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"A Revolutionary of the Christian Type" | Peter Seewald | The Preface to Benedict XVI: An Intimate Portrait

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What is it like to sit opposite a man like Joseph Ratzinger for many hours, alone in a monastery, and discuss things with him, asking a thousand questions?

We were high up in our monastery, often in reality above the clouds, and there was always something that gave you the feeling there was a good spirit there. At any rate, I came to know Joseph Ratzinger as a great man for patience, as a spiritual master who can give answers. Here was someone who simply understood people, who had retained the liveliness of youth. Someone who did not burn out quickly but in some way remained whole--and most impressive in his attitude of humility, with which he makes small things seem great.

Joseph Ratzinger is a born teacher, but he did not want to become pope. Even after the conclave, on the loggia of Saint Peter's, his face showed the traces of an inner struggle. And he probably felt like crying, so disturbingly moved was he by the condescension of the great God who entrusted him, at the end of his path, with the keys of the kingdom of heaven.

The man from Bavaria--contrary to all the projections dumped onto his shoulders--is a revolutionary of the Christian type. Seeking out what was lost and saving it is the constant element in his life. An inconvenient man who can seize on the spirit of the times, who warns people against the aberrations of modern life. Anyone who really wants change, he cries out, needs a change in his consciousness and his personal behavior--anything else is insufficient. Now, as Benedict XVI, the most powerful German at the beginning of the new millennium may offer a new opportunity for Europe and, especially, for his homeland. And Peter's successor has given his own people an exciting motto for this: "We are not working to defend a position of power", he says. "In truth we are working so that the streets of the world may be open for Christ." That would mean, then, something like a "Benedictinizing" of the Catholic Church, a healthy revitalization of mercy, of the origin of the mystery.

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This is an approach based, not on activism or considerations of feasibility, but on faith. And the pontifex in Rome could find himself helped not only by a reawakened longing for meaning and a new consciousness that truth is indispensable, but also by a new generation of young Christians, whose desire is to live out their faith in all its vitality and fullness once more, piously and without inhibitions. "The Church is certainly not old and immobile", declared the new pope enthusiastically; "no--she is young." And it was also untrue, he said, that youth is merely "materialistic and egotistic: young people want an end to be put to injustice. They want inequality to be overcome and for everyone to be given his share of the good things of the world. They want the oppressed to be given their freedom. They want greatness. They desire goodness. And that is why the young ... are once again wide open for Christ."

And then he added, just like a rebel of earlier times. "Anyone who has come to Christ seeking what is comfortable has indeed come to the wrong address." And, quite certainly, anyone who seeks that with Pope Benedict, too.

Abbey of Benedictbeuern
September 2005
Peter Seewald

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The Question of Suffering, the Response of the Cross | From God and the World: A Conversation with Peter Seewald | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
The Pope's Childhood: In His Own Words | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger | From Salt of the Earth: The Church at the End of the Millennium
Benedict XVI's Theological Vision: An Introduction | Monsignor Joseph Murphy | From the introduction to Christ Our Joy: The Theological Vision of Pope Benedict XVI
The Theological Genius of Joseph Ratzinger | An Interview with Fr. D. Vincent Twomey, S.V.D.
The Courage To Be Imperfect | The Introduction to Pope Benedict XVI: The Conscience of Our Age (A Theological Portrait) | D. Vincent Twomey, S.V.D.

Peter Seewald was an editor and a writer for two major German newspapers and a magazine for twelve years. Now a free-lance journalist and writer, he has written seeral best-selling books, including the internationally acclaimed book-length interviews with then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) entitled Salt of the Earth and God and the World. He is also the main author of Pope Benedict XVI: Servant of the Truth.

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