By Federico Lombardi, SJ
I make four considerations that present elements of the legacy which Benedict XVI leaves to the Jesuits.
1 Primo Deum. In the Formula of the Institute of the Society it is said that every Jesuit “shall keep God (primo Deum) before his eyes as long as he lives”. Fr Kolvenbach constantly reminded us of this. Benedict XVI has always repeated that ‘at the present time leading human beings towards God is the supreme priority of the Church and of the Successor of Peter... to open up access to God for people, not just any God, but to that God whose face we recognise in love lived out to the end, in Jesus Christ crucified and risen’. This is also exactly the first of the Apostolic Preferences reaffirmed by the Society since 2019. The whole pontificate - but we can better say the whole life of Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI - has been guided by this principle alongside a very sincere personal faith.
2 To perform this service in a world marked and transformed by scientific rationality, faith must have the courage and patience continuously to seek dialogue and debate with reason. We must not be afraid of debate, even with ‘those far away’. We must be convinced that reason and faith need each other on the journey towards approaching and serving the truth. They need each other for the good of humanity and of creation and to develop the humanism we need today. Joseph Ratzinger has been a model of priestly ministry, convinced of the importance and necessity of study and reflection to preserve the ‘depth’ of which our former Superior General, Father Nicolás, always spoke.
3 Pope Benedict has been subject to objections and criticism, but I have never heard anyone say that he was a man who sought and loved power. Even those who had not yet understood him were amazed and impressed by the humility implicit in his renunciation of the papacy. To serve - ‘in everything to love and to serve’ - was truly his attitude even when he took clear or unpopular positions, for which he knew he had to suffer. And he never put his ‘image’ before the truth of the limits and presence of evil in the Church and the world. In this he reminded me of the other General of the Society, Father Arrupe, an eminent master of the spirit of generous and humble service.
4 In a very recent speech, Pope Francis mentioned Benedict’s eyes, speaking of ‘those contemplative eyes of his that he always shows’. He acutely captured an aspect that struck those who knew Benedict closely: the gaze from which his ‘seeing further, beyond’ emerged - not in exceptional cases, but in ordinary, everyday life. We Jesuits would like to be ‘contemplatives in action’, after the school of St. Ignatius. Benedict certainly was, even when he carried the highest responsibilities.
For these reasons, amongst many others, we Jesuits, can thank God for the gift and the example he has given us, through Pope Benedict, to respond to our call in the Society of Jesus.
[Photo on St. Peter's Basilica: © Vatican Media]