I love Pope Benedict XVI. Reading him makes one think better and see more deeply. Here are 10 things he said that truly changed my life.
First: Benedict named my fear and helped me overcome it.
At his inauguration as Pope, what Benedict said of John Paul II put into words something I never recognized before:
“His words constantly echo in my ears: ‘Do not be afraid! Open wide the doors for Christ!’ … Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? … If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? …
“No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! … On the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you … Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything.”
Second: I adopted Benedict’s liturgical philosophy.
In his first message as Pope, Benedict said he considered it providential that John Paul died halfway through the Year of the Eucharist, and he had this instruction:
“I ask everyone to intensify in coming months love and devotion to the Eucharistic Jesus and to express in a courageous and clear way the real presence of the Lord, above all through the solemnity and the correctness of the celebrations.”
This is one great way of unity for the Church to this day.
Third: Benedict taught me to love God, because God loves me.
Many quote Benedict XVI’s opening words from his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est about how “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but an encounter …”
I like that a lot. But I like even better the “second element” he mentions later: “God loves man. … His love, moreover, is an elective love. … God loves, and his love may certainly be called eros, yet it is also totally agape.” God loves us so passionately, he said, that the prophets “described God’s passion for his people using boldly erotic images.”
Fourth: Pope Benedict showed me what Pope Francis wants.
I got the idea for my book What Pope Francis Really Said when people complained that in his 2013 America interview, Francis called certain Church teachings “small-minded rules” and my friend Rebecca Teti, a Benedict lover, brought my attention to these Francis-esque words of Benedict:
“We should not allow our faith to be drained by too many discussions of multiple, minor details, but rather, should always keep our eyes in the first place on the greatness of Christianity. … I was asked to give interviews and I always knew the questions in advance. They concerned the ordination of women, contraception, abortion and other such constantly recurring problems. If we let ourselves be drawn into these discussions …we give the impression that we are moralists with a few somewhat antiquated convictions, and not even a hint of the true greatness of the faith appears.”
Fifth: I have shared Benedict’s definition of “Friendship with Jesus” with students for 13 years.
“The Lord defines friendship in two ways,” he said. First, communication — prayer — because “There are no secrets between friends.” Second, is the Roman definition of friendship, “idem velle — idem nolle,” (same likes, same dislikes); to be his friend is to follow his will.
Benedict put it more tenderly later: Jesus “is not only a teacher but a friend, but, more than that, a brother. How can we know him if we keep a distance from him? Intimacy, familiarity and knowledge help us to discover Jesus Christ’s true identity.”
Sixth: Pope Benedict changed my understanding of the abuse crisis.
Much has been written about Benedict’s strong record as a watchdog on the abuse crisis, a record which was not perfect but has been unfairly maligned. However, I was covering his U.S. visit in 2008 when he said something in his meeting with bishops that changed my whole understanding of the issue:
“What does it mean to speak of child protection when pornography and violence can be viewed in so many homes through media widely available today? We need to reassess urgently the values underpinning society, so that a sound moral formation can be offered to young people and adults alike.”
The priest clergy abuse crisis is real, and still needs attention. But Benedict helped me realize that the lay abuse crisis — in which children’s innocence is destroyed, women are denigrated, and sex trafficking is enabled — is a more widespread crisis that needs a far more vigorous response on everybody’s part.
Seventh: He changed my relationship with my guardian angel when he broke his wrist in 2009.
I had an intellectual belief in guardian angels, but I was struck deeply by the way Benedict pointed out that his guardian angel must have had “orders from above” to allow the Pope to have a broken wrist.
“Perhaps the Lord wanted to teach me greater patience and humility, and give me more time for prayer and meditation,” he said.
I love that.
Eighth: I have been “offering things up” with gusto after his encyclical Spe Salvi.
“There used to be a form of devotion,” he wrote, “that included the idea of ‘offering up’ the minor daily hardships that continually strike at us like irritating ‘jabs,’ thereby giving them a meaning. … What does it mean to offer something up? [To] insert these little annoyances into Christ’s great ‘com-passion’ so that they somehow became part of the treasury of compassion so greatly needed by the human race.”
Ninth: Speaking of Spe Salvi, that’s when Benedict helped me understand heaven.
Benedict complained that heaven sounds “interminable, and this frightens us,” Like “an unending succession of days in the calendar.” Instead, he said heaven is:
“Something more like the supreme moment of satisfaction, in which totality embraces us and we embrace totality. … like plunging into the ocean of infinite love, a moment in which time—the before and after — no longer exists … plunging ever anew into the vastness of being, in which we are simply overwhelmed with joy.”
Tenth: I loved when he told kids to make their parents go to Mass.
Last, I have to mention that great meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and First Communicants. He coached kids on how to get their parents to go to Mass, suggesting they say:
“Dear Mommy, dear Daddy, it is so important for us all, even for you, to meet Jesus. This encounter enriches us. It is an important element in our lives. Let’s find a little time together. We can find an opportunity! Perhaps there is also a possibility where Grandmom lives …”
The grandma part is a brilliant touch. Thank you, Pope Benedict!