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The Legacy Of BXVI

January 12, 2023 Our Catholic Faith No Comments


At the end of Pope Benedict’s earthly sojourn with his death on the last day of 2022, we are moved to look back with gratitude upon his life and legacy. It is indeed a rich one, blessed with a fruitfulness indicating the Lord’s good pleasure in the labors of his humble servant.
At the cusp of a new year it was as if, with his last breath, our beloved Pope Emeritus delivered his final homily about the brevity of our lives in comparison with the great treasure of the eternal Kingdom which awaits us. His words were always carefully and lovingly chosen, with a desire to effectively communicate the Lord and His Gospel. In the end we witness the truth that it was in fact his life that was, of all his works, the most eloquent.
The sadness we experience at his passing is mixed with the joy of having known him and benefited from his gifts. He was brought by the Lord’s Providence from his native Germany to the heart of the Church in Rome where he faithfully served his good friend Pope John Paul II for many years. A guardian for the right teaching of the faith, he was trained well for his greatest role of humble servanthood in the vineyard which he accepted upon his election as Supreme Pontiff.
He first came to my attention many years ago when, as a young Army officer on active duty in Texas, his book-length interview, first known as The Ratzinger Report, made something of a ripple in the popular press. I obtained a copy through interlibrary loan from Southern Methodist University and read it with great curiosity.
I had been at that time continuing my discernment of the priesthood while serving in the military to “pay back” my four-year college scholarship. I was experiencing some skepticism as do many,there always being plenty of bad news about people in the Church, sinners all that we are.
Granted access in this way to his thought, I was immediately impressed with the simplicity, openness and transparency with which he revealed his heart and mind.
Here was a man of experience, at the heart of the Church, who knew much about the failures and unfaithfulness of so many in the life of the Church, and yet he remained ever hopeful and confident in her mission and purpose. His witness of priesthood which endures and is joyful despite Judas-like betrayals was startling and attractive. My youthful temptations to cynicism were thus shown to be more a product of inexperience than of maturing wisdom. My own vocation was, as a result, given fresh impetus. Only a few years later I would be accepted as a seminarian and military-chaplain candidate.
His 40 books, many papal and other writings and speeches have continued to impart the wisdom which is a fruit of the truths of our faith, divine Revelation transmitted as Scripture and Tradition.
Many more have benefited from the beauty, truth and goodness he came to know as a believer and continue to be touched and changed by his theological genius.
He forcefully reminded us of the necessity for the balance of faith and reason for the sake of our salvation in his Regensburg Address. Some raged irrationally against his gentle and charitable provocation on behalf of truth, in one such case murdering a Catholic religious woman as if to confirm unwittingly the veracity of his spoken witness.
God created our intelligence. Everything He reveals, to include Himself most perfectly in Christ, is compatible with and perfects the reason with which He endows every human person. Benedict was a prophet who spoke to us and to all the world in love. A shepherd after the heart of Christ, knowing our spiritual need and providing the remedy, he reminded us often that Faith builds on reason, the one never flourishing properly and effectively without the other.
His legacy will be felt and needed wherever reasonable dialog and sanity is not yet restored to the Church in all matters pertinent to salvation. Catholic worship according to Tradition will lead to restored moral reaching according to the same tradition that handed down our worship for nineteen centuries at the time the changes were first courted that continue to roil the Church, threatening her stability and mission.
Benedict’s persevering pastoral solicitude was evident in his efforts to seek peace among God’s people in the face of simmering conflicts in regard to the liturgy through his promulgation of Summorum Pontificum. It was a rare thing that Benedict would shrink from providing for authentic pastoral need and this was no exception.
Those differences tragically remain, and such solicitude is needed still. This was made ironically evident even during the Pontiff’s funeral. I watched the early morning coverage of the liturgy via Newsmax and with consternation happened to see an unfortunate incident caught by the camera during the Communion of the Mass. I saw a priest deny Holy Communion to a member of the faithful who had come forward, knelt and communicated wordlessly his desire to receive our Lord on the tongue. This, I believe, is something Pope Benedict would never do. This is not the pastoral love of souls reflective of the Good Shepherd and for the sake of which He sends out priests for his ministry.
Reception on the tongue of the Body and Blood of Christ is one of our venerable Catholic customs and always must be. Although we must never impose the wisdom of our tradition with the “sword” of condemnation we must continue to call for respect and openness toward it on the part of those who cruelly impose on unwilling members of the faithful what are merely options.
The Mass of Benedict’s childhood is still the Mass and is still Catholic, as he insisted with his characteristic gentleness. Thousands of priests all over the world are now celebrating the Traditional Latin Mass. They do so confidently, knowing it is Catholic and sacred because the wise and good Benedict shared the simple truth that it cannot now suddenly be no longer so. And the many Catholics who desire to in freedom have access to tradition remain ever grateful.
Many priests, many of them young, who continue to look to Benedict for vocational inspiration through the wisdom he generously shared have offered Traditional requiem Masses for him, as I witnessed in New York the week of his laying to rest. His influence will undoubtedly grow and bless the Church through these men who have been deeply influenced by his profound thought and writing, effective as it is beautiful.

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