VATICAN CITY - The god of Mammon, who is "like a wild animal,
trying to clutch me with his talons and enslave me," and
people not open to the Holy Spirit, who "are like swamps that
give off foul-smelling gases," are just a few of the
analogies that appear in the latest collection of papal
Rigid doctors of the law "imagine God as a kind of really
strict school teacher who assigned humanity homework that
only very few are able to do. For the majority, the notebook
of life will be handed back with the grade: 'Poor!'"
If it sounds like the usual fare from Pope Francis, it is
strongly similar, but the author in this case was Cardinal
Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI.
Never-before published, the 10 homilies are informal,
colorful, off-the-cuff reflections that seek to make the
mystery, relevance and force of the faith clear and
inspirational to everyday Catholics in a small Bavarian
parish. The 100-page book - currently available only in
Italian - is titled, "The Homilies of Pentling," the German
village where the cardinal vacationed and kept a home he had
hoped to retire to one day.
"Apart from a few small corrections, I kept the familiar
style of the text just as it flowed out back then," the
retired pope wrote in the book's preface. He said he hoped
the homilies, taken from transcribed audio recordings between
1986 and 1999, would help not just "my fellow citizens of
Pentling," but all readers in "understanding and living the
word of the Gospel."
While Pope Francis consistently crafts clever, memorable
metaphors in his writings and talks, many people don't
remember that Pope Benedict was quite good at it, too.
The former professor and pre-eminent theologian had that same
teacher-talent of being able to present or explain complex
concepts clearly and simply. But perhaps because so many of
his encounters were more formal, scripted affairs, his gift
of warm, informal instruction found few outlets in his busy
pontificate - the best ones being rare Q&A sessions,
especially with children.
One young boy, who had recently celebrated his first
Communion, once asked Pope Benedict how Jesus was really
present in the Eucharist when "I can't even see him."
With a polite laugh, the pope smiled and explained that there
were lots of important things that exist even though they
cannot be seen. For example, electricity is invisible, but
people know it is there because "we see the light" it
produces - people can see its effects, the pope said during a
festive ceremony featuring clowns and stilt-walkers in St.
Peter's Square in 2005.
And just as people cannot see Jesus with their eyes, they can
see him through what he affects.
"We see that where Jesus is, people change, they become
better," he said.
When preaching to his fellow German village parishioners, he
showed he understood most of the world did not understand
Christ's real presence, either. God truly came down to dwell
among people, he said in a homily from 1991, "to become
accessible to us, to become a God for us. He became a God at
your fingertips, a God who puts himself in our hands."
But "what is our reaction? If all of a sudden today talk got
out or news spread that there was someplace people could see
God, that you could go straight to him, imagine the flow of
tourists that would be set in motion, think how much the
media would follow this event."
But despite being always present, "silently and without
making a racket, in the divinely simple and loving way he
really is," he said, "our response in great measure is
indifference. Churches are empty and even the disciples
Then-Cardinal Ratzinger, who was in Rome as prefect of the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, touched on many
of the same themes Pope Francis has made central to his
pontificate, as both popes' teachings are so rooted in
On the need for a church that is open to the vitality of the
Holy Spirit, then-Cardinal Ratzinger said in a homily in
1987, "A church community that closes up inside itself
saying, 'It's so nice here, just us, we understand each other
so well that all the other things that come from Rome or
elsewhere bother us so that's that,' - such a community would
collapse upon itself and shrivel up. It wouldn't have any
more life force."
He spoke of how pride and a kind of laziness can lead to
self-righteousness, which pushes people further from God as
they push others more forcefully toward human judgment: "It
is none of our business, so to speak, to check on God's
bookkeeping, to take hold of his accounting ledgers, to
outguess his thinking. ... The task of deciding the destiny
of other people has not been entrusted to us. We are before
him and we need to have him look at us and allow him to
address us. The others are in his hands."
Making the life, teaching and words of Jesus universally
clear to everyone was a hallmark of his pontificate and the
focus of a village homily from 1999.
Reflecting on the keys to the kingdom of heaven Jesus gives
Peter, the future pope said Jesus rebuked those "who use the
keys badly, who, with their specialist knowledge, complicate
sacred Scripture so much that no one knows what it actually
Having the keys "means that you have to unlock it so that it
becomes understandable, so that it becomes the path of life,"
he said - a sign he saw his whole life's ministry to teach
and preach with clarity, and sometimes a splash of color, to
help people discover "the word of God truly points out the