Homily by the Cardinal who
On Monday morning, 18 April, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, at the
time Dean of the College of Cardinals, presided at the Mass "pro
eligendo Romano Pontifice" (for the election of the Roman Pontiff) in St
Peter's Basilica prior to the Conclave. The following is a translation
of the Cardinal's homily, given in Italian.
At this moment of great responsibility, let us listen with special
attention to what the Lord says to us in his own words. I would like to
examine just a few passages from the three readings that concern us
directly at this time.
The first one offers us a prophetic portrait of the person of the
a portrait that receives its full meaning from the moment when Jesus
reads the text in the synagogue at Nazareth and says, "Today this
Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing" (Lk 4:21).
At the core of the prophetic text we find a word which seems
contradictory, at least at first sight. The Messiah, speaking of
himself, says that he was sent "to announce a year of favour from the
Lord and a day of vindication by our God" (Is 61:2). We hear with joy
news of a year of favour: divine mercy puts a limit on evil, as the Holy
Father told us. Jesus Christ is divine mercy in person: encountering
Christ means encountering God's mercy.
Christ's mandate has become our mandate through the priestly
anointing. We are called to proclaim, not only with our words but also
with our lives and with the valuable signs of the sacraments, "the year
of favour from the Lord".
But what does the prophet Isaiah mean when he announces "the day of
vindication by our God"? At Nazareth, Jesus omitted these words in his
reading of the prophet's text; he concluded by announcing the year of
favour. Might this have been the reason for the outburst of scandal
after his preaching? We do not know.
In any case, the Lord offered a genuine commentary on these words by
being put to death on the cross. St Peter says: "In his own body he
brought your sins to the cross" (I Pt 2:24). And St Paul writes in his
Letter to the Galatians: "Christ has delivered us from the power of the
law's curse by himself becoming a curse for us, as it is written,
'Accursed is anyone who is hanged on a tree'. This happened so that
through Christ Jesus the blessing bestowed on Abraham might descend on
the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, thereby making it possible for us to
receive the promised Spirit through faith" (Gal 3:13f.).
The fire of his suffering love
Christ's mercy is not a grace that comes cheap, nor does it imply the
trivialization of evil. Christ carries the full weight of evil and all
its destructive force in his body and in his soul. He burns and
transforms evil in suffering, in the fire of his suffering love. The day
of vindication and the year of favour converge in the Paschal Mystery,
in the dead and Risen Christ. This is the vengeance of God: he himself
suffers for us, in the person of his Son. The more deeply stirred we are
by the Lord's mercy, the greater the solidarity we feel with his
and we become willing to complete in our own flesh "what is
lacking in the afflictions of Christ" (Col 1:24).
Let us move on to the second reading, the letter to the Ephesians.
Here we see essentially three aspects: first of all, the ministries and
charisms in the Church as gifts of the Lord who rose and ascended into
heaven; then, the maturing of faith and the knowledge of the Son of God
as the condition and content of unity in the Body of Christ; and lastly,
our common participation in the growth of the Body of Christ, that is,
the transformation of the world into communion with the Lord.
Let us dwell on only two points. The first is the journey towards
"the maturity of Christ", as the Italian text says, simplifying it
slightly. More precisely, in accordance with the Greek text, we should
speak of the "measure of the fullness of Christ" that we are called to
attain if we are to be true adults in the faith. We must not remain
children in faith, in the condition of minors. And what does it mean to
be children in faith? St Paul answers: it means being "tossed here and
there, carried about by every wind of doctrine" (Eph 4:14). This
description is very timely!
A deep friendship with Jesus
How many winds of doctrine have we known in recent decades, how many
ideological currents, how many ways of thinking. The small boat of the
thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves
flung from one extreme to another: from Marxism to liberalism, even to
libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to
a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism and so
forth. Every day new sects spring up, and what St Paul says about human
deception and the trickery that strives to entice people into error (cf.
Eph 4:14) comes true.
Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often
labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself
be "tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine",
seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building
a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as
definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one's own ego and
We, however, have a different goal: the Son of God, the true man. He
is the measure of true humanism. An "adult" faith is not a faith that
follows the trends of fashion and the latest novelty; a mature adult
faith is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ. It is this friendship
that opens us up to all that is good and gives us a criterion by which
to distinguish the true from the false, and deceit from truth.
We must develop this adult faith; we must guide the flock of Christ
to this faith. And it is this faith
that creates unity and is fulfilled in love.
On this theme, St Paul offers us as a fundamental formula for
Christian existence some beautiful words, in contrast to the continual
vicissitudes of those who, like children, are tossed about by the waves:
make truth in love. Truth and love coincide in Christ. To the extent
that we draw close to Christ, in our own lives too, truth and love are
blended. Love without truth would be blind; truth without love would be
like "a clanging cymbal" (I Cor 13:1).
Let us now look at the Gospel, from whose riches I would like to draw
only two small observations. The Lord addresses these wonderful words to
us: "I no longer speak of you as slaves.... Instead, I call you friends"
(Jn 15:15). We so often feel, and it is true, that we are only useless
servants (cf. Lk 17:10).
Yet, in spite of this, the Lord calls us friends, he makes us his
friends, he gives us his friendship. The Lord gives friendship a dual
definition. There are no secrets between friends: Christ tells us all
that he hears from the Father; he gives us his full trust and with
trust, also knowledge. He reveals his face and his heart to us. He shows
us the tenderness he feels for us, his passionate love that goes even as
far as the folly of the Cross. He entrusts himself to us, he gives us
the power to speak in his name: "this is my body , "I forgive you He
entrusts his Body, the Church, to us.
To our weak minds, to our weak hands, he entrusts his truth
the mystery of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; the mystery
of God who "so loved the world that he gave his only Son" (Jn 3:16). He
made us his friends
and how do we respond?
Fusing human and divine wills
The second element Jesus uses to define friendship is the communion
of wills. For the Romans "Idem velle
idem nolle" [same desires, same dislikes] was also the definition of
friendship. "You are my friends if you do what I command you" (Jn
15:14). Friendship with Christ coincides with the third request of the
Our Father: "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven". At
his hour in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus transformed our rebellious
human will into a will conformed and united with the divine will. He
suffered the whole drama of our autonomy
and precisely by placing our will in God's hands, he gives us true
freedom: "Not as I will, but as you will" (Mt 26:39).
Our redemption is brought about in this communion of wills: being
friends of Jesus, to become friends of God. The more we love Jesus, the
more we know him, the more our true freedom develops and our joy in
being redeemed flourishes. Thank you, Jesus, for your friendship!
The other element of the Gospel to which I wanted to refer is Jesus'
teaching on bearing fruit: "It was I who chose you to go forth and bear
fruit. Your fruit must endure" (Jn 15:16).
It is here that appears the dynamism of the life of a Christian, an
apostle: I chose you to go forth. We must be enlivened by a holy
restlessness: a restlessness to bring to everyone the gift of faith, of
friendship with Christ. Truly, the love and friendship of God was given
to us so that it might also be shared with others. We have received the
faith to give it to others
we are priests in order to serve others. And we must bear fruit that
All people desire to leave a lasting mark. But what endures? Money
does not. Even buildings do not, nor books. After a certain time, longer
or shorter, all these things disappear. The only thing that lasts for
ever is the human soul, the human; person created by God for eternity.
The fruit that endures is therefore all that we have sown in human
souls: love, knowledge, a gesture capable of touching hearts, words that
open the soul to joy in the Lord. So let us go and pray to the Lord to
help us bear fruit that endures. Only in this way will the earth be
changed from a valley of tears to a garden of God.
To conclude, let us return once again to the Letter to the Ephesians.
The Letter says, with words from Psalm 68, that Christ, ascending into
heaven, "gave gifts to men" (Eph 4:8). The victor offers gifts. And
these gifts are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.
Our ministry is a gift of Christ to humankind, to build up his body
the new world. We live out our ministry in this way, as a gift of Christ
At this time, however, let us above all pray insistently to the Lord
that after his great gift of Pope John Paul II, he will once again give
us a Pastor according to his own heart, a Pastor who will guide us to
knowledge of Christ, to his love and to true joy. Amen.