As Benedict XVI relinquishes the papacy, much of the non-Catholic world has to admit they have seldom heard him speak directly to them in a language they could understand. He is not John Paul II. Benedict’s heavy German accent, his advanced age and his more restrained personality—certainly more restrained than the actor and poet John Paul II—have made him difficult for outsiders to understand.
Still it is an art of living to hear wisdom in the mouths of those with whom we disagree—even in the mouths of our enemies. Consider then, in the final days of this pope, a short compilation if his more trenchant statements. Some of these are insights into the modern world. Some are descriptions of the forces tearing at the Roman Catholic Church, indeed tearing at Christianity in our age. All are worth pondering as Benedict XVI leaves the global stage.
1. "Truth is not determined by a majority vote."
2. "It is true that the Muslim world is not totally mistaken when it reproaches the West of Christian tradition of moral decadence and the manipulation of human life. ... Islam has also had moments of great splendor and decadence in the course of its history."
3. "Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered to an intrinsic moral evil, and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder."
4. "It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the church's pastors wherever it occurs. ... The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in work, in action and in law."
5. "We are living in alienation, in the salt waters of suffering and death, in a sea of darkness without light. The net of the Gospel pulls us out of the waters of death and brings us into the splendor of God's light, into true life. The modern world is… a spiritual and emotional desert of poverty, abandonment, loneliness… and destroyed love."
6. "We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one's own ego and one's own desires."
7. “Meaning that is self-made is in the last analysis no meaning. Meaning, that is, the ground on which our existence as a totality can stand and live, cannot be made but only received.”
8. "I'm not a man who constantly thinks up jokes. But I think it's very important to be able to see the funny side of life and its joyful dimension and not to take everything too tragically. I'd also say it's necessary for my ministry. A writer once said that angels can fly because they don't take themselves too seriously. Maybe we could also fly a bit if we didn't think we were so important."
9. “We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed. Each of us is loved. Each of us is necessary.”
10. “Evil draws its power from indecision and concern for what other people think.”
11. “Wherever politics tries to be redemptive, it is promising too much. Where it wishes to do the work of God, it becomes not divine, but demonic.”
12. “It is when we attempt to avoid suffering by withdrawing from anything that might involve hurt, when we try to spare ourselves the effort and pain of pursuing truth, love, and goodness, that we drift into a life of emptiness, in which there may be almost no pain, but the dark sensation of meaninglessness and abandonment is all the greater.”
13. "'Rock' [music]. . . is the expression of elemental passions, and at rock festivals it assumes a cultic character, a form of worship, in fact, in opposition to Christian worship. People are, so to speak, released from themselves by the experience of being part of a crowd and by the emotional shock of rhythm, noise, and special lighting effects. However, in the ecstasy of having all their defenses torn down, the participants sink, as it were, beneath the elemental force of the universe."
14. “Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. There may be legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not... with regard to abortion and euthanasia.
15. “You might think that in today's world people are unlikely to start worshipping other gods. But sometimes people do worship 'other gods' without realizing it. False 'gods' are nearly always associated with the worship of three things: material possessions, possessive love, or power.”