I've tried to follow Pope Emeritus Benedict's weekly catechesis on Faith for weeks now and, as I've read it and other writings of his over the years, I've been struck by just how well he writes. He is a master teacher. Archbishop Vincent Nichols spoke on BBC Radio 4 of the Pope's wonderful 'turn of phrase' and I was so grateful as that is exactly what I felt too. There seems to be so much he offered those who seek truth.
|The Young Josef Ratzinger|
A ProphetFirstly, he was an academic, a university professor, and began to be recognised as an excellent scholar. This beginning was important for the future of the Church. His enormous intellectual ability allowed him to foresee the dangers during the Second Vatican Council. He was seen as 'progressive', as were a handful of his German colleagues, such as Karl Rahner. He jointly authored a document 'much more Rahner's work than my own' which 'evoked some rather bitter reactions' (in his autobiography, 'Milestones' p.128). This perhaps explained how he was seen to be, but was not, as progressive as some make out. As early as 1966 he realised how the redefining of Catholicism being proposed by some would leave anything being possible in theology, Catholicism having been wrenched away from it's Tradition. With the anchor pulled up, it could be tossed in the wild seas (which could be clearly seen and foreseen in the 60s). He spoke in his autobiography (covering up to 1977 only):
As we worked on it together, it became obvious to me that, despite our agreement on many desires and conclusions, Rahner and I lived two different theological planets...His was a speculative and philosophical theology in which Scripture and the Fathers in the end did not play an important role.
What a prophet he was! The significance of there being diverging paths, disunity in the Church, were devastating. Therefore, it became possible for Teddy Kennedy, the brother of President John F. Kennedy, to write of the pro-life vision in 1971:
“when history looks back at this era it should recognize this generation as the one which cared for human beings enough to halt the practice of war, to provide a decent living for every family, and to fulfill its responsibility to its children from the very moment of conception.” (source)Yet later Teddy Kennedy would help lead the way, from within the powerful Kennedy dynasty, for many Catholics in America to support abortion rights. This is perhaps one of the most powerful illustrations of the leap that was made between between one 'theological planet' and another, with the advice of errant priests.
But Joseph Ratzinger foresaw this and had the courage to distinguish himself from his colleagues' views. He was only an adviser to the Council at that stage but a significant one. Ratzinger himself said in a 1993 interview, "I see no break in my views as a theologian [over the years]". (source)
Thank be to God for his constancy. Lately, once again, he has spoken to us all as a prophet for our times on the defining of what it is to be human. This is a man who exemplifies commitment to the Faith, but will quote the Chief Rabbi of France.
|A joyful spiritual father|
A Father FigureBut then there is the father figure. I lost my dad in 2010. He was born the same year as Joseph Ratzinger. My dad spoke German well that he learned at school and introduced us to Austrian holidays when I was a teenager (Joseph Ratzinger was born in Southern Germany very close to the Austrian border). When I first read his autobiography it was interesting, but different the second time around. On second reading I noticed his beautiful reflection on his parents' passing. I felt his empathy. His parents were holy people and he loved them and missed them.
Reading Pope Benedict's writings was informative before but now became comforting for me. He was wise, calm, had 'seen it all' including the war years, if only a teenager as my dad was. And he had this 'turn of phrase' that Archbishop Nichols spoke of.
|Different vocations, similar humility.|
A Humble ServantIn his autobiography, he indicates that he clearly saw himself called to be an academic. So, when invited to become Archbishop of Munich and Freising he hesitated but accepted on the strong advice of his confessor. Considering Pope John Paul II did not accept his resignation when Josef was Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, wanting him to continue in the role, and then he was elected Pope when, in his brother George's view, he wanted to retire, Joseph Ratzinger has truly been a 'servant of the servants of God' all his life. He has conformed his will to God's will all his life.
And in return? He has been vilified by the press. I distinctly remember the - at the time very Catholic-influenced - Daily Telegraph reporting of John Paul II's death as the loss of 'Our Father' in a bold headline. Non-Catholics must have wondered if they had picked up a religious paper by accident. But note the volte-face for the election of the 'Rottweiler'. How cruel. How deceitful. Even, his affluent, liberal German homeland did not accord him the respect his intellect should have merited.
But he showed them the truth, in typical humble style. His first encyclical? Simply, 'God is Love'. His visit to the UK and many other personal encounters left people wondering 'is this the man the media like to maul?' Thus love confounded hatred. Truth trumped Falsehood. Humility defeated Pride. Meanwhile, the media here in the UK had to eat humble pie in the discovery of their own lies and depravity. Even Peter Seewald, the German journalist who interviewed him on several occasions for three published books, made the journey from atheism to Catholicism.
And his final flourish? The so-called Rottweiller humbly resigns his post in favour of another, avowing 'reverence' and 'obedience' to his successor. He is not greater than the Office, the Office of Peter is greater than even that wonderful man, Josef Ratzinger.
Thank you Lord, for the gift to mankind of Josef Ratzinger. And thank you Josef Ratzinger for the gift of yourself to us.
May God reward you.