The Last of the Giants? | Carl E. Olson | Catholic World Report
It is too early to judge the pontificate of Benedict XVI, but Joseph Ratzinger's brilliance and holiness cannot be denied.
This morning, as I watched live video of Pope Benedict XVI flying from the Vatican to the Castel Gandolfo, I felt, for the first time really, a deep sense of sadness. As the Holy Father stepped from the helicopter, his fatigue and frailty appeared quite obvious, even while his gaze seemed as focused and intent as ever. Then, a few moments later, he appeared on the balcony to make his final, brief address as pontiff.
“You know that today is different from others”, he said, “as of eight pm I will no longer be the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church. I will simply be a pilgrim who is beginning the last part of his pilgrimage on earth.” Those familiar with the writings Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI will recall the collection of his essays, Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith: The Church as Communion (Ignatius Press, 2005), presented to Cardinal Ratzinger on the occasion of his 75th birthday. The title and subtitle captures, in just eight words, an essential focus of the thought and work of Ratzinger. In his final general audience, given two days ago, Benedict thanked those who had written him notes in recent weeks, reflecting on the meaning of those gestures of love and support:
In this you can touch what the Church is—not an organization, not an association for religious or humanitarian ends, but a living body, a communion of brothers and sisters in the Body of Jesus Christ who unites us all. Experiencing the Church in this way and being able to almost touch with our hands the strength of His truth and His love is a reason for joy at a time when many are speaking of its decline. See how the Church is alive today!
That passage came to mind as I watched the FOX broadcast of events at the Vatican and Castel Gandolfo. One of the reporters, who was obviously a Catholic, was asked a question about the heart of the Catholic Faith: what is it? She referenced the Church’s rich intellectual tradition and the Church’s stand for human rights, but she never mentioned the person of Jesus Christ. This stood out to me because Benedict himself, since announcing his resignation, has spoken several times about the relationship between Jesus Christ and his Church, a relationship that is all about a communion of life and love.
Perhaps the best example of this can be found in his lengthy and fascinating address to priests and clergy on February 14th, a talk that might be described as a papal history of Vatican II: