Days before Pope Benedict XVI’s recent death, social-media influencers pre-empted nature and began pontificating on his life and legacy.
Then, on Dec. 31—the very last day of the year of 2022 of our Lord—the former vicar of Christ made way for those public epitaphs, uttering his final audible words, “Lord, I love you,” not long before his spirit departed his body for eternal life.
The criticism commencing almost immediately from some corners wasn’t surprising. It’s become predictable for Catholicism to serve as a punching bag for those viewing religion in a bad light. For those who’ve been hurt in some way by the Church, it’s somewhat understandable.
But in our cancel culture, it seems we’ve gotten too quick to draw fire, and, in our disappointment and sometimes misdirected anger, we can miss out on the richness of the faith meant to be a salve on our hearts. After all, Christ came to heal and bring peace to the whole world, and asks the same of his followers. We cannot receive with a closed fist, however.
I’d like to challenge those critical of Pope Benedict XVI to consider that maybe this old codger from Germany had, and still has, something good to offer us.
Consider the first pastoral letter concerning doctrine, known as an encyclical, he wrote as pope. “Deus Caritas Est,” meaning, “God is love,” draws on 1 John 4:16: “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”
John’s words, he wrote, “express with remarkable clarity the heart of the Christian faith: the Christian image of God and the resulting image of mankind and its destiny.”
“We have come to believe in God’s love,” he continued, and, in saying these words, the Christian can express the fundamental decision of his life. “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”
Quoting John 3:16, he then noted, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him…should have eternal life.” The crux of Christianity in a nutshell.
Benedict continued, “Since God has first loved us, love is now no longer a mere ‘command;’ it is the response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us.”
This message is both timely and significant, he wrote, which is why he chose it for his first encyclical, “to speak of the love which God lavishes upon us, and which we in turn must share with others.”
Despite criticism, with some even calling Pope Benedict “God’s Rottweiler,” I believe he’s been unfairly misrepresented. The best way to know this good man is to read what he has so generously shared; to not cancel him, but consider that maybe, just maybe, there’s something good and beautiful in who he was, and the hope he wanted to offer, not just some but all.
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on Jan. 16, 2023.]