Every football team has what is referred to among coaches as “the first guy off the bus.” The first guy off the bus is your biggest, baddest, meanest looking guy…your Goliath.
The first guy off the bus has two purposes:
1) scare the opponents
2) be a rock for your team. By being a guy that everyone looks to, the rest of your team has less pressure
Pope Benedict probably wasn’t very fast, even in his prime. He probably couldn’t bench press a whole lot, but, in the realm of things that matter for eternity, Pope Benedict was (and continues to be in his retirement) a Catholic Man Beast. For me and my Catholic identity, Pope Benedict served to be the first guy off the bus.
I won’t go into the whole “scaring opponents” thing, although Pope Benedict certainly did that.
More importantly, Pope Benedict served as a guy the rest of us could stand behind. He broke the wind for us, making it easier to walk toward the kingdom confidently.
I’ve recounted several times how, when I was in college, my Catholic Faith was assaulted from all directions by people who had an extreme hatred for the Faith. I emerged from that whole experience through the Grace of God, but also with my Faith in tatters in a way.
When I began to encounter Pope John Paul II, and then, more profoundly, Pope Benedict, I recognized that Catholicism is smart and there are good reasons we do what we do, and there is a wisdom and an intelligence and a history and a beauty behind the Catholic Church. Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict were the first people I encountered where I could say to myself, “Those guys are brilliant and yet they don’t leave the Church…they rather seem to be enlivened by it. They are not ashamed of Catholicism…they can explain it…and yet they seem overjoyed that they can never FULLY explain it…these two guys are unlike anything I’ve seen before!”
Catholicism is the Faith of simple peasants, and yet, especially in our culture today, when the enemy ratchets up his attacks on Truth, we’ve needed men who could demonstrate the depth, the complexity, and the beauty of the Faith all at the same time…and God gave us just what we needed…he gave us Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul II…gigantic photon blasts from God’s heavenly “Life Star” shot at the heart of the enemy.
There will be a new Pope, and I’m already praying for him…but for the rest of my life Pope Benedict will always be the first guy off the bus!
And now it is time to go ring the Church bells marking the sunset of a beautiful papacy, and to rejoice that the sun will rise on a new one.
Pope Benedict…Ad multos annos!