fbpx
Politics Foreign Affairs Culture We're Hiring

Lessons From Pope Benedict’s Funeral

The shocking contempt Pope Francis has for the great Bavarian pope
IMG_3198

I arrived at the Vatican this morning before dawn, to make sure I got a seat at Benedict's funeral. The Vatican was magical in the cold fog.

Advertisement

As my regular readers know, I deeply loved Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI, and wanted to be at his funeral. I left the Catholic Church in 2006, just as he became Pope, and the only lasting regret I had about that was the feeling of abandoning him. What a great Christian father he was. I had to be here to pay my respects. He was a model not only for Catholics, but for all of us who love Jesus Christ, and who want to be more faithful to him.

The funeral mass itself was quite beautiful. I don't know how many people were present in the square -- 60,000? -- but it wasn't like John Paul II's funeral, because Benedict had been out of the papal office for almost a decade. Still, those who were there loved him. Two old Bavarian women sat behind me. They loved him too, but in a way the rest of us can't understand. He was theirs.

We all prayed the rosary, in Latin, before the funeral started. The liturgy was glorious. Eventually, Pope Francis, who was shown being carted out in a wheelchair, gave his homily. Maybe I overreacted, but I thought it was a disgrace. Here is the text:

"Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Lk 23:46). These were the final words spoken by the Lord on the cross; his last breath, as it were, which summed up what had been his entire life: a ceaseless self-entrustment into the hands of his Father. His were hands of forgiveness and compassion, healing and mercy, anointing and blessing, which led him also to entrust himself into the hands of his brothers and sisters. The Lord, open to the individuals and their stories that he encountered along the way, allowed himself to be shaped by the Father’s will. He shouldered all the consequences and hardships entailed by the Gospel, even to seeing his hands pierced for love. “See my hands,” he says to Thomas (Jn 20:27), and to each of us. Pierced hands that constantly reach out to us, inviting us to recognize the love that God has for us and to believe in it (cf. 1 Jn 4:16).[1] 

“Father into your hands I commend my spirit.” This is the invitation and the programme of life that he quietly inspires in us. Like a potter (cf. Is 29:16), he wishes to shape the heart of every pastor, until it is attuned to the heart of Christ Jesus (cf. Phil 2:5). Attuned in grateful devotion, in service to the Lord and to his people, a service born of thanksgiving for a completely gracious gift: “You belong to me … you belong to them,” the Lord whispers, “you are under the protection of my hands. You are under the protection of my heart. Stay in my hands and give me yours.”[2] Here we see the “condescension” and closeness of God, who is ready to entrust himself to the frail hands of his disciples, so that they can feed his people and say with him: Take and eat, take and drink, for this is my body which is given up for you (cf. Lk 22:19). 

Attuned in prayerful devotion, a devotion silently shaped and refined amid the challenges and resistance that every pastor must face (cf. 1 Pet 1:6-7) in trusting obedience to the Lord’s command to feed his flock (cf. Jn 21:17 ). Like the Master, a shepherd bears the burden of interceding and the strain of anointing his people, especially in situations where goodness must struggle to prevail and the dignity of our brothers and sisters is threatened (cf. Heb 5:7-9). In the course of this intercession, the Lord quietly bestows the spirit of meekness that is ready to understand, accept, hope and risk, notwithstanding any misunderstandings that might result. It is the source of an unseen and elusive fruitfulness, born of his knowing the One in whom he has placed his trust (cf. 2 Tim 1:12). A trust itself born of prayer and adoration, capable of discerning what is expected of a pastor and shaping his heart and his decisions in accord with God’s good time (cf. Jn 21:18): “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.”

Attuned in devotion sustained by the consolation of the Spirit, who always precedes the pastor in his mission. In his passionate effort to communicate the beauty and the joy of the Gospel (cf. Gaudete et Exsultate, 57). In the fruitful witness of all those who, like Mary, in so many ways stand at the foot of the cross. In the painful yet steadfast serenity that neither attacks nor coerces. In the stubborn but patient hope that the Lord will be faithful to his promise, the promise he made to our fathers and to their descendants forever (cf. Lk 1:54-55).

Holding fast to the Lord’s last words and to the witness of his entire life, we too, as an ecclesial community, want to follow in his steps and to commend our brother into the hands of the Father. May those merciful hands find his lamp alight with the oil of the Gospel that he spread and testified to for his entire life (cf. Mt 25:6-7). 

At the end of his Pastoral Rule, St. Gregory the Great urged a friend to offer him this spiritual accompaniment: “Amid the shipwreck of the present life, sustain me, I beseech you, by the plank of your prayer, that, since my own weight sinks me down, the hand of your merit will raise me up.” Here we see the awareness of a pastor who cannot carry alone what in truth he could never carry alone, and can thus commend himself to the prayers and the care of the people entrusted to him.[4] God’s faithful people, gathered here, now accompanies and entrusts to him the life of the one who was their pastor. Like the women at the tomb, we too have come with the fragrance of gratitude and the balm of hope, in order to show him once more the love that is undying. We want to do this with the same wisdom, tenderness and devotion that he bestowed upon us over the years. Together, we want to say: “Father, into your hands we commend his spirit.” 

Benedict, faithful friend of the Bridegroom, may your joy be complete as you hear his voice, now and forever! 

It was not a bad homily necessarily, so why did I think it was a disgrace?

Advertisement

Because Francis barely mentioned the man we were burying -- only at the end, as if to say goodbye. Francis's predecessor was perhaps the greatest theologian ever to occupy Peter's throne, but of this, Francis said nothing. Joseph Ratzinger was an absolutely essential pillar of the world-historical great papacy of St. John Paul II, but of this, from Francis, nothing.

You don't even have to have liked Ratzinger's theology to nevertheless recognize his significance. This was Francis's opportunity to do so. He refused. He could have delivered this homily for his butler. Compare it to the detailed, joyful Benedict XVI gave at the funeral of John Paul II. Again, I know I am a partisan, but this struck me as an act of disrespect explicable only as an exercise of banked contempt.

Look, i don't have a lot of regard for Francis's papacy, but even I could have found words of praise for Francis in such a situation. And for Benedict, if a Swiss Guard had collared me, an ex-Catholic, and shoved me onto the stage, I could have delivered a homily in praise of that great old Bavarian Christian that would have been true to his towering legacy. Not the sitting Pope, though. No. It could be that Benedict's last act was to reveal the small, bitter, spiteful character of his successor, by the way Francis sent him to the ages. How much this pope must have hated Benedict.

I was nearly in tears, to be honest.

But after the funeral, my spirits were raised by the sight of a Bavarian family there to show their love and respect for their native son. I wish I could go home with these people, and eat at their table:

I mean it. If any of your readers know who this family is, put me in touch with them. They made my spirit soar. I want to reward them for the gift of grace their love for Benedict gave to me this morning, at a low point. I'm at rod -- at -- amconmag -- dot -- com.

After the funeral, there were Bavarians in regional costume marching around in a band. God bless them!

"Fifty thousand Krankheits!" I thought, but didn't say. Man, I love those Bavarians.

And then, glory of glories, I met the world's most inspiring Catholic, the great Marco Sermarini, and the Tipi Loschi, there in St. Peter's Square!

So many of the Tipi Loschi were there! I'm telling you, if you could just be around them, your heart for Christ would set aflame. These Catholics bring tears to my eyes with the purity and the joy of their faith. I haven't seen Marco's kids in five years, and man, have they grown. As we talked, Pater Edmund Waldstein, an intellectual leader of the integralist Catholics, came over to introduce himself. I had no idea he was as young as he is! Strangely, because I am neither Catholic nor all that sympathetic to the integralists, I was thrilled to meet Pater Edmund, because I know that whatever our differences, he is a man who loves Jesus, and is doing his best for the Kingdom. We are, somehow, on the same side. And he's a monk! I love monks:

So, what about it? I am so grateful for the privilege of having been here to send off one of the greatest Christians of our time, a man whose life and work has meant a lot to me. I am grieved and angry that Pope Francis showed such coldness and meanspiritedness towards Benedict in his homily -- but not, in fact, surprised. Francis made no reference to Benedict's immense theological legacy, which to me says that he is saying "goodbye to all that," and effectively declaring Year Zero. I feel very bad for my orthodox Catholic friends. I believe the post-Benedict era under Francis will be awful.

Nevertheless, the faith survives among Catholics through groups like the Bavarian families and the Tipi Loschi, and leaders like Marco Sermarini and Pater Edmund. Though I am no longer with them in the Catholic Church, I am with them as a brother in Christ, and I hope and pray that they prevail. We have all gained a powerful intercessor in heaven, I believe, with the passing of Joseph Ratzinger. I give thanks to God for the privilege of being present at the ritual of his homegoing.

UPDATE: Naturally, in FrancisChurch:

Comments

Want to join the conversation?

Subscribe for as little as $5/mo to start commenting on Rod’s blog.

Join Now
Fran Macadam
Fran Macadam
Pope and anti-Pope.

Still, to those who aren't ensconced within Roman Catholicism the life and death of Billy Graham has more resonance. How many souls do Popes win through evangelism? Even a conservative guardian of Roman doctrine like Ratzinger basically was active only within, and was admittedly ineffective in controlling the spread of heresy among the hierarchy, who made many more converts to their perversions. In Latin America, conversions to Evangelical are massive. In regards to this, even Pope Paul recognized that this did not herald a loss of Christ's influence, as I read in his Crossing the Threshold of Hope.
schedule 3 weeks ago
    Fran Macadam
    Fran Macadam
    I meant John Paul II. I have a copy somewhere in storage but there's no online version I could find to copy the quote. Reading that book, I recall insights about God that I had never encountered before except in my own prayerful reading of scripture. Since I believe these insights were led by the Holy Spirit, I was thus convinced that it was possible for a Pope to be a Christian, rather than just Italian. Not necessarily given the historical evidence of past figures, but possible. I also provisionally concurred that the Roman Catholic was a true church, but with significant error. I think that with all that has been revealed about institutional abuse and coverups and hierarchical failure to reform, that is proven accurate. Had I been born into Roman Catholicism, as an informed Christian adult, I likely would have migrated to the Russian Orthodox expression of Christianity. Having been Born Again in 1978 along with my wife, baptized in Lake Mindemoya by a Pottawatami evangelical pastor, my faith journey led through experience to share the faith of the early anabaptists. Our faith as expressed in The Martyrs' Mirror is where the Holy Spirit had already led us. Sadly, that faith has now been rejected by most modern Mennonites, the largest denomination having gone Woke instead.
    schedule 3 weeks ago
Siluan
Siluan
Sounded like a lot of fluff. Rod, have you considered that maybe there was no intent to insult? Reading that, perhaps Francis is just a really superficial, shallow human being and doesn't understand anything deeper. It was rather pathetic, though.
schedule 3 weeks ago
    Theodore Iacobuzio
    Theodore Iacobuzio
    Please. I once worked with a guy, an Irishman, whose first job getting out of Wharton was as an economist at the French Embassy in Washington. He was an absolutely deadly office politician, deft as a Chinese executioner. I once expressed admiration for his technique, which included innuendo, damning with faint praise, and "I forgot".

    "I learned it from the French, who were all taught by Jesuits. What the Jesuits don't know about knife fights isn't worth learning."
    schedule 3 weeks ago
      Maclin Horton
      Maclin Horton
      !!
      schedule 3 weeks ago
Maclin Horton
Maclin Horton
I wouldn't go so far as "disgraceful." I could even make the argument that it was appropriate to focus on Benedict's position as one of us, not on his achievements in which he is far above us. But I'm getting to where the words "accompany" and "accompaniment" make me cringe.
schedule 3 weeks ago
Frans
Frans
Human beings are such sentimental creatures at heart.
schedule 3 weeks ago
    Fran Macadam
    Fran Macadam
    In The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoyevsky described old Fyodor Karamazov this way, when Fyodor shed tears for the wife he had hounded to death: "He was sentimental. Sentimental, and evil."
    schedule 3 weeks ago
Theresa E Carpinelli
Theresa E Carpinelli
RE: “ I am grieved and angry that Pope Francis showed such coldness and meanspiritedness towards Benedict in his homily…”

Rod, the beautiful sentiments you’ve expressed the past few days about Pope Emeritus B16 has brought me to tears more than once. It’s clear you loved him, as did I, and millions of others. So I can well understand your disappointment at Francis’ homily - especially when one compares it to the Homily B16 gave at St. John Paul II’s Requiem. At the same time, I think there are a few things one might consider before concluding that Francis was showing “coldness and meanspiritedness towards Benedict in his homily.”

First and foremost, the Catholic Church strongly discourages eulogizing the deceased in the homily of the Requiem Mass, because that Mass is not to be a celebration of the life of the person, but rather, a celebration of Christ’s victory over death by His Sacrificial Death and Resurrection, and His merciful love that redeems us. It’s also a prayerful plea that the merits of that victory be extended now to the person being prayed for. The Order of Christian Funerals states, in Section 141, that “A brief homily based on the readings should always be given at the funeral liturgy, but never any kind of eulogy.” The homily should focus on Christ, His Death and Resurrection, and the promises of Jesus to give us eternal life. There is room for the priest saying the Mass to speak about the deceased and give some examples of the ways in which the deceased person gave witness in his/her life to Christian belief and values. Eulogies are generally allowed at the end of the Mass - just not during the homily.

Second, B16 was, if he was anything, humble. We know he wanted a simple funeral - which is one reason most heads of state (like President Biden) weren’t invited.

Third, Francis is no B16 when it comes to writing. Anyone who has read the writings of both men can see this. That B16 could brilliantly incorporate into his homily at St. JPII’ s Requiem many examples of how St. JPII gave witness to Christian belief and values is not something I think Francis is even capable of doing.

Given that context, it’s possible that:

1). Francis was only following the tradition practice of the Catholic Church regarding eulogies at Requiem Masses.
2). B16 didn’t want the homily at his Requiem to focus on HIS life, and asked Francis not to eulogize him.
3). Francis couldn’t have composed a homily for B16 like B16 composed for JPII even if he wanted to.

Thus, I think it more charitable to consider these possibilities, in the context of the Catholic Church’s Order of Christian Funerals, what we know about B16’s humility, and what we know about the difference between B16 and Francis with regard to composing.

All that being said, I just want to thank you for the beautiful things you have written about our beloved “Papa” B16.
schedule 3 weeks ago
    Bogdán Emil
    Bogdán Emil
    Very thoughtful, thank you for this perspective, since my reaction was the same as Rod's, thinking that Francis was vapid and rude on purpose, trying to shut the door on Benedict's real legacy once and for all.
    schedule 3 weeks ago