Mass of Blessing and Thanksgiving for the Petrine Ministry of His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI
In these last weeks, I have reflected on the life of the Church these last eight years under the guidance and care of Pope Benedict XVI: so many thoughts, so many memories and, yes, many emotions.Â Up until last evening, I still was not sure what I would be grateful for the most, what I would hope most for our Holy Father as he retires from the Petrine Office in just a few hours from now.Â And, thank our Great Lord, last night I received our Holy Fatherâ€™s words spoken at yesterdayâ€™s final general audience, and I let Pope Benedict speak for himself:
â€œWhen, almost eight years ago, I agreed to take on the Petrine ministry, the words that resounded in my heart were: â€œLord, what do you ask of me? It is a great weight that You place on my shoulders, but, if You ask me, at your word I will throw out the nets, sure that you will guide meâ€ â€“ and the Lord really has guided me. He has been close to me: daily could I feel His presence. I have felt like St. Peter with the Apostles in the boat on the Sea of Galilee: the Lord has given us many days of sunshine and gentle breezes, days in which the catch has been abundant; then there have been times when the seas were rough and the wind against us – and the Lord seemed to sleep. Nevertheless, I always knew that the Lord is in the ship, that the ship of the Church is not mine, not ours, but His – and He shall not let her sink. It is He, who steers her. â€¦It is for this reason, that today my heart is filled with gratitude to God, for never did He leave me or the Church without His consolation, His light, His love.â€
â€œI would like to offer heartfelt thanks to all the many people throughout the whole world, who, in recent weeks have sent me moving tokens of concern, friendship and prayer. Yes, the Pope is never alone: now I experience this truth again in a way so great as to touch my very heart. The Pope belongs to everyone, and so many people feel very close to him. Itâ€™s true that I receive letters from the world’s greatest figures – from the Heads of State, and so on. I also receive many letters from ordinary people who write to me simply from their heart and let me feel their affection, which is born of our being together in Christ Jesus, in the Church. These people do not write me as one might write, for example, to a prince or a great figure one does not know. They write as brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, with the sense of very affectionate family ties. Here, one can touch what the Church is â€“ not an organization, but a living body, a community of brothers and sisters in the Body of Jesus Christ, who unites us all. To experience the Church in this way and almost be able to touch with oneâ€™s hands the power of His truth and His love, is a source of joyâ€¦.â€
â€œIn recent months, I felt that my strength had decreased, and I asked God with insistence in prayer to enlighten me with His light to help me make the right decision â€“ not for my sake, but for the good of the Church. I have taken this stepâ€¦with a deep peace of mind. Loving the Church also means having the courage to make difficult, trying choices, having ever before oneself the good of the Church and not oneâ€™s own.â€
â€œI was committed always and forever by the Lord. Always â€“ for he, who assumes the Petrine ministry no longer has any privacy. He belongs always and totally to everyone, to the whole Church. His life is, so to speak, totally deprived of the private sphere. I have felt, and I feel even in this very moment, that one receives oneâ€™s life precisely when he offers it as a gift. I said before that many people who love the Lord also love the Successor of Saint Peter and are fond of him, that the Pope has truly brothers and sisters, sons and daughters all over the world, and that he feels safe in the embrace of their communion, because he no longer belongs to himself, but he belongs to all.â€
â€œThe â€˜alwaysâ€™ is also a â€˜foreverâ€™ – there is no returning to private life. My decision to forgo the exercise of active ministry, does not revoke this. I do not return to private life, I do not abandon the cross, but remain in a new way near to the Crucified Lord. I no longer wield the power of the office for the government of the Church, but in the service of prayer I remainâ€¦.â€
â€œDear friends! God guides His Church, maintains her always, and especially in difficult times. Let us never lose this vision of faith, which is the only true vision of the way of the Church and the world. In our heart, in the heart of each of you, let there be always the joyous certainty that the Lord is near, that He does not abandon us, that He is near to us and that He surrounds us with His love.â€
With evidence of such great courage and honest humility, we come to the last hours of Benedictâ€™s pontificate; but, clearly, not of his presence in the Church.Â His prayer for and with us is now most intense, most constant and filled with singular charity and love; love for each and every single one of us who make up Christâ€™s holy Church.
May the Lord continue to remain ever-close to the heart of our Holy Father and may His gracious blessings be upon him for the remainder of his days.