on the occasion of the election of
POPE BENEDICT XVI
Homily Notes of
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin, Primate of Ireland
Pro-Cathedral, Dublin, 22nd April 2005
We then watched the extraordinary period of mourning of a great Pope. My abiding memory of the funeral is the moment in which the coffin of the deceased Pope was carried back into Saint Peter’s Basilica. For one who was in the same Saint Peter’s Square on that October evening in 1978, when he first appeared from out of the same Basilica, there was something definitive about that scene. It was the end of something quite extraordinary, the earthly life and mission of Karol Wojtyla.
But the life and mission of the Church moves on from one generation to the next. After a period of dignified mourning with the extraordinary participation of so many people, especially of young people, it was time to await the Gaudium Magnum, the announcement of a successor, a new Pope. There was some surprise yet spontaneous joy at the appearance of white smoke already on Tuesday evening; joy enhanced at the emotive sound as the great bells of Saint Peter’s rang out. It was joy for the Church; joy that the important office of successor of Saint Peter was once again filled. There was a new Bishop of Rome, a new pastor of the Universal Church.
There was particular joy at the rapidity of the election. The rapidity was the sign that there was broad consensus among the cardinals regarding the choice of the new Pope: Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, a man of extraordinary intellect, of deep spirituality and of exceptional theological knowledge, who responding to the indications of the spirit, accepted his new responsibilities and took the name Pope Benedict XVI.
Pope Benedict is a scholar with a remarkable gift of language in expressing deep insights into the faith. He is a reserved person, with great human warmth, a simple almost frugal style of life, a man of prayer and spiritual depth. At his first appearance, Pope Benedict XVI stressed how much he owed to Pope John Paul II. The two Popes have much in common and yet there are differences.
While waiting to hear the name of the new Pope, I was listening to the commentators from Italian television – regarded very often as the best informed of the Vatican insiders – speculate on the name the Pope would take. Most felt that the new Pope would want to show the continuity of his mission with that of his predecessor and would almost inevitably take the name John Paul III. Once again the Vatican insiders got it wrong!
Why the name Benedict? The new Pope has given some indications. Obviously there is a link with the last Pope of that name, Benedict XV, who was Pope from 1914-1922. Benedict XV was a retiring man, physically somewhat frail, but courageous in stature. In some conversations and remarks in these past days, the new Pope has recalled two things about Benedict XV: his commitment to peace and his role as a reconciler within the Church.
At a time in which during the First World War there was an extraordinary scramble – almost impossible for us in our day to understand – of frenzied patriotism by people wanting to enrol themselves in the opposing armies of Europe, Pope Benedict XV– a voice almost alone – called the war “a useless massacre”. Ignored by world leaders, he did not demure and continued to call for an end to the war, for a just peace Treaty and for the establishment of institutions to give concrete substance to the reality of a “family of nations”.
The second point noted by Pope Benedict was that his predecessor of the same name was a reconciler within the Church. The early twentieth century was marked by a period of tension around the crisis of modernism and the reactions to it which had polarized the Church and stifled theological reflection. Benedict XV wanted to unite the Church in its practice and renewal.
There is however another motive for the choice of the name Benedict. The new Pope has a particular devotion to the figure of Saint Benedict, father of monasticism and co-Patron of Europe, who in his time played an extraordinary role in Christian renewal around Europe. It was a renewal which also regarded and respected the variety of cultures and can well be said to have saved the wealth of European cultures at that moment in time. The choice of the name Benedict is a clear indication, for example, of a desire that a future Europe be clearly a Europe of values.
But how to we go about establishing a Europe of values, a culture of modernity inspired by values, a world culture of values and solidarity?
Pope Benedict XVI, the new Pope, faces the challenge of leading the Church in these coming years in a complex cultural context. His leadership will help us understand how, in our post- modern world, believers must live as citizens of that world, as active co-workers in the projects and aspiration of modern-day humanity and yet remain unswerving in their loyalty to the message and person of Jesus. The Church has to evoke in Christian believers – evoke and not impose – the conviction that loyalty to the message of Jesus is indeed the key to being authentically a modern-day person. The cultures of our times must be examined and discerned, and then embraced or challenged, in terms of how they authentically foster human dignity.
The modern-day person must be challenged to reach out, over and above the contingencies of contemporary culture, to open him- or herself to the transcendent. Each one of us, Christian believers, must learn how to open our hearts to Jesus and recognise that He is the only path which will fully respond to our longings for meaning, that He is the truth which reveals to us the truth about our human nature, which He took upon himself and redeemed. As Christians we profess, in the modern-day world with all its complexities, that Jesus is Lord, the only way, truth and life.
As Pope, as successor of Peter, Benedict XVI is called to be a rock of solidity for the Church in current world context. He is to be the one who strengthens his brethren. He will do so perhaps in a different manner than his immediate predecessor, relying perhaps on that extraordinary gift that he has received for spirituality, reflection and interiority.
We gather here during the Year of the Eucharist. We partake intimately with Jesus who is our life. Church is community built in and through Eucharist. Being a Christian, being a Catholic is not a question of following an ideology, a programme, much less a selection of a few chosen values. It is accepting Jesus Christ into our lives, with His message of love and truth, and allowing that message, allowing the person Jesus to bring out from within us what is most lasting and noble, what is good and loving, what is most merciful and reconciling.
May Mary who was with the Apostles when they gathered in Jesus’ name and when they received the spirit accompany the new Pope in his daunting task, and renew in each one of us the gifts of the spirit.