March 11March 11 Editorial: Benedict XVI was a good and faithful servant, loyal son of the Church (January 6, 2023)

January 6, 2023


Benedict XVI was a good and faithful servant, loyal son of the Church

On Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, Pope Francis concluded his general audience with a request for prayers for his predecessor, the 95-year-old Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

Pope Francis said:

I ask all of you for a special prayer for the pope emeritus Benedict, who, in silence, is sustaining the Church. Remember him—he is very ill—asking the Lord to console him and to sustain him in this testimony of love for the Church until the end.

Three days later, on Dec. 31, at 9:34 a.m. in the Vatican City State, Pope Benedict returned to the Lord he loved and served during his long and holy life.

Born Joseph Aloysius Ratzinger in Bavaria on April 16, 1927, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was elected pope on April 19, 2005, and served as bishop of Rome until his voluntary resignation on Feb. 28, 2013. Since that time, he lived in relative seclusion in a former monastery in the Vatican City State devoting his time to prayer.

Pope Francis’ statement that his predecessor was sustaining the Church in silence contrasted with the former pope’s many years of service as a teacher, bishop, cardinal and pope in which he “sustained the Church” by his profound reflection on, and clear teaching of, the most fundamental aspects of Catholic belief and practice. The author of hundreds of books and articles on theology, liturgy, sacred Scripture, spirituality, sacraments, the lives of the saints, and more, Joseph Ratzinger was a significant voice of wisdom in the Post-Vatican II Church. In his teaching and in his ministries, he worked zealously to promote the forward movement of the Council’s teaching—“to endow Christianity once more with the power to shape history”—without ever breaking ties with all that preceded it in 2,000 years of Christian history.

As a man, Joseph Ratzinger was soft-spoken, cultured and kind. During his time as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he was sometimes characterized as a hard-liner, and it’s true that he took his official responsibilities as a guardian of the faith quite seriously. But those who worked closely with him frequently spoke of his gentle and caring approach to his work. Pope St. John Paul II valued him so highly that he twice turned down Cardinal Ratzinger’s requests to be allowed to return to his native Bavaria to write.

In his reflections on 25 years of episcopal ministry, Surprised by Grace, the late Indianapolis Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein offered the following observations:

I am proud to call myself a disciple of Pope Benedict. … 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. Anyone who reads what Joseph Ratzinger has written—either before or after his election as pope—can see that he is never heavy-handed or rigid, but always speaks the mind of the Church, as he understands it, with a firm but gentle voice.

Although he never had the time to write a comprehensive treatise on any individual subject, we are blessed to have Joseph Ratzinger’s many published books, articles and homilies—as well as Pope Benedict’s papal encyclicals, apostolic exhortations, catecheses, homilies and other writings. Together these form a substantial compendium of insightful and faith-filled reflections on nearly every aspect of Catholicism.

Two of Joseph Ratzinger’s writings, his Introduction to Christianity, written in 1968 when he was teaching theology, and his three-volume series, Jesus of Nazareth, published during his years as pope, illustrate the lifelong goal of his teaching and writing: to draw his readers into friendship with Jesus Christ.

As Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his encyclical, “Deus Caritas Est” (“God Is Love”): “If friendship with God becomes for us something ever more important and decisive, then we will begin to love those whom God loves and who are in need of us. God wants us to be friends of his friends and we can be so, if we are interiorly close to them” (#1).

During his 70-plus years as a priest, professor, theologian and bishop, this gentle and inspiring teacher touched the minds and hearts of millions of people. His humility and his loyalty to the Church he loved earned for him a special place of honor in our hearts and in the history of Catholicism.

As Indianapolis Archbishop Charles C. Thompson said when he learned about the former pope’s passing to eternal life, “Pope Benedict XVI served the Church well in all aspects of his ministry—whether as priest, bishop, cardinal, pope or emeritus pope. He was a good and faithful servant, a loyal son of the Church. May he rest in eternal peace, gazing on the face of God.”

—Daniel Conway

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