I think God knew how dark these times would be, including within many parts of the Church (think of the clergy sexual abuse scandal), and so he raised up great popes for us. (Just read Pope Benedict’s recent words in Dublin.)
When people denigrate the papacy and the Catholic Church, I realize they have no idea who JPII and BXVI are. They have no idea of the paternal and filial love these men have for their flock, for all people in the world, and how much they both love Jesus Christ.
They have no idea what these men have written in their books, interviews, encyclicals, and exhortations. They do not realize the depth of wisdom, faith, humility, and hope in Christ that these men have had.
Neither man is perfect. JPII was conned by a man named Maciel, to the great hurt of many. Certain decisions regarding episcopal appointments could probably have been made better. But it is not my place to criticize here, playing armchair pope with 20/20 hindsight.
God knew that we needed beacons of light on St. Peter’s chair, so that Catholics could see that, though many in the Church have acted faithlessly or selfishly, the pope has not. That Christ’s steward here on Earth was a man of kindness and love. Things would be much, much worse if we had an Alexander VI on the chair.
Both John Paul II and Benedict have seen beyond the darkness of our age and, with redoubtable hope, kindled the love of Christ in our hearts, especially in the hearts of young people. “Be not afraid! Do not give in to mediocrity!”
The very mention of the bishop of Rome is met with scorn and derision from many, even (sadly) among those who are Christians. Yet the man himself, Pope Benedict, stands in refutation to their arguments and claims. A man of faith, hope, and charity. A man who didn’t want to be pope and tried to resign multiple times. The man whom God chose to be the successor of Peter. Deo Gratias.
Today, there’s much to be fearful and discouraged over. But take heart, Christ has overcome the world, and He has given us Pope Benedict as a sign of hope and encouragement to us that His words are true.