Pope Benedict’s Legacy
It can be argued that Emeritus Pope Benedict defined at home what Blessed Pope John Paul II preached abroad: the “New Evangelization.” For Pope Benedict, all evangelization flows from the Mass properly understood and celebrated. At a time when the secular articulates progress as synonymous with reinvention, Benedict instead sought renewal. He showed us that the “New Evangelization” lied not in the adaptation of dogma, but rather in the increase of beauty and objectivity in the words of the Mass. None should be surprised that the closing public words of the 265th papacy were “let us return to prayer.” Prayer was the center of Benedict’s papacy.
God, Benedict argued in Deus Caritas Est, “… loves us, [and] he makes us see and experience his love.” To this end, Benedict’s Bonaventurian mind prompted the reform of our prayer in such a way that it highlights the divine ideas in which we participate on earth; beauty chief amongst them. Reminding the Catholic that prayer and the sacraments in particular are the center of Christian life because they make us friends of God, Benedict’s papacy sought to better reflect the beauty of the divine liturgy in which we participate each Mass. Accordingly, with clarity and vision the Pope Emeritus warned in 2008 against a culture in which “novelty usurps beauty, and subjective experience displaces truth.”
Heeding his own advice while simultaneously offering a microcosm of his papacy, Benedict’s completion of the third edition of the Roman Missal affirmed his notion of beauty and objectivity as both corresponding and indistinguishable. Elegant and precise, the new Mass translations are both an amalgamation thereof and a defining moment in the life of the Church.
Benedict taught us, too, that love often demands the Catholic to draw a line in the sand. The divorce of faith and reason, as famously argued against at Regensburg, and his constant assault on the fallacious notion of moral relativism, sent a clear message to Catholics sitting in pews and classrooms alike: our faith is intelligible and in terms of morality is objective. Moreover Pope Benedict’s ecumenical overtures and subsequent progress recall God’s love for mankind as articulated by Jesus during His agony in the garden. Christ’s high priestly prayer, which asked God that “they may be one just as we are,” was answered through Benedict’s work with Anglicans, Lutherans, the Society of St. Pius X, Assyrian Apostolics and Protestants. The agony in the garden felt by Christ was in many ways eased by Benedict’s successful program of ecumenism, and in the process reminded us that a strong Church is a united one.
It is fitting that a Pope for whom the Divine Logos was a focus of his priestly teaching office left the Church as expansive a legacy of beautiful words and deeds as did Benedict XVI.