Writing as I do from one of those Pacific nations that greet the new day ahead of anyone else, I’m heralding the day the See of St Peter falls vacant while in Rome it is still the day before. Nonetheless, the writers of the world have been saying farewell to our Pope in their own ways every since he announced that he was stepping down.
Rather than write my own retrospective on the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI, I decided to collect a few for you.
Pat Gohn writes about her debt to him – first for the Catechism, and later for his other writings. Like her, I was an early purchaser of the first English translation of Cardinal Ratzinger’s erudite, lucid, and comprehensive Catechism, and later read other books, addresses, and encyclicals. Through them all, he taught us that the heart – the purpose and essence – of the faith is a relationship with Love Himself.
Benedict taught that the Catechism, as with all Christian study, ought to move us into greater possession of a relationship with God, the pearl of great price (Mt 13:45-46.)
All of the “truths of faith” are explications of the one truth that we discover in them. And this one truth is the pearl of great price that is worth staking our lives of: God. He alone can be the pearl for which we give everything else. Dios solo basta (“God alone suffices”)—he who finds God has found all things. But we can find him only because he first sought and found us. He is the one who acts first, and for this reason faith in God is inseparable from the mystery of the Incarnation, of the Church and of the sacraments. Everything that is said in the Catechism is an unfolding of the one truth that is God himself—the “love that moves the sun and all the stars.” (Dante, Paradiso, 33, 145) (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Gospel, Catechesis, Catechism, Ignatius, 1997, p. 33-34.)
Father de Souza also looks at the Pope’s impact as a teacher – through three encyclicals, but even more in five other ways:
Benedict’s homilies constituted a course in biblical theology, combined with poetic expression and an extraordinary capacity to express the truths of faith in a most accessible manner. Already published in various collections, the homilies of Benedict will be spiritual reading for generations.
Second, and closely associated with his preaching, there were the Wednesday audiences which, over eight years, constituted a course in the Church Fathers, saints, biblical commentary and the art of prayer.
It was surprising to many that Benedict’s Wednesday’s audiences often drew more pilgrims than that of his predecessor. The masterful teaching presented may have been the reason.
Third, returning to form as a professor, there were the great magisterial lectures, echoing the academic tradition of a great scholar addressing an important topic of general interest. There were four great lectures — the September Speeches: the University of Regensburg in 2006, College des Benardins in Paris (2007), the Westminster Parliament (2010), and the Bundestag in Berlin (2011). All were given on September trips of the Holy Father, perhaps prepared with care over the preceding summer months. A fifth great magisterial lecture, at La Sapienza University in Rome, was published, but not given in person due to protests from narrow-minded professors…
Fourth, the great biblical theologian wrote books of academic work — three volumes entitled Jesus of Nazareth. Immensely learned, the trilogy demonstrated that scholarly rigor ought not be opposed to the life of faith. The books, which the Holy Father explicitly insisted were personal works not of his papal magisterium, have had a greater reach and greater impact than any ordinary encyclical could hope to have.
A fifth instrument favored by Benedict was the off-the-cuff format, whether in question-and-answer style, or in extemporaneous remarks.
Whether in his annual meetings with priests, or in his famous Q&A with children preparing for First Communion, the great teacher was often at his best in conversational mode…
Peter Smith points out the upswing in vocations in the United States during this papal reign:
Father Carter Griffin, vice rector at Blessed John Paul II Seminary in Washington, said the Archdiocese of Washington’s new seminary opened its doors in 2011 and is already near capacity.
“Benedict was able to open up new vistas to people,” Father Griffin said. “For them, to see this man of profound faith, love and hope on the world stage has been an enormous benefit on the world and on vocations.”
It’s a scenario that is also playing out at already established seminaries such as Mount St. Mary’s in Emmitsburg, Md.
“We’re experiencing the largest numbers that we have had in years,” said Msgr. Stuart Swetland, who teaches pre-theology to seminarians at the Mount.
Msgr. Swetland said that most of the men he teaches are between the ages of 21-25 and were teenagers when Blessed John Paul II died.
“They are more affected by Benedict,” he said. “I think the young are responding to the fact that he takes them seriously enough to do something beyond themselves.”
Kenneth Whitehead talks about reactions to the Pope and to his resignation:
…And so it went. What must strike a knowledgeable observer is how many of these characterizations, in spite of the confidence with which they have mostly been delivered, are either distortions or are simply not true! …
This kind of critical account of the pope and his papacy, however, is not so much based on what he has actually said and done, but rather upon what his critics think he should have said and done—based on criteria of theirs often far removed from anything resembling authentic Catholicism. He has been weighed in the balance and found wanting by his critics precisely because he has so faithfully and authentically reflected and represented what the Church and the faith truly are; he has been faulted and vilified because he has been such a “good and faithful servant” (Mt 25:21).
Catholics might rightly be disappointed and even dismayed at how their Church and their faith—along with their Church’s supreme leader over the past eight years—could be so ignorantly and even maliciously characterized and misrepresented. It should not be forgotten, however, that “if the world hates you, know that it hated me before it hated you” (Jn 15:18).
The Anchoress looks ahead to the impact that Pope Emeritus Benedict will have in his new role:
Those who think Benedict has simply lain down his staff do not understand that he lays it down to pick up a flamethrower of sorts. For however long he lives as a monastic, he will be a conduit of prayer, praise, adoration and supplication for the rest of the world. He is taking on huge duty.
In faith he will have delivered the powerful lesson that a life of faith is never without resources, because prayer extends beyond time and space, through darkness and into light.
And perhaps we will need to learn that lesson well, to face our future, together.