Called to Communion: Understanding the Church Today Paperback – 1 May 1996
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About the Author
Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) is recognized as one of the most brilliant theologians and spiritual leaders of our age. As pope he authored the best-selling Jesus of Nazareth. Prior to his pontificate, he wrote many influential books important for the contemporary Church, such as Introduction to Christianity and The Spirit of the Liturgy.
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Thus, we have some classic Ratzinger formulations (which echo some of the great pieces in "An Introduction to Christianity"). Ratzinger shows again and again throughout his work that faith is gift and dialogic in nature, because we, as human beings, made in the image of God, are ourselves destined for dialogue and communion - we cannot exist as an "I" in isolation.
"The "I" was now a fortified stronghold with impassable walls. Decartes' attempt to derive the whole of philosophy from "cogito" - because only the "" stilled appeared accessible in any way - is typical in this regard. Today the concept of the subject is gradually unravelling; it is becoming evident that the "I" locked securely in itself does not exist but that various influences pass in and out of "us"...the "I" is constituted in relation to the "thou" and that the two mutually interpenetrate. (page 36).
"Communion means that the seemingly uncrossable frontier of my "I" is left wide open and can be so because Jesus has first allowed himself to be opened completely, has taken us all into himself and has put himself totally in our hands....Communion makes the Church by breaking an opening in the walls of subjectivity and gathering us into a deep communion of existence". (page 37)
Later on in the books he exploded the dimensions of faith further by urging us to move beyond the temporal dimensions of this time and to look at the faith of the Church and her saints throughout the ages:
"The true majority in the Church reaches diachronically across the ages, and only when one listens to this plenary majority does one remain in the apostolic "we". Faith explodes the self-absolulisation id individual presents; by opening them up to the faith of all times (page 99).
"Faith is not something we excogitate ourselves; man does not make himself a Christian by reflection or ethical achievements. He always becomes a Christian from outside: by means of a gift that can only come from another, through the "thou" of Christ, in whom the "thou" of God encounters him (page 120)
Ratzinger exhorts us to let God enwonder (to coin a word) us, to sculpt us into the image of Christ and this is precisely what must happen in the Church - we must let God make the Church - it is not our own personal project or club. If Ratzinger(now Benedict XVI) is remembered (as I am sure he will in the decades to come), it is because of his great contribution to reminding us that we are beings made for communion and to be ourselves is to burst the bounds of our own being so that we become, as we are intended, the images of the Tri-Personal God, constituted not just in Oneness, but in Community.
I would not say that this is Ratzinger's best book (hence only the 4 stars). "Introduction to Christianity", "The Spirit of the Liturgy" and "Jesus of Nazareth" are in their own league . If this slim books grabs you, well then turn to his great works with joy.
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This short 86 page book is a series of sermons given in 1964, first to a congregation of Catholic students. Who could ever have guessed at the time that standing before them was a gifted world-class theologian and later Pope. Briefly, the three sermons focus on salvation, faith as service, and love. What a gift Ratzinger is to the Church and the world. Read these homilies as a gift for yourself.
We read and discussed this in our parish book club with a very positive response.
Cardinal Ratzinger wrote this "essay" to be read at the Theological Congress of the Austrian Institute for Pastoral Work in Vienna, 1958. I have read it twice already and will read it a third time. It is complex, very complete, but accessible to anyone interested in the subject (all christians should be interested in the subject). Christian brotherhood is the real christianity as created by Jesus Himself. In my humble opinion there should be no christian church of today as opposed to the christian brotherhood started by Jesus 2000 years ago. Christ initiated a movement of heaven on earth in union with God, a brotherhood of mystics (Acts 2: 14-21), but three centuries later at the council of Nicea, Christianity was legalized and changed forever, sadly.
This work by now Pope Benedict XVI gives an excellent explanation of who was a christian, how were christians different from the jewish and other brotherhoods, and other important aspects. This is an EXCELLENT beginning, that should be followed by readings of the early church fathers to understand how christians lived in peace, brotherly love, and in constant prayer , renouncing not only to sin but to all earthly possessions "calling nothing their own".
only more accessible, in that it's a very short work, written in plain-spoken language, where the author asks the same tough questions that many of us have, questions that might seem too ordinary or too directly critical of Christianity to be honestly addressed by a prominent mainline theologian. Ratzinger wades right in, first asking such questions, and then, more importantly, providing answers that are utterly grounded in Sacred Scripture and Church teaching, but sometimes way outside the box of an awful lot of misguided catechesis. He goes to the heart.
It's always a kind of shock to find Ratzinger's incisive reflections on questions like who is saved/damned, believer/unbeliever/ christian/non- or un-christian. He asks questions I have asked, and still ask about what it means to be a Catholic christian, and his answers speak the truth in a way my heart and conscience can understand.
Here, he states categorically and challengingly that only the one who loves is a Christian.
So, then, if love is enough, why all this dogma; if love is enough, why am I asked for faith, too; if Christ is the Redeemer, why is the world still so miserably unredeemed; what does it really mean to be a Christian; why do I have to be the one with the hard job?
In "What it Means to Be a Christian," Ratzinger asks these questions, and others just as necessary, because, he says, to ignore or evade or avoid them is a betrayal of our own faith. We're not called upon to live in a pietistic comfort-zones, or take refuge in a faith that draws the blinds on reality so as to feel less pressured in our real exterior and interior lives. And, his answers are so direct, so clarifying, engaging, and grounded in un-self-protective truth, that I find myself upheld in my questions, validated in my hopes, and encouraged in my struggles to believe that my part really does matter.
This short, very readable text offers an invaluable map of the real terrain of what it means to be a Christian. And, it provides the genuine Catholic answers, from the heart and mind of our world's foremost Catholic theologian and teacher. While these sermons were originally preached a long time ago, it's incredibly uplifting and empowering to see that now, decades later as Pope, Benedict XVI hasn't changed his mind or heart a whit.