The Passing of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
- Posted by Apostolic Nunciature Canada
- On January 6, 2023
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Homily of the Apostolic Nuncio
Mass in Thanksgiving for the Life and Ministry of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
Notre Dame Cathedral-Basilica, Ottawa
January 5, 2023
Dear Archbishop Damphousse and brother Bishops,
Distinguished Representatives of the Public Authorities,
Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Leaders and Members of Faith Communities,
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
At the inauguration of his ministry as Supreme Pastor of the Church in April of 2005, commenting upon the Gospel that has just been proclaimed among us, Benedict XVI had this to say: “One of the basic characteristics of a shepherd must be to love the people entrusted to him, even as he loves Christ whom he serves. “Feed my sheep”, says Christ to Peter, and now, at this moment, he says it to me as well. Feeding means loving, and loving also means being ready to suffer.” (cf. Homily at Inaugural Mass – April 25, 2005). Throughout his Pontificate, Benedict XVI returned often to this this intimate and necessary connection between love and service, both in his words and in his example.
As a scholar much acquainted with the life and writing of St. Augustine, Benedict would have been familiar with Augustine’s words about the power of love even at its most natural level: Pondus meum, amor meus – my love is my weight; where it goes, I go. Love is an affirmation of the intrinsic value of life itself and it is love that motivates a person to make progress, to find value and significance in giving of oneself, both for the benefits that come from such giving, as well as for the benefits that such loving confers upon others. Only from such a love can our lives grow and flourish. For disciples, because Christ has shown us how to love by the giving of his life, we can say as St. Paul says: Caritas Christi urget nos – the love of Christ urges us on! (cf. 2 Cor 5:14)
In that first encyclical, Deus caritas est – God is Love, Pope Benedict affirmed with St. John, that God is love, and this love, embedded in our human nature, is capable of drawing us closer towards God and one another.
We saw this love manifest in the different seasons of the life of the late Pope emeritus. It was communicated within his family in Bavaria characterized by a deep liturgical piety. This love would surface in his discernment of a vocation to the priesthood and after ordination, upon the direction of his superiors, to a life of study and teaching.
As a priest, he served as a theological advisor at the Second Vatican Council and, after the Council ended, he remained one of its most authoritative proponents, constantly emphasizing the importance of seeing the Council not as a disruption from tradition, but a natural continuation of the millennia-old tradition of the Catholic Church. He always taught that at the heart of the Council was a call to a deeper ecclesial communion and for individual believers, a call to holiness of life as the correct and necessary prelude to witness and evangelization in an ever-changing social and cultural milieu.
In another expression of love and obedience, he gave up his academic career and accepted the appointment as Archbishop of Munich before proceeding to Rome to carry out his service as Prefect of what is now the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith. In that capacity, he assisted Pope St. John Paul II in the carrying out of his teaching office. In the latter years of St. John Paul’s life, Benedict expressed his desire to retire to Bavaria and to a life of study and writing, but once again, love constrained him to remain in service to the Church universal, a task he carried out until the momentous days of April 2005.
Many wondered how the shy and retiring professor and curial Prefect would fare in his new office as Successor of Peter. He had no misgivings, conscious of his own shortcomings, “a humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord”, as he described himself upon the balcony of St. Peter’s on the day of his election.
But what a great gift he was to the Church! He was received enthusiastically by young people at the World Youth Days in Cologne, Sydney and Madrid. Who can forget the poignant images of Benedict visiting Auschwitz, the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, and Ground Zero in New York. Here in Canada, we recall Benedict’s encounter with leaders and representatives of First Nations communities, how moved he was to sorrow at their testimony. There was the Year of St. Paul, the Year of Priests and the Year of Faith, during these, he provided a wealth of theological and spiritual teaching and commentary. And there were the three encyclical letters of his Pontificate, Deus caritas est, Spe Salvi, and Caritas in veritate.
Finally, it was love, love of God and love for the Church, that compelled Benedict to do something that had not been done in six hundred years, to renounce the Office of Successor of Peter! He showed great humility in this decision which was, as it were, a re-echo of the Baptist – “He must increase and I must decrease.” (cf. John 3:30).
What is the legacy of Benedict? Yesterday morning at his Wednesday General Audience, Pope Francis said: “I would like us to join with those [in St. Peter’s] who are paying tribute to Benedict XVI and address my thoughts to him, who was a great master of catechesis. His sharp and graceful thinking was not self-referential, but ecclesial, because he always wanted to accompany us to the encounter with Jesus. Jesus, the risen Crucified One, the Living One and the Lord, was the goal to which Pope Benedict led us, taking us by the hand. May he help us to rediscover in Christ the joy of believing and the hope of living.” (cf. General Audience, January 4, 2023).
Benedict reaffirmed the relationship between faith and reason, always trying to present the perennial truth of the Gospel to the today’s world, characterized by rapid material affluence in some quarters, and material and spiritual poverty and social injustice in others; scientific and technological achievements on the one hand, but often at the cost of human welfare be it religious, cultural or social, on the other. Throughout his pontificate, he offered deep insights in the worlds of culture, governance, international relations as well as to the ecumenical and interreligious dialogue.
In his Spiritual Testament he reiterated this conviction: “I have seen and continue to see how the reasonableness of faith has emerged and is emerging again… Jesus Christ is truly the way, the truth, and the life – and the Church, with all her insufficiencies, is truly her body.” And as he rightly noted in the Year of St. Paul, how the conversion of the Apostle did not mean a narrowing of his life but an expansion, likewise, Benedict’s confession of faith in Christ never closed him off from the world, but enabled him to embrace people of other faith traditions and people of good will the world over. These too, he regarded with deepest respect and love.
Yes, the weight of love took Benedict, as it took Peter, to places he would have otherwise never gone, but through that love he sought to glorify God. In union with Pope Francis who, this morning, presided over the funeral of Pope Benedict XVI, we pray: “‘Father, into your hands we commend his spirit.’ Benedict, faithful friend of the Bridegroom may your joy be complete as you hear his voice, now and forever!”