Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The great feast of the Epiphany of the Lord always brings me back to a powerful moment in my seminary formation. In my office, you will find photographic evidence of the Pope listening to me on Epiphany in 2006. At least that’s how I’ve always liked to phrase it. However, knowing his theology and having witnessed his approach to all things liturgical, I am confident that Pope Benedict XVI would say he was not listening to me, but rather to the words of the Prophet Isaiah. Which, admittedly, is far more important. I was simply an English speaker living in Rome who happened to be available to proclaim the first reading at the Papal Mass that day. It is not only the feast of Epiphany, but also the events of this past week that bring to mind the life and legacy of Pope Benedict XVI.
If you take an active interest in ecclesiastical news, you have likely read many tributes and commentaries on the life and pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI. I suggest avoiding most of what the New York Times and other secular outlets say (they never quite seem to understand that a pontificate is not the same as a presidency, or that theology cannot easily be reduced to liberal/conservative political categorization). If you’re looking for good items, visit pillarcatholic.com, cruxnow.com, catholicworldreport.com, or other such outlets. But if you really want to understand the man, the theologian, and the pope, it is best to read his writings.
Born Joseph Ratzinger on April 16, 1927 (Holy Saturday, that year), he was baptized the same day. From a very young age, he was intent on becoming a priest. He entered seminary and was especially drawn to the theology of St. Augustine and St. Bonaventure. After his ordination to the priesthood, he became a theology professor, and eventually was called upon to be a theological advisor at the Second Vatican Council. After the Council, he published one of his most important works, Introduction to Christianity, which should be required reading for any theology student. He also helped to establish Communio, a theological journal that continues now in 16 languages to promote the theological disciplines and dialogue. While serving as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he was often styled a “watchdog” by secular media outlets, but it would be better to see him in that role in light of his episcopal motto: Cooperatores Veritatis – Cooperators of the truth. Ratzinger understood that the truth of the Gospel, the truth of the person of Jesus Christ, is above all other ideologies and agendas. This was the primary concern of his entire academic and theological career – to teach the truth, and to teach the truth in love (which happens to be the title of one of his encyclicals – Caritas in Veritate/Charity in Truth). Among the other must-reads that came from the pen of Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI, I suggest the three-volume Jesus of Nazareth, which is a powerful reflection on the Gospels and the person of Christ, and the first encyclical of his pontificate, Deus Caritas Est – God is Love. You will find in his writings a cogent voice that intelligently communicates the truth about Jesus with a candor, gentleness, and affection of a true shepherd.
There is far more to say about Pope Benedict XVI than I could possibly write in this space. He remains my favorite theologian, and part of some of my greatest memories. I was in St. Peter’s Square when he was elected Pope, had, as already mentioned, the privilege of reading at a Mass he celebrated, and found in his writings a clarity of thought that helped me understand and appreciate the Catholic faith more deeply.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace. Amen. May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace. Amen.