The last testament of Benedict XVI

How does he spend his days in the Mater Ecclesiae monastery? What led him to make the difficult decision to renounce the pontificate? These and other questions are answered by Pope Benedict XVI in his book The Last Testament (Bloomsbury Continuum). The book is based on an interview with the German journalist Peter Seewald, author of the book-interviews Salt of the Earth (1996) and God and the World (2002), which were written about then Cardinal Ratzinger, and also the book Light of the World (2010), the result of an interview that was done during Pope Benedict XVI’s pontificate. The Last Testament is the first book-interview written on a pope emeritus.

Sitting in the serenity of his new home, without the pressure of the pontificate, Benedict XVI begins his interview practically at the end: His current life where he is dedicated to prayer and study, and in which his time is spent receiving visits from his friends who come from different parts of the world to dialogue with him.

The Pope emeritus talks about how the idea of leaving the pontificate grew in his mind and heart, even though something like that hasn’t happened in more than five centuries in the Church’s history. It was a difficult decision made with the full awareness that God asked him to withdraw and leave this difficult task to a younger and more vital person. Humility, realism and an intimate union with God were the elements that led him to make a historical decision, wise on the one hand, but difficult on the other. The almost eight years of his pontificate were guided by the first words that he gave when he was elected Pope in which he said he was only “a simple and humble worker of the vineyard of the Lord.”

The interview also has a biographical tone in which Benedict XVI speaks of the Ratzinger family—his parents, his personal relationship with his two brothers, Mary and Georg, the environment in which he grew up in the bosom of a humble family, living in the convulsed Germany of World War II and his years of study. He also talks about some details of the Second Vatican Council, a meeting in which he participated as a young priest, witnessing a decisive moment for the history of the Church, in which new methods and expressions were promoted to transmit the Word of God; the same of yesterday, today and always.

He also talks about his predecessor St. John Paul II with whom he worked from 1981 to 2005 and with whom he established a beautiful friendship. He admired his vitality, the constant presence of God in which he lived, and how both personalities (John Paul II, more sociable, Benedict XVI, more timid) could complement and understand each other so well. He also shares his reaction and feelings regarding he day he was elected Pope, and shares some reflections, aspects and difficulties of his pontificate.

He highlights Pope Francis’s vitality, joy and his missionary zeal in which he always wants to go out to the peripheries and bring the most distant to the Church.

He also shares his literary hobbies (some of his favorite books are A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Shakespeare and Dialogues of Carmelites, whose libretto is based on Bernanos’s eponymous book). His favorite painter is Rembrandt and his favorite composers are Mozart and Johann Sebastian Bach.

Although the title The Last Testament sounds a little harsh, this book gathers the words of a wise man who has had to face many challenges in his life and who, in the final stretch, leaves us the testament of his reflections full of wisdom, experiences and sound advice.

COMING UP: Don’t be fooled: Feminism isn’t really about choice

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OK, call me crazy. But I the only one who remembers, in my formative years, hearing repeatedly from the feminists that feminism was about freeing us women to make our own choices about our own lives? If we wanted to pursue high powered careers, we should be free to do that. And if we wanted to stay home and raise babies . . . well, that was a valid choice as well. One got the impression that they didn’t understand why any self-respecting woman would make such a choice. But they nevertheless gave some good lip service, sometimes through rather clenched jaws, to our right to choose it.

Well, apparently not so much anymore. Everything I have been reading lately indicates that the facade is gone. Motherhood is out. Careers are in.

That previous incarnation of feminism — the one where women get to make their own choices about their own lives — is now called “Choice Feminism.” And it is so 1995. If you don’t believe me, just google it. I did.

What I found was a whole lot of academic, Marxist-sounding ideology about class and the patriarchy and struggle and some “queer” stuff that I didn’t quite understand. Basically it all boiled down to this: we women may think we are making our own choices. But we aren’t, because our choices are all so influenced by the patriarchy and the oppressive conditions under which we are forced to exist.

So, we should instead choose what they tell us to choose.

At least that’s what it all sounded like to me.

I understand the criticism of “choice feminism” to a certain extent. Many writers spoke out against this idea that any choice a woman makes is somehow a feminist statement. The most-common example I saw was that of the “liberated” stripper who celebrates her stripper-ness as some kind of victory for feminism. Which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.

But, do you know what the second-most common example was? The choice of a mother to stay at home with her kids.

It seems to baffle them that any woman would make such a bizarre sacrifice. It must be because of the patriarchy. Or because child raising is still perceived by our sexist society as “women’s work.” Or because we are still tethered to a ”1950’s male breadwinner model.”

It doesn’t seem to occur to them that it could be because women, having nurtured these tiny little creatures within their own bodies, may actually want to spend their time nurturing and raising them.

The piece de resistance was a widely circulated article in the Australian magazine RendezView, which actually proposes that mothers of school-aged children be forced, under penalty of law, to be “gainfully employed” outside the home. Says Sarrah Le Marquand, somewhat awkwardly, “Only when the tiresome and completely unfounded claim that ‘feminism is about choice’ is dead and buried (it’s not about choice, it’s about equality) will we consign restrictive gender stereotypes to history.”

So, I’m thinking that by “choice” she means “freedom of self-determination”; by “equality”, she means “women being just like men.”; and by “restrictive gender stereotypes”, she means “biological and psychosexual differences that impact our lifestyle choices.”

But the women of the world clearly aren’t voluntarily marching into her brave new world of gender uniformity. And so it is time to employ the long arm of the law. Says she, “. . . it’s time for a serious rethink of this kid-glove approach to women of child-bearing and child-rearing age. Holding us less accountable when it comes to our employment responsibilities is not doing anyone any favours [sic].”

(I have to confess I’m somewhat curious about what will happen to unemployment numbers in Australia when every mother exercises her “employment responsibilities” and enters the workforce. But I digress.)

And so, the mask is off. Feminism was never about allowing women to choose what they want. It is about coercing women to choose what these feminists want them to choose.

It is not not surprising that, in a recent poll, 85% of women responded that they support equality for women, yet only 15% said that they identify as a “feminist.” The movement has moved away from the women it is supposed to represent.

As for me, I don’t want the State, or the Feminist Powers That Be, to issue a list of acceptable choices for women. Particularly when it comes to the often complicated question of whether a mother works or stays at home.

I still subscribe to the apparently antiquated notion that decisions like these are best made by the couple in question.

I know. Call me crazy . . .