Watching the Pope retreat to Castel Gandolfo to spend his last days in prayer brought tears to my eyes. The oft maligned Holy Father came into the office amid slurs that he had ties to Nazi youth and criticism of his conservatism. He was ripped by the Left as an intolerant man who would refuse priests marriage, reject the idea of gay marriage and women priests.
He was called Pope John Paul’s rottweiler. He was said to lack the personality of his predecessor. He wouldn’t relate to youth, they said. He was a fanatic. He would not be able to capture world attention as John Paul II did. He was too intellectual.
Of course, it was all nonsense. From the beginning he proved to be a humble, kind and devout man. He visited all over the world. The reaction of the crowd today – many had tears in their eyes, too – as he blessed and thanked them was deep and sincere. He looked very frail and quite different from the more vigorous man who took on the job eight years ago.
And he knew it. Pope Benedict knew he was no longer physically able to lead a billion people. He had the humility to recognize that his own impediments might impede his beloved Church. He had witnessed Pope John Paul’s inabilities to keep on top of things and what it cost. He did not want a replay.
So Benedict let loose the reins of power. He gave up the status and comfort that goes with life at the Vatican. He humbly decided instead to retreat to a life of prayer. He must feel that is now the best way he can serve the Lord.
Like George Washington, Pope Benedict decided that for the good of his people, someone else should take charge. Contrast that with politicians and leaders in our own country today. Senators will stay in office into doddering old age. Many of them put in 50 years in the Senate. Even if they are too old to hear, understand or govern, they keep their grasp on the office for the power and money.
So do media types and other leaders. Walter Cronkite had to be pried from the microphone as he went from grandfatherly to great great grandfatherly. George Soros at his advanced age still wants to collect more money; money he’ll never even be able to use. Barbara Walters will probably ask presidents what kind of tree they’d like to be until she falls over. Gracious people? No. Greedy people? Yes.
It’s hard to imagine someone like Barack Obama ever leaving the stage. Clinton still hasn’t even though his presidency has been over for 13 years. He’ll be riding that position until God – or someone – calls him home. Many of us doubt that Obama will go graciously either. Even if he does, we have Michelle to contend with.
Pope Benedict is setting a wonderful example of dignity, courage, humility and love. Would we had a few others who would do so as well.