22/04/06 Papal Anniversay Homily

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Anniversary of the Inauguration of the Petrine Ministry of
Pope Benedict XVI
Homily Notes of
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland
Pro-Cathedral, 22 April 2006
Perhaps the word that I have heard most from people when they speak of the election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI one year ago and of their evaluation of the first year of his pontificate is the word “surprise”.        I for one did not hide my own surprise at the moment of his election, as I, like many, imagined that the Cardinals would not have chosen a man who was already in his late seventies.

I realised at the time that the new Pope would probably surprise us all by the way he would carry out his mission as successor of Peter, that of being a rock of solidity for the Church in the current world context, of being the one who strengthens his brethren.  “He will do so”, I said here in the Pro-Cathedral last year, “perhaps in a different manner than his immediate predecessor, relying perhaps on that extraordinary gift that he has received for spirituality, reflection and interiority”.  I made these comments in the knowledge that this Pope is not a centraliser and he has a healthy scepticism about ecclesiastical bureaucracies.

Surprise is also the word which Pope Benedict himself used last Wednesday at the General Audience in the Vatican.  He called the choice by the Cardinals “del tutto inaspettata”, absolutely unexpected.  From the outset he stressed that his mission was not one which he could ever achieve on his own.  He expressed his need for “the heavenly support of God and of the Saints”, but also the support of the prayers of the entire Christian community.  That is what brings us together here this evening on the first anniversary of his assuming office, to pray for Pope Benedict one year after his election.

“Surprise” is also the word on the mouth of the commentators, both ecclesiastical and secular. His first year has not fitted into the plans of the pundits, either those who call themselves “progressives” or “conservatives” [though perhaps it might be more accurate to say that the commentators call others either “conservative” or “progressive”.

Pope Benedict surprised people, perhaps because many people did not know him.  Commentators who should have been familiar with his writings, focused only on disciplinary measures taken as part of his mandate as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith  They seemed to ignore the fact that Joseph Ratzinger was, without any doubt, one of the most outstanding theologians of the latter part of the 20th century.
  Indeed, anyone who did know him was amazed at the appalling stereotype of him proposed repeatedly in some media and, indeed, in ecclesiastical circles. There were those who despite the clear facts of history which documented the price that he and his family had paid for the opposition to the Nazi regime still declared that he had been a Nazi. It would be worthwhile for them to read his own comments as to how his own priestly vocation grew out of a rejection of what he saw totalitarian ideology could do to damage humanity.
Pope Benedict is someone who knows well the philosophical roots of contemporary culture and therefore challenges many of the presuppositions of contemporary reflection on the Church and its teachings.  Since his election Pope Benedict has chosen in particular the defence of marriage and the family as a constant theme, and he has articulated his anxieties about how aspects of contemporary culture are undermining something so important in society.
Pope Benedict has a great love for the Church. Shortly after his election, speaking of the choice of his name, he stressed that his predecessor of the same name, Benedict XV, was a reconciler within the Church.   The early twentieth century, in fact, was marked by a period of tension around the crisis of modernism and the reactions to it which had polarized the Church and stifled theological reflection.  Benedict XV saw his mission as one of bringing greater unity within the Church and Benedict XVI set himself a similar task. He has spoken often about the challenges of working for unity both within the Catholic fold and in dialogue with other branches of Christianity, especially with the Orthodox.  He has shown his willingness to dialogue with those whose views he is not known to share.
His work for forging unity was never based on any superficial side-stepping of the challenges and the differences that exist and exist deeply, among the Christian confessions.
He has just initiated a new series of talks at the Wednesday General Audiences on: “The Church built on the foundation of the Apostles as a community of faith, hope and charity”.

In the first of these addresses he stressed how it is only through the word and witness of the apostles that we receive the truth of Christ, which is today to be found within the Church as a mystery of communion.
Pope Benedict notes that the message of Jesus is completely misunderstood if it is separated from the context of the faith and hope of the Church.  And the Pope adds: “from the first moment of his salvific activity, Jesus of Nazareth strives to gather together the People of God. Even if his preaching is always an appeal for personal conversion, in reality he continually aims to build the People of God whom he came to bring together, purify and save”.
As opposed to this theology of communion – which is also reflected in the first reading at today’s Mass – Pope Benedict takes task with “an individualistic interpretation of Christ’s proclamation of the Kingdom, specific to liberal theology”.  The role of the Twelve Apostles and their successors is “to guarantee that between Christ and the Church there is no opposition”   The Pope notes that the slogan, which we hear so often, “Jesus yes, Church no”, is “totally inconceivable with the intention of Christ” and he concludes with a stark yet striking affirmation which should make us all think: “The individualistically chosen Jesus is an imaginary Jesus”.
Today we are often confronted – whatever their personal intention – with individuals who feel that they can create a new image of the message of Jesus on the basis of individualistic gestures, even outside the discipline of the Church.  It is even sadder when, as in these days, the Eucharist is chosen as a vehicle for such individualistic gestures.   The Eucharist is gift; it is not ours to be used as any individual sees fit.  Celebration of the Eucharist is an ecclesial act.  “We cannot have Jesus without the [Church] he created and in which he communicates himself. He is always contemporary with us, he is always contemporary with the Church, built on the foundation of the Apostles and alive in the succession of the Apostles”.   Ecumenical dialogue must go on with renewed vigour.  But the Eucharist is not to be manipulated for personal or social agendas.  The pain of division is real, but that pain cannot authentically be overcome by shortcuts.
The Pope stressed that he sees his task as being a gentle leader of the flock of the Church, but also as a clear leader.  He has shown himself to be both.  Pope Benedict devotes a great deal of his time to meeting, listening to and talking to bishops.   When I have spoken to him, if even briefly, about the challenges of being a bishop in a complex modern diocese like Dublin I have drawn comfort from his attention, encouragement and understanding of the nature of the episcopate.
Many were surprised at the fact that he chose as the theme of his first encyclical Deus Caritas Est, God is Love. But this is a theme that he had concretely stressed in so many of his comments in his homilies and talks since becoming Pope. Similarly he has constantly spoken about the joy of the Christian life and how its essence has been transposed by some people into a cold rulebook.

Speaking here in the Pro-Cathedral exactly one year ago, I spoke of my memories of Pope Benedict as “as a scholar with a remarkable gift of language in expressing deep insights into the faith; a reserved person, with great human warmth, a simple almost frugal style of life, a man of prayer and spiritual depth”.  Thrust now into such a public profile, he has maintained that gentleness of character.  Indeed he seems to be even more serene. And serenity is the classic sign of those who recognise fully and accept God’s call.  Clearly, as Pope Benedict said last week, he “experiences the presence of Jesus in the community of the Church”.  He recognises that Jesus himself is always with us and this is “reason for our joy”.