Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Pope's Final Audience

 Hi friends and fam, this post will be one of the more exciting that you'll get to read from me, because it is a post which reminds me that I am here in part to share my life and my experience of living and being formed for the priesthood at the heart of the Church.  I just wanted to take a second to show you all the view I had this morning from St. Peter's Square.  Today was Pope Benedict's final public audience before stepping down from the papacy tomorrow evening.  Among other things, that means we'll be extra busy around here at the NAC, since for the next few weeks we will be hosting all the American cardinals and their secretaries for the upcoming papal conclave!  But I digress.  We were quite fortunate as students of Rome that many of the Pontifical universities (including the Gregorian where I attend) canceled all their morning classes so that students, staff, and faculty could participate in this historic moment.

We were also fortunate enough to receive tickets for entrance into St. Peter's Square for this very last Wednesday general audience.  By game time at 10:30 a.m. local, it was packed for sure!  I left from the seminary with my Detroit brother, Dave, right after breakfast so that we would still be able to find a good spot!  We arrived about two hours early and the Square was already well over half full.  I have to give Dave all the credit for this, because it was his idea for us--instead of packing in near the central obelisk--to walk about 100 feet farther back and post up directly on the edge of one of the barricades.  Please send up a good prayer for him and his family, because he is the reason that you're about to see what the pope looks like from six feet away.

Of course we were several hundred yards from the basilica and nowhere near those who had front row seats.  But we stood by as the Pope-mobile drove right by us during Benedict's entrance, winding his way through the Square.  It happened so quick I felt like I needed a slow-motion button!  I knew ahead of time that I would want to post this on the blog, and by divine grace I managed in my excitement to hold still long enough to stick at least an 8.5 on the landing.

Without further ado, here is the instant replay:

Of course YouTube loves to degrade the quality of uploaded video footage a little, but here is our pope as he passes right by!

Today's audience with the pope was one of the more arresting moments of my time here thus far.  I've had a lot of time to reflect over the past few weeks on Benedict's decision to step down from the papacy.  There is no question that at first it seemed sudden, foreign, and hard to understand.  Naturally there is a complete shock, and for me the initial reaction was one of a confused child who asks his father why he is going away.  The child pleads that his father wouldn't, asking what everyone will do without him, what will happen next, with no real sense of an answer.

I'm still young, and in my whole life I've only ever lived with two popes.  John Paul II was a father to everyone, and though he died when I was 17, I didn't really begin to know him until after his death.  For me, Benedict has been the first papal father who I have "grown accustomed to" and who I have followed personally.  His papacy of eight years has spanned almost the entire journey of my own vocational search.  So to see Benedict go strikes a real chord in me and brings me a sense of sadness and personal loss.

But it also has brought me a great sense of joy and hope as I come to understand more deeply just how humble this man is, and just how deeply he loves Christ and Christ's bride the Church.  Part of the mission for American bishops in sending seminarians to Rome is that they would grow in filial devotion to the Holy Father, and in these last weeks, especially today, I am realizing more than ever just how much Pope Benedict is a father to me.  During his general audience address, the gratitude and love of those who came to see him was palpable, almost as if the air felt thick.  He just really deserves to know that he is a good dad, that after it's all over he will still be a father to many, and that his kids will love and miss him as their pope.

If you get a chance to read his entire address, I highly recommend it, it's only a few pages.  But I'll leave you with a few of the moments that really struck me, and which make me love and respect this man all the more.

When, almost eight years ago, on April 19th, [2005], I agreed to take on the Petrine ministry, I held steadfast in this certainty, which has always accompanied me.  In that moment, as I have already stated several times, the words that resounded in my heart were: “Lord, what do you ask of me?  It is a great weight that you place on my shoulders, but, if you ask me, at your word I will throw out the nets, sure that you will guide me” -- and the Lord really has guided me.  He has been close to me: daily could I feel his presence.

[These years] have been a stretch of the Church’s pilgrim way, which has seen moments of joy and light, but also difficult moments.  I have felt like St. Peter with the Apostles in the boat on the Sea of Galilee: the Lord has given us many days of sunshine and gentle breeze, days in which the catch has been abundant; [then] there have been times when the seas were rough and the wind against us, as in the whole history of the Church it has ever been -- and the Lord seemed to sleep.  Nevertheless, I always knew that the Lord is in the barque, that the barque of the Church is not mine, not ours, but his -- and he shall not let her sink.  It is he who steers her: to be sure, he does so also through men of his choosing, for he desired that it be so.  This was and is a certainty that nothing can tarnish.  It is for this reason that today my heart is filled with gratitude to God, for never did he leave me or the Church without his consolation, his light, his love.


In recent months, I felt that my strength had decreased, and I asked God with insistence in prayer to enlighten me with his light to make me take the right decision -- not for my sake, but for the good of the Church.  I have taken this step in full awareness of its severity and also its novelty, but with a deep peace of mind.  Loving the Church also means having the courage to make difficult, trying choices, having ever before oneself the good of the Church and not one’s own.


I have felt, and I feel even in this very moment, that one receives one’s life precisely when he offers it as a gift. I said before that many people who love the Lord also love the Successor of Saint Peter and are fond of him, that the pope has truly brothers and sisters, sons and daughters all over the world, and that he feels safe in the embrace of their communion, because he no longer belongs to himself, but he belongs to all and all are truly his own.


Dear friends! God guides his Church, maintains her always, and especially in difficult times.  Let us never lose this vision of faith, which is the only true vision of the way of the Church and the world.  In our heart, in the heart of each of you, let there be always the joyous certainty that the Lord is near, that he does not abandon us, that he is near to us and that he surrounds us with his love.

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