Damien Thompson at the Telegraph is reporting that concerns have emerged for Pope Emeritus Benedict’s apparently rapidly fading health.
I think all of us were distressed by the fragility of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI when we saw him greet his successor, Pope Francis. The footage was almost too painful to watch. Now, according to the excellent Fr Ray Blake, a Spanish newspaper says he is suffering from something “very severe”, and that “we won’t have us with him for very much longer”. His condition has apparently continued to decline. I thought twice about repeating this, but I’m sure Catholics and others would wish to pray for the man many of us regard as the most inspiring pope of modern times. No pontiff for centuries has written and preached so brilliantly about the relationships between liturgy, evangelism and the shape of history. If only he had been a younger man when he was elected to the chair of St Peter!
Personally, despite the doubts voiced by a number of Catholics about Pope Benedict’s abdication, I always sensed that he was too keen of mind and faithful to his duties to make such a decision without a very good reason. I find myself now wondering if he has been aware all along of some ailment that would bring him swiftly toward his eternal repose.
And really, how fitting it would be for a man of his character to keep the attention away from himself and on the office he would be leaving vacant? I don’t know about you, but I can’t resist trying to get sympathy from those around me when I have a common cold, let alone something serious. And I don’t have access to the prayers of billions. Pope Emeritus Benedict is arguably the most well-loved and recognized figure living in the world today, and if it were true that he knew of a rapidly developing illness and chose to keep that silent, what an impressive witness of personal humility it would be.
If it were so, then he has allowed his successor, Pope Francis, to begin his papacy free of the shadow of the impending illness — or even death — of his beloved predecessor. Pope Francis has now had time to establish himself, to “settle in” to the job, as Benedict has faded quietly into the background.
Of course, the media has already made much of the humility and personal piety of Pope Francis. Many of these reports are published by those who seem giddy in their attempts to contrast these virtues with the character of Benedict, who for his detractors was a symbol of all the pomp and circumstance and rigor and tradition in the Church that they wish to see swept away under the auspices of “reform”. Others have argued that by Pope Benedict’s adoption of the traditional trappings of the papacy, he simply demonstrated that he was personally submissive to the office that he held, and the symbolism in which it is steeped.
If it turns out that the Holy Father left his post without mentioning that he knew that the end was near, I believe it would prove this latter assertion. His dedication to the “hermeneutic of continuity” remains, even until the end. I should hope that even the cynics would give him credit for the dignity and selflessness with which he facilitated this transition.
Please pray for Pope Emeritus Benedict. I am certain he is praying for us.