Farewell to Cardinal Meisner Was Vintage Ratzinger

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National Catholic Register, 19 July 2017

The pope emeritus’ July 11 message reminded all listeners why Benedict XVI remains without literary peer among Catholic preachers and theologians.

There was a surprise at the funeral Mass of Cardinal Joachim Meisner on July 15 in Cologne; a message was read from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, dated July 11. The message was not as explosive as some commentators with short memories made it out to be; it was vintage Ratzinger, always alert to the precarious state of the Church.

The message reminded all listeners why Benedict remains without literary peer among Catholic preachers and theologians; in just 650 words (in the English translation), he summarized the arc of a great Churchman’s life in light of the signs of the times. In an ecclesial environment of increasingly strident language, Benedict’s characteristically serene and luminous intervention was a gift to the memory of his great friend.

The mellifluous message was significant in seven ways.

A Capsizing Church

The image that garnered the most attention, accompanied by inflamed headlines in some quarters of the Catholic media, was Benedict’s depiction of a beleaguered Church:

This passionate shepherd and pastor found it difficult to leave his post, especially at a time in which the Church stands in particularly pressing need of convincing shepherds who can resist the dictatorship of the spirit of the age and who live and think the faith with determination. However, what moved me all the more was that, in this last period of his life, he learned to let go and to live out of a deep conviction that the Lord does not abandon his Church, even if the boat has taken on so much water as to be on the verge of capsizing.

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