By PETER ROSENGREN | Published February 28, 2013
It seems nearly impossible to say anything that will be unique or new about the most talked about news of the week, and probably of the year. However, we imagine that one of the first acts of the 267th pope to lead the Catholic Church since it was established by Jesus Christ will be to receive former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger who served as his predecessor from April 19, 2005, until his shock resignation for reasons of health on Feb. 11, 2013, and give him his blessing.
Despite the drift from traditional religious faith in many societies since the 1960s, that Pope Benedict’s decision to resign the papacy time immediately took over global news broadcasts and current affairs programs for most of the rest of the evening here in Australia indicated, if anything, just how seriously the Catholic Church and this latest successor to the See of Peter is taken — even by those most opposed to its teachings. This is very interesting.
Most Catholics would be aware that the church is not popular with modernity and its pervasive pop culture. The last several decades have seen entire nations and an increasingly globalized culture seemingly bent on abandoning the spiritual and moral patrimony of Christianity and most especially the Catholic Church which is the chief architect of the western European tradition.
Modernity regards the church as hopelessly out of date and medieval, usually because of its unwillingness to compromise on its moral vision, usually to do with issues of sex, gender, marriage, the family, the human person and the sanctity of human life. This hostility, expressed as a preference for radical isolation of the individual and freedom from almost all moral codes of conduct for life, has seen numerous social, legal and political onslaughts over decades against traditional concepts such as the sanctity of human life of the weak and defenseless, or the sanctity of the family unit, or the idea of an unqualified commitment to children for their own good and development—to name just a few. Modernity sees the church in mainly negative terms—as an institution opposed to things whose time has come, as something essentially repressive.
Pope Benedict, on the other hand, sees the church as the path to true human freedom and, in a series of brilliant diagnoses conducted over decades, he set out the essential nature of the problem confronting modern life—that to live without reference to God robs us of the true meaning of our lives. This, in the eyes of modern life, simply does not compute.
What really earned him simplistic categorizations from popular culture was that he is, fundamentally, countercultural. He once remarked that the supreme duty of a Christian is to be counter-cultural, precisely because of faith in Jesus Christ. Because of his own faith, Benedict refused to let popular culture and the media dictate their gospel to him—or to be the only voice preaching.
In fact, what defined this remarkable pontiff perhaps more than anything else was his belief in the persuasive power of truth and reason and his vision of the beauty of God and the possibilities of the life he has given us. On this basis he was able to propose in often-absorbing new ways the timeless truths of a God who, as he was fond of saying, became little for our sake and loves every person regardless of whether they love him. When Archbishop Timothy Costelloe became archbishop of Perth, Australia, last March he pointed out on one occasion that it is much more important for Catholics to show what we are for rather than what we are against. In numerous ways, Pope Benedict has represented precisely this attitude and has therefore provided a model for the church of the future.
This difference in emphasis—between arguing against what is wrong as opposed to explaining what is true, good and beautiful—is a legacy of numerous things but, in a special way, it has been the legacy of Pope Benedict XVI, one of the key architects of the Second Vatican Council, the landmark event in the life of the modern church.
This editorial appeared in the Feb. 13 issue of The Record, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Perth, Australia. Peter Rosengren is the editor.