Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who served as the 265th pontiff of Christ’s Church on earth, from 2005 to 2013, passed into eternity on December 31, 2022. Though brief comparatively, Pope Benedict XVI’s pontificate was a time of clarity and consequence in the Church and in the way she presents herself to the world. For Pope Benedict XVI, the central issue of the new century was the increasing distance between culture and faith and what he identified as a “dictatorship of relativism.” Through his writing, teaching, and example, he left behind a rich legacy that will continue to remind all people, both inside and outside the Church, that only the objective, eternal truths of the Catholic Faith can resolve and redeem the age-old problems that beset the modern world, and thus renew the earth in Christ. May his memory be eternal. And may his soul, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
In this lesson your students will:
Read and discuss excerpts from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s teaching and writing.
Contemplate the truths of the Catholic Faith and their central place in our lives.
Reflect on Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s teaching and call to holiness.
Pray for the repose of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s soul.
Begin by explaining to your students that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was the 265th pontiff after St. Peter. A brilliant theologian and teacher, Pope Benedict XVI saw that the central problem of the new century was the increasing distance between culture and faith, and what he identified as a “dictatorship of relativism.” He devoted his relatively brief pontificate to clearly proclaiming the Faith, and the remainder of his life in retirement to prayer on behalf of the Church on earth and all within it. He leaves a profound legacy in his writing and example that reveals to all who will listen, both inside and outside the Church, that only the objective, eternal truths of the Catholic Faith can resolve the problems the world faces, and so renew the earth.
Next, brainstorm with your class examples of the distance between culture and faith in our time. Accept reasoned answers, such as the celebration of immorality in politics, media, and television as opposed to the Church’s call to universal holiness, or our time’s general lack of belief in God and His loving plan for His creation, which is a rejection of the Church’s proclamation of the Good News.
Then, arrange your students into pairs, or groups of three or four, and depending on the class size, distribute to each group one or two of the excerpts from Excerpts from the Works and Teaching of Pope Benedict XVI (more proficient readers can be given the longer excerpts, and those who struggle can be given the shorter options). Have each group read and discuss their excerpt(s) together and then answer the questions.
When they are finished, review and discuss the answers with your students.
Close by leading your students in prayer for the repose of the soul of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. You may wish to pray a decade of the Rosary or reference the article “Here Are the Prayers and Readings for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s Funeral Mass”, from the National Catholic Register (link above).
Homily of His Eminence Card. Joseph Ratzinger Dean of the College of Cardinals, Vatican Basilica, Monday 18 April 2005
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (future Pope Benedict XVI) opens his address with the imagery of a boat being tossed about on stormy waves. Why does he use this imagery? He uses it to describe the state of mind of many Christians in the face of modern ideological currents and errors. Accept additional reasoned answers.
What does Ratzinger say is the goal of the “dictatorship of relativism”? How does this end goal influence the way people see the world? Its goal “consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.” This mode of living progressively restricts people’s capacity to see outside themselves until they do not recognize anything as definitive or true. Accept additional reasoned answers.
What is a mature Christian faith rooted in? What does a true faith open us up to? A mature faith is rooted in friendship with Christ and opens us up to all that is good, true, and beautiful. Accept additional reasoned answers.
Deus Caritas Est 1, An Encyclical Letter of Pope Benedict XVI, December 25, 2005
What claim is the very heart of the Christian Faith according to St. John? How does this claim influence our lives as Christians? “God is love.” As Christians we know that we are loved by God, that He created us to share in His love, and that through Christ we have the hope of abiding in His love eternally in Heaven. Accept additional reasoned answers.
What does Pope Benedict XVI say being a Christian is a result of? He says that being a Christian is the result of an “encounter with an event, a person, which gives our life a new horizon and decisive direction.”
How has God invited us into an intimate, loving relationship with Him? Through the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. We can approach God personally and respond to His love through our relationship with Jesus, who has redeemed us and opened the gates of Heaven for us. Accept additional reasoned answers.
Deus Caritas Est 28b, An Encyclical Letter of Pope Benedict XVI, December 25, 2005
What does Pope Benedict XVI say will always be necessary even in the most just society? Love — caritas.
The pope says, “Whoever wants to eliminate (or get rid of) love is preparing to eliminate man as such.” Why would this be true? Because the need for love is fundamental to our nature. If you eliminate love, you eliminate man.
Why can the State never provide the very thing suffering people need most? Because the thing we need most is personal, loving concern.
How can you be a source of consolation and help to those who are suffering in your family or community? Accept reasoned answers.
Excerpt from the Meeting with the Candidates for Confirmation during the 7th World Meeting for Families, Pope Benedict XVI, June 2, 2012
What do the Gifts of the Spirit enable us to do? The Gifts of the Spirit enable us to be formed as Christians, live out the Gospel, and be active members of the community.
Pick one Gift of the Holy Spirit to define, and explain how that Gift could help you live out the Gospel. Accept reasoned answers.
What part of Pope Benedict XVI’s address resonates with you personally? Why? Accept reasoned answers.
An Excerpt from the General Audience of Pope Benedict XVI, November 7, 2012
For what reasons does Pope Benedict XVI suggest that in the West, the statement that “The desire for God is written in the human heart…Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for” might be taken as “a provocation,” or a statement deliberately made to anger or provoke a response in someone? Many in the West might suggest there is no such desire for God; in large sections of society, God is no longer the one who is desired but rather a reality that leaves people indifferent. Accept other reasoned answers.
How is the experience of human love an example of the desire for God? In the experience of human love, man is overcome by a desire that surpasses him, an experience of leaving oneself. It challenges us to step outside of ourselves, not be self-centered, and to place ourselves at the other’s service, even to the point of self-denial. Human love is a sort of a journey from an inward-looking self to one that places the good of another outside of oneself first. This movement of love leads a person to recognize and question the origin of love and its destiny.
Why does the pope suggest men and women cannot know God based on human desire alone? Do you agree with this assessment? Why or why not? While men and women know well what does not satisfy them, they cannot imagine or define on their own what the happiness they long for in their hearts would be like. Ultimately, God must reveal Himself to us and show us He is what we are longing for. Accept other reasoned answers.
The pope suggests that we, as a human race, need to rediscover the “taste of authentic joy of life.” What brings you joy in life — that is, what calms your soul and makes you more active and generous? Accept reasoned answers.
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