I think whoever chose Pope Benedict XVI’s Twitter handle was really smart. Pontifex is Latin for “bridge builder” and the best way to describe Pope Benedict is just that: a bridge builder. To the point that, in a metaphorical sense, he became the bridge between the larger than life John Paul II and the magnetic, extroverted Pope Francis. Father Benedict, or “Papa B” as I call him, is a stark contrast to both of them. He’s introverted, book-smart, and wise.
A popular misconception about Father Benedict is that he was “the Vatican’s Rottweiler.” Really, he was, as my friends call him, more of a German Shepherd or a cat. (He owns a cat, incidentally.) Like a German Shepherd, he can look like a guard dog at first, but upon closer inspection, you can find a loyal friend. And like a cat, he has his own way of doing things. He enjoys a good beer with friends, but he enjoys time in the library more. Plus, he knows how to play the piano.
I think I’m biased because I’m introverted and I can recognize other introverts. Even though Father Benedict’s abdication came as a shock, many of my friends pointed out to me that he was planning on retiring long before he was elected pope. So I’m grateful that Fr. Benedict took on the job for as long as he did. It probably took a lot of discernment for him to decide on abdicating, And in a way, I think it also shows how the virtue of prudence works.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Paragraph 1806)
Prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it; “the prudent man looks where he is going.”65 “Keep sane and sober for your prayers.”66 Prudence is “right reason in action,” writes St. Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle.67 It is not to be confused with timidity or fear, nor with duplicity or dissimulation. It is called auriga virtutum (the charioteer of the virtues); it guides the other virtues by setting rule and measure. It is prudence that immediately guides the judgment of conscience. The prudent man determines and directs his conduct in accordance with this judgment. With the help of this virtue we apply moral principles to particular cases without error and overcome doubts about the good to achieve and the evil to avoid.
Father Benedict was being prudent in his decision to retire. We’ll never be certain as to why, but it was prudent that he did. Most papal reigns aren’t as long as John Paul II’s and one major problem of being part of the JP2 generation is that we came to expect popes to stay until death do they part. But the papacy is not a monarchy. It’s a position of servitude. And part of being prudent is knowing your limits. For whatever reason, Father Benedict acknowledged his limits and chose to serve the world through a more behind-the-scenes way.
The funny thing about bridges is that unless you live in New York City or San Francisco, they don’t really stand out. And yet, many people have memories tied to bridges. Bridges are used in movies as a symbol of crossing the threshold. For Fr. Benedict, that threshold was to improve the Mass and share his theological wisdom with the rest of the world.
I still miss ya, Papa B.