Before his ascension to papacy, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) wrote a number of books. Jenny Ang introduces us to some of his writings.

Dear readers,

I would like to start a monthly column to introduce you to some of the writings of Pope Benedict XVI, a number of which were written by him before his papacy as Joseph Ratzinger or Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

The Pope has been said by many to be an original thinker and an outstanding theologian with a refreshing approach to many issues facing the Church and us as Christians.

Having read many of his writings, I can only agree and would add that he is a man of deep faith who is not afraid to speak the truth as God has revealed through the Scripture and the Traditions of the Church.

Through the Pope's writings, I believe he has always been able to put up a mirror to engage the readers to see things from a different and faith-filled perspective. He is able to marry the faith with contemporary challenges. And, through it all, his great joy in our Christian faith never fail to shine through.

I have personally learned much through the Pope's writings which always point the way to God, through Christ in the Holy Spirit. Hopefully, this small column will stir your interest to read his writings and start your own journey of self discovery or renewal in our great Christian faith.

Let me then start with the book titled, "What it means to be a Christian"*. It is a compilation of three sermons given by the Pope (as Joseph Ratzinger then) in 1964 at the Cathedral at Munster, Germany, which is as relevant today as it was then.

In the book, the Pope writes passionately about the love of God and Jesus' commandment to love God and one's neighbour. Anyone who obeys this commandment is a Christian, reminds the Pope. He also encourages us to live our faith that is of service and witness to others.

There are many reflections we can take away from the book. Let me just focus on one reflection based on the following quotation from the book which creates a vivid picture of what it could mean at a practical level:

"Thus, becoming a Christian does not mean grabbing something for oneself alone; on the contrary, it means moving out of the selfishness which only knows about itself and only refers to itself and passing into the new form of existence of someone who lives for others."

Does the word "grabbing" give us pause to think of the moments in our lives where we "grabbed" instead of gave?

Does "only knows about itself and only refers to itself" recall moments in our daily lives where we were upset, frustrated or depressed or angry (or all of the above!), because we could not see beyond our own self and our own needs?

What does "new form of existence of someone who lives for others" mean? It is to live in service for others. Can we think back to the times when we put aside the "Me" and do things for our families, friends and even strangers at the expense of ourselves and re-live the joy we felt?

Of course, the Pope recognizes that there were and will be moments of failures. This is true of our own lives and that of the Church. Still, the Pope encourages us to look at the "whole of reality in the face, unafraid and with an open heart, even if it goes against the picture of faith .... We make for ourselves." and to have the courage "to talk to God out of the trial of our darkness, as Job did, is part of Christian life".

I hope you will enjoy reading the book as much as I did.

Contributor: Jenny Ang

*What it means to be a Christian, Ignatius Press

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