Father Thomas Morrette
Father Thomas Morrette
Several months ago, I finished a two-volume biography of Pope Benedict XVI written by Peter Seewald entitled “Benedict XVI.” These two volumes are considered the definitive biography of the late pope and they took me over two months to read. (They are big books!) The author covers the entire life and ministry of the late pope with great detail and insight. I was astounded by his work but, more so, about the subject of the book, our late Holy Father.

I learned about the humility of Joseph Ratzinger and his lifelong desire to remain a simple professor, lecturer, teacher and nothing more. He was an academic who never sought advancement in the Church nor impressive promotions. I learned about his great intellect, great mastery of philosophy and theology, and his prolific writings. I learned that he was a family man — he loved his sister and brother, remained extremely close to them, and never disconnected from them throughout his long life. (In fact, his sister, who never married, was his housekeeper for many years.) He came from a simple middle-class Bavarian family who prized faith, education and appreciation of the riches of their German and European culture. 

Because he never was impressed with himself or his achievements, he never lost his sense of being “a common person.” He understood the basic realities, fears and challenges we all share as human beings. He was kind. He listened to others. He worried about his own health (and the health of others) and his ability to meet the demands of his life. He loved helping students. He loved families. He knew about family struggles and felt the pain of those who experienced them. He was no haughty ecclesiastical overlord! He was a realist and never flew above ground.

I learned that his primary mission in life, and as a priest, was a desire to help others come to a real encounter with, and love, for Jesus Christ. I learned that he feared the faithlessness of our times and the dangers of sin, polarization and war. He loved the Church with all he had yet he admonished the establishment within the Church when it seemed out of touch with people. He was convinced that, in this post-Vatican II era, we had gone too far in our attempt to “modernize” and fit in with the culture. Contrary to the opinion of many, he was no thoughtless reactionary but saw a danger in confusing authentic Catholic faith with secular ideologies. He knew that “the Truth” was the precious gift the Church offers to the world.

Benedict XVI was a great man. Because of his brilliance and intellect, many consider him to be a contemporary “Doctor of the Church.” Someday, he may be declared one. However, I’d like to think of him as a “Doctor of Humility” — a doctor of simplicity, service and love. May this great man — this great doctor — now enjoy the rewards of the life to come.

Father Thomas Morrette is pastor at The Catholic Community of Our Lady of Victory in Troy, Our Lady of the Snow Mission in Grafton and Christ Sun of Justice Parish in Troy.