A Word in Season
Benedict XVI, the Catechism, and the Hope of Heaven
As I poured over Scripture and theology books during those study years, I came to discover the "who's who" behind the Catechism. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger—our Pope Benedict XVI—was the chief architect of the Catechism, at the directive of Blessed Pope John Paul II.
In 1986, I entrusted a commission of twelve Cardinals and Bishops, chaired by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, with the task of preparing a draft of the catechism... (John Paul II, Apostolic Constitution, Fidei Depositum, Oct. 11, 1992)
I felt such a debt of gratitude to Cardinal Ratzinger for the Catechism. It was a monumental work—the first update to the Roman Catechism in over 400 years—plus it took six years to develop, with input from over a thousand bishops from around the world. It would influence future generations for the next century! It certainly had its effect on me.
What's more, my studies led me to discover Ratzinger as one of the premier theologians of the last two generations, with dozens of books to his name! As I studied eschatology—the study of death and eternal life—I learned how important the actual Risen Body of Jesus is to humanity's eternal destiny. I came to relish Fr. Ratzinger's work on the subject. The good professor helped me unpack the beauty of a heavenly union with the Trinity, as he describes how Jesus brings about this union for us.
Heaven's existence depends on the fact that Jesus Christ, as God, is man, and makes space for human existence in the existence of God himself. One is in heaven when, and to the degree, that one is in Christ. It is by being with Christ that we find the true location of our existence as human beings in God. Heaven is thus, primarily, a personal reality... (Joseph Ratzinger, Dogmatic Theology, Eschatology, The Catholic University of America, 1988, p. 234)
Jesus makes a space for us in himself, as we truly become the body of Christ. As I read this text that had preceded the Catechism, I immediately recognized the themes I had read earlier.
Cardinal Ratzinger's books and articles, and his production of the Catechism had mentored me and countless other lives as well. When he became our pope, many like me cheered that this wise and faith-filled teacher's instruction would have a world stage.
Christian hope has become one of the hallmarks of Benedict's papacy. His encyclical on hope, Spe Salvi, reminds us that we must imitate the saints, who imitate Christ: they open themselves to union with God, who first opens himself to us.
The Kingdom of God is a gift, and precisely because of this, it is great and beautiful, and constitutes the response to our hope. And we cannot—to use the classical expression—"merit" Heaven through our works. Heaven is always more than we could merit, just as being loved is never something "merited," but always a gift. However . . . our behavior is not indifferent before God . . .
We can open ourselves and the world and allow God to enter: we can open ourselves to truth, to love, to what is good. This is what the saints did, those who, as "God's fellow workers," contributed to the world's salvation (cf. 1 Co.r 3:9; 1 Th. 3:2). (Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi, par 35.)
As Pope Benedict renounces the papacy and enters the monastery, he continues to teach us with his example as he opens his life more to prayer and the One who knows his name. He owns what he professes. Benedict taught that the Catechism, as with all Christian study, ought to move us into greater possession of a relationship with God, the pearl of great price (Mt. 13:45-46.)
All of the "truths of faith" are explications of the one truth that we discover in them. And this one truth is the pearl of great price that is worth staking our lives of: God. He alone can be the pearl for which we give everything else. Dios solo basta ("God alone suffices")—he who finds God has found all things. But we can find him only because he first sought and found us. He is the one who acts first, and for this reason faith in God is inseparable from the mystery of the Incarnation, of the Church and of the sacraments. Everything that is said in the Catechism is an unfolding of the one truth that is God himself—the "love that moves the sun and all the stars." (Dante, Paradiso, 33, 145) (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Gospel, Catechesis, Catechism, Ignatius, 1997, p. 33-34.)
Though we may wish it otherwise, even by renouncing the Chair of Peter, Benedict is showing us that "God alone suffices."
And hope is calling us on.
Pat Gohn is a Catholic writer, speaker, and the host of the Among Women Podcast and blog. Her book Blessed, Beautiful and Bodacious: Celebrating the Gift of Catholic Womanhood is published by Ave Maria Press. Subscribe to “A Word in Season” via email or RSS.