When I first heard that Pope Benedict XVI had announced his plans to resign, I made a pledge to avoid all media for the duration. I knew all too well what to expect: juvenile headlines, inaccurate reporting and most dreadful of all, the interviews with what I call “ethnic” Catholics: those who do not follow the precepts of the Church and rarely go to Mass, yet feel eminently qualified to be interviewed by the New York Times merely because they were born into the Faith.
But I also knew that as a faithful Catholic and a writer, it was my regrettable duty to open the newspapers and turn on the TV to see if anything had changed since the last Papal Interregnum. And predictably, nothing had, although there seems to be a different mood among those once again tasked to cover an entity they know little or nothing about and whose mission and methods they so truly despise.
After the death of John Paul II, they seemed gleeful, hoping that the next pope would be one with whom they would “agree.” After all, he started out as a great story for them; he was a novelty; a young Pole on the throne of St. Peter after so many years of aged Italians. Maybe he would be the one who would bring the Church more in line with modern ways.
But the honeymoon ended quickly when John Paul not only upheld the age-old teachings of the Church -- as every pope must do -- he, along with fellow media bogeymen Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, effectively ended the rule of terror of the USSR. No, John Paul was not the man they thought he would be, but perhaps the next pope would.
But once again media hopes were dashed with the election of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger: the dreaded “Panzer Pope” and the uber-evil “German Shepard.” All true men of Christian faith are despised by the world because they are not of the world, but Benedict particularly rankled because they could not assail him with their usual imprecations of “incuriosity” and “small-mindedness,” because his towering intellect was all too apparent.
So, as the end of his papacy approaches, how will Benedict XVI be remembered by his adversaries? Will it be for the long-awaited and much cherished Moto Proprio, where he “normalized” the extraordinary form of the Mass in Latin, the official language of the Roman Church? Or when he similarly sought to close the windows opened by the media’s reportage of the Second Vatican Council, by ordering the reform of the English translation of the ordinary form of the Mass, which restored its deeper and more beautiful meaning?
How about his scholarly putdown of Islam at Regensburg, where he challenged not only Muslims, but all people to understand that faith and reason are not exclusive of, but critical to, each other? Maybe it will be when he visited the U.S. and offered his apology for the priest sex-abuse scandal but also mentioned society and the media’s contributions to the moral decay that puts all children at risk.
Will it be the fraternal correction of some American nuns who blatantly defy Church teaching and are therefore lovingly and constantly cited by the liberal press? Of course, the overwhelming majority of nuns who are faithful run afoul of the media; like Mother Teresa who lectured the world on the tragedy of abortion when she received her Nobel Peace Prize. In contrast to the dying breed of rebellious sisters of the 1960s hippie generation, there are thousands of young religious, both men and women, eager to live up to their vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Which brings us to the real legacy of Pope Benedict XVI.
It was thought that the so-called JP2 wave of young converts would die out with the passing of John Paul II, but the truth is, it continues apace. If John Paul appealed to their hearts, Benedict also challenged their minds; taking ancient phrases like “Deus caritas est” and making their eternal meaning, “God is love,” understandable and real to them. At World Youth Day 2011 in Madrid Benedict exhorted two million young people to “Share with others the joy of your faith. The world needs the witness of your faith, it surely needs God.”
His last profound example of humble witness as the Servant of the Servants of God was well on display at his final public Mass last week at St. Peter’s Basilica. Typically, after enduring what must have seemed to him a tortuous three minutes of applause following comments by his close friend, Cardinal Bertone, near the end of the Mass, he gave a shy smile and simply said, “Thank you. Let us return to prayer.”