Merry Christmas

Last Post of the Year

So Joseph Ratzinger aka Pope Benedict XVI has left us. It's an odd and not really very relevant association, but seeing his obituaries in the press makes me think of a remark by a non-Catholic friend of mine early in the pontificate of Pope Francis. His view was based on the appearance of the two popes, mostly as they were seen on television, and my friend admitted that it was superficial. He thought Benedict looked (I don't remember his exact words) stern and vaguely mean, and all too much like the Emperor Palpatine. That latter resemblance was enjoyed by some of Benedict's detractors, and "superficial" is probably too generous a word for any conclusion drawn from it. (Of course you know that Palpatine is the super-evil Sith Lord in Star Wars.)

Francis, on the other hand, struck my friend as open, generous, etc. I think it's pretty clear now which of the two is more likely to speak maliciously. Well, impressions based on television news are apparently as accurate as one might suppose. As far as I know Benedict was never snide or cruel in his public speech. Nor was his concern for preserving the inheritance of the Church--not just his concern of course but his duty--exercised in a brutal way, though I know that for some any resistance to post-Vatican-II progressivism is intrinsically brutal. I have never read anything by Benedict that was not carefully and generously worded, even when it contained stark criticisms and firm directives.

But I suppose millions of people have my friend's image of Benedict as the closed-in, introverted, cruel authoritarian, and can never be persuaded out of it.

As for his actual thought, one of the first things that comes to my mind is a remark quoted in a book-length collection of interviews with then-Cardinal Ratzinger, published in the 1980s as The Ratzinger Report

It must be clearly stated that a real reform of the Church presupposes an unequivocal turning away from the erroneous paths whose catastrophic consequences are already incontestable.

That's true as an abstract principle: if you're headed in the wrong direction you can only correct yourself by changing direction, not by going faster or pumping up your commitment. And it's as true as a description of the state of the Church as it was almost forty years ago. As I've written more than once here, the internal conflict within the Church between what I will call, tendentiously, the drive toward acceptance of the faith as a species of the therapeutic (see this post) and the determination to preserve it as itself is not going to be resolved in my lifetime, and probably not within yours, no matter how young you are.

I can at least tentatively agree in general with this obituary by Michael Brendan Dougherty, Why Future Generations Will Celebrate Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, and with its conclusion:

Benedict XVI was the greatest mind to reach the papacy in a millennium. I write his obituary now. But centuries hence, he will be recognized as the man who buried the dictatorship of relativism — and the doubts of the 20th century.

I take Dougherty to mean in that last sentence a philosophical, theological, and just plain logical burial. Obviously the thing is still very much alive. Is it, as a cultural force, a dead man walking, mortally wounded and soon to totter and fall? Or is it about to rule the world for a time? I don't know. And I have to admit that I haven't read enough of Benedict's theological writings to judge whether "burial" is too strong a term. But he was a great man of the Church, and I put it that way because I think his importance, influence, and achievement are greater than his papacy alone. 


I long ago lost what little inclination I ever had to make a big celebration of New Year's Eve. I believe it was a New Year's Eve party back when I was in college that played a role in dampening my enthusiasm for the custom. I drank at least an entire bottle of cheap Chianti, and though I don't remember for sure it may have been most of two bottles. It's possible that I smoked something besides tobacco as well; I don't remember that, either. At any rate, the next day was by far the worst hangover I've ever had. I recall waking up with a terrible headache and a dire thirst, going into the kitchen and drinking a big glass of water, and immediately throwing up. I staggered back to bed and slept, not very comfortably, for the rest of the day. Later in life, as a more prudent adult, I just never felt much excitement about marking the stroke of midnight. Ok, well, that's that, here we are, good night. And I'm lucky in that although I very much enjoy a drink and a mild buzz, I have no inclination at all to go much beyond that. Perhaps cheap Chianti was an influence there.


Just when I'm finally ready to enjoy the Christmas lights, most people have taken them down. There were still a few last night when I went to my usual Friday night Adoration hour. And in a development that seems providential I was asked several days ago if I could substitute for someone in the 11-till-midnight hour tonight. This seems a good, maybe the best, way to mark the turn of the year. I hope there will still be some Christmas lights to be seen on my drive home afterwards.

Last night I had an opportunity to explain Eucharistic Adoration to a non-Catholic. I don't think I did very well. It is a really weird thing, isn't it?

Happy New Year to all. 


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I can't remember the last time I was awake at midnight on New Year's Eve. It was probably in 2000 when a parish in Memphis had a midnight Mass and we all were sort if waiting for the lights to go out.


New Years Eve celebrations do seem to be for the young and silly. Like Janet, I also cannot really remember the last time I was awake at that hour. Maybe perhaps not being able to sleep?
The news reports this morning "1 killed, at least 9 others injured" last night in downtown Mobile as throngs gathered for the Moon Pie drop. Does not seem like a good cause to give your life to.
RIP Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI - I have also had people comment to me about his demeanor, which I found annoying. A great man.

I'm awake past midnight fairly often, not counting every Friday night. I'm a little concerned about what's going to happen when my wife retires and there is no longer any external force requiring us to keep regular hours. We both have night-owl tendencies and even stronger late-sleeper tendencies.

What did you find annoying about Benedict's demeanor? Do you mean just his appearance or appearance + mannerisms etc.? I always thought he was rather nice-looking until age began to really take its toll. I have to wonder, too, if published photos were chosen to make him look sinister.

Janet, why were y'all expecting the lights to go out? Because Memphis?

Sorry, I was not clear. What "I found annoying" were the people commenting about his demeanor, as in your Palpatine example.

Oh, I see. I ran across a photo of him taken apparently after he became pope, which means he was at least 78, in which he doesn't have any of that sort of dark look that he has in many photos. Which leads me to suspect that I might not be entirely wrong in thinking that journalists tended to choose the photos that made him look bad.

Journalists would never do such a thing!

A journalist might not, but a "journalist" certainly would.

But I suppose millions of people have my friend's image of Benedict as the closed-in, introverted, cruel authoritarian, and can never be persuaded out of it.

Maybe there's some hope that will change a little when something like this appears in an Associated Press obit (

"Benedict was often misunderstood. Nicknamed 'God’s Rottweiler' by the unsympathetic media, he was actually a sweet and fiercely smart academic who devoted his life to serving the church he loved."

Pope Francis helped a bit as well, saying Benedict was "so noble, so kind."

That's pretty nice, very fair on the whole.

And knowledgeable, which is refreshing.

Because of Y2K.

Stu, "New Years Eve celebrations do seem to be for the young and silly. Like Janet" ;-)


Have I told my Ratzinger story here? As an undergrad I definitely had the "God's Rottweiler" image of him. Then, within one semester, I had occasion to meet both him and Hans Küng (to whom I'd been much more sympathetically inclined) and was forcibly struck by how much more intelligent and more charitable Ratzinger was. It was a turning point in my faith life.
Besides, a certain young man walked me back to my dorm after Ratzinger's lecture and we ended up talking until breakfast time. We've been married for almost 35 years.

Our family celebrates New Year's with Ittoqqortoormiit, a village on the east cost of Greenland. That allows us to drink a glass of bubbly at 8pm Eastern time, then send the young-adult kids off to their parties while the older generations hit the hay.

When he became pope, the people who worked in his office gave him a box of candy because he was so sweet. I say that if your employees think you are sweet, that's about the highest complement you can get.


I'm shocked that that took place more than 35 years ago. Makes me feel a bit old that someone who was an undergrad then has been married for that long. What a great way to have met! Kung always was a showboat. But what you say about Ratzinger is characteristic: he was always so willing to see the other point of view, yet firm about whatever was incorrect in it.

(Well, I am a bit old, so....)

Previous comment was to Anne-Marie, as I guess is apparent. Janet, if you had said New Year's Eve 1999 I might have gotten it. "Midnight Mass" to me says Christmas or Easter. Y2K--it's funny how quickly the doomsayers just said "never mind!" or just disappeared.

It was 1999 when I got there and 2000 when I got home. ;-)


We have a new years eve party at our home. Several whole families come. Two families stayed until midnight. Both families have kids the ages of our youngest (17 and 21).

Most of us toasted with sparkling grape juice, although a couple of the over-21 "kids" had champagne. Thaddeus can correct me on the details, if he wants to.

I asked one of my sons how likely it was that Benedict XVI would be canonized. He said 99%.

That would make him the seventh pope in a row to be at least named Venerable. Was the 20th century especially blessed with holy popes, or is it that opening the cause for canonization of a pope is more common--dare I say trendy?

I was about to say that I'm all for canonizing Benedict but think they should wait a minimum of fifty years. Preferably more. It does almost seem trendy to do it as quickly as they have been doing recently.

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