Question, Answer Book Reveals Secret Of Pope’s Joy
Published: April 17, 2008
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS; by Pope Benedict XVI. Our Sunday
Visitor, Inc. (Huntington, Ind., 2008). 175 pp. hardcover; $14.95.
Do we have to go to confession every time we receive holy Communion? How can priests avoid discouragement, faced with so much work and so few vocations? And why is premarital sex wrong?
These are a few of the 53 questions that Pope Benedict XVI answered in a series of dialogues held between 2005 and 2007. The questions came from Italian children and teens, plus priests from various Italian dioceses.
Topics run the gamut from discotheques, divorce and drugs to healing, the Holy Spirit and hope.
The children’s questions are delightful. Asked about his memory of his first Communion day, the pope mentions the great joy he felt as a 9-year-old and his prayer to Jesus:
“I always want to stay with you, but above all, stay with me.”
He also clarifies for children something adults need to hear as well: It is important to go to confession regularly.
“We clean our homes … at least once a week,” he notes—and dirt, like sin, builds up.
“I can’t see him,” a child says about Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist. Pope Benedict explains that many essential things are unseen, such as intelligence and reason—and even an electric current.
“It is precisely the invisible things that are the most profound.”
In answering questions from priests, the pope sends wonderful messages to the laity. For example, he applauds mothers for having the courage to give life and for helping children become friends with Jesus.
He encourages priests to tell mothers: “The pope thanks you!”
Talking about sacrifices required by celibacy, the pope reminds priests that they can learn unselfishness from married people, especially during “early years when nights are almost spent sleeplessly because of the crying of small children.”
His answers show the deep appreciation he has for the ordinary ups and downs of married life and his belief that the sacrifices parents make “work for the salvation of others.”
Many of his descriptions are lyrical and lovely, such as his mention that baptism gives us a “spiritual transplant,” a new heart that is open to God’s call.
Asked about his own vocation to the priesthood, he explains that as much as he loved theology, he realized that the priesthood at heart was about serving young people, the elderly, the sick and the poor.
One answer brings applause from the crowd: Pope Benedict XVI champions the Catholic faith as a call to be truly human, which means Catholics needn’t choose between playing football and studying Scripture: We can do both.
We also are called to love the earth and the beauties of nature, which bring us closer to God.
This book reveals the pope’s brilliance, but also his accessibility to clergy and laypeople, and his compassion.
Many questioners seem hungry for assurance that there is hope in the world. They also long to know they are not alone in their struggles.
He answers this plea by admitting discouragement comes to everyone, but “we should take heart and start again.”
It is true that there is great evil in the world, but there is also “infinite love that enters the world” in the person of Christ.
The last question comes from a teenager who is a believer but who admits that at times God seems far away.
The pope replies that all believers at times encounter God’s silence, and that perhaps this experience helps people of faith better understand those who do not believe at all.
But he also emphasizes where to look for God.
“We see the Lord’s presence especially in creation, in the beautiful liturgy, in friendship within the church … [and] we can also give light to others.”
He also mentions a woman who became Catholic after listening to the great music of the church, including Bach, Handel and Mozart, and encountering Christ there.
This final answer reveals the underlying source of the pope’s own vigorous faith.
The pope is a great teacher, a brilliant theologian and writer, but he also finds delight in listening to the hearts of everyday people.
And his joy comes from helping people find what he discovered so long ago: a personal friendship with Christ that began at his first holy Communion when he asked Christ to stay with him.
It is clear from this book that his prayer was answered.
Lorraine V. Murray is the author of four books on spiritual topics, most recently “Confessions of an Ex-Feminist” (Ignatius Press).