May Pope Benedict XVI Bless and Accompany Us from Heaven
Pope Benedict XVI passed away on Dec. 31, 2022, New Year’s Eve. His final words, as he lay dying in his bed, were “Lord, I love you!” These words summed up the life of an extraordinary man who made a deep impression upon the life of the Church and of the world. They reflect the simplicity and complexity of Pope Benedict XVI, who was an intellectual, scholar, theologian and man of faith of a powerful nature. His greatness of mind and spirit was comparable to the depth of his humility. The life of Joseph Ratzinger was always centered on a living relationship with a loving God. He lived his life in this manner always concerned about blessing and not impressing.
This year on New Year’s Eve, Pope Francis, in his Sunday audience, expressed his love and admiration for Pope Benedict XVI. He said, “A year ago, Pope Benedict XVI ended his earthly journey, after having lovingly and wisely served the Church. We feel so much affection, gratitude and admiration for him. May he bless us and accompany us from heaven. A round of applause for Benedict XVI!” Indeed, in the year since his passing, we have learned even more about the depth of spirituality of this great priest and servant of the Church. At the beginning of a new year, it is well to reflect upon those qualities which were at the core of Pope Benedict’s life. Indeed, they are myriad, but I would like to reflect upon them in the words of St. Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians when he urges us to “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks” (5:17-18). Prayer, joy and gratitude sum up the life and legacy of Pope Benedict XVI.
Pope Benedict XVI was a man who prayed without ceasing. That was very obvious during his years as a priest, bishop and as pope. It was especially summed up when he chose, due to the limitations of his health, to resign the papacy and to live his final days in prayer. In his monastery at the Vatican, he lived a life of communion with God, especially centered on the Eucharist. The celebration of the Eucharist and the adoration of the Eucharist were for Pope Benedict XVI the core of his spirituality, which drew him into deep communion with the Lord. He was obviously well aware of the communal nature of the Eucharist, and his life in the monastery drew him even more in communion through the Eucharist with the Church. Pope Benedict XVI loved the Eucharist, and this is well expressed in his magnificent apostolic exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis. Here, he expresses that the “Substantial conversion of bread and wine into His body and blood introduces within creation the principle of radical change, a sort of ‘nuclear fission,’ to use an image familiar to us today, which penetrates to the heart of all being, a change meant to set off a process which transforms reality, a process leading ultimately to the transfiguration of the entire world, to the point where God will be all in all (cf. 1 Cor 15:28).” It was the Eucharist which gave Pope Benedict XVI the ability to pray without ceasing in all of the many aspects of his ministry and in his life of monastic prayer.
Because of his deep prayer life and union with the Lord, Pope Benedict XVI was a man of interior joy. It is well to reflect upon the joy that is present in someone who possesses peace because of a deep relationship with the Lord. This peace is naturally expressed to others, not necessarily by exterior signs but by the peace which another feels in the presence of a joyful person. In his final work, What is Christianity, which he completed in his monastic retirement but was not published until after his passing, Pope Benedict said, “Let us proclaim Jesus Christ, not in order to gain as many members as possible for a community, much less for the sake of power. Let us speak about him because we feel that we must hand on this joy that was given to us. We will be credible announcers of Jesus Christ when we have truly encountered him in the depths of our being.” This was the joy that Benedict possessed and handed on through his deep life of union with the Lord in prayer.
Pope Benedict XVI was a man of gratitude to God. He expressed his gratitude in many ways but especially by being the person God had made him to be and using the talents which were given to him. On the occasion of the celebration of his 90th birthday in the Vatican gardens of his monastery residence, Pope Benedict said, “My heart is full of gratitude for the 90 years that God has given me. There have been trials and hard times, but always He has guided me and rescued me, so I can continue my journey.” He accepted what came to him in life with gratitude to God, knowing that God was with him and would never let him down. How much our world today needs the spirit of gratitude which will enable us to recognize God and share His blessings with all those He has given to us.
The Vatican recently announced that it will publish a collection of the Sunday homilies which Pope Benedict XVI gave at the Masses he celebrated at the monastery for his household. While the date for the publication has not been announced, the homilies will truly be a rich source of continuing insight into the depths of Pope Benedict XVI’s spirituality and his prayer, joy and gratitude.
Again, in the words of Pope Francis, “May Pope Benedict XVI, who wisely and lovingly served the Church, for whom we feel such affection, gratitude and admiration, continue to bless us and accompany us from heaven, as we continue our journey to God.”
Most Revered Gerald M. Barbarito
January 12, 2024