judge or predict how a leader will act in a particular role when faced with particular issues except to have confirmed the certain knowledge that the person is a person of deep prayer who consistently seeks to do God's Will and lead others to eternal salvation.
Pope Benedict's style is different than that of Pope John Paul II, but that is to be expected. While they shared much in common, they are different men with different sets of life experiences. What they have in common, most importantly, is their fidelity to fidelity, their faithfulness to being faithful to the truth, way, and life that is Jesus. Certainly there are those who were/are pained by both men, but let us remember that we are all human and have both the need to be forgiven and to forgive. Let us also remember that the Church is the Living Body of Christ and we all form part of it.
If I had to summarize the first year of Pope Benedict XVI's papacy, I would say, "To Speak the Truth in Love," and I would note that this daughter is listening.