By Gisèle Plantec
ROME, JUNE 11, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI is impressive in his well-rounded character -- a man who goes easily from playing the piano to visiting world leaders to explaining to children the mystery of the Eucharist, affirmed a scholar from a Roman university.
Legionary of Christ Father Juan Pablo Ledesma talked with ZENIT about the German Pope -- his most striking qualities and the ideas that presumably govern his thought.
ZENIT approached Father Ledesma, dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university, following a conference he helped to organize last month on "The Voice of the Christian Faith: 'Introduction to Christianity,' by Joseph Ratzinger -- Benedict XVI -- 40 Years Later."
Q: How do you think Benedict XVI's theology was born?
Father Ledesma: Suffice it to recall his formation. Following his priestly ordination, he began to work as vicar in a parish, where his intellectual gifts became evident. He earned a doctorate in theology in 1954, with a thesis on the concept of the Church as house and people of God in the thought of St. Augustine.
Later on, he completed his degree with another thesis, on St. Bonaventure, reflecting his extensive culture and profound theological understanding drawn from patristic and medieval sources. He taught in several universities, including Munich and Tubingen. In 1961 he was appointed to the chair of fundamental theology and, three years later, took part as a theological expert in the Second Vatican Council.
Q: What are Benedict XVI's qualities that you most admire?
Father Ledesma: There are so many -- perhaps what impresses me most is his simplicity and depth. I am ever more fascinated by his first words as Pope: "Laborer in the vineyard of the Lord ... ineffective instrument." These words evoke the Rule of St. Benedict, the sixth degree of humility, that in which the monk is happy with the poorest and most ordinary things, and considers himself a useless and unworthy laborer in regard to all that obedience imposes on him.
I am also impressed by the profound, simple and spontaneous expressions of his very personal love for Jesus Christ. It is a love that is manifested in his words and gestures and, above all, in his way of celebrating the Eucharist. Everything, in his person and ministry, is centered on Jesus Christ.
I am also attracted by the way the Pope greets each person. He pauses, without hurry, knows how to listen, encourage and smile. It is easy to see Christ's goodness in his look and in his way of accepting his neighbor. I am impressed to see the Pope playing the piano, greeting the greats of the world or explaining to children how Jesus is present in the Eucharist, using the example of electricity or a microphone, to show how invisible things are the most profound and important.
Q: In a few words, what are the most important ideas that govern Joseph Ratzinger's thought?
Father Ledesma: That is a difficult and risky question. I believe it might be the concept of faith. For him, faith needs a "you" to sustain it. It needs a you who knows us and loves us, so that we can trust and confide in him as a "child nursing in its mother's arms." Thus, faith, trust and love conform a unique whole, an identical, indestructible reality. For Pope Benedict, this faith is a lived faith.
I very much like his interpretation of the word Amen, which is not only the response of faith to the Creed of the Church. To pronounce Amen means faith, trust, abandonment, fidelity and love. Amen is not a particle that ends all prayers, but the total adherence of the person who prays, who believes, who loves revealed Love -- logos-veritas -- as love incarnate.
Amen, in sum, is the total and radical answer to the whole symbol-creed: all or nothing. There are no alternatives, pretexts or half measures. Just as the person is a totality, the response of faith and love must be total: Amen is synonymous with "all."
I believe that truth is also the crucial point in the mind and teaching of Joseph Ratzinger. For him, the greatest problem that exists and that the man of today faces is the lack of truth: relativism, the negation of truth.
Q: Do you see some relationship between "Introduction to Christianity" and the two last encyclicals?
Father Ledesma: Both in "Deus Caritas Est" as well as in "Spe Salvi," we find the same pastor, thinker and theologian who makes concepts accessible. Forty years ago, Professor Ratzinger himself said: "Love generates immortality, and immortality proceeds only from love. [...] If He has resurrected, we will also resurrect, because love is stronger than death. [...] Either love is stronger than death or it isn't."
Therefore, if love is true love, it must need infinitude, indestructibility. This reflection seems important to me because it is the basis of everything and the key to understand the eschatology that Pope Benedict XVI offers us in his "Spe Salvi."
Q: However, is there not a way in which love and judgment seem to be a contradiction?
Father Ledesma: On the contrary. Love, if it is true love, calls for judgment because it is also just. A love that judges is necessary, because the injustice of the world cannot have the last word. It would be unjust. A love that destroyed justice would be unjust, it would not be love.
Beyond the day of rendering accounts, fearful and menacing, the Christian knows that his judge will be Truth, Trinity, Love, a person who, being man, is also our brother: Jesus Christ. In face of judgment, these words written 40 years ago console us and give us hope: "Man cannot disappear totally, because he is known and loved by God. If all love longs for eternity, love of God not only yearns for it, but realizes and personifies it" ["Introduction to Christianity"].
Q: What more personal and less academic aspect of Benedict XVI's personality would you highlight?
Father Ledesma: I especially like the legend of St. Corbinian's bear, motive of Pope Benedict's motto. It is an ancient legend. The holy founder of the Diocese of Freising, the monk Corbinian, was on his way to Rome. He took with him a beast of burden. A bear attacked and killed the animal. The saint reprimanded it and ordered it to take the baggage in the animal's stead. In this way, they both arrived in Rome.
Cardinal Ratzinger applied this to himself, making use of the words of St. Augustine when commenting on Psalm 72:22: "I have become a beast of burden, and, precisely because of this, I am with you." God makes use of him, uses him, burdens him, but precisely because of this, God is close to him.
Q: What is Benedict XVI's message for this world, for today?
Father Ledesma: Every Wednesday we hear his word as universal pastor of the Church, and in so many homilies, addresses, messages. It is always the same message, with particular accents.
I very much like what he expressed during his visit to the Abbey of Heiligenkreuz: "God has not abandoned us in a desert of nothingness. [...] The eyes of Christ are the look of God who loves us."
In other words, his message is the same message, the same as that of Christ in the Gospel: Jesus Christ is the Son of God. He is always present for men, yesterday, today and tomorrow. The Jesus of the Gospels is the real Jesus, the "historical Jesus," the Christ. God is love. We have been saved in hope.