April 18, 2008

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Pope Benedict XVI knows how to speak the truth with love

The visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the United States is extraordinary. It amazes me how a person his age can accomplish so much in so short a time.

In Washington, he meets with national and international government officials, including President George W. Bush, with about 350 U.S. bishops, heads of more than 200 U.S. Catholic colleges and universities, and school superintendents from U.S. dioceses. He is scheduled to meet with Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Hindus and representatives of other religions.

In New York, he meets with representatives from other Christian denominations. He will pray with priests, deacons and members of religious orders. He will meet with disabled youths, hundreds of seminarians and several thousand young people. He will visit ground zero.

In between these encounters, he will celebrate two solemn Masses with thousands of people.

In the midst of all this, he celebrates his 81st birthday and observes the third anniversary of his election as pope.

I have had the opportunity to be in the presence of this pope once, and a dozen or so times while he was still prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Every fifth year, bishops are scheduled to report to the Holy Father and the Congregations and Pontifical Councils at the Vatican.

Hands down, every bishop I know will tell you that, next to the visit to the Holy Father, of all the Congregations and offices, the visit with then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was the most receptive, productive, informative and supportive. One would never have had that impression from the caricature of the cardinal offered by most of the media reports of those times.

As prefect, Cardinal Ratzinger and the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith were charged with the responsibility to promote the teaching of the Church in its totality and to defend it when perceived necessary.

The cardinal carried out his charge whether it was popular to do so or not. I think people forget about the fact that if Church doctrine handed down through the ages shifted with the intellectual tides of every age, we would no longer have the Catholic faith and there would be no Catholic Church.

I guess it is apparent that I am unashamedly a disciple of Pope Benedict as I was when he was prefect in charge of doctrine.

By God’s grace, he has been a blessing for our Church. He is unrivaled as an astute and balanced theologian. I have little patience with his critics, who often enough have never read his writings.

Pope Benedict is a person who knows how to speak the truth with love. In my dozen or so encounters with him, I found him to be engaging, humble and serene.

Several times, I met him on the street on his way to or from a bookstore. He wore a simple black cassock. He stopped to visit for a few minutes, and he had a phenomenal memory for names.

While a lover of the tradition and heritage of the Church, Pope Benedict is thoroughly committed to the complete implementation of the Second Vatican Council. He knows the origins and development of the teachings in the documents of the Council because he was there and had a direct hand in crafting several of them.

One time, I asked Pope John Paul II what he thought would be the major accomplish­ment during his papacy.

Without hesitation, he said “the Catechism of the Catholic Church.”

The then Cardinal Ratzinger was the major producer of that extraordinary compendium of our faith.

Cardinal Ratzinger once remarked that initially he wasn’t sure that developing a contemporary catechism could really be accomplished satisfactorily. He got it done.

As chairman of our bishops’ committee overseeing the use of the catechism in our country, I had the opportunity to meet with Cardinal Ratzinger.

It was then that I first saw him in the role of eloquent spokesman of our Church engaging in dialogue with the contemporary secular culture. He had a grasp of, and continues to grasp, the large global perspective needed to do so.

Pope Benedict is a timely international leader to carry forward a major thrust of the teaching of Pope John Paul II. The present pope is a profound exponent of the complimentarity of faith and reason in a society that wants to relegate God and religion to the private sector as if they are irrelevant.

He is an ardent champion for the dignity of human life.

This Holy Father is the perennial teacher. Some of his writings require work in following his penchant to lay the groundwork for a major teaching. Perseverance is rewarded by a refreshing spiritual and pastoral outcome.

Pope Benedict is a sensitive man, who is both sophisticated and simple. He is a holy, gentle man. †

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