On this day last year, I cried in my car on the way to school as I contemplated the news of the retirement of Pope Benedict XVI. Today, on the anniversary of his retirement, in an effort to further explain my (admittedly unusual) love for our Pope Emeritus, I wanted to share with you this slightly-edited version of a letter that I sent to him in October via my landlord, Dr. Schindler, who had the privilege of meeting with him and personally giving it to him. Yes, that's right: Pope Benedict XVI, one of my favorite people in the entire world, received my letter personally. Dreams do come true, friends. (No, he didn't write me back, but I didn't really think he would. I *did* get a blessed rosary in the mail, courtesy of his secretary, so I can't complain.)
Dearest Holy Father,
I hardly know how to begin this letter, as it is a dream come true to even have the opportunity to write it. I’ve long wanted to write to you, but the fact that you probably would never actually see a letter I sent through the mail kept me from doing so. When Dr. Schindler, my good friend and landlord, told me of his impending visit with you and offered to carry my letter to you, I was overjoyed. That you will read my letter personally is the answer to a prayer held deep within my heart; a prayer I was almost afraid to utter for fear of being disappointed. What a gift it is to be loved in such a particular way by the Father! Thank you for the honor of reading my letter, and for your prayers, which I know I’ve long enjoyed even if you did not know me by name.
My name is Christina Grace and I teach Scripture, Christology, and Ecclesiology at a Catholic high school in Washington, DC. While I studied theology at the University of Notre Dame, most of what I do each day with my students could be categorized as basic evangelization and remedial catechesis. I feel profoundly unworthy of this task, but am indebted to the Lord for elevating you to the Chair of Peter during my senior year of college, thus giving me such a wonderful guide in the practice of “intellectual charity.” I can’t imagine my post-graduate theological education or my teaching career or my life of faith without the constant witness of your faith and the ways in which you taught me so clearly that “Man lives on truth and on being loved: on being loved by the truth” (Jesus of Nazareth).
When I read something--anything--that you’ve written, I am always led closer to the Truth. Concepts that were once shrouded in darkness become clear for the first time. The significance of the precepts of the faith impresses itself upon me with a new gravity. The face of Christ becomes clearer. HIs love becomes more tangible. I am not exaggerating when I say that the way in which your writings have and continue to lead me to the Truth is a small taste of the beatific vision, when we will all stand before the Fullness of the Truth with our eyes free from the darkening effect of sin. Thank you for being Christ’s instrument of Truth in my life, and by extension, in the lives of the hundreds of students I’ve taught in the past seven years.
As I was preparing for a talk recently, I re-read the homily from your inaugural Mass in 2005 and was struck by the closing exhortation:
“Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life. Amen.”
I began to cry while reading these beautiful lines...because Christ speaks so clearly through you and touches not only my mind, but my heart in a way that no other theologian, pope, or even Saint does. You have taught me how to let go of my fear and dare with God. Your witness moves me to share the Gospel with more zeal and to cherish the beauty of my faith--which no one can take away from me--with deeper gratitude than I thought possible. Your pontificate taught me anew the value of the gift of Apostolic Succession. Your humility and lack of concern for safeguarding your own personal legacy convicts me of my own pride. The closeness to you which I feel, inexplicable from a natural standpoint, continues to confirm the truth of what you once said: “there is no great distance between Christians, for all share the same fundamental reality: Christ within us.”
Dearest Holy Father, thank you for being my most important teacher and spiritual father. Because of you and your faithfulness to Christ, my faith is deeper and stronger and my love for Christ is truer. I know that I am not unique in having this experience; you have probably received thousands of letters like mine. I also know that I could have waited to tell you all of this when we embrace at the eternal Wedding Feast, but I couldn’t wait until then to tell you of my deep, abiding love for and gratitude to you. Know that you will always be in my daily thoughts and prayers, and that for whatever it is worth, a 29-year-old high school religion teacher in the United States appreciates the suffering you endured to be her Shepherd for eight years....
Thank you, Holy Father, for loving me without even knowing me, and for being one of the clearest signs of Christ’s love for me that I have encountered in my young life.
Your loving daughter, sister, and fellow Christian,