It’s been a blistering and draining week with the Komen story. As tomorrow’s Gospel tells us, Jesus often withdrew to prayer and solitude, and so am I today. Time for a retreat weekend. Here is an outstanding homily given by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger on the eve of his election to the Chair of Peter. It addresses what we all need to know and understand in our hearts, what we need to do in order to fortify ourselves.
At this hour of great responsibility, we hear with special consideration what the Lord says to us in his own words. From the three readings I would like to examine just a few passages which concern us directly at this time.
The first reading gives us a prophetic depiction of the person of the Messiah – a depiction which takes all its meaning from the moment Jesus reads the text in the synagogue in Nazareth, when he 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 favor from the Lord and a day of vindication by our God” (Is 61,2). We hear with joy the news of a year of favor: divine mercy puts a limit on evil – the Holy Father told us. Jesus Christ is divine mercy in person: encountering Christ means encountering the mercy of God. Christ’s mandate has become our mandate through priestly anointing. We are called to proclaim – not only with our words, but with our lives, and through the valuable signs of the sacraments, the “year of favor from the Lord”. But what does the prophet Isaiah mean when he announces the “day of vindication by our God”? In Nazareth, Jesus did not pronounce these words in his reading of the prophet’s text – Jesus concluded by announcing the year of favor. Was this, perhaps, the reason for the scandal which took place after his sermon? We do not know. In any case, the Lord gave a genuine commentary on these words by being put to death on the cross. Saint Peter says: “He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross” (1 Pe 2,24). And Saint Paul writes in his letter to the Galatians: “Christ ransomed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who hangs on a tree’, that the blessing of Abraham might be extended to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” (Gal 3, 13s).
The mercy of Christ is not a cheap grace; it does not presume a trivialization of evil. Christ carries in his body and on his soul all the weight of evil, and all its destructive force. He burns and transforms evil through suffering, in the fire of his suffering love. The day of vindication and the year of favor meet in the paschal mystery, in Christ died and risen. This is the vindication of God: he himself, in the person of the Son, suffers for us. The more we are touched by the mercy of the Lord, the more we draw closer in solidarity with his suffering – and become willing to bear in our flesh “what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ” (Col 1, 24).
In the second reading, the letter to the Ephesians, we see basically three aspects: first, the ministries and charisms in the Church, as gifts of the Lord risen and ascended into heaven. Then there is the maturing of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, as a condition and essence of unity in the body of Christ. Finally, there is the common participation in the growth of the body of Christ – of 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 it is said in the Italian text, simplifying it a bit. More precisely, according to the Greek text, we should speak of the “measure of the fullness of Christ”, to which we are called to reach in order to be true adults in the faith. We should not remain infants in faith, in a state of minority. And what does it mean to be an infant in faith? Saint Paul answers: it means “tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery” (Eph 4, 14). This description is very relevant today!
How many winds of doctrine we have known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking… The small boat of thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves – thrown from one extreme to the other: 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 are created and what Saint Paul says about human trickery comes true, with cunning which tries to draw those into error (cf Eph 4, 14). Having a clear faith, based on the Creed of the Church, is often labeled today as a fundamentalism. Whereas, relativism, which is letting oneself be tossed and “swept along by every wind of teaching”, looks like the only attitude (acceptable) to today’s standards. We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires.
However, we have a different goal: the Son of God, true man. He is the measure of true humanism. Being an “Adult” means having a faith which does not follow the waves of today’s fashions or the latest novelties. A faith which is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ is adult and mature. It is this friendship which opens us up to all that is good and gives us the knowledge to judge true from false, and deceit from truth. We must become mature in this adult faith; we must guide the flock of Christ to this faith. And it is this faith – only faith – which creates unity and takes form in love. On this theme, Saint Paul offers us some beautiful words – in contrast to the continual ups and downs of those were are like infants, tossed about by the waves: (he says) make truth in love, as the basic formula of Christian existence. In Christ, truth and love coincide. To the extent that we draw near to Christ, in our own life, truth and love merge. Love without truth would be blind; truth without love would be like “a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal” (1 Cor 13,1).
Looking now at the richness of the Gospel reading, I would like to make only two small observations. The Lord addresses to us these wonderful words: “I no longer call you slaves…I have called you friends” (Jn 15,15). So many times we feel like, and it is true, that we are only useless servants. (cf Lk 17,10). And despite this, the Lord calls us friends, he makes us his friends, he gives us his friendship. The Lord defines friendship in a dual way. There are no secrets among friends: Christ tells us all everything he hears from the Father; he gives us his full trust, and with that, also knowledge. He reveals his face and his heart to us. He shows us his tenderness for us, his passionate love that goes to the madness of the cross. He entrusts us, he gives us power to speak in his name: “this is my body…”, “I forgive you…”. He entrusts us with his body, the Church. He entrusts our weak minds and our weak hands with his truth – the mystery of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; the mystery of God who “so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son” (Jn 3, 16). He made us his friends – and how do we respond?
The second element with which Jesus defines 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 what is said in the third request of the Our Father: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. At the hour in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus transformed our rebellious human will in a will shaped and united to the divine will. He suffered the whole experience of our autonomy – and precisely bringing our will into the hands of God, he have us true freedom: “Not my will, but your will be done”. In this communion of wills our redemption takes place: being friends of Jesus to become friends of God. How much more we love Jesus, how much more we know him, how much more our true freedom grows as well as our joy in being redeemed. Thank you, Jesus, for your friendship!
The other element of the Gospel to which I would like to refer is the teaching of Jesus on bearing fruit: “I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain” (Jn 15, 16). It is here that is expressed the dynamic existence of the Christian, the apostle: I chose you to go and bear fruit…”. We must be inspired by a holy restlessness: restlessness to bring to everyone the gift of faith, of friendship with Christ. In truth, the love and friendship of God was given to us so that it would also be shared with others. We have received the faith to give it to others – we are priests meant to serve others. And we must bring a fruit that will remain. All people want to leave a mark which lasts. But what remains? Money does not. Buildings do not, nor books. After a certain amount of time, whether long or short, all these things disappear. The only thing which remains forever is the human soul, the human person created by God for eternity. The fruit which remains then is that which we have sowed in human souls – love, knowledge, a gesture capable of touching the heart, words which open the soul to joy in the Lord. Let us then go to the Lord and pray to him, so that he may help us bear fruit which remains. Only in this way will the earth be changed from a valley of tears to a garden of God.
In conclusion, returning again to the letter to the Ephesians, which 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 humanity! But at this time, above all, we pray with insistence to the Lord, so that after the great gift of Pope John Paul II, he again gives us a pastor according to his own heart, a pastor who guides us to knowledge in Christ, to his love and to true joy. Amen.