Donna Orsuto: Remembering Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

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Like many in these days following the funeral of Pope Benedict XVI, I have been reflecting on the many treasures he has left us. I am especially inspired by three themes.

Photo: Vatican Media
Photo: Vatican Media

Like many in these days following the funeral of Pope Benedict XVI, I have been reflecting on the many treasures he has left us. I am especially inspired by three themes.

First, he teaches us about the centrality of friendship with Christ. It is obvious from his first homily as pope to his dying words, "Lord, I love you", that this personal and intimate friendship with Christ was at the heart of his life and pontificate. Memorable are the words spoken at World Youth Day 2005 in Cologne, Germany, where he said:

I repeat today what I said at the beginning of my pontificate: "If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation.

Second, Benedict XVI teaching on the co-responsibility of the laity paved the way for recent developments in the Church regarding the role and mission of the laity. His words on May 26, 2009, at the Opening of the Pastoral Convention of the Diocese of Rome, are still inspiring and worthy of further reflection.  He asked the question,

“To what extent is the pastoral co-responsibility of all, and particularly of the laity, recognized and encouraged? Granted there have been efforts in the past, but he notes that “[t]here is still a long way to go.”

He asks: “What paths can we take? In the first place we must renew our efforts for a formation which is more attentive and focused on the vision of the Church, . . . and this should be both on the part of priests as well as of religious and lay people to understand ever better what this Church is, this People of God in the Body of Christ. At the same time, he says, it is necessary to improve pastoral structures in such a way that the co-responsibility of all the members of the People of God in their entirety is gradually promoted, with respect for vocations and for the respective roles of the consecrated and of lay people.

This demands a change in mindset, particularly concerning lay people. They must no longer be viewed as "collaborators" of the clergy but truly recognized as "co-responsible," for the Church's being and action, thereby fostering the consolidation of a mature and committed laity. 

Finally, as Pope Francis noted recently, Benedict XVI was a "great master of catechesis."  As prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he had already had a central role in the preparation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

His Wednesday audiences are also precious treasures for making the theology and spirituality of many saints accessible to all the faithful. As Pope Francis continued, "His acute and gentle thought was not self-referential, but ecclesial, because he always wanted to accompany us in the encounter with Jesus. Jesus, Crucified and Risen, the Living One and the Lord, was the destination to which Pope Benedict led us, taking us by the hand. May he help us rediscover in Christ the joy of believing and the hope of living.”

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