My teenage son watched as I cried into my coffee that morning and asked why I was so upset. I wasn’t completely sure at first, but I think it came down to this: Pope Benedict has served as a visible reminder that God writes straight with crooked lines. He didn’t want the job, but the Spirit had other plans. Not only did Pope Benedict do what had to be done without complaint, he did it with a clear determination to put the mission of Christ before any personal mission. He did it by voluntarily relinquishing his position when it was time, demonstrating a kind of humility rarely seen in our power-hungry society. A beautiful study in contrasts.
Hanging beside my desk is the photo I snapped as Pope Benedict waved from the popemobile a few yards from where I stood in the press pen at St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie, during his visit to New York in 2008. In my sacred space are the rosary beads blessed by Pope Benedict as I sat in the second row at a papal audience in 2010. On the bookshelf behind me are the powerful yet accessible encyclicals he wrote on love and hope. And while those tangible reminders will be nice to have around after he’s retreated to the cloister, the pope’s most lasting legacy may be the way he lived out the words of St. Paul: “When I am weak, then I am strong.”
Pope Benedict XVI will likely be remembered as the theologian in the early years of the 21st century whose deep love for Christ inspired him to a life of generous service in the Church. True, the successor of Peter serves by default as the Church’s chief theologian, and recent popes have increasingly embraced this role. Nevertheless, Pope Benedict came to his office preceded by an already well-established reputation as one of the most prominent Catholic theologians in recent times.
The witness of Pope Benedict as a servant theologian is very telling. Most contemporary Catholic theologians would agree that theology is a deeply ecclesial task, and, consequently, it is at the service of the people of God. Theologians stand alongside the community of faith as fellow believers in the mystery of Jesus Christ, truly human and truly divine, embracing the radical implications of this shared faith in our lives. In a world increasingly shaped by secularism, relativism and ideological polarization, the witness of faith-full theologians seems more crucial than ever.
The theologian is neither above nor beyond the ecclesial community. In fact, Catholic theological scholarship is most fruitful and life-giving when it draws from the depths of the Church’s life in all its manifestations (e.g., liturgical life, art, spirituality, dialogue with cultures, etc.) and returns to it with fresher insights. Pope Benedict’s record as a theologian, before and during his pontificate, exemplifies well the ecclesial vocation of the Catholic theologian.
It is too early to say what Pope Benedict’s most enduring legacy will be. Time will tell.
My sense is that such legacy will be closely associated with his identity and work as a servant theologian, a man deeply in love with the Lord and committed to the Church as the community where the truth of the divine mystery mediated through Jesus Christ can be authentically experienced. Whether one looks at his scholarly works or the more formal documents issued as the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, or his pastoral writings and teachings as well as many of his decisions as the 265th pope in the history of Catholic Christianity, one is bound to meet a theologian at the service of the Church.
On April 19, 2005, the day of his pontifical election, Pope Benedict greeted the world identifying himself as “a simple and humble laborer in the vineyard of the Lord.” These modest yet profound words say it all.
Hosffman Ospino is an assistant professor of pastoral theology and religious education at Boston College School of Theology and Ministry and a consultant to Our Sunday Visitor.
In praise of the pope who tweeted
By María de Lourdes Ruiz Scaperlanda
While much can be said about Pope Benedict XVI’s prolific and exceptional writing, I want to thank the 265th Pope for the 27 words he wrote on Dec. 12, 2012 — adding “@pontifex” to his numerous titles.
Pope Benedict’s eight-year-reign may be deemed the blink of an eye in the Church’s existence. But he bequeaths the next pope a number of impressive digital initiatives, not the least of which are 2.5 million Twitter followers. All this, from an 85-year-old pontiff who was born the year that the first transatlantic telephone call was made via radio from New York City to London.
Consider this. YouTube launched its first video just four days after Pope Benedict’s 2005 election. At the time, Facebook was a mere 1-year-old toddler. And Twitter was not born for another year. To these improbable inventions Pope Benedict responded with impressive enthusiasm, noting that the endless conversation online “demonstrates the restlessness of human beings, ceaselessly searching for truths, of greater or lesser import that can offer meaning and hope to their lives.”
Yet what is most impressive about Pope Benedic’s engaging response to social media networks is not just his vision and insight into their significance. After all, the man who made his episcopal motto Cooperatores veritatis — “co-operators of the truth” — recognized straightway their opportunity as powerful mediums for truth.
No, what’s most remarkable of all is that he faced these cultural encounters with the same openness, honesty, and humility that he displayed on becoming pope in 2005, and resigning in 2013. Like his compatriot Edith Stein, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Pope Benedict reminds me with his life that everything, down to the smallest detail, has coherent meaning in God’s all-seeing eyes.
Regardless the source of encounter, or the unlikeliest situation, or even acknowledging unimaginable technology, Pope Benedict XVI opened himself completely to possibility, knowing with his whole heart that God would be found there.
Thank you for your faithful example, @pontifex.
Maria de Lourdes Ruiz Scaperlanda is a writer who blogs at daybydaywithmaria.blogspot.com/.