My Brother the Pope by Fr. Georg Ratzinger, Michael Hesemann

(San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011), 278

I spent the week after Pope Benedict's passing reading this beautiful memoir his brother wrote about their lives together. The portrait of the Ratzinger's early life reads like an instruction manual for how to raise saints (and popes!): prayer and the liturgy was central to their family life, and it was natural for them to envision themselves as priests. The closeness of the family throughout their lives is beautiful: parents living with their children in their old age, their sister living with Joseph in Rome, and when finally it was just the two brothers left their continued devotion to each other. The Joseph Ratzinger displayed by his brother is kind and sensitive and docile to the Lord's will.




  • Rheinberger's Mass in F-minor (44)
  • "Das Lied von der Glocke" (45)
  • "Attolite Portas" by Caspar Ett (49)
  • Mozart's Requiem Mass (109)
  • Mozart's C-Minor Mass (110)
  • Bach Passions (110)
  • Bach's B-Minor Mass (110)
  • Haydn's Masses (110), Lord Nelson Mass (166)
  • Ave Verum by Mozart


by Michael Hesemann

  • "In his life. Joseph Ratzinger, too, has always given everything so as to receive unintentionally so much more from the Lord in return. So this book might encourage young men in particular who are toying with the idea of setting out on the path to the priesthood and following their vocation despite all the interior and external obstacles. It is a path rich in blessings that gives much more in return precisely to those who expect nothing and give their all." (14)
  • "Where God is, there is the future." (15, cf. Pope Benedict XVI in Sep-2011)

Chapter 1: Roots

Summary: The roots of the young Ratzinger family.

  • Their mother's warmth (singing Marian hymns while washing the dishes) compensated for their father's strictness (21)
  • Father: "He always told us when something was wrong, but he never scolded us unnecessarily and reprimanded us only when we really deserved it." (28)
  • "Our mother always used to say that the best time for her was when the children were still small." (31)
  • "If God speaks to us in history through signs, then perhaps also through this one: Marktl is 18.5 miles from Braunau; it is also 18.5 miles between Wadowice, the birthplace of Blessed John Paul II, and the concentration camp Auschwitz. Wadowice, too, had its nearby Marian shrine, the Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, only 12.5 miles away, with its "weeping" icon of the Mother of God. Both popes, therefore, were born in immediate proximity to places that symbolize, like no others, the rise and inhumane cruelty of National Socialism. Yet the two birthplaces are likewise under the protection of the Mother of God, who always vanquishes evil." (32)

Chapter 2: Marktl (1925-1929)

Summary: Joseph is born, and this tells of the spirituality of their young family.

  • Joseph Ratzinger was born at 4:15 a.m. on Holy Saturday, and baptized at 8:30 a.m. at the Easter Vigil..."'On the threshold of Easter, but not yet through the door' (SE 42) became from then on the metaphor for his whole life, which from the very beginning was thus immersed in the Paschal mystery." (38)
  • Spiritual Disciplines: "Praying The Rosary was a usual thing in our family, often daily,, but at least every Saturday...most often Father led the prayers." (43)

This piety, which was lived and put into practice, defined our whole life, even though today I celebrate only one Mass and refrain from going to a second one. Nevertheless, it was imparted to us as children in the cradle, so to speak, and we remained faithful to it throughout our lives.

I am convinced that the lack of this traditional piety in many families is also a reason why there are too few priestly vocations today. Many people in our time practice a form of atheism rather than the Christian faith. In some respects, they may maintain a sort of vestigial religiosity; perhaps they still go to Mass on the major feast days, but this rudimentary faith long ago ceased to permeate their lives, and it has no bearing on their everyday routine. It starts with sitting down at table and beginning a meal without even thinking about prayer, and it ends with no longer coming to church regularly on Sundays. Thus, an almost pagan way of life has taken root. If there are no religious practices even in family life, then this has an effect on all the rest of human life. I often speak with brother priests, and in almost all cases it seems that they prayed regularly as a family and went to Mass together. This then shaped their whole lives and directed them toward God. Thus, their vocation fell on fertile soil.

  • "Confession is the most generous offer of grace that God can possibly make us...monthly confession is certainly right and necessary for everyone." (48)
  • "The course of the whole year was defined for us by the church holidays."
  • "The Mother of God was always with us in our house." (50)

Chapter 3: Tittmoning (1929-1932)

Summary: The family moved to Tittmoning until just before Hitler came to power, when they had to move.

  • Benedictine priest Anselm Schott published the first "Missal for Laymen" in 1884, known as a Schott: "Thus we were introduced step by step into the mystery of the liturgy, about which we became more and more enthusiastic as we matured." (63)

The driver stopped, and the door did not open until Father, as the police officer of the place, who on this occasion wore his freshly cleaned uniform with polished saber, helmet, and belt, finally opened it wide. Then the Cardinal climbed out with great dignity and surveyed the crowd with a majestic glance. That made an extraordinary impression on us all, while my brother laconically noted, "I'll be a cardinal someday!" A few days later, our apartment was painted. The painter did the job so skillfully that my brother at first watched, utterly fascinated, and then announced to us: "I'll be a painter someday, too." (68)

Chapter 4: Aschau (1932-1937)

Summary: The Nazis commence their takeover of everyday life, including the schools. Joseph makes his first communion.

  • "As brothers, Joseph and I were one heart and one soul" (76), and they enjoyed playing priest (78)
  • Describes the Nazi takeover of the schools, displacement of the faith, and indoctrination of ethnic heritage (85)

Chapter 5: Traunstein (1937-1946)

Summary: Joseph father retires from the police force, and the family moves to a simple farmhouse in Traunstein which becomes the family home.

  • The family moves to a simple country farmhouse—a "paradise beyond our wildest dreams" (cf. Milestones bib)—no running water, woods right behind the house, an abandoned shed to read in, and a plot of land the size of a "good day's work" (92)
  • Their father had a radio to receive news other than Nazi propaganda
  • Learning Latin: "For the rest of his life he would be grateful that he had learned the language of the Church with old-fashioned rigor and thoroughness" (95, cf. Milestones)
  • "He had the impression that a Classical Education and grappling with the intellectual world of antiquity made a person immune to the Brownshirts." (95)
  • "Sacrifice brought them all together": Their father spent 25% of his income on seminary for his sons (101)
  • Boarding school seminary Daily Routine:
    • 5:20 rise
    • 5:40 Mass, study, breakfast
    • 7:30 walk to school, classes
    • Midday meal, sports
    • 3:00 study hall
    • 4:00 coffee break
    • 4:55 classes
    • 7:00 evening meal
    • 8:05 spiritual reading, evening prayer
  • "He used every spare minute to read" (121)

Chapter 6: Freising and Fürstenried (1946-1951)

Summary: Due to the war the brothers are at the same stage academically and enter the seminary and are ordained priests on June 29, 1951.

  • "I was always a bit sorry whenever I heard that a boy was an only child. I have always been grateful to the good Lord that he set me on my path through life with siblings and that I was born into an intact family." (138-139, having lots of kids)
  • "The pastor loaned my brother, who was starving for reading material, a whole series of books about theology and philosophy" (141, a problem I am grateful to not have! cf How I Choose What to Read)
  • "As we entered the seminary building, a young man wearing a white "Roman collar" (a characteristic sign of a cleric) crossed our path; he was carrying a whole stack of books, which he held down with his chin so they did not fall to the floor. Immediately we knew we were in the right place." (143)
  • "It happens rather often in life that timidity is mistaken for conceitedness." (147)
  • Focus: "In everything he did, he showed the utmost concentration whether he was studying, working, or talking with me, he never let himself be distracted by something else. He learned constantly; he was constantly hungry for new knowledge. Whenever I saw him, he was reading; he used every minute to learn. And he was always very orderly, very well organized. As you see, his diligence paid off." (149)
  • Crime and Punishment "went to the heart of the central question of those days" (150)
  • Der Umbruch des Denkens (The revolution of thought) by Steinbüchel "became key reading for Joseph Ratzinger, who made the title his motto." (150)
  • The seminarians distinguished the brothers by calling them "Bücher-Ratz" (Bookish-Ratz) and "Orgel-Ratz" (Organ-Ratz)
  • What they read in seminary included: Alois Dempf, Sacred Signs and The Lord by Romano Guardini, Christ the Archetype of Man by Michal Schmaus, The Parish Priest by Joseph Bernhart (151)
  • Joseph Ratzinger was "enthusiastic about St. Augustine from the start", reading Confessions, City of God, De Trinitate (his theological masterpiece), and De doctrinia christiana (152)
  • Joseph Ratzinger's theology is founded upon Sacred Scripture and the Fathers of the Church; he wrote a thesis on Augustine that won a prize (158)
  • "I was convinced, I myself don't know how, that God wanted something from me that could be attained only by my becoming a priest." (159, cf. Salt of the Earth)
  • Ordination: "For what can be more beautiful that to come before the living God and to serve him—and thereby to serve mankind as well?" (164)

Chapter 7: Professor (1951-1977)

Summary: Ratzinger becomes a professor and teaches in Bonn, Münster, Tübingen, Regensburg.

  • The pastor of the parish that was Ratzinger's first parish was a model priest for him, who died while bringing the sacraments to a dying person (174)
  • Joseph Ratzinger's essay from when he was a young priest: The New Pagans and the Church
  • "We always spent our vacation in place we wanted to see, where we could become a little better informed and educated." (177)
  • Ratzinger completed his habilitation (second dissertation to become a professor) on the topic of "Saint Bonaventure's Concept of Revelation and Theology of History", his parents moved in with him, he had difficulty getting his habilitation approved, but was finally at age 29 a professor
  • At Bonn, Ratzinger meets Joseph Cardinal Frings who brings him along with him to Vatican II
    • Frings asked him to prepare a talk for him, which was excellent. When Frings confided in the Pope that it was Ratzinger that prepared it rather than him, Pope John XXIII responded that others always drafted documents for him and the only thing that mattered was finding the right advisors (191 re Leadership)
  • The "Holy Office" succeeded the Roman Inquisition, and was replaced with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which Ratzinger would go on to lead
  • Ratzinger helped co-author Lumen Gentium, and then had to stand against Hans Küng who tended toward a Marxist doctrine of salvation

Chapter 8: Cardinal (1977-2005)

Summary: Ratzinger is shocked to be appointed Archbishop of Munich and Freising, appointed a cardinal three months later by Pope Paul VI, and then summoned to Rome by John Paul II.

  • Ratzinger is appointed bishop, takes the motto Co-workers of the Truth, and emblazons his coat of arms with the Moor of Freising (a sign of the universality of the Church), a shell (a sign of man's pilgrimage and connected to Augustine's story about the mystery of the Trinity), and the bear of Saint Corbinian (who carried the saint's things to Rome after it mauled his horse)
  • John Paul II was hosted by Ratzinger in Munich, and summoned him a year later to Rome to be the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1982
  • "John Paul II, who had read every single Ratzinger book in the original language and was much better acquainted with the German than the latter was with him, demonstrated excellent leadership qualities with his choice. Ratzinger complemented him perfectly and embodied everything that he was not. For no two men could have been more different than the athletic Pole and the delicate German. The charismatic, extroverted "John Paul Superstar" was a "pope you can touch" who wanted to embrace the whole world--whereas Ratzinger was always a quiet, introverted individual, a timid man with a fine intellect who shied away from publicity. The one was a mystic and a poet, the other a theologian and an analytic mind. The great heart of the Church and her razor-sharp intellect: the weaknesses of the one were the strengths of the other." (217)
  • "When Ratzinger wrote, he wrote the clean copy immediately, without having to revise it even once, such was his concentration on what he was doing. In a certain way he is a genius." (217, re Focus)
  • "He never took himself too seriously, rose at 6 and went to bed at 10, speaks ten languages, abstained almost entirely from alcohol (People who don’t drink) but rather ordered orange juice, loved his flowerbeds and cats and piano, playing Mozart to relax" (217-218)
  • Those who didn't want to attack the charismatic John Paul II would go after Ratzinger: "God's watchdog", "Panzerkardinal", and the "Great Inquisitor" (220)
  • "Power, career, and influence had never interested him. His world was books, his goal: the exploration of truth; his life revolved around the faith...He is a man of prayer, one of the few who deserve the adjective 'God-fearing' and celebrate Mass with real fervor—a true priest" (221)
  • On vacation with his brother he always had a pile of work with him: they would celebrate mass together, have breakfast, work, have lunch, then go for a walk and have a relaxing afternoon (223)

Chapter 9: Pope (2005 to the present)

For again, as always in his life, it was someone else who led him where he really did not want to go. When Benedict XVI celebrated his first Mass as pope on the morning of April 20, 2005, he remembered his beloved predecessor once again. After the cardinals had elected him, he said, "I seemed to see his smiling eyes and hear his words, at this moment addressed specifically to me, 'Do not be afraid.'" A strong hand was clasping his and was now driving him on to complete what John Paul Il began: a Church that, according to Christ's teaching and example, "looks serenely at the past and is not afraid of the future".

Five days later, in his address to the German pilgrims who had come to his installation, he became even clearer and chose a telling metaphor: "When, little by little, the trend of the voting led me to understand that, to say it simply, the axe was going to fall on me, my head began to spin. I was convinced that I had already carried out my life's work and could look forward to ending my days peacefully. With profound conviction I said to the Lord: Do not do this to me! You have younger and better people at your disposal, who can face this great responsibility with greater dynamism and greater strength.

"I was then very touched by a brief note written to me by a brother Cardinal. He reminded me that on the occasion of the Mass for John Paul Il, I had based my homily, starting from the Gospel, on the Lord's words to Peter by the Lake of Gennesaret: 'Follow me!' I spoke of how again and again, Karol Wojtyla received this call from the Lord, and how each time he had to renounce much and to simply say: Yes, I will follow you, even if you lead me where I never wanted to go. This brother Cardinal wrote to me: Were the Lord to say to you now, 'Follow me', then remember what you preached. Do not refuse! Be obedient in the same way that you described the great Pope, who has returned to the house of the Father. This deeply moved me. The ways of the Lord are not easy, but we were not created for an easy life, but for great things, for goodness." (232-233)

Topic: Pope Benedict XVI



file:(2023-01-07-My Brother the Pope)

Created: 2022-12-31-Sat
Updated: 2023-02-27-Mon