Saddled With the Best

WaPo's Book World this morning includes this Eamon Duffy review of three new Ratzinger biographies. It's not terrible, which for the Post is actually good, but I can't help thinking the review reveals more about Duffy and his ilk (aging Catholic professors and Churchmen) than about Benedict. Ideology makes liberal churchmen see things that aren't there.
For starters, like many observers, he tries to drive a wedge between JPII & Benedict, as if it weren't JP II who raised Ratzinger to his position at CDF and as if they hadn't been the closest of collaborators for 25 years. Whatever differences in style, personality, emphasis and outlook between the two, they themselves made of it an enormously fruitful collaboration and friendship. The big criticism of JPII & Benedict is supposed to be that they're close-minded, and yet it's always their critics who can't get their minds around the idea that you don't have to be a mindless toady to a person to work well with him. To say nothing of the idea that Popes work to defend the deposit of faith left us by Jesus, not to advance political platforms of their own. At any rate, Duffy's alleged evidence of a JP/B split is truly bizarre.
[Differences] appeared again when, on John Paul's authority, the so-called Third Secret of Fatima was published. Ratzinger's official theological commentary on it was perceptibly lukewarm and generalizing, a damage-limitation exercise designed to empty the "secret" of its apocalyptic menace and to demonstrate that, as the cardinal observed dryly to one journalist before its publication, "nowhere does it say anything more than what the Christian message already says."
"Dryly?" How about "matter-of-factly?" Since the age of revelation ended with the Ascension, no Church-approved apparition ever says anything other than the basic Christian message. Moreover, I think most observers would agree that JP II released the third message precisely to reign in some of the apocalyptic frenzy that was building on the fringes of the Church at the turn of the millennium. Plus --do commentators ever read the people they're paid to comment about?Pope Benedict has invoked Fatima publicly several times --a strange thing to do if he doesn't really buy into it.
Then there's the, "we were stuck with him" interpretation of the Conclave. Duffy labors to make the electors' choice the wrong one, but the facts weigh him down. Citing John Allen's book, he's forced to admit
Ratzinger was simply the outstanding figure in the college of cardinals. He is a learned theologian and thinker, a man of weight, gravity and experience, a linguist and a listener respected even by those who do not love him, and there was no one else of comparable stature and in a reasonable state of health in the conclave.
Much as America was saddled with the burden of George Washington for first Prez, we Catholics are "stuck" with the wisest, ablest and --more to the point-- holiest man for the job.
Then --do these people never tire of it?-- there's the "joyless" meme.
Fischer's chief hope for Benedict's papacy is that he might infuse a little joy into a Church grown sternly introspective. But joy doesn't strike one immediately as Benedict's strong suit
I've been reading an essay or chapter of his each night since his election. Joy is precisely the thing that strikes me as his strong suit. The "gloomy" parts of his writing and preaching come when he is summarizing the experience of living without Jesus in the existentialist and materialist wasteland that merits coverage in the Style sections of our MSM. When he speaks of the faith of the Church, of his own vision, something else entirely emerges. A great hope. To wit:
His first homily as Pope:
If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? And once again the Pope said: No! 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. And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life. Amen.
His homily for WYD in Cologne:
Anyone who has discovered Christ must lead others to him. A great joy cannot be kept to oneself. It has to be passed on.
The seminarian experiences the beauty of that call in a moment of grace which could be defined as "falling in love". His soul is filled with amazement, which makes him ask in prayer: "Lord, why me?". But love knows no "why"; it is a free gift to which one responds with the gift of self.
Does the typical septigenarian think like this? What can you say about a 78-year-old man who's been a priest forever and an academic longer than that who still has this heart that thinks of young love? Certainly he is much younger and fresher in spirit than most of the men half his age writing about him. Duffy and his ilk would do well to leave off the secondary sources for a while and try reading Benedict straight.