The best and clearest understanding of Benedict XVI’s Church comes through at the moment of the greatest amazement and dismay of many: when the Pope decided to leave the pontificate and retire to a life of prayer. His well thought out and free decision — like all decisions that forge new paths in history — is the object of passionate and varied attention and commentary throughout the world. It is the seal of coherence between the Christian doctrine and practice of the current Pontiff. The Church of Benedict XVI is a Church of Christian faith. It is neither generic nor an abstract or ideological faith; it is faith in a real and historical person, Jesus of Nazareth, whom he freely chose to follow. He remains a perfect synthesis of love of God and of humanity which believers have to translate into real love of neighbour. This orientation explains Ratzinger in the continuity of his thought and action: as theologian, bishop, cardinal and Pope.
It was a surprise at his election when, inspired by the father of western monasticism, he chose the name Benedict to revive the importance of his Rule of Life centred on the principle that nothing must come before Christ. As Pope, Ratzinger has always disseminated and encouraged this rule as the primary reference point for every Christian at every level of responsibility. And it was in the light of this Rule that he defined himself immediately after his election as a humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord.
Benedict XVI surprised us again with his first Encyclical dedicated to the love of God, considered together with love for one's neighbour as the badge of all those who believe in the Gospel. There have been so many other surprises in the Pope’s action against the current up to the last: making his exit with disconcerting dignity and naturalness, aware that the Barque of Peter is guided above all by the Spirit of God. From being a teacher of faith he has become a witness of the credibility of the promises of God, to whom it is worth dedicating one’s whole life.
The legacy of Benedict XVI is already great today. But over time, it will become even more precious and better understood than it is now. Seeking to explain his resignation by casting it into the midst of obscure manoeuvres — from which we need to protect ourselves — would be to wrong the Pope’s intellectual transparency. How can those who see his renunciation as an escape from responsibility fail to perceive the lofty signal given by his action? Nor have difficult times for the Church been lacking in the eight years of his pontificate. He has confronted and surmounted them with full trust in God and and has begun to find solutions to the age-old issues he inherited.
Benedict XVI’s resignation is taking place during the Year of Faith and during the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. This is not a coincidence but a sign of the times, which the Pope has interpreted for the good of the Church. As a young theologian Joseph Ratzinger made a considerable contribution to the Council's success, helping to draft important texts of the historic meeting. Subsequently he spared no efforts to resolve the conflicts that flared up around the interpretation of the Council, pointing out as Pope the path to the Church's reform. The Council did not intend to change the Christian faith but to rethink it in a modern language intelligible to today’s world. Pope Benedict did so with tolerance, simplicity and consistence, even using the most innovative communication technology to proclaim Jesus Christ to all — only think of the Courtyard of the Gentiles — and in particular to the new generations. The Holy Father has at heart the future of the Christian faith on earth and for this reason he now believes it necessary to make a change.
St. Peter’s Square
Feb. 26, 2020
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