*Tuesday, 12 February 2013
I am not a Christian, and have frequently taken issue with Pope
Benedict XVI’s theological positions and historical
interpretations, both in form and in content.
We met on two occasions: the first, while he was still Joseph
Cardinal Ratzinger, the second, in Rome, when he was Pope, as a
participant in interfaith dialogues. I have read him closely,
and listened to him carefully.
His knowledge, his intellectual rigor and the depth of his
analyses made a strong impression on me. Behind a face that
often appeared cool and distant, and despite an introverted
manner, he radiated goodness and gentleness. He was surprising
in the most contradictory way. Despite our deep disagreements, I
always respected the man, his intelligence, his generosity and
obvious courage. He was never afraid to state what he thought
was just, to challenge his opponents or the majority view. As
Pope, he often seemed out of touch, his thought much deeper,
darker—that of a theologian—than the visionary and hope-filled
message of we normally associate with his position as a Pope.
Today, recognizant of his age and responsibilities, he has
stepped down. The difficult last years of his predecessor must
have been on his mind. His decision must be saluted. Sincerely.
As a lesson rich with multiple messages for both the Church, and
for the world at large: know your limits; take leave of power by
choice and not by fate’s decree.
Will the Church hear the departing Pope’s message and call to
the summit of power younger figures with the same knowledge, the
same intellectual rigor? Will world leaders, men and women
alike, grasp that above and beyond the question of age, what is
ultimately at stake is humility? Can we recognize that we are no
longer able to fulfill our commitments; can we learn to take our
leave, to turn our back on power? The lesson is valid for
everyone, religious or not; for agnostics and atheists, for
Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Jews and Muslims. For we are
never aware enough of our limitations, never humble enough.
The best measure of a successful life is the way we turn away,
we renounce, and even by the way we depart it.