Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Because I Can Identify with My Pope

Posted by Webster 
If you’ve ever lost a parent, as I have, you have to read Pope Benedict’s account of the death of his parents in his memoir, Milestones: 1927–1977. For all the theological observations (many of them over my head), for all the professional history, these personal passages are the ones that convince me. (Our Pope is the younger brother at left in this family photograph.)

First, the death of his father, just four months after Joseph Ratzinger assumed his first full professorship, in Bonn:

There was in August [1959] an ominous drum roll that came with unexpected force and harshness. . . . In the summer of 1958 Father had had a mild stroke while carrying my sister’s heavy typewriter to the repair shop on a very hot day. . . . At Christmas he gave us gifts whose generosity was beyond belief. We sensed that he took this to be his last Christmas, and yet we could not believe it, because exteriorly there was nothing wrong with him. In the middle of August he experienced an acute indisposition, from which he recovered only very slowly. On Sunday, August 23, Mother invited him to take a walk to the old places where we had lived and enjoyed our friends. On this hot summer day they walked together for more than ten kilometers. On their way home, Mother noticed how fervently Father prayed when they made a brief visit to the church and how restless he was awaiting the return of the three of us, who had taken a ride to Tittmoning. During supper he went out and collapsed at the top of the steps. He had had a serious stroke, which took him from us after exactly two days of suffering. We were grateful that we were all able to stand around his bed and again show him our love, which he accepted with gratitude even though he could no longer speak. When I returned to Bonn after this experience, I sensed that the world was emptier for me and that a portion of my home had been transferred to the other world.  

I am struck that not only his father but also his mother seemed to know that death was near. She invited him for a long walk to visit the old places. He gave generous Christmas gifts. He stopped to pray. . . .

And I am struck with the realization that when my father died, a piece of me went to heaven with him.

Four years later, as the Second Vatican Council was gathering momentum, Joseph Ratzinger lost his mother:

Already since January my brother had noticed that Mother was eating less and less. In mid-August her physician announced to us with sad certainty that she had cancer of the stomach, which would follow its course quickly and relentlessly. With what was left of her energies she kept house for my brother until the end of October, even though she was already reduced to skin and bones. Then one day she collapsed in a shop, and then was never again able to leave her sickbed. Our experience with her now was very similar to what we had lived with Father. Her goodness became even purer and more radiant and continued to shine unchanged even through the weeks of increasing pain. On the day after Gaudete Sunday, December 16, 1963, she closed her eyes forever, but the radiance of her goodness has remained, and for me it has become more and more a confirmation of the faith by which she had allowed herself to be formed. I know of no more convincing proof for the faith than precisely the pure and unalloyed humanity that the faith allowed to mature in my parents and in so many other persons I have had the privilege to encounter.

My mother is still very much alive, and a lively inspiration to us all. But I encounter that “pure and unalloyed humanity” every morning at Mass. Have I told you about Frank and Carrie K.? Have I boasted to you about Frank G.? (That’s him at left. How could you not love that face?) How about the Pietrini brothers? Or my big brother in the Church, Ferde?

These dear friends are my most “convincing proof for the faith.”