Pope Benedict XVI, the “Mediocre” Marksman

“Of course, the Gebirgsschüzen (Territorial Marksmen), whom I was only able to hear in the distance, deserve special thanks, because I am an honorary ‘Schütze,’ (marksman) even though I was once a mediocre Schütze.”
— Pope Benedict XVI,
Bavarian Evening, Castel Gandolfo, August 3, 2012.

“Now, as we ‘thank you,’ I can only impart my blessing to you, but let us first sing the Angelus together, and if we can the ‘Andachtsjodler’ (a hymn in the form of a yodel).”
— Pope Benedict XVI,
Last Words in German at the Bavarian Evening.

The present pope, we know, is a man of many talents. We usually think of these talents as primarily intellectual, even his taste in music is classical. No one ever told us that he was a marksman, albeit mediocre, or that he could yodel. The idea of yodeling a hymn would go over big on country and western stations of the old school, no doubt. Google has many sung versions of this quite beautiful hymn that anyone can listen to. After listening to it, I can see why the pope added “if we can” as the music is quite lovely.

On August 3, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich arranged at the Pope’s Villa at Castel Gandolfo for an evening of music and friendliness in the Holy Father’s honor. In his remarks, the Pope said that he was truly dahoam, which means in German to be “at home.” He kidded Cardinal Marx a bit over the word: “I must compliment Cardinal Marx because he always pronounces the word (dahoam) so well.”

The Holy Father took the occasion to recall his homeland. Bavarian culture is “a joyful culture.” It is not “rowdy” but it is “full of fun.” Anyone who has been to an Oktober Fest in Munich will have a suspicion of what this means.  Of the Bavarians, Benedict says, “we are not a boorish people.” He does not mean “amusement,” that they merely amuse themselves. The people are “joyful.”

Benedict then reflects on why this joyful characteristic might be present in Bavaria.  “The joyfulness of the Bavarian culture is based on the fact that we are in tune with Creation.” That is an expression mindful of the English title of one of Josef Pieper’s books: A Theory of Festivity: In Tune with the World.  The good is ultimately “a person.” This is where true joy can only be located.

For the Bavarians, Benedict adds, there is joy that God gave them a very beautiful land.  In such a place, it is easier to recognize the grandeur and goodness of God. But God did not just give the Bavarians a naturally beautiful land. Following the admonition of Genesis, He expected them to make it more beautiful. Benedict puts it this way: “Through the culture of the people, through their faith, their joy, their songs, their music and art it has become beautiful because the Creator did not want to make it beautiful by himself, but also with the help of men and women.”

This remark embodies a fundamental approach of Catholicism. The world is great and lovely in itself, but it is not “complete” by itself. What was good was open to becoming better, more beautiful, if men would engage themselves in its possibilities to carry out God’s purpose in creating them within this cosmos, this world, and all its parts.

The Pope then wonders whether it is all right to be happy and joyful when there is so much misery and evil in the world. His answer is: “Yes.” Why? “Because in saying ‘no’ to joy we render no service to anyone, we would only make the world darker.” If we have to wait till everyone is happy, till all the sins are forgiven and all the ills cured, we will never understand what the world is about now.

Benedict adds: “Anyone who does not love himself is unable to give anything to his neighbor, he cannot help him, he cannot be a messenger of peace. We know this from faith and we see it every day: the world is beautiful and God is good.” The commandment tells us that we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, as if we are ourselves gifts of God who do not create but only received the goodness we are initially given. This understanding is why there is something terrible about that kind of self-love that finds in itself only itself and not signs of a reality that is more than oneself. No one can really think that he is the cause of his own being, of what is.

In addition, we have the Incarnation. God has dwelt amongst us. Christ “suffered and lived within us, we know once and for all and every day: yes, God is good and it is good to be a person. We live from this joy and starting from this joy we also try to bring joy to others, to repel evil and to be servants of peace and reconciliation.” Thus, the evil and suffering that we know is itself taken up by and in the Godhead through Christ’s passion. The end of this passion is the joy of resurrection. This is a profound way of telling us that it is all right to be joyful even midst the suffering and sorrow. We are to say of what is lovely what it is “lovely,” even when we know disorders in the world and in our souls. The latter, the disorders, are ultimately ordered to the former, to joy.

So the Pope recalls his homeland for an evening in the Italian hills. He mentions each of the areas of Bavaria familiar to him: “Lower Bavaria as far as the Oberlarnd, from the Rupertigau Region to the Werdenfelser Land.” He thanked the lady announcer for speaking Bavarian so well. “I do not think that I could speak Bavarian and at the same time so ‘uplifting.’” He thanks those who played the “wind instruments” before recalling the distant shots of the marksmen. Actually, Google also provides examples of these marksmen shots that the Pope heard in the distance.

Finally, to an Italian cardinal present for the evening, Cardinal Bertello. Benedict says: “I hope you also felt that Bavaria is beautiful and that the Bavarian culture is beautiful.” Such is the price a Pope like John Paul II and Benedict pays. The memories of their homeland are not lost on them; yet they are there in the hills of Rome where the Lord wants them to be. They are dahoam (at home) in both places when they hear songs of their land. Yet no one is in a lasting city; however beautiful God and men have made Bavaria to be. Benedict knows this truth also.

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About James V. Schall, S.J. 180 Articles
James V. Schall, S.J. (1928-2019) taught political philosophy at Georgetown University for many years until retiring in 2012. He was the author of over thirty books and countless essays on philosophy, theology, education, morality, and other topics. His of his last books included On Islam: A Chronological Record, 2002-2018 (Ignatius Press, 2018) and The Politics of Heaven and Hell: Christian Themes from Classical, Medieval, and Modern Political Philosophy (Ignatius, 2020).