Today was a good day, the kind of day that someone like me, an academician, would consider an ideal day. After completing my morning chores, I headed to the library of one of the local Catholic seminaries to get immersed in the world of books, words, and ideas. Then I returned home, and I had the opportunity to sit in front of my computer to reflect and write. Is this truly an ideal day? Someone may ask, thinking that most likely it was a day of heavy work, or a boring day. It was ideal for me because I love what I do. I found an indescribable pleasure and joy in academic life.
As I was paying for some copies, and waiting for my change, I had the chance to look at a big portrait of Benedict XVI in a prominent place of the library. As I saw him, I felt a sense of connection with him, and understood a little better his resignation. I can venture to say that most likely he would join me in my evaluation of what it means an ideal day because he is a theologian with a true calling to academic life, research, and writing. On this same blog, on February 18, Steve Harmon wrote about the theological contributions of Pope Benedict XVI, and narrated the day when we met with him (I was part also of the Baptist delegation that visited the Pope at the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City in December 2007). Harmon describes:
“The chairs of our respective delegations then communicated our greetings to the pope. Baptist delegation chair Paul Fiddes of the University of Oxford mentioned in his greetings that we’d found Benedict’s commentary on the Vatican II Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum, written not long after the council as young theologian Joseph Ratzinger, most helpful in our discussions that week. At that moment Benedict suddenly sat up straight in his chair and leaned forward with brightened eyes. For just a moment he was not the pope but a career academic who’d just learned that someone was actually reading and interested in something he’d published.”
As it has been evident from his journey, Joseph Ratzinger’s first calling, his passion, is around books, theological articulations, and writings. That is why he reacted in the way that Harmon described above, really excited that other people were reading his work. Someone may say, but his calling to be the Pope is more important. However, a calling is a calling. A true calling is where we find our true joy regardless of what other people may feel or say. A true calling is where we feel that we are really contributing to the work of the Kingdom of God, wherever that may be. Obedience to God’s true calling is the one that ultimately gives us the energy to continue in the journey.
As I reflected on Benedict’s life, I also reflected on my own, and how many times I have declined to serve in full time administrative positions that will move me away from the books, the library, and stimulating classroom discussions. It is tempting because these administrative positions come with more power, money, and influence, but if one is not truly called to be in one of them, it is better to decline. A wrong place of service is a sure recipe to dry one’s spirit. I suspect that this may be what Benedict XVI was experiencing, in spite of all the power and influence of his papal position.
Regardless of the theological differences that I may have with Benedict XVI, today I affirm and admire his decision of returning to his first love, his true vocation. He has expressed that he hopes to continue contributing to the church’s life through his theological articulations and writings.
As I remember Benedict’s big portrait in the library, I celebrate that he is coming back to the place where he belongs, precisely the library. Welcome back to the club Benedict! Happy reading and writing for you! Happy reading for the ones of us who will continue to be enriched with your theological articulations!