It seems near impossible to say anything that will be unique or new about the most talked about news of the week, and probably of the year.
However, we imagine that one of the first acts of the 267th pope to lead the Catholic Church since it was established by Jesus Christ will be to receive former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger who served as his predecessor from April 19, 2005 until his shock resignation for reasons of health on February 11, 2013 and to give him his blessing.
Despite the drift from traditional religious faith in many societies since the 1960s, that Pope Benedict’s decision to resign the papacy on Tuesday evening this week Australian time immediately took over global news broadcasts and current affairs programs for most of the rest of the evening indicated, if anything, just how seriously the Catholic Church and this latest successor to the See of Peter is taken, even by those most opposed to its teachings. This is very interesting.
Most Catholics would be aware that the Church is not popular with modernity and its pervasive pop culture.
The last several decades have seen entire nations and an increasingly globalised culture seemingly bent on abandoning the spiritual and moral patrimony of Christianity and most especially the Catholic Church which is the chief architect of the western European tradition.
Modernity regards the Church as hopelessly out of date and mediaeval, usually because of its unwillingness to compromise on its moral vision, usually to do with issues of sex, gender, marriage, the family, the human person and the sanctity of human life.
This hostility, expressed as a preference for radical isolation of the individual and freedom from almost all moral codes of conduct for life, has seen numerous social, legal and political onslaughts over decades against traditional concepts such as the sanctity of human life of the weak and defenceless, or the sanctity of the family unit, or the idea of an unqualified commitment to children for their own good and development – to name just a few.
Modernity sees the Church in mainly negative terms – as an institution opposed to things whose time has come, as something essentially repressive.
Benedict, on the other hand, sees the Church as the path to true human freedom and, in a series of brilliant diagnoses conducted over decades, he set out the essential nature of the problem confronting modern life – that to live without reference to God robs us of the true meaning of our lives.
This, in the eyes of modern life, simply does not compute.
What really earned him simplistic categorisations from popular culture was that he was fundamentally counter-cultural.
He once remarked that the supreme duty of a Christian is to be counter-cultural, precisely because of faith in Jesus Christ. Because of his own faith, Benedict refused to let popular culture and the media dictate their gospel to him – or to be the only voice preaching.
In fact, what defined this remarkable Pontiff perhaps more than anything else was his belief in the persuasive power of truth and reason and his vision of the beauty of God and the possibilities of the life he has given us. On this basis he was able to propose in often-absorbing new ways the timeless truths of a God who, as he was fond of saying, became little for our sake and loves every person regardless of whether they love him.
When Archbishop Timothy Costelloe became Archbishop of Perth he pointed out on one occasion that it is much more important for Catholics to show what we are for rather than what we are against.
In numerous ways, Pope Benedict has represented precisely this attitude and has therefore provided a model for the Church of the future.
This difference in emphasis – between arguing against what is wrong as opposed to explaining what is true, good and beautiful – is a legacy of numerous things but, in a special way, it has been the legacy of Pope Benedict XVI, one of the key architects of the Second Vatican Council, the landmark event in the life of the modern Church.
Catholic Christianity, as Pope Benedict and our own Archbishop Costelloe have pointed out, is what we are for. In this sense, and like a lover approaching his beloved, Benedict XVI has constantly proposed the image of what it is like to be loved by God and to love God to a world giving daily signs of having forgotten precisely these things.
Seen in this way, Catholicism becomes something new, something mysterious, something beautiful which brings joy when it is realised that it really is true.
It is a proposal to the world, a shining path of truth, a way to be walked that brings growth, communion and peace between people and nations – and between us and the Creator of the universe.
In a world which believes material possessions and passing entertainments, together with the abandonment of inconvenient moral principles, are what bring true human fulfilment and ultimate happiness, the Church is transcendent.
We can only stand in awe of a God who has delivered to us such remarkable popes of the modern era to remind the world of its true origins and its true destiny. Regarding him from a distance, the world sensed that Benedict XVI was different.
It could not – yet – bring itself to assent to the truth of what he said. But the fact that the whole world seemed to be glued to every minute aspect of his resignation of the See of Peter was proof enough, if any were required, that deep down in its heart it was unsettled by everything he said and wrote, and sensed that it was true.