Cardinal Ratzinger s wish for "a pastor that guides us to knowing Christ"
Apr 24, 2005
The homiliy of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in the church of Saint Peter in the Vatican, at the beginning of the conclave, April 18, 2005. By Joseph Ratzinger.
In this hour of great responsibility, we listen with special attention to what the Lord tells us in his own words. I would like to choose from each reading just a few passages that refer directly to us in a moment such as this.
The first reading offers a prophetic portrait of the figure of the Messiah -- a portrait that receives all its meaning from the moment that Jesus reads this text in the synagogue of Nazareth, when he says "Today this scripture passage is fulfilled." (Lk 4, 21). In the middle of this prophetic text we find a word that -- at least at first sight -- seems contradictory. The Messiah, speaking of Himself, says that He was sent to "announce a year of favour from the Lord and a day of vindication by our God." (Is 61:2). With joy, we hear the announcement of the year of favour: divine favour sets a limit to evil, the Holy Father told us. Jesus Christ is divine mercy in person: encountering Christ means encountering God's mercy; Christ's mandate becomes our mandate through priestly consecration; we are called to announce -- not only in words but with our life and with the effective signs of the sacraments, "the year of favour from the Lord." But what does Isaiah mean when he announces "the day of vindication by our God"? At Nazareth, in His reading of the prophetic text, Jesus did not say these words -- he ended off announcing the year of favour. Was this perhaps the reason for the scandal that developed after his sermon? We do not know. In any case, the Lord offered his authentic comment on these words with death on the Cross. "He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross...", says St Peter (1 Pet 2:24). And Saint Paul writes to the Galatians: "Christ ransomed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written, 'Cursed be everyone who hangs on a tree,' that the blessing of Abraham might be extended to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. (Gal 2:13).
Christ's mercy is not grace at a discount, it does not require the trivialization of evil. Christ bears in His body and His soul the entire burden of evil, its entire destructive power. He burns and transforms evil in his suffering, in the fire of this suffering love. The day of vindication and the year of favour coincide in the Paschal mystery, in the dead and Risen Christ. This is God's vindication: He Himself, in the person of the Son, suffers for us. The more we are touched by the Lord's mercy, the more we enter into solidarity for his suffering -- we become willing to complete in our flesh "what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ." (Col 1:24).
Let us go to the second reading, the letter to the Ephesians, which essentially deals with three things: first, the ministries and the charismas of the Church, as gifts of the Risen Lord who has ascended into heaven; therefore, the maturing of faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, as condition and content of unity in Christ's body; and, finally, the shared participation in the growth of Christ's body, that is the transformation of the world in communion with the Lord.
Let us dwell on just two points. The first is the journey towards "the full stature of Christ" or, according to the Greek text, "the measure of Christ's fullness", which we are called to in order to be truly mature in faith. We should not remain infants in faith, in a state of minority. What does it mean to remain infants in faith? Saint Paul answers: it means being "tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching..." (Eph 4:14). A very topical description!
How many winds of teaching we have known in these last decades, how many ideologies, how many ways of thinking...The little vessel of thought of many Christians has often been rocked by these waves -- hurled from one extreme to another: from Marxism to liberalism, to the point of libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism and so forth. New sects are born every day and we see what Saint Paul says in terms of human trickery and cunning that tends to lead to error (cf Eph 4:14). To have a clear faith, according to the Creed of the Church, is often labelled as fundamentalism. While relativism, i.e. letting oneself be "swept along by any wind of doctrine", seems to be the only up-to-date way to behave. A dictatorship of relativism is taking shape which recognizes nothing as definite and for the ultimate measure is simply one's own self and its desires.
We, instead, have another measure: the Son of God, the true man. He is the measure of true humanism. "Mature" is not a faith that follows the waves of fashion and the latest novelty; of full stature and mature is a faith profoundly rooted in friendship with Christ. It is this friendship that opens us to all that is good and gives us the criteria for discerning between true and false, between trickery and truth. We must bring to maturity this adult faith, and we must guide Christ's flock to this faith. And it is this faith -- only faith -- that creates unity and is achieved in love. Saint Paul offers in this regard -- in contrast with the continuous vagaries of those who are like infants tossed by waves -- beautiful words: do the truth in love, as the fundamental formula of Christian existence. Truth and love coincide in Christ. To the extent that we get closer to Christ, even in our life, truth and love will merge. Love without truth would be blind; truth without love would be like "a clashing cymbal." (1 Cor:13-1).
Let us turn our attention now to the Gospel, from the richness of which I would like to extract just two small observations. The Lord addresses to us these wonderful words: "I no longer call you slaves ... I have called you friends" (Jn 15:15). Often we feel -- as is true -- that we are just useless servants (cf Lk 17, 10). And, despite this, the Lord calls us friends, He makes us His friends, He gives us His friendship. The Lord defines friendship in a twofold way. There are no secrets among friends: Christ tells us all that He heard from His Father; He trusts us fully and, with this trust, He also gives us knowledge. He reveals His face and His heart to us. He shows His tenderness for us, His passionate love which goes as far as the madness of the Cross. He entrusts Himself to us, He gives us the power to speak with his "I": "This is my body..." "I absolve you...". He entrusts His body, the Church, to us. He entrusts to our weak minds, our weak hands, His truth -- the mystery of God Father, Son and Holy Spirit; the mystery of God that "so loved the world that he gave his only Son" (Jn 3:16). He made us His friends -- and how to we reply?
The second element, with which Jesus defines friendship, is the communion of wills. "Idem velle -- idem nolle", this was also for the Ancient Romans the definition of friendship. " You are my friends if you do what I command you." (Jn 15:14). Christ's friendship coincides with what is expressed by the third request of the "Our Father": "Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven". In the hour of the Getsemane, Jesus transformed our human, rebellious will into a will that corresponds and unites with divine will. He suffered the whole drama of our autonomy -- and precisely by bringing our will into the hands of God, give us true freedom: "not as I will, but as you will" (Mt 26:39). Our redemption is achieved in this communion of will: being friends of Jesus, becoming friends of God. The more we love Jesus, the more we know Him, the more our true freedom grows, the joy of being redeemed grows. Thank you, Jesus, for your friendship!
The other element of the Gospel that I would like to dwell on is what Jesus says about bearing fruit: "I appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain" (Jn 15:16). Here appears the dynamic dimension of the existence of a Christian, of an apostle: I appointed you to go...
We must be imbued with a holy restlessness: the restlessness to bring to everyone the gift of faith, of Christ's friendship. In truth, God's love and friendship was given to us so that it reaches also others. We received faith in order to give it to others -- we are priests to serve others. And we must bear a fruit that remains. Everyone wants to leave a trace behind. But what remains? Money, no. Even buildings do not remain: nor do books. After a certain amount of time, more or less long, all these things disappear. All that rests, that rests eternally, is the human soul, man created by God for eternity. The fruit that remains is therefore that which we have sown in the soul of men -- love, knowledge, the gesture that can touch hearts, the word that opens the soul to the joy of the Lord. So then we go and pray the Lord, that He may help us to bear fruit, a fruit that remains. Only in this way can the earth be changed from a valley of tears to God's garden.
Let us return, once again, to the Letter to the Ephesians. The letter says, with the words of Psalm 68, that Christ, ascending to heaven, "gave gifts to men" (Eph 4:8). The vanquisher distributes gifts. And these gifts are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Our ministry is a gift from Christ to men, to build His body -- the new world. Let us live our ministry in this way, as Christ's gift to men! But in this hour, above all, let us pray with insistence to the Lord, that after the great gift of Pope John Paul II, he gives us again a pastore according to his own heart, a pastor that guides us to knowing Christ, to His love, to true joy. Amen.