During the past week we have learned a lot more about the daily life of the pope, who by now is pope-emeritus. The media have at length reported about the pope’s physical condition, the red shoes of calf leather, the way he should henceforth be addressed, his ring, and even the amount of his pension (2,500 euros per month).
There were, however, two details that caught my eye in a special way. He will live two months in a rather nice mansion outside Rome, before he will move into a small, renovated apartment in a convent. He will take his books with him, but also his piano and his cat. I had vaguely registered at some time in the past that Benedictus loves to play the piano, but I did not know that he is also a lover of cats. I checked this last detail, and, indeed, the pope has always had one or more cats. Remarkably enough, when he wanted to bring his own piano into the Vatican, he met a lot of resistance, and that was even more so when he wanted to have a pet in the Vatican—which seems to be against a rule that all inhabitants of the Vatican must obey.
This kind of details make Joseph Ratzinger, or (emeritus)pope Benedict XVI, a real human being of flesh and blood, and not just a representative of a powerful institution, for which one may or may not have much admiration. It seems, however, that is is important to make that distinction. When I read some mails that were sent to me over the last week from Poland, it appears that some (many?) of my fellow Adventist believers, think that one should not write kind things about the pope, since this creates confusion. They feel that one cannot see the man without also seeing the institution. And we know how terrible this institution is . . . Etc., etc.
It is, of course, true that one cannot fully detach a person from the official role he/she has played, or is playing—especially when it concerns people who have been, or are, in leadership positions at whatever level. But it remains important, I believe, to try to first of all see the persons, rather than institution they may represent. That also applies to Benedict XVI.
History will judge the seven-year pontificate of the pope who has just resigned. Many felt he was too orthodox, too rigid. Often people said that the pope did not understand the times in which he lived and was too intolerant with regard to certain moral issues. I know enough of the history of the Catholic Church and of the way in which that church is governed; I know enough of the theology and the political aspirations of Catholicism, so that I am certainly not on the point of converting to the Church of Rome. And I doubt whether this pope will go down in the history books as a strong and effective pope.
But when I see Pope Benedict, I do not only see a man dressed in splendid liturgical garments, who says a mass on the St. Peter’s square, and who tells more than a billion believers that they should not take the pill or use condoms. I do not only see a man who officiates at beatifications or who has a warped understanding of the role of Mary.
I also see a man who is obviously sincere in what he believes. I see someone who has made big sacrifices and who has lived for his ideal. I see a man who loves his books and loves to write. And I see a man who likes to get behind his piano and who welcomes it when his black/white cat Chico jumps on his lap. And I see a person who has friends and relatives who call him Joseph.
I hope our Lord will eventually welcome Joseph Ratzinger in his heavenly home. And I hope I will have the chance to ask Ratzinger how it was possible that he stuck to some of his ideas and did not read his Bible more carefully. And there are 1001 other things I would want to know from him.
Of course, I do not know for sure that I will then meet him. It depends on two things. Firstly, it depends on whether or not I will be accepted by God, in spite of all my shortcomings. And, secondly, it depends on whether or not Benedict will be admitted by God, in spite of his false ideas and in spite of all the mistakes he made as pope Benedict and as a man called Joseph. But one thing is sure: God does not want anything more dearly than to welcome both me and Joseph into his eternal home (whether or not my Polish fellow-believers like it or not).