Thank You, Lord, for Pope Benedict XVI

On the last day of 2022, Pope Benedict XVI, pope emeritus, died. Ten years ago, he made the difficult decision to resign, feeling that he lacked the physical strength needed to lead the Church. He did so after much prayer, a sign of the Pope’s great humility and courage.

Eighteen years ago, Cardinal Ratzinger, then head of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was elected pope. As prefect, Cardinal Ratzinger—Pope Benedict XVI—was always warm, kind, and welcoming. He would listen attentively to each person, showing that he really understood each one.

For Pope Benedict XVI, the love of God was the key to understanding every element of our Faith. His first papal encyclical was Deus Caritas Est—God is Love, reminding us of the essential connection between human love—erotic love—and God’s eternal love within the Trinity—agape. He said that one encounters the Triune God whenever one encounters authentic human love, quoting from St. Augustine, “where there is love there is the Trinity.” This is why charity is essential to our Christian witness, because a person truly encounters God when he or she feels loved and respected as a human being.

The Pope also tied this into the Eucharist in his post-synodal exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis—The Sacrament of Love. There he explained how the Eucharist is where “Deus Trinitas — the Trinitarian God — who is essentially love, becomes fully a part of our human condition” (n. 8), enabling us to experience the Father’s, the Son’s, and the Holy Spirit’s personal love for each and every one of us. Our response is faith: “the first element of Eucharistic faith is the mystery of God himself, trinitarian love” (n.7).

Pope Benedict XVI also felt the need to foster a greater hope in God, writing the encyclical, Spes Salvi—Saved in Hope. In addition, he wrote the encyclical, Caritas in Veritatem—Love in Truth, emphasizing that true love and justice can only arise if it reflects the truth about man in his relationship with God. My favorite quote is where he says:

As a spiritual being, the human creature is defined through interpersonal relations. The more authentically he or she lives these relations, the more his or her own personal identity matures. It is not by isolation that man establishes his worth, but by placing himself in relation with others and with God (n. 53).

The Pope wrote the series, Jesus of Nazareth, to teach us how to read Sacred Scripture properly, helping us go beyond the “scientific” historical-critical method to read it with eyes of faith. Thus, we discover the Jesus of faith, who is the real historical Jesus. His post-synodal exhortation, Verbum Domini—The Word of the Lord, complemented his theological reflection with a magisterial document. Perhaps his greatest legacy will be guiding Catholics and all Christians to a fuller understanding of God’s revelation in Scripture.

I am especially grateful for Pope Benedict XVI’s trip to this country in 2008, when he reminded us Americans of our duties as Catholics and U.S. citizens to defend religious freedom, the dignity of human life, and the God-given nature of marriage between one man and one woman for life. On that trip he also met with victims of sexual abuse, who felt loved and understood by Christ through his vicar on earth —some for the first time in their lives.

What more can we say? Much! Let’s give thanks to God for the many blessings we Catholics and the world have received through this saintly pope. The last words he uttered were: Lord, I love you!

Pope Benedict, we love you! Pray for us.

Father John Waiss is the pastor of St. Mary of the Angels Church in Chicago, Illinois. He is also a member of Opus Dei, the prelature founded by St. Josemaria Escriva.