A common view has it that Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict are light years apart. There is something to be said for that view. They are certainly very different men, who tend to emphasize different things.
On the other hand, we tend to overemphasize the differences. That is, despite the differences, there are deeper similarities, similarities arising from the fact that, underneath the surface, both are men determined to be faithful sons of the Church.
I thought of this while reading a collection of pieces by then-Cardnial Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy. One of the most famous, and most seemingly un-Benedict-like things, Francis has said is “who am I to judge?”–which he said in relation to the question of homosexuality. Yet the sense that this is an un-Benedict like thing to say comes at least in part from our insufficient attention to all the things that Benedict/Cardinal Ratzinger said.
Ratzinger spends the first few pages of The Feast of Faith lambasting a theological account of prayer that suggests that God is really not a person who can hear our prayers. We are, he notes, “obliged to state firmly that this is not Christian theology.” Nevertheless, he also says this: “We do not know what human experiences, sufferings and crises lie behind words such as these; we must respect them: it is not our business to judge.”
Both statements echo Jesus’ admonition that we are to “judge not”–meaning not that we are to surrender our ability to make moral distinctions, but that we are to remember that we are in no position to judge the souls of other people.