Friday, April 19th, marked the eighth anniversary of the election of the former Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger as Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church. For not a few of us, the events of April 19, 2005, brought sheer joy as we heard the name "Josephum" pronounced when the "Habemus Papam" announcement came.
The joy was not fleeting for the new Pope ushered in a period of authentic liturgical renewal, something many of us believed that the Church needed (and still does). What he wrote in his famous book, The Spirit of the Liturgy, Pope Benedict XVI slowly brought to life. He taught us that liturgy matters. In fact, his first homily as Pope gave us insight into the direction he would lead his flock.
Preached on April 20, 2005, in his first Mass as Supreme Pontiff, Benedict XVI touched on the importance of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass:
4. My Pontificate begins in a particularly meaningful way as the Church is living the specialYear dedicated to the Eucharist. How could I fail to see this providential coincidence as an element that must mark the ministry to which I am called? The Eucharist, the heart of Christian life and the source of the Church's evangelizing mission, cannot but constitute the permanent centre and source of the Petrine ministry that has been entrusted to me.
The Eucharist makes constantly present the Risen Christ who continues to give himself to us, calling us to participate in the banquet of his Body and his Blood. From full communion with him flows every other element of the Church's life: first of all, communion among all the faithful, the commitment to proclaiming and witnessing to the Gospel, the ardour of love for all, especially the poorest and lowliest.
This year, therefore, the Solemnity of Corpus Christi must be celebrated with special solemnity. Subsequently, the Eucharist will be the centre of the World Youth Day in Colognein August, and in October, also of the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, whose theme will be: "The Eucharist, source and summit of the life and mission of the Church". I ask everyone in the coming months to intensify love and devotion for Jesus in the Eucharist, and to express courageously and clearly faith in the Real Presence of the Lord, especially by the solemnity and the correctness of the celebrations.
I ask this especially of priests, whom I am thinking of with deep affection at this moment. The ministerial Priesthood was born at the Last Supper, together with the Eucharist, as my Venerable Predecessor John Paul II so frequently emphasized. "All the more then must the life of a priest be "shaped' by the Eucharist" (Letter to Priests for Holy Thursday 2005, n. 1; ORE, 23 March, p. 4). In the first place, the devout, daily celebration of Holy Mass, the centre of the life and mission of every priest, contributes to this goal.
5. Nourished and sustained by the Eucharist, Catholics cannot but feel encouraged to strive for the full unity for which Christ expressed so ardent a hope in the Upper Room. The Successor of Peter knows that he must make himself especially responsible for his Divine Master's supreme aspiration. Indeed, he is entrusted with the task of strengthening his brethren (cf. Lk 22: 32).
As the Successor of St. Peter, Benedict believed that he was called to strengthen and confirm his brethren, the same charge that Christ gave to the Prince of the Apostles during the Last Supper. Strengthening and confirming was something that Benedict continuously did, especially when it came to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. He led by example and sought to have the beauty and majesty of the Papal liturgies he celebrated serve as the model for the Universal Church to follow.
In doing so, Benedict also followed the command that Christ gave to St. Peter, feeding and tending the sheep and lambs entrusted to him. Benedict fed and tended the flock entrusted to him in many ways, but, the most visible was in the celebration of the Mass and in his definition of what it meant to be a shepherd. Again, let us look at the words that he preached at the Mass to mark the start of his reign. Here, he explains the meaning of the Pallium and what is it to be a shepherd:
The first symbol is the Pallium, woven in pure wool, which will be placed on my shoulders. This ancient sign, which the Bishops of Rome have worn since the fourth century, may be considered an image of the yoke of Christ, which the Bishop of this City, the Servant of the Servants of God, takes upon his shoulders. God’s yoke is God’s will, which we accept. And this will does not weigh down on us, oppressing us and taking away our freedom. To know what God wants, to know where the path of life is found – this was Israel’s joy, this was her great privilege. It is also our joy: God’s will does not alienate us, it purifies us – even if this can be painful – and so it leads us to ourselves. In this way, we serve not only him, but the salvation of the whole world, of all history. The symbolism of the Pallium is even more concrete: the lamb’s wool is meant to represent the lost, sick or weak sheep which the shepherd places on his shoulders and carries to the waters of life. For the Fathers of the Church, the parable of the lost sheep, which the shepherd seeks in the desert, was an image of the mystery of Christ and the Church. The human race – every one of us – is the sheep lost in the desert which no longer knows the way. The Son of God will not let this happen; he cannot abandon humanity in so wretched a condition. He leaps to his feet and abandons the glory of heaven, in order to go in search of the sheep and pursue it, all the way to the Cross. He takes it upon his shoulders and carries our humanity; he carries us all – he is the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. What the Pallium indicates first and foremost is that we are all carried by Christ. But at the same time it invites us to carry one another. Hence the Pallium becomes a symbol of the shepherd’s mission, of which the Second Reading and the Gospel speak. The pastor must be inspired by Christ’s holy zeal: for him it is not a matter of indifference that so many people are living in the desert. And there are so many kinds of desert. There is the desert of poverty, the desert of hunger and thirst, the desert of abandonment, of loneliness, of destroyed love. There is the desert of God’s darkness, the emptiness of souls no longer aware of their dignity or the goal of human life. The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast. Therefore the earth’s treasures no longer serve to build God’s garden for all to live in, but they have been made to serve the powers of exploitation and destruction. The Church as a whole and all her Pastors, like Christ, must set out to lead people out of the desert, towards the place of life, towards friendship with the Son of God, towards the One who gives us life, and life in abundance. The symbol of the lamb also has a deeper meaning. In the Ancient Near East, it was customary for kings to style themselves shepherds of their people. This was an image of their power, a cynical image: to them their subjects were like sheep, which the shepherd could dispose of as he wished. When the shepherd of all humanity, the living God, himself became a lamb, he stood on the side of the lambs, with those who are downtrodden and killed. This is how he reveals himself to be the true shepherd: “I am the Good Shepherd . . . I lay down my life for the sheep”, Jesus says of himself (Jn 10:14f). It is not power, but love that redeems us! This is God’s sign: he himself is love. How often we wish that God would make show himself stronger, that he would strike decisively, defeating evil and creating a better world. All ideologies of power justify themselves in exactly this way, they justify the destruction of whatever would stand in the way of progress and the liberation of humanity. We suffer on account of God’s patience. And yet, we need his patience. God, who became a lamb, tells us that the world is saved by the Crucified One, not by those who crucified him. The world is redeemed by the patience of God. It is destroyed by the impatience of man.
One of the basic characteristics of a shepherd must be to love the people entrusted to him, even as he loves Christ whom he serves. “Feed my sheep”, says Christ to Peter, and now, at this moment, he says it to me as well. Feeding means loving, and loving also means being ready to suffer. Loving means giving the sheep what is truly good, the nourishment of God’s truth, of God’s word, the nourishment of his presence, which he gives us in the Blessed Sacrament. My dear friends – at this moment I can only say: pray for me, that I may learn to love the Lord more and more. Pray for me, that I may learn to love his flock more and more – in other words, you, the holy Church, each one of you and all of you together. Pray for me, that I may not flee for fear of the wolves. Let us pray for one another, that the Lord will carry us and that we will learn to carry one another.Many of us can say that Benedict certainly did his best to feed and tend the flock entrusted to him on April 19, 2005. Even though not a few of us were privileged to have attended the Papal Liturgies that he celebrated, we were able to join him through electronic means such as telecasts and internet broadcasts. I, for one, was nourished by his preaching and united myself in prayer with him even though we were an ocean and several time zones away. The words that Benedict preached and the example that he gave of a proper celebration of the Mass are slowly bearing fruit.
But, being a shepherd also means suffering for the flock. While Benedict's suffering may not have been as publicly visible as that of Blessed John Paul II, nonetheless, the Bavarian pontiff certainly had a heavy cross to bear. It was only after his retirement, that we have seen the physical toll it has taken on his body. Yet, Benedict continues to present himself as a daily oblation to Christ on behalf of the Church. In fact, Benedict once said that the priest must continuously offer himself as an oblation to God for the Church. In this way, he is truly an Altar Christus, uniting his sacrifice to that of the Lamb.
In one of the Prefaces that the celebrant ues during the Easter Season, he prays that
By the oblation of his Body,
he brought the sacrifices of old to fulfillment
in the reality of the Cross
and, by commending himself to you for our salvation,
showed himself the Priest, the Altar and the Lamb of sacrifice.
This section of the Preface calls to mind what we heard in today's second reading from the Book of Revelation, wherein the Lamb who was sacrificed now leads the innumerable throng of believers. As Benedict said, God stands on the side of the lambs.
On this Good Shepherd Sunday, then, let us pray for both Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and his successor, Pope Francis, that the Lord may strengthen them and sustain them. Even though one shepherd is retired, he still looks out for the good of the flock. Even though he remains hidden from us, he continues to offer himself as a spiritual victim for the good of the Church. For Pope Francis, I pray that the Lord will sustain him in his ministry.