Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on Tuesday made a rare appearance together, at a ceremony to commemorate the 65th anniversary of Benedict’s ordination to the priesthood.
The event was held in the Clementine Hall of the Vatican Apostolic Palace, on the Vigil of Benedict’s actual anniversary, the June 29th Solemnity of the Apostles, Sts Peter and Paul.
During the ceremony, German Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and curator of the Opera omnia of Joseph Ratzinger, presented Benedict XVI with a book entitled Teaching and Learning the Love of God, a collection of Joseph Ratzinger’s homilies on the priesthood.
The new book, part of a publishing project consisting of seven volumes on the core themes of Joseph Ratzinger’s thought, is being published in English in the United States by Ignatius Press. On receiving the book, Benedict XVI entrusted one copy to Pope Francis as a gift.
Pope Francis praised and thanked the pope emeritus for spending his priestly life for the Lord with a gaze and heart always turned to God, and for contributing to contribute to the growth of the Church through his prayer and wisdom.
This is all still rather surreal for those of us who are lifelong Roman Catholics. I expected to see a Pope Emeritus in my lifetime about as much as I expected to see a return to the Borgia nonsense of the 15th century. Pope Francis’ tribute was beautiful and heartfelt. It must be surreal for him too, as popes aren’t exactly used to having their predecessors almost literally watching over their shoulders. Here is an excerpt from his remarks:
In one of the many beautiful pages which you have dedicated to the priesthood, you highlight how, in the hour of Simon’s definitive call, Jesus, looking at him, in the end asks only one thing: “Do you love me?” How beautiful and true this is! For it it here, you tell us, in that “you do love me” that the Lord establishes his tending; since only if there is love for the Lord can He feed his sheep through us: “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you” (Jn 21: 15-19).
This is the note that dominates an entire life spent in the priestly service and theology, which not by chance you have defined as “the search for the beloved.” It is this to which you have always borne witness, and still bear witness today: that the decisive thing in our days — come rain or shine — that one thing with which all the rest follows, is that the Lord is truly present, that we desire him, that interiorly we are close to him, that we love him, that truly we believe deeply in him, and believing truly love him.
It is this loving which truly fills our heart; this believing is what enables to walk on water in confidence and peace, even in the midst of a storm, just as happened to Peter. This love and this belief is what enables us to look to the future, not with fear or nostalgia, but with joy, even now in the later years of our lives.
And so, precisely by living and witnessing today, in such an intense and luminous way, to this one truly decisive thing — to have one’s eyes and heart turned to God — you, Your Holiness, continue to serve the Church.
Pope Benedict has been one of the premier thinkers and defenders of the faith in the clergy in the last thirty or so years, which is why he was John Paul II’s right-hand man for so long. His writing is deep and interesting, and I suspect his homilies will make for interesting reading as well.