Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Most Magnificent Pope

I don't know, I guess I read too many Catholic Internet things. I got to feeling for our Holy Father these last few days. Is bad press increasing or just my amount of reading?

I first came to admire "Ratzinger" when in the seminary. He was that amazing bright light of the ecclesiastical world who gave me (and many others) confidence that the Church would speedily show its teaching to the world, when the world was convinced - and so many Catholics with it - that everything in the Church was up for grabs.

So I started reading him. First his Introduction to Christianity - an innocuous title of a book whose contents are nothing like introductory. Then I read the shorter stuff put out by Ignatius Press - Milestones, The Nature and Mission of Theology, etc., The Ratzinger Report... I even read a bit of his doctoral thesis on Bonaventure and history. Later I read his On the Meaning of Christian Brotherhood, various essays, and then various books on him, like the great one by Aidan Nichols, O.P. More recently I read the Holy Father's amazing Jesus of Nazareth and his book on the Church Fathers - which I am planning on using next time I teach Patristics. I'm not a big fan of the theology of the liturgy, I'm sorry to say, so I have really only picked through perhaps the works of his that are most read - The Spirit of the Liturgy and Feast of Faith. But I've read more than once his In the Beginning, which is probably the one I like the most. And, he wrote the most valuable and important Church document since Veritatis Splendor, Evangelium Vitae and Humane Vitae. I mean, of course, Dominus Iesus.

Theologians know that his election to the papacy was a tragedy, but would have been tragic had it not happened. It was a tragedy and would have been tragic had it not happened simply because of the fact that as a theologian he stands head-and-shoulders above all of his peers. Consider the election of St. Thomas. That would have kept him from writing. But imagine how neat and powerful his papacy would have been. Hard to imagine, actually. God knows what he is doing, though, and so we assume that over all, Ratzinger's election must have been the better course.

I don't know anything about the papacy on an existential basis: what it's like to be around His Holiness, what it's like to live his life, what kind of person he is, how he deals with stress, how his faith activates his hope, etc. I don't know if he is having a hard go of it right now or if he is rejoicing while he observes the unfolding of the divine plan. How does he take the insults cast at the papacy by England, by BBC, etc.? How does he take the in-fighting of the Cardinals, the imprudence of Cardinal Schonborn, the abuse scandal? His Holiness doesn't deserve any of this but it's certain that he knows that it's part of following in the way of His Lord Christ.

As a theologian and a lover of history it's actually really neat to be a part of his papacy. We are living through the papacy of a Doctor of the Church.


  1. Neat reflection. I like B16's Spirit of the Liturgy a lot, but I haven't read some of the others you mention, such as In the Beginning. I'll have to get to that one some day.

  2. I confess to not being interested in the liturgy as a sin. It's a sin I'm working on. I found the liturgy class in the seminary so boring, heterodox and useless that it's ruined me. Everything B16 writes is gold, though, of course!

  3. When I became Catholic, back in 2004, I was ushered into the grand wave of the love-in that was the Universal Church's adoring relationship with JP II. I experienced some of this when I was living in Toronto at the time of World Youth Day, in summer 2002. That man had a unique charisma and such an influence over so many, by the mere force of his person and holiness.

    But I must say that in the six years of my being Catholic, my pope is Benedict XVI. There is something just as powerful about his witness to the truth and the beauty and strength of it to his predecessor's, but in such a different way. I think I am moved by how he had, reportedly, wanted to retire to his native Bavaria and play his piano and feed his cats, and write that theology that knocks you flat, a theology that has personally served as a healing force in my life.

    I remember the first time I met Dr. Warner, in training week as a Proctor in August, 2009, in St. Albert's lounge, in the St. Joseph's building: he introduced himself quickly, took a wide-grinned look at all of us students in the room, and in a few moments had a tear in his eyes and a little choke in his voice, as he thought of when Ratzinger was elected, the "quiet life" lost and this huge panorama opened before him instead.

    It is a beautiful memory I have of the late Dr. Warner, dovetailed with my love and deep admiration for our Holy Father...Really and truly, for me two examples of real men, men who have been in unrecognized ways indirect signs of that fatherhood that we young men today are so desperately searching for--and, thankfully, sometimes finding.

  4. The system does not let me put in a link to the Ratzinger Fan Club where you would find many of his texts neatly ordered and available online.

    This site has recently be re-organized as the Pope Benedict Fan Club, but it is not as neat and maybe not as complete.

    I think the first pages of "In the beginning" and his text about the "direction of the altar" are wonderful and not at all difficult.

  5. I'm a bit late to the party here, but in so far as you see it both as at least half a tragedy, because being elected Pope has slowed his scholarly output, put it this way: I'm a Catholic revert, who would likely never have read a word that Joseph Ratzinger has written, had it not been for the fact that he was elected Pope and the news media managed to distill a two-hundred-page book-- namely, "Light of the World"-- down to one word: condoms.

    I was slowly coming back to the Church at the time. Didn't know much about what the faith was about, only allowing it to confront me again for the first time in a long time.

    In the middle of that, the whole "condom" kerfuffle erupted, which sent me to the nearest Borders (when they were still around) to read it cover to cover in an afternoon, just to see what the fuss was about. And I discovered a very eloquent scholar who was good to think with, and who has this humble and cheerful demeanor to go with a childlike curiosity-- something that I do identify in some of my favorite professors. A lot more of what I call "Reading Ratzinger" followed on the heels of that initial experience. So the Lord really did bring a lot of good out of a whole lot of stupid.