I was born in 1979, after the election of Blessed John Paul II. I was 25 when he passed in April of 2005. I had been married two years. I could not fathom what a life without him as Pope would be like. And suddenly, that is exactly what happened.
Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI and just over a year later, I became a mother. And a week after Shelby was born, our priest of the past six years was reassigned to a new parish. I had a lot of change going on in 05-06. Benedict’s papacy was a time of transition for me and our family. We had three children. We started new careers and lost jobs and got jobs. Shelby was diagnosed with autism.
But in the last year or so, things really started to calm down and we started seeing some changes we didn’t expect in a good way. And then, on my 33rd birthday, we began the Year of Faith. And what a year so far. My boss was awesome with accommodating me to ensure I can attend Mass every single Sunday. I joined a group of Christian women to study Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts. I have begun to pray the Divine Office. Jeff has been super encouraging to the boys about attending mass.
But that day in February when Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI announced he was abdicating was like a bomb went off. I was in a daze of “now what?” There were no doubts that the Church would continue. There was no doubt that my faith is, was and always will be Catholic. But it jarred me into a very unsettling place. I was stunned and confused. I was never angry, as many were. No, I understood the why, I just could not believe what was happening.
And then a peace settled upon me. A peace that I knew, no matter what, everything would be in good hands. Of course it would, for heaven’s sake, they are GOD’S HANDS. Will and I attended mass on Ash Wednesday. And I was committed to praying for Benedict, praying for the Conclave to be guided by the Holy Spirit and praying for his successor. As we watched the Smoke Cams and talked about what was going on, I began to realize that my children never truly understood who Benedict was. Their little brains are just opening to that now. The reality, the significance. They had seen pictures, we talked about him, but connections weren’t quite strong enough just yet. My mom was born the year Pope John XXII was elected and was five when he passed away and was replaced by Pope Paul VI. My mom has clear memories of Paul, but she’s never talked much about John. I realize now, that Joey is the same age as my mother was when Pope John passed and Pope Paul came in. And I can easily draw that parallel to what my mom has talked about and how my son views/understands Popes Benedict and Francis.
Pope Francis is the first Pope whose name they will remember hearing in Mass. They have a very real and tangible connection to his election in watching the smokestack and then him coming out to greet the faithful. While their lives began during Benedict’s papacy, their memories are beginning in Francis’ and that is something special and wonderful for them.
The thrill was something bigger for me this go-round and that is probably because I can share this with my kids and know they will remember this for the rest of their lives. They will know him as their Holy Father in a very special way with their being such young children right now. And they will probably say good-bye to him much earlier than I did to JPII. Which will also be a momentous occasion.
I am thankful to Benedict for being the Pope who was there in my earliest years of motherhood. And I am thankful to Francis for accepting this great responsibility and being the Pope of my Children.