A last goodbye

Sixteen days ago I was woken up, like so many others, with earth-shattering news.  I proceeded to go through my morning in a fog, getting to work without really knowing how I got dressed, did my makeup, and drove in traffic.  I didn’t have an appetite and didn’t taste my breakfast.

The fog has lifted, but nothing had sunk in.  This morning my alarm went off at 4am so I could watch part of his last audience.  I printed off the text of his address to read in the chapel.  And then it all hit me.

As I read the address through my tears, I was taken back eight years.  I was sitting in a classroom in Rome and hearing from my Italian professor John Paul’s last words to the crowds who had come under his window to pray by his deathbed with him.

Vi ho cercato… The words were etched on my heart that day, and have never left me.

I have sought you.  And you have come to me.  For this, I thank you.

The parting words of the only Pope I had never known.  The beginning of a roller coaster that would see me sleeping in the streets awaiting a funeral and laughing through tears after white smoke, and would eventually lead me to study theology and work for the Church I loved.

As I read Pope Benedict’s final address, an unusually-personal account of his own roller coaster, I found the same reassurance in his last words.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I am truly moved, and in you I see the church is alive!

I always felt slightly foolish for feeling like I knew Pope Benedict.  But I felt close to him after reading his writings and then living in Rome in 2008 and seeing him every week. I felt like I knew him.  Over the past eight years, whether it was watching Midnight Mass on television or sitting with him for a concert, I felt like he was my friend.

And now I realize I’m not alone in that thought.

Please take time to read his beautiful address in its entirety- this last lecture of sorts.  I cannot comment on it more; words fail me tonight.

Pope Benedict XVI sits on a garden bench during his annual holiday in Bressanone

Here allow me to return once again to April 19, 2005. The gravity of the decision was precisely in the fact that from that moment on I was committed always and forever by the Lord. Always – he, who assumes the Petrine ministry no longer has any privacy. He belongs always and totally to everyone, to the whole Church. His life is, so to speak, totally deprived of the private sphere. 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.

The “always” is also a “forever” – there is no returning to private life. My decision to forgo the exercise of active ministry, does not revoke this. I do not return to private life, to a life of travel, meetings, receptions, conferences and so on. I do not abandon the cross, but remain in a new way near to the Crucified Lord. I no longer wield the power of the office for the government of the Church, but in the service of prayer I remain, so to speak, within St. Peter’s bounds. St. Benedict, whose name I bear as Pope, shall be a great example in this for me. He showed us the way to a life which, active or passive, belongs wholly to the work of God

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