It’s hard to believe a full year has passed since Pope Benedict XVI shocked the world with his decision to resign from the Petrine Ministry. I turned on the news at my office to watch him go, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I cried as the white helicopter took off for Castel Gandolfo. Saying good-bye is always hard, even when you know there’s a good reason for it.
He faded from view so quickly. The media turned immediately to speculation over who the new pope would be, then pounced on the extroverted, quirky, endearing new pontiff, content to leave Benedict in the past except when conjuring up some specter of a cruel curmudgeon who kept the Church repressed — an image which bears absolutely no resemblance to the actual man. He faded into obscurity and silence, stepping meekly aside when he felt he could no longer fulfill his duties as required. “God’s Rottweiler” — our beloved German Shepherd — quietly assumed a new title: Benedict the Meek.
I’ve been giving this a lot of thought in the context of my own life as a single, young professional. The career field leaves little room for meekness; we’re expected to know our failings and weaknesses, sure, but so we can compensate for them or cover them up. If we want to advance, we have to shine; in more competitive areas we have to outshine our peers. We have to ingratiate ourselves with the right people, network, go outside of ourselves, make the right friends. We have to sell ourselves. Meekness is a deathblow for advancement and success.
Of course, advancement and success in career are very good things, and they can be used to accomplish a lot of good. But Benedict left us — especially my generation — with a profound example of priorities. Success is good so far as it goes, but it is not our end. God doesn’t necessarily call us to be successful (in worldly terms), even when he gives us success or power for a time. Our Pope Emeritus recognized this. The papacy was not some special privilege given to the man, Ratzinger; it was a responsibility laid on his shoulders to care for the Body of Christ, the Church. When he could no longer do this well, he acknowledged his weakness and moved over.
Pope Benedict did not leave behind a glittering legacy like John Paul II’s. He did not win the hearts of the world like Pope Francis. But step back from the noise and pause a moment to reflect: in stepping aside, Benedict XVI reminded all of us to look past ourselves — to look up. We are all only servants, called to be faithful. We are all only pilgrims on a journey, and the end is not here.
Mary Beth Bakerwrites a bi-weekly feature entitled Life in the Gap. Mary Beth’s outstanding personal blog, also entitled Life in the Gap, is about a young woman’s daily journey “in between.” In between what? Between the single life and whatever marvelous things God has in store. But far from being about a time of anxious waiting, Mary Beth’s reflections underscore the richness of living in the present moment.