Thank You for Your Gift, Benedict XVI
For me, John Paul II and Benedict XVI go hand in hand. They are a team. John Paul II is the architect, and Benedict is the engineer.
As of 8:00 p.m. Rome time on Thursday, February 28, 2013, Pope Benedict XVI's resignation became effective. I know there is a silver lining in all of this, but, just the same, I cannot ignore the sadness I feel.
It was not so long ago that I was thinking about Pope Benedict XVI's advancing age, and how sad I would be to lose him. A few days later, we got the shocking news: He was going to resign at the end of the month and devote the remainder of his life to prayer and contemplation. My jaw dropped. But when I realized this might allow him to do more writing, the corners of my mouth slowly turned upward.
It is through Benedict XVI's writing that I have come to know, admire and love him. He has fed my mind and heart in a way that no other has, and I will never be able to thank him enough for this wonderful gift he has given me.
Before I can describe this gift more precisely, I need to step back in time when Blessed John Paul II was the Pope. During this time, I was still searching for answers to life's greatest questions, questions like: What is the meaning of life and suffering, where do I come from, does my life have a purpose?
Worldly knowledge could not provide adequate answers to these questions. It's attempts were either incomplete, vague or unrelated to my actual experience of life. Then John Paul II came along with his towering theology, The Theology of the Body. George Weigel described it as "one of the boldest reconfigurations of Catholic theology in centuries."
We are composed of body (matter, flesh) and spirit. This is what makes us human. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that God is ". . . an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and he has destined us to share in that exchange" (221).
According to John Paul II's theology, God inscribed this vocation of love in our bodies by creating us male and female and by calling us to become "one body" (Gn 2:24). This enables us to image God's love and participate in His work of creation. Love by its nature is not static or self-absorbed. It desires communion and therefore continually reaches out beyond itself.
This is what Jesus did for his bride the Church (Eph 5:25-32). So this imaging is communal, sacrificial and Eucharistic; and while this imaging is profoundly evident in marital love, it is also evident in the priesthood (and religious life in general).
In his theology, John Paul II not only described my actual experiences, he showed me how they pointed to the answers I sought. In the process, he helped me see the great dignity of our humanity and its ultimate destiny. This experience gave me a beautiful vision for human life, and it inspired me.
John Paul II gave me an intellectually satisfying vision, but I was the product of a secular, postmodern world that vehemently renounced the Christian faith and just about anything seen as traditional. Although he gave me a destination, I did not know how to get there. I felt lost in modernism's maze. It was at this point that Benedict XVI helped me: He showed me how to get out of the maze.
For me, John Paul II and Benedict XVI go hand in hand. They are a team. John Paul II is the architect, and Benedict is the engineer. John Paul II showed me the world through a telescope; Benedict XVI showed it to me through a microscope. Of course, there is much overlap between the two men. These categories are not meant to pigeonhole them, or my personal experience of them.
It seems to me that Benedict XVI has never feared going against modern secular ideology and its minions. His fearlessness was evident when he spoke about the "many winds of doctrine" and the "dictatorship of relativism" before the conclave in 2005 where he was picked to fill the shoes of John Paul II. He did it again in his speech at the University of Regensburg in 2006, and throughout his pontificate. But this was nothing new for Benedict XVI.
I suppose I first began to appreciate his unique ability and courage when he was the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and known as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. I recall a series of books, perhaps three in all, by Peter Seewald. They were interviews with the future pope. Seewald did not hold back. He asked Ratzinger many tough questions about our faith and the Church.
What most impressed me about these interviews was how Ratzinger did not flinch or back away from anything. He gave straight, clear, knowledgeable answers. And all the while, his tone was gentle and charitable. In a world filled with tortured reasoning, lies and manipulation, he was a breath of fresh air.
I also watched him tackle the most thorny criticisms of our faith and the most difficult doubts of our age in his writings. For instance, in his book, ...
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