We have obtained permission to share the following reflection by Fr. Christopher Phillips, originally posted on 13 February 2013. Fr. Phillips knew Cardinal Ratzinger personally.
IKE SO MANY OTHERS, I have my personal memory of Pope Benedict, which took place some years ago, when he was the Cardinal Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
In November of 1983 the small Commission of which I was a member had just finished our work on The Book of Divine Worship. As is the case with the Ordinariates, the Pastoral Provision came under the authority of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, working in conjunction with the Congregation for Divine Worship. Cardinal Ratzinger had greeted us as we began our deliberations, but we saw no more of him during the time of our meetings. When we finished, however, we were told that the Cardinal Prefect would like to invite us to a dinner to celebrate our accomplishment.
We were given the name of a very nice restaurant on the Via della Conciliazione, only a block or two from where we had been meeting. We were told to be there at such-and-such a time, and we would be taken to a private dining room upstairs.
As I said, the Commission was comprised of a small group (perhaps a dozen or so), and when we entered the room we were individually greeted by Cardinal Ratzinger. I had the good fortune to have been befriended by then-Archbishop (later Cardinal) Virgilio Noe, who was the chairman of our Commission. He had always seen that I was given time to speak at our meetings, and he often showed little kindnesses during our deliberations. For this final dinner, he made sure I was seated between him and the Cardinal Prefect.
Could I have imagined at that time that I was sitting and conversing with the future Pope? Not in a million years! It was dramatic enough to have had that time with him as a Cardinal. A few years ago I was able briefly to meet him again at one of the General Audiences, and I couldn’t help but remember the time we had shared so many years before.
And now, the man with whom I was privileged to share dinner and some conversation is the Pope who is making history in such an unexpected way. From that evening onward, I felt a connection with him, and I cannot describe how happy I was when he was elected to be the Successor of St. Peter. And because of that experience with him — fleeting though it was — I made the mistake of feeling [his resignation] personally. I know now why at first it upset me so. But over these past few days I have come not only to accept it, but to see it as part of God’s plan for the Church, and for Benedict himself.
Our beloved Holy Father — soon to be Joseph Ratzinger again — is not retreating, nor is he easing into retirement. He is going deeper into the Heart of God, where he will pray and suffer and intercede. It is almost as when the high priest of the Temple went into the Holy of Holies to plead for God’s mercy upon His people. However, unlike the high priest of old who would return, Benedict will remain veiled from us. But we will know he is there, praying for us and suffering for us and interceding for us, until his life on this earth is over.
This whole thing is a gift from God to us, even though it did not seem so at first. And the next Pope, already known by God, will be a gift as well. Such extraordinary happenings foretell extraordinary challenges ahead for the Church. But God is not letting us face the battle empty-handed and leaderless. We will have a new Pope. And we will have the man whom we have known as Benedict quietly and steadily protecting us with his prayers.