Memorial Mass for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
Saint Peter’s Cathedral, Scranton – January 7, 2023
Job 19:1, 23-27a; Romans 8:22-27; John 6:37-40

“Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”  With these words from his first encyclical letter, Deus Caritas Est, released eight months following his election, Pope Benedict XVI set the tone for his pontificate and reminded us of who we are as Christians.  

Many have attempted to assess Pope Benedict’s pontificate both during the course of the eight years in which he served as successor of Saint Peter and in light of his historic resignation from office.  What one often hears is that he was a gifted theologian and defender of Catholic doctrine, qualities firmly established through his long-time service as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. 

Yet, it is quite fair to say that the essence of Pope Benedict is discovered elsewhere in the simple words shared a moment ago from his first encyclical, words rooted in the love and compassion of the God to whom he entrusted his entire being.  …  A love that was first embraced through his relationship with the person of Jesus.  …  A love that enabled this shy man who never aspired to lead the Church to accept the responsibility of doing so simply and solely because of his encounter with Christ.  …  And a love that seared into his heart the words from today’s gospel that come from Jesus’ discourse on the Bread of Heaven:  “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him on the last day.”

We should hardly be surprised, then, that the Pope’s last audible words reported by his longtime personal secretary, Archbishop Ganswein, just hours before his passing, were words that reflect this life giving encounter with Jesus, “Lord, I love you.”  …  Words that affirm beyond a doubt the very Word of God proclaimed in our first scripture reading from the Old Testament Book of Job, “For me, I know that my Vindicator lives … and from my flesh I shall see God; my inmost being is consumed with longing.”

In so many respects, it is only now, following Pope Benedict’s resignation almost ten years ago – following the time he spent in solitude and prayer as a result of that historic moment in the life of the Church – and following his death, that we are able to appreciate the depth of his faith, his humility, the courage rooted in his words and actions and the gift he has been to our Church.  

Our New Testament reading today, taken from Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans serves as a foundation for Pope Benedict’s second encyclical, Spe Salvi.  In it, the Pope contrasts the contemporary age’s hope of creating a perfect world with where we Christians come to understand that our true hope is found:  “in God alone, who will love us to the end.”  Listen to the Pope’s words, which, so beautifully yet simply expressed, provide us all with the surest way forward in life.

“Let us say once again: we need the greater and lesser hopes that keep us going day by day. But these are not enough without the great hope, which must surpass everything else. This great hope can only be God, who encompasses the whole of reality and who can bestow upon us what we, by ourselves, cannot attain. The fact that it comes to us as a gift is actually part of hope. God is the foundation of hope: not any god, but the God who has a human face and who has loved us to the end, each one of us and humanity in its entirety. His Kingdom is not an imaginary hereafter, situated in a future that will never arrive; his Kingdom is present wherever he is loved and wherever his love reaches us. His love alone gives us the possibility of soberly persevering day by day, without ceasing to be spurred on by hope, in a world which by its very nature is imperfect. His love is at the same time our guarantee of the existence of what we only vaguely sense and which nevertheless, in our deepest self, we await: a life that is “truly” life (Spe Salvi 31).”

What wisdom and blessings we have been privileged to receive in the words and through the life and example of our beloved Pope-Emeritus! 

There have been and will undoubtedly be many who seek to analyze Pope Benedict’s response to the various and complicated events that unfolded during the course of his papacy, including his historic resignation.  For all the critiques, opinions and analyses that will be offered, however, his place in the history of our Church and ultimately in God’s kingdom – and so for each of us – will be determined by the depth of his faith and hope in the person of Jesus – his humility in recognizing his need for a savior – his willingness to love selflessly and compassionately – and his trust in the abiding presence of God within his life.

Pope Benedict’s own words, written in his Spiritual Testament, dated August 29, 2006, reveal the heart and soul of this Servant of God!

“When, at this late hour of my life, I look back on the decades I have wandered through, I see first of all how much reason I have to give thanks. Above all, I thank God Himself, the giver of all good gifts, who has given me life and guided me through all kinds of confusion; who has always picked me up when I began to slip, who has always given me anew the light of his countenance. In retrospect, I see and understand that even the dark and arduous stretches of this path were for my salvation and that He guided me well in those very stretches.

“I thank my parents, who gave me life … my sister … and my brother. … I thank God from the bottom of my heart for the many friends, men and women, whom He has always placed at my side; for the co-workers at all stages of my path; for the teachers and students He has given me. I gratefully entrust them all to His goodness. And I thank the Lord for my beautiful home in the Bavarian foothills of the Alps, in which I was able to see the splendor of the Creator Himself shining through time and again.

“I ask for forgiveness from the bottom of my heart from all those whom I have wronged in some way. … To all who were entrusted to my service in the Church: Stand firm in the faith! … Jesus Christ is truly the Way, the Truth, and the Life – and the Church, in all her shortcomings, is truly His Body.”

And so, in gratitude for the life and ministry of this holy man of God, we pray:  “Gracious Father, we commend to your mercy Pope Emeritus Benedict whom you made Successor of Peter and shepherd of the Church, a fearless preacher of your word and a faithful minister of the divine mysteries.  Bottom of Form

Welcome him into your heavenly dwelling place, to enjoy eternal glory with all your chosen ones. We give you thanks, Lord, for all the blessings that in your goodness you bestowed upon him for the good of your people.  Grant us the comfort of faith and the strength of hope.  To you Father, source of life, through Christ, the conqueror of death, in the life-giving Spirit, be all honor and glory forever and ever.  Amen.