by Sushi Horwitz.
I have received a priceless gift—that of meeting Pope Emeritus Benedict. I did not go to Rome, nor did I meet him face to face. I met him in a way that can be deeper than a face to face encounter. I met him through his writings.
This encounter has given me new life and new hope. It has answered questions, taken away doubts, and deepened my faith.
Pope Benedict has helped me to knit fragments of my thoughts into a whole. He brought harmony where there was disunity in my mind. He has helped me to believe more deeply and to know better the Lord Jesus.
I am writing this little article to tell how this came about and to explain how anyone can receive this gift. It started about three years ago as I was complaining to Jennifer, one of our friends and volunteers, "Where in the city is there an adult faith study group? Where can I meet with others who want to deepen their understanding of the Faith?"
I did not have a clue that Jennifer’s husband was a marvellous teacher or that he was a professor of Catholic religious education.
Jennifer soon had it all organized. Richard, her husband, thought we should begin with Pope Benedict’s book, Jesus of Nazareth: Part I.
This was my introduction to the wonders of Benedict’s writings. "Co-worker of the Truth," a phrase taken from the Third Letter of John is the motto Benedict chose when he was made a bishop in 1977, and it is also a description of his life’s work.
He has been one who searches for the truth and, when necessary, defends it. What better person could one choose for a spiritual guide?
As Benedict says so simply, Jesus of Nazareth is the fruit of his personal search for the face of the Lord. He published it in hopes that it might help others to know Jesus, and this is what happened for all of us in our reading group.
In my imagination, I saw myself journeying, being led along the Way by a holy, kind and wise old guide. Benedict has sought to know the Lord his whole life. The song, "Day by Day" in the musical Godspell says, "To see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly, day by day."
This, to me, appears to be the goal of Benedict’s life, as it should be for any Christian.
How does our little group work? We meet after Mass one Sunday a month for an hour. At the end of each session, Dr. Richard Rymarz gives us a section of the book to read and reflect on for the next meeting. Then a few days before we meet, he emails us a couple of questions.
After we get our coffee, we pray and then begin. Richard starts out with one of the questions and off we go. We are free to share or not to share. As almost half the group are converts (including me), it makes for interesting questions and ways of seeing.
I am grateful for so much in this little group. First, I am grateful to be spending time with the light-filled writings of Benedict.
There is no "fat" in his writings, so to speak. They are like a diamond, crystal clear, compressed, and loaded with content.
Accessible to anyone, they are also challenging. They demand focus and attention. I think of reading Benedict as I think of hiking in the nearby Rocky Mountains. After a lot of concentration and a little sweat, one is rewarded with a view that is out of this world.
On my own, I don’t think I would have persevered, as it is easy to start by reading too much and getting discouraged. It is much better to read a limited number of pages and then review and ponder them.
A study group is ideal for this. It gives one incentive to reflect on what one has read and to persevere.
What have I received? Clarity, belief, unity, and trust in the wisdom of the Catholic Church. There is a continuity to the teaching of the Church, which Benedict presents so clearly.
This integrity, or wholeness of vision, has always been under siege. Benedict is a student and teacher and defender of the tradition that has come down to us from the Apostles. Reading Jesus of Nazareth helped me participate in that tradition.
As Benedict says in the foreword, "In the 1950’s, the gap between the ‘historical Jesus’ and the ‘Christ of faith’ grew wider and the two visibly fell apart."
Since I came to the faith after Vatican II, my own belief in the "Christ of faith" was often challenged by what I read in newspapers and popular magazines.
"Tomb of Jesus discovered!" one would scream. Or "Mary Magdalene’s bones found in France!" I wouldn’t necessarily believe what I read, but seeds of doubt would settle in my mind. And the doubts, like weeds, grew thickly in the fields of my mind.
Reading Benedict had the opposite effect. As a scholar and professor, he is a master of clarity. As a Christian, he is extraordinarily charitable even as he points out errors and shortcomings in the writings of others.
Reading Benedict has been, for me, a journey toward God and his Kingdom, guided by an old, faithful priest, a wise German shepherd, who knows the way so well.
The title of this article is taken from a well known American newspaper editorial written in 1897. An eight year old had written a newspaper, The New York Sun, asking if there really was a Santa Claus. The reply, which celebrated love and generosity and devotion, has become famous.
"The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see," and "there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest men … could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond."
Benedict, shows the reader that yes, there is a world of truth, beauty and harmony that shines around us. He shows us the Face of Christ shining through the faith of the Church.
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