Commentary by Jonathan Matthes
It is a Wednesday in November, 2011. Dawn has not yet broken over the Eternal City. And I am walking the Roman streets with some of my peers from Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Austria program. We were on a school organized 10-day trip, and we thought what better way to celebrate it than to wake up at 5 a.m. and head over to the Vatican to say good morning to the Pope.
Pope Benedict XVI’s weekly Wednesday audience didn’t start until 10 a.m. The rest of the 20-thousand strong crowd didn’t arrive until about 9 a.m. I’m not even sure if His Holiness was even awake by the time we, either stupid or brazen, college students were in line four hours earlier than we had to be. But hey, how many chances to you get to see the Pope?
As it turns out the chances were less than we thought. By the time you read this, Benedict’s reign as the 265th Pontiff has ended, and the 266th Pope will soon be in place.
Joseph Ratzinger, that’s the Pope’s original name, will recede to the background. Leaving a job he never wanted. He really wanted to retire as the head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith about five years before Pope John Paul II died, but John Paul convinced him to stay on. That has been the story of the life of Joseph Ratzinger. It’s amazing where a simple act of humility, staying on a job long after he wanted to leave, took him.
It is the same act that took him from university professor (at age 31) to bishop, from bishop to cardinal, from cardinal to the head of the CDF and eventually to Pope. All “promotions” he didn’t want. It is the same act that he demonstrates as he leaves the papacy. It is the same virtue that is the moral we should take from this story.
As Benedict leaves the Vatican and finally gets to retire, he leaves the message of humility in his wake. His message to us is: it is OK to see others as more important than ourselves. It is OK to not get what we want or to stay in our comfort zone when we are called upon to serve a more difficult role.
The Church will move on, just as she has for the last 2,000 years. Popes will come and go. But the message of how this one left will stay with me, and make me feel glad that I sought him out that early Wednesday morning in Rome.