On December 31st, 2022, as Catholics said goodbye to that year, we also said farewell to one of the most revered theologians in the Catholic Church. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI passed into eternity on New Year’s Eve, one year ago, and left behind a rich and incredible legacy for the faithful.
Elected to succeed Pope St. John Paul II on April 19th, 2005, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger became the 265th successor of St. Peter. He was a scholar, theologian, author, and philosopher who combined a great intellect with deep pastoral sensitivity as few in the Church have done before him.
Chosen at age 78, he reported his own reluctance, and yet accepted God’s call with the characteristic faith and trust he showed in the other seasons of his life. Even before becoming a priest, professor, and cardinal, the Pope Emeritus saw himself as a fellow-worker for the Lord.
Pastoral Sensitivity & Reverence for the Sacred
As a young boy, he saw his parish priest beaten by the Nazis before Mass, and understood the hostile environment in Germany during his childhood. Forced to join the Hitler Youth, and later drafted forcibly with the other men of his seminary into the German anti-aircraft corps, His Holiness knew grave evil from an early age. He never forgot it, and spoke about this time as a dark period in his life, the life of his country, and the history of our world.
That knowledge gave him a great pastoral sensitivity to those who suffer as well as a tremendous reverence for beauty and all that was sacred. He carried this into his life in a variety of ways. He had an immense intellect as a philosopher and scholar and also many creative gifts, from his enjoyment of music as a pianist (he was particularly fond of Mozart and Bach) to his ability to speak six languages.
An Accomplished Theologian
As Joseph Ratzinger, the Pope Emeritus became a priest, professor, rector, author, cardinal, and attendee of the Second Vatican Council. His appreciation for the sacred was an undercurrent of his lifelong devotion to the Church. He served as a close advisor and friend of Pope St. John Paul II and sought to preserve the deposit of faith and reverence in the liturgy.
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John Paul II chose the renowned German theologian as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He was also chair of the commission for drafting the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and spent six years working on this incredible resource. The College of Cardinals then elected him as their Dean during Pope John Paul II’s papacy. Upon the death of his dear friend, the College elected him to the Chair of Peter.
Christ as the Ultimate Answer
The Pope Emeritus believed and taught the importance of a personal and intimate relationship with Jesus in addressing every need of the human person and every problem in the world. He was a humble, gentle, and quiet soul who spent his life seeking the face of Christ.
As he paired faith and reason, and taught Catholics to do likewise, he was able to present the Faith in a compelling way that answered the particular questions of our age. He spoke particularly about the dictatorship of relativism and its damage to the world, and he fought against it by bringing clarity and light to the faithful.
He defended the Church, her teachings, our Faith, and the Gospels. He restored the free celebration of the Latin Mass. He possessed both an incredible faith and a brilliant mind that brought forth the subtle beauty and joy of faith in an often fresh and surprising way.
An Incredible Legacy of Devotion
After an eight-year pontificate, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI resigned. Because he was the first pope to do so in 600 years, this sent shockwaves through the Church, but the Holy Father had made this decision with concerted prayer. He was firmly convicted that his advanced age and health made him no longer suitable for the exercise of the Petrine ministry.
He told the College of Cardinals that the world was shaken by many questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, and he believed it was critical for the one who governed the Bark of Peter to possess both strength of mind and body in these times.
He devotedly served the Church through a life wholly dedicated to prayer. In this way and so many others, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI leaves a lasting legacy as an incredible gift to the Catholic Church. May he rest in peace in the kingdom of heaven to which he encouraged us, about which he enlightened us, and upon which he based his earthly life.
As we commemorate the first anniversary of his death, may his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.