Dear Pope Emeritus Benedict,I want to thank you for all you have done for the Church during your many long years of service — as a parish priest, theologian, archbishop, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and as pope. I am personally grateful for the role you played in strengthening my faith and enlightening my mind. While studying at Boston College, I was in a thick smog of religious relativism, aware that faith was important but unable to connect what was in my heart with what was in my head. Fortunately, someone gave me a copy of your book, “The Ratzinger Report: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church.” In your book, I found a clarity, a profundity and a willingness to speak the truth, even if unfashionable. I began to read more of your work. It all exhibited a deep learning drawing on Scripture, patristic authors, medieval thinkers and contemporary theologians. My favorite book of yours to recommend to people is “Salt of the Earth,” your book-length interview that covers all aspects of your life and the Church. You’ve left us such a profound legacy to be explored for years to come.When I was a graduate student at the University of Notre Dame, I had the chance to meet you in person. I attended your small Mass for a group of German pilgrims in the Vatican. After Mass, you knelt alone in prayerful thanksgiving. As you arose from prayer, I approached you. I wasn’t sure what to expect. At that time, you were the most well-known Catholic in the world, after only Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa. You had no entourage, no security, and you seemed shy. I introduced myself and then you asked about me. I’m sure you must have had much to do, but you took your time and commented generously about my academic undertakings. You took your leave, and I left even more impressed. Later, I learned that after many years of service, you asked Pope John Paul II if you could step down from your position in the Vatican. It seems you were anxious for the peaceful, quiet life of a scholar. Pope John Paul asked you to continue, and you said yes. You came back a few years later, and asked Pope John Paul again if you could step down to live a life of prayer and contemplation. He again asked you to continue, and you said yes. Years later, after some 25 years of service, you asked a third time. He asked you to continue still longer, and you said yes. After the death of Pope John Paul II, you thought that your long delayed retirement from public work had at last arrived. I imagine you hoped for peace, tranquility and an end to the endless meetings. But your fellow cardinals in the conclave voted for you to continue your active and public work for the Church, indeed to make your work much more active and immeasurably more public. They waited in silence as you were asked, “Do you accept your canonical election as Supreme Pontiff?” You said yes. As pope, you continued to serve the whole People of God in so many wonderful ways. For example, you appointed so many outstanding bishops — including my own Archbishop José Gomez in Los Angeles. Although you are not one who by nature enjoys being in the spotlight, you traveled some 60,000 miles on 24 trips to six continents to communicate the Gospel. You continued also to write such eloquent and important works to confirm the faith of your brothers and sisters in Christ. I think especially of your beautiful encyclical “God is Love,” and your three-volume work, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Once you were asked, “Are there many ways to God or only one?” Your answer was, “There are as many ways to God as there are people.” I am so grateful because you have helped me on my own way to God, by what you have written and by what you have done. I am a better husband, father and teacher because of you. Even in leaving the chair of St. Peter, you taught me yet again, a lesson in humility and courage. You listened to God’s call in prayer and were willing to do what God asked you to do, even though it had not been done in almost 600 years. Yet again, you said yes. Thank you, Holy Father Emeritus. May God continue to richly bless you. Dr. Christopher Kaczor is acting chair and Professor of Philosophy at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, and the author of “The Seven Big Myths about the Catholic Church.”{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/0315/kaczor/{/gallery}