Edited by Mary Ann Walsh, 224 pages, Rowman Littlefield.
This collection of short essays on the character, teaching, and work of Pope Benedict XVI by American Catholics gives readers an excellent sense of the close relationship between the pontiff and the United States.
Much to the surprise of many, especially the secular, liberal media, Benedict has left a profound, lasting impression on American life. The oldline media, such as Time Magazine, continually claimed (and still does) that he was out of touch with people, Americans in particular, and would fail to capture the public's imagination. Nothing could be further from this, it turns out.
Rather than cold and indoctrinating, he has come off as a fatherly, caring, wise pastor. His trip to the US, at a low time in the sex-abuse scandal, brought about great healing and testified to his deep care for people.
Rather than foremost a scholar pope, people have begun to regard him as a pastor pope. Many writers in the book testify to his brilliant preaching on the love of God, and what it means to them not only intellectually, but spiritually.
Yet rather than sentimental, Benedict proclaims a God who reaches out through history in the person of Jesus Christ. One writer notes that for the pope charity without truth is "mere sentimentalism." In other words, the pastor-pope does also demand the traditional Catholic practice of intellectual engagement.
His own brilliance has been a great gift to the worldwide Church. "People came to see Pope John Paul II. People come to hear Benedict," one contributor notes. The pontiff's profoundly deep, multifaceted theological writings, so at odds with the superficial gimmickry of much of mainstream pop culture and Church life, can be read again and again.
Many reflections in this book point out the importance of liturgy to the pope. Rather than sentimentality, Benedict regards the liturgy as theological proclamation. He invites people to understand and engage more deeply with the liturgy. Benedict sees the world's true destiny and fulfillment, one writer notes, achieved one day through worship and adoration.
Readers can see glimpses of the multi-faceted nature of Benedict's theology. His opposition to some strains of liberation theology is grounded in his own appreciation of the liturgy and the simple proclamation of Jesus Christ as Savior. We are called to have the same faith that Mary has, which is one dimension of his own devotion to the Blessed Mary Virgin.
Such devotion for the pontiff does not get lost in emotion or piety, but is expressed in the clear theology for which he is renowned.
Completing this picture of the scholarly, pastor pope is a teacher of tradition, which includes the age-old religious practices of his native Bavaria. This has given him an intense appreciation of the understanding of tradition as the deposit of the faith.
One selection thus notes that his papal coat of arms combines papal tradition with Augustinian theology and "papal lore."
God has thus offered a powerful antidote to the world's secularism: a pope who is pastor, scholar, and traditionalist.