Famous leaders are often remembered for their sins, as every hero suffers them. In the words of Shakespeare in Mark Anthony’s eulogy of Caesar, “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”
Pope Benedict XVI died last week, and the news is mostly about his failures to act more aggressivity in managing church scandals, but there are much more exceptional stories to share about this man and his influences on the church and society. So, “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;” I come as a Protestant to praise a good Catholic pope upon his passing.
The papacy is full of characters who had major impacts on society which have included some of the greatest evils and some of the greatest good. People are quick to put evils on religion and religious leaders, but the historic political atheist of the world have done much worse damage. I won’t recount the ugly as I am sure you have your list. The other reality we must not dismiss is that each of us is a paradox, living in a world of paradoxes and as we would seek grace, we must offer it.
Benedict’s predecessor Benedict XV fought diligently for world peace during World War I. His efforts were so loved, Muslim Turks built a statue of him. Leo the Great saved Rome from Attila the Hun and saved tens of thousands. Leo XIII fought for workers’ rights during the industrial Revolution bringing change to processes and conditions for millions and setting a stage for the future. And Gregory the Great focused the church on the poor and set a pattern for hundreds of years of being Christ to the world.
Benedict XVI was a man who spent his life pointing the world to Christ. He was a learned theologian and an excellent writer who used the pen to promote the cause of Christendom and the message of Jesus. In his major appearances he consistently pointed to the world to the hope only found in Christ. He wrote, “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but an encounter with an event, a person, which gives a new horizon and a decisive direction.” - Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, first Encyclical Letter, United States Conference of Bishops, 2006, Pg. 1
He was a man encouraging Christian’s to understand the depth and importance of a triune God and pointed people to the workings of the Trinity. "If you see charity, you see the Trinity," Benedict XVI said. “The spirit is also the energy which transforms the heart of the ecclesial community, so that it becomes a witness before the world to the love of the Father, who wishes to make humanity a single family in his Son.”
Benedict encouraged Christians to use all the elements available to them, not a blind faith, but a learned faith which uses reason in developing a world view and life of action. “From God’s standpoint, faith liberates reason from its blind spots and therefore helps it to be ever more fully itself. Faith enables reason to do its work more effectively and to see proper objects more clearly.”
He called us to live at peace with those we disagree and to be motivated in love by the example Christ set, “The mission of the lay faithful is therefore to configure social life correctly, respecting its legitimate autonomy and cooperating with other citizens according to their respective competences and fulfilling their own responsibilities.” He adds, “Christian charitable activity must be independent of parties and ideologies. It is not a means of changing the world ideologically, but it is a way of making present here and now the love which man always needs.” Further he writes, “The one who serves does not consider himself superior to the one served. Christ took the lowest place in the world.”
As is paramount to our faith, he called people to be in a personal relationship with Christ. He did this at a time when he saw extremism of all forms growing across the globe. “A personal relationship with God and an abandonment to his own will can prevent man from being demeaned and save him from falling prey to the teachings of fanaticism and terrorism.” This message is so important not just in what we qualify as terror but in our daily politics which has polarized our world. Benedict warned us of the dangers of which our nation has dove headfirst into.
Benedict was the first pope to resign from the role in 600 years. He may have taught us something in his resignation. While his reasons are up for review, stepping away when feeling the pains of aging or if you are at odds with the philosophies of your inner circle, there may be a time to say no to continuing in certain leadership positions. I’ve seen countless examples of pastors, business leaders, and politicians refusing to let go of the reigns when they clearly had lost the energy, direction, cognitive skills, or passion for the role bringing harm to the communities they served and blocking the next generation from opportunity.
If you want to grow in your faith reading the works of Pope Benedict XVI will enhance your knowledge and deepen your relationship with Christ. Whether a long time Catholic or Protestant we must look to each other to grow and learn. It is Christ desire we live in harmony and grow together in the faith. As John 17:21 states, “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” And as 1 Corinthians 1: 10-13 says, “I appeal to you, brothers, and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided?”