Pope of the Beatitudes

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As the year 2000 approached, many were preparing to survive the implosion of the electronic age, in case Y2K brought about the collapse of the world’s computer network. But for Christians, it was a special time to look forward with anticipation to the third Christian millennium and what Pope John Paul II called a “new springtime of the Gospel.” We have since crossed that threshold and have received Pope Benedict XVI — the pope of the new millennium.

If we are living at the beginning of a new springtime for Christianity, we might ask, what kind of pope do we now have to lead us? As we prepare to celebrate the third anniversary of Benedict’s pontificate, we already have much to reflect upon — including his trips to Germany, Poland, Spain, Turkey and Brazil, as well as his two encyclicals and book. The pope’s visit to the United States will soon inaugurate yet another chapter in his ministry.

Already we see a remarkable man as a world leader — someone who is consistently described in terms of his simplicity, humility, kindness, gentleness and joy.

Indeed, the more we learn about Benedict, the more we are apt to recall the Beatitudes Christ preached during his Sermon on the Mount (see Mt 5:3-12): Blessed are the poor in spirit, the lowly, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart and the peacemakers. And, finally, “Rejoice and be glad.” Is it too much to think that we have been given a “pope of the Beatitudes” to lead the Church in this new millennium?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that the Beatitudes are “at the heart” of the teaching of Jesus, that they reveal to us his “countenance” and his charity, and that they form the basis for Christian hope (1717). It should come as no surprise that Benedict’s first two encyclicals, Deus Caritas Est (God is Love) and Spe Salvi (On Christian Hope), explore our understanding of God through the themes of love, charity and hope.

The Beatitudes present us also with a profound moral declaration, which at the time of Jesus could only be understood as the repudiation of conventional values related to wealth, status, power, personal fulfillment and happiness. Here we can see reflected in Benedict’s pontificate a concern for the dehumanizing effects of our modern secular culture of consumerism and material progress, which too often ignores the plight of the poor and suffering.

We see as well in his pastoral ministry Christ’s ardent exhortation at the conclusion of the Beatitudes: “You are the light of the world. … Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Mt 5:14, 16). Thus, in Pope Benedict we are presented with a model of the Christian life in the new millennium. He is also a model for the future of the Church and a return to the fundamentals of the Gospel message.

The Beatitudes speak of the Gospel’s transforming power in the lives of believers and in the life of the world. This power shines in Benedict’s life and ministry. It is our hope that because of his U.S. visit, it will shine more brightly throughout America and the world.

Vivat Jesus!