We join the Universal Church to celebrate the inauguration of Pope Benedict XVI, the 265th Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. On Tuesday, April 19, we witnessed history in the making as the Shoes of the Fisherman were filled by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Bavarian-born Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
For the past quarter century, Joseph Aloysius Ratzinger has been known as a complex and multi-faceted Bishop, a scholar and prolific writer, known in theological circles as an intellectual powerhouse and tenacious guardian of the faith. Within his circle of family and friends, he is also characterized as an artistically gifted pianist with a penchant for Mozart and Beethoven, a reserved and thoughtful conversationalist, and a veritable study in contrast.
To former parishioners, Father Joseph Ratzinger was known as a man of intense prayer and contemplation, and a deeply spiritual man, born into the household of a loving and supportive father, who gave his son a critical mind and deep intellect, coupled with the warmheartedness of a caring, gentle and pious mother. We may be certain that Pope Benedict XVI is an admixture of these good parents, and appropriated the best of their qualities into his life and ministry.
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, born April 16, 1927, was exposed at an early age to the perils of Nazi Germany, and was conscripted as a young man into Hitler’s Youth Corps. In those devastating years, he developed a deep repugnance for totalitarian ideology, ultimately escaping the clutches of the Third Reich as the bottom fell out of the German War effort.
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was ordained to the priesthood June 29, 1951, in Cologne. His keen mind and penchant for languages suited him to serve as a periti or theological advisor to the Cardinal Archbishop Joseph Fring of Germany, where, ironically, he was viewed as a progressive theologian who greatly influenced the Dogmatic and Pastoral Constitutions of the Second Vatican Council. As a highly published scholar and polyglot, proficient in a dozen languages, Joseph Ratzinger is the author of scores of books and hundreds of articles translated and published across the globe.
Father Joseph, a unique and complex individual, was ordained to the Episcopacy in 1977 and appointed to serve as Archbishop of Munich. Pope John Paul II, his long-time friend and Vatican II colleague, appointed him as Prefect for the Congregation of the Faith, a post he has held for the duration of the John Paul II papacy. It was this highly gifted and multi talented man who has been selected by the Holy Spirit and called by the College of Cardinals to serve as Pontiff for the Catholic Church Universal as Bishop of Rome and Vicar of Peter. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, who has accepted this grave responsibility as the Church enters the new millennium with renewed vigor, confidence and enthusiasm.
For the past 20 years I have followed closely the theological writings of Benedict XVI and had the rare opportunity to visit with him personally following our meeting of Northwest Bishops this past June in Rome. Both his writings and interaction with Bishops of the Church have given us a glimpse into the soul of this remarkable individual, and helps us anticipate the direction he will set as Pope to 1.1 billion Catholics across the world.
Realizing that it is difficult if not impossible, to predict with surety the themes that will likely emerge under Pope Benedict’s leadership, I believe we can anticipate the blossoming of certain trends that have emerged consistently in his sweeping theological explorations and publications.
The first clue to the direction the new Holy Father may set can be found in the selection of the name Benedict XVI. To be sure, his predecessor, Benedict XV, has been remembered as the Pope whose leadership spanned the tumult of World War I and who emerged as the consummate diplomat and peacemaker. His was a relatively short seven-year Papacy marked by pastoral outreach to displaced wartime families, and involvement in the international peace process.
But the papacy of Benedict XV also focused on the internal order of the Church, resulting in the publication of the 1917 Code of Canon Law. We may also anticipate a both-and approach to Church and world affairs, with initial emphasis on the “holy ordering” of our own ecclesial household as the first order of the day. The choice of his perhaps less obvious patron Benedict very likely signifies a more sweeping connection to the Sixth Century Benedict, who entered the world stage at a time when, in the words of biographer Leonard Foley, OFM, “pagan armies were on the march, the Church was torn by schism, people were suffering from war, and morality at a low ebb.” The new Pope Benedict XVI undoubtedly selected St. Benedict, appointed Patron of Europe by Paul VI, out of concern for the Loss of Christian Europe to the secularizing forces of the day.
It is my conviction that Benedict XVI will establish among his first priorities the re-evangelization of Europe and the re-vitalization of developed nations, inviting them to come back to God with all our hearts.
A second and consistent theme that flows from the heart of Joseph Ratzinger is the conviction that the Catholic faith is a “citadel of truth and righteousness” which stands against the storm of atheism and disbelief. To be sure, he will present to the world with clarity and conviction a vision of Catholic teaching that builds upon the legacy of Pope John Paul II. Like his predecessor, this legacy decries the futile promises of totalitarianism and is equally suspicious of the shadow side of capitalism.
Undoubtedly, the vision he will both embrace and proclaim is a vision that every man, woman and child is fashioned in the image and likeness of God and possesses a worth and dignity that is not conferred by the state or dependent upon one’s state in life. This vision of imago Dei under girds the Church’s desire to proclaim the preciousness of life from the moment of conception until natural death, and embraces a consistent ethic of life and a Culture of Love.
Pope Benedict XVI’s writings will undoubtedly reassert the primacy of the Eucharist as the Church’s most priceless treasure and insist that Eucharist celebration remains the source and summit of the life of the Church. As he stated convincingly in his work entitled “Feast of Faith,” Sacred Liturgy opens out into everyday life and transforms the life of the ordinary believer through the power of God’s love. He also asserts convincingly that liturgy is not merely a gathering of like-minded friends, but a celebration of “communio sanctorum,” the communion of saints, where the “heavens are torn open” and we are incorporated into the “great chorus of heavenly praise.” (God and the World, 412)
The new Pope will insist on well-formed clergy and laity who are commissioned to re-present the Church’s theology and tradition, with special emphasis on authentic interpretation of the mind of the Second Vatican Council. Throughout his writings, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger warned beyond the leadership of the Church to remain ever vigilant against those who would dilute or compromise the essential elements of the faith, and to heed Father Karl Rahner’s warning: that the most dangerous time is when the Church is at peace.
At the same time, he insists that the Catholic Church is a house with many dwellings, and we should preserve a spirit of “dynamic openness.” In his own words, “I believe that a great deal of tolerance is required within the Church, that the diversity of paths is something in accordance with the breadth of Catholicity – and that one ought not simply to reject it, even when it is something contrary to one’s own taste.” (God and the World, 456)
In the pontificate of Benedict XVI, we may anticipate a fresh commitment to ecumenical and inter-faith dialogue, in a world beset with conflicts and wars that are deeply embedded in religious conviction. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger once concurred with the dissident theologian Hans Kung who observed, “there will be no peace among the nations until there is peace among the world’s religions.”
To this end the Holy Father will undoubtedly call for a renewed commitment to ecumenical dialogue and strive for a deeper sense of understanding, respect and reverence among the major and tribal religions of the world. He writes, “What we need is respect for the belief of others, and a readiness to look for the truth in what strikes us as strange or foreign. At the same time, the Church must continue to proclaim truth in the world, to affirm that God is, that God knows us, that God is as Jesus Christ revealed Him, that Jesus Christ is given as the path of life.” To be sure, Pope Benedict XVI will build upon the invitation issue to the world by his predecessor, Pope John Paul II: “Be not afraid” – of Christ.
To the serious and thoughtful Benedict XVI, I add this important post script found in a collection of addresses called, “Seek That Which is from Above.” “God wants us to take things a bit more lightly, to see the funny side of life, to get down off our pedestals, and enjoy a good sense of humor.” In these delightful addresses, he recommends the value of leisure, interaction with friends, a walk in the mountains, a refreshing swim, the beauty of music, and the merits of a good vacation, all woven together with quality time with the Lord and giver of life.
Those who have known Pope Benedict XVI over the past several decades have characterized our new Holy Father as a gentle and humble man whose each and every breath is drawn from his close communion with Jesus Christ. Pope Benedict has revealed to us the person of a “simple, humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord,” who will teach us first by example and then by word to recommit ourselves to the precious Gospel of Christ and the life-giving spirit of the Second Vatican Council.
On this day of celebration and jubilee, we join our voices with the chorus of prayer across the world as we ask blessings upon Benedict XVI, chosen by God, to fill the Shoes of the Fisherman and inspire all of us to walk in the path of Jesus, who is forever the Light of the World.
Published in The Montana Catholic, Vol. 21, No. 5, May 20, 2005.