Life Advice from Pope Benedict

As I type this, I’m preparing to fly to Rome for the funeral of Pope Benedict XVI. By the time you read it, he will have been laid to rest in the crypt of St Peter’s Basilica. As I’ve reflected these last few days, I have tried to find words for the thoughts of my heart. I have not been successful.

I don’t know if there’s another man, other than perhaps St. Josemaria Escriva, who has shaped my thought, theology, prayer, and work more than Pope Benedict. That is, perhaps, why writing anything about him right now seems inadequate. And it is why I’m hopping on a jet plane to attend his funeral.

Until I can form more adequate words, I want to share the very first post I wrote for Integrated Catholic Life so many years ago.

“Life can be successful only if we have the courage to be adventurous.”  

Pope Benedict XVI

Whenever I’m preparing to give a talk or teach a class, I generally turn to three sources for my first inspiration: Scripture, the Catechism, and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.  Several years ago I ran across this part of a quote from a meeting he had with the youth of Rome.  He was speaking about having the courage to ask the Lord what He wanted from us.  

I found myself reflecting on his use of the word adventurous.  I don’t think he means we need to be daredevils or rash; the adventure to which he refers is not a jump from a plane or a trip to Mongolia.  Some of us desire glamorous lives full of what we think is adventure — we fill our calendars with activities and events, looking to live life to the fullest.  We begin to look jealously at everyone else’s lives, exhibited in the best light in their Instagram or Facebook accounts.  What if our lives were as exciting as theirs?  What if we had their lives or their opportunities?  If only I could travel more… if only I lived in the city … if only I lived on a farm…if only I was married… if only my kids were better behaved … if only I had more free time … if only, if only, if only…

Pope Benedict wasn’t referring to adventures that looked exotic on Instagram.  I think it’s more likely that the adventures to which he was referring we often overlook because they aren’t exotic or picturesque.  Life itself, fully-lived, is an adventure, a bold undertaking.  And true life, fully-lived, is the life of a Christian.  It’s that radical life of holiness that requires a daily taking up of one’s cross.  It is a saying “yes” to love, knowing that love requires self-sacrifice, vulnerability, and surrender.

It is the adventure of forsaking sleep to feed your child.  It is the adventure of giving your gloves to the homeless man on the corner.  It is the adventure of leaving your friends and life of comfort in one city to move to another where you know no one, just because you feel God has a plan for you there.   It is the adventure of living a chaste life while surrounded by our sexed-crazed culture.  It is the adventure of getting married when the world has assured us that it’s no longer necessary or of staying married when all you can do is cling to the sacramental graces. 

Of course, society will not be giving awards out for these things any time soon.  In case you haven’t noticed, virtue isn’t fashionable.  Our world likes to celebrate those who swim with the tide, not against it.  But what takes more courage – getting married or cohabitating?  Choosing to suffer a debilitating illness or buying the lie that we have a right to die?  Practicing Natural Family Planning or taking the Pill?

The world will tell you that success comes with the tide. But life is only successful when we have the courage to be adventurous.  And what is more adventurous than choosing to live a virtuous life in a world that tells you it’s impossible?

Maybe it is not an adventure destined for Instagram or Twitter.  It might be more painful than picturesque or more monotonous than magical.  But it is the adventure of life fully-lived, and once it’s embraced, we will find that we have the best traveling companion: Christ.  Ask Him to give you the courage to say yes to today’s adventure.

“What does the Lord want of me?  Of course, this is always a great adventure, but life can be successful only if we have the courage to be adventurous, trusting that the Lord will never leave me alone, that the Lord will go with me and help me.”

– Pope Benedict XVI

Image credit: Photo by Jan Huber on Unsplash

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