April 29, 2005

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Some personal reflections and a prayer
for our new pope

Much of the liturgy of the fourth week of Easter featured Christ as the Good Shepherd. How appropriate that during that week a new Vicar of Christ, the Good Shepherd, was elected for our Church.

The world has watched carefully to detect clues about the newly elected Pope Benedict XVI . What does his choice of name mean? Did our new pope choose that name because St. Benedict is the patron of Europe? Is it because the name means blessed or because Benedictine monasticism is credited with the cultural civilization of Europe? Did our new Holy Father choose the name Benedict XVI to indicate that he wanted to be a peacemaker in the pattern of his predecessor, Benedict XV?

Contrary to some speculation, an indication to me that he did not expect to be elected pope was a small detail indeed. He was not wearing a white shirt or sweater under his cassock for his first appearance to the world as the new pope. He had on either a black clergy shirt or sweater. In his message the next day, he indicated that he did not foresee the election.

The personalities of succeeding popes differ, but the office of the successor to Peter in the Church remains constant. For 2,000 years, God has worked his will through that office—and yes, he works his will in a secondary way through the person chosen as pope in 2005. Much has been said and will continue to be said about Pope Benedict XVI . However his papacy is carried out, God is at his side and we have every reason to believe in a future full of hope.

The Holy Father’s first substantial message was delivered after his Mass with the cardinals on the morning after his election. It provides a comprehensive vision of his papal ministry in which he clearly expressed his intention to move forward with and from the ministry of the late Pope John Paul II and the Second Vatican Council.

Pope Benedict said, “Before my eyes is, in particular, the witness of Pope John Paul II. He leaves us a Church that is more courageous, freer, younger.” He expressed his desire to carry on a special ministry to youth. He also committed himself to further the cause of Christian unity and inter-religious dialogue. His message also revealed an unmistakable personal warmth and gentle spirit.

We trust in the power of the Holy Spirit guiding the Church because we are people of faith who pray and trust in God’s Providence. In his message our new Holy Father expressed his own profound confidence in divine Providence and divine mercy.

At his very first appearance on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Benedict told us: “The Cardinals have elected a humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord.”

I believe these words are a key to understanding our new Holy Father. Several years ago in a personal interview, Cardinal Ratzinger said he had hoped to retire because he would like to have more time for prayer, reflection and writing. Yet, he said he would continue in his duty in the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith as long as Pope John Paul wanted him to. And so he remained because of his duty to serve God and the Church.

On April 19, 2005, he received another call to obedience to continue to serve God and the Church. Humbly, he accepted the call. Even beyond what are considered ordinary years of retirement, he is willing to continue to work and serve in the vineyard of the Lord. For this humble shepherd, we say, “Thanks be to God.”

In his message to the world on April 20, Pope Benedict told us that there were two contrasting sentiments in his soul in his first hours as pope: a sense of inadequacy and human turmoil for the unforeseen responsibility entrusted to him as the successor to Peter. And on the other hand, a sense of profound gratitude to God, who does not abandon his flock but leads it throughout time. I love the touching manner Pope Benedict said he sensed the presence of the late Pope John Paul II—“gently squeezing his hand” and with smiling eyes saying “Be not afraid.”

We need to thank God because by his grace the apostolic succession continues in our Church in the 264th successor to Peter. Our apostolic faith is confirmed once more. Let us continue to give thanks to God for the gift of Pope Benedict XVI who succeeds the gift of the late Pope John Paul II and embraces his splendid legacy.

For Pope Benedict we pray: May the Lord keep him and give him life, may he make him happy on earth and keep him safe from harm. Amen. †

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