My dear people of St. Mary’s:
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was a professor, a world-renowned theologian, and author before he became pope. As a widely read author, to date he has written sixty-eight books, as well as three papal encyclicals and three apostolic exhortations. After his election as pope, he produced a three-volume life of Christ. In the introduction to the first volume, he wrote that the work was “in no way an exercise of the magisterium,” but rather was to be “solely an expression of my personal search ‘for the face of the Lord.’” The magisterium refers to the official teaching authority of the Roman Catholic Church. So, Pope Benedict was saying that the volumes of his life of Christ were his personal meditations on the life and teachings of Jesus, rather than official teachings of the Catholic Church. This makes him unique among the popes for continuing to write, shall we say, as Joseph Ratzinger the theologian, even while he held office as pope.
His encyclical letters are, of course, official papal documents that are part of the magisterium. An encyclical letter is one written by the pope to all the Catholic faithful in the world. All popes write encyclical letters; Blessed John Paul II wrote fourteen encyclicals over his twenty-six years as pope. So, when Joseph Ratzinger was elected, many in the Church wondered and anticipated what the subject of this great theologian’s first encyclical letter would be. The topic surprised many. He chose Love. In 2005, Pope Benedict published his encyclical Deus Caritas Est, Latin for God is Love. This was followed in 2007 by Spe Salvi, or Saved in Hope. Everyone then understood that the Holy Father was intent on writing a series on the three Theological Virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity (Love). Love and Hope completed, only the one on Faith remained.
And then, last year, Pope Benedict announced that the Catholic Church would celebrate a “Year of Faith,” from October 11, 2012 to November 24, 2013. This was to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, and the twentieth anniversary of the promulgation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The idea of the Year of Faith is for all Catholics to spend this time rediscovering the truths and beauty of the Catholic Faith. Although I have come to St. Mary’s in the middle of this Holy Year, in September we will begin to offer special programs for adult Catholics who want to learn more about their faith, as well as for the young people in our religious education program.
It has been reported that the Pope Emeritus’ encyclical was researched and partly written when he abdicated the papacy on February 28, 2013. It would seem that the Church was to be denied the third and last encyclical of this series on the Theological Virtues.
However, Pope Francis, certainly a “Pope of Surprises,” has announced through his spokesman that he will complete Pope Emeritus Benedict’s encyclical on Faith, working from the former pope’s research notes and draft text. The new letter will be published under Pope Francis’ name, and clearly the work will be his own. But what a wonderful collaboration this will be! And also a timely one. With so many people in our world (and even in the Church) in a state of confusion or doubt as to their beliefs, what more important topic could there be than that of Faith. It would certainly be a wonderful way to close out this special Year of Faith. And while Pope Francis sets to work, let us as well, so that we may use this year as a time of grace, and come to better know the Faith, love the Faith, and live the Faith.
1 Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s life of Christ is published as: Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives (2012); Jesus of Nazareth (2007); and Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week (2011). They are available as hardcover, paperback and e-books through Amazon and other booksellers, as are the encyclicals and his other writings.