“My dear young friends, I want to invite you to ‘dare to love.’ Do not desire anything less for your life than a love that is strong and beautiful and that is capable of making the whole of your existence a joyful undertaking of giving yourselves as a gift to God and your brothers and sisters, in imitation of the One who vanquished hatred and death forever through love.”
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
I just so happened to be in Rome the week before Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI shocked the world with his historic resignation. I hadn’t even processed the jet lag as I attempted to process the news – what had happened, what it meant for the Church, and how I felt about it. I distinctly remember wondering how a person comes to a decision like that. The Office of Peter itself is overwhelming enough, let alone considering how billions of people across the globe will react to breaking a 600-year tradition.
To this day, I have always felt terrible when I decline any invitation or give up any task. In the moment, I tell myself that it’s about not wanting to let people down, and while I am sure that’s part of it, it’s not most of it. Most of it is ego, or what we like to call at Catholic Leadership Institute “edging God out.” Most of it is wanting to put myself at the center and imagining that the whole thing implodes if I’m not there.
As I mourned along with the Universal Church last week and prayed our Emeritus Holy Father to heaven, I was struck time and time again by so many of his famous quotes and, perhaps the most important words he ever spoke, his reported last words: “Lord, I love you.”
The confusion and mixed emotions that I felt around his resignation back in 2013 were replaced a decade later with a complete and utter appreciation for his witness of faith and a yearning to have at the center of my being who His Holiness had at his – Jesus. Benedict could say no to the office because, for him, it was never about the office itself, but who the office serves – Jesus. He could say no to the crowds, and their expectations, not because he was an introvert or because of his age, but because it was never about the crowds. It was always about who the people really need most – Jesus. A decade later, I have come to appreciate his historic “no” as a profound continuation of his lifelong “yes” to the love of his life, Jesus.
As we say goodbye to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, may we grow in his example of humility. May we make decisions that put Christ at the center despite what the world and our egos may expect. May we have the courage to say whatever noes we need to say in order to have our life be a yes to the Lord. May songs of the angels welcome His Holiness and guide him along his way.
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