A Quick Note to Benedict on Pope Francis’ Inauguration Day

“Behold, a faithful and prudent steward, whom the Lord set over his household.” – Entrance Antiphon, Joseph, Spouse of Mary, March 19

Dear Benedict, Emeritus Pontiff;

There is so much to thank you for after your decades of service to the Church, but today, on your name day, the feast of St. Joseph, we owe you thanks for the amazing weeks we are living through right now.

Today is the day of the Inaugural Mass of Pope Francis, and though you were not present at the celebration, you were very present in spirit. After all, it was you who made this celebration possible.

In your first message as Pope, you called it “very significant” that your pontificate began halfway through the Year of the Eucharist. You called for more “love and devotion to the Eucharistic Jesus … above all through the solemnity and the correctness of the celebrations.”

An amazing phrase, that. You told us to love Christ liturgically, through the Church.

You certainly did that this year. You timed your resignation with the liturgical calendar in mind, and that means you timed it with us in mind.

You  made the Lenten season all the more penitential with the sadness of preparing for your departure, and you made our Lenten prayer all the more intense, because we were praying for you and for the Church.

Then, when we experienced “sede vacante” in the middle of Lent, it was as if Peter had entered the desert with Christ. But you reminded us that we were supposed to join him there, too.

I think you knew what would happen. And as former dean of the cardinals, you probably guessed that around the Fourth Sunday of Lent, we would experience the joy of the arrival of your successor — connecting our “Habemus Papam” with Laetare Sunday’s “O be joyful, Jerusalem!”

You also foresaw what this new Pope will do for the liturgies of Holy Week and Easter. Celebrating with a new Pope means we will be paying very close attention to his Mass of the Last Supper, the Stations of the Cross, and the Easter Vigil. It will mean the media will pay attention this time, too.

In short, the way you stepped down will end up riveting the world’s attention to Christ, deepening the world’s experience of the Passion, and heightening our joy at Easter.

You, who saw such significance in changing Popes halfway through the Year of the Eucharist, made sure that when we changed popes this time, it was halfway through the Year of Faith.

Were you already planning this when you announced the Year of the Faith?

Here’s what you said in October, four months before you announced your resignation:

“I wish to invite my brother bishops from all over the world to join the Successor of Peter, during this time of spiritual grace that the Lord offers us, in recalling the precious gift of faith. We want to celebrate this Year in a worthy and fruitful manner. Reflection on the faith will have to be intensified, so as to help all believers in Christ to acquire a more conscious and vigorous adherence to the Gospel, especially at a time of profound change such as humanity is currently experiencing.”

What you did this February made sure we united with the Successor of Peter to reflect intensely on the faith amid profound change.

Nicely done, fellow pilgrim. Thank you.

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes, author of The Rosary of Saint John Paul II and The Fatima Family Handbook, is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas and hosts The Extraordinary Story podcast about the life of Christ. His book What Pope Francis Really Said is now available on Audible. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, Hoopes served as press secretary of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman and spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Aleteia.org and the Register. He and his wife, April, have nine children and live in Atchison, Kansas.