St. Peter, the rock that Jesus built his church upon, and St. Paul, whom Jesus toppled off his horse and sent to proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles, were honored on their feast day, June 29th.
A Happy Day in the Vatican
June 29th also marked the 60th anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI ‘s ordination to the priesthood. It was a happy day in the Vatican with many remembrances of the Pope’s ordination which were addressed in his biography, as well as the day’s homily. Here are some that especially touched me:
When the great German Cardinal Michael Von Faulhaber, archbishop of Munich and Freising, who during the dark years of the Third Reich had become one of the most courageous critics of Hitler’s regime, laid his hands on the twenty-four year old Joseph Ratzinger raising him to the priesthood.
“We were more than forty candidates (one was his older brother Georg) , who, at the solemn call on that radiant summer day, which I remember as the high point of my life, responded “Adsum”, Here I am. We should not be superstitious; but, at that moment when the elderly archbishop laid his hands on me, a little bird – perhaps a lark – flew up from the high altar in the cathedral and trilled a little joyful song. And I could not but see in this a reassurance from on high, as if I heard the words, “This is good, you are on the right way.”
Following their ordination the brothers returned to their small town and Benedict tells us:
“We were invited to bring the first blessing into people’s homes, (remember this was shortly after WWII and these people had lived through dire times) and everywhere we were received even by total strangers with a warmth and affection I had not thought possible until that day…….I learned firsthand how earnestly people wait for a priest, how much they long for the blessing that flows from the power of the sacrament.”
From his homily, on this memorable day, I get a sense of the high value he places on friendship as he makes known to us that:
“I hear once again deep within me these words of Jesus that were addressed to us new priests at the end of the ordination ceremony. “I no longer call you servants, but friends” (Jn 5:15) According to the liturgical practice of that time, these words conferred on the newly-ordained priests the authority to forgive sins. I knew that, at that moment, the Lord himself was speaking to me in a very personal way. He calls me his friend. He welcomes me into the circle of those he had spoken to in the Upper Room. ……..He grants me the almost frightening faculty to do what only he, the Son of God, can legitimately say and do: I forgive you your sins. He wants me – with his authority – to be able to speak, in his name (I forgive), words that are not merely words, but an action, changing something at the deepest level of being. ……..He confides in me: “No longer servants, but friends”. He entrusts to me the words of consecration in the Eucharist. He trusts me to proclaim his word, to explain it aright and to bring it to the people of today. ……..”No longer servants, but friends”: this saying contains within itself the entire program of a priestly life. What is friendship? ……Wanting the same things, rejecting the same things: this was how it was expressed in antiquity. Friendship is a communion of thinking and willing.”
In his homily Benedict drew analogies from vines, fruit and the weather to the teachings of Jesus, as he tells us:
“Jesus’ words on friendship should be seen in the context of the discourse on the vine. The lord associates the image of the vine with a commission to the disciples: “I appointed you that you should go out and bear fruit, and that your fruit should abide”(Jn 15:16). The first commission to the disciples – to his friends – is that of setting out, stepping outside oneself and toward others. ……..”Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…”(Mt 28:19).
“What is this fruit that abides? Now, the fruit of the vine is the grape, and it is from the grape that wine is made. For good grapes to ripen, sun is needed, but so too is rain. For noble wine to mature, the grapes need to be pressed, patience is needed while the juice ferments, watchful care is needed to assist the processes of maturation. Noble wine is marked not only by sweetness, but by rich and subtle flavors, the manifold aroma that develops during the processes of maturation and fermentation. Is this not an image of human life, and especially of our lives as priests? We need both sun and rain, festivity and adversity, times of purification and of testing, as well as times of joyful journeying with the gospel. In hindsight we can thank God for both: for the challenges and the joys, for the dark times and the glad times. In both we can recognize the constant presence of his love, which unfailingly supports and sustains us. Yet now we must ask what sort of fruit does the Lord expect from us? Wine is an image of love: this is the true fruit that abides, the fruit that God wants from us. But let us not forget that in the Old Testament the wine expected from noble grapes is above all an image of justice, which arises from a life lived in accordance with God’s law. And this is not to be dismissed as an Old Testament view that has been surpassed – no, it still remains true. The true content of the Law, its summa, is love for God and for ones neighbor. But this twofold love is not simply saccharine. It bears within itself the precious cargo of patience, humility, and growth in the conforming of our will to God’s will, to the will of Jesus Christ, our friend. Only in this way, as the whole of our being takes on the qualities of truth and righteousness, is love also true, only thus is it ripe fruit. It’s inner demand – faithfulness to Christ and to his Church – seeks a fulfillment that always includes suffering. This is the way that true joy grows. At a deep level, the essence of love, the essence of genuine fruit, coincides with the idea of setting out, going towards: it means self-abandonment, self-giving, it bears within itself the sign of the cross.”
The Pope concludes:
……“I felt prompted at this moment to look back upon the things that have left their mark on the last six decades. I felt prompted to address to you, to all priests and bishops and to the faithful of the Church, a word of hope and encouragement; a word that has matured in long experience of how good the Lord is. Above all, though, it is a time of thanksgiving: thanks to the Lord for the friendship that he has bestowed upon me and that he wishes to bestow upon us all. Thanks to the people who have formed and accompanied me. And all this includes the prayer that the Lord will one day welcome us in his goodness and invite us to contemplate his joy.”
Living through this day with the Holy Father and the bishops receiving their palliums (especially Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles whom I claim as my very own), via the just launched NEWS.VA was a blessing of immense meaning to me.
CatholicWomen.com sends to Benedict XVI our love and very best wishes. We pledge our loyalty and the promise he will remain in our hearts and prayers as he so admirably leads us in the way of the Lord into the future.