Having lived through four Popes in my lifetime, two of which I can barely remember, there is no doubting that for me personally the current one has inspired me most.
I am only just about getting over the shock of hearing that our beloved Pope, Benedict XVI, is to resign. My thoughts and feelings have included not only shock, surprise, sadness but also joy that he will, God willing, have some peace in his final days (let's hope years). Pope Benedict XVI has in many ways, been a Pope of surprises right up until the end including his resignation.
He chose a name honouring a predecessor from before the Second Vatican Council - which in itself was a sign that he is someone truly aware of the hermeneutic of continuity of the Catholic Church before, during and after the Council. This choice of name, choosing to honour a predecessor who was a man of peace undermined the idiocies of those who either think that nothing good happened before the Council or nothing good happened afterwards.
Pope Benedict's first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est reinforced the core of the Gospel message opening with the words, 'God is Love.' All of his writings have been Christ-centred - including his series on Jesus of Nazareth - and bring our focus on the core of the Gospel message.
As an Englishman, albeit one living in Hong Kong, I shall never forget the first ever State Visit of a Pope to the UK. The site of him speaking in Westminster Hall, where St Thomas More was condemned to death reminding us that the church and state can work together for the common good.
The media, including some that are nominally Catholic, have sometimes accused the current Pope of persecuting nuns in the USA. The truth, as Fr Z reminds us, is that some, let's hope a minority, of religious sisters in the US have moved very far away from Catholic teaching with some opposing the sanctity of life and others openly saying that they have moved beyond Christ. It is right to at least investigate and take action where necessary.
Pope Benedict's outreach to Anglicans who wish to become Catholic but without losing the beauty of their own liturgical and cultural traditions was a stroke of genius. Others may talk about Christian unity but he helped deliver it in this way.
One of Pope Benedict's decisions that affected me most personally was his decision to liberate the traditional Latin Mass, which as he pointed out hadn't been abolished anyway. The beautiful, Christ-centred nature of the extraordinary form of the Mass transcends cultures, reaches across divides of time and language and focuses our attention on the tabernacle and cross rather than the priest. My wife-to-be, a non-denominational Christian at the time, accompanied me to a Latin Mass in Hong Kong before we got married and said that this was a key factor in her understanding of what the Eucharist really means.
It may seem ironic but a Pope accused by the ignorant of being an arch-conservative was in fact, perhaps one of the greatest defenders of Vatican II. As recently reported in the Catholic Herald, he has defended the true meaning of the Council against those who have consistently tried to undermine it - including those who hate all things truly Catholic and false traditionalists who object to its authentic teaching.
Let us thank God for Pope Benedict and pray for him as he retires in a few days time. We cannot understand the pressures that are upon him and we do not know the extent to which he is suffering. May our Father in heaven give him peace and comfort and may the prayers of our heavenly mother be with him.