At 85, Pope Benedict is more inspiring than ever

Seven years after his election, he continues to show great trust and humility

By Francis Phillips

The Pope pictured with his brother on his 85th birthday (CNS photo)

Reading the very moving testimony of Pope Benedict XVI on his 85th birthday on April 16, I was struck by the strong faith he radiated. Of course, if you are Pope it goes without saying that you must have “faith”, but nonetheless, to stand firm on the world’s stage as an old man, knowing that the media is watching and waiting for you to show obvious evidence of age, is a sign of great inner strength. It was an inspiring Christian witness – and so much more uplifting than all the gloomy predictions of what will happen in our own approaching demographic winter in the UK.

The Pope said, “I am in the final stage of my life’s journey and I do not know what awaits me. However, I do know that the light of God exists, that He rose again, that His light is stronger than all darkness, that the goodness of God is stronger than all the evil in this world. This helps me to continue with confidence…”

It says everything about trust, about belief and about the meaning of life, faced as we are all the time by the seemingly incomprehensible “darkness” of evil deeds.

On April 19 the Holy Father also celebrated the seventh anniversary of his election as Pope. It made me look again at the section “Habemus Papam” in his book of 2010: Light of the World, a conversation with Peter Seewald. Probed by the interviewer to describe his emotions on being elected, Pope Benedict replied simply, “Seeing the unbelievable now actually happen was really a shock. I was convinced there were better and younger candidates. Why the Lord settled on me, I had to leave to him. I tried to keep my equanimity, all the while trusting that he would certainly lead me now. I would have to grow slowly into what I could do in each given situation and always limit myself to the next step…”

Again, there is the evidence of great trust, humility – and an echo of John Henry Newman’s words, “One step enough for me”. I would like to think that his visit to England for the beatification of Blessed John Henry has been for the Holy Father one of the highlights of his pontificate so far.

A final thought: I was slightly pulled up by the Pope’s remarks at the end of his Wednesday catechesis on April 25, when he recalled “our constant duty to drive carefully and with a sense of responsibility”. Oh dear. There was a time when my driving licence testified to several speeding fines and I was teetering on a ban.

Mercifully those days are now behind me. Let’s hope I’m not a menace on the roads if I live to reach the Pope’s age. Whatever awaits me in the next world, I don’t want more points on my licence in this one.

About the author

Francis Phillips

Francis Phillips reviews books for the Catholic Herald.

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