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Reflections on the Holy Father's Impact on One Solitary Life

By Fr. Randy Sly
February 12th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

On April 19, 2005 I was driving in my car when word came on the radio that a new pope had been elected. My first thought was to call my friend, Deacon Keith Fournier and tell him what I just heard. When he answered the phone I said, "Habemas papam! We have a new pope!" It really didn't occur to me until much later how much I identified with this election. It would be during the time of Benedict XVI that I would enter the Church. Little did I know then how much he would change my life.

WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - On Monday morning I was getting ready to leave the house at 6:15 to celebrate the 6:45am Mass at Our Lady of Hope, part of my normal weekly routine. Picking up my iPhone, a Fox News alert flashing on the screen. It indicated that Pope Benedict XVI has just announced his resignation.

In shock, I drove to the Church while searching for news on the radio. I wanted to be sure this was really happening. It was, and that Mass is one I will remember for a long time; not because it was so unique but simply because it was the perfect place to be following such the receipt of such news.

Pope Benedict has been an important part of my new Catholic life since the day he stepped out on the balcony at St. Peter's Square.

I was already in a time of personal discernment with regard full communion with the Catholic Church when Pope John Paul II passed away. He had always been a hero and a spiritual leader I admired greatly. The coverage of his funeral and the subsequent conclave was always on.

On April 19, 2005 I was driving in my car when word came on the radio that a new pope had been elected. My first thought was to call my friend, Deacon Keith Fournier and tell him what I just heard. When he answered the phone I said, "Habemas papam! We have a new pope!"

It really didn't occur to me until much later how much I identified with this election. It would be during the time of Benedict XVI that I would enter the Church. Little did I know then how much he would change my life.

How ironic that eight years later, I text Deacon Keith after seeing the news and again inform him about the Holy Father. This time I'm a Catholic priest and the Holy Father is truly a significant part of my life.

I had entered the Church in 2006 and began to build my life as a Catholic.

In April, 2008 I had the privilege, through my position as Associate Editor of Catholic Online, to be a part of the Press Corps covering the visit of the Holy Father both in Washington and New York. While I was never physically near the Holy Father, even being with him was an amazing experience.

It was during this visit that I experienced first hand how much the Holy Father served as a unifying force among Catholics. As the Vicar of Christ on Earth, he not only brought a continuity to the faith around the world but the faith throughout history.

As wonderful as that visit was, Pope Benedict's impact would still be felt even more personally four years later.

On November 4, 2009 we first received the official word. The Holy Father had released "Anglicanorum coetibus," the apostolic constitution announcing the future establishment of Personal Ordinariates, inviting Anglicans to enter into full communion and to bring with them the best of their patrimony.

My heart leaped. Having already entered the Church three years prior, I wondered what this might mean for me. Since my conversion, the hope for entering Holy Orders had always been with me. While I had resigned my faculties as an Anglican archbishop when I entered the Church, my sense of vocation had never left me. I felt my call was just as strong as ever.

During my period of discernment, I received tremendous counsel that would sustain me during my early days in the Church. I was told very gently, "you may continue to have hope for Holy Orders but don't come into the Church with any sense of expectation or entitlement. If Holy Mother Church wants you to be a priest, she will make a way for you!"

It was through Pope Benedict that the Church did just that. After receiving my rescript from the Holy Father I was ordained a priest last year - one of the first group of Ordinariate priests in America.

At every Mass I had the privilege of praying for him. His writings filled my mind and his vision for the Church inspired my heart.

News of his resignation felt like I was losing my father and, in fact, I was.

On Monday morning, a lot of thoughts raced through my mind, reflecting on why our Holy Father would make this very exceptional decision. It was only eight short years ago that Blessed John Paul II was lauded for staying faithful in his office as the Supreme Pontiff right up until the end and then-Cardinal Ratzinger was there with him.

And, I thought, that might be a part of it. He saw what happened to the role of the Holy Father during a period of infirmity; what could be accomplished and what was put off. He was intimately involved in the last months and days of his predecessor. This may have been a part of what led to his conclusion.

Now, I am not a Vatican insider and, in so many ways, a still-new Catholic. Any of my ponderings are simply that - my ponderings.

While only eight short years have passed, our culture - particularly in the West - has gone through radical metamorphosis. The progressive convictions of our governmental leaders are evident. Those in office are unapologetically and aggressively forcing a dramatic shift to the left, leaving many with the question of what has happened to our country.

Pope Benedict sees this. He also knows what is happening in other parts of the world. While the world is shrinking due to technology, he understands "hi tech, hi touch." As John Naisbitt forecast many years before, the more society develops in the area of technology, the more they need a human touch.

The pope's most powerful pulpit comes in the midst of his people. While he can reach the world from Rome, he knows how much he - or the Holy Father - needs to touch it. Just look at the impact of the World Youth Days.

It seems to this writer that the Pope has a strong conviction that the leader of the Church must be strong enough to travel and talk - battling the spirit of the Age from places not like home. In the eighteenth century, the Methodist/Anglican John Wesley wrote, "all the world is my parish." For the Pontiff, that is really true!

I also have to believe that Benedict is resigning, with the supreme confidence that the Cardinals currently in place will elect the leader that God wants. He knows these men well and he understands what the Church needs. By resigning, he knows that the transition of leadership can be orderly and without the added dynamics of the death of the former leader.

Our Holy Father has indicated that he wants to give the rest of his life to prayer and writing. May God grant him many years, many happy years. As a gifted theologian, he has already gifted the Church with great works over many years both before and after his election as Pope. I can only imagine what he may be able to add to his legacy.

I admire Pope Benedict for breaking with expectation. It was a courageous act on his part, based on deep and long-suffering prayer, a comprehensive examination of conscience and the conviction that this is the best decision for the Church.

Now, we pray. Eight years ago, we witnessed a hand off from a pontiff that many felt would be a hard act to follow. Pope Benedict came in as his own man. He didn't imitate his predecessor but built on his shoulders. Now, he has left his own amazing imprint on the See of Peter and his predecessor will learn how to fill the shoes of the fisherman.

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Father Randy Sly is the Associate Editor of Catholic Online and a priest with the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter (http://usordinariate.org) established by the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, through the Apostolic Constitution "Anglicanorum Coetibus." He is currently the chaplain of the St. John Fisher Ordinariate Community, a priest in residence at Our Lady of Hope Catholic Church and Director of Pro-Life Activities for the Ordinariate.

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