As 2022 came to an end, word came that the retired Pope Benedict XVI’s health had taken a turn, and there seemed to be a collective preparation in the church, awaiting the reality that soon followed, on the eve of the New Year, that his earthly life was coming to an end.
All popes leave an important mark in the history of the world. That’s the nature of the office. Prior to his service as pope he had spent many years serving the church in other ways: as a theologian, as a pastor, as a Vatican cardinal entrusted with important responsibilities.
Still, through all his rich knowledge and penetrating insight, his central theme was always the same: faith as an encounter with the person of Jesus Christ and life in his friendship.
In his “Spiritual Testament,” dated Aug. 29, 2006, and released after his death, Pope Benedict gave thanks to God for the many gifts in his life, for life itself, for guidance, for family and friends, for teachers and students, for his homeland, for the beauty of the Bavarian foothills of the Alps where he could “see the splendour of the Creator Himself shining through.”
Then he exhorted everyone entrusted to his care: “Stand firm in the faith! Do not be confused!” Citing numerous currents of modern thought he had engaged over his lifetime that opposed the faith, he noted that “out of the tangle of hypotheses, the reasonableness of faith has emerged and is emerging anew. Jesus Christ is truly the Way, the Truth, and the Life — and the Church, in all her shortcomings, is truly His Body.”
It’s fitting then that his last intelligible words, in the early hours of the morning, are reported to have been, “Lord, I love you.”
There are no more fit words for any of us to live by, every day of our lives, first to last.