Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone: “I was struck by his warmth, gentleness and wit”

The first time I met Joseph Ratzinger still stands out clearly in my memory. He was then Cardinal Ratzinger and Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and I a young priest pursuing canon law studies in Rome. At that time (now almost 40 years ago!), he came to visit the house where I was a resident to give us a talk and answer questions. I had already known him as a brilliant and insightful theologian who taught the Catholic faith with conviction and clarity, but this personal encounter gave me the opportunity to see the personality of the man, which I soon realized was unknown to the general public. I was struck by his warmth, gentleness and wit. I saw these qualities in subsequent encounters with him after I became a bishop, first when he was still Prefect of the CDF, and later as Pope Benedict XVI. Ever since that first encounter, I’ve seen him as the model theologian, living the very definition of theology: faith seeking understanding. It involves both intellect and will, the mind and the heart, as a quest for deeper life in Christ. This avoids the extremes of turning faith into a practice of mental gymnastics on the one hand, and sentimentalism on the other.

Joseph Ratzinger’s writings have inspired countless millions precisely because they come not just from an extremely intelligent and learned man, but also from one who has great love and devotion for the person of Jesus Christ. That is also why his writings are so accessible to a wide audience, from scholars in the various branches of theology to the devout Catholic seeking to deepen his or her own understanding and living out of faith in Jesus Christ – that, and the fact that his writing style, while deep and scholarly, is always engaging and alive. He has the uncanny ability to turn a book of lofty theology into a pageturner! His writings have benefited me greatly both personally and in my pastoral care of the people of God, and I always look forward to another opportunity to learn from him. His intellect, courage, conviction, and personal qualities of affability are a great gift that God has given to the Church in our time. Thank God for the gift of Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

-Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, California, USA

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