Allen, some of you might remember, is a former high school teacher (who left high school teaching about the same time I did…and now he’s in Rome and I’m in….never mind.), and I particularly appreciated his appreciative analogy of Benedict’s way of speaking with the young to the best kind of teachers:
Despite the fact that professional pedagogues spend a lot of time worrying about whether material is "age-appropriate" or "relevant," somewhere along the line most people have had a teacher who stands out precisely because she or he refused to assume that young people are incapable of adult thought. They acted as if young people ought to be perfectly equipped to read Flaubert, or to do advanced calculus, or to master organic chemistry, and that faith often pushed their students beyond mediocrity.
These may not, by and large, be the teachers upon whom girls develop crushes, or that guys want to hang around with after school. They may not "bring down the house" at pep rallies or talent shows. But they generate respect, and in the end, deep affection, even if it’s a more subdued and thoughtful sort of emotion. Such teachers pay young people the compliment of not patronizing them.
After the 20th World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany, Pope Benedict XVI seems to be emerging as that kind of pope.
In a world of rapid-fire, MTV-style cutaways in television programs and movies, driven by the assumption that young people have limited attention spans and thus little capacity for following a line of thought, Pope Benedict made no apologies Sunday morning for veering into a lengthy exegesis of the Greek word proskynesis and the Latin adoratio. (He later tossed in a Hebrew term, beracha, to boot). He used words such as "positivism" and "transmute" without bothering to explain them, as if all one million young people from 197 countries standing in the Marienfeld plain Sunday morning ought to have scored 700 or better on the SAT verbal.
It’s quite likely that some portions of his Sunday morning homily will have sailed over the heads of part of his audience, especially since the majority heard most of it through translation, but that’s not quite the point. Many will come away inspired because this man, whom most of the World Youth Day participants regard as brilliant and holy, didn’t water his thinking down. He didn’t act as if he was saving his best stuff for someone else — he assumed these young people were capable of meaty content.