Above, from top, a young Joseph Ratzinger at the time of his ordination to the priesthood in 1951, when he was 24 (he was born in 1927); and a close-up from about the same time; a photo of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in his office in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the early 1990s, as I was interviewing him, when he was in his mid-60s; and during his papacy (2005-2013) when he was about age 80
December 29, 2022: Feast of St. Thomas Becket
Letter #137, 2022, Thursday, December 29: “The situation at the moment is stable”
Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, 95, is in “stable” condition today, a Vatican spokesman said.
“The Pope Emeritus managed to rest well last night, he is absolutely lucid and alert and today, although his condition remains serious, the situation at the moment is stable,” the director of the Vatican Press Office, Dr. Matteo BruniPope Francis renews his invitation to pray for him and to accompany him in these difficult hours.” (link)
Here is the official communiqué in the original Italian: “Il Papa emerito è riuscito a riposare bene la notte scorsa, è assolutamente lucido e vigile e oggi, pur restando gravi le sue condizioni, la situazione al momento è stabile. Papa Francesco rinnova l’invito a pregare per lui e ad accompagnarlo in queste ore difficili.”
Yesterday, December 28, Pope Francis for the first time revealed publicly to those present at his General Audience that Pope Benedict was “very ill” and needed prayers. “Let us ask the Lord to console him and to sustain him in this witness of love for the Church, until the end,” Francis said, asking all Catholics to pray for the aging pontiff.
Pope Francis revealed the fragility of Emeritus Pope Benedict’s health because Benedict briefly lost consciousness Tuesday evening, December 27, and that Pope Francis had been informed of this before the Wednesday morning audience, Diane Montagna reported today for the Catholic Herald (link).
Montagna attributed this information to a “well-informed Vatican source” with whom she spoke on “Wednesday evening” who told her that Benedict was not suffering from “any particular grave illness” but is “gradually wearing out and fading away due to his advanced age,” adding that “Benedict had a recent modification to his pacemaker” but that this —along with reported kidney failure — was “typical of old age” rather than due to a specific illness or disease. (link).
Montagna then continued:
“The (Vatican) source also explained that Benedict’s condition had significantly worsened on Tuesday night, to the point of losing consciousness, and that Pope Francis had been informed of this prior to Wednesday’s general audience.
“Benedict later regained consciousness and was said to be ‘alert’ but on Wednesday evening took a turn for the worse, with those close to him believing the Pope Emeritus might be entering his final hours.
“By Thursday morning, however, his condition had stabilised.”
Her source told her:
“We have probably reached the last phase of his earthly life, and we must prepare and pray for him and for the Church. But only God knows when this will happen: this evening, tomorrow night, in a few days or perhaps in ten. I don’t think we can speak of months now, but we are in the Lord’s hands now more than ever.”
On death, dying, and eternal life…
I would like to suggest four quotations from Joseph Ratzinger on death and dying, on judgment, on life after death, and of what this may all mean, in simple language we can all understand.
These quotations come from the book Ratzinger wrote entitled Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life, first published in 1988, when he was a cardinal and head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome (link).
First, Ratzinger takes on the question of damnation, of hell. He says that damnation is not imposed by Christ as a punishment, because Christ is, in Himself, “sheer salvation”(!). Rather, damnation is… chosen by the person, when the person chooses to distance himself from Christ:
“Christ inflicts pure perdition on no one. In Himself he is sheer salvation. Anyone who is with Him has entered the space of deliverance and salvation. Perdition is not imposed by Him, but comes to be wherever a person distances himself from Christ. It comes about whenever someone remains enclosed within himself. Christ’s word, the bearer of the offer of salvation, then lays bare the fact that the person who is lost has himself drawn the dividing line and separated himself from salvation.” —Joseph Ratzinger, Eschatology, p. 203
Second, Ratzinger takes on the question of salvation, of heaven… of paradise. He says that this state, or condition, is not one of “endless ice-cream cones,” as a child may imagine, but of an infinite intimacy which penetrates the very deepest recesses of the human personality, enabling that personality — the soul of each one of us — to encounter God directly, and in this encounter, to both remain, in some mysterious way, a separate person, a separate identity, ourselves, but also, at the same time (if it is permissible to speak of time in the context of eternity) to be united with the divine, completely and forever. He writes:
“Heaven’s existence depends upon the fact that Jesus Christ is God, is man, and makes space for human existence in the existence of God himself. One is in Heaven when, and to the degree, that one is in Christ. It is by being with Christ that we find the true location of our existence as human beings in God. Heaven is thus primarily a personal reality, and one that remains forever shaped by the historical origin in the paschal mystery of death and resurrection.” —Joseph Ratzinger, Eschatology, p. 233
Third, Ratzinger takes on the question of the last judgment, that moment when the soul either enters into final sorrow or final joy, into hell or heaven. Ratzinger says that “judgment” is simply “the truth of a man” which “has emerged as the fundamental orientation of his existence” during his entire lifetime. He writes:
“The truth of a man that Judgment renders definitive is that truth which has emerged as the fundamental orientation of his existence in all the pathways of his life. In terms of the sum total of decisions from out of which an entire life is constructed, this final direction may be, in the end, a fumbling after readiness for God, valid no matter what wrong turnings have been taken by and by [Note: that is, at one time or another, from time to time]. Or again, it may be a decision to reject God, reaching down into the deepest roots of the self. But this is something that only God can determine. He knows the shadows of our freedom better than we do ourselves. But he also knows of our divine call, and unlimited possibilities. Because he knows what human weakness is, he himself became salvation as truth, yet without stripping himself of the dignity that belongs to truth. —Joseph Ratzinger, Eschatology, p. 208
Fourth, and finally, Ratzinger takes on the question of truth in judgment, of the presence at the final judgment of truth Himself, that is, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is Truth Himself. Ratzinger sees as a central Christian belief that Truth is a person. Jesus literally is Truth, Truth is not impersonal. Being with Christ means being with the Truth. Yet not an instrumental mechanical truth, but a Truth-in-Love.
And this should give us cause for hope, in this Christmas season, when we celebrate the coming into the world of this Person who is Truth, Jesus Christ, because if he came to save us, if he sought us out, we may hope, and believe, and know, that Hew will find us in the end, even if we — fallen, selfish, arrogant, as we may well be — have lost track of, lost sight of, simply lost, the most important thing of all, our own souls.
He writes these words of great hope, which bring great joy:
“In death, a human being emerges into the light of full reality and truth. He takes up that place which is truly his by right. The masquerade of living with its constant retreat behind posturings and fictions, is now over. Man is what he is in truth. Judgment consists of the removal of the mask in death. The Judgment is simply the manifestation of the truth. Not that this truth is something impersonal. God is truth; the truth is God; it is personal. There can be a truth which is judging, definitive, only if there is a truth with a divine character. God is judge inasmuch as he is truth itself. Yet God is the truth of us as the One who became man, becoming in that moment the measure of man. And so God is the criterion of truth for us in and through Christ. Herein lies that redemptive transformation of the idea of Judgment which Christian faith brought about. The truth which judges man has itself set out to save him. It has created a new truth for man. In love, it has taken man’s place and, in this vicarious action, has given man a truth of a special kind, the truth of being loved by truth.” —Joseph Ratzinger, Eschatology, p. 20