“But why didn’t he say anything about his reasons for stepping down, or his plans for the future, or any personal reflections about his own legacy?” asked the journalist after Mass yesterday at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
This reporter had gotten up early to watch the last Sunday Angelus address Pope Benedict XVI would ever give, to 100,000 people in Saint Peter’s Square at noon in Rome. He had spoken of Lent, the Transfiguration of Jesus (the gospel for Sunday), and prayer.
“Because,” I replied, trying to provide an answer to the journalist’s fair-enough inquiry, “Popes don’t talk about themselves. They are really no longer themselves! That’s why they change their name. They take literally what Saint Paul wrote, that “I live now – - no, not I – - Christ lives in me.” They speak not of themselves but of Jesus. That’s why!”
“And you,” the reporter courteously persisted, “you didn’t say a word about your plans, your departure for Rome, your thoughts or observations. We got here to cover your 10:15 a.m. Mass, and you only mentioned the Pope in one prayer, and didn’t say anything personal.”
“Same reason,” I responded. “The Mass is about Jesus, not about me.”
That could be the most profound lesson this great professor-pontiff has taught the world. His heroic and humble decision of a week ago to step-down from the Chair of Saint Peter is a lesson: in the end, when all is said and done, it’s not about office, prominence, prestige, prerogatives. It’s not about me at all: it’s all about Jesus and His Church.
Tomorrow, though, I do leave New York for Rome. I take you with me. When I have the privilege of bidding farewell to the Holy Father this Thursday, the day he leaves, I’ll tell him that we – - you and me – - love him, pray with and for him, and thank him.
I’ll miss you. Sure, this will be awesome for me. But, I really like being your archbishop. And I’ll be eager to get back home to you. Besides, I can get a good bowl of pasta here in New York, too.
Please God, I’ll be home by Palm Sunday. Not a day will go by that I will not think of you here with love, prayer and gratitude. If I’m in Rome longer, please send peanut butter. You can’t get it there.