The Catholic Thing
That Little-Girl Voice Print E-mail
By David Warren   
Saturday, 09 March 2013

 Be sure to read Robert Royal’s Daily Conclave Report, from Rome. You may access it from the ad to the right, or from our new Conclave section on the left (just under the list of Recent Columns), 
or by clicking here.

Let me call him “Father Ratzinger of the Vatican.” I know the official title is “Pope Emeritus,” but it will take some time to get my mind around that. In the time since his resignation was announced (and my first reaction was horror), when I have found the time, I have been rereading him.

Though I have no expertise in such things, I would guess that “Gods Rottweiler,” as the progressive types were expecting back in 2005, was among the gentlest of popes. This does not mean he lacked courage or tenacity. I am referring to a quality throughout his works that I am only now fully appreciating, looking back over the top of his papacy, and in a sense, under it, too.

This begins with the obvious. Though very willing to catechize, Father Ratzinger as pope was reticent to deliver encyclicals. He, who retired from a throne he never wished to ascend in the first place, instinctively deferred to his predecessors, as if he were only a toiler in the vineyard.

I mentioned recently and elsewhere his Wednesday “talks,” through which over a few years he delivered something like an autobiography of the Church, as if written by the Holy Spirit through the lives and reflections of the Saints. A tremendously broad learning quietly supports brief and simple accounts of the first Apostles, the Fathers and Doctors, the holy men and women through the centuries. They are the inner history, transcending outward events.

The old teacher, in his element among young seminarians and fellow priests, and in the halls and corridors and at the coffee stalls of the modern Peripatos, was as opposite to a Rottweiler as a professor can safely get, though quite obviously not a poodle, either. (The French special forces have been known to use poodles, however; never underestimate these creatures.)

The Father Ratzinger we get to keep – for as long as his books may remain – correlates closely with his soft voice, and the smile in which I was hardly the first to detect something beatific. Though utterly organized, in the best German way, he is always less lecturer than tutor and friend. His writing voice is adapted to the single reader, of whom he is extremely respectful.

Often he seems less and more than priest. His book on The Spirit of the Liturgy is remarkable for its way of standing outside and inside the subject at once, with a reverent “aestheticism” (unfortunate German word; I am referring to the apprehension of beauty). The liturgy is lifted above mere controversy, for he is using it to teach us bewildered Catholics how to pray; how to stand and kneel before the altar, spiritually.

How, in effect, to become aloof from our own desires, our own will to impose upon God, and thereby make His light burden heavier for ourselves. Let the Host speak; and let us allow it the Splendor: “The Church as a whole must, for the sake of God, strive for the best, for from the very nature of the liturgy, by an inner necessity, comes a culture that becomes a standard for all secular culture.”

          Reinhold Schneider and Joseph Ratzinger: awakening souls

He speaks personally or, if you will, privately to each of us about a Church and teaching that is unambiguously public, today as in pagan Rome. Father Ratzinger was never in doubt, as pope, just as he was never in doubt, before, that the Catholic Church must speak not only to Catholics, but to Everyman. He does so himself, and his engagement with the intellectual and political life of our time is not reticent, but natural.

Here I am thinking of his exhilarating collection, Church, Ecumenism, and Politics, to which I return with a renewed sense of its relevance to the present worldly condition; and with a new private appreciation of how much this man improved my own political judgment, even before I became a Catholic.

Partly it was his gift for distinguishing the important from the unimportant. There are many ways to achieve the same thing, and we should be open to what is open, not obsessed with obstacles along our preferred route. But more essentially, Father Ratzinger writes large from small.

A most happy example of this is his talk, “Conscience in Its Time,” delivered to the Reinhold Schneider Society, forty years ago. That he chose to deal with a novelist and poet – one who is seriously underestimated – is the first point to note. (Schneider survived Hitler only because his trial was postponed beyond the end of the regime; and because the Nazis were too stupid to realize until too late what a threat he had been to them.)

Through Schneider, Father Ratzinger puts his hand upon the basic political conflict of the modern era, for Catholics and for everybody. This is the conflict between totalitarianism in its myriad (including democratic) forms, and conscience. It is illustrated in Schneiders novel about Bartolomé de las Casas, the Dominican who was the Churchs first appointed “Protector of the Indians” in the New World of the sixteenth century.

Within this novel (translated as Imperial Mission, 1948) we find an encounter between a frail, powerless native girl of the Lucayos tribe, and one of Spains more ruthless fortune hunters. She is a trifle. All she can do is suffer. And by her suffering, she reawakens the fortune hunters dead soul.

Father Ratzinger asks: “Is it not crazy to count on this little-girl conscience, when we see what really matters to the world and the only things that count in it? . . .What are we supposed to do, conduct politics with poetry and in that way solve the problems of our time?”

And he allows this question to answer itself. The power of Christ was “projected” through His powerless suffering; and likewise the power of the Church, when she has real power; and likewise the power in every man. It will prevail.

David Warren is a former editor of the Idler magazine and columnist with the Ottawa Citizen. He has extensive experience in the Near and Far East. His blog, Essays in Idleness, is now to be found at:
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

Rules for Commenting

The Catholic Thing welcomes comments, which should reflect a sense of brevity and a spirit of Christian civility, and which, as discretion indicates, we reserve the right to publish or not. And, please, do not include links to other websites; we simply haven't time to check them all.

Comments (12)Add Comment
written by Chris in Maryland, March 09, 2013
Thank you Mr. Warren...your words are a fitting tribute to Pope Benedict.

It was Benedict who opened to me what The Church teaches about the meaning of the word "person," from the Greek (per son a), in his "Introduction to Christianity." With one gentle and lucid stroke, he joined what that means about the Triune God, and Man made in the image of God, and the WORD, by which God touches us, and by which He wills we touch one another. And then he tied the whole thing back to God's voice in Genesis: "Let us make man in our own image."

As another observer noted of Benedict, upon his election to the Chair of Peter: "What an exquisite person."
written by Manfred, March 09, 2013
Last evening my wife and I dined with a couple I have known since high school. As we had not visited in some years,it was time to catch up on the news. Dinner began with the couple leading us in Grace, complete with them, and us, publicly blessing ourselves. For two hours we heard about their interesting children-one daughter and her husband living in the Hawaiian Islands who had become Hindus. The mother supported their quest for "spirituality". Another daughter had divorced and remarried after a year long marriage with no children. The mother had helped her acquire the forms to file an annulment, but when they arrived, the questions seemed personal and probing and the process would take too long. The daughter and her husband and child are weekly communicants at their parish. They receive Holy Communion each week to "set a good example for their daughter." The response from my wife and me? Nothing. This is the typical conversation we hear every time we go out with modern American "Catholics". Mr. Warren, what do you think the great scholar, Fr. Joseph Ratzinger, would have said in his "Little-Girl Voice"?
written by Peter John in Montana, March 09, 2013
I too find something about "Pope Emeritus" does not quite fit the person. Thank you, David, for "Father Ratzinger of the Vatican." I would suspect that in a very short time, maybe a hundred years or less, Father Ratzinger of the Vatican will be recognized as a Doctor of the Church. To suggest an answer to the question posed by Manfred, I think Father Ratzinger of the Vatican (I am practicing) would have whispered to himself, "Re-evangelization" and then suggested that beginning a personal year of faith is a great way for a Catholic to pursue or deepen spirituality in their life. (no parentheses). Gentle and true.
written by Chris in Maryland, March 09, 2013
Manfred - having read Ratzinger/Benedict for 15+ years (along with having read Davies, Ottiavani, Gamber, and a host of others) I have never seen Benedict endorse or approve any such thing as you identified. Were you mocking Benedict - or did you not read the article - and learn whose voice was being recalled?

Benedict is not the author of dissolute behavior by stupid, half-baked Catholics...indeed...I observe that American progressives mock him...for not supporting the dissolution you blame him for.

Why return his defense of the traditional Roman Rite, via SP, with such contempt. It is unjust...after one who tried to restore justice to you.
written by Manfred, March 09, 2013
@Chris in Maryland. Thank you for your constructive comments given in Christian charity. Let me be clear. I am a businessman and, quite frankly, I prefer working with c+, B- students who mature to customers because they help me move product and thus meet my payroll. A students are always involved in theory even when they become Popes. I have no quarrel with Pope Benedict but sooner or later "the rubber meets the road." Has any serious number of people been converted to the True Faith (and not some tawdry knockoffs) by Pope A, B or C? Has the Church clarified its position on ANY serious matter on any Pope's watch? What the Church calls "teachings" translate to "opinions" by the time they get to the person in the pews. That was my point above. This couple has been told by priest friends that they are operating in good faith. Young people take time today, they are told. The couple who became Hindus are apostates! Millions of American Catholics receive Communion unworthily. Are they told by anyone this is wrong?
written by Pam H., March 09, 2013
@Manfred, re "what do you think the great scholar, Fr. Joseph Ratzinger, would have said in his "Little-Girl Voice"?" The "voice" is not choice of words. It is the "persona" of innocence, of holiness if you will, that is manifest in body language, tone of voice, etc. It cannot be imitated by those who have not got it.

Re "Has any serious number of people been converted to the True Faith (and not some tawdry knockoffs) by Pope A, B or C?" What the popes teach should be read by many (that's why they write it), and whenever it is read and understood, and acted upon in the lives of individuals, supporting and encouraging their own growth in holiness, it is the witness of these who have read them, and grown in holiness and truth, not the papal encyclicals directly, that reach "Everyman".
written by prasad, March 10, 2013
To Manfred, Chris and Pam:

The great Roman Orator Cicero tells in his treatise "On Friendship" that if a person is able to go up to the celestial world, witness all the grandeur and beauty over there, and when he comes back [to the earhly world], he is in a most dismal position if he has no one to share what he has seen/experienced. He continues to say that nature itself abhors loneliness. Cicero makes a seminal point with regard to friendship. He says, “Make up your minds to this: VIRTUE (without which friendship is impossible) is first; but next to it, and to it alone, the greatest of all things is Friendship.”

There are several insights which can be gleaned from the above:

-1- Observe the statment of Jesus at the last supper, "I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. (Jn. 15:11–14).

Now you observe the statement of Aristotle, "In loving a friend, men love what is good for themselves; for the good man in becoming a friend becomes a good to his friend each, then, both loves what is good for himself, and makes an equal return in goodwill and in pleasantness.” (Nichomachean Ethics VIII, 5).

St. Thomas builds on this and offers us:- men become good by pursuing virtue and becoming virtuous. therefore the more virtuous a man is, the more he/she becomes “a good” to his/her friends. This also means that the more virtuous a man is, the more lovable he/she is. And as such, we may say that the basis of true friendship is virtue and the virtuous life.

The above mentioned statement of Jesus at the last supper perfectly is in tune with what Aristotle and St. Thomas proposed. In fact much more, the truest friendship occurs when we love the virtue in our friend and become virtuous ourselves; then our friend’s joy is in our virtue.

When we love Jesus and seek to imitate His life, we come to realize that He is our true joy, and that His joy is in us.
Christ is our truest friend and constant companion and that every perfect friendship draws us closer to Him, who completes our joy.

And now, The relationship between Christ and the Church is on similar lines... the affinity and friendship between Christ and the CHurch is most virtuous primarily because Christ Loved the human race and gave HImself up for the world as a ransom, and the Church emanates from that great sacrifice and act of Love... not only that, and now the Church as it has been since 2000 years, continues to exist only for HIS SAKE to make Him [the most virtuous] known, His love and constantly direct the world towards Him so as to conform the entire creation like that Most VIRTUOUS person, the 'Perfect Man'. The Church takes upon this 'journey' with LOVE to make its bridegroom known despite tribulations, hardships, mockery and even martyrdom. So their relationship is truest in a two-way process.

-2- And now, the members who are in the Church are constantly challenged by that 'truest relationship' that exists between herself [Church] and her bridegroom [Christ]. And when the members of the CHurch love VIRTUE and follow it, they participate in that relationship that exists between Christ and the Church, and not only that... every perfect friendship draws us closer to HIM who alone can complete our joy. The fullness of TRUTH, which is the property of the Church emanating from its Virtuous relationship with its Lord and Master... continues to challenge both those within the Church and those 'outside' as well. While the former [those within the Church] have received hope through Faith, the latter [those outside the Church] should not prefer to grope in darkness ... but the 'tragedy' is both the former and the latter are constantly challenged to conform themselves to that most perfect friendship between Christ and His Church. And as Christ pointed out that the life here on earth is beautiful except for sin and that eventually prepares us for a life eternal, and so the 'struggle' does not end once a member enters into the Church.
written by Louise, March 10, 2013
Manfred, why did you remain silent? The pope was not at dinner, you were!
How about something like, "I'm sorry to hear that your children are not practicing their faith, i will keep them in my prayers."
written by Chris in Maryland, March 10, 2013
Prasad - what you trying to say? You have stated a premise...what is your conclusion?
written by Peter, March 11, 2013
Manfred's story is sad, but probably quite common. One cannot blame popes for his friends' children's situations. The popes are too far from the lives of most Catholics. One might ascribe some blame to the local bishop and priests, for not catechising the children sufficiently when they were young, but who can say how Grace works in individual souls. It may turn out that the friends' children were brought up correctly in the faith, but have fallen away under temptation of some kind -- temptation towards some misunderstood spiritual end, or for material reasons.

Louise gives the right answer in her comment. The parents may have been putting the best face on the situation that they could. Manfred does not reveal enough information about the one daughter's situation for us to understand the full picture: divorced after a year of marriage seems a little unusual, and it may be that the parish priest was not rigorous enough in marriage preparation training.

Clearly, blame for this situation cannot be laid at any one door, and like most human affairs, it probably does not have a single cause. As Louise says, we can only pray and leave the rest up to God.
written by prasad, March 11, 2013
Chris - - I was trying to answer the first inane comment above by Manfred concerning Holy Father B16. I tried to establish the most perfect relationship that exists between Christ and His Church,taking cue from a statement of Cicero [on Friendship], Aristotle and our dear Saint Thomas.

That perfect relationship between Christ and the Church stands out as the ultimate standard both for the believer and the non-believer as well to get conformed to. We are challenged by it constantly in our earthly sojourn to model ourselves to that perfect relationship/friendship.
written by Jacob, March 13, 2013

This website is the best kept secret on the internet.

In a sane society there would be at least five hundred comments on this article.

Write comment
smaller | bigger

security code
Write the displayed characters


Other Articles By This Author