Home > Archives > 09 - 2004 > Our Redeemer lives, he has a face and a name: Jesus Christ
from issue no. 09 - 2004

Our Redeemer lives, he has a face and a name: Jesus Christ

We print the homily given by Cardinal Ratzinger during the Holy Mass for the souls of the dead pontiffs Paul VI and John Paul I in Saint Peter’s Basilica, 28 September 2004

by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger

Paul VI with the Patriarch of Venice Albino Luciani during the visit of the Pope to Venice in September 1972

Paul VI with the Patriarch of Venice Albino Luciani during the visit of the Pope to Venice in September 1972

Dear brothers and sisters!
In the collect and in the prayer after communion the liturgy offers us an interpretation of the Petrine office that also seems a spiritual portrait of the two popes Paul VI and John Paul I, in commemoration of whom we are celebrating this mass. The collect says that the Popes have «in the love of Christ led your Church» and the prayer after communion begs that the Lord grant the Supreme Pontiffs, his servants,«to enter… into the full possession of the truth, in which, with apostolic courage, they confirmed their brothers». Love and truth thus appear as the two poles of the mission entrusted to the successors of Saint Peter.
To lead the Church in the love of Christ – who would not think in the context of these words from the letter of Saint Ignatius to the Church of Rome, in which the holy martyr, who came from Antioch, recognizes to the See of Saint Peter, «leadership in love»; his letter goes on to say that the Church of Rome «stands in the law of Christ»; here he is referring to the words of Saint Paul in the Epistle to the Galatians: «Bear you one another’s burdens: and so you shall fulfil the law of Christ» (6,2). To lead in charity is above all to precede «in the love of Christ». Let us remember at this point the fact that the definitive conferment of the Primacy on Peter after the resurrection is bound up with the question repeated three times by the Lord: «Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?» (John 21,15ff). Feeding the flock of Christ and loving the Lord are the same thing. It is the love of Christ that leads the sheep on the righteous path and builds the Church. At this point we cannot but think of the great speech with which Paul VI opened the second session of the Vatican Council II. «Te, Christe, solum novimus» were the decisive words of that sermon. The Pope spoke about the mosaic of Saint Paul’s without the Wall, with the grandiose figure of the Pantocrator with Pope Honorius III stretched at his feet, small in size and almost insignificant before the grandeur of Christ. The Pope continued: That scene is repeated here in full reality in our assembly. That was his vision of the Council, his vision also of the Primacy: all of us at the feet of Christ, so as to be servants of Christ, so as to serve the Gospel: The essence of Christianity is Christ – not a doctrine, but a person, and to evangelize is to guide to friendship with Christ – to the communion of love with the Lord, that it is the real light of our life.
Leading in charity means – let me repeat – preceding in the love of Christ. But the love of Christ implies knowledge of Christ – faith - and implies sharing in the love of Christ: bearing the burdens one of another, as Saint Paul says. In its inner essence the Primacy is not an exercise of power, but is «bearing one another’s burdens», it is responsibility of love. Love is precisely the opposite of indifference towards the other, cannot allow that love of Christ die out in the other, that friendship and knowledge of the Lord fade, that «the concerns of the world and the deceit of riches suffocates the word» (Mt 13,22). And finally: Love of Christ is love of the poor, of the suffering. We know well, how our Popes were forcefully committed against injustice, to the rights of the oppressed, those without power: Love of Christ is not an individualistic thing, only spiritual – it concerns the flesh, it concerns the world and must transform the world.
Leading in charity finally concerns the Eucharist, that is the real presence of incarnate love, presence of the body of Christ offered for us. The Eucharist creates the Church, creates this great network of community, that is the Body of Christ, and so creates charity. In this spirit we celebrate with the living and the dead the holy mass - the sacrifice of Christ, from which springs the gift of charity.
Christ enthroned, detail of the apsidal mosaic in the basilica of Saint Paul’s without the Wall

Christ enthroned, detail of the apsidal mosaic in the basilica of Saint Paul’s without the Wall

Love would be blind without truth. And therefore the one who must precede in love receives the promise from the Lord: « Simon, Simon... I have prayed for you, that your faith fail not» (Luke 22,32). The Lord sees that Satan seeks «to sift you like wheat» (Luke 22,31). While this ordeal bears on all the disciples, Christ prays in a special way «for you» – for the faith of Peter and on this prayer is based the mission «confirm your brethren». Peter’s faith does not come from his own strength - the indefeasibility of Peter’s faith is based on the prayer of Jesus, the Son of God: «I have prayed for you, that your faith fail not». Jesus’ prayer is the sure foundation of the function of Peter for all the centuries and the prayer after communion can rightly say that the Supreme Pontiffs Paul VI and John Paul did «with apostolic courage» confirm their brethren: In a time where we see how Satan «sifts like wheat» the disciples of Christ, the impassive faith of the Popes was visibly the rock on which the Church stands.
«I know that my redeemer liveth», says the text of Job in the first lesson in our liturgy – he says so in a moment of extreme trial; he says it, while God hides his face and seems to be his adversary. Covered with the veil of suffering, without knowing his name and his face, Job “knows” that his Redeemer lives, and this certainty is his great comfort in the darkness of the trial. Jesus Christ has removed the veil that covered the face of God for Job: Yes, our Redeemer liveth, «and we all, with open face, reflecting as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into that same image», says Saint Paul (2Cor 3,18). Our Redeemer lives – has a face and a name: Jesus Christ. Our «eyes will contemplate him» – this certainty is given us by our dead popes and so they guide «toward the full possession of truth», confirming us in the faith in our Redeemer. Amen.

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