He always makes me smile.

It’s hard for me to put into words the feelings I have for Pope Benedict.  When I left Rome after the Spring of 2008, I felt like I was leaving a friend behind.   That man so far away in his window, waving down to his flock, the man driving by me, my face one of hundreds of thousands in the crowd… he seemed so close.  Part of this is the nature of the papacy, and part of it the holiness of our dear Papa.  But a large part is due to the fact that I had just finished a semester of studying his writings.   Spending my evenings pouring over a bookcase of books written by him and reading articles and speeches as if I was parsing them for English class, I was delving into the biblical theology of Pope Benedict.  In the meantime, it was impossible not to get to know the man behind the theology.

So when I stood in St. Peter’s Square and saw his library light on late at night, I couldn’t help but smile, knowing he was working on one more beautiful contribution to the Church’s theology.  When I heard his German voice speaking Italian to the crowds in St. Peter’s Square, I looked forward to going back to my room and sifting through the dense homilies.   He was speaking to me.  He was giving me more food for thought, more fruit for prayer.

After studying his writings on biblical theology as Cardinal Ratzinger and embracing his approach to Scripture, then, it gave me great joy to read a short, simple address he gave today to the professors, students, and staff of the Pontifical Biblical Institute (affectionately known by certain friends of mine as “the Bib” … but don’t tell the Pope that.  I had the honor of eating dinner at the Biblicum with a former professor of mine.  We were joined for dinner with another professor of the Biblicum,  who teaches Hebrew and Ugaritic dialects.  Luckily, the dinner conversation was in English.)

In the address, he encapsulated so beautifully what we were all describing in those papers and articles we wrote on “the biblical theology of Pope Benedict.”  He was really repeating what he has said all along, most famously in his Erasmus Lecture in New York City in 1988.  But here he was stating it so simply, so clearly, on a sunny Fall day in the Eternal City.

“Scripture being only one thing starting from the one People of God, which has been its bearer throughout history, consequently to read Scripture as a unit means to read it from the Church as from its vital place, and to regard the faith of the Church as the real key to interpretation.  If exegesis also wishes to be theology, it must acknowledge that the faith of the Church is that form of “sim-patia” without which the Bible remains as a sealed book: Tradition does not close access to Scripture, but rather opens it; on the other hand, the decisive word in the interpretation of Scripture corresponds to the Church, in her institutional organizations.  It is the Church, in fact, which has been entrusted with the task of interpreting authentically the Word of God written and transmitted, exercising her authority in the name of Jesus Christ (cfr ‘Dei Verbum,’ 10).”

While the historical-critical method is nice and all, it must be used in faith.

And the primary place for reading and interpreting Scripture is in the heart of the Church.

It’s what my former boss has been saying for years, and it’s the mission of my former employer.

Thanks, Pope Benedict.  It was a nice little present to read before bed.