The following is the homily of Cardinal Villot at the
Mass "pro eligendo Pontifice" on 14 October 1978.
Once again, Fathers and Brothers, after just a few
weeks, this Gospel is proclaimed in the same circumstances, and
we need to draw from it teaching and points for reflection.
In the discourse of Jesus, let us briefly call
attention to certain words: 1) What does it mean "to remain in his
love"? 2) What is the meaning of: "to give his life for his
friends"; 3) "all that I have heard from my Father I have made
known to you" 4) "you did not choose me, but I chose
1) One cannot remain in the love of Jesus if one is
not in his grace, because each good and meritorious work has its source
in the blessing of divine love, that is, in grace. Christ obeys the
will of his Father.
A little while before, Jesus had said: "He who
sent me is with me, and he has not left me to myself, for I always do
what pleases him." (John 8:29). He was speaking clearly as a man,
because his divine nature is identical with that of the Father and
cannot be apart from it.
Thus if Jesus, for the reasons he states, was not
left to himself, neither shall we be left alone, if divine love creates
in us grace and conformity to his will. It is timely to reflect on this
fact: the task that is ours is a serious one; if only we "do what
pleases him", it will not be left to us to do it alone.
2) "There is no greater love than to give one's
life for one's friends". The red vestments appropriate to this
body, Eminent Fathers, have their meaning in the obligation an
obligation one assumes when one is made a cardinal to spend one's life
even to the shedding of blood. And since our bodily lives are so dear to
us, to risk life for one's neighbour is a great sign of love:
"greater" in the words of the Lord. And this, as is clearly
understood, on the example of Jesus.
We must not, however, be led astray by an
interpretation of the text done in haste or heard in the context of a
particular occasion. He speaks of "friends". We recall what
was said in the letter to the Romans (5:8): "Christ died for us
while we were still sinners... while we were still sinners!"
Pondering the text, we find, just as the Fathers
before us did, that Jesus died for his enemies, for sinners, so that
they might become his friends. But it would have been harsh to remind
them that they were still in their original human condition; and so he
at once called them "friends", taking into account the fact
that the work of redemption had begun and had been applied to them.
Let us reflect, Brothers, that life the lives of all
of us certainly, but also in a special way the life of him whom we shall
elect must be given for the multitude of those redeemed, "that they
may become friends of Christ". The entire mystical mission of the
Church is contained in that concept. And, since God uses men as his
ordinary instruments, we understand clearly what spirit should animate
one whom he chooses to exercise the office of pastor and guide, as if
announcing for the first time the evangelical message. With all our
failings, we are, to the extent we wish to see ourselves as such, his
friends; but we are such only and exclusively in virtue of his death.
3) As a tangible sign of true friendship, Jesus says:
"All that I have heard from my Father I have made known to
you." That "all" is surprising. But the Lord explains it
a moment later: "I have yet many things to say to you, but you
cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you
into all the truth." Clearly, that "all" that the
apostles were then able to receive was in the order of faith, not of
science or insight.
We find ourselves in the same situation. Christ has
told us what it takes to follow his way, what is sufficient to act in a
manner pleasing to him; but he has not told us any more than that. He
considers us friends, but he does not give us some sort of total
supernatural enlightenment. He leaves freedom for the working of our
intellect and will.
It is as men responsible men certainly, but always
only as men that we shall have to approach the task entrusted to us. The
result, then, is not a miracle, but the outcome of the action and prayer
of men who, with all their might, wish to be ever better friends of
4) "You did not choose me, but I chose
you." Here Jesus intimates that it was not the apostles' merit
which compelled him to choose them, but that he did so by his own free
will. That applies very well to us. We should not take pride in our
abilities some with more, some with less, according to human ways of
judging and insist on our own point of view.
Let us recall that our ability to fulfil our task as
electors is rooted "in the free choice of the Lord",
mystically understood, and not in such human merit as we may
We must elect a bridegroom of the Church; we must
elect a Father... It is characteristic of a bridegroom's love for his
spouse to love her totally, while a father loves his children one by
one, "singly". Thus love for the Church taken in its totality
befits the bridegroom; love for single individuals, with their faults
and defects, befits the father.
May the prayer of the People of God be with us,
taking the primary place in this assembly, and may the Lord be with us
now and always. Amen.