Homage to Benedict XVI

Pray Tell contributors reflect on the life of Benedict XVI.

David Turnbloom writes:

Reflecting on the contributions of Benedict XVI, two things come immediately to my mind. First, it would be hard to overstate the importance of his choice to step down from the papacy. In my opinion, that choice was one of the most courageous and humble acts of leadership I will witness in my lifetime. His prayerful decision helped the Church remember that the papacy is an office, not a person. In a Church that needs to guard against the temptations of clericalism, his example should be continuously pondered.

Second, when I think of the legacy of Pope Benedict XVI, it is difficult not to focus on his immense theological contributions. Perhaps my favorite of his encyclicals is Spe Salvi in which he writes beautifully about eschatology and the hope of salvation into eternal life. When teaching undergraduate students, I often spend at least one class period discussing his poetic descriptions of heaven and his passionate defense of praying for the dead. I will close my reflection with a quote from this encyclical that hopefully leads us into praying for Benedict XVI:

“Our lives are involved with one another, through innumerable interactions they are linked together. No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone. The lives of others continually spill over into mine: in what I think, say, do and achieve. And conversely, my life spills over into that of others: for better and for worse. So my prayer for another is not something extraneous to that person, something external, not even after death. In the interconnectedness of Being, my gratitude to the other—my prayer for him—can play a small part in his purification.” (Spe Salvi #48)

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Frederick Bauerschmidt writes:

This past semester I supervised a senior capstone project for one of our Theology majors on the topic of liturgy. The project involved visiting three different local parishes and doing a theological analysis of what was going on in their liturgical celebrations. To prepare for doing this analysis, we read two books together: John Baldovin’s Bread of Life, Cup of Salvation and Josef Ratzinger’s Spirit of the Liturgy.

This student didn’t have any theological axe to grind; she simply wanted to learn more about the history and theology of the Mass. She learned a lot from Baldovin’s book and much of what he said resonated with her. But it seemed it was Ratzinger who really captured her imagination. She found in his book a cosmic vision of the Church’s liturgy that articulated what had been in her an inchoate sense of the importance of the Mass. There were certain aspects of Ratzinger’s thought that she found dubious— particularly a Eurocentric bias when it came to art and music—but she saw these as minor complaints compared to his capacity to locate the liturgical action within a drama that embraces all time and space.

I think in some ways this student is typical of those young people who still think, in contrast to their increasingly unchurched peers, that somehow all life depends on what is enacted on the altar. She is not particularly concerned with the ideological boxes that we old folks want to put people in. She just wants to find authors who can help her better grasp why this thing we Christians do matters so much. This gives me hope, and some sense of how Josef Ratzinger might be remembered once my generation has passed from the scene: not as a partisan in a long-past liturgy war, but as someone who can fire our imaginations and who invites us to share his love of the Church’s liturgy.

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Nathan Chase writes:

In reflecting on the papacy of Benedict XVI, I am perhaps most grateful for the way he brought theological discourse and his theological training into his papacy. While there is always (and should always) be a creative tension between the magisterium, the Roman Curia, and theologians, Benedict XVI modeled the important role of theological reflection (scholarly and pastoral) in the life of the Catholic Church. He reminded everyone of the importance of intentional theological reflection and the collaborative work needed between theologians and bishops, priests, and other clergy and religious. His treatment of love in his various encyclicals is truly the work of a theologian whose heart was ablaze with the love of God and his people.

I am also grateful for the way that Benedict XVI called us to reflect more deeply on the liturgical life of the Church and to attend to the formative role of the liturgy. Unlike many theologians and even liturgists, he paid particular attention to the eschatological dimensions of the Church’s liturgy in a way that often brings me goosebumps. He also called theologians and minsters alike to reflect on the way the liturgy is a primary source of theological reflection. But above all, Benedict articulated beautifully the heart of the liturgical life: the worship of God. I would like to end with a quotation from Benedict’s book The Spirit of the Liturgy (written when he was Cardinal Ratzinger) that I think perfectly encapsulates the beauty of the liturgy, but also the challenge we face in celebrating it:

“Christian liturgy is a liturgy of promise fulfilled, of a quest, the religious quest of human history, reaching its goal. But it remains a liturgy of hope. It, too, bears within it the mark of impermanence. The new Temple, not made by human hands, does exist, but it is also still under construction. The great gesture of embrace emanating from the Crucified has not yet reached its goal; it has only just begun. Christian liturgy is liturgy on the way, a liturgy of pilgrimage toward the transfiguration of the world, which will only take place when God is ‘all in all.’” (p.50)

It is my prayer that Benedict XVI has now entered into that new Temple, been embraced by the loving arms of the Crucified and glorified one, and now participates in the heavenly liturgy to which all our earthly prayers are directed.

Thank you, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, for your life of service to the Church and to the world.

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Teresa Berger writes:

Reflecting on the legacy of former Pope Benedict XVI, the one element I will always rejoice in is that he declared St. Hildegard of Bingen to be a Doctor of the Church. This might seem a comparatively small act, but it was actually not that simple. Hildegard had never been canonized officially, and when the German bishops petitioned the Vatican in 1978 to declare her to be a doctor ecclesiae, that detail was cited as grounds for the negative answer: the woman had never been properly canonized!  Never mind that the reasons for this failure had been one of ecclesial process. Pope Gregory IX had initially responded positively, in 1228, to a request by the convent of Rupertsberg to inquire into Hildegard’s life with a view toward canonization. However, the men charged with the task of gathering the necessary materials, especially the accounts of witnesses, failed miserably. When late in 1233 they finally dispatched a report to Rome, it lacked fundamental details, e.g., the names of witnesses of Hildegard’s miracles.  Pope Gregory then appointed three different men to gather the missing information; these men failed even more grandiosely by, apparently, simply doing nothing. Finally, after a papal inquiry in 1243, a commission provided the necessary details to the initial report, but this detailed documentation simply vanished somewhere between the Rhine valley and Rome. Thus ended the canonization process of Hildegard of Bingen.

Enter Pope Benedict XVI. In 2012, just a year prior to his resignation, he declared Hildegard of Bingen a doctor ecclesiae. I still re-read his Apostolic Letter on that occasion, “Proclaiming Saint Hildegard of Bingen, professed nun of the Order of Saint Benedict, a Doctor of the Universal Church,” with joy.

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