Right from the start he was labelled as arch-conservative and inflexible; in the words of one tabloid, “God’s Rottweiler.” The announcement of Pope Benedict’s abdication from the See of Rome took everyone by surprise. Throughout his papacy, Pope Benedict XVI provoked different reactions.
His detractors often engaged in vitriolic tirades which sought to denigrate, rather than engage, with the Pontiff. These diatribes, when not a summary dismissal, were often based on prejudice rather than intelligent debate of the issues at hand. Following his abdication announcement several commentators couldn’t resist speculating on the nature of his decision.
There may be issues where one disagrees with Pope Benedict, however he is undoubtedly a remarkable figure; a towering intellectual who led the Church during a very difficult period with personal courage and determination.The image depicted by the foreign media is misleading. People who had the opportunity to meet the Pope describe him as an engaging individual willing to enter into honest and frank dialogue. Those who read his works are challenged to think about their faith and their life in relation to the mysteries of faith.
Pope Benedict was a radical in the true sense of the word; he sought to go back to the origins of the Church and did not seek to conform to popular customs and ideas.
In his Wednesday audiences and in other homilies and speeches, the Pope often gave brief catechesis on the Church Fathers. The Holy Father speaks of the evangelic zeal and spiritual depth of these historic figures. His own namesake, Benedict of Nursia, was one such figure who was repulsed by the decadence and decline of his contemporary society. In face of incredible hostility and persecution, these holy men remained unflinchingly faithful to the Gospel.
Benedict XVI often spoke of the dangers of moral relativism. In the opening of the 2005 conclave, the then Cardinal Ratzinger described relativism as a dictatorship which “does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate standard consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.” His criticism was lucid and refreshing and pointed towards the wider implications of this way of thinking.
Reason and Truth
Prior to his election Cardinal Ratzinger was a distinguished theologian and prolific writer. The papacy of Benedict XVI was characterised by a more cerebral tone. His faith was based on a constant search for truth based on reason. In his meeting with the representatives of science at Regensburg University, Benedict XVI reflects on the interplay between faith and reason and encourages the broadening of the “concept of reason and its application.”
Reason cannot be divorced form the search for truth. In his dialogue with Peter Seewald, Benedict XVI says: “man must seek the truth; he is capable of truth. It goes without saying that truth requires criteria for verification and falsification. It must always be accompanied by tolerance… the humility to recognize the truth and to accept it as a standard has to be relearned and practiced again.” He often emphasized that truth “comes to rule, not through violence, but rather through its own power.”
A Man of Prayer and Humility
Pope Benedict was given a one-minute standing ovation during the first public Mass since the announcement of his abdication. The Pope, although visibly moved, answered: “Thank you, but let us return to prayer.” This gesture in itself is a great catechesis. God is the ground of all our being and communion with Him is far greater than any applause or public recognition.
In his homily, the Holy Father drew from Matthew’s Gospel explaining that Christ “denounces religious hypocrisy, a behaviour that seeks applause and approval.” He added: “the true disciple does not serve himself or the ‘public’, but his Lord, in simplicity and generosity.”
Pope Benedict’s decision to retire to a life of solitude and prayer is a great gesture of humility. The Pope acknowledges the great demands of the Petrine ministry and shows an understanding of the limitations imposed by his physical condition and his age. We can be sure that, through prayer, Pope Benedict will remain close to all the faithful.
He leaves an incredibly rich oeuvre which will undoubtedly continue to inspire the faithful and challenge and engage those with differing views. His personal humility and holiness are a great example to the faithful. Those who were inspired by his Papacy and his service owe him a huge debt of gratitude.
One can read further here:
Faith, Reason and the University, Lecture delivered at the University of Regensburg, – http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2006/september/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20060912_university-regensburg_en.html
Full text of the Pope’s Ash Wednesday homily – http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2013/02/14/full-text-of-the-popes-ash-wednesday-homily/
Ten reasons to give thanks for Pope Benedict XVI – http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/commentandblogs/2013/02/12/ten-reasons-to-give-thanks-for-pope-benedict-xvi/