Benedict XVI is no longer Pope. It has been for me a real bereavement. I loved, I can’t say the man, which is reductive, so let’s say the person. Persona, in Latin, meant originally the mask a man wears in society, the face by which he shows who he is. Now he was the Pope, that was his person.
What is to be a Pope? Pope is the bishop of Rome, as successor of Saint Peter, and Peter was the man invested by Jesus, according to the Gospels, to herd his sheep, the rock on which his ecclesia, the converging of all the people recognizing themselves in him, was to be built.
And again, who was He? Who was Jesus (the) Christ? The king par excellence, the anointed one (as it was the case with the Old Testament kings), through whom it shines forth the glory of the Lord, real ultimate authority from whom all things come and on whom all things rest.
Moreover, what does a king do? The answer is simple, he represents the people. And don’t take this to mean that there is a people already existing, and afterwards there is a king representing it. No, the people exists only through him who represents all those belonging to it. This makes the king a sacrificial figure.
To live as people we have to recognize each other as men, i.e., conversely, reciprocally to represent each other in our common humanity. A man, though, cannot represent another in what in he has, his properties, which can differ (starting from being male and female, and consequently sons and daughters of a man and a woman converging in marital alliance), but only by giving, which means by stripping himself of the properties he has. Sure, we identify each other by what we give. So, only he who gives all can represent everybody. But to give all means to give one’s life: in a giving exchange, though, in which life is renewed, being given back. This is what the king does: effectively to represent with his person the reciprocal life giving and receiving people are involved in.
I know I have been very short: these lines summarize in fact the common sense of all kind of evidence, historical and ethnographical, of human affairs, collected by some of the best cultural anthropologists and theologians. Everywhere giving takes the ceremonial form of gift, in which the things given expressly stand for the ones who give. And everywhere we find gifts turning decisively into something like sacrifice, i.e. into rituals in which the person feigns a dying and a coming out from death renewed. Even now days there are (in spite of all denials and psychological reductions) actions of which we must say that by them an older self dies and a new one is born. Such are the actions performed by kings. But what is performed elsewhere as a ritual action, becomes full reality with Jesus Christ.
Here is the universal meaning of the Cross, symbol of a passage in which life is taken and given, of which every Christian is called to share through the sacraments. Anointed with chrisma, he becomes himself a “Christ”. But, for Catholics, the anointment finds a special representations in the person of bishops, and, among bishops, in the bishop of Rome.
Back then to Benedict’s renuntiatio. What was it its meaning? We were all stricken by it, we who love him, and those who don’t love him. Some, mostly among these, have seen in it a kind of surrender to the intrigue of the Curia, and/or to the aggression on the Church by a totalitarian liberal (I prefer to say, instead of the banal “secular”) world. It would be like saying that Jesus Christ didn’t deliver himself voluntarily to his enemies, thus challenging them, but more or less cowardly gave in to them not opposing any resistance. This, however, if anything, is not the story the Gospels tell.
Losing strength – the strength necessary to govern the Church – was the reason given by Benedict for his renuntiatio. He choose with it to live his papal, Christian persona to the very end. In a different way, but meaning the same as his predecessor. With the Parkinson undermining him, John Paul II, asked whether he meant to retire, replied in turn with a question: «Can one descend from the Cross?». Obviously not. Aware that some might have taken in this sense his renuntiatio, Benedict, in one of his last public words, said: «I am not descending from the Cross.». Retiring in clausura, disappearing from the eyes of the world, he showed himself in that very passage symbolized by the Cross, where through death shines forth life.
These long overdue lines of comment on Benedict’s renuntiatio are meant, at the eve of the conclave, as a prayer, to see come out of it a new Pope as saintly as he. Equally endowed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom and understanding, counsel and strength, knowledge, fear of the Lord and justice.