Recently Pope Benedict XVI, the 265th pope, passed away at the age of 95. Benedict’s longtime secretary, Archbishop Gänswein said that Benedict himself thought he would die within a year of resigning, and yet, he survived for about 10 years afterwards! Tell God your plans, right…? Nevertheless, he resigned at age 85 because, in his own words, “…in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.” Contrary to what many secular media outlets may say, these are the words of a meek, prayerful, and honest disciple of Our Lord.
I made the mistake a few years ago of watching the film “The Two Popes” on Netflix. It’s clearly fictional and just for entertainment…but nevertheless leaves one with images of a Benedict who is power-hungry and callous. Nothing could be further from the truth (and thus I highly discourage watching the film). If you don’t believe me, watch EWTN’s most recent interview with ‘Msgr. Georg Gänswein’ on YouTube, or the 2003 interview by EWTN’s Raymond Arroyo with Cardinal Ratzinger himself. Both of them cut quickly through any fanciful caricatures. What we discover in meeting and reading the late Pope Benedict is a man who loved the Lord with all his heart.
Jesus, for Benedict, is not an idea or an historical figure in a textbook but a living friend who offers hope and joy in the midst of any storm. In fact, humble joy and love for the Lord are what come through the most in that 2003 interview. If there’s anything we can learn from this theological giant, it’s his unwavering faith and hope in the God who is both Love and Reason.
If you’re looking to get a taste of treasure that this man left the Church in his writings, I would recommend his encyclical on hope, Spe Salvi (free online), and his book Jesus of Nazareth (the gold and red volume). (His book Introduction to Christianity, while exceptional, is not an intro like Theology 101 is an intro!) Alongside St. Thérèse of Lisieux, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. John the Evangelist, Pope Benedict is one of my heroes in the faith and I hope that he will inspire you too, not only as to the beauty of the rationality of our faith, but also in the lovability of our great God and Lord Jesus Christ!
May he rest in peace. Amen.