It got almost no coverage in the mainstream media — and what coverage there was generally was of the “protesters will greet the pope” variety that prefaced his enormously successful visit, last year, to the United Kingdom — but Pope Benedict XVI was quietly impressive and persuasive in Germany, last week.
The world may little have noted it, but the truth is, all of Benedict’s papal visits have been those very quiet triumphs. A few years back Spengler, writing in the Asia Times, characterized Benedict as saying, “I have a mustard seed, and I’m not afraid to use it.”
He’s quite right. Benedict is a small and humble mustard seed, and in time, we’re going to see huge and healthy new growth born of his tireless evangelizing.
Peter Seewald, the German journalist and former atheist, encountered that mustard seed when he interviewed then-Cardinal Ratzinger for God and the World — a long discussion that was transcribed word-for-word (and according to Seewald, virtually unchanged in editing) that resulted in both a fascinating book and Seewald’s own conversion. His follow-up conversation with Ratzinger-as-Pope, Light of the World, showed the mustard seed still potent. Now he writes of Benedict’s visit to Germany:
“[Benedict’s success was] a small miracle…shortly before [he arrived] there was a very aggressive, anti-clerical assault by the media.”
“All of this brings to mind George Orwell’s ‘1984,’ in which an imaginary enemy, a nightmare, is created in order to scare people.” “And yet,” Seewald noted, “despite all of this incredible effort by the media, an innumerable amount of people stood up and refused to be deceived.”
It’s as if they were saying that everything would be wonderful and orderly in the world if the Vatican just ceased to exist.”
“We were all witnesses to something much greater. Where were all the masses of critics and protesters? They never showed up. And yet 350,000 people made great sacrifices in order to personally listen to the Pope and to attend Mass with him. Millions watched on television. The Pope’s books are selling faster than ever … And undoubtedly never before has so much intelligence, wisdom and truth, so much of what is fundamental, been heard in Germany.”
[The media] work like crazy in a state of antagonism against the Pope…to see Benedict XVI “walk through the ferocious pack of media dogs without losing his composure for one second” was amazing.
Many media outlets delight in targeting the Pope. A host of critical theories have Catholicism in their crosshairs. Those who would decry structures of power are likely thinking about the Church. The Catholic Church is the big bad bogeyman for every conceivable ill in the Western World, because it has had the most formative influence on our civilization.
But Catholicism is not, fundamentally, an ultramontane institution. Its hierarchical structure, its history, its social structures, its money, its patrimony of art and architecture—all these are in service to something much more fundamental. The Church of 2011 has a radical continuity with the stripped-down underground Church of 111: it is all about the love of God. In preaching Christ crucified and risen, it is telling its story of being surprised and delighted that God is real and present. In building cathedrals, painting frescoes, copying manuscripts, erecting dioceses, sending missionaries, composing Glorias, establishing schools, and electing popes, it is drawing together a family of those who have been seized by love for the world through responding to Jesus.
The world, and the worldly, don’t “get” it, because despite the material trappings that can be so distracting but which have their purposes, the church is not worldly; it is not of the world and does not belong to the world. She is a system supernatural, existing within the material, and to stand outside and sneer — while easy — only enhances all that one cannot “get” about it.
Over at OSV, John Norton makes a point of directing you toward the meat and potatoes of all the good stuff Benedict delivered while in Germany, and which you only saw in Catholic media or not at all. It’s well-worth your reading!
Rocco Palmo with the definitive Benedict-in-Germany post
Related: Rocco reminds us that 33-years ago was elected our FIRST Pope John Paul — and he really did have a wonderful smile and way. It was kind of great to see him, again!