January 13, 2023

Catechetical leaders reflect on Pope Benedict’s witness of faith

By Sean Gallagher

Exploring the depths of the faith and explaining it for people living in a growing secular culture were at the heart of the more than 70 years of ordained ministry of Pope Benedict XVI, who died on Dec. 31 nearly 10 years after he stepped down as bishop of Rome.

Three leaders in catechesis across central and southern Indiana spoke with The Criterion about how the late pontiff shaped their lives of faith and their ministry to pass it on to others.

Broadened views on ‘God’s Rottweiler’

Ute Eble was born in Munich, Germany, when then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was the archbishop of the Bavarian city. But she was still a young child when his ministry took him to Rome to serve as prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.

So, Eble didn’t know much about him when he was elected pope in 2005 when she was a young adult.

“I did know about him being called ‘God’s Rottweiler,’ so admittedly, the pride of having a German pope was tinged with some suspicion,” recalled Eble, who serves as director of religious education of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Indianapolis.

Eble moved to the U.S. with her American husband and ministered as a coordinator of religious education at an Army installation in Hawaii before coming to Indianapolis.

Her study of the faith through Catholic Distance University helped broaden her perspective on Pope Benedict.

“It was surprising that the ‘Rottweiler’s’ first encyclical was telling us about love,” said Eble of Pope Benedict’s 2005 encyclical letter “Deus Caritas Est” (“God Is Love”). I’ve come to appreciate him in his writings as someone who authentically, out of love for God and others, wants everyone to get to know and follow Christ.”

Pope Benedict was instrumental in the development of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which, as Cardinal Ratzinger, he did in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Eble is grateful for Pope Benedict’s work on the catechism, which has played an important role in her life and ministry.

“Our first copy actually fell apart, and my second one has so many highlights and notes from my studies that it has become very precious to me,” she said.

Eble sees a strong emphasis on catechesis in the Church at present as being a legacy of Pope Benedict.

“He wrote in Deus Caritas Est: ‘Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice of a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction’ [#1],” said Eble. “These days, we evangelize people by fostering this encounter with the person of Jesus, thanks to Pope Benedict.”

‘He was pondering Christ’

Kristina Seipel, director of discipleship and catechesis at Holy Family Parish in New Albany, was overwhelmed when asked how to describe the importance of Pope Benedict.

“There is so much to be said of his accomplishments and pastoral leadership that I am unsure where to begin,” she said. “Personally, I would call him a legend.”

Of his various writings, Seipel points to his books, The Spirit of the Liturgy and Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism to the Transfiguration, as most significant for her.

“They are not papal documents, but rather his reflections, which helped me in my personal faith journey,” she said. “Reading them both felt like he was talking to me. He was pondering Christ and he would drop little nuggets throughout the texts for me to spend time in prayer with, to get to know Jesus better and to better understand the liturgy that we celebrate.”

Although Pope Benedict was a leading academic theologian for decades before becoming a bishop and later elected pope, Seipel sees his relevance for all the faithful.

“In his words, he not only helps us to understand our faith, but he calls us to live it out in our daily lives,” she said.

Speaking the truth in love

Ken Ogorek has served as archdiocesan director of catechesis since 2007. He was involved in catechetical ministry for 10 years before that in the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

Pope Benedict has been influential in his life of faith and in his efforts to pass on the faith to parish catechetical leaders in the archdiocese and elsewhere.

“He defied the stereotype that folks who are concerned about doctrinal accuracy are somehow less focused on God’s love,” Ogorek said. “Pope Benedict witnessed for us the ‘both/and’ of guarding the deposit of faith precisely so our loving relationship with the Almighty is enriched and authentic.”

Ogorek also reflected on the importance of Pope Benedict’s pointing out the dangers of relativism.

“Acknowledging the dictatorship of relativism, as Pope Benedict put it, is essential for an accurate understanding of how we reach out to the marginalized and accompany folks at various points on their faith journey,” he said. “The continuity between his areas of emphasis and those of Pope Francis help us share the faith in truly pastoral and genuinely helpful ways.”

The late pope’s interest in offering an alternative to relativism, Ogorek said, was rooted in his life as a youth in Nazi Germany.

“While still a young man, he saw moral relativism pushed to an extreme in the atrocities of the Holocaust,” Ogorek said. “As a solution to misunderstanding doctrinal and moral teaching, Pope Benedict offered an affirmative orthodoxy that helps us navigate the choppy seas of culture, fostering—among other benefits—a strong sense of solidarity and a robust desire for the common good.”

The breadth of Pope Benedict’s writings and example of pastoral leadership continues to help form Ogorek in his ministry.

“Pope Benedict helped me grasp the importance of both sharing the deposit of faith and guarding it,” he said. “His collaboration with St. John Paul the Great gave me an example of how a person in a supporting role can provide substantial help to a leader. … Pope Benedict was a gentleman and a scholar—who models how to speak the truth in love.” †

See all our coverage of the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

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