We were eagerly awaiting the announcement of a new pope.
Days before we set up a TV in the room and had it on constantly trying to catch the latest news about the election.
I really wanted Cardinal Ratzinger to win. My pastor, who was fiercely German, was also rooting for him. His election was far from certain. There were several others running strong, including a liberal cardinal I truly hoped wouldn’t win.
When the Cardinal Protodeacon announced his name, both of us shouted. Ratzinger had actually won! In his hands I knew the Church was safe and would rest on solid ground…rock actually.
Still, I felt a little sorry for him too. At the beginning of the conclave, he wanted nothing more than to retire and return to Bavaria with his books and his writing. However, the Holy Spirit had other plans, and being an obedient son of the Church, he gave up his own will in order to serve.
Some thought he probably wouldn’t cast a large shadow. A transitional pope, perhaps. Not as exciting and charismatic as John Paul II, but he would do for a while.
I knew better. I studied his writings at Franciscan and knew how brilliant he was. I could see the hand of God in his election. He was the perfect pope to succeed John Paul II and continue his work of implementing the Second Vatican Council.
Embedded in the Council
John Paul II’s pontificate was all about implementing the Vatican II Council. As a young bishop, he attended the Council and was influential in writing a few of the documents. But in many ways, Ratzinger was even more embedded in the outcome of the Council.
In the years preceding, he was one of the almost renegade band of theologians practicing the Nouvelle Théologie, a movement that sought to reform the rigid Neo-Scholasticism dominant in the first part of the 20th century.
Their goal was to “return to the sources” (ressourcement) by rediscovering the early Church Fathers and emphasizing biblical theology, the theological interplay of Old and New Testament Scriptures, and the central importance of salvation history. As well, they looked at the influences of art, literature, and mysticism in theology.
This movement led to Vatican II and it’s mission of proposing the Church to the modern world in a new, vibrant, and compelling way.
Fr. Ratzinger served as a theological consultant and was intimately familiar with the thought and mission of the Council. As such, he was perfectly poised to assist and then carry on the work of his predecessor John Paul II in it’s implementation.
His work was a reflection of Vatican II
You could argue that the Holy Spirit placed Pope Benedict in precisely the right time and place his whole life to be the “shepherd” of Vatican II.
His early work contributed to the birth of the Council’s thought. He was there in the middle of it, laboring to bring it to light. And, he was instrumental in guiding the Church through the implementation of it–first through is work protecting and correcting it under Pope John Paul II, and as Pope himself succeeding John Paul II.
You can see the thought of Vatican II reflected all over Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict’s work.
In the New Theology
As Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he championed the traditional methods of biblical theology over the liberal tendencies of modern Scripture scholars.
His writing is a perfect synthesis of dogmatic theology and Scriptural analysis seeing the mutual interplay of the two. In Ratzinger/Benedict, doctrine flows from the Church’s authoritative interpretation of Scripture. The Old and New Testaments work together reveal Christ as the central figure and mediator of God’s covenant system with mankind.
The culmination of this are his books on Jesus of Nazareth, which are Christological works of biblical theology intimately united with Tradition. As well, his catechesis on the Church Fathers drew the faithful into this continuity with the apostolic faith so essential to the ressourcement.
In reaching out to the world
From the moment he became Pope, Benedict began emphasizing evangelization. He always thought towards reaching out to the world for unity and reaching into the Church herself for renewal. He called for missionary efforts both great and small to proclaim the message of Christ to the world.
Always he worked toward unity. He put great effort into ecumenism, into unifying the Eastern Orthodox churches, and into reconciling those estranged from the Church after the liturgical changes Vatican II.
And, of course, his kick-off of the New Evangelization this year has it’s roots in the renewal of Church life called for in the Council. This re-emphasis of a lived, active faith is a thread that runs through all the pontificates since the Council but it’s never had such an official and full expression until Pope Benedict’s official, Church-wide inauguration.
In the emphasis on mystical relationship with God
Also from the beginning of his pontificate he strongly emphasized spirituality and closer relationship with Jesus, especially through the practice of lectio divina–meditative prayer using Scripture. In his encyclicals, he wrote on aspects of friendship with Jesus like love and hope, not doctrine.
This was Pope Benedict’s time
The last eight years were the perfect time for Benedict to be Pope. The time he had to be Pope to further the thought and mission of the Council before his death. There could be no other time.
Pope John Paul II, a bishop of the Council, had to start the work. Pope Benedict XVI, as expert of the Council, had to nurture, guide and continue it.
I have to wonder if the Holy Spirit doesn’t have another perfectly suited Pope in the wings poised to continue the work of implementing the Council.
Now, Pope Benedict’s job is at an end. He was faithful to his calling and answered the Holy Spirit’s summons to selfless service. Finally, he will have that rest with his books, his writing, and his prayer. I’m happy he will get to enjoy that after all.
Farewell Papa Bene. You will indeed be missed. You were truly a humble Servant of the Servants of God, a teacher of the true Faith, and a great, great man.