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A simple worker in the Lord’s vineyard

· At the beginning of the seventh year of Benedict XVI’s Pontificate ·

I don’t remember either when or where I read in one of Padre Pio’s old sermons about a Polish Pontiff who was to be a great fisher of men. He was to be followed by a Pope who would forcefully strengthen his brothers and sisters in the faith. Today this Pope is called Benedict XVI. It is not now so important to discuss the veracity of this prophecy attributed to the Saint of Pietrelcina as to ascertain whether the present Pontiff has proven, as his main characteristic, to be a voice that can strengthen people in the Christian faith.

In order to strengthen others it is essential to be convincing; and the contemporary world, flooded with information that forms a daily global network, has become exceedingly demanding in the face of what religion offers. It expects excellent suggestions, that speak to the intelligence but that can also be expressed in experiences of life.

Karol Wojtyła’s death brought a widespread shock wave, because of the sense of loss that overwhelmed millions. It was hoped that the cardinals would elect someone who could heal the trauma of this collective bereavement which the media covered on a broad scale. A few years after those events of mourning we can ascertain that the election of Benedict XVI was a good choice to heal the sense of loss at the death of John Paul II.

In this period of vigil prior to his Beatification, the Polish Pontiff is evoked even by his most incurable critics as a giant in the history of the past century. Thanks to the naturalness with which Benedict XVI has contributed to overcome the sense of bereavement which seemed to have left a gap that could never be filled, the figure of Pope Wojtyła is no longer behind us but before us, as a model of Christian life.

For Ratzinger the theologian, the first six years of his Pontificate have been far from easy. For some time the majority were watching his window to see if he would measure up as a Pope or even hoping that they might catch him out. He has succeeded in being himself, in gradually revealing himself — with some timidity — and developing, through listening and reflection, the central proposal of his action: to preach Jesus Christ, inviting the Church to be equal to his Gospel and to convert, and explaining to the world that the encounter with God is not a loss but rather a gain. Even the most fraught decisions, such as in the case of the abuse of minors by members of the clergy, have been understood in this light, inspiring positive energy.

From his first appearance to the crowd after his election he caught the imagination, unintentionally coming over with his simplicity. He seemed disarmed and conversational, without a star’s stunning — if transient — fascination. With a black jersey under his white habit he described himself to the cheering crowd as “a simple worker in the Lord’s vineyard”. And he renewed his proposal to remain such also as Pope: a Christian in daily life. And the people’s reasoning was simple: if a Pope proposes to be a good Christian in daily life, being good Christians in ordinary life is a good goal for everyone.

Today, a few years after that evening of 19 April 2005, we may begin to realize how truly complex the newly-elected Pontiff’s proposal of wishing to be a simple worker in the Lord’s vineyard, actually was. Being good Christians demands both the responsibility of faith professed and learning to love in the manner of Jesus Christ.

This teaching of Benedict XVI, simple and repeated, demands a conversion of life and suggests following the Gospel by choice as saints do, rather than for any kind of advantage. The distance between the ideal and the reality helps the Church to be humble and to entrust herself to God before relying on her own organizational capacity.

At a closer look, the change of step proposed by Benedict XVI touches method and substance; being rather than appearing. To bring the women and men of our time to sit at the Lord’s table, he invites the Church to be able to sit at table with the people, knowing how to speak through the inner experience of a hope that surpasses every expectation.

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St. Peter’s Square

Sept. 15, 2019

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