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I Am Third – A Different Perspective

There an old saying that things seem to always come in threes – especially the passing of well-known people. This past week this adage was true as we lost three pioneering world leaders, all within the span of three days.

Pele’ was a beloved soccer player who was also a bigger than life character because of his love for all people, and the game itself. He died Thursday December 29th at the age of 82.

Pioneering journalist, Barbara Walters died the next day at age 93. Barbara was truly a pioneer for women in an industry that was dominated and controlled by only men.

Last but certainly not least, was the third passing of this trio, and the subject of this message. On Saturday December 31, Former Pope Benedict XVI left us at age 95. Thanks to Encyclopedia Britannica, for some content, I have compiled a brief history of this incredible man of God.

Pope Benedict XVI was born Joseph Ratzinger in Germany. Benedict was 78 when in 2005 he became one of the oldest popes ever elected. But it is – was – the perspective of “I Am Third,” that made this man one of the greatest and most enduring pontiffs of all time!

He only served as Pope for eight years but in those years, he made significant strides as the leader of the Catholic faith. He truly put God and Jesus first in all things, the church and all people second, and himself – third.

Pope Benedict XVI-Joseph Ratzinger’s father was a policeman and his mother a hotel cook. The youngest of three children, Ratzinger was six years old when the Nazis took power in Germany in 1933; his parents, who were staunch Catholics, were hostile to the regime. Ratzinger entered the seminary in 1939. In 1941 he was forced to join the Hitler Youth, and in 1943 he was drafted into the German military. He deserted in April of that year and was captured by American forces and held prisoner for a brief period.

After the war, Ratzinger continued his education in the seminary; he was ordained a priest in June 1951. In 1953 he was awarded a doctorate in theology at the University of Munich. After earning his teaching license in 1957, he taught dogma and theology at several universities

During his long academic career, Ratzinger wrote a number of important theological works. His work in theology attracted the attention of the archbishop of Cologne, Joseph Frings, who asked Ratzinger to serve as his expert assistant at the Second Vatican Council (1962–65). One of the more progressive figures at the council, Ratzinger opposed those who hoped to limit reform. He contributed to a document that severely criticized the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office and that eventually led to its reorganization by Pope Paul VI (1963–78) as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

In March 1977 Ratzinger was appointed archbishop of Munich and Freising by Paul VI, who bestowed the cardinal’s hat on him three months later. On November 25, 1981, he was made prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith by his friend Pope John Paul II (1978–2005), whom he had known well since 1977. For more than two decades, Ratzinger was the pope’s closest adviser.

Ratzinger earned a reputation as a hard-liner. He condemned liberation theology and suppressed more-liberal teachings and policy. Despite his reputation, even his harshest critics recognized his intelligence and his ability to discuss controversial matters in an objective and disinterested spirit. He was also recognized for his humility and gentleness as well as for his many talents; he spoke several languages and was an accomplished pianist, with a particular fondness for Mozart.

Ratzinger’s election as pope on the second day of the conclave was something of a surprise because of his status as a leading candidate; front-runners are almost never chosen, a fact reflected in the popular expression, “He who enters as a pope-leaves as a cardinal.” Although he said he had prayed not to be chosen, Ratzinger humbly accepted his election on April 19, 2005, becoming at age 78 the oldest newly elected pope since Clement XII (1730–40). His choice of the name Benedict XVI recalled St. Benedict of Nursia, the patron saint of Europe and the founder of Western monasticism, as well as earlier popes of the same name, including Benedict XV (1914–22), who sought to mediate between the belligerents during World War I.

Benedict XVI immediately took steps to continue John Paul’s dialogue with Judaism and Islam and with other Christian churches. Further, he declared that one of the goals of his papacy would be to revitalize the Catholic church in Europe. Benedict also indicated that he would maintain his predecessor’s conservative orthodoxy on matters of sexuality, priestly celibacy, and ecclesiastical organization.

During the early years of his papacy, Benedict visited several countries, including Turkey, where he met the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople in the hope of improving relations between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. In 2007 Benedict approved the decisions of the International Theological Commission, an advisory panel to the Vatican, that the traditional teaching of limbo was “unduly restrictive” and that unbaptized infants could be saved.

In 2008 Benedict made his first visit as pope to the United States, where he spoke out against clerical sexual abuse and delivered an address at the United Nations. Later that year he addressed the first Catholic-Muslim Forum, a three-day conference of Catholic theologians and Islamic scholars hosted by the Vatican to promote improved understanding between the two religions.

In November of 2009, in an act of outreach to conservative Anglicans, Benedict approved an apostolic constitution, or special decree, that allowed Anglican clergymen and laypersons to join the Roman Catholic Church while maintaining some Anglican traditions.

In February 2013 Benedict announced that he would resign at the end of that month, citing age and health concerns. His final public address in St. Peter’s Square drew a crowd of more than 50,000. On February 28 he formally resigned, taking the title pope emeritus, and sparking speculation about whether this precedence would serve to normalize the resignation of future popes. The subsequent election of Pope Francis brought the papacy into uncharted territory with two popes living in close proximity in the Vatican Palace.

When he resigned, he became the first pope in 600 years to do so. This act of selflessness, made it clear that his love for the church and the people held more importance to him and anything else.

Pope Benedict XVI-Joseph Ratzinger was a man who clearly put God first. He did so much in his short papacy to bring all churches together and to bring reform to many stale and exclusively divisive church policies. His policies and teachings put all of God’s people first, and he paved a way for the Church to honor all life as precious, including those lives who were not of the Catholic Faith.

He put the Word of God, ahead of church-centric theology. He put all people ahead of worldly things, pride, and possessions, and he put himself TRULY at the will of God and the people.

Because Pope Benedict XVI-Joseph Ratzinger demonstrated an “I Am Third” perspective throughout his life, his teachings, and seemingly in all things. We thank him for his service and leadership, but most importantly for his love of us and God.

I believe Jesus has welcomed Pope Benedict XVI-Joseph Ratzinger to heaven, stating: Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

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