This book is a compendium of short insights from the writings of Pope Benedict XVI. Indeed, the "author," Robert Moynihan, is humbly listed only as an "editor." The book is published this month in paperback.
For those, like me, who are not enamored of the present Pope's writings, this is a perfect introduction. After a short biographical introduction in which Moynihan spells out the three main thrusts of Cardinal Ratzinger's/Pope Benedict's approach to the crisis in the Catholic Church, the editor produces a compendium of short writings centered around the topics of "His [Benedict's} Faith", "Today's World," and "The Christian Pilgrim." In addition there are three short pieces from the beginning of Pope Benedict's pontificate.
The organization is superb. For me the selection was enlightening, although probably not in the way it was intended to be and seemed to cull from a great many lesser known sources, and the information provided was illuminating. Pope Benedict XVI, in sharp contrast to his predecessor, is a very interior man who has some difficulty sharing the wealth of revelations that came from his insights. Throughout the book I saw more the intellectual than the pastor. Given that the hardcover book was produced at the very beginning of Pope Benedict's pontificate, this can hardly be surprising. However, it gives a lot of credence to those who feared the pontificate because of the singular lack of pastoral charism evinced to that point by Pope Benedict XVI, which should not be read as a criticism of the Pope, merely a personal reaction. And this observation helped me understand my disconnect with him--we are far too similar. In this brief selection of writings, I get the impression of an extremely intelligent, extremely thoughtful, perhaps very holy bull in a china shop. Now, when I said we are similar, I don't mean to claim for myself either intelligence, thoughtfulness, or holiness, but rather that we are both very interior men whose exterior behavior is occasionally, and probably mostly unwittingly akin to that of a bull in a china shop. The recent brouhaha over remarks made during one of BXVI's speeches is a splendid case in point of saying precisely what is on our minds but having it interpreted outside of the context of our minds and the general message. These qualities don't make for the heart of a great pastor. That said, we cannot deny that the Holy Spirit gave us this great leader for this time and for His purposes. And with time, I will probably find myself drawn to understand and love him far better.
The passages in this book point out the crystal clarity of thought. What I was astonished by was the lack of surprises and interesting insights I encountered as I read. Pope Benedict XVI has had a mission to catechize from the basics, and much of what I read here, I read with a sort of acknowledgment of the truth and an implicit question, "And then?" or "What follows from this?" For example:
from Let God's Light Shine Forth
Pope Benedict XVI, ed. Robert Moynihan
A Central Truth
It must be firmly believed as a truth of Catholic faith that the universal salvific will of the One and Triune God is offered and accomplished once and for all in the mystery of the incarnation, death, and resurrection of the Son of God.
So, surprise, we must believe that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him shall not die but shall have everlasting life--only stated somewhat more ponderously.
This said, I must admit that the excerpts from the Today's World and particularly The Christian Pilgrim sections of the book provide more of what I was looking for. Not that what is articulated above is trivial, it is not, but it's rather like never moving beyond Euclid's postulates. In this case a lifetime of love can be had from meditating upon the truth articulated in the quotation from John, but I find Pope Benedict's articulation of it rather like a very high fiber muffin--nutritious but a bit tough, tasteless, and chewy.
On the other hand:
Proof of the authenticity of my love
In my prayer at communion, I must, on the one hand look totally toward Christ, allowing myself to be transformed by him, even to burn in his enveloping fire. But I must also always keep clearly in mind how he unites me organically with every other communicant--the one next to me, who I may not like very much; but also with those who are far away, in Asia, Africa, America, or in any other place.
Becoming one with them, I must learn to open myself toward them and to involve myself in their situations.
I'm sure the longer works would answer the question raised. But the truth of the matter is that I had enough of reading Benedict in these short passages. I'm neither enlightened nor excited, and frankly, contrary to the previous Pope, I find Benedict's message too gloomy and dire to spark me onwards in faith. Were I to take any part of what I've read too seriously, I'd have to consider going off into the desert and giving up hope for humanity--even though he constantly says not to, his writings are a compendium of reasons to do so.
These are all subjective impressions--gleanings from short works before the Pontificate, and highly colored by my own impressions. For those not deeply aware of Benedict, his career and his writing, this book provides a superb overview and series of insights into the main lines of this great man's thought. For those better acquainted, this book serves as a sort of "Sermon in a Sentence" compendium of short thoughts--a gathering of insights from the many published works and from many speeches, sermons, and lectures given during his career.
For people desiring a better acquaintance with our present pontiff, this book may serve as an excellent resource. I know that it helped me better understand my reticence and lack of rapport. Recognizing my fault in looking at the Holy Father, I can now take steps to remedy it. Going back to a quotation used earlier,
Becoming one with [him], I must learn to open myself toward [him] and to involve myself in [his] situations.
Any lack is not on the part of Benedict, but rather on the part of my own etiolated, scrawny, hardscrabble soul. I demand that he meet my needs, when instead I should be looking to see how he already does and has as leader of the Church and teacher of the truth.
The book is highly recommended for all people who wish to know some of Benedict's thought better without diving into the major works. It is also an excellent book of reflections and insights for people who know and love Benedict and his works quite well.