Jesus Christ: “The Measure of True Humanism”
Homily delivered by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger during the Mass “for the election of the Roman Pontiff” in St. Peter’s Basilica, before the conclave 2in April 2005 which went on to elect him as the Bishop of Rome.
Isaiah 61:1-3a. 6a. 8b-9
At this hour of great responsibility, let us listen with particular attention to what the Lord says to us in his own words. I would like to choose only a passage of the three readings, which affects us directly in a moment such as this.
The first reading offers a prophetic portrait of the figure of the Messiah, a portrait that attains all its meaning at the moment when Jesus reads this text in the synagogue ofNazareth, when he says: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). At the heart of this prophetic text, we find a phrase that, at least at first glance, seems contradictory. In speaking of himself, the Messiah says that he has been sent “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, on the day of vengeance of our God” (Isaiah 61:2).
We listen with joy to the proclamation of the year of mercy: Divine mercy puts a limit to evil, the Holy Father said to us. Jesus Christ is divine mercy in person: To find Christ means to find the mercy of God. Christ’s mandate has become our mandate through priestly unction; we are called to promulgate not only with words but also with our life and with the effective signs of the sacraments “the year of the Lord’s favor.”
But what does Isaiah mean when he proclaims “the day of vengeance of our God”? When reading the prophetic text in Nazareth, Jesus did not pronounce these words; he concluded by proclaiming the year of favor. Was this, perhaps, the reason for the scandal that took place after his preaching? We do not know. In any case, the Lord gave his authentic commentary to these words with his death on the cross. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree,” says St. Peter (1 Peter 2:24). And St. Paul writes to the Galatians: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us — for it is written, ‘Cursed be every one who hangs on a tree’ — that in Christ Jesus the blessings of Abraham might come upon the gentiles, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:13).
The mercy of Christ is not a cheap grace; it does not imply the trivialization of evil. Christ bore in his body and soul all the weight of evil, all its destructive force. The day of vengeance and the year of favor coincide in the paschal mystery, in Christ, dead and risen. This is the vengeance of God: He himself, in the person of the Son, suffered for us. The more we are touched by the mercy of the Lord, the more we are in solidarity with his suffering, the more disposed we are to complete in our flesh “what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” (Colossians 1:24).
Let us go on to the second reading, the letter of Paul to the Ephesians. It addresses essentially three arguments: in the first place, the ministries and charisms of the Church, as gifts of the risen Lord ascended to heaven; then maturity in faith and in knowledge of the Son of God, as condition and content of unity in the body of Christ; and, finally, the common participation in the growth of the Body of Christ, that is, the transformation of the world in communion with the Lord.
Let us reflect on two points. The first is the path to the “maturity of Christ,” as it states, simplifying the text in Italian. More concretely, we would have to speak, according to the Greek text, of the “measure of the fullness of Christ,” which we are called to attain to truly be adults in the faith. We should not remain as children in the faith, in the state of minors. And what does it mean to be children in the faith? St. Paul answers: It means to be “tossed to and from and carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14). A very timely description!
How many winds of doctrine we have known in these last decades, how many ideological currents, how many fashions of thought? The small boat of thought of many Christians has often remained agitated by the waves, tossed from one extreme to the other: from Marxism to liberalism, to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism, etc.
Every day new sects are born and we see realized what St. Paul says on the deception of men, on the cunning that tends to lead into error (cf. Ephesians 4:14). To have a clear faith, according to the creed of the Church, is often labeled as fundamentalism. While relativism, that is, allowing oneself to be carried about with every wind of “doctrine,” seems to be the only attitude that is fashionable. A dictatorship of relativism is being constituted that recognizes nothing as absolute and which only leaves the “I” and its whims as the ultimate measure.
We have another measure: the Son of God, true man. He is the measure of true humanism. “Adult” is not a faith that follows the waves in fashion and the latest novelty. Adult and mature is a faith profoundly rooted in friendship with Christ. This friendship opens us to all that is good and gives us the measure to discern between what is true and what is false, between deceit and truth.
We must mature in this adult faith; we must lead the flock of Christ to this faith. And this faith, the only faith, creates unity and takes place in charity. St. Paul offers us a beautiful phrase, in opposition to the continual ups and downs of those who are like children tossed by the waves, to bring about truth in charity, as fundamental formula of Christian existence. Truth and charity coincide in Christ. In the measure that we come close to Christ, also in our life, truth and charity are fused. Charity without truth would be blind; truth without charity would be like “a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1).
Let us now turn to the Gospel, from whose richness I would like to draw only two small observations. The Lord addresses these wonderful words to us: “No longer do I call you servants … but I have called you friends” (John 15:15). Many times we simply feel like useless servants, and it is true (cf. Luke 17:10). And, despite this, the Lord calls us friends; he makes us his friends; he gives us his friendship. The Lord defines friendship in two ways. There are no secrets between friends: Christ tells us everything he hears from the Father; he gives us his full confidence and, with confidence, also knowledge. He reveals his face to us, his heart. He shows us his tenderness for us, his passionate love that goes to the folly of the cross.
He gives us his confidence; he gives us the power to speak with his I: “This is my body,” and “I absolve you.” He entrusts his body to us, the Church. He entrusts his truth to our weak minds, our weak hands, the mystery of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; the mystery of the God who “so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16). He has made us his friends and, we, how do we respond?
The second element with which Jesus defines friendship is the communion of wills. “Idem velle — idem nolle,” was also for Romans the definition of friendship. “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:14). Friendship with Christ coincides with what the third petition of the Our Father expresses: “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
In the hour of Gethsemane, Jesus transformed our rebellious human will in a will conformed and united with the divine will. He suffered all the drama of our autonomy and, in carrying our will in God’s hands, he gave us true freedom: “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). In this communion of wills our redemption takes place: to be friends of Jesus, to become friends of God. The more we love Jesus, the more we know him, and the more our genuine freedom grows, as well as the joy of being redeemed. Thank you, Jesus, for your friendship!
The other element of the Gospel that I would like to mention is Jesus’ discourse on bearing fruit: “I […] chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain” (John 15:16). Here the dynamism of the Christian’s existence appears, of the apostle: “I appointed you to go.” We must be animated by a “holy anxiety,” the anxiety of taking the gift of faith, of friendship with Christ, to all. In truth, love, friendship with God, has been given to us so that it will also reach others.
We have received the faith to give it to others; we are priests to serve others. And we must bear fruit that abides. But, what abides? Money does not last. Buildings do not last, or books. After a certain time, more or less long, all this disappears. The only thing that abides eternally is the human soul — man created by God for eternity.
The fruit that abides, therefore, is the one we have sown in human souls, love, knowledge; the gesture capable of touching the heart; the word that opens the soul to the joy of the Lord. So, let us go and ask the Lord to help us to bear fruit, a fruit that abides. Only thus is the earth transformed from a vale of tears into a garden of God.
Finally, let us return once more to Ephesians. The letter says, with the words of Psalm 68, that Christ, when “he ascended on high … gave gifts to men” (Ephesians 4:8). The victorious distribute gifts. And these gifts are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Our ministry is a gift of Christ to men to build his body, the new world. Let us live our ministry in this way, as a gift of Christ to men! But, in this moment, let us ask our Lord insistently that, after the great gift of Pope John Paul II, he will again give us a pastor according to his heart, a pastor who will lead us to knowledge of Christ, to his love, to true joy.
[Translation by ZENIT]