Last fall, a book came out in German and Italian that caused a great flurry of controversy: Light of the World, an extended interview by German journalist Peter Seewald of our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI. Everyone focused on one line, taken way out of context, about condoms. If that was not malicious, it was silly, but either way, typical. The whole book only later came out in English, and I just finished reading it.
I recommend it highly to all of you, for its accurate presentation of our Holy Father’s thoughts and personality, his gentle manner, brilliant intellect, deep faith, and sense of humor. You may see bits of it in this column in the future, for as I read, I often thought – I have got to get this to the people of St. B! But why wait for that? It’s almost time to start thinking about Lent, so maybe this book could be part of your reading plan – the part that helps you to know, understand, and love the Church.
Some of the exchanges are quite mundane, for example:
(Peter Seewald) Do you actually use the exercise bicycle that your former physician, Dr. Buzzonetti, set up for you?
Pope Benedict XVI: No, I don’t get to it at all – and don’t need it at the moment, thank God.
But a better sample would be this, about what it is like when the Pope talks to his boss:
(Seewald) Has your faith changed since you became responsible for Christ’s flock as the supreme shepherd? Sometimes people get the impression that now it has become more mysterious somehow, more mystical.
(Holy Father) I am no mystic. But it is correct to say that as Pope one has even more cause to pray and to entrust oneself entirely to God. For I see very well that almost everything I have to do is something I myself cannot do at all. That fact already forces me, so to speak, to place myself in the Lord’s hands and to say to him: “You do it, if you want it!” In this sense prayer and contact with God are now even more necessary and also even more natural and self-evident than before.
To put it in worldly terms: Is there now a “better connection” to heaven, or something like a grace of office?
Yes, one often feels that. In the sense of: Now I have been able to do something that did not come from me at all. Now I entrust myself to the Lord and notice, yes, there is help there, something is being done that is not my own doing. In that sense there is absolutely an experience of the grace of office.
And how does Pope Benedict pray?
As far as the Pope is concerned, he too is a simple beggar before God – even more than most other people. Naturally I always pray first and foremost to our Lord, with whom I am united simply by old acquaintance, so to speak. I am friends with Augustine, with Bonaventure, with Thomas Aquinas. Then one says to such saints also: Help me! And the Mother of God is, in any case, always a major point of reference. In this sense I commend myself to the communion of saints. With them, strengthened by them, I then walk with dear Lord also, begging, for the most part, but also in thanksgiving – or quite simply being joyful.