During my sophomore year of college, back in 2005, one of my history essays was on liberation theology. In the early drafts, I was pro-liberation theology (as I understood it), and against some Cardinal named Ratzinger, who I’d heard terrible things about. Before the final draft of the paper, my position had changed nearly 180 degrees.
Two things had happened. First, Ratzinger had become Pope Benedict XVI, and I’d come to learn a lot more about him. I liked what I was seeing in terms of his personal holiness, and when the judgment of the Holy Spirit is behind him, it’s hard to argue.
Second, and more importantly, I discovered his Instruction on Certain Aspects of “Theology of Liberation”. The Instruction was such a devastatingly accurate critique that my mind was changed immediately. I can even point to the paragraph that cut me to the quick. It’s paragraph 3 of part VI, after he finishes praising those Christians who are helping the poor:
The feeling of anguish at the urgency of the problems cannot make us lose sight of what is essential nor forget the reply of Jesus to the Tempter: “It is not on bread alone that man lives, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4; cf. Deuteronomy 8:3). Faced with the urgency of sharing bread, some are tempted to put evangelization into parentheses, as it were, and postpone it until tomorrow: first the bread, then the Word of the Lord. It is a fatal error to separate these two and even worse to oppose the one to the other. In fact, the Christian perspective naturally shows they have a great deal to do with one another.
I’d been so sold on the false notion that liberal Catholics care about the poor, while conservative Catholics only care about doctrine that I’d been struggling to figure out where I fit in the Church. Ratzinger answered the question for me: I wanted to be where he was.