His leave-taking confounded them again. What was happening before their eyes did not equate with American understandings of job identity, power or utility. The strangeness of it all almost seemed to evoke a sense of wonder and if so, that's a very good thing – not just for the press, but for all of us watching in America.
Saint Gregory of Nyssa taught that "ideas lead to idolatry; only wonder leads to knowing." If we are caught in wonder at Benedict's departure, then this "teaching pope" has provided one more thoughtful lesson that could deeply influence Americans willing to ponder it out.
Stereotypes are usually rooted in truth and not for nothing is the stereotypical American described as "optimistic, work-obsessed and materially prosperous". We are accustomed to identifying ourselves not by who we are, but by what we do. And we really are, by and large, optimists. A great deal of that optimism hangs on the illusion – and we love this illusion – that in our "classless" society there resides a world full of choices, and on the idea that hard work brings desired results. We believe success builds upon itself in our pursuit of power, position and prosperity – all of which, in return, assist in our philanthropies, because we also believe that we are a generous nation, eager to do good by others.
Today, before our eyes, Pope Benedict's life and actions addressed all of that. Whatever his departure meant to the rest of the world, it said to Americans and their ideals, "no one is irreplaceable; power isn't everything; not everything is your choice; sometimes bread cast upon the waters comes back soggy."
Now read it all here at the United Kingdom's The Guardian.