Pope Benedict XVI acknowledges pilgrims during his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Nov. 4, 2009. Pope Benedict died Dec. 31, 2022, at the age of 95 in his residence at the Vatican. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Editorial: Holiness, humanity

  • January 6, 2023

Among the resonances that will expand across time from Benedict XVI’s intellect, character, holiness and humanity is the harmonious clarity he sustained between certainty and charity.

As a man forced as a youth to serve the evil banalities of Nazi dictatorship, the incipient pope waged rhetorical battle in 2005 against “the dictatorship of relativism.” Four years later, he gave the world a gloria to the Creator of humanity’s better nature in the encyclical Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth). Between, delivered on Christmas Day, was his testament to Our Father’s love for his children, Deus Caritas Est (God is Love). The challenge in comparing one to the other is finding a note of contradiction among them.

“We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive, and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires,” then Cardinal Ratzinger warned in a homily before the 2005 conclave.

“Charity is not an added extra, like an appendix to work already concluded… it engages… in dialogue from the very beginning,” Benedict wrote in 2009’s Caritas

Both are with his words in the Christmas Day encyclical: “Love — caritas — will always prove necessary, even in the most just society. There is no ordering of the State so just that it can eliminate the need for a service of love. Whoever wants to eliminate love is preparing to eliminate man as such.”

It is realism, not pessimism, to acknowledge the shadows of a burning global desire to eliminate love, and therefore humanity as such. Dominating our day is a malignant media-politico nexus whose lazy fatuousness camouflages a malicious avariciousness. It deforms life itself into false binaries that manage to be simultaneously feckless and venomous. 

The injury has penetrated the Church herself in the fabrication of a duplicitous dichotomy between the late Pope Emeritus and Pope Francis. It is vivid in the contrived configuring of each as supposedly opposed leaders of so-called “conservative” and “liberal” Catholic factions. Its cunning lie uses the ideological ploy of denying individual minds the freedom to choose varying means toward an identical end. 

Yes, Benedict and Francis differed in demeanour and points of emphasis along the way. We are among those critical of the latter’s more hair-raising gyrations. But who in their right mind would contradict Benedict and Francis being heart, mind and soul united as evangelists for salvation through the one body and blood of Jesus Christ? Who would hold dear the name Catholic yet repudiate the truth that both popes have moved Holy Mother Church with the wind of the Holy Spirit at their backs?

So guided, Benedict led and liberated us to hold fast to the salvific certainty of our faith and obey the imperative to proclaim it in charity. Catholics all should raise hosannas that one of his holiness and humanity lived among us and left the echo of his harmonious clarity to resonate across the ages.

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