First five years

April 19, 2010

Today is the fifth anniversary of Benedict XVI’s election as Pope.  I remember very well the day he was elected; I was surprised and delighted, but not sure what to expect from him.  I remember, too, the first words he spoke from the balcony at St. Peter’s: “The cardinals have elected me, a simple and humble worker in the Lord’s vineyard”.  His self-effacing manner, and his awkward gestures, were endearing then, and in the intervening years this Pope has grown more endearing still.

The good that he has done over the past five years has not received the notice that it deserves, mostly, I expect, because it principally concerns the interior life of the Church.  Whereas John Paul II was an outgoing, dramatic Pope who wanted to bring the Gospel to every corner of the world and to every heart willing to listen, Benedict has turned his attention inward, and backward, to remind the Church of her roots, her sources, and her identity.  We see this pre-eminently in what I consider to have been the most important act of his pontificate thus far: his liberalization of the liturgical rites in Summorum pontificum.  This is a gift to the Church which I believe will bear much good fruit in the long run — perhaps not in my lifetime, but eventually.  We see it also in the long series of addresses he has given to pilgrims in Piazza San Pietro on the Fathers of the Church and the great medieval saints and theologians.  And we see it too in his efforts to heal the wounds of division that have marred the nature and witness of the Church, especially in his gestures of welcome toward the Society of St. Pius X and to Anglicans.  These initiatives of his have not always unfolded smoothly, but the problems are insignificant when set beside the promise they betide for the life of the Church in the decades ahead.

There has been criticism, too, some of it just.  We all know that the media thrives on bad news, so naturally the bad news is better known, even the false bad news.  But I do not wish to be argumentative today.

Catholic World Report has put together a set of appreciative short essays exploring various aspects of Pope Benedict’s first five years.  They are well worth reading.

Happy anniversary, Holy Father.  God grant you many years.

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