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Benedict’s final lesson

Even in death, Pope Emeritus teaches us about humble submission to God


The following story appeared in the January 13 Idaho Catholic Register.


Pope Benedict XVI is with Bishop Peter Christensen at a Vatican meeting in 2008. (Courtesy photo/Bishop Peter Christensen )


During a memorial Mass for Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI on Jan. 5, Bishop Peter Christensen re-called his first meeting with Pope Benedict in 2008, just a year after Bishop Peter was named Bishop of the Diocese of Superior.


Bishop Peter said he told Pope Benedict that he had been a bishop only a year, to which Benedict responded, “Oh, I see you’re one of the older bishops.”


“He was such a kind, gentle man with a sense of humor,” Bishop Peter said. What he remembers most about the late pontiff is his eyes. “Looking into his eyes was like getting a glimpse into eternity. There was such a depth, it was almost too much. He was definitely a holy man.”


During the memorial Mass at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, Bishop Peter wore the same vestments he wore at his ordination as Bishop in 2007. The vestments were red, the liturgical color at the funeral of a pope. (Red is worn because every pope is a successor to St. Peter, a martyr. The vibrant red symbolizes the totality of the Petrine office. As a kind of martyr, the pope offers his entire life over to Christ without counting the cost.)


Following are adapted excerpts of the homily given by Bishop Peter at the Mass:


“We have gathered here today in our Cathedral because we know, deep down in our very souls, how blessed we have been to be able to share in the life and the leadership of such a great Pope in our own day, Pope Benedict XVI, who, I trust, will go down in history as one of the greatest theologians in our Church’s history.


“Reading his encyclicals and books, hearing his homilies and words spoken at his audiences, we have come to see the power of his intellect. … Pre-eminent in his mind was God’s living presence and loving care working in the world through the hearts of those who would surrender themselves fully to Him. He saw his role as Pope expressed beautifully in his two-word motto chosen at the time of his elevation to the papacy: ‘Cooperatores Veritas,’ which is Latin for “Cooperators of the Truth.” That’s such a clear description of the role of popes: ‘Cooperators of the Truth!’ That is also the defining role of the apostles of Jesus, of which Benedict was certainly one.


“As you may have guessed, the Scripture readings, read here this morning, are the same readings being used today in Rome for our Emeritus Pope’s funeral. You will hear a common theme in each of the three readings chosen. It’s not surprising that Benedict chose these passages deliberately, with forethought. This is what a Holy Father does: offering instruction to his children in the faith who listen to the Word of God with open hearts.


“The First Reading from Isaiah 29:16 is really a prophecy – a word of truth to be understood and accepted as such for all time. It tells of the coming of the Lord to establish right-order of the human race in relationship with their God: Is the potter no better than the clay? Can something that was made say to its maker, “He did not make me!” Wake up, recog-nize your Creator! The lowly, those who are humble enough, will recognize God, they will rejoice in the Lord, the poorest will exult in the Holy One of Israel (Isa. 29:19) that being Jesus - the gift of a Savior will be freely given to those willing to receive it.


“And then, in our next reading from 1 Peter, a clear description of the gift God is giving: ‘God has given us a new birth to a living hope through Jesus which invites us to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.’ The Potter is making a vessel, if we allow Him, out of each one of us to be shared with God and with others for all eternity. Faith in God makes the gift become a living reality at this very moment.



Bishop Peter Christensen first met Pope Benedict XVI in 2008, a year after Benedict had appointed him Bishop of Superior, Wisconsin. (Courtesy photo/Bishop Christensen)


Although you do not see Him, you love Him, even though you do not see Him now yet believe in Him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, as you attain the goal of faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8-9)


“This ongoing and living relationship is happening today for those willing to accept it.

“What does the action of accepting the gift of salvation look like if it is to be lived out in our lives today? The answer is in the Gospel of Luke we just heard pro-claimed.


“In this Gospel, is the story of two criminals. One is a repentant sinner willing to recognize someone greater than himself: Jesus, who has done no wrong and who does not deserve to be hung on the cross. The other sinner not willing to open his eyes and recognize the gift present before him. Instead, he mocks Jesus, the only one who can truly save him. ‘Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation?’ says the repentant man. He continues by asking the recognizably innocent, holy man next to him for a favor, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your king-dom.’ And Jesus replied to him, ‘Amen (meaning, let it be so) I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise’ (Luke 23:40-43). Jesus, in obedience, cries out in a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ He then breathed his last (Luke 23:46).


“Ultimately, what is the difference between the two criminals? The universal answer was given in a homily preached by Pope Benedict XVI 13 years ago on the solemnity of the Epiphany of Our Lord January 6, 2010.


“The Pope spoke to those gathered, ‘We can ask ourselves, (following the example of the Magi): What is the reason why some men seek and find, while others do not? What opens the eyes and the heart? What is lacking in those who remain indifferent, in those who point out the road but do not move? We can answer: too much self-assurance, the claim to knowing reality. The presumption of having formulated a definitive judgement on everything, closes them and makes their hearts insensitive to the newness of God. They are certain of the idea that they have formed of the world and no longer let themselves be involved in the intimacy of an adventure with a God who wants to meet them. They place their confidence in themselves rather than in Him, and they do not think it possible that God could be so great as to make Himself small

as to come really close to us. Lastly, what they lack is authentic humility (the relation of the clay to the potter), which is to be able to submit to what is greater, and also authentic courage, which leads to belief in what is truly great even if it is manifested in a help-less baby [or, in this case a man hanging as if a criminal on a cross]. They lack the evangelical capacity to be children at heart, to feel wonder, and to emerge from themselves in order to follow the path indicated by the star, the path of God.’


“Pope Benedict XVI’s last barely audible words spoken at 3 a.m. this past Saturday morning (Dec. 31), heard by the nurse in attendance, were: ‘Lord, I love you.’


“He knew, loved and served Our Lord. He made the choice to surrender to his Creator, God Our Father. Even at the time of his death, and at his funeral today at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, even right here at St. John’s Cathedral in Boise, our Holy Father invites us to draw closer to God Our Father, recognizing Him as the Lord, the Giver, the Sustainer of all life.


“I would like to conclude with a prayer of his own making, written from his own heart, with obvious devotion given to our Blessed Mother.


It was prayed publicly in Rome, at St. Peter’s, on December 25, the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord, in the year 2005, the first of his Pontificate:


‘Holy Mary, Mother of God, you have given the world its true light, Jesus, your Son, the Son of God. You abandoned yourself completely to God’s call and thus, became a well-spring of the goodness, which flows forth from Him. Show us Jesus. Lead us to Him. Teach us to know and love Him, so that we, too, can become capable of true love and be fountains of living water in the midst of a thirsting world.’


Amen.


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