Yesterday I sought to write on prayer and love. I concentrated on agape, the most overused and misunderstood concept in Christendom. The thought that somewhere in the world someone in a monastery or in the quiet of their room could be praying for me or those like me, though I was unknown to them, was quiet touching. That certainly must be agape at its best, but as much as I wanted to express this, I could not. The world is simply too broad and the cares and concerns of those to whom I have the greatest intimacy kept interrupting my thoughts. Then there was Gilead, the book I had just read and there was Tillich and there was Benedict. There was in this novel and the thought of these great teachers….agape to be sure But there was also the idea of caritas and the idea that love need never be so narrowly defined.
Then I woke up to the news of Benedict’s resignation. This had the greatest impact for me. What had my ramblings about love meant? I had tried to speak of the warmth of the coldest love and could not. And then today, I read of a man who would never have been dismissive of agape as cold, but would not ever leave it in a place that it was the totality of love.
Of course on hearing about the end of his papacy, I did not immediately think of this idea of caritas again. I did later in the day, but at the moment I was only struck by the news. I thought of some of what could happen now, especially as he was a man of great thought and to whom ecumenical endeavor was brutally honest, but always sincere.
I remember his speech at the Erfurt monastery and his warning to Lutherans and Catholics alike that they face an onslaught of what could be called a shallow Christianity. I remember too how he sought to face secularism head on, not so much as a challenge to Christianity, but as to what harm it has often done the world. I wondered if a new papacy would continue to address such matters.
It was odd that I could not be more academic about the news. Even now I find it hard to put into perspective. Surely the Church would continue in its mission and one should welcome those new visions that come with it. But at the end of the day I tell myself this and realize the vision has always been the same and I found myself a little sad that it could not continue with this man.
So after letting the news settle and being in for the evening, I thought again of caritas, of his caritas. I thought too of agape and knew that such a thing was not cold. Certainly as Benedict had prayed for the world, my soul and the souls of all those I care for had been included. And when I think now tonight of my own prayers, for what they are worth, he will be there in those and I will see myself as one more small life, but not too small, for I will think that though the lives of all may be seen as small, they are all caught up in a very great love. That is one thing that Benedict always knew and what he taught so many us to know as well.