By George P. Matysek Jr.
Long before Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger assumed the papal throne and Archbishop William E. Lori sat on the chair of John Carroll, the churchmen shared a bumpy flight between Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.
“It was stormy outside,” remembered Archbishop Lori, then the priest-secretary to Washington Cardinal James Hickey. “It was a small plane that didn’t go to a higher altitude and we were kind of getting shaken up on this flight pretty good.”
To make matters worse, the German cardinal – in the United States to give addresses at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia and the Dominican House of Studies in Washington – was suffering from a flu-like illness.
“As bad as he felt, he had people in that plane who were asking him questions the whole flight,” Archbishop Lori said. “I remember how patiently he answered our questions and how kind he was to all of us.”
During his visit, Cardinal Ratzinger patiently endured two dinners and delivered what Archbishop Lori remembered to be “top-notch” lectures.
As Cardinal Hickey and Archbishop Lori bade farewell to the then-prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, they marveled at his generosity and his humility.
“What a good man,” Archbishop Lori said.
The goodness and humility witnessed by the future Baltimore archbishop were on display for all the world Feb. 11 when Pope Benedict XVI quietly announced in Latin that he would step down due to his advanced age and lack of stamina.
What greater act of humility could there be? As Archbishop Lori put it, in resigning, the pope “put the flock of God ahead of himself.”
“Here’s a man who speaks many languages, who knows not only theology in great, great depth, but who also knows literature and music and is so cultured,” Archbishop Lori said, “but he never imposes his learning. He shares it as a gift and it is received as a gift.”
It’s no secret that Pope Benedict never wanted to be pope. An academic, he longed to return to his native Bavaria to pray, reflect and write books following the death of the charismatic Blessed Pope John Paul II.
The Holy Spirit, working through the College of Cardinals, had other plans, calling Cardinal Ratzinger to become the Vicar of Christ on April 19, 2005. He accepted, telling the world in his first words as pope that he was but a “simple, humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord.”
In a homily during Mass the day after he became pope, Benedict said he knew the task of the new pope was to “make the light of Christ shine before the men and women of today: not his own light, but that of Christ.”
That’s exactly what he did. The world should be grateful.
Matysek is assistant managing editor of the Catholic Review.
Copyright (c) Feb. 14, 2013 CatholicReview.org