Monday, May. 08, 2006

Pope Benedict XVI

He was not called John Paul the Adequate. And so that was the challenge for Pope Benedict XVI in the first year of his pontificate: how to fill the shoes of the last man who filled the shoes of the fisherman. Benedict's first encyclical, issued on Christmas Day 2005, took some by surprise. It began with thoughts on ... love. In his first words he quoted the Apostle John: "God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him." With unself-conscious clarity, Benedict wrote, "Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction." You shall love your neighbor as yourself, he is saying. Love brings — is — charity. Look to the Good Samaritan for how to live. Look to St. Martin of Tours giving his cloak to a beggar.

This is God's Rottweiler? John Paul's enforcer? The man who bluntly told the Cardinals last year that they must clean the stables of the "filth" that had entered the church? According to those who have followed the work and life of Joseph Ratzinger—now Pope Benedict—this is the real him: the teacher, the thinker, the ponderer of deepest meanings. Benedict does not have the effortless theatricality and charisma of the young John Paul. But at his weekly audiences, Benedict, 79, has drawn larger crowds, and as John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter has noted, people came to "see" John Paul; they come to "hear" Benedict.

Noonan's most recent book is John Paul the Great