I will miss the insights Benedict offered during his weekly public audiences. Since 2005, I have read most of his Wednesday addresses and have always found them incisive, relevant and practical, bridging divine truths and earthly realities. There was always food for thought and I have often found myself cogitating on these ideas long after reading them. I have forwarded many audiences over the years to friends or colleagues who I thought could benefit from the wisdom they encapsulated. They offered lights for scanning one’s conscience and behaviour as well as original explanations of theological notions which entered into dialogue with the public square.
In his Ash Wednesday audience, for example, he described the nature of Christ’s temptations in light of our daily struggles, pointing out that “reflecting on the temptations undergone by Jesus in the desert is an invitation for each of us to answer a fundamental question: what is truly important in our lives?”
I will miss witnessing his profound piety. The few liturgical celebrations presided over by Benedict XVI that I have been privileged to witness engraved images in my memory of a man plunged in prayer. Even though the camera made him the focus of attention, his center of attention was clearly not the camera. He was not the protagonist; God was. Clearly, the beauty of the liturgy was his highway to God. He was a living example of the core principle of liturgy: “where the gaze upon God is not decisive, everything else loses its orientation. The fundamental criterion for the liturgy is its orientation toward God, to be able thus to participate in his work.” (Public Audience “On the Sacred Liturgy as a School of Prayer”, September 26th 2012).
I will miss his humble gaze, which touched me when he first appeared in St. Peter’s loggia greeting the expectant crowd on the day of his election. And with the years, getting to know him better through his writings, his teaching and his ministry, I came to admire how that gaze is simply a reflection of his profoundly humble interior. He is increasingly recognized by renowned scholars as one of the best minds of our times and yet his demeanour reminds me that in his heart beats the conviction that he is the “Servant of the servants of God”.
I will miss his gentleness. I remember a scene during World Youth Day 2011 in Spain, when he visited a center for disabled children. He was, as any of us would be, very touched by the children’s welcome. It was striking to hear him say how much he was learning from them, asking them to pray for him and assuring them and their parents of his affectionate prayers. Visibly moved, he greeted each one of them lovingly and attentively. He was one of them.
I will miss his academic rigour and the way he approached the reality of faith. An exemplary intellectual, he had great faith in reason. I admire his love for truth. This love led him to promote rigorous and vigorous dialogues among theologians, philosophers, scientists, artists, politicians and leaders of other religions, as well as atheists and agnostics. And this genuine dialogue was driven by the Pope’s conviction that we all need each other to find the common ground necessary to promote human dignity and the building blocks of a more just world.
I find consolation in his parting words: “I wish to devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.” His prayer will undoubtedly generate even more wisdom which, hopefully, he will share with us in writings, as he has generously done up to now.
And despite my sorrow, there is an overwhelming surge of gratitude for the opportunity to have discovered the true German Shepherd so often misrepresented as “God’s Rottweiler”. Thankfully, this is not a funeral eulogy but a heartfelt recognition of a blessing for the Church and for whoever is wise enough to recognize in Benedict XVI his stature as a priest, theologian, pastor and Pope, who will still be among us, although in a hidden way.
Monique David is a Montreal based writer.