I thought I would take the time, during the Interregnum, to reflect on Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s immense body of work.
Today’s entry is his homily before the conclave which elected him Pope:
Isaiah 61:1-3a. 6a. 8b-9
hour of great responsibility, let us listen with particular attention to what
the Lord says to us in his own words. I would like to choose only a passage of
the three readings, which affects us directly in a moment such as this.
The first reading offers a prophetic portrait of the figure of the
Messiah, a portrait that attains all its meaning at the moment when Jesus reads
this text in the synagogue of Nazareth, when he says: “Today this scripture
has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). At the heart of this prophetic
text, we find a phrase that, at least at first glance, seems contradictory. In
speaking of himself, the Messiah says that he has been sent “to proclaim the
year of the Lord’s favor, on the day of vengeance of our God” (Isaiah 61:2).
We listen with joy to the proclamation of the year of mercy: Divine
mercy puts a limit to evil, the Holy Father said to us. Jesus Christ is divine
mercy in person: To find Christ means to find the mercy of God. Christ’s mandate
has become our mandate through priestly unction; we are called to promulgate not
only with words but also with our life and with the effective signs of the
sacraments “the year of the Lord’s favor.”
But what does Isaiah mean
when he proclaims “the day of vengeance of our God”? When reading the prophetic
text in Nazareth, Jesus did not pronounce these words;
he concluded by proclaiming the year of favor. Was this, perhaps, the reason for
the scandal that took place after his preaching? We do not know. In any case,
the Lord gave his authentic commentary to these words with his death on the
cross. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree,” says St. Peter (1
Peter 2:24). And St. Paul writes to the Galatians: “Christ redeemed us from the
curse of the law, having become a curse for us — for it is written, ‘Cursed be
every one who hangs on a tree’ — that in Christ Jesus the blessings of Abraham
might come upon the gentiles, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit
through faith” (Galatians 3:13).
The mercy of Christ is not a cheap
grace; it does not imply the trivialization of evil. Christ bore in his body and
soul all the weight of evil, all its destructive force. The day of vengeance and
the year of favor coincide in the paschal mystery, in Christ, dead and risen.
This is the vengeance of God: He himself, in the person of the Son, suffered for
us. The more we are touched by the mercy of the Lord, the more we are in
solidarity with his suffering, the more disposed we are to complete in our flesh
“what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” (Colossians 1:24).
Let us go
on to the second reading, the letter of Paul to the Ephesians. It addresses
essentially three arguments: in the first place, the ministries and charisms of
the Church, as gifts of the risen Lord ascended to heaven; then maturity in
faith and in knowledge of the Son of God, as condition and content of unity in
the body of Christ; and, finally, the common participation in the growth of the
Body of Christ, that is, the transformation of the world in communion with the
Let us reflect on two points. The first is the path to the
“maturity of Christ,” as it states, simplifying the text in Italian. More
concretely, we would have to speak, according to the Greek text, of the “measure
of the fullness of Christ,” which we are called to attain to truly be adults in
the faith. We should not remain as children in the faith, in the state of
minors. And what does it mean to be children in the faith? St. Paul answers: It means
to be “tossed to and from and carried about with every wind of doctrine”
(Ephesians 4:14). A very timely description!
How many winds of doctrine
we have known in these last decades, how many ideological currents, how many
fashions of thought? The small boat of thought of many Christians has often
remained agitated by the waves, tossed from one extreme to the other: from
Marxism to liberalism, to libertinism; from collectivism to radical
individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to
Every day new sects are born and we see realized what
St. Paul says on the deception of men, on the cunning that tends to lead into
error (cf. Ephesians 4:14). To have a clear faith, according to the creed of the
Church, is often labeled as fundamentalism. While relativism, that is, allowing
oneself to be carried about with every wind of “doctrine,” seems to be the only
attitude that is fashionable. A dictatorship of relativism is being constituted
that recognizes nothing as absolute and which only leaves the “I” and its whims
as the ultimate measure.
We have another measure: the Son of God, true
man. He is the measure of true humanism. “Adult” is not a faith that follows the
waves in fashion and the latest novelty. Adult and mature is a faith profoundly
rooted in friendship with Christ. This friendship opens us to all that is good
and gives us the measure to discern between what is true and what is false,
between deceit and truth.
We must mature in this adult faith; we must
lead the flock of Christ to this faith. And this faith, the only faith, creates
unity and takes place in charity. St.
Paul offers us a beautiful phrase, in opposition to the
continual ups and downs of those who are like children tossed by the waves, to
bring about truth in charity, as fundamental formula of Christian existence.
Truth and charity coincide in Christ. In the measure that we come close to
Christ, also in our life, truth and charity are fused. Charity without truth
would be blind; truth without charity would be like “a clanging cymbal” (1
Let us now turn to the Gospel, from whose richness I
would like to draw only two small observations. The Lord addresses these
wonderful words to us: “No longer do I call you servants … but I have called
you friends” (John 15:15). Many times we simply feel like useless servants, and
it is true (cf. Luke 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
two ways. There are no secrets between friends: Christ tells us everything he
hears from the Father; he gives us his full confidence and, with confidence,
also knowledge. He reveals his face to us, his heart. He shows us his tenderness
for us, his passionate love that goes to the folly of the cross.
gives us his confidence; he gives us the power to speak with his I: “This is my
body,” and “I absolve you.” He entrusts his body to us, the Church. He entrusts
his truth to our weak minds, our weak hands, the mystery of God the Father, Son
and Holy Spirit; the mystery of the God who “so loved the world that he gave his
only Son” (John 3:16). He has made us his friends and, we, how do we respond?
The second element with which Jesus defines friendship is the communion
of wills. “Idem velle — idem nolle,” was also for Romans the definition of
friendship. “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:14).
Friendship with Christ coincides with what the third petition of the Our Father
expresses: “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
In the hour
of Gethsemane, Jesus transformed our rebellious human will in a will conformed
and united with the divine will. He suffered all the drama of our autonomy and,
in carrying our will in God’s hands, he gave us true freedom: “Nevertheless, not
as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). In this communion of wills our
redemption takes place: to be friends of Jesus, to become friends of God. The
more we love Jesus, the more we know him, and the more our genuine freedom
grows, as well as the joy of being redeemed. Thank you, Jesus, for your
The other element of the Gospel that I would like to mention
is Jesus’ discourse on bearing fruit: “I […] chose you and appointed you to go
and bear fruit that will remain” (John 15:16). Here the dynamism of the
Christian’s existence appears, of the apostle: “I appointed you to go.” We must
be animated by a “holy anxiety,” the anxiety of taking the gift of faith, of
friendship with Christ, to all. In truth, love, friendship with God, has been
given to us so that it will also reach others.
We have received the
faith to give it to others; we are priests to serve others. And we must bear
fruit that abides. But, what abides? Money does not last. Buildings do not last,
or books. After a certain time, more or less long, all this disappears. The only
thing that abides eternally is the human soul — man created by God for
The fruit that abides, therefore, is the one we have sown in
human souls, love, knowledge; the gesture capable of touching the heart; the
word that opens the soul to the joy of the Lord. So, let us go and ask the Lord
to help us to bear fruit, a fruit that abides. Only thus is the earth
transformed from a vale of tears into a garden of God.
Finally, let us
return once more to Ephesians. The letter says, with the words of Psalm 68, that
Christ, when “he ascended on high … gave gifts to men” (Ephesians 4:8). The
victorious distribute gifts. And these gifts are apostles, prophets,
evangelists, pastors and teachers. Our ministry is a gift of Christ to men to
build his body, the new world. Let us live our ministry in this way, as a gift
of Christ to men! But, in this moment, let us ask our Lord insistently that,
after the great gift of Pope John Paul II, he will again give us a pastor
according to his heart, a pastor who will lead us to knowledge of Christ, to his
love, to true joy.