REBECCA RYSKIND TETI
I wept when I heard the news early this morning — not for the Church, but because I will miss him. Benedict XVI’s writing and teaching have been such a solace to me that I’ve often identified with the late Oriana Fallaci’s remark, “I feel less alone when I read the books of Ratzinger.”
Legacy is a thing it takes time and dispassion to understand, so I make no claims. I am grateful that one of the few genuinely open minds of our time has been in the See of Peter these eight years. In an age of punch-pulling and misdirection, I admire his intellectual fearlessness, born of the conviction that the God he hopes in is Truth itself, and that anyone seeking truth is on the path to God.
In his famed Regensburg lecture, the Pope drew the ire of certain Muslims for daring to quote a scholar asking what Mohammed brought that was new. No one among the commentators seemed to notice that Benedict XVI routinely poses the same question to Christianity: What does Jesus bring that is new? Gentle Benedict never insults anyone — but he does believe in getting to the heart of the matter. Else why bother?
“Joy” is unquestionably the word and topic that comes up most in anything he writes, and I thank him for his remarkable witness of joy and serenity in an anxious and angry time.
In an age when popular Catholicism is quick to conflate eloquence or energy in the apostolate with personal sanctity, Benedict’s disarming ability to take his duties — but never himself — seriously is refreshing. The answer he gave some years ago to a priest complaining his ministerial duties were too onerous for him to find time for serious prayer sprang to my mind this morning. It was something on the order of, “Whenever we think we are indispensable, we exaggerate.”
As an Evangelical Christian in 2008, I was worried by “God’s Rottweiler.” From what I knew, he was a cold and stodgy disciplinarian with a hyper-traditionalist streak, more likely to crack a whip than save a soul.
But then I became Catholic. After devouring his books and studying his addresses, I discovered a much different man. Three traits particularly stuck out, and they remain keys to understanding his legacy:
First, his commitment to reason. In the Pope’s important Regensburg lecture in 2006, he noted, “Even in the face of such radical skepticism it is still necessary . . . to raise the question of God through the use of reason.” Throughout his pontificate Pope Benedict affirmed that faith and reason are not enemies; they’re friends. He’s shown that the mind is a road to God.
Second, his evangelical focus. In a recent speech to Filipino prelates, Pope Benedict summed up the Church’s mission: “to propose a personal relationship with Christ.” That’s what Catholicism is all about — friendship with the Risen Lord. And it’s why Pope Benedict has poured himself into the New Evangelization, an effort to repropose this relationship to a distant world.
Third, his embrace of the new media. From launching a new Vatican website, to using an iPad, to tweeting to millions of people in eight languages, the Pope was no stranger to technology. “Without fear,” he told a group of bloggers, the Church “must set sail on the digital sea.” Yet who pictured an octogenarian Pope leading the way? Over the years, the Pope has keenly recognized that most people are online, so that’s where he’s steered the Church.
We don’t know whom the Holy Spirit will choose as his successor. We don’t know what travails lie ahead. But we do know that Pope Benedict has charted a sure future for the Church, one that is eminently reasonable, deeply evangelical, and firmly committed to new methods of evangelization.