The death of Benedict XVI gives us an opportunity to give thanks for his long ministry of faithful service to the people of God. He is especially known for his scholarship and the centrality of the life of Jesus in his writings and homilies. A letter of Fr. General Arturo Sosa, S.J. captures the spirit of Pope Benedict and his contributions to the Church and world—and also the impact of Ignatian spirituality on his ministry.
From a message of Fr. General Arturo Sosa, S.J. on the death of Benedict XVI, Pope Emeritus:
“During his long life, Joseph Ratzinger knew well the strengths and limitations of the Society of Jesus. His fruitful activity as a scholar and professor of theology in Germany, his work as an expert during the Second Vatican Council, and his responsibility as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, led him to encounter many Jesuits committed to theological, biblical, philosophical and canonical reflection. He engaged them in dialogue and collaborated with them, in a positive and frank manner, not sidestepping difficulties but always sincerely seeking the greater good of the Church. It is enough here to recall his deep respect for Fr. Henri de Lubac - one of the authors who influenced him most - and the interest in and esteem for the Gregorian University that he expressed during his visit in November 2006. The memory of Benedict XVI encourages us to continue theological research and study, with total dedication and seriousness, for the service of faith and of contemporary culture.
Joseph Ratzinger also knew and appreciated Ignatian spirituality. Shortly after his resignation from the pontificate, answering a question about his favourite prayers, he cited in first place the Sume, Domine, et suscipe of St. Ignatius. On another occasion, he said of this prayer that “it always seems too high to me, so much so that I hardly dare say it, and yet we should always, again and again, make it our own.” The second of his favourite prayers is attributed to St. Francis Xavier: “I love you because you are my God [...]. I love you because you are you.” But we feel especially close to him because of his personal love for Jesus Christ and his passionate and constant search for the “face of the Lord,” masterfully expressed in his trilogy on Jesus of Nazareth. For this reason, the memory of Benedict XVI stays with us as an invitation to preserve and cultivate a living relationship with the person of Jesus, without which our life loses its deepest meaning.”
Pope Benedict, was also very encouraging of various Jesuit ministries, particularly that of The Spiritual Exercises, which are at the heart of our mission at the Jesuit Retreat Center of Los Altos. From his address to our General Congregation in 2008 Pope Benedict writes:
“I therefore ardently hope that thanks to the results of your Congregation the entire Society of Jesus will be able to live out with renewed dynamism and fervour the mission for which the Spirit willed it in the Church and has preserved it for more than four and a half centuries with extraordinary apostolic fruitfulness. Today, in the ecclesial and social context that marks the beginning of this millennium, I would like to encourage you and your confreres to continue on the path of this mission in full fidelity to your original charism. As my Predecessors have said to you on various occasions, the Church needs you, relies on you and continues to turn to you with trust, particularly to reach those physical and spiritual places which others do not reach or have difficulty in reaching. Paul VI's words remain engraved on your hearts: "Wherever in the Church, even in the most difficult and extreme fields, at the crossroads of ideologies, in the social trenches, there has been and there is confrontation between the burning exigencies of man and the perennial message of the Gospel, here also there have been, and there are, Jesuits" (Address to the 32nd General Congregation of the Jesuits, 3 December 1974; ORE, 12 December, n. 2, p. 4.).
The Church thus urgently needs people with a deep and sound faith, a well-grounded culture and genuine human and social sensitivity, of Religious and priests who dedicate their lives to being on these very frontiers to bear witness and to help people understand that on the contrary there is profound harmony between faith and reason, between the Gospel spirit, the thirst for justice and initiatives for peace. Only in this way will it be possible to make the Lord's true Face known to the many for whom he is still concealed or unrecognizable. The Society of Jesus should therefore give preferential attention to this. Faithful to its best tradition, it must persevere in taking great pains to form its members in knowledge and virtue and not to be content with mediocrity, since confrontation and dialogue with the very different social and cultural contexts and the diverse mentalities of today's world is one of the most difficult and demanding tasks. This quest for quality and for human, spiritual and cultural validity must also characterize the whole of the Jesuits' many-facetted formative and educative activities as they come into contact with people of every sort wherever they may happen to be.
Lastly, I ask you to focus special attention on that ministry of Spiritual Exercises which has been a characteristic feature of your Society from the outset. The Exercises are not only the source of your spirituality and the matrix of your Constitutions but also a gift which the Spirit of the Lord has made to the entire Church. It is your task to continue to make them a valuable and effective means for the spiritual growth of souls, for their initiation to prayer, to meditation in this secularized world where God seems to be absent. Only last week I myself benefited from The Spiritual Exercises, together with my closest collaborators of the Roman Curia, under the guidance of a distinguished confrere of yours, Cardinal Albert Vanhoye.”
Let us continually give thanks to God for gifting the Church with the fidelity and ministry of Pope Benedict.
Fr. Kevin Leidich, a native of San Francisco is an experienced Spiritual Director and has been a member of the JRC Pastoral Staff since August 2014.