Mass in honour of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI:
Cathedral of the Assumption, Carlow @ 10am
When news came through of the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI last Saturday morning, we were preparing for the funeral Mass of Sr. Emmanuel. Both of them died in their mid-nineties. Pope Emeritus Benedict was 95; Sr. Emmanuel a little older.
Older people, like Simeon and Anna in the scriptures give great substance to our faith. In John’s gospel we have today his account of the earliest followers of Jesus, they jump ship from the Baptist to the Messiah. I love the response of Jesus: “what do you want?” and then when they respond “where do you live?”, he says: “Come and see”.
You the faithful daily congregation respond to that command to come and see. You gather for the celebration of Mass, so that your life might be enriched by what you encounter through these sacred mysteries … and so placing Pope Emeritus Benedict into the embrace of a loving and merciful God we pray …
Over the last few days I have, as all of us have, thought a lot about Pope Benedict XVI. So much is made of his momentous prophetic decision to step down as Pope in February 2013, that we risk losing focus on actually his mission as Pope. Not as Prefect of the Congregation for Doctrine and Faith, not as a scholar, teacher, Professor, not as the man so much associated with the tougher discipline decisions in Church but as Pontiff, as successor of Peter, from April 2005 to February 2013. Benedict XVI was longer retired Pope than actually the time he occupied the seat of St. Peter.
John’s gospel brings us his take on the earliest followers of Jesus. The seven verses in fact give us the backstory of the first three disciples – Andrew, his colleague and his brother Peter whom Andrew in turn introduces to Christ. This is the key I suggest for understanding Pope Emeritus Benedict. If he did nothing else at all, and he did much more, he hugely helped us to understand the person of Christ. For Benedict it was all about that personal encounter.
At the end of a radio interview the other day I was asked what for me might be the legacy Benedict has left our Church? I had no hesitation in responding the trilogy he wrote on the person of Christ. I mentioned how I always return to Benedict’s ‘Infancy narratives’ over these days of Christmas/New Year.
As schools reopen tomorrow, as we all return to work and some sort of normality again, an earnest leave the crib up a little longer. The Wise Men are still en route, give them time to make their visit! We would never pack up and go, if we knew that visitors were on their way!!
Pope Emeritus Benedict saw the importance of disciples in the life of Jesus, and in our Church today. He devotes an entire chapter to them in the first of his trilogy, simply called ‘Jesus of Nazareth’. The identity of Jesus was always critical to Benedict and he believed to our faith. He understood disciple as “the ‘we’ of the new family that he gathers by his proclamation and his action”. It is centred on communion with Christ. That was why the theme chosen for the International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin in 2012 which fell during the papacy of Benedict was: ‘Communion with Christ and with one another’.
Benedict was a man of deep faith and prayer. It was profound to see the queues gently forming to pay their last respects to him yesterday on the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. Names were important to Benedict, none more so than the name of Jesus. I understand the great teacher, theologian, pastor who was happiest when surrounded by books and immersed in prayer; someone said that his greatest friends were his books. I read where his voice had become weaker in time, and this tool he had depended upon for the whole of his life was gradually becoming lost to him. His last words as he entered eternity last Saturday morning were “Jesus, ich liebe dich” (Jesus, I love you).
The noble man was returning to the Father, just like Sr. Emmanuel has and all our friends who have crossed that threshold of the next life, entering into the mystery of God. Our loved ones don’t take this step alone, those who believe are never alone, as Pope Emeritus Benedict reminded us in his first homily as Pope. He reminded us at 78 he was about to assume the role of Vicar of Christ, Successor of Peter but: “I am not alone. I do not have to carry alone what in truth I could never carry alone”. It’s with this faith that all of us, no matter who we are: Pope, Bishop, Priest, Religious, Daily Mass attender, Baptised member of the Church – none of us are ever on our own.
Returning to the disciples question in John’s gospel: “Rabbi … where do you live?”. And the response of Jesus “Come and see”. Our life of faith is very much living out, teasing out, that response. We come to daily Mass, we come to Jesus in the Blessed Eucharist, we come to Jesus in His word, we come to this gathering, this assembly of God’s people. We see those who come with us, they are not perfect, and we realise we are not perfect. We see our celebrants, our presiders, our fellow travellers on this faith adventure, none of us have it all together, all of us are on the journey. A journey through time into eternity. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has just made it, may we too make it and enter the peace and light of Christ.