Editor’s note: Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted penned the following open letter to Pope Benedict XVI on the occasion of the Holy Father’s resignation.
Your Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI,
With filial affection and deep gratitude, I greet you in my own name and the name of my Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares and all the clergy, religious and laity of the Diocese of Phoenix, and I assure you of our best wishes and prayers as you prepare for retirement from the duties of the Petrine ministry.
Even before you became pope, we knew and admired you, for you faithfully served the office of the pope who preceded you. For more than 20 years, you were Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, working as a close collaborator with Blessed John Paul II in his historic witness to Jesus Christ.
The College of Cardinals, in one of the quickest conclaves in history, chose you to serve as his Successor to the Chair of Peter. The choice was easy because they knew you well; they knew your closeness to Blessed John Paul, they knew your courage and integrity, they knew your wisdom and humility. They knew your commitment to the authentic teaching of the Second Vatican Council and to the New Evangelization as articulated by your holy predecessor. They knew your facility with languages and your lifelong commitment to the Church’s mission around the world. They knew also that, despite your age, your heart was young and you would have no trouble relating to people, including the youth of the world. We thank God that the Cardinals and the Holy Spirit chose you, Pope Benedict XVI. You have been a blessing to the Church and the world in the nearly eight years that we have had the joy and honor to call you “Holy Father.”
What will be your heritage? Without a doubt, we have profited much from your teaching, especially on what the Sacred Scriptures call “the things that last” (I Cor 13:13), namely faith and hope and charity.
In the Mass on the opening day of the conclave which would elect you pope, April 18, 2005, you strongly criticized a “dictatorship of relativism” and indicated other dangerous trends in contemporary Western culture, showing as you had done many times before, the keenness of your intellect, the courage of your convictions, and the wisdom of your pastoral vision. This drew the attention of numerous pundits at the time who conjectured that such bold criticism made it highly unlikely that you could be chosen pope. However, what they failed to notice or to report were your final words of that homily at the beginning of the last conclave. These contain the most important part of your message, and throw light on your own legacy in human history. These words continue to instruct and inspire us:
“Everyone wants to leave something that lasts. But what lasts? Not money. Buildings don’t last; neither do books. And a certain period of time, more or less lengthy, all these things disappear. The only thing that lasts into eternity is the human soul, the human person created by God for eternity. This fruit that lasts is therefore what we have planted in peoples’ souls — love, understanding, the gesture capable of touching hearts; the word that opens the soul to the joy of the Lord. Therefore, let’s pray to the Lord so that he helps us to bear fruit, a fruit that lasts. Only this way can the earth be transformed from a valley of tears into the garden of God.”
When I look back over the nearly eight years of your providential pontificate, what stands out most prominently are the things that last: “love, understanding, the gesture capable of touching hearts; the word that opens the soul to the joy of the Lord.” Your first encyclical was on love, Deus Caritas Est. Your second was on hope, Spe Salvi; your third was again on love, Caritas in Veritate. Many of your other teachings were centered on love and charity, and the things that open souls to the joy of Christ. In addition, you extended numerous gestures capable of touching hearts, like your willingness to meet personally with victims/survivors of child abuse and their families, the pastoral visits to your flock in Mexico and Cuba, in Poland and the USA, in Lebanon and many other lands. You kept our eyes fixed on what lasts: faith and hope and love; you kept your eyes fixed on Jesus, and thus taught us not to worry about merely passing things.
You have also taught us, by the prayerful way that you made your decision to resign the Petrine office, how to make tough but necessary decisions in our own lives, including those connected with our own weaknesses and aging. We were deeply moved by your words:
“After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world… in order to govern the barque of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.”
We shall miss you, Holy Father, for we have come to love you and trust you as sons and daughters of our mother, the Church. But we fully support your decision, knowing that it is God’s will for you and for us. With hearts overflowing in gratitude and filial affection, we promise you our prayers and our communion with you in our Lord Jesus Christ.
+Thomas J. Olmsted
Bishop of Phoenix