April marks six years since the death of John Paul II, and with Holy Week and Easter around the corner on the Christian calendar, it seemed an appropriate occasion for a look at Light of the World — The Pope, the Church, and the Signs of the Times, based on a series of conversations conducted by a biographer of Benedict XVI, Peter Seewald.

Seen from afar, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, right, may seem an aloof figure (though I’ve always been drawn to a certain warmth behind his eyes), and the pontiff’s towering intellect is not a mitigating factor in the intimidation department. (Let’s face it, his predecessor had the lock on warm and fuzzy.) The same rather applies to his comments in this book, which, while on the dry side, do have their moments of illumination. You come away with a real feeling of humbleness at the enormous responsibility thrust upon him (“As far as the Pope is concerned, he too is a simple beggar before God – even more than all other people”).

Many would probably be interested in the chapters dealing with the child-abuse scandals, but I was more intrigued with others, such as “Mary and the Message of Fatima,” where the German prelate supreme, who’s known for being more theologically focused on Jesus Christ, speaks about the deep relevance of the Virgin Mary in all her representations as guidance for the faithful.  And “Popes Do Not Fall from the Sky,” where the ever-intellectual Benedict flatly declares “I’m no mystic,” as it applies to the mysteries of steering Christ’s flock as sovereign shepherd.

Though Seewald’s questions are sometimes maddingly involved, the book provides some valuable glimpses inside the mind of the Catholic Church’s “defender of reason” in this most transitional of times. At the end, I found the biggest truth of all in his simple statement:  “Faith develops.”

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