Benedict's Magnificat

Welcome, Against The Grain readers, and thanks to Mr. Blosser for the link.

Today, Divine Mercy Sunday, B16 concelebrated a mass for his 80th birthday with 60 cardinals and a barque-load of other Church notables. Unofficial translation of the homily is here (scroll to post 7017). Almost as if to comment on the commentary on his urbe et orbe message, the Pope opened with this:
The Holy Father John Paul II wished that this Sunday shoud be celebrated as the Feast of Divine Mercy. In the word 'mercy' , he found the entire mystery of Redemption summarized and interpreted anew for our time. He lived under two dictatorial regimes, and in contact with poverty, need and violence, he experienced profoundly the power of darkness, which continues to beset our world today. But he also experienced, and not less strongly, the presence of God which opposes itself to all these forces of darkness with a power totally different and divine: with the power of mercy. It is mercy which sets a limit to evil.
Moving on to his birthday, though, there's the trademark wry remark:
We are gathered to reflect on the completion of a not-brief period of my existence.
followed by humility:
the liturgy should not be used to speak of one's own self, but one's life can serve to proclaim the mercy of God. "Come and listen, all you who fear God, and I will tell you what He has done for me," says a Psalm (63[66],16).
There follows the Pope's personal Magnificat --a list of all he is grateful for-- which serves as a window into his soul if any journalists would honestly care to know and not just take Fr. Thomas Reese's opinion. Truly, a beautiful soul. Full of love, gratitude, wonder, humility. I especially liked this passage, in which he is not yet talking about the fact of his own papacy, he's just expressing gratitude for having been born into the Catholic faith:

In the first Reading of this Sunday, we are told that in the early days of the nascent Church, people brought their sick to the public squares, so that when Peter passed by, his shadow could fall on them. To that shadow, they attributed a healing power. Indeed, the shadow came from the light of Christ and therefore, it carried in it something of the power of Divine goodness.

Peter's shadow, through the Catholic church, has fallen across my life from the very beginning, and I learned that it is a good shadow - a healing shadow because, precisely, it ultimately comes from Christ Himself. Peter was a man with all the weaknesses of a human being, but above all, he was a man full of passionate faith in Christ, full of love for Him. Through his faith and his love, Christ's healing power, his unifying force, has reached all men even through all the weaknesses of Peter. So let us look for Peter's shadow even today, in order that we may be in the light of Christ.

Picking this idea up again at the close, he continues:
with the growing weight of responsiblity, the Lord also brought new help to my life. Repeatedly I see with grateful joy the ranks of those who sustain me with their prayers; who with their faith and their love help me to carry out my ministry; who are indulgent with my weaknesses, recognizing even in the shadow of Peter the beneficent light of Christ. For this I give my heartfelt thanks to God and to you all.

On the occasion of his birthday, there have been a spate of retrospectives on Benedict in the press. Most of them are predictably snarky and downright nasty (I'm talking to you, Newsweek & New Yorker). A few aren't so bad. Open Book has links to all of them, and a round-up of smack-downs on them, too. To digress a moment, I especially like this point of hers:

I don't see "popularity" as any kind of gauge for evaluating a papacy. But if you're going to play that game, at least look beyond the trattoria table. Here are some simple suggestions:
1) Look at and report the numbers at General Audiences
2) Talk to those who maintain websites dedicated to Benedict and Vatican-centered news. What's happened to their hits in the past 2 years?
3) Talk to book publishers - start with the Vatican publishing house. Move on to the European publishers that are publishing him. Talk to Ignatius and Doubleday. What are their sales showing? (remember how I reported that the Apostolic Exhortation on the Eucharist sold over 300,000 copies its first week in an Italian edition? An Apostolic Exhortation for pete's sake?)

[and earlier she pointed out his Jesus book is #1 on German Amazon and it's #27 over here where it hasn't even been released yet.]

None. And I mean NONE of these "journalists" who presume to evaluate the "popularity" of Benedict ever try to base their evalution on any facts.

What happens to the message after it's sent and received is another matter,and more difficult to evaluate. But if you want to report on the interest of Catholics (and others) in what their Pope is saying, you turn to the hard data you do have - which is audience numbers, website traffic and book sales.
How's he doin'?

Exactly. Basic facts force the conclusion that Benedict is in fact quite popular and reaching many people. But that doesn't exactly fit the aloof- scholar- out- of- touch- with- the- world trope. In any case, no reporters ever open their minds for two seconds to consider that Benedict XVI is neither a prude nor a disciplinarian, but a servant. As exemplified by the prayer with which he closed his birthday celebration:
I would like to end this homily with a prayer by Saint Pope Leo the Great, that prayer which, 30 years ago, I wrote on the commemorative card of my episcopal ordination: "Pray to our good God, so that in our day, He may reinforce the faith, multiply love and increase the peace. May he make me, His poor servant, adequate for His work and useful for your edification, and grant that I may render service so that, along with the time I am given, my dedication should grow."