Dear reader, perhaps you remember St. Polycarp Day, February 23.
Maybe you recall our little discussion about the difference between choosing death and embracing martyrdom.
Today is the Commemoration of the “troublesome priest” who did not seek death, but embraced martyrdom when it came.
We cannot recommend too highly LRS Hall-of-Famer T.S. Eliot’s play about St. Thomas Becket, “Murder in the Cathedral“…
…Speaking of embracing martyrdom: Pope Benedict is often contrasted with the Venerable Pope John Paul II. Their personalities are very different.
One common idea is that, while Pope John Paul spoke freely about himself, Pope Benedict is so intensely private that his personality is all but invisible.
I cannot agree with this.
Pope John Paul did indeed speak and write beautifully about his own personal experiences. A perfect example would be this section of his encyclical on the Holy Eucharist:
When I think of the Eucharist, and look at my life as a priest, as a Bishop, and as the Successor of Peter, I naturally recall the many times and places in which I was able to celebrate it.
I remember the parish church of Niegowić, where I had my first pastoral assignment, the collegiate church of Saint Florian in Krakow, Wawel Cathedral, Saint Peter’s Basilica and so many basilicas and churches in Rome and throughout the world.
I have been able to celebrate Holy Mass in chapels built along mountain paths, on lakeshores and seacoasts; I have celebrated it on altars built in stadiums and in city squares…
This varied scenario of celebrations of the Eucharist has given me a powerful experience of its universal and, so to speak, cosmic character. Yes, cosmic! Because even when it is celebrated on the humble altar of a country church, the Eucharist is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world.(paragraph 8).
Pope Benedict also writes about himself. But he is subtle. He writes about himself by writing about others. For example, this section from his encyclical on hope:
The connection between love of God and responsibility for others can be seen in a striking way in the life of Saint Augustine.
After his conversion to the Christian faith, he decided, together with some like-minded friends, to lead a life totally dedicated to the word of God and to things eternal. His intention was to practice…the contemplative life…
Things turned out differently, however. While attending the Sunday liturgy at the port city of Hippo, he was called out from the assembly by the Bishop and constrained to receive ordination for the exercise of the priestly ministry in that city.
Looking back on that moment, he writes in his Confessions: “Terrified by my sins and the weight of my misery, I had resolved in my heart, and meditated flight into the wilderness; but you forbade me and gave me strength, by saying: ‘Christ died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died.'” (paragraph 28)
Now, perhaps you are saying, ‘Father, this is not the Pope writing about himself. He is writing about St. Augustine. Can’t you read?’
But, dear friends, this is the way the Pope writes about himself. What happened to St. Augustine in 391 happened to Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger in 2005.
He was going to retire, write his books, have a happy quiet life, and play the piano whenever he wanted. But He for Whom we live had other plans.