Wisdom rooted in the tradition of the Church
In a book commenting on the Rule of Saint Benedict, the author writes: "A deeply loving and personal union with Christ is the cornerstone of Benedict's spirituality". He was referring, of course, to the saint; but the same may truly be said of Pope Benedict.
Benedict XVI's devotion to St Benedict is evident — to the point of taking his papal name partly in homage to the saint. Equally well known is the Holy Father's admiration for the simple yet profound Rule that has guided so many through the centuries in the way of committed discipleship.
However varied and imaginative the Pope's homilies, they always echo and unfold the fundamental counsel found in the Rule: "Prefer nothing whatever to Christ" (RB 72:11). These splendid homilies give eloquent testimony to Benedict XVI's desire and commitment to "cherish Christ above all" (RB 5:2).
Thus Benedict XVI, throughout his exercise of the Petrine ministry, has borne eloquent testimony to the fact that intimate friendship with Jesus Christ is at the very center of Christian life and prayer.
But a second testimony also permeates the Holy Father's magisterium. This Jesus of Nazareth, whom we know personally as friend, is the very Logos of God incarnate. Through his loving sacrifice on the cross and his resurrection in the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus reveals that the Logos is Love. The ultimate principle of intelligibility and meaning of the entire universe is self-giving Love.
John Henry Newman, whom Pope Benedict beatified, wrote in his Lectures on Justification: "Christ came for this very purpose, to gather together in one all the elements of good dispersed throughout the world, to make them his own, to illuminate them with Himself, to reform and refashion them into Himself". This profound sense of the recapitulation of all in Christ runs like a golden thread from Paul through Irenaeus to Newman and Ratzinger. The Pope writes in his Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration: "Jesus must recapitulate the whole of history from its beginnings — from Adam on; he must go through, suffer through, the whole of it, in order to transform it".
One of the outstanding legacies the Holy Father bequeaths to the Church is the renewed appreciation that Vatican II's Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation is the foundation stone of the conciliar documents. Dei Verbum's clear affirmation that "the deepest truth about God and the salvation of man shines out for our sake in Christ, who is both the mediator and the fullness of all revelation" must be the indispensable starting point both of ongoing reform in the Church and of the new evangelization. Thus a second testimony that Benedict leaves us is his insistent witness, in season and out of season, that Jesus Christ is the autobasileia: the Kingdom of God in Person. As he wrote in the Apostolic Exhortation, Verbum Domini: "while in the Church we greatly venerate the sacred Scriptures, the Christian faith is not a 'religion of the book': Christianity is the religion of the word of God, not of a written and mute word, but of the incarnate and living Word" (n. 7). As the Letter to the Hebrews proclaims: "Jesus always lives to make intercession for us" (Heb 7:25).
The Holy Father's third testimony draws from the wellspring of John's Gospel. How often has he meditated, in homilies and writings, on the great trial scene of Jesus before Pilate. Here Pilate poses the crucial question: "what is truth?" On 18:38).
In his book, Jesus of Nazareth: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection, Pope Benedict makes two telling comments about this scene. He writes: "Again and again in the world, truth and error, truth and untruth, are inseparably mixed together. The truth, in all its grandeur and purity does not appear". Then he confesses: "In Christ, God — the Truth — entered the world". And, tragically, the world crucified God's Truth.
Yet only in the light of the truth of Christ do men and women find freedom — liberation from narrow self-interest to become their true self in Christ. In March of last year, in Havana's Plaza de la Revolución, Benedict said: "Convinced that it is Christ who is the true measure of man, and knowing that in him we find the strength needed to face every trial, I wish to proclaim openly that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life. In him everyone will find complete freedom, the light to understand reality most deeply and to transform it by the renewing power of love".
Benedict XVI has sounded this theme of truth and freedom in countless symphonic variations. But, he has never done so more movingly or eloquently than in his free relinquishing of the office of Peter out of love for Christ and his Church.
Hence the three testimonies of Benedict XVI are, in truth, but one. Personal friendship with Jesus, confession that Jesus is God's living presence among us, and realization that in Jesus we find the truth that makes us free are the providential three-fold legacy he leaves the Church of God. And for this we give thanks.