The following comes from a Feb. 11 posting on Whispers in the Loggia.

Since stepping away, the now Pope-emeritus has broadly held to his plan for his retirement to be spent “hidden from the world.” From his base in the former Mater Ecclesiae convent in the Vatican Gardens, Benedict – who’ll be 87 in April – is said to spend his days with the books he once called his “old friends,” still engaged in theological study, though he’s not expected to write again. A midday walk in the Vatican Gardens is often followed by time at the piano. Company does come, but the invitations tend to be limited to a relatively tight circle of longtime allies, who can be sufficiently trusted to not leak what he says.

The mail is another story, however. A lengthy letter Benedict wrote an atheist author last November was published in La Repubblica with his consent, and in yesterday’s edition of the leftist daily, it emerged that Ratzinger had resumed correspondence with Hans Kung, his colleague-turned-rival of half a century, who he famously hosted for dinner months after his election.

Reading from a note dated January 24th in a Repubblica interview, Kung quoted Benedict as saying that “I’m grateful to be linked by a great identity [sic] of views and a friendship of the heart with Pope Francis. I now see supporting his pontificate in prayer as my only and final work.”

For his part, Kung lauded his old friend for “thinking more of the destiny of the church than of any regard for himself.”

Even as the notion of a new book from his pen has repeatedly been nixed, one forthcoming volume should be of high interest: Peter Seewald, the once atheist German journalist who became Ratzinger’s favorite interviewer over the course of three book-length conversations (most recently in 2010), is set to release a biography of the 265th Pope. According to Italian reports, the work will be published by the LEV, the Vatican publishing house. While Seewald returned to Castel Gandolfo to roll more tape with Benedict in summer 2012, those exchanges remain unpublished.

To mark the anniversary, Ratzinger’s closest aide – Archbishop Georg Gänswein, who remains Benedict’s live-in private secretary as well as prefect of the Papal Household – has been on a media blitz which has included defenses of the often-misunderstood, frequently-fraught last pontificate. In a weekend conversation with Reuters, Don Giorgio said that for B16, “the measure of one’s work, of one’s way of doing things, is not what the mass media write but what is just before God and before conscience…. And, if it is fair, history in the end will reflect this.”

Having regained his old form after a rough patch immediately following his departure from Peter’s Chair, Benedict is only known to have left the Vatican once since his return in May, going to Rome’s Gemelli Policlinic in early January to visit his brother, Msgr Georg Ratzinger, who had fallen ill while visiting with his lone surviving sibling. (A German TV special to mark the Papstbruder-emeritus’ 90th birthday last month featured a brief chat between Benedict and the program’s host.)

Likened by his successor to “a wise grandpop living at home,” the retired pontiff swapped Christmas visits with Francis, who treated him to lunch at the Domus. Knowing his predecessor’s special affection for the papacy’s “Camp David” in the Alban Hills, last summer Francis reportedly invited Benedict to stay at Castel Gandolfo whenever he wished, but Papa Ratzinger declined, instead encouraging the new pontiff to make it his own. (Francis, of course, himself shirked the villa, preferring to spend the summer in Rome’s oppressive heat. The move drained the Alban village of much of the Pope-driven summer tourism on which the local economy heavily relies.)

When it comes to drawing back, though, perhaps no commitment was tougher for Benedict to give up than the Schülerkreis, Ratzinger’s annual summer seminar and reunion with his doctoral students, whose last edition took place without him for the first time in nearly four decades. As the late-August gathering was still held at Castel – its 2013 focus on “The question of God in the context of secularization” – the Doktorvater welcomed his students to the Vatican for a morning Mass.

The homily that day made for Benedict’s most extensive public utterance since resigning, and perhaps the most pointed. A true Christian must “the last in the opinion of the world,” he said, because “he who in this world and [its] history is perhaps pushed ahead and arrives in the first places must know he is in danger, he must look at the Lord more, measure himself to Him, measure himself to the responsibility of the other, he must become one who serves, one who in reality is seated at the feet of the other.”

Going on to “Christ, the Son of God, came down to serve us and this is the essence of God, which consists in bending down to us,” the Pope-emeritus added that humiliation is “elevation,” making “the Cross… in reality, the true exaltation.”

As most of B16’s few post-resignation appearances have been alongside his successor, he’s widely expected to be present with Francis on 27 April, as the Pope canonizes Blesseds John XXIII and John Paul II.

To read the entire posting, click here.