Our Holy Father celebrates his fifth anniversary in the Chair of Peter this week. Two months ago few people (if any) foresaw the tidal wave of controversy – as well as shoddy journalism – swirling on the Papal horizon. And though Pope Benedict XVI is celebrating this Easter Season while surrounded by a lynch mob of secular media outlets, his humility has shone through yet again in Malta.
An accurate assessment of Pope Benedict XVI’s pontificate thus far, however, cannot be made over a span of a few weeks of specious headlines and character assassinations. These have been five amazing years. It is by God’s design that he holds Peter’s keys. It was God’s very Spirit moving through the walls of the Vatican five years ago that inspired his election as our 266th Shepherd. Our Holy Father has shepherded his flock – one billion and growing – with wisdom, conviction and care. He is a good Shepherd. He is our Shepherd.
Shepherds hold an intriguing place in Scripture. Devout Jews often frowned upon the occupation…but God did not. Consider Abel, Jacob, Moses, David and Peter, the fisherman turned Shepherd. At Christ’s birth, God called shepherds to himself. Through the prophet Jeremiah God promised us, “I will give you shepherds after my own heart” (Jer. 3:15; 23:4) and he has certainly not disappointed in our latest Chief Shepherd, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI.
One is hard-pressed not to find traces of Cardinal Ratzinger’s Biblical Christology pragmatically woven throughout many of our Church’s great doctrinal works of the past few decades. His writing both inspired and challenged my notions of what liturgy was (and is) while igniting within me a greater appreciation for Biblical hermeneutics. When Cardinal Ratzinger was elevated to the Papacy, I wondered how this theological giant, this “academic” would fare in the saintly shadow cast by his charismatic predecessor, John Paul II.
Put simply, in these past five years, Pope Benedict XVI has been nothing less than brilliant. He has shattered pre-papal misconceptions about his doctrinal “bulldog” attitude. His scope and vision have been no less breathtaking than Pope John Paul II’s, only subtler. Pope Benedict is a true Shepherd, capably leading a flock through morally corrupt and challenging times. Witnessing the Holy Spirit unleash his theological brilliance in such a pastoral way has been a true gift.
He’s a Shepherd who’s not afraid to go after the ninety-nine. Pope Benedict XVI’s Pontificate demonstrates an ardent desire to catechize the Christian masses about Christ. His first volume of Jesus of Nazareth was a beautifully staggering blend of theology and philosophy, demonstrating the indissolubility of the two and their immutability even in our modern age. He loves truth and courageously opposes all assaults against it. He desires for every soul to intimately know Christ, even encouraging his priests to blog more as a way of pastorally sharing Christ’s truth with more souls.
He’s a Shepherd who calls out to God’s larger flock. The Holy Father has visited six continents in five years. He’s prayed beside Muslim leaders, spoken out on the Israeli-Palestinian feud, re-opened a dialogue with China and offered a new invitation of Communion to our Anglican brethren. Additionally, the “Year of St. Paul” provided every Catholic, myself included, an intentional invitation to become reacquainted with the great saint, while creating substantial, ecumenical inroads of dialogue with our Protestant brothers and sisters (who are often far more familiar with his epistles than most cradle Catholics).
He’s a Shepherd who’s not afraid to lead his shepherds. Regardless of the recent attacks, he has been a strong proponent for harsher penalties against abusive clergy since even before his elevation to the Chair of Peter. He has repeatedly demonstrated humility, sadness and great pastoral care for victims and clergy. Additionally, his proclamation of this “Year of the Priest” is irrefutably Spirit led. Immeasurable graces are pouring out upon Christ’s priesthood, most of which will not be seen for many years to come.
He’s a Shepherd who speaks boldly to our young people. He’s called our young Church to become more active in their personal prayer lives, their study of the faith and their unyielding pursuit of truth. In his many audiences and exhortations to the young, he affirms them and challenges them to live lives of “heroic virtue.” That should sound familiar to anyone involved in the Life Teen movement, huh?
The wise old “academic” is reminding us that it’s not all academic. Pope Benedict XVI has humbly led the Church to answer John Paul II’s call to “behold the face of Christ” in this new millennium. Our Shepherd re-echoes this invitation in his governance of Mother Church. Our Holy Father prayerfully retires to the manger’s side, daily, for a shepherd’s unique perspective of Jesus Christ, an encounter that, 2000 years later, is still shaping the world for the better.