In his illuminating glimpse into the life of Pope Benedict XVI (Light of the World: The Pope, the Church, and the Signs of the Times), Peter Seewald’s conversation with the Holy Father contains a question and answer that always struck me as breathtaking. Seewald asks: “Are you afraid of an assassination attempt?” Pope Benedict XVI responds, with his shortest answer in the book: “No.” And that was it. No explanation. No second thought. No fear.
Hence his trip to Lebanon this past weekend.
Of course, others have already written about his fearlessness for even embarking on the journey. One of the best observations, in fact, came from Elizabeth Scalia over at the Anchoress who wrote: “He is Peter, to whom Christ said: ‘. . . when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go,’ and so, he goes.”
Pope Benedict XVI did as he was bidden by Christ to do. And in so doing, in going where he was sent, he put a smile on the faces of those ravaged by war and bloodshed, and brought companionship and love to those who feel alone and on the margins of society.
However, the most remarkable portion of his visit seemed to have been the rally for youth where, as with previous papal journeys, thousands of young people gathered to listen to their Holy Father speak to them and pray for them. But something was different about this youth rally. It was, in a word, childish. And that was not a bad thing.
There is an intrinsic innocence to being a child. Children trust. Children hope. Children care. Children love. Children live, in some sense, the way God intended for us all to live. But then we grow up.
We get big and we get smart, and we often believe that we can think our way out of troubles; that if we only know more, we could be better and happier and healthier and safer. But it only takes a quick scan of history to know that it does not always work out that way. The smarter we are, the easier it is for us to think of ways to hurt other people. The more we study, the easier it becomes to make bigger bombs that destroy larger targets. And the more we hurt others and destroy their possessions, the more immune we become to the struggles of the world and those around us. War is a grown man’s game.
So in an area of the world that is stricken by adult troubles and images of which no child should ever be made aware, the Holy Father came and did a most unprecedented thing: he encouraged those gathered for the youth rally to be children again!
There was dancing and bright colors, oversized images (e.g., a large cross, a large catechism, and a large globe) and even fireworks! The world of the Middle East was, in short, transformed into a child’s world again, as we saw things the way children see things: big and bright and beautiful and loud.
And that was not coincidental, I do not think. In fact, it seemed that, for a moment, the Holy Father was intentionally encouraging those onlookers (and those of us watching from afar) to do what children do: to forget about the troubles of this mortal life, and to rejoice in being happy and free and filled with hope, even as this grown-up world appears to be falling into unrecoverable disarray.
And I, for one, am grateful for that. After all, it is to children that the kingdom of God belongs (Luke 18:16), and for a few hours on Saturday afternoon, we knew that the Kingdom of God was among us.
Joshua Genig serves on the faculty of SS. Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Orchard Lake, Michigan, as director of lay ministry and assistant professor of systematic theology.
Peter Seewald, Light of the World: The Pope, The Church and the Signs Of The Times
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