AN UNAPPRECIATED PROPHET
FR. JÓZEF GAWEŁ SCJ
Benedict XVI ‘is one of the biggest gift of God for our world and our time’ – wrote Fr. Jerzy Szymik. As the pope, he was an exceptional prophet in the secularized society of the contemporary world, especially Europe
Benedict XVI showed not only dangers for the future of the world, but also sources of hope for its revival. He left us a great theological heritage and rich papal teaching, from which the Church will take advantage for a long time.
He proclaimed the truth courageously
Peter Seewald– the author of bestselling interviews conducted with Benedict XVI – wrote about him that ‘he is probably the most hated man in the world’. There were many attempts to kill the predecessor of Benedict XVI- John Paul II, and Benedict XVI himself became the subject of slanders, insults, attacks from mass media and hysteria accompanying it. Numerous unjust judgments appearing in mass media during his pontificate exceeded the level of a good taste. Why was he being attacked and persecuted so intensively? It can be shortly said that the reason for it was his intransigence and courageous way of proclaiming the truth. Many people consider Benedict XVI to be a genius of intellect. With perspicacity and courage characteristic for him, he was proclaiming the whole truth about the man and the modern world. He took over the heritage of John Paul II, who raised papacy to the rank of the supreme moral authority of the world. He was also popular for a similar moral authority and had a great power of influence.
God ‘at the turn of the millennia gave the Church two popes- philosophers and theologians, a Pole and a German, whose spiritual and intellectual verve is comparable with the works of Augustine and Akwinata’ – wrote Fr. Szymik. As a theologian, Benedict XVI always asked the basic questions - about God, salvation, hope, life, morality. He was proclaiming the truth with awareness that he should please God, not people and that is why he could not agree on any compromises. He was not afraid of showing the sources of evil which is ‘the relativism dictatorship’. It caused strong attacks from his ideological opponents proclaiming the motto: ‘Let’s live in a way as if God did not exist’. Thanks to his attitude, he deserved the name of a prophet of our difficult times, who was courageously proclaiming the whole truth. As a cardinal, in an interview he told the Bavarian television in 1997 that he ‘is afraid of only a visit at the dentist’s’. As the pope, he expressed his request in 2005: ‘Please, pray for me, so that I would not run away for fear of wolves’. Benedict XVI showed through his work, attitude and teaching that he was a pastor of all people and that his mission is actuation of God in the world and opening paths for Him. ‘The main task is a necessity of uncovering God anew and not any God, but God of the human face. For, when we see Jesus Christ, we see God’ – he was teaching in 2006 in Munich during his pilgrimage to Germany. He said there many times that Europe is endangered in its identity because of neglecting God and because of cynicism, ‘for which mocking at holiness is the right of freedom. I wish we learnt fear of God again – he emphasized. – This attitude of respect can be revived in the western world only when faith in God is growing again, when God is present for us and in us again’. In Munich the pope was calling that ‘Europe has to find God, God from its beginning, God of peace and love, Christian God, in whom every religion can find its place. The world needs God, We need God’. It was a call to return to the roots of Christianity in Europe and getting away from the path of secularization.
The servant of the Church
‘The Church is not our Church, but His Church, the Church of God. A servant must be aware of how to manage the good which has been given to us. We lead people to Jesus Christ, that is, to alive God’. Benedict XVI was aware that he was the pastor of the Church, that is, its servant. He was not looking for authority or recognition among people. He was trying to lead everybody to Jesus Christ and proclaim the truth of the Gospel. So, he was teaching about God and about moral life of the man. He referred to ‘natural morality’, that is, ability of distinguishing between the good and evil which every human being has. He was not afraid of showing dangers of the modern world, at whose base there is a false philosophy. ‘Only God can give us a clear way of looking; only Him can free us from skepticism and allow us to see the truth in the whole confusion’. So, he was proclaiming the protection of every life from conception to natural death. He defended the family based on marriage between a man and a woman. He also called for protection of nature which God gave to the man and to more considerate using natural resources. This voice of the Church, pronounced with the mouth of Benedict XVI on the international level, was the only real and credible reference point in the issue of life defence of a defenseless human being and human dignity. But through his teaching, the pope took on an opposite attitude towards various ‘progressing’ domineering ideologies which wanted to impose death culture on the world.
Benedict XVI always proclaimed the truth about God to everybody. He reminded it also to priests. We can just mention his speech to priests in the Warsaw cathedral on 25 May 2006: ‘Believers expect priests to be specialists on the meeting of the man with God. They do not demand from priests to be experts in economy, building or politics. They expect priests to be experts in the sphere of spiritual life’.
A prophet in the contemporary world
Having resigned from the Holy See, Benedict XVI spoke for the first time at the end of August 2013, giving a homily during the Holy Mass for a group of his former cooperators, PhDs, students, prominent theologians, who had discussed in Rome ‘the issue of God in the context of secularization’. He said then that ‘God’s servant must look at Lord, measure himself with his measure, the measure of responsibility for others, he must be the one who serves…’Through this homily about humility and service he somehow reminded about what he had been trying to do as the pastor of the universal Church. He was a good pastor following the example of Jesus Christ. He was a real prophet in the contemporary world in the world, especially in Rome. However, his prophetic voice was not accepted. This is often the fate of prophets. Benedict XVI tasted the fate of a grain which dies in order to bring a fruit – as the Gospel says.
Humility and courage
Responsibility of the ‘servant’ for the Church told him to aim at reconciliation in the community of the Church and undertaking attempts of breaking divisions, in order to make his apostolate an testimony more effective and fruitful. He used to say: ‘Can we maintain complete indifference towards the community of the Society of Saint Pius X? Should we allow them to go a different road away from the Church?’ He was aware that from the Society of Saint Pius X there have been ‘many unsuitable things, like pride and conceit or obsessive unilaterality’. However, as a humble servant and the pastor of the Church, and concerned about its unity, Benedict XVI reached out his friendly hand to the Brotherhood and offered mercy. Therefore, on 7 July 2007 he announced an apostolic letter ‘Summorum Pontificium’ in which he officially agreed on using the Tridentine missal, issued by John XXIII in 1962. He emphasized then that it had never been abolished or prohibited. Through this gesture, Benedict XVI wanted to show his understanding towards communities of believers which are related to the Roman rite. He also explained that the new missal, the fruit of the post-conciliar liturgical reform ‘is and remains an ordinary form of celebrating the Holy Mass. The old version is an extraordinary form of the same Roman rite. There are not two rites, but these are rather two forms of the same rite’. In a discussion with members of the Society of Saint Pius X, Benedict XVI reminded that the Vatican council should be understood according to the hermeneutics of continuity and development, not breaking with tradition, however, this theological attitude pointing to development and coherence was ignored. Interpretation of the Vatican council in the light of tradition and hermeneutics of development, should not be, however, bring real problems.
The attitude of members of the Society of Saint Pius X was a rejection of the hand stretched out to them. It was also a great pain for Benedict XVI who had done everything what was possible in order to put end to schism. It seemed that there would be reconciliation and full communion with the Church soon. The Society of Saint Pius X rejected the prophet of unity who was Benedict XVI. Speaking humanly, Benedict had a defeat also in this field. However, he will not always remain a witness of reconciliation and unity. We should hope that despite stubbornness and this attitude of the Society of Saint Pius X, a dialogue will be continued patiently. It is proven by the attitude of pope Francis, who on 3 August 2013 appointed, the previous papal almoner, archbishop Guido Pozzo a new secretary of the Papal Commission Ecclesia Dei. His task will still be patient conducting a dialogue with the Brotherhood. Whereas Fr. Konrad Krajewski from Łódź, the previous papal ceremony master, was appointed a new papal almoner and raised to the honour of archbishop.
A hero of XX century
Many people think that the senior pope Benedict XVI should be considered as a hero of the previous century. This title is justified by his humility and courage of making the decision about resignation from the ministry as Peter in the universal Church and going into the background. He made this decision with a deep conviction that God wanted it and the good of the Church demanded it. He admitted to his weakness with humility, which did not allow him to fulfill such a difficult ministry longer. He said that he would still serve the Church, but in a different way – through his prayer. Through his decision he was preparing a road for pope Francis at the Holy See who brings so many fruits.