Benedict’s Priorities

Described by more than a few prominent Catholics around the world as perhaps one of the Church’s greatest theologians ever, Pope Benedict XVI made the objectives of his pontificate clear from the start. Certainly, Christian unity ranks among the pope’s highest priorities. In particular he hopes to bridge the millennium-long gap between Catholics and Orthodox after centuries of bitter division.

He has reminded the powers in the upper echelons of the European Union that Europe, as a cultural and political entity, cannot simply glide forward effortlessly into the 21st century without an unequivocal recognition and acceptance of its Christian heritage. Playing hide-and-seek with one’s identity is a dangerous game, and the pope has been the leading voice on this front, warning Europe of the inherent risks involved in trying to turn a blind eye to 2,000 years of Christian contributions to modern-day Europe. At a time when unambiguous moral clarity in the world is sorely needed, this “simple and humble worker in the Lord’s vineyard” has demonstrated that he is not going to avoid the spotlight on the world stage.

The above-mentioned items may be understood as looking outward in terms of the Church’s relationship with the world and other Christians. One of the pope’s top “in-house” objectives regarding the Catholic faithful and the Church itself has been described by some as a “back-to-basics” strategy, intended to call believers back to the fundamental tenets of the Faith, reminding the faithful of the Eucharist’s central role in the life of the Church and the liturgy’s irreplaceable position within the prayer life of the universal Church.

Like Pope John Paul II before him, Pope Benedict XVI is striving for a full and faithful implementation of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, a council both pontiffs believe was a great blessing to the Church.

No doubt the pope is not unaware of the fact that in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council many Catholics were poorly catechized or simply not catechized at all. As a result, a generation or two of Catholics have been raised with little understanding of the most basic teachings of the Faith, most significantly in the area of the Church’s sacramental life and her moral teachings. The timing for this catechetical paucity was particularly destructive, as moral relativism and positivism found fertile soil to germinate in the garden of post-1960s society.

This catechetical void has been a principle source of concern for the pope, well aware of the confusion that has resulted among Catholics over the past several decades regarding Church teaching. His goal is simple: to dispel the fog of doctrinal confusion and cut through the excess theological build-up that has accumulated over the years, and to summon Catholics back to the core tenets of the Faith — the Real Presence, the sacraments and the liturgy stand out most prominently in his addresses to the faithful over the past year.

A positive development of the past decade or so in the world of catechesis has been a noticeable surge of enthusiasm among Catholics who are discovering for the first time the beauty of the Church's teachings. This surge has resulted in a host of resources online and elsewhere for curious Catholics looking for clear-cut answers to thorny questions regarding the Faith and their lives.

The particular style of Pope Benedict XVI is perfectly suited to responding to this groundswell in interest among Catholics. His discourses are remarkably direct, lucid and precise, yet deeply profound, and rich with various levels of meaning. His homilies and writings could be described as neatly packaged theological time-bombs, unadorned with ostentatious complexities while systematically designed to dispense rich pearls of wisdom upon further meditation and reflection. No one will feel left out or sidelined if he find himself in Benedict's presence as he gives an address.

I am reminded of a memorable event last fall, when the pope spoke to thousands of young children gathered in St. Peter’s Square who were preparing for their first Communion. His message contained profound insights that proved enlightening even to the older and more educated present, all the while remaining simple enough overall for the children to grasp.

His first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, delves deeply into hermeneutics and philosophical observations about the meaning of authentic love, but it is far from a rarefied, stuffy academic paper. The pontiff unassumingly guides the reader as he cogently elaborates on his thesis. He possesses the unique gift of making complex subject matter attainable and relevant to ordinary people. Thanks to his careful choice of words, his style — which favors brevity over superfluity — and the seamless presentation and flow of his logic, millions of Catholics will read and be edified by this letter. The old adage, “timing is everything” rings eminently true for the arrival of Benedict to St. Peter’s Chair. Catholics can look back over the first year of his pontificate with gratitude, and look forward to the sunrise and springtime ahead with great hope.

Maldonado-Berry is currently studying Social Communication at the University of Santa Croce in Rome. He also works for Vatican Information Service (VIS) and Rome Reports, a news agency in Rome that covers Church events.

(This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)

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