Pleasantly Surprised

Sometime ago, I made a post about being “pleasantly surprised” by Pope Benedict XVI. It stemmed from the many – and sometimes acrimonous – discussions and debates about the latest successor to the Throne of Peter and the man who had the ill luck to be chosen head of the Roman Catholic Church after the much-loved John Paul II.

My point in that post was that we were prejudging the man; at that point, what did we Catholics really knew about (the then) Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger? That he was the Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, the body tasked by the heirarchy of the Church to… maintain the sanctity of its beliefs. To some, we know that it’s the modern-day version of the once-feared Inquisition. To “liberal” Catholics, Cardinal Ratzinger was the figurehead for the orthodoxy that is choking the faith, which also prevents the Mother Church from both being responsive to the needs of its members and relevant to their lives. Especially to the young of the Church.

But, sometime after seeing the newly-elected Pope Benedict XVI give his “urbi et orbi,’ I somehow softened, at least, my stance on him. Considering that I am a self-confessed liberal Catholic, I should’v bemoaned his ascension to the Papacy. Instead, I was defending the man, especially in light of the horrible tirades the British press gave. I said that Pope Benedict XVI, instead of being the cause for consternation of us Catholics, just might “pleasantly suprise” us. And what better way to find out than at the 20th World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany.

From what I heard, I was right. Far from being “God’s rottweiler,” Pope Benedict XVI came across as a lovable, gentle and inspiring figure. During lunch with a dozen young delegates, one of those in attendance even said that she wanted to give the 78-year old pontiff a hug “because he looked like a teddy bear!” Imagine, comparing the Pope, the most powerful religious figure of our time, to a plush toy. But somehow… it was apt. And it brought a smile to one’s lips because, of all the imagery one would expect of the new Pope, a teddy bear was the last thing you’d think of.

Yet this says something of the man, of the impression he made to the future of Catholic Christianity. I’ve always said that we young people, especially the young of the Catholic Church, are not rebels because of some mistaken Western belief that this was de rigeur for young people, but because we’re searching for answers and the world of our parents seemed to murky for our liking. We see too clearly, we who grew up on the celfone and internet. We see our elders keep trying to stuff into us values and beliefs that they themselves do not follow. How would you feel if you get so confused at what exactly is right or wrong? Thus the youth rebel; we refuse the sordid, broken and vicious world of our elders, they who wrecked so much of the future that will be our present. But amidst this darkness the young search for the light, for a sure path amidst the pothole-filled roads of our forebears.

That, I believe, is what Benedict XVI is offering to the Christians of tomorrow: not just hope, but the stability of values and ideals that is the bedrock of Catholicism. Does this mean we “liberals” have to sacrifice many of those beliefs we treasure? I don’t think so. If I understood his messages clearly, that won’t be the case. It’s just a… reorientation. A re-centering of our lives and paths to Christ.

In his opening message for WYD ’05, Pope Benedict XVI said, “Dear young people, the happiness you are seeking, the happiness you have a right to enjoy has a name and a face: It is Jesus of Nazareth, hidden in the Eucharist. Only he gives the fullness of life to humanity! With Mary, say your own “yes” to God, for he wishes to give himself to you. I repeat today what I said at the beginning of my pontificate: “If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation” (Homily at the Mass of Inauguration, April 24). Be completely convinced of this: Christ takes from you nothing that is beautiful and great, but brings everything to perfection for the glory of God, the happiness of men and women, and the salvation of the world.”

Many times – and these days it’s more often than not – I hate being right, but only because it is in the context of my work as a Mentat, and analyst. I sometimes complain that it seemed as if the things I see as most likely happening that do come true are the bad ones.

But this time, I’m glad I was right.

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