The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Reading Pope Benedict XVI

About a month ago a friend asked me to suggest a good book by Pope Benedict, but I never got around to giving him a definite answer. And then, just a few days ago, I received an email from a parishioner asking me to give her some direction regarding Pope Benedict's writings. "I'd like to read some of his writings, but I don't know where to start. He's written so much. Can you recommend a book or two?"

She's right, of course; the pope has written and published a lot. I just took a quick look at my own bookshelves and counted 38 books written by him and almost a dozen written about him. And my collection of his books is by no means complete. And so I can certainly understand her question, "Where do I begin?"

I suppose the best answer is, "It depends." It depends on your interests, your aims, your own theological depends on a lot of things. Many of the pope's books published by Ignatius Press are really edited compilations of his reflections and homilies on various subjects. (Click here to view all the pope's books published by Ignatius.) For example, his book, The Apostles, is derived from a series of catecheses given by Pope Benedict during a number of his Wednesday general audiences. Books such as this are aimed at the general reader and don't demand a strong theological background. Some of his books, though, are more demanding of the reader. Although I enjoyed reading the first volume of his Jesus of Nazareth, it was slow going. The pope is a very efficient writer who packs a lot into each sentence, so I often find myself stopping and thinking about what I have just read. Usually I might spend a couple of evenings reading a book of that length (350 pages), but in this instance I think it took me almost two weeks to finish the book.

Some of the more interesting books by and/or about Pope Benedict are the lengthy interviews that have been published in book form. They not only give you insights into his thinking and his theology, but they also provide a refreshing glimpse of Joseph Ratzinger, the man. Some examples:

  • The Ratzinger Report. A 1984 interview with the then-58-year-old Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who was appointed Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith by Pope John Paul II in 1982. (Interviewed by Vittorio Messori.)
  • Salt of the Earth. A 1996 interview with Cardinal Ratzinger who addresses a wide range of issues affecting the Church as it approaches a new millennium. (Interviewed by Peter Seewald.)
  • God and the World. A 2000 interview with Cardinal Ratzinger in which he addresses subjects ranging from creation to the future of the Chruch. Certainly the most comprehensive of all the published interviews. (Interview by Peter Seewald.)
  • Light of the World. A 2010 interview with Pope Benedict XVI in which he comments on all those things that people would want to ask the pope. It is a wonderful book, and the first in-depth interview ever given by a pope. (Interview by Peter Seewald.)
By the way, Peter Seewald, the interviewer in most of the above books, underwent a rather dramatic conversion of his own due largely to the influence of the man he has interviewed three times. And in 2007 he published another wonderful book, not an interview but rather "an intimate portrait" of the man he has come to know so well. It, too, is well worth reading: Benedict XVI: An Intimate Portrait.

If, however, you want to read a good overview of the Holy Father's thinking, perhaps the best book is The Essential Pope Benedict XVI, a compilation of some of his major writings, homilies and other addresses on such issues as the church, theology, morality, Sacred Scripture, the priesthood, etc. It's a wonderful starting point and should whet your appetite for more.

Happy reading!

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