Shepherds hold an intriguing place in Scripture. Devout Jews often frowned upon the occupation … but God did not. Consider Abel, Jacob, Moses, David and Peter, the fisherman-turned-shepherd. At Christ’s birth, God called shepherds to himself. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God promised us, “I will give you shepherds after my own heart” (Jeremiah 3:15; 23:4). And he has certainly not disappointed in our latest chief shepherd, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI.

One is hard-pressed not to find traces of Cardinal Ratzinger’s biblical Christology woven throughout many of our Church’s great doctrinal works of the past few decades. His writing both inspired and challenged my notions of what liturgy was (and is), while igniting within me a greater appreciation for biblical hermeneutics. When Cardinal Ratzinger was elevated to the papacy, I wondered how this theological giant, this “academic” would fare in the saintly shadow cast by his charismatic predecessor, John Paul II.

Put simply, in these past five years, Pope Benedict XVI has been nothing less than brilliant. He has shattered pre-papal misconceptions about his doctrinal “bulldog” attitude. His scope and vision have been no less breathtaking than Pope John Paul II’s, only subtler. Pope Benedict is a true shepherd, capably leading a flock through morally corrupt and challenging times. Witnessing the Holy Spirit unleash his theological brilliance in such a pastoral way has been a true gift.

He’s a shepherd who’s not afraid to go after the 99. Pope Benedict XVI’s pontificate demonstrates an ardent desire to catechize the Christian masses about Christ. His first volume of Jesus of Nazareth was a staggeringly beautiful blend of theology and philosophy, demonstrating the indissolubility of the two and their immutability even in our modern age. He loves truth and courageously opposes all assaults against it. He desires for every soul to intimately know Christ, even encouraging his priests to blog more as a way of pastorally sharing Christ’s truth with more souls.

He’s a shepherd who calls out to God’s larger flock. The Holy Father has visited six continents in five years. He’s prayed beside Muslim leaders, spoken out on the Israeli-Palestinian feud, reopened a dialogue with China, and offered a new invitation of communion to our Anglican brethren. Additionally, the Year of St. Paul invited every Catholic, myself included, to become reacquainted with the great saint, while creating substantial, ecumenical inroads of dialogue with our Protestant brothers and sisters (who are often far more familiar with his epistles than most cradle Catholics).

He’s a shepherd who’s not afraid to lead his shepherds. Regardless of the recent attacks, he has been a strong proponent for harsher penalties against abusive clergy since even before his elevation to the Chair of Peter. He has repeatedly demonstrated humility, sadness and great pastoral care for victims and clergy. Additionally, his proclamation of this Year for Priests is irrefutably Spirit-led. Immeasurable graces are pouring out upon Christ’s priesthood, most of which will not be seen for many years to come.

The wise old “academic” is reminding us that it’s not all academic. Pope Benedict XVI has humbly led the Church to answer John Paul II’s call to “behold the face of Christ” in this new millennium. Our shepherd re-echoes this invitation in his governance of Mother Church. Our Holy Father prayerfully retires to the manger’s side, daily, for a shepherd’s unique perspective of Jesus Christ, an encounter that, 2,000 years later, is still shaping the world for the better.

Mark Hart, a Catholic author and speaker, is executive vice president of Life Teen.

About This Series

Now more than ever, we need to be reminded of what a Pope is. On the rock of Peter our Church is built. To him and his successors — Christ’s vicars — have been entrusted the keys of the Kingdom of heaven. Christ prayed for him that his faith might not fail, that he might strengthen his brethren.

The untold story right now in the media is how much God has worked through Pope Benedict XVI in his first five years as Pope. That’s why we began to commission short essays to honor him for his anniversary just a few weeks ago.

As the media tries in vain to pin the lion’s share of the blame for the developing abuse scandal on him, those essays are now taking on a meaning and depth we couldn’t have imagined. We’re fortunate to have this man leading us, and these tributes tell why.

We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we did.

—  The Editors