Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI will turn ninety years old on Sunday, April 16, 2017. How remarkably fitting that we will celebrate nine decades of this brilliant and holy man’s life on Easter Sunday. Thus, if you would like to honor Benedict on his ninetieth birthday, consider buying his latest (and, unfortunately, professedly last) book, Last Testament: In His Own Words, with Peter Seewald (Bloomsbury, 2016). Last Testament is in a question-and-answer format, and is separated into three parts that are further divided into fourteen short chapters. This is in addition to a foreword by the interviewer (Peter Seewald), a conclusion, author’s notes, and a seven-page timeline of Benedict XVI’s life. The timeline is a worthwhile feature, particularly for those who may not be quite as familiar with the sequence of Benedict’s ministerial initiatives.
In the interest of full disclosure, Benedict XVI has long been my favorite author, so my perspective may be skewed or biased. (In fact, it probably is [although my opinion will hopefully serve as a sufficiently educated one].) Over the course of the last few weeks, I have had the distinct privilege of reading my favorite author’s last book, and now I enjoy yet another privilege – this time, of aiming to encourage others to read it as well. Last Testament is admittedly a lighter read than many of Benedict’s prior classics, but not in the sense that it is somehow lacking in depth or scope. However, perhaps its relative levity is for good reason: because we get a glimpse at the formation of the formidably potent theological genius from his days as the young Joseph Ratzinger, through his early priesthood and subsequent service within the episcopate, through his reign as supreme pontiff between 2005 and 2013, through his resignation from the Petrine office and more subdued role as the first pope “emeritus” in centuries. In other words, this book leads the reader to better know how Joseph Ratzinger came to be Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.
A captivating feature of Last Testament is Benedict’s personal anecdotes, in which we are especially able to see his deep admiration for Pope Saint John Paul II and the currently reigning Pope Francis, serving to clarify a great deal of conjecture that has inopportunely caricatured the functional dynamic and actual continuity between these last three pontificates that have significantly shaped the popular perception of the Church in the modern world. As evidenced throughout Last Testament, it is demonstrably challenging to envision Benedict XVI independent of the output of his intellectual magnitude, yet this book does not connote a man who views himself as an academician to the exclusion of warmth, whether pastoral or personable. Rather, we are better able to fathom Benedict in his true comfort zone: as a mind that is only effective insofar as it serves the heart, as a shepherd whose goal is to draw us to myriad levels of appreciation for the Paschal Mystery and the wonders of the Good News of the Lord Jesus Christ.
As we celebrate Benedict XVI’s ninetieth birthday at the very beginning of the joyous Easter season, the Catholic faithful – along with anyone of any faith of good will – would do well to read Benedict’s last book. You will not regret taking the time to gain a deeper, and hopefully more practical, appreciation for this devoted disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. As I already mentioned, Benedict XVI is my favorite writer, and he was already so long before I began reading this book. Last Testament has served to cogently fortify my gratefulness to Benedict XVI as a man whose writings have steadily drawn millions of souls to a more profound experience of how to live the Gospel based on the unison of mind and heart that undergirds humanity’s capacity to endeavor to profess the kingdom of God. In addition to Bloomsbury’s website, you can find Last Testament on the website for Ignatius Press or Amazon. Buy this book for yourself and/or those dear to you, in order to both wish Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI a happy birthday and to greatly enrich your Easter season.