“If we look closely, in every moment, we are at a crossroads: do we want to follow the self, or God?”
—Pope Benedict XVI, 13 February 2013
As the two-year anniversary of Benedict XVI’s resignation from the Chair of St. Peter approaches, a decision that ultimately gave the church and the world the papacy of Francis, the impact of Joseph Ratzinger—Benedict XVI’s canon of thought to both theology and culture is only beginning to dawn. Dr. J. Steven Brown, the editor of the essential compendium A Reason Open To God, which features dozens of Benedict’s greatest papal texts, remarked that the present Pope Emeritus is one “who only comes along in history every so often.”
While Benedict has remained hidden from the public eye, as he promised in February 2013, we have seen and heard him every so often. Most recently, he admitted to journalist Jorg Bremer his desire to be called “Father Benedict” after his resignation. He also penned an address to Urbaniana University entitled “On Catholic Faith, Missions, and other Religions” in October 2014. For the most part, though, his essential task at this stage is prayer—and to let his body of work speak for itself.
That body of work Benedict has left behind, which spans almost sixty years, is a treasure trove waiting to be discovered. Embarking on the journey of discovery evokes the quote filmmaker Franco Zeffirelli shared in his book Jesus—A Spiritual Diary: “A priest friend who is dear to me warned that when you begin to involve yourself in godly matters, it is terribly difficult to return to mundane trivialities.” Just as John Henry Cardinal Newman—whom Benedict beatified in 2010—spent a substantial amount of his study solely to the Church Fathers—one could spend years devoting time, study and prayer to the works of Joseph Ratzinger.
While many have found a spiritual hero in Pope Francis delighting in his style, much of his freedom in pursuing new ways of saying and doing that faithful and non-believers have found so refreshing is due in large part to the foundation of faith set by Joseph Ratzinger over a lifetime of service to the Church, and particularly during his eight-year pontificate. “May you have a strong foundation,” Bob Dylan sings in “Forever Young,” “When the winds of changes shift.” Perhaps it is no coincidence that Benedict’s final General Audience catechesis was devoted to the Creed—the very essence of what Catholics believe—which Francis picked up and completed as his very first series of teachings.
Here are five texts written over many decades in which Joseph Ratzinger gave us his greatest gift: his wisdom and encouragement for us to embark on our own journey to seek God’s face. Five Must Reads