Are we getting what Pope Benedict is trying to tell us? And if not, why?
I must say that I find some people’s negative perception of Pope Benedict to be quite perplexing. I will admit that he is not as photogenic as Bl. John Paul II nor does he seem to possess the natural media savvy that the previous pontiff did. But why the negative perception? Is it all due to these types of superficial impressions? Some of it is, I believe. Often, people are quite satisfied to remain on the level of the superficial and not deviate from what they have been fed.
But it is also due, I believe, to the fact that Pope Benedict himself is content to remain his own man who realizes that the Pope does not have to be a pop star nor a political power-broker to affect change in the world and to fulfill the unique witness that is his as the Bishop of Rome. Pope Benedict is happy not to play by contemporary society’s presumptions and biases and frankly, I think that this both perplexes and ticks a lot of people off at the same time (which is quite a feat and also amusing to watch!).
I think a case in point is to note where Pope Benedict is choosing to travel to during his pontificate. Yes, he has been to the “big” countries (the U.S., England, France, etc.) but he is certainly not limited to this itinerary. His last trip was to the small African country of Benin. Who goes to Benin? Well, apparently the pope does. It was just announced that he intends to visit Mexico and Cuba this coming year (bypassing the U.S. in the process).
Benedict is choosing not to be limited by western, “First World”, modern notions of power, prestige and how “real change” in the world is affected. Again, he is content to live his papacy as he so determines is best – primarily as a bishop, priest, teacher and (fundamentally) a disciple of Christ.
A recent article by Elizabeth Scalia in “First Things” has helped me put words on this. Below is the link. Check it out. It is worth the read.
All this also provides, I believe, a worthy Advent and Christmas reflection. As asked above: “Who goes to Benin? Apparently the pope does.” so also it is good to ask: “Who would go to the small, unknown and very unremarkable town of Bethlehem to be born in order to save the world? Apparently God would.”