I remember that his election was on a Tuesday. I was cooking that day, and I remember having to leave the TV room several times to stir the sauce on the stove. When the election was announced, I was filled with dread. Why? The next day was the big school Mass for the week and for some reason I was in charge of composing the intercessions. In those days I was a Master of Divinity student at the former Weston Jesuit School of Theology, and some of the faculty were acquainted with the CDF, if you ascertain my meaning. Even beyond that, in those days one of the favorite 'love to hate' documents at school was Dominus Iesus, which had appeared from the CDF a few years before. So, as I finished seasoning my sauce and gave the brethren their supper, I felt as if I had been saddled with a task of impossible delicacy. I must have done it adequately, however. The newly elected Pope was prayed for the next day, and I don't remember getting in trouble.
Following those two days, my journey with Benedict XVI has been one of increasing appreciation. I mention just four moments:
First, upon his election, I decided that I should get to know the man a little better. So I went to the library and borrowed Introduction to Christianity. I was amazed by the clarity of the writing. After a couple of years of reading some of Ratzinger's peers among German Catholic theologians of the twentieth century (who will remain nameless) the book was a breath of fresh--and clear--air.
Second, the chance to concelebrate Mass with Benedict XVI at St. Patrick's Cathedral during the first Easter season of my priesthood was one of the greatest moments of my whole Christian life. Spiritually, it was right up there with visiting the Holy Land in the sense that it left me with a deepened connection with the real and concrete of salvation history.
Third, Summorum pontificum changed my life. The document appeared during the months in which I was preparing for my priestly ordination. When I read it, I learned that the people of God were given the right to ask for the older form of Mass. From this I gathered that it was professional obligation to learn it. Such began my own journey with the Extraordinary Form, which I have chronicled at length in this blog. I wouldn't say that I have become a 'traddy,' but that my explorations have helped me to appreciate both forms better. Having become familiar with the older form of Mass, I think I understand better what was at stake in the reform, and hence I believe that I'm able to celebrate the modern form with more confidence and continuity.
Finally, Benedict has given me a deeper understanding of my own Franciscanism. When I finally got around to reading his Habilitationsschrift on the theology of history of St. Bonaventure, I was tremendously grateful for insights like this one:
The unsophisticated and unrealistic way in which Francis tried to make the Sermon on the Mount the rule of his 'new People' is not understood properly if we designate it as 'idealism'...it is understandable only as...eschatological confidence... (Joseph Ratzinger, The Theology of History in St. Bonaventure, trans. Zachary Hayes, 40)
It is almost a commonplace these days to say that consecrated life needs to recover its eschatology edge. Well, there's our invitation.
Happy birthday, Benedict XVI. Thank you for your ministry to the universal Church and to me within her. Be assured of my daily prayer for you. Ad multos annos.