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Many have asked me, “What legacy do you think Pope Benedict XVI has left behind?” That is a question that will take years for any of us to fully answer. Think of this: even though John Paul II died over eight years ago, we are still unpacking his legacy. That examination, appreciation, and even criticism will go on for years and years. The same will be true of Benedict.
I read an article recently on Pope Pius XII, which suggested that it’s only now—fifty-five years after his death—that we’re beginning to appreciate his teaching, especially in Sacred Scripture, in the liturgy, in the whole nature of the Church. Look how long it takes for us to properly appreciate what we call the magisterium, the teaching office, of any given pope! Yet, I do think in time we will see that there are five key lessons that Pope Benedict left behind for us to cultivate.
First, we are called to a friendship with Jesus Christ. That’s about as basic, as simple, and yet as profound as you can get: that our lives are about responding to a call to friendship with Jesus now, and for all eternity. Faith is not about propositions or doctrines—as important as they are—but about a relationship with a person: God, who has revealed Himself in Jesus.
The second lesson is about the centrality of Jesus. The Church is not about a “what.” The Church is not about a “where.” The Church is not about a “how.” The Church is about a “who.” And that “who” is a person, the second person of the Most Blessed Trinity, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The third lesson would be theological depth. This is a man who has told us and shown us, in his writings and talks, that faith and reason are intimately united. They are not at odds. God’s two greatest gifts to us are the supernatural gift of faith and the natural gift of reason, and both are intimately allied. We use our reason to deepen our faith and our faith to illuminate our reason. He taught that so clearly.
Lesson four shows us to engage the culture. We don’t run from the culture, hide from society, or condemn the world. There are certain things in culture that we will have to speak starkly about. But we are called to engage, and that comes straight from the Second Vatican Council. The Church needs to be in dialogue with the world. Why? Because God is! The incarnation—God becoming one of us—is par excellence God the Father’s engagement with His creation and creatures.
But the most profound lesson this great professor-pontiff may have taught the world is this: It’s not about him, or you, or me, or us. It’s about Christ. It’s about the Church. His heroic and humble decision to step down from the Chair of St. Peter is a lesson in selflessness that all of us should carry in our hearts. In the end, the Pope’s decision wasn’t about anyone other than Jesus. It’s not about us at all. It’s all about Jesus.
Excerpted from Praying in Rome by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, Archbishop of New York. Copyright ©2013 by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York. Excerpted by permission of Image, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.