At present, there is an exhibition in Rome, which recalls this anniversary, in order to pay merited tribute to the Pope Emeritus. However, it’s important to say that in the course of his life as a priest, bishop, Cardinal, Pope, and, finally, Pope Emeritus, Joseph Ratzinger has never ceased to be essentially a priest. Where is this seen? It’s seen particularly in his celebration of Holy Mass. Eyewitnesses give testimony of the unction, piety, and recollection with which he celebrates the Mass. Some admire the way he gazes on the Host once consecrated. It can be said that what is important is his priesthood. All the rest pivots around it or perfects it but, in sum, he is one hundred percent a priest.
In fact, the most sacred, most elevated action he can do, be it as a priest or Pope is the same: the celebration of the Eucharist. There is nothing holier, nothing more elevated than to be able to celebrate Holy Mass. At present, as Pope Emeritus, his principal contribution to the Church is prayer and the pious celebration of Mass.
He has celebrated Mass for 70 years; he has let God lead him by the hand for 70 years. For him, life has been an adventure of service to God. His entry into the Seminary amid the Nazi dominance in Germany; his refusal to enroll in the SS as he was a seminarian, despite the pressure of the environment and the teasing and harassment of which he was the object, his Ordination, academic titles, discreet but important participation in Vatican Council II; his life as a prestigious University Professor; his elevation to the Episcopal Order and, almost immediately, his appointment as Cardinal; his long years heading the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; his election as Pope, succeeding a giant of the faith; his unexpected renunciation; his hidden life of prayer — all constitute a wonderful symphony of faithfulness to God, expressing the adventure of letting God take care for our life.
However, in 70 years of priesthood, the cross, contradiction, and difficulty have not been lacking. He had to face dramatic situations and yet, amid them, found the way to remain faithful to God. First as a theologian of the turbulent post-conciliar waters; later as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, dealing with Liberation Theology and the Theology of Religious Pluralism and, finally, as Pope, facing the painful scandal of clerical pederasty. It was not easy to find the way; it was not simply to be faithful to God, yet Benedict XVI followed Jesus Christ through the torturous ways of the Church and the contemporary world.
He gave us all the example of humility and love of the Church, on taking, after seven centuries, the unexpected decision to renounce the See of Peter. We have all been conscious of the valor and courage that such a change implied, and how Providence has been able to capitalize on it through Francis’ pontificate. Then he has also given us an example of humility by remaining in prayer, in silence, without overshadowing Pope Francis and taking care delicately of the union with him. In the detail of his renunciation and his hiding, his love of the Church, of Jesus Christ, and of all souls shines, if possible, even more.
If Saint John Paul II has been called “the Great,” Benedict XVI should be recognized as “the Wise.” He is leaving to posterity a monumental intellectual work, which the Church has yet to assimilate and digest sufficiently. It will take decades, perhaps, to understand the richness of his teaching. Benedict XVI surprises us a lot because, as opposed to the sin of pride that often characterizes intellectuals, the Pope Emeritus shows great humility and simplicity. It was with that simplicity that he celebrated his 70 years of priesthood. His whole life gives us, priests, the example that it’s worthwhile to be faithful, and that such faithfulness leads to a full life.