Thursday, 19 April 2012

It does not seem like seven years .....

... since Pope Benedict XVI was elected to the See of St Peter.

The homily that Pope Benedict preached at a Mass celebrating together his 85th birthday and the start of the 8th year of his pontificate represents personal testimony to three key"signs" that have given a guide to his life of faith: the witness of the saints Bernadette of Lourdes and Benedict Joseph Labre, and the Paschal mystery. In the year of his birth, and according to the then-current calendar of the Church, the feast days of these saints and Holy Saturday coincided. The Italian text of the full homily is here, with a summary in English here. I trust that a full English translation will be available in due course, because it is worth reading the full homily. Referring to a particularity of the former liturgy, Pope Benedict observed:
The day I was baptised ... was Easter Saturday. At the time it was still customary to hold the Easter vigil in the morning, followed by the darkness of Easter Saturday without a Hallelujah. This singular paradox, this anticipation of light in a day of darkness, can almost be seen as an image of the history of our own times. On the one hand there is the silence of God and His absence, yet the resurrection of Christ contains an anticipation of God's 'yes'. We live in this anticipation, through the silence of God we hear His words, and through the darkness of His absence we glimpse His light. The anticipation of the resurrection in the midst of evolving history indicates the path we must follow and helps us to continue the journey.
He began the concluding paragraph of his homily with the words (my own adaptation of the English translation based on the Italian original):
I find myself before the final stage of my life journey and I do not know what awaits me ...
This prompted in my mind two thoughts. I do from time to time meet people who, either through age or because of illness, are coming to the end of their lives and recognise that this is the case. Spending time with such people is very moving, particularly when one can see that they have come to terms with their situation and are able to live it in a positive way rather than just suffer it. I usually come away from such a visit wondering just how I will react when I reach that time in my life - not that I am expecting to soon. And not that I am expecting Pope Benedict to die soon, though he is now less strong than in the past.

The other thing it reminded me of was a story of the day of Pope Benedict's election as Pope. So the story goes, and I do not know how true it is having just heard it from somenone else, Joseph Ratzinger was trying to contact Georg Ratzinger by telephone just after his election. No answer. And this continued for most of the day. Joseph Ratzinger became very worried, and put out an urgent call to find Georg Ratzinger, who he thought must be ill. It transpired instead that Georg Ratzinger had heard the news of Joseph Ratzinger's election to the See of St Peter, and was extremely annoyed. The plan had been that the two brothers would retire together, and the white smoke emerging from the Sistine Chapel had just put paid to that plan. Georg Ratzinger was so annoyed he was refusing to pick up the telephone to take Joseph Ratzinger's call.

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