On Monday, I looked at how various men have reacted to being elected pope. I included popes from Clement XIV (elected in 1769) to John Paul II (1978), but didn’t include Pope Benedict’s reaction.
Since then, I heard a great talk on Benedict’s election given by Msgr. Bartholomew Smith, the pastor at St. Bernadette Catholic Church in D.C., and a former priest-secretary to Cardinal William Baum. Cardinal Baum attended the conclave, but was frail enough to need Msgr. Smith’s assistance, meaning that Msgr. Smith got a unique view into the way the conclave process works. Without disclosing anything confidential, he was able to walk us through the way a conclave works, and he was clearly struck by the organic beauty of the thing. He mentioned something I hadn’t known before: that the room in which the newly-elected pope vests is called the Room of Tears, This captures well what I pointed out in Monday’s post: that the calling to the papacy is a serious responsibility indeed, and one which no man is truly prepared for.
The same day that I learned this, my friend Peter e-mailed the section in Light of the World in which Pope Benedict discusses his own reaction to being elected. Since it dovetails so perfectly with both Monday’s post, and Msgr. Smith’s talk, I thought I’d share it here. This is from a series of interviews with German journalist Peter Seewald (whose questions are in blue italics):
|What the crowd saw|
Holy Father, on April 16, 2005, your seventy-eighth birthday, you told your co-workers how much you were looking forward to your retirement. Three days later you were the leader of the universal Church with 1.2 billion members. Not exactly a project that one saves for his old age.
Actually I had expected finally to have some peace and quiet. The fact that I suddenly found myself facing this tremendous task was, as everybody knows, a shock for me. The responsibility is in fact enormous.
There was the moment when, as you later said, you felt just as if “a guillotine” were speeding down on you.
Yes, the thought of the guillotine occurred to me: Now it falls down and hits you. I had been so sure that this office was not my calling, but that God would now grant me some peace and quiet after strenuous years. But then I could only say, explain to myself: God’s will is apparently otherwise, and something new and completely different is beginning for me. He will be with me.
|What Pope Benedict saw|
In the so-called “room of tears” during a conclave three sets of robes lie waiting for the future Pope. One is long, one short, one middle-sized. What was going through your head in that room, in which so many new Pontiffs are said to have broken down? Does one wonder again here, at the very latest: Why me? What does God want of me?
Actually at that moment one is first of all occupied by very practical, external things. One has to see how to deal with the robes and such. Moreover I knew that very soon I would have to say a few words out on the balcony, and I began to think about what I could say. Besides, even at the moment when it hit me, all I was able to say to the Lord was simply: “What are you doing with me? Now the responsibility is yours. You must lead me! I can’t do it. If you wanted me, then you must also help me!” In this sense, I stood, let us say, in an urgent dialogue relationship with the Lord: if he does the one thing he must also do the other.
This is what humility looks like. And it’s the mark of a great pope.