If we truly love Pope Benedict (and the Church), let’s put our knives away

4 mins read
Pope Benedict
Pope Benedict XVI delivers his talk during his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican April 20, 2011. Pope Benedict died Dec. 31, 2022, at the age of 95 in his residence at the Vatican. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Last night, our family watched the 2019 movie “Knives Out.” It’s the second time I’ve seen this excellent, entertaining film, which I heartily recommend (I have not yet seen the sequel). This time, I watched it right after our beloved Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI died, and I guess that’s why, even as I laughed and enjoyed the clever, inventive plot twists and dialogue, I was hit hard by the melancholy of it all. It’s a movie about many things, but partly about a man, and a family, that has failed.

Nearing the end of his life, the fabulously wealthy and successful murder mystery author Harlan Thrombey realizes that privilege has ruined his family, and he wants to set things right before it’s too late. The chaos and tumult that follow are all a result of his efforts to correct his mistakes, which have multiplied and compounded over the years.

I know it’s weird, but when we saw Thrombey sprawled in his cluttered study, his life blood pooling on the floor, the panic and dysfunction and lies and machinations swirling out around his choices, I couldn’t help thinking of the other old man, old Benedict, so clean and so still, in such repose in his chapel, waiting quietly for the grave. Benedict was so fragile when he died, his bone so close to the surface of his skin, as if even every inch of his flesh, as well as his energy, has been used up in the 95 years of service of the work he loved.

This isn’t just a silly, random contrast between a real man and a movie character. I really have been thinking about death, and how we live in preparation for it, and how that preparation affects everyone around us. I have been marveling with gratitude at how easy on the Church Benedict made his death, and how many years in the making this ease has been. I’m old enough to remember a tiny bit of the tumult when John Paul II was elected, and also when he died, and also when Pope Francis was elected. Benedict XVI’s unexpected renunciation of the papacy did throw the Church into confusion for a time, but then he lived exactly has he promised to do — quietly, in complete docility, showing nothing but support, love and respect for Pope Francis, until all but the most pop-eyed fanatics had to grudgingly believe he meant exactly what he said: that he was no longer pope, and Francis was, and the Holy Spirit was in charge, amen, the end, live with it.

And so, having made these preparations and having lived them out, he now seems to be passing into the waters of eternity with the smallest of ripples, having already accomplished most of the work of transition, like a kindly grandfather who has prepaid for a funeral, cleaned his house and carefully labeled his belongings for his heirs.

And what about those heirs? At the end of the movie, with the final of many denouements, everyone’s true nature is revealed, and the comedy and the tragedy of it all is that there aren’t all that many surprises. The more you find out about the motives and backstories of the various characters, the more you realize they are exactly who they seemed to be, and while their methods are convoluted, their motives aren’t especially profound. They want what they want, and they don’t want to change.

This doesn’t mean they are beyond salvation, though. The detective Benoit Blanc somewhat enigmatically says to the ancient matriarch of the family as she silently grieves her dead son, “They’re young, aren’t they?” Maybe there is still hope. Maybe the loss they are suffering will put them on the right path after all, maybe.

So this is what I pray for, as I pray for Benedict, and, for the first time, to him: I pray for the Church, for the heirs, for the grieving family left behind. I pray that our loss, and whatever suffering we go through in our bereavement and disappointment and confusion, will shake us out of our ingrown, maladaptive ways and put us back on a path facing something more worthwhile, something better and more noble than simply grasping after what we want.

Because the truth is, despite Benedict’s best efforts to be a papa who raises all his spiritual children with the right amount of kindness and discipline, and to depart this life quietly and without drama and turmoil, the knives are still coming out. We’re not only hearing ludicrous accusations that he was a Nazi, or foolish complaints that he was some kind of terrorist for upholding the truths of the Faith, but that his sins and errors, for which he begged forgiveness, are unforgivable. And we are still, as always, seeing Catholics racing to label themselves and others as liberal or conservative, left or right, pro-Francis or pro-Benedict or pro-a secret third thing that you can find out about if you become a $4.99 patron of some new Substack. If anything, despite his efforts to redirect our focus on what matters the most, we are more divided than we were at the beginning of his papacy, and the conspiracy theories about behind-the-scenes cloak-and-dagger machinations in the Church have just multiplied. Not his fault, I don’t think, but it’s hard to deny.

I’m glad Benedict is missing this part. It’s so stupid. It’s not what being a Catholic is about.

But listen. If you insist on treating his life and his papacy and the Faith in general as some kind of whodunit, some kind of convoluted mystery of us versus them to piece together, he really did leave one final clue on his very death bed. Something we, his heirs, can latch onto and study and act on. He didn’t write it in disappearing ink like Harlow Thrombey, but he said it with his final breath.

This is the very last thing he said: “Lord, I love you.”

Listen, family. There’s still time. Let’s put our knives away and listen to the old man.

Simcha Fisher is an award-winning columnist who regularly contributes to America Magazine, Parable Magazine and The Catholic Weekly. She lives with her husband and eight of their 10 children and several animals in a surprisingly small house in New Hampshire.

Simcha Fisher

Simcha Fisher is an award-winning columnist who regularly contributes to America Magazine, Parable Magazine and The Catholic Weekly. She lives with her husband and eight of their 10 children and several animals in a surprisingly small house in New Hampshire.