The Blog

In His Own Words

Looking back on Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger's historic homily.

12:00 AM, Apr 21, 2005 • By HUGH HEWITT
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

THE MOST IMPORTANT STATEMENT Pope Benedict XVI may ever make was the one delivered before he was elected the successor to John Paul II. Just before he and his 114 colleagues entered the conclave, then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger addressed the entire College of Cardinals, the whole Roman Catholic Church, and the entire world in a homily that was both brief and extremely profound. After this homily was concluded, no one among the cardinals, indeed no one with any capacity for thinking, could be mistaken about what Cardinal Ratzinger believed about the times in which we live and the role of Jesus Christ and the Roman Catholic Church.

He finished his homily. The conclave began. And after less than a day and a half, he was elevated to the papacy.

Can you say "mandate"?

After this bold declaration, no cardinal can later claim that there was any doubt as to Benedict's beliefs or the direction in which he would take the Church. If he replaces any of the 48 cardinal-electors who are 74-years-or-older with new cardinals of like mind, no fair observer can claim that the Church is being pulled in a direction it did not intend. He did not propose a "transitional" papacy or a period of consolidation.

It was a thunderous approval for a blunt and profound homily, and given that it was Benedict's declaration of purpose before he became pope, it is useful to reprint it here in its entirety for those who either missed it, or who, upon consideration, conclude it is worth reading very carefully indeed:

CARDINAL JOSEPH RATZINGER

HOMILY AT THE MASS FOR THE ELECTION OF THE ROMAN PONTIFF, April 18, 2005

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.