Joseph Pronechen is staff writer with the National Catholic Register since 2005. His articles have appeared in a number of national publications including Columbia magazine, Soul, Faith and Family, Catholic Digest, and Marian Helper. His religion features have also appeared in Fairfield County Catholic and in one of Connecticut’s largest news dailies. He holds an MS degree and formerly taught English and courses in film study that he developed at a Catholic high school in Connecticut. Joseph and his wife Mary reside on the East Coast.
Naturally, many tears have been shed in the last few days since Pope Benedict XVI announced his retirement from the papacy. These tears are different than the tears of joy shed in April 2005, when he was elected our Holy Father.
Tears of both joy and sorrow come together in a song called Room of Tears.
It was written shortly after Benedict was inaugurated as pope, but now the song looks like it had a bit of the prophetic in its title.
Room of Tears is moving to watch as well as listen to. The visuals that the song’s composer and singer, Russ Rentler, put into the video add poignancy to the song. It’s as if you’re flipping through a family album for a brief moment. Some pictures make you think; others prompt you to smile; still others are a bit wistful.
Room of Tears begins with the simple, powerful commission of Jesus, set on a black background: “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock, I will build my Church.” It gives way to an image capturing that event, which then gives way to John Paul II’s funeral. Then comes a smokestack, as Rentler begins, “A plume of smoke; was it white or black?”
Visuals of joyful priests and Missionaries of Charity give the answer.
“The weight of the world is falling on you,” the song continues.
Flashes of a younger, pre-papal Benedict lead to Jesus embracing a lamb in a way that makes the viewer remember Jesus’ words to Peter at the shore after the Resurrection — “Feed my lambs; tend my sheep; feed my sheep …”
“Up at the ceiling,” the songs continues, as viewers look at the Sistine Chapel. “You see the hand of God now is pointing right at you” — as God’s finger reaches out to Benedict.
Then comes the haunting refrain:
“You’re in a room of tears,
and they have closed the door,
But there’s a litany of saints
gone this way before …”
Benedict, we think, will be among them, as the song continues,
There’s a litany of saints
who have found this way before.
As the visuals capture a joyous John Paul II, with a big smile and arms stretched open in welcome wide enough to stretch across St. Peter’s Square.
More lovely, wistful pictures of Benedict from his youth to the present flip by while these words of the song are played: You never thought you’d wear the fisherman’s ring …
A happy Pope Benedict waves to the overflow throng in St. Peter’s Square as a painting of Divine Mercy conveys who is watching over him and what message he brings.
Again the refrain — as we see the closed door to the room for the first papal vesting, John Paul II in the hospital, and then John Paul leaning on his papal cross, deep in meditation, and on the papal throne, greeting with open arms a joy-filled Cardinal Ratzinger.
The recurring theme of Jesus handing the keys to Peter and a Bible quote dramatically end this moving song.
Rentler is not only a singer/songwriter — he’s also a physician and a revert to the faith after 31 years in evangelical Protestantism.
He and his wife, Deborah, were received into the Church in April 2004. They shared their story with Marcus Grodi on The Journey Home, and Rentler was the subject of a Register story, too. He and his wife are excited to share their faith in many ways, including on their website, Crossed the Tiber.
Rentler shared his thoughts about Pope Benedict and this song with me.
“I wrote the song in 2005, shortly after he was elected on April 19,” he said. “I was watching the whole process as a new Catholic,” he said of the election and inauguration coverage, “and I was so proud.”
Rentler thought of this cardinal, a studious person who wanted to retire, read and play a little Mozart. “He was 78 when he was elected, but surely said, ‘I’ll do what you want me to do, God.’ That idea — that this man was (near) the end of his life, and this was the biggest burden in the world laid on him, yet he said ‘I’ll do it’ — that really impressed me.”
The song came quickly to Rentler: “It really inspired me. I was just watching the election of the pope, after years and years of not having any authority in our lives (being in Protestantism), and (it was wonderful) to see the beauty and orderliness and the man they chose.”
“He was a contradiction to what the world would have wanted and expected: a modern guy. But, instead, we get a scholar, a reluctant intellectual, a musician.”
“That was incredible,” Rentler concluded. “Benedict was a reluctant person, but he said Yes to the Lord. That was incredible, and I wanted to express that in a song.
“I saw the beauty of the Church. Looking at this process from my perspective confirmed and reinforced for me that this is the truth, this is the Church Jesus started.”