COMMEMORATION MASS IN HONOUR
OF THE POPES PAUL VI AND JOHN PAUL I
HOMILY OF CARDINAL JOSEPH RATZINGER
Altar of the Chair, St Peter’s Basilica
Tuesday, 28 September 2004
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In the Opening Prayer and in the Prayer after Communion, the liturgy offers us an interpretation of the Petrine Ministry that also appears as a spiritual portrait of the two Popes, Paul VI and John Paul I, in whose memory we are celebrating this Mass.
The Opening Prayer says that the Popes “in the love of Christ… presided over your Church”, and the Prayer after Communion asks the Lord to grant the Supreme Pontiffs, his servants, “to enter… into full possession of the truth, in which, with apostolic courage, they have strengthened their brethren”.
Love and truth thus appear as the two poles of the mission entrusted to the Successors of St Peter.
Presiding over the Church in the love of Christ: one recalls in the context of these words, “presiding in love”, St Ignatius’ letter to the Church of Rome, which the holy martyr who came from Antioch recognized as the principal Chair of St Peter. His letter continues by saying that the Church of Rome “is in the law of Christ”; here he mentions St Paul’s words in his Letter to the Galatians: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so you will fulfil the law of Christ” (6: 2).
Presiding in charity means first and foremost to preside “in the love of Christ”.
Let us remember at this point the fact that the definitive conferral of the Primacy upon Peter after the Resurrection is linked to the question the Lord repeated three times: “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” (Jn 21: 15ff.). Tending Christ’s flock and loving the Lord are the same thing. It is Christ’s love that guides the sheep on the right path and builds the Church.
At this point we cannot but think of Paul VI’s momentous Discourse inaugurating the Second Session of the Second Vatican Council. “Te, Christe, solum novimus” were the determining words of this Homily.
The Pope spoke of the mosaic in St Paul-Outside-the-Walls, with the great figure of the Pantocrator and Pope Honorius III lying prostrate at his feet, a tiny figure, almost insignificant before the greatness of Christ.
The Pope continued: This scene is repeated here with its full impact at our gathering. This was his vision of the Council, and also of the Primacy: all of us at Christ’s feet, to be servants of Christ, to serve the Gospel: the essence of Christianity is Christ – not a doctrine, but a person – and evangelizing means guiding people to friendship with Christ, to the communion of love with the Lord who is the true light in our lives.
Presiding in charity means, let us repeat, presiding in the love of Christ. But love of Christ implies knowledge of Christ: bearing one another’s burdens, as St Paul says.
The Primacy in its intimate essence is not an exercise of power, but in “bearing the burdens of others”; it is a responsibility of love.
Love is exactly the opposite of indifference to the other person, it cannot admit that the flame of Christ’s love be extinguished in the other, that friendship and knowledge of the Lord should fade, lest “the cares of the world and the delight in riches choke the word” (Mt 13: 22).
And finally: Christ’s love is love for the poor and the suffering. We know well that our Popes were strongly committed to fighting against injustice and for the rights of the oppressed and the weak. Christ’s love is not something individualistic, solely spiritual: it concerns the flesh, it concerns the world, and it must transform the world.
Lastly, presiding in charity concerns the Eucharist, which is the real presence of love incarnate, the presence of the Body of Christ offered for us. The Eucharist builds the Church, it builds this great network of communion that is the Body of Christ and thereby creates charity.
It is in this spirit that with the living and the dead we are celebrating Holy Mass – the sacrifice of Christ from which the gift of charity derives.
Love would be blind without the truth. Consequently, the one who must preside in love receives from the Lord the promise: “Simon, Simon… I have prayed that your own faith may not fail” (Lk 22: 32).
The Lord sees that Satan wants to “sift all of you like wheat” (Lk 22: 31). While this trial involves all the disciples, Christ prays in a special way “for you”; for the faith of Peter and upon this prayer is founded the mission to “strengthen your brothers”.
Peter’s faith is not a result of his own efforts; the constancy of his faith is founded on the prayer of Jesus, the Son of God: “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail”.
Jesus’ prayer endures as the firm foundation of Peter’s role for ever and ever, and the Prayer after Communion can rightly say that the Supreme Pontiffs, Paul VI and John Paul I, strengthened their brethren “with apostolic courage”.
In a time when we are seeing how Satan “sifts” the disciples of Christ “like wheat”, the steadfast faith of the Popes has visibly been the rock on which the Church stands.
“For I know that my Redeemer lives”, are the words in the First Reading of our liturgy from the text of Job – he says them at a time of extreme trial; he says them while God is hiding and seems hostile to him. Veiled in suffering, knowing neither his name nor his face, Job “knows” that his Redeemer is alive, and this certainty is his great consolation in the darkness of trial.
Jesus Christ lifted the veil that for Job covered the face of God: Yes, our Redeemer lives, “and we all, with unveiled face, reflecting as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness”, says St Paul (cf. II Cor 3: 18).
Our Redeemer lives, he has a face and a name: Jesus Christ. And our “eyes will behold him”; we are assured of this by our late Popes, and thus they guide us “towards full possession of the truth”, strengthening us in faith in our Redeemer. Amen.