Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI must have had a strong sense of God’s love as being an endless source of reassurance and encouragement. Why do I think so? Because this is how Benedict himself loved those around him.
Not long after Benedict’s election to the papacy, a wonderful Irish Dominican priest shared an incredible story with me about how this saintly man had re-energised his sense of priestly mission. He was in Rome at the time but had just received news that he would be sent back to Ireland. He wasn’t exactly overjoyed with the prospect of leaving bella Roma to face a desolate Irish church and dwindling congregations. It didn’t bode well.
But lo and behold, one day this forlorn preacher was stopped in his tracks by none other than the then Cardinal Ratzinger. His Eminence was curious to know why he was so downcast. He explained about having to go back to Ireland and was quite open about his lack of optimism. The Cardinal looked at him and said with total conviction, “Father, Jesus is risen. Go back to Ireland and preach the Good News.” Needless to say that he is still joyfully preaching it and renewal is certainly underway.
Well these images of an encouraging God and an encouraging Pope have stayed with me. Just as well too, because time and time again I have needed to draw heavily on God’s encouragement. Back in 2009, after dedicating a year to discern the Lord’s will, I was pretty sure that He was calling me to be a priest and to be a Jesuit. Well that’s a big ask of any young man. I wasn’t sure if I had what it took or whether I would really fit in with a free-spirited group like the Jesuits. Lord, help me out here! The Lord heard my call and responded by administering an extra large dose of encouragement and reassurance. He did so via a papal address to the worldwide leaders of the Jesuit order at Rome in 2005. At an emotional gathering, Benedict said,
As my predecessors have often told you, the Church needs you, counts on you, and continues to turn to you with confidence, particularly to reach the geographical and spiritual places where others do not reach or find it difficult to reach. Those words of Paul 6th have remained engraved in your hearts: “Wherever in the Church, even in the most difficult and exposed fields, in the crossroads of ideologies, in the social trenches, there has been or is confrontation between the burning exigencies of humanity and the perennial message of the Gospel, there have been and are the Jesuits.”
Benedict finished with a prayer of St. Ignatius, a prayer that he recognised as being a bit daunting, but that didn’t hold him back.
I join you in the prayer that St Ignatius taught us in the Exercises – a prayer that seems to me too great to the point that I almost dare not say, but which all the same we must always propose to ourselves anew: “Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding and my entire will, all I have and possess; you gave it to me, I now give it back to you, O Lord; all is yours, dispose of it according to your will; give me your love and your grace; that is enough for me.”
Reading all this really fired me up. Even now, when I stay with these words of Benedict, I sense God egging me on to generously serve the Church and the world, no matter how outlandish the mission might seem. It’s amazing how simply being encouraged can change your prayers from,
“Oh no, choose anyone but me…” to, “Lord! Here I am! Send me! Send me!”
And once you start praying like that, you know that the Lord will take you up on the offer!
Now that Pope Benedict has stepped down from public ministry, he will be deeply consoled to see so many enthusiastic young Catholics, lay, ordained and religious, from all over the world, taking up the Lord’s invitation to be fruitful in the vineyard. I am sincerely grateful for all that he has done for us.