The following homily was given by Archbishop Peter A Comensoli at the Memorial Mass for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI at St Patrick's Cathedral on Sunday 29 January 2023.
Popes come and go in the life of the Church. That’s always been the case from the time of St Peter, the first pope, right up to our current pope, Francis. Most of the 266 popes of history are not memorable, except in Google lists. But as it happens, the 20th century, and this first quarter of the 21st, have produced an unusually high number of good and saintly popes. Pope Benedict XVI, who’s month’s mind we recall this week, can honourably sit among that noble group.
Each pope is their own person, given to the Church with a charism that might bring Christ to light in people’s lives. A naturally introverted and genuinely humble man, who liked a good German beer and who personally cared for the ‘strays’ of Rome, both human and feline, Josef Ratzinger was arguably the most gifted theologian the Church has received as a pope. In three hundred years from now, long after just about every other pope of our time has been forgotten, people of faith will still be reading and learning from the teachings of Pope Benedict.
Pope Benedict was, in a quite singular way, very much like St Paul. I don’t mean in personality or temperament, and certainly not in preaching style, but in his focus on what matters in faith. For Benedict, like Paul, sought only to proclaim Christ as Lord, and to bring his name into the life of believers. As Paul said, so Benedict lived: ‘[I]t was to shame the wise that God chose what is foolish by human reckoning, and to shame what is strong that he chose what is weak by human reckoning; … by God’s doing [Jesus Christ] has become our wisdom, and our virtue, and our holiness, and our freedom.’ Benedict, himself, acknowledged his weakened reality, by human standards, yet we know he remained strong in Christ.
There has been in recent times a tendency in the membership of the Church to take sides, to take a political, ecclesial stance. For those of us engaged in the life of the Church, we have—collectively—become a bit like the Corinthians, who were boasting of their positions over and against one another, and forgetting Christ. Conservative, progressive; left, right; trad, liberal. These are all slogans, and none of them helpful in coming to Christ. As we heard in the gospel today, those who are blessed in God’s eyes are the poor in spirit, the gentle, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers. Pope Benedict was particularly good in reminding us of this—to turn to Christ, and to find in him the light by which to live.
Pope Benedict left one distinctive legacy that will continue to ferment for decades to come. The path of faith cannot be taken without the accompaniment of reason, and social institutions need faith for their fulfilment and good ordering. He spoke on this very many times, and in vastly different contexts. Let me quote from just one example, his address to British society in Westminster Hall in 2010, home of our own form of parliamentary democracy:
[T]he world of reason and the world of faith—the world of secular rationality and the world of religious belief—need one another and should not be afraid to enter into a profound and ongoing dialogue, for the good of our civilisation. Religion, in other words, is not a problem for legislators to solve, but a vital contributor to the national conversation.
May Christ welcome Pope Benedict into the feast of eternal life, removing the worn garment of human weakness and sin and presenting him with the wedding garment he so desired to wear. May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, rest in peace and rise to glory.