Much of the ink spilled over Pope Benedict XVI’s new book-length interview, “Light of the World,” has focused on his treatment of hot topics: the clerical sex abuse scandal, condom use in the fight against AIDS, Pope Pius XII’s record on the Holocaust, whether the Church needs a Third Vatican Council, and many more issues (see In Focus, Page 11).
While that is understandable, there is a more enduring takeaway for readers: Pope Benedict models an adult faith that should be the goal of all Catholics — reflective, informed, humble, sober and searching.
Some examples: At a time in Church history in which so many believers both on the right and the left have set themselves up as little popes — their own ultimate Church authority — Pope Benedict ironically fails to fit the part, at least like central casting defines it. Yes, he is fully aware of his own responsibility as successor of St. Peter, including as custodian and promoter of the fullness of Church teaching. But what is striking is the humility he combines with confidence and quiet self-assurance.
Take, for instance, his description of a person’s ability to know “truth.” The pontiff has been one of the loudest voices warning about the “dictatorship of relativism,” and defending the concept not only of an absolute truth but also of our capacity to recognize it. Yet in this book he also warns that “one must be careful and cautious in claiming the truth.”
“We never have it [the truth]; at best it has us,” he said. Later, he adds, “The truth comes to rule, not through violence, but rather through its own power.”
Pope Benedict faults those who automatically reject miracles like the Resurrection for “intellectual arrogance” by attempting to set their own boundaries on “how many possibilities are latent in the cosmos, how many possibilities are hidden above and in it.” But he also warns of a simplistic, mechanistic, over-credulous faith in spiritual matters, whether regarding apparitions or supposed calculations of the end of the world.
Here’s how he describes the spiritual life: “It is not as if, to use an image, an extra floor were added on top of our ordinary existence. The point is rather that inward contact with God through, with, and in Christ really does open in us new possibilities and enlarge our heart and our spirit. Faith truly does give our life a further dimension.”
The pope that emerges in the book is intellectually curious and fearless. With God as creator of the cosmos, there can be no possible contradiction between faith and reason, no truth worth probing that won’t ultimately lead back to him.
Courage and “resistance” is another theme he returns to time and time again, especially as it relates to believers’ witness in the face of relativism and secularism. “One often wonders how it happens that Christians who personally are believers do not have the strength to put their faith into action in a way that is politically more effective,” he observes.
But “enduring hostility and offering resistance” cannot be the whole picture, because the goal is to “bring to light what is positive.” “Ultimately someone who is always only in opposition could probably not endure life at all,” he says.
Perhaps most revealing, however, is Pope Benedict’s answer to the question of how he prays. This world-class theologian and former professor says he talks to Jesus, “begging, for the most part, but also in thanksgiving — or quite simply being joyful.”
Ultimately, as the pope himself says, joy is what the Christian life is all about.
Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; John Norton, editor; Sarah Hayes, presentation editor.