Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The brilliant Benedict

After 26 years of saying "John Paul," it will take some getting used to saying "Benedict."

In some ways, it seems to me, Benedict XVI's name is a refreshing slap in the face -- and a brilliant choice for a name.

When John Paul I took the double name, a true departure from all prior custom, he did it to honor his two predecessors. It was also an acknowledgment of the great work they had accomplished in the Second Vatican Council.

The post-conciliar atmosphere was one of "newness," hence a new pope with a new custom was all part of that. John Paul the Great, who had participated in the Council as a bishop, carried that forward. And with the election of a Polish pope for the first time ever in Church history, that mark of newness continued in an even more marked way.

However, there was a problem with this "newness." As we are all too well aware, there is a sense in many people that anything pre-conciliar (i.e. prior to 1965) is out of date, old, antiquated. You know how many Protestants and other sects believe there was some great apostacy that occurred after the Apostolic Age. It seems to me that many Catholics have the same kind of belief -- everything was fine up until Constantine, and after him, it was all downhill. Until, of course, John XXIII threw open the windows to let in the fresh air. So anything prior to 330 A.D. is great along with anything after 1965. Whatever happened in between is one long nightmare.

Many people were hoping that whoever was elected would choose the name John Paul III. Fortunately, Cardinal Ratzinger didn't do so. The refreshment of him taking the name of Benedict is that he is hearkening back to the rest of the history of the Church. As he is the sixteenth of that name, he is taking on a long view of the depths of the Church's life; after all, the first Pope Benedict was back in the 6th century.

This does not mean, of course, that he will throw out Vatican II. That would be impossible, not only because it has happened and definitively changed the course of the Church and the world, but also because of his own personal experience -- young Father Joseph Ratzinger was there as a peritas, an expert for his own bishop. No, in Benedict XVI (it's hard to get used to typing that Roman numeral after the simplicity of II) we have fused in his person a man who knows intimately the history of the Church by the service he has rendered the Church over the last 24 years at the CDF, and a man who lived Vatican II and so knows how the latter fits into the former.

May God grant him wisdom, insight, boldness and whatever other gifts are necessary for him to bring the Church closer to the Lord. God bless Pope Benedict XVI!

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