Death of a Teacher
Updated: Jan 1
The Vatican announced the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on Saturday with a brief statement of spiritual testament written by the man himself. Sadly, for millions of Catholics around the world, the death of this great man will be nothing more than a Yahoo! News headline or a passing Twitter comment. What’s worse is that many people will remember him only as a brief leader who struggled with scandals and leading the Church in modern times. But the truth is that Pope Benedict XVI should be remembered as a humble teacher who held firm to his faith in the face of strong adversity.
As it seems all great stories begin, Joseph Ratzinger was born to humble beginnings into a joyful family. Born on Holy Saturday, he was baptized the same day in the first blessed waters of the Easter Vigil. His father imparted his unshakable faith into his children and his mother’s kindness led them through much of the upheaval that marked Germany after World War I. His parents, siblings, and the Holy Spirit were constant companions in his formative years.
Much has been said about Ratzinger’s navigation through the tumultuous rise of the Nazi Party and the Second World War, but what is noteworthy to mention is that in a time when many others abandoned the Church, Ratzinger held firm to his faith. A solid foundation in a shaken world, his faith guided him through the condemnation of the Church by Hitler and the mandated participation in the Nazi youth movement leading up to his drafting. He endeavored to hold firm to his studies and became a priest and a scholar in a post-war environment that encouraged neither.
Ratzinger’s scholarly pursuits stayed with him throughout his life. The more he learned of his faith, the more he wanted to know. And the more he knew about his faith, the more he wanted to share it with others. A passionate teacher, Ratzinger always sought to pass on all that is beautiful and joyful about the faith handed down to us by Christ. His work marrying the fields of natural science and theology sought to bring Christians deeper into their faith by showing that the fields were complementary, not contradictory. He firmly believed that the beauty of the natural world around us can only lead us deeper into the Truth of our Loving God.
During his time working for Pope St. John Paul II, Cardinal Ratzinger helped navigate the Catholic world through the early years of Vatican II. Once again, he found himself in the midst of a tumultuous time where tensions ran high as Catholics around the world struggled to implement the teachings of Vatican II at the diocesan and parish levels. As a former professor and constant teacher, he advocated for a catechism to be written to help guide the laity and present the Catholic faith in a straight-forward manner without controversy.
One of his greatest gifts to us, therefore, will undoubtedly be the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Written by brilliant scholars, Ratzinger chief among them, the Catechism of the Catholic Church is simply written and wonderfully accessible for Christians at all stages of their faith journeys. Always the teacher, Ratzinger created a document that catechists around the world use to pass on the faith to the next generation. His joy of faith and loving relationship with Christ shines throughout the document and guides readers through the clear and concise basis for the Catholic faith rooted in Christ.
After the death of Pope St. John Paul II, Ratzinger once again found himself in the midst of turbulence. Elected the 265th pontiff, now Pope Benedict XVI was tasked with leading the Church through the growing number of sexual abuse scandals that rocked the faith of many Catholics around the world. As abusers and their superiors were brought to justice, Pope Benedict worked to create a unified response and approach to protecting children and the vulnerable in our churches.
Known as a conservative, Pope Benedict XVI held firm to the doctrines on abortion, contraception, and homosexuality though pressure to loosen the Church’s stance was immense. Here again, he found himself bombarded with controversy and still sought to lead the faithful to a more unified Church.
His surprising resignation as pope in February of 2013 demonstrated his love of the Church and humble nature. Led by the Holy Spirit, he felt that he could no longer serve the Church as its leader due to his declining health and stepped aside for a new leader to emerge. In his brief time as pope, he canonized 45 saints including Theodore Guerin, Andre Bessette and Kateri Tekakwitha, one of only four Native American saints.
Pope Benedict XVI will always be remembered for the turmoil that surrounded him throughout his life. Constantly faced with adversity, he managed to cultivate and grow his faith in spite of it. He was a brilliant scholar and gifted the Church with his written theological insights and his work on the Catechism of the Catholic Church will bear fruit for decades to come. He stepped up to serve the people during one of the biggest scandals in the Church’s history and helped to guide Catholics out of that darkness. His legacy will carry on through his writings and the blesseds and saints he recognized as pope.
May you rest in the Loving Peace of your Creator, dear Joseph.
Elizabeth Kos is still a Catholic woman in progress and continues to learn as much as she can about her faith from the classroom as well as people she meets. Please keep her in your prayers!
Note from editor - we will have a few pieces reflecting on the life and ministry of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. As with any individual who lived a long and influential life in the public eye, many diverse thoughts and impressions of the man remain.
All of us at Wisdom's Dwelling join with Elizabeth's prayers as we offer our individual and collective prayers for the peaceful repose of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. We also hold in prayer those who knew and loved him personally, who grieve him as family and a friend.