Homily of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Dean of the College of Cardinals,
Mass for the Election of the Supreme Pontiff, St. Peter's Basilica, 18 April
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 Messiah - 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 the 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.).
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 suffering - 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!
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)
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 desires.
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 deceipt from truth.
We must develop this adult faith; we must guide the flock of
Christ to this faith. And it is this faith - only 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?
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 will endure.
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 to
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.