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A mass of thanksgiving for Pope Benedict XVI was celebrated at noon Thursday at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Lake Charles.
Bishop Glen John Provost of the Diocese of Lake Charles led prayers for the retiring holy father.
When he was elected pope in 2005, Pontiff Benedict XVI described himself as a humble servant in the vineyard of the Lord. And as he leaves his position, it's that humility that Bishop Provost finds remarkable.
"I think it takes a great deal of humility for someone with world leader status like this, not to mention the head of the Catholic Church, a million-plus people in the world, to be able to say, 'I cannot physically continue this office and its rigors and must,' as it were, 'retire,' "said Bishop Provost.
Catholics attending the special mass gave prayerful thanksgiving for the pope and prayed for him. Church member Viola Beverly said she came to pray for the Holy Father.
"He was a great pope. And we understand that our health doesn't last always,"she said.
Her friend, Olivia Scalisi, shared similar feelings: "I think he was a very good pope and was always trying to work for peace."
Many also came to pray for the cardinals in the selection process and the man who will be picked to lead the church. Said church member Audrey Vinson, "We have to trust in our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. And with prayers for Pope Benedict, which we are about to celebrate right now, that God will send us another shepherd into our church."
As Pope Benedict begins his new life as pope emeritus, Bishop Provost likely spoke the sentiments of many when he concluded his talk saying, "For a very productive, fruitful and gifted pontificate as the Bishop of Rome and the Vicar of Christ, we offer a heartfelt thank you!"
Following this story is Bishop Provost's homily on Pope Benedict.
Reflections on the Departure of Pope Benedict XVI from Bishop Glen John Provost
We are gathered at this Mass to pray in thanksgiving for the life and ministry as Holy Father of Pope Benedict XVI. He resigns the commission given to him almost eight years ago by way of his election as Bishop of Rome. He will depart Vatican City within the hour.
I recall when Pope Paul VI died. I went home for a visit and found my father crying, a rare occurrence. Then, he offered an explanation. He couldn't help it, he said, after all, "He was the pope who ordained you a priest." A priest develops a certain attachment to the bishop who ordained him. And the same is true of a bishop and the pope who appointed him.
We are human beings after all and should and must acknowledge our attachments. For myself I must confess mixed feelings. I know history. I know what our Church law says. Others have resigned in the past, though it is rare. The law allows for it. But I am saddened at his departure. Pope Benedict XVI appointed me Bishop of Lake Charles. That in itself is a mystery to me, but there it is. I accepted it as the will of God, because the Vicar of Christ had willed it. He had personally signed the document appointing me, something not always done by past pontiffs. I saw it as a special link between him and me, not just with the office of St. Peter but with the person of Benedict XVI. There was a personal dimension to it. I felt it then. I feel it now. While we had never met prior to my appointment as bishop, I had read a great deal of what he wrote as Cardinal Ratzinger, and as an old student of literature, I knew that someone's writing always reveals something of himself.
The books of Joseph Ratzinger were a mirror into his life of faith. I liked his lucid thought, his clear explanations of complex ideas, and his ability to articulate the mysteries of the faith in modern language. In an age where many are not sure what they believe and run after the latest craze or opinion, when Cardinal Ratzinger wrote or Pope Benedict XVI spoke you knew that you were getting the "straight story." There was nothing of self-interest, no posturing, and no hidden agenda. How different from many modern leaders! How unlike the modern world!
He gave us a "straight story" with the Sacred Scriptures. He gave us a renewed understanding of how to approach the Scriptures, to read them with comprehension, with the eyes of faith, seeing them for what they indeed were, the inspired Word of God.
He gave us the "straight story" with the liturgy. In this age of "whatever" that is fond of experiencing an event and saying "the world will never be the same again," as though everything, however mundane, is of equal value and life changing, Pope Benedict XVI reminded us of continuity. In a particular way, he pointed out to us that there was no break, no chasm between what went on before and what goes on now in the Church, particularly its worship. He reminded us that the reform of the liturgy had begun long before the Second Vatican Council, with figures such as Pope Pius XII and Pope Pius X and that we cannot ignore the fact that the liturgy is always being renewed. The challenge for us was to understand it better and only in this way love it more and participate in it more completely.
He spoke of the "dictatorship of relativism." He knew that opinion is not truth. That dogma exists to give our lives context. That tradition is not a dirty word but is what connects us with one another and with our past as well as our future. He insisted upon fundamentals, not as archaic vestiges of a loss past but as necessary components for building a society that is coherent and holds together in the face of crisis.
He gave us three excellent encyclical letters reflecting on the theological virtues: faith, hope and charity. Echoing St. Paul, he reminded us that these three are what really matter and that the greatest of these is love.
As pope, he touched the lives of people we would never dream of. I recall once being told by a non-Catholic minister that he scheduled the Christmas services at his church so that he could get back home and watch the Midnight Mass from Rome. Why, I asked. He answered, so that he could hear what the Holy Father had to say. When I was growing up over 50 years ago, no one would have ever imagined a non-Catholic saying such a thing.
People wanted to hear what he had to say. They wanted to read what he wrote. The modern secularists were surprised when the crowds at the audiences of Pope Benedict only grew larger. Someone observed, "The crowds came to see Pope John Paul II. They come to listen to Pope Benedict." Both had a great deal to offer as Bishop of Rome. Every pope does.
When I was growing up, I recall in our old hymnal there was a hymn that we occasionally sang entitled "Long Live the Pope." It is what the crowds in Rome still shout, "Viva il Papa." The hymn was sung regardless of who the pope was. We wanted a long life for the Holy Father. And we wish one for Pope Benedict XVI, the Pontiff-emeritus.
We will miss him. What he did he knew before God he had to do. All should respect that. And for a very productive, fruitful, and gifted pontificate as the Bishop of Rome and the Vicar of Christ, we offer a heartfelt "Thank you."