In these days since the Pope Francisco sounded the alarm —asking everyone for prayers— about the serious state of health of the Pope emeritus Benedict XVIthere has been time to reflect on the example of life and the human and spiritual legacy that Joseph Ratzinger after 95 years of a fruitful life dedicated for the most part to the service of God and the Church.
Undoubtedly, the most newsworthy event, but also the most relevant due to its profound significance, was his resignation on February 11, 2013 to continue being Pope, arguing that he no longer had the strength to continue taking the helm of Peter’s boat. It was the second time in history that this had happened —the first had been that of Gregory XII in 1415—, but Benedict XVI’s decision was a clear example of humility, of detachment from oneself, in a world where precisely very little abounds, among those who have government responsibilities, this type of behavior. Benedict XVI, according to his own account, had thought about it slowly in the presence of God, and according to his conscience he came to the conclusion that he had to make way for another Pope.
Closely linked to that resignation is his subsequent behavior. Benedict XVI truly distanced himself from responsibility for him. He did not stay as the “shadow watchman” of the new Pope. In his last speech before the College of Cardinals, he promised fidelity and service to the new Roman Pontiff, and it has been so. Although he physically stayed inside the Vatican compound —in the Mater Eclesiae Monastery— he put many kilometers away so as not to interfere in the new Pontificatedespite the fact that some information published in these years pointed out that they tried to use him to counter some initiatives or decisions of Pope Francis. Benedict XVI he never allowed himself to be used, and always showed faithful and loyal to his successor.
A second feature of his life trajectory was his intellectual honesty and his defense and search for the truth. He never opposed faith with reason, quite the opposite. He was a great theologian —one of the best, but the best of the 20th century— with a capacity and lucidity to diagnose in his public interventions, both as a cardinal and later when he was elected Pope, the situation of Western society and specifically of the Europe that he lived and knew. In this sense, his speeches before the German Bundestag, as well as at the University of Regensburg, to name two well-known ones, are pieces of great intellectual and moral quality.
That humility and that intellectual honestyThey helped him greatly when he was elected Pope. The so-called “progressive” sectors of the intellectual, clerical world and the media received him tooth and nail, negatively and pejoratively underlining his work at the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith during the pontificate of John Paul II.
If in fact it was not easy to succeed a giant of faith like Karol Wojtyla, with an ability to reach people and connect with everyone, especially with young people, Ratzinger found himself with those prejudices and labels that Those who distrusted his work put him in charge of the chair of Peter.
And yet, in a very short time, Benedict XVI was dismantling these prejudices and earning not only the respect, but the esteem and affection of many people, believers or not, who saw in him a simple, humble, serene person. He perfectly applied in his Petrine teaching that lapidary and accurate phrase of John Paul II: “Faith is not imposed, it is proposed.”
Finally, and this is the reason that explains all of the above, Joseph Ratzinger, later Benedict XVIit was a man of God. Some may think that it would only be necessary for a priest, a cardinal, a Pope, not to be. And that is an accurate thought. But to be a man of God you have to work at it day by day, because that doesn’t come for free from Heaven, may the expression be used. It was noticeable that Benedict XVI was in continuous contact with God, and very likely that treatment will have been more intense, more personal, more relaxed, during these nine years that have elapsed since his resignation, in which he has undoubtedly had more time and more peace of mind to promote that contemplative life within the walls of the Mater Eclesiae Monastery, within the walls of the Vatican.
Rest in peace, Joseph Ratzinger, Benedict XVI and that from heaven he continues to help support the Church of the 21st century, of which he was the visible head for almost eight years.