Pardon Me While I Blubber

Was just watching the Pope's helicopter flight to Castel Gandalfo, and his simple last words as Pope. He looked happy and serene. I thought I would just take in a unique moment of history, but I am a blubbering wreck instead -- a spontaneous reaction I didn't expect. I'm not ordinarily much of a cry-er, and I thought I'd made peace with this abdication. I feel bereft, which is an odd feeling to have about a person one has never met, and I take it as a sign of the truth of what the papacy is.

I'm reminded of St. Paul's leave-taking (in Acts 20) from the Ephesians, among whom he'd not only taught as an itinerant preacher, but actually lived and worked.
When he had finished speaking he knelt down and prayed with them all. They were all weeping loudly as they threw their arms around Paul and kissed him, for they were deeply distressed that he had said that they would never see his face again.  Then they escorted him to the ship.
Benedict himself once explained the effect he's had for me the past decade -- though obviously he wasn't speaking of himself or me:
One who truly believes, who opens himself to the maturing effects of faith, begins to be a light for others; he becomes a bulwark where others can find help.
That's from a marvelous passage from his Co-Workers of the Truth.  It's hard to believe; it's hard to maintain faith. Ratzinger has helped me do so.

Two short thoughts about his legacy.

1. Unquestionably after his passing he will become a Doctor of the Church. He's probably the last Great Man of Europe, but I believe he is the man who has conquered Modernity, having taken us intellectually through post-modernism and past it. The world does not know this yet, but modernity as an intellectual project is not only spent, it's conquered. I didn't realize this until recently, when I stumbled on this interesting post.

On one hand I think its author is seriously mistaken in thinking of Kant & Hegel as rescuers of Christianity for the Age of Science. That's probably what Kant tried to be, but I think he fails and becomes part of the problem and if you read Hegel with care, he's no Christian. He appears to praise Christianity, but if you read him without blinders, he only condescendingly grants that it is the highest form of "universal consciousness" man has YET reached, but it is not adequate for the human spirit because it still finds man's essence in the "other." Only when man is no longer alienated from himself -- i.e., when he is man alone without relation to some other, will history be fulfilled.

On the other hand, I think the blogger's absolutely correct that Ratzinger's greatness lies in the fact that tilling on the Hegelian fields he is the first to find his way back to Christianity. He found his way back to Tradition, as Mr. W. puts it: 
but with that rare philosophic insight that a genuine thinker has, in other words with originality, not merely repeating tradition but renewing and refreshing it....his unequalled genius really has produced a large number of writings that advance our understanding of the Church and our relationship to Jesus Christ.
That's why he is able deftly to turn the historical-critical method against itself -- which takes a post-historicist or post-Hegelian to do. His body of work points the way out of the knots Teilhard  and the other historicist theologians tied themselves up in. So it turns out the world truly needed a German pope. Only a German who knew the Germans could have done that. He will be the Doctor of Faith. It will take his passing and probably 20 years before post-modernism understands what has hit it, but that project is over, and Christianity -- and Reason-- win. Even if we have some darkness to pass through before this is widely known.

2. One of the hardest things for me to bear about the abuse crisis in the Church has been the lack of a single resignation as a result of it. Let me not be misunderstood: of course the worst thing is for the innocence of a child to be taken, and taken by a so-called man of the cloth. But Catholics are drawn from the general pool of mankind, so while we hold ourselves to a higher standard, it's not surprising to find the sins of the age present also in the Church, even in its clergy. Thus it was and ever shall be, unfortunately...shamefully. You expose, you repent, you do penance, you correct, you keep going back to God.

But if the priesthood means anything, it means intercession before God on behalf of the entire world: to unite onseself to Christ's victimhood, to bring everyone before the throne of God by making Him present sacramentally, by forgiving sins directly in the Confessional, and by making reparation for sins unrepented through prayer and sacrifice. I marvel -- and this has caused me to think less of the Episcopacy over the course of the last decade-- that not one man among it thought he could do more by a life of prayer and penance than by remaining in office. Of course one must be called to such a thing, and I couldn't point a finger at some specific bishop and say it ought to be him, but still: no one among the disgraced bishops seems to have a lively enough understanding of sin to want to make the remainder of his life a reparation for damage done to innocents. And no one among the innocent bishops seems to feel this call either. I wonder at that.

I wonder at it even though the crop of bishops appointed by Benedict XVI is doctrinally sound, politically courageous and full of spunk and joy (especially in the U.S. the future looks very bright after a few key retirements take place). I wonder whether anyone fully believes our doctrines of sin and grace -- whether anyone truly believes Grace can do more than his own teaching and administrative talents can do, whether anyone believes in the power of prayer? Because if we really believed those things and found ourselves faced with situations that cannot humanly be solved (I'm speaking of healing the life of an abuse victim and his parents and the loss of faith in many due to these scandals), would not some among us feel called to a retired life of prayer and penance in intercession for the world?

For that reason, painful as it is for me to say goodbye to a man whose writing has been a profound consolation and bulwark of faith in a difficult decade, I find solace in it too. At last, a Christian! He seems to have given us one last gift: an example for his fellow bishops, and a sign to the world that there is at least one Christian in the world who absolutely and completely believes.

Bless him for that. In Abraham's day God spared the wicked city for the sake of one righteous man. Perhaps the prayers of one righteous man will allow our wicked time to be spared as well.