Homily for the Requiem Mass for Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI.
St.Peter’s Cathedral, Lancaster.
Tuesday 10th January 2023.
He died on the morning of 31st December 2022, as a consequence of which, the New Year news headlines were dedicated to a man of Faith; Fireworks took second place for once.
He completed 95 years in this world, having lived through some of the most violent events of the last century.
He was ordained to the Sacred Priesthood in 1951. His years of service to the Church included him having a significant place in the Second Vatican Council. His most productive years have been intent on the Church retaining a clear and balanced understanding of the work of that Council.
I have no intention to give any sort of ‘potted’ biography of Pope Emeritus, Benedict. Enough can be found elsewhere and is widely available. In any case, a ‘potted’ biography is hardly a worthy offering for such a figure. What I do intend to express is the Church’s debt of thanks to God for having given us such a Servant, Shepherd and fellow Pilgrim in these times. It is fascinating to reflect on how the Lord works, calling such a man to such a vocation and ultimately to the highest Office. Given his simple origins, his natural shyness, and his preference to remain out of the public gaze, it could be considered cruel for him to be elected in succession to the late Pope Saint John-Paul II. But then, who else could have done it? In asking this, I am not thinking of his talents and outstanding ability as Theologian, nor of his unquestionable orthodoxy. I am thinking firstly of his humility, and the depth of his love for Christ.
The Letter to the Hebrews mentions the place of suffering in the Christian vocation. Indeed, there is genuine suffering in accepting leadership in the Church. It is the suffering spoken of by Our Blessed Lord when He talked to Saint Peter of how someone would tie a rope around him and lead him in a way he would rather not go. But such suffering can be accepted even joyfully because it is accepted with awareness of what Our Lord has done for us, out of love for sinners. Even at 77years old, when most of us are well retired, those who love enough can accept this vocation to high office, leaving the rest of us ashamed of our lack of love, but also grateful for such an individual.
Benedict’s brief eight years as Pope were marked by his focus on the centrality of God’s love as revealed in Jesus Christ. He upheld the Tradition of the Church and the Teaching of the Magisterium, as well as speaking out on matters of Social Justice. He worked tirelessly for the Unity of the Church. The presence here this evening of so many leaders of other Christian Denominations and traditions is testament to the respect in which he and his work are held.
Throughout his life, Benedict served only one Master, the Lord Jesus Christ. As he met with crushing difficulties he could so easily, following the example of his predecessor, Pope Saint John-Paul, have hung on to the bitter end, come what may. He prayed about this and eventually came to a decision that sent shock-waves through the Church; he chose to resign the Petrine Office. This too became evidence of his humility and his courage.
There are those in the media, and sadly also in the Church, who tend to compare Pontiffs, as if trying to set one against the other. This was unfortunately the case with Pope Emeritus, Benedict, and his successor, Pope Francis. In fact, they are not rivals, but co-workers. Pope Francis is, in a real way, the gift of Benedict to the Church. Benedict’s final nine years carried no lessening of zeal or concern for the Church. His loyalty up to the end brings to mind the example of our late Queen, Elizabeth, a tireless, dedicated servant of Christ over so many decades of turbulent life. We have truly been blessed to witness these outstanding witnesses to Faith.
The remarkable Authority of Jesus, seen and spoken of in the Gospel, is with us still. It is not of human origin; it is Divine. Benedict has given us confidence in that. Over many years he has spoken of the Final Judgement we must all endure. He talked about how it should be approached as an experience of Hope rather than of fear. How can this be so? Because he believed in the Lord as a merciful Judge who longs to share the life of heaven with us. Also, because a life humbly lived can dispose us to receiving mercy. For those who have tried to serve God and remain true to His Teachings, for those who have acknowledged their sins and undertaken penance, for those who have accepted and even endured suffering as an opportunity to repay something of love’s debt, the Resurrection of Christ brings new life.
We thank God for Benedict and all that he has left us for guidance on our way.
We pray for him and offer Mass for the repose of his soul because this is what he would want of us.
Finally, I pause and reflect on my own life. How generously am I following Christ? As Benedict’s life served the Lord, so does his death. May he inspire each of us to live humbly, generously and joyfully trusting in God.
Bishop of Lancaster