BIA Benedict XVI Institute for Africa
Father Denis

Father Denis Tameh
Mamfre Diocese

Benedict XVI as I Saw Him: Reflections on the Life of a Baobab of Faith from a Simple African Priest

I woke up on the morning of the 31st of December 2022 in good cheers. After all, it was the last day of the year, and I was excited and hopeful about the New year. Still, I had a very heavy heart. A day or two before, Pele the great soccer player had just passed away. And as an avid soccer fan, I was saddened at the loss of this great monument of sports and black excellence. But little did I know that my good cheers that morning were going to be transformed into a bitter cry of sadness.

Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI aka Joseph Ratzinger is dead. That was the first news item I saw once I turned on my phone. I knew this day would come. I knew it was imminent given Pope Francis’ grave announcement a few days earlier that we should pray for the then ailing Pope emeritus. But I never knew his death would leave me such an emotional wreck. In a flash, I recalled how I first got to hear the name, Ratzinger, how I started noticing him and how I came to love him so much. The only time I ever felt this sad, was when I lost my father. In a way, I had lost a second father. A father who shaped my faith in ways I cannot begin to imagine. It was an unexplainable feeling. My growth and maturity in the faith was always accompanied by the ever-reassuring thought that Ratzinger was there even though distant. He was the ever-present father whom you could turn to for inspiration and courage. From a distance, his words were ever near and powerful. And I was that proud child who could say, “Ratzinger belongs to us. I claim him as my father. Who do you have?”

How did I come to fall in love with this man so much? Where did it all start? It is hard to recall when I first heard his name. But I do remember, the first time I read something about him. That was in 2001. I was in the Minor Seminary then. As usual, I had taken by afternoon stroll to the library and came across a stack of newspapers. Back then I was so fond of reading the English Catholic Periodical, The Tablet and the English Catholic Newspaper, The Catholic Herald, the Cameroon Panorama and L’Effort Camerounais. These were my primary source of News about the Church in addition to the L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican Newspaper. If I recall well, I loved the Church, but I didn’t really have a grasp of theology at that time to understand what was going on in the theological minefield. I knew a bit about defending the Catholic faith, I knew a bit about the claims of the Catholic Church. But that was not something, a young 14 year old boy would spend his whole day worried about. That day, as I was going through the Catholic Herald, there was an article about Ratzinger and how some people did not like him. That was what caught my attention. I could not understand how someone would hate a cardinal back then. I thought, bishops and cardinals were the most loved and no one ever had a bad word about them. I didn’t really understand what the article was about. I saw the same thing in the Tablet. And all I could remember was that his critics claimed he was arrogant for saying the Catholic Faith is the only true faith and that Christ was the only unique way of getting salvation. The theological insights were lost on me. I dropped the article and continued perusing. Whatever that meant, was not something to make me lose sleep. Afterall, we were thought in the seminary that the Catholic Faith is the true faith and of course it is. So, I didn’t think, the cardinal was wrong. But the name, Ratzinger stuck in my mind.

It was only later on, during my Propaedeutic year that I relived that experience and this time with a much more mature faith. I realized why that particular document by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith had caused so much stir in the world (Dominus Iesus: On the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church).

What finally drew me into the world of this humble servant of the Lord was that I constantly kept coming across his name in almost all the Catholic Newspapers and periodicals I read. And then, for the first time, I read Rome Sweet Home by Scott Hahn. One of the first books that awakened me to the beauty of my faith. In that book, he mentioned Ratzinger as one of the influential Catholics he read and one of those that influenced his path to Rome. I was barely 16 and I decided I was going to read this man. I went to the library, took a copy of the Introduction to Christianity and after the first 30 pages, I put it away. It was too hard to understand for me. Belief and unbelief was all I could recall. But I sensed that this was an enormous treasure even if I couldn’t understand anything. It was only later on as a priest that I read the book and understood why it became and is still one of the theological masterpieces of the 20th century. In the preface to the new edition, he asked a question which I believe was one of his major concern and preoccupation which he sought to answer in many different ways: “What will be man’s attitude towards man, when he can no longer find anything of the divine mystery in the other, but only his own know-how?” In other words, what are the consequences of a world without God?

In my last year of Minor Seminary, when I had finally made up my mind to continue to the priesthood, that was when I began feeling this intense love for this man. It was Holy Week of 2005; John Paul II was ailing and there were fears that he might die. I was glued to the school radio, listening to the latest updates from BBC on the situation at hand. I had never been this excited in my life because I felt that I was about to experience something I had never imagined. The death of a Pope and the election of new Pope. I had read the history of the Popes and a lot of Church history by then. And I could not wait to be part of this 2000-year history. Our Rector had allowed us to watch the Holy week ceremonies at the Vatican, which at that time were broadcast on the National TV network of Cameroon, CRTV. That Good Friday, for some reason I sat listening to the Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum. And behold, it was Ratzinger leading it. I was just becoming aware of the sexual crisis that had rocked the Catholic world. The Rector had informed us that one of the reasons why we were no longer having enough funds to run the Minor Seminary was because donors from the United States were no longer aiding as before because of the sexual crisis. In a way we were affected. How true it is then, that when one part of the Church is ailing, the whole Church suffers. The words of Scriptures once more come to mind (1 Cor 12:26), when one part suffers, all the other parts suffer with it. I was so shocked when I heard him talk of the filth in the Church on that Good Friday. I didn’t know there was this much filth, I couldn’t even believe that a bishop could kill an ant. It was an eye opener for me. That year too was the first time I read the Mea Culpas of John Paul II. That was the moment, I started thinking deeply about the reality of the Church. That was when I drew closer to this man. And as fate would have it, St John Paul II died in April that same year. And all over the radio, one name kept ringing out as papabile, Ratzinger. But the comments that accompanied his name were not flattering at all. He was referred to as rigid, disciplinarian, the ‘Panzer cardinal’, anti-ecumenical. Despite all that, I still trusted my guts which kept drawing me closer to this man. That was my first conclave and I made sure I didn’t miss a single event. The BBC was my only source of News, which didn’t help that much. But I could see, Ratzinger, the Dean of the College of Cardinals at the forefront of everything. I followed all the Masses, the reflections, the missa pro eligendo, where he gave the famous homily on the Dictatorship of Relativism. We had just finished a course in Philosophy, by one of our priest formators, Fr Victor Yuyar on Ethics. And that was one of the topics he had focused on. I remember, asking him in class whether he had heard the Cardinal’s statement on Relativism. And Fr Victor, took a whole 40 minutes to discuss that and the monumental events that were going on at the Vatican. It was an interesting time for us. Just when I was maturing in my faith, this Pope came along to hold my hand and help me fall in love with Christ through the Church and to journey with me intellectually and spiritually.

Who could forget his frail voice, when he stood on the loggia of St Peters. I remember we were out for sporting activities when the seminary bell rang. We have a new Pope. We all left the soccer field straight to the seminary refectory where the television was on. We were in time to hear Cardinal Arturo Jorge Medina, announce Ratzinger as Pope. I do not know how I felt. But deep down, I felt so satisfied. John Paul II was the only Pope I ever knew. The little I knew about the Church then was enough to make me contended that Ratzinger was the right choice, the choice of the Holy Spirit. I would listen to everything the world had to say about the new Pope. I read everything I could about this man. And it was not always a pleasant read. And that left me terribly annoyed. I couldn’t defend him, I didn’t know how to, but his conviction and calm in the face of this dark storm of constant attacks reminded me of the image of the Church as a boat in the stormy seas, assailed on all sides but serene and certain on its path towards God. I knew this man was a gift to the Church and the world. Thanks to him, I fell in love with Theology. I began to read about the sacraments, about the Church. Everyone was talking about him.

In 2006, I went to the Propaedeutic Year or the Spiritual year as we call it in Cameroon. And our Rector, Fr Bernadine Nsom, intensified my love for this Pope. He would bring his sermons and read them to us. I remember, how he read and analyzed his 2006 Good Shepherd Sunday Homily to us. Till date, I have never forgotten what he said in that homily about careerism in the priesthood. It was one of the first spiritual insights I took in as I thought and meditated on the priest I wanted to be. This was the point the Rector hammered on. This is what the Pope said in that homily: “It is through him that one must enter the service of shepherd. Jesus highlights very clearly this basic condition by saying: “he who… climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber” (Jn 10: 1). This word ‘climbs’ – anabainei in Greek – conjures up the image of someone climbing over a fence to get somewhere out of bounds to him. “To climb” – here too we can also see the image of careerism, the attempt to “get ahead”, to gain a position through the Church: to make use of and not to serve. It is the image of a man who wants to make himself important, to become a person of note through the priesthood; the image of someone who has as his aim his own exaltation and not the humble service of Jesus Christ. But the only legitimate ascent towards the shepherd’s ministry is the Cross. This is the true way to rise; this is the true door. It is not the desire to become “someone” for oneself, but rather to exist for others, for Christ, and thus through him and with him to be there for the people he seeks, whom he wants to lead on the path of life.”

In my priesthood, the image of Shepherd has been so central. It is the image I try to model my priesthood after. And it all started from this homily. Anytime I read Augustine’s commentary on Ezekiel and St Paul in the Office of Readings for Monday, the 24th week of Ordinary Time, my mind goes back to this homily and how it shaped my vision of the priesthood as the shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. Or as Fulton Sheen would put it, the priest is he whose hands are scarred, scarred from toiling for the lord and his people.

Prior to be my propaedeutic Year, the only encyclical I ever attempted reading was Rosarium Virginis Mariae and Novo millenio Ineunte. Precisely because they came out at a time when I was beginning to mature in my faith. The encyclical on the Rosary was particular important because in it, John Paull II added new mysteries to the Rosary. And our Rector at the Minor Seminary at the time, Fr Roland Berngeh, loved the Rosary so much. He encouraged us to read this encyclical. The first time I really read an encyclical with complete devotion was 2006. And it was Deus Caritas Est. Thanks once more, to our Rector at the Spiritual Centre who took time to read the whole encyclical with us in class and explain it. It was new, it was refreshing, it was exciting, and it was relevant. For the first time, I went to a cyber café to download an encyclical. My classmates and I read and reread this encyclical. And in it, I began to ask myself for the first time, what it meant to be Christian. A question which I had taken for granted. A question which had never crossed my mind. I did not really know what I thought of Christianity before this encyclical came out. But it certainly started forming my mind in a decisive way. The passage which really caught my attention then and which I strive to keep as a central part of my preaching and evangelization is this: “Being Christian is not an ethical or lofty idea but the encounter with an event, a Person, which gives life a new horizon and decisive direction.” This has been one of the insights of this great man, that has made a lasting impression of me and how I understand my faith. Christianity is not a religion of the Book; it is the religion of the Word (Logos). And this Word is the Word made Flesh. It is a religion of encounter, an encounter with Jesus, the Logos. Jesus Christ is and will always be for him, the heart and center of the Christian faith. And friendship with Jesus will always be the hallmark of every Christian endeavor. That has been the heart of his message and teaching. As we see reflected in his Last Testament where he says: “I have seen, and see, how, out of the tangle of hypotheses, the reasonableness of faith has emerged anew. Jesus Christ is truly the Way, the Truth, and the Life-and the Church, in all her shortcomings, is truly his Body.” This was a theme he would repeat through out his Pontificate. In Cologne, while speaking to the young people, he reminded them in these words: “The happiness you are seeking, the happiness you have a right to enjoy has a name and a face: It is Jesus of Nazareth. If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free… Christ takes from you nothing that is beautiful and great but brings everything to perfection.” Those words struck me like a thunder bolt. That was the first World Youth Day I followed not for the vibes but for the message. And those words came at a time when I had doubts about my vocation. I didn’t know if I should continue to the priesthood or not. At that time, I was thinking of doing something else. I was dreaming of venturing into soccer. I had confided in three of my classmates who all advised me to stay and forge on with the priesthood. But these words, gave me serenity when I read them. And I recall very much what he wrote in that speech that made me rethink again. He said, freedom has to be set free. This was another theme of his which I kept close to my heart. True freedom and liberation are in Christ. This is the question a Christian must ask himself or herself everyday: Are you free for Christ? And as a seminarian and priest, it became clear to me, that my priesthood will mean nothing, if I am not totally free to give myself or if I do not see in Christ, the liberator who releases me from the bondage of attachments and the prison of comfort to the brave new world of sacrificial love and total self-giving. An act which only makes sense when done in freedom.

2009 marks the year when this spiritual bond with the late Holy Father was cemented and sealed in stone. I was going to witness my first papal visit, live in my own country. As if that were not enough, it was his first papal visit to Africa. Cameroon was lucky enough to have that honour. In the seminary, we were all so excited, but we didn’t know if we would be allowed to go all the way to Yaoundé, the capital, to attend the papal Mass. That was a distance of roughly 700 km. But that didn’t really matter. The bottom line was, the Pope is coming to Cameroon, my own country. When the Rector informed us, that we would go to the papal Mass, I cried. This was my first opportunity to be at a live Mass celebrated by the Pope. And till date, it is the only papal Mass I have attended. I watched as he touched down at the Nsimalen Airport in Yaounde. The doors of that Al Italia plane took forever to open. I listened with attention as he addressed the nation at the airport. I still remember his perfect French: “I come among you as a pastor, I come to confirm my brothers and sisters in the faith.” On the 19th of March, he celebrated Mass at the Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium, the feast of St Joseph. His patronal saint. I couldn’t believe that I was at a touching distance of a Pope, not just any Pope but Benedict XVI. And the beautiful homily he gave, became a rekindled another interest of mine which was seeking an authentically African faith that would make the Church authentically Catholic and authentically African. He so beautifully diagnosed the problem of faith in this continent with words, that keep stirring the heart. “Confronted with the phenomenon of rapid urbanization” he said, “they (Africans) leave the land, physically and morally: not as Abraham had done in response to the Lord’s call, but as a kind of interior exile which alienates them from their very being, from their brothers and sisters, and from God himself.” Could this be better expressed? The African soul today resembles that of a man on a journey, who is gradually forgetting where he came from, his roots, and who knows not where he is going. Because, the hardships of life, the torments and chains of injustice have crippled and blinded him. Can he hold to the past which once gave him a moral compass, or should he do what he has to do to survive? From this observation emerges an African Christianity of Utilization, where God is useful when he provides, when he frees from poverty, sickness. Where God is worshipped in view of a reward. A Christianity similar to a trade by barter agreement. I pray to you, you heal me, free me from poverty and I will thank you and show how great you are. What happens when our prayers are not answered, when poverty continues to plunge huge numbers into misery, when injustice continues to wreck innocent lives? A great disillusion begins to set in, and because of the desperation we find ourselves in, charlatans step in to maximize profit by presenting a God who fits the stereotype. But Gamaliel’s admonition always comes true, and the result is more and more spiritual alienation.

However, he reminded Africa, that it is a continent of Hope. And truly it is. His words of comfort to the young and suffering were genuine words of hope. “God loves you; he has not forgotten you, and saint Joseph protect you! Invoke him with confidence.” It was then, that I decided to check out what this man thought about the Church in Africa. His words on departure from his trip to Benin showed the genuineness of this concern: “I wanted to visit Africa once more; it is a continent for which I have a special regard and affection, for I am deeply convinced that it is a land of hope. I have already said this many times. Here are found authentic values which have much to teach our world; they need only to spread and blossom with God’s help and the determination of Africans themselves.”

In his interview with Vittorio Messori (The Ratzinger Report), he opined on the future and method of African theology. And he began by noting that two questions must be answered first by Africans in the light of the claim to make Christianity authentically African: ‘What is African and hence what must be defended against the false claim to universality on the part of what is simply European?” we can only proceed to make the faith ours if we know what ours is. Can we then sift the fine grains of authentic africaness from the chaffs which pollute this continent so as to be able to utilize it as a great tool of evangelization? If the gospel is trans-cultural, it means that it will find a fertile soil in an authentically African farm in the same way it did when the Europeans welcomed the Gospel by purifying their own culture through the medium of Greek philosophy and Roman law.

His concern for the plight of Africa, battered and torn by wars showed the depth of his conviction in the power of love. His traditional Urbi et Orbi message of Easter 2007 showed how frustrated he was about the injustices on this continent. He wrote: “Instead of giving them their God, the God that is close to us in Christ, and welcome from their traditions all that is dear and great…, we brought them the cynicism of a world without God, in which only power and profit matters.” This was also at the heart of the appeal he made to the G-8 nations meeting in Scotland in 2005. He admonished them: “I wish with all my heart for the success of this important meeting, hoping that it will lead to a sharing of the costs of reducing debt, to putting into motion concrete measures for uprooting poverty, and to promoting … development of Africa.” His appreciation of the Church in Africa can be found in Africae Munus, the post synodal document he wrote after convoking the African Synod in Rome. He wrote: “Africa’s memory is painfully scarred as a result of fratricidal conflicts between ethnic groups, the slave trade and colonization. Today too, the continent has to cope with rivalries and with new forms of enslavement and colonization. The First Special Assembly likened it to the victim of robbers, left to die by the roadside (cf. Lk 10:25-37). This is why it was possible to speak of the “marginalization” of Africa. A tradition born on African soil identifies the Good Samaritan with the Lord Jesus himself and issues an invitation to hope. It was Clement of Alexandria who wrote: “Who, more than he, took pity on us, when by the princes of darkness, we were all but mortally wounded by our fears, lusts, passions, pains, deceits, and pleasures? Of these wounds, the only physician is Jesus.” There are thus many reasons for hope and gratitude. For example, despite the great pandemics which decimate its population such as malaria, AIDS, tuberculosis, and other diseases which medical science is still struggling to eliminate once and for all, Africa maintains its joie de vivre, celebrating God’s gift of life by welcoming children for the increase of the family circle and the human community. I also see grounds for hope in Africa’s rich intellectual, cultural, and religious heritage. Africa wishes to preserve this, to deepen it and to share it with the world. By doing so, it will make an important and positive contribution.”

The seeds of our liberation lie not outside of this great continent but with us. He saw the potential in our African Church to provide answers to Africa’s problems so that the Good Samaritan that rescues Africa from the bruises of injustice and misery would not be Europeans or the rest of the world but Africans themselves. His bleeding heart for the sufferings of the people of this continent was a major reason for his convocation of the Synod of African Bishops in 2009. The theme of that synod betrays this concern: The Church in Africa at the service of Reconciliation, Justice and Peace. His speech to the political leaders in Benin captures this passionate plea for a liberated Africa: “From this place, I launch an appeal to all political and economic leaders of African countries and the rest of the world. Do not deprive your peoples of hope! Do not cut them off from their future by mutilating their present.” These were the words, I matured with in the seminary as I geared towards the priesthood. They were truly words of hope and comfort. I looked forward to a priesthood, where the priest was the harbinger of hope, like Christ, in a continent that needs hope like no other.

The spiritual affinity with this Pope was so deep. Though, this was a Pope I never met, I felt like I was on a spiritual odyssey with him. Every major intellectual and spiritual step in my life as a seminarian had him looming at the background. I still remember in 2010 when he wrote that very famous letter to Seminarians. Our rector then, Fr Waindim Ignatius read that letter to us during the Rector’s conference and the first few sentences were so gripping that I can still vividly picture where I sat and how the Rector delivered it. I remember the chilling words of that lieutenant to the young Ratzinger: “In the new Germany priests are no longer needed.” These words struck me hard. They pushed me to my knees as I sat there wondering: would this be the fate of this continent sometime in future? How can we remain relevant as messengers of hope and comfort to a hopeless and suffering people? If the priests are needed in our continent, what sort of priest would be needed? These were the questions I reflected upon as I prepared for diaconate and priesthood. Would it be a priesthood of the upper class, difficult to empathize and identify with the suffering or will it be the priesthood of the shepherd who has the smell of the sheep as Pope Francis would recommend? For me, the problem in Africa was not going to be that priests would be irrelevant but that a certain type of priesthood would be irrelevant and counter-gospel. And would result in alienating the people of God. It dawned on me that in the new Africa, a certain type of priest would not be needed. the priest who identified more with the elite than with the sheep. One could not but think of the French Revolution which identified the Church with the bourgeoisie. This reminded me of what he said in the Ratzinger Report: “The Church of today does not need any new reformers. The Church needs new saints.” And I would dare add, that the African church needs priests who are saints, if we are to save the continent from the crisis it faces. The words of Chesterton speak so eloquently to the needs of saints to curb the ailing corruption of society: ‘If the world grows too worldly, it can be rebuked by the Church; but if the Church grows too worldly, it cannot be adequately rebuked for worldliness by the world. Therefore, it is a paradox of history that each generation is converted by the saint that contradicts it most.”

As I sit now to reflect on this letter as a student of Canon Law, I cannot but smile at his recommendation that seminarians should love Canon Law. Something we all laughed at when the Rector read this part of the letter. He had written in the Spirit of the Liturgy that when every man lives without law, everyman lives without freedom.

This Pope was a spiritual friend from afar. And what friend could one ask for as a young seminarian preparing for the Catholic priesthood. I remember when his bestseller, Jesus of Nazareth came out, our teacher of Dogmatic Theology, Fr Harry Peeters, would use this text so extensively in the tract on Christology that we would jokingly say, this is Christology a la Ratzinger. It was a blessing to be studying for the priesthood at a time when he was Pope. I remember Fr Harry Peeters updating us in class at all times when new documents were released from the Vatican by this Pope. Whether it was Summorum Pontificum, Anglicanorum Coetibus, Omnium in Mentem, or the great post synodal document, Verbum Dei. I can still remember when the first interview with Peter Seewald was released, and it became a media sensation simply because of the remarks on Condoms. Fr Harry Peeters had to make an announcement after Vespers explaining to us, what those remarks meant. How curious and eager were we to read that famous interview. In 2013 I was ordained a deacon but the thoughts of the emotions I felt on that famous day when he announced his resignation still leave me shivering. I remember walking by Fr Harry Peeters, and he asked me if I have heard news of the Pope’s resignation. I was stunned. And he tried to calm me down, explaining how another Pope had resigned in the past. It was so hard to comprehend that this Pope whose shadow had virtually hovered over my entire formative years in the faith was resigning. It was an indescribable feeling watching and listening to the series of events that followed his resignation. The words of Cardinal Bertone on Ash Wednesday on 2013 to Pope Benedict really captured how I felt towards him. Gratitude. He said: “Tonight, we want to give thanks to the lord for the journey that the whole Church has undertaken under your guidance and we want to say to you from the depths of our hearts, with great affection, emotion and admiration: thanks for giving us the shining example of simple and humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord- a worker, however, who was able at all time to realize what is more important: to bring God to men and lead people to God.” These words were very true for me, because the little steps I took towards God and the love of his Church were inspired by this distant yet present friend and father.

Now that the lord has called you back home, I can only think of the words of St John Paul II to venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen: You have written and spoken well of our Lord Jesus Christ. You are a loyal son of the Church.” Though like Aquinas, he may have considered all he had written straw in the face of the immense beauty of God, they still remain road maps for us as we search the face of God so as to grow in friendship with him. He gave us the tools to continue the dialogue with the modern world, to continue to stress the centrality of Christ in society and culture. In the Spirit of the Liturgy, he reminded us of that truth again when he so eloquently wrote that “it is only when man’s relationship with God is right that all of his other relationships-his relationships with his fellowmen, his dealings with the rest of creation-can be in good order.” He helped us realize the catastrophe that arises from a godless culture. Who can forget that beautiful speech to the Bundestag in which he laid before us, the consequences to man of a society that has no principles? In that speech, he spoke very persuasively of the need for an ecology of man, who is being destroyed because he no longer listens to his nature and manipulated by the fellow man at will. Man is not simply a promethean law unto himself. We have to respect man’s nature if he is to survive. And his nature is intimately linked to God and the natural order. And thus, the only principle by which this could be achieved or by which man can differentiate right from wrong, lies deep in the recesses of our heart, in natural law, another theme which he beautifully developed for us when addressing both houses of the British Parliament. What stands out eloquently in his crie de couer to the world is that when God is alienated and society is built on positivistic and relativistic laws, the ultimate consequence is the asphyxiation of man who no longer has a source of fresh air because he has locked himself in a bunker with no windows. His greatest concern was always the soul of society. Quo Vadis? Was always the question he posed to society because he wanted to guide society on the path of truth, hence his motto: cooperators with the Truth. And it is precisely this love for truth that made him the ogre of popular media. The Church should never be a Church of agendas and cliques. The Church has only one mission, to preach the truth, which is Jesus Christ. All other false infinities would only lead man astray. That is the reason why he insisted on the Church as a sign rather than an institution for humanity. In Fellowship of Faith, he wrote: “The Church is not our institution but is the breakthrough of something different and it follows that we cannot simply constitute her ourselves.” Thus, we have to be a Church that bends the knee in prayer before the Lord, waiting in hope. A Church that sees itself as an institution will always face the temptation of looking inwards instead of upwards to Christ. It is a Church that will easily end up in idolatry because it thinks it is self-sufficient. His analysis of the Golden Calf episode in Exodus paints a very beautiful picture of what happens when the Church as an institution forgets to look upwards to God. He describes the worship of the golden calf as a self-generated cult, a feast that the community gives itself, a festival of self-affirmation. Instead of being worship of God, it becomes a circle closed in on itself: eating, drinking, and making merry. All that is left in the end is frustration, a feeling of emptiness. Is that not a description of a world without God?

For this man of faith, Jesus Christ is the anti-dote to the crisis engulfing man and society. For the crisis in the modern world to come to an end, Christ has to be introduced once more. Jesus Christ is the revolutionary the world needs, and Christianity is the revolution. In the world of Christianity, there can be no end of history if we are to use the words of Francis Fukuyama, because Jesus Christ constantly renews the interior man and prepares us for the revolution of love not based on relativistic views or fads and fashions that are current, but on the truth, which is not just an ideal but a person.

His death remains a great loss to humanity but also testament to the consistency of his teaching. That at the heart of the Christian pilgrimage is friendship with God. A God who accompanies us. The eloquent words he used to describe the preparation for his death will forever remain a great pathway for us who seek God: “I trust firmly that the Lord is not only the just judge, but also the friend and brother… the grace of being Christian…grants me knowledge and indeed friendship, with the judge of my life, and thus allows me to pass confidently through the dark door of death.” It is this deep friendship, he constantly invited us to. And he made sure we were reminded of this in his Last Testament when he confidently declared: ‘I saw and see how out of the tangle of assumptions the reasonableness of faith emerged and emerges again. Jesus Christ is truly the Way, the Truth, and the Life-and the Church with all its insufficiencies, is truly His Body.”

As I finish this reflection, I feel strongly that our spiritual bond is not ended but has rather intensified as we now share once more that intimate connection in the communion of saints. I would like to end this with this tribute from a non-Catholic to the enduring legacy of your work:

“In a thousand years, when every single person writing today… has long been forgotten, the name of Ratzinger/ Benedict XVI will resound in the world as one of the great prophets of the Christian ages. When the world falls apart, as it threatens to again, in the days of his waking, it is from the words of this unapologetic dissident that humanity will stand the best chance of piecing it back together. May God be good to him.

Rod Dreher

Rest in Peace, Holy Father.