Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation on Monday, and I, along with Catholics all over the world, am sad and distressed. I never thought Pope Benedict would resign - I always believed he, like his predecessor, would die in office. And I'm already frustrated at the endless speculation that this is because of the sex abuse scandals or some other "coverup." Don't even get me started on the utter silliness of the mainstream media and its calls for "modernization," i.e. laxity on all the pelvic issues they're fixated on.
I have a special place in my heart for Pope Benedict because of his election at a time in my life when I was pretty lax about faith. I was a college sophomore in 2005 and not particularly devout. I went to Sunday Mass, but it was mostly just a habit. I was your average poorly catechized and apathetic college student. The death of Pope John Paul II was earthshaking. He'd been Pope for my entire life - I almost couldn't wrap my mind around the election of a new one. I didn't know very much about the various Cardinals who were speculated to be the next Pope. It all seemed fairly obscure stuff. I remember watching a TV in the student union, seeing the white smoke and watching the newly elected Pope Benedict XVI waving to the crowd. The news anchors threw around phrases like, "doctrinal conservative," "head of the Inquisition," "God's Rottweiler." Now this was interesting. I didn't know anything about Cardinal Ratzinger but I knew how hostile the media were to the Church just from the press coverage. If the world didn't like this guy very much...there must be something to him.
That summer I did an undergraduate research program at Purdue University. There was a bioethics component to this research program. The program directors asked another professor from Purdue, who happened to be a Catholic, to come and give us an ethics seminar every week. I didn't know it at the time but this was an enormous paradigm shift for me. I'd sat in church every Sunday and gone to CCD classes too, but this was the first time I'd ever heard about the concepts of natural law and objective morality. But I was much more receptive to these ethical and moral ideas than any of my fellow students. The general consensus seemed to be "this guy is nuts! What kind of person doesn't accept that morality depends on culture, on the particular situation? He's just some religious fanatic!"
I was intrigued though. I'd stay behind and talk to Professor Krane after our lunch seminars. He recommended books for me to read and encouraged me to attend the Latin Mass at his parish. I felt this enormous hunger for the "meat" of the faith - for real truth, real teaching instead of mealy-mouthed moral relativism. I didn't even know what I didn't know. But I was drawn to the writing of our new Holy Father, whose books were all over the place in the wake of his election. I bought Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith (at Wal-Mart, of all places) and dived right in.
So when I think about 2005 I'm filled with enormous gratitude to Professor Krane and to the Holy Father. I've always had such affection for Benedict because of the role his writings played in awakening me to the beauty of my Faith. Thank you for everything, Papa. Pray for us, as we pray for you.