Habemus Papam? You don’t say.

Apparently, we have a new pope. Apparently, we’ve had him for a while now – which makes the following inexcusably tardy. But here at Godsbody, that’s never stopped us before. We were shuffling through old email, muttering to ourselves about deadlines we weren’t meeting, when we found this, from sis-in-law Lisa, and thought we’d share:

Today Cardinal Ratzinger was elected Benedict XVI. I feel relief, excitement, joy, anticipation. The media portrays him as a hardline conservative. This is so far from the way I perceive him. The very first theology book I ever read was in my required sophomore intro course: Ratzinger’s Introduction to Christianity. I didn’t know anything about Ratzinger then or even anything about Catholic theology. But I guess that at some level I perceived it as dusty, dry and stodgy–because I remember my surprise when, after reading about 10 pages, I was enchanted, intrigued, challenged. Ratzinger’s writing was and is fresh and re-freshing. His prose is anything but plodding, his insights anything but predictable. Yesterday my theologian-friend Margie and I were talking about him. “He has no system of his own,” she said, with an air of respect, “He seems simply to be always contemplating the mystery.” Reading Introduction to Christianity was the first time I touched the mystery in a book of “theology.” Two years later, Michael Waldstein, a devotee of Ratzinger, taught the course that convinced me to study theology in graduate school. I was hooked.

At the John Paul II Institute I became acquainted with a German Dominican seminarian who had studied under Ratzinger at the university. Ratzinger, he told me, had a giant intellect. He could speak and the sentences rolled off his tongue as fully formed thoughts–“as though you were reading them in a book,” the seminarian added. Ratzinger has a great mind. But when I think back to that first reading of Introduction to Christianity, now that I have more theology under my belt and more Ratzinger books in my library, what I remember are not his arguments, but his stories, his images. One that stuck with me was in his discussion of the characteristics of God–one of which he termed “superfluity,” that is, overabundance, a gift that overwhelms the receiver. It is the characteristic of a God who spills his own blood for his pitiful creatures. Isn’t this superfluity, this overabundance, Ratzinger reasons, visible throughout the universe–from the thousands of seeds that are produced so that one flower may grow to the millions of stars strewn simply for our pleasure and amazement. This is vintage Ratzinger: turning a well known argument against the existence of God–after all, what is the measly earth but a speck in a quasi infinite universe–on its head. This is what comes from contemplating the mystery: the Love that created all that is, that beckons us in the person of Jesus Christ.


  1. The Elusive Scotsman says

    I’ve always loved the prose of Ratzinger, even while he was a Cardinal; Truth and Tolerance was my first book of his, and it was a breath of fresh air, since I had been dealing more and more with friends who were leaning towards religious relativism and “equality.” (Pah! I always want to spit when I hear the “all religions are equal” line; as if Buddha and Christ were the same because they both said murder is bad?) The man knows how to describe someting in just such a way that you can understand it in its full depth even without the TAC ™ style of reading Great Books. Eheheh. This concept of superfluity never ceases to astond me (talk about the self-evidence of the subject), as it gives a glance at the greater depth of Christianity. Robert Blake once made a comment about seeing the universe in a grain of sand; Christianity lets you see that, and then you see the whole universe itself, theologically speaking.

    Pardon if I get to blathering.

  2. The Elusive Scotsman says

    Ooh! ooh! Almost forgot!

    From the June/July 2005 issue of First Things:

    An engaging case study is now on offer in Matthew Lickona’s Swimming with Scapulars: True Confessions of a Young Catholic(Loyola, 278 pp., $19.95). I will not be surprised if this becomes something of a niche classic. Lickona and his wife Deirdre are graduates of Thomas Aquinas College in California and live with their four (as of this writing) children in La Mesa, California, where he is staff writer for the San Diego Reader, an alternative newspaper. “Alternative” is the word for the ever-ancient, ever-new way of life they are striving to live, a life of self-discipline and spiritual struggles joined to the hilarity and high adventure of Catholic fidelity. (Four days into the honeymoon they were still virgins because, being committed to Natural Family Planning, the time was not right for Deirdre.) Thomas Aquinas is among the more prominent of alternative Catholic colleges established in recent decades, and this charming and frequently crazy book serves as a report card on what such schools are producing. If the Lickonas are representative, a rigorous (they would say vigorous) orthodoxy results in a way of being Catholic that has left behind the stale liberal-vs-conservative squabbles about what went wrong and what went right after the Second Vatican Council and has moved on to living the life of the faith in all its fullness. Theirs is not a return to the Catholic “ghetto” or “subculture,” nor are they part of an angry counter-culture. Rather, Lickona provides a delightfully high-spirited and candid account of living Catholicism as though it were true, scapulars included. The author is in lively engagement with the surrounding culture and the problems encountered by those who have chosen another way. “Let’s be open and clean,” he writes. “Let’s drag this out into the light and discuss. Let’s not be shocked and resentful; let’s love the lonely. Perhaps, coming from a fanatic, the message of God’s love will regain some of its wonderful outrageousness. ‘Listen. I have a secret. I eat God, and I have His life in me. It’s the best thing in the world; it leads to everlasting life. But first, you have to die to yourself.'”
    There is a good deal of Matthew Lickona’s self in Swimming with Scapulars, but with the guidance of St. Augustine, C.s. Lewis, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church a new man is manifestly a-bornin. (note: in reference to an earlier Dylan reference by Neuhaus.) This book may not be a portent of the Catholic future, but it is a compelling account of the Catholic present as experienced by a growing number of young people who have dared to accept Christ’s invitation to “put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” In catching, Matthew Lickona has been caught, and with winsome enthusiasm he recommends the experiment to others. The times they are a’changin.

    Man, that was a glorious review. It was penned by Fr. Neuhaus for the latest edition of First Things magazine, and normally Neuhaus is harsh even on the books he likes!


  3. Matthew Lickona says

    Thank you very much for this. I’m amazed and grateful. Wow.

  4. The Elusive Scotsman says

    Eheheh, anything for those who have come before me at TAC.

  5. That was awesome and sums up so much of my own thought about Ratzinger… Papa, I should say!

    Perhaps that is because I’m studying at the JPII Institute as well. Great to know our alumni are out there writing beautiful things! 🙂

  6. Be careful…There are many graduates of TAC, FUS, CC, and the like that are just waiting in the dark recesses to force others into Catholicism. My latest venture was chaining a secularist to the cathedral door and baptizing him with the water hose because father was out finding witches for the bonfire.

    Why would anyone in their right mind be anything other than Catholic? I mean, had it not been for Christ and the Church, I would be the most selfish person anyone has ever seen. Ask my wife, she knows how selfish I can be, even though I do have Christ and the Church in my life. Thank God, Christ hounded me long enough for me to wake up from the slumber and desire Him who knows me deeper than I know myself! I think the Lord could use me as proof of Divine existence, a proof He is merciful, and a proof He died for ALL mankind!

  7. Kevin Jones says

    I’ve been reading Introduction to Christianity now, having bought the book before Benedict’s election. He specifically says that the “measly speck” image of mankind’s place in the universe actually anthropomorphizes God, presuming that His mind is as limited as the human one. It’s like this small god would be as uncaring for people as people are uncaring for atoms.

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