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I remember to this day watching the ceremonies after the death of Pope John Paul II and wondering just who in the world could possibly take on the role of Pope after this man.  He was, of course, the only Pope I’d known and he seemed to fill the fisherman’s shoes in a way so unique as to be unrepeatable.  I’d made my way through many of his Papal writings and admittedly struggled at times to hold in tension all the various points he made in his particularly spiral logic, circling ever closer to the truth that was at the center.  I think it even effected how I wrote some papers in college, most likely to the chagrin of some of my professors.

If you were willing, and able, to keep up with John Paul II’s logic as it worked its way to a conclusion you would be rewarded with an incredibly in-depth understanding of whatever issue it was he was writing on.  As someone who truly enjoys wringing every last aspect out of a question I felt right at home with this writing style.  Yet simultaneously by the time I was done wrangling my way through his dense prose I was, simply, exhausted.  His writings could be incredibly profound but yet also incredibly exhausting.  A part of me knew the average Joe out there simple did not either care enough nor have the patience to wade through his works to understand why the prevailing public opinion was so often misinformed.

Then I listened to the homily at the funeral, delivered by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, and saw an entirely different way of portraying the truth.  He was simple without being simplistic, humble in a way that you could almost feel.  I’d heard some about this man over the years and the fact that he was disliked intensely by all the right people lent him a certain credibility in my book.  But this man, this “God’s Rottweiler” as he was called, stood there simple, humble and meek.  Was this the same man?  I knew then and there that he was going to be elected the next Pope.

pope-benedict-300x244Being the bookworm I am I simply had to start digging into his writings.  I had, of course, no idea just how voluminous they were – this could be a project I will never finish in my lifetime.  The very first book of his that I read was his The Spirit of the Liturgy.  It was incredibly well-researched yet without the dryness or pomposity that can come from the very well-read.  In my insufficiently humble opinion nobody should venture to talk about the Liturgy without having gone through this book at least once; even if you don’t agree with everything he writes you simply owe it to yourself and to the Church to wrestle the points with someone who has an intense interest in the topic.

From there I went on to read his Introduction to Christianity.  Expecting (remember, the word in the title is “Introduction”) a broad but shallow introduction to many topics of the faith I was simply unprepared for the depth and technical precision of this work.  Some days I struggled to barely make it through a couple of pages in my short available reading time.  By the end of the book however I was incredibly glad to have put in the time to make my way through it.

I now have a good chunk of a shelf full of his books, from Salt of the Earth to the Jesus of Nazareth trilogy including the last work and yet I have only barely begun to scratch the surface of his writings.  He inspired me to subscribe to Communio, which with the first installment I received helped me to realize just how little I really know both on the technical topic of theology in general and Catholic theology in specific.  That was a dose of humility I definitely needed.

I could go on and on about how this Pope has changed the way I look at Liturgy, the Church, humanity and even God Himself (let’s face it, who was expecting his first writing as Pope to be on such a simple topic as Deus Caritas Est – “God is Love”).  I think, above all, he has taught me one very valuable lesson – without love all the intellectual firepower in the world is ultimately useless.  This is a man who could write and speak circles around just about anyone on topics of theology and philosophy but yet remained humble and loving enough to teach in a way that often makes you just say “oh, of course, that should have been obvious to me all along”.  Writing that now makes me realize that it does, indeed, all come down to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” (Lk 10:27)  Perhaps the best way to give thanks to God for blessing us with this man as Priest, Bishop, Cardinal and Pope is to take up again and anew that call.

Thank you Papa Bene for your many years of diligent service to the Lord’s Church and indeed all people of the world.  Thank you Lord for the gift of a man with such a loving heart and soaring and gracious intellect.  May we have the humility to be led by his teaching and the love to put others before ourselves and You, Lord, above all.

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