Cardinal Ratzinger’s homily, preached in Italian immediately following the Gospel, was a masterpiece of ecclesiastical rhetoric biblically grounded yet very personal theologically strong yet accessible to all. He centered his reflections on John Paul’s lifelong awe at the gift of his priesthood. It was a gift that John Paul had explained through three of his favorite gospel texts: “You did not choose me, but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.” [John 15,16] “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” [John 10,11], “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you, abide in my love” [John 15,9].
Here, Ratzinger said, one found “the heart and soul of our Holy Father,” a tireless worker in the vineyard of the Lord, “a priest to the last… [who] in this way…became one with Christ, the Good Shepherd who loves his sheep.” He was “the Pope who tried to meet everyone, who had an ability to forgive them and open his heart to all”, and in doing so, he had taught us that “by abiding in the love of Christ we learn, in the school of Christ, the art of true love.”
Everything which he had given over to the Lord’s hands came back to him in a new way.
Pope John Paul II died at the Vatican on the evening of April 2, 2005. Funeral services were held in St. Peter's Square, Rome, on April 8, 2005. As Dean of the College of Cardinals, Joseph Ratzinger presided over the funeral services and delivered the homily.
This was a life given in order to be given away: John Paul “never wanted to make his own life secure, to keep it for himself; he wanted to give of himself unreservedly, to the very last moment, for Christ and thus also for us.” That was how the law of the gift he had analyzed philosophically was confirmed by his own life’s experience: “Everything which he had given over to the Lord’s hands came back to him in a new way.”
And thus he could deploy his God-given gifts in his service as priest and bishop: “His love of words, of poetry, of language, became an essential part of his pastoral mission and gave new vitality, new urgency, new attractiveness to the preaching of the Gospel, even when it is a sign of contradiction.”
There was another dialogue between Jesus and Peter worth recalling today, Cardinal Ratzinger suggested — the dialogue during the Last Supper.
There, Jesus said, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now, but you will follow me afterward” [John 13,33. 36] Jesus from the Supper went towards the Cross, went towards his resurrection — he entered into the paschal mystery, and Peter could not yet follow him. Now — after the resurrection — comes the time, comes this “afterward”. By shepherding the flock of Christ, Peter enters into the paschal mystery, he goes toward the cross and resurrection.
The Lord says this in these words: “…when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, ands someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go” [John 21,18].
Heavenly direction: During the requiem mass, wind turned the pages of the Gospel that lay open on the coffin of Pope John Paul II.
John Paul’s suffering had confirmed his faith in the mystery of Christ’s cross and resurrection “as a mystery of divine mercy“.
In the very first years of his pontificate, still young and full of energy, the Holy Father went to the very ends of the earth, guided by Christ. But afterwards, he increasingly entered into the Communion of Christ’s sufferings, increasingly, he understood the truth of the words “Someone else will fasten a belt around you.” And in this very communion with the suffering Lord, tireless and with renewed intensity, he proclaimed the Gospel, the mystery of that love which goes to the end…
John Paul’s suffering had confirmed his faith in the mystery of Christ’s cross and resurrection “as a mystery of divine mercy,” the purest reflection” of which he found in the Mother of God, Mary, to whom he had made his “Totus Tuus.” Like the apostle John, Ratzinger reflected, Karol Wojtyla had taken Mary into his home: “And from the mother je learned to conform himself to Christ.”
Thean, the German cardinal who had given more than twenty years of his life to the Polish pope, brought his homily to a fitting, eloquent conclusion:
None of us can ever forget how, in that last Easter Sunday of his life, the Holy Father, marked by suffering, came once more to the window of the apostolic palace and one last time gave his blessing urbi et orbi. We can be sure that our beloved Pope is standing today at the window of the Father’s house, that he sees us and blesses us. Yes, bless us, Holy Father. We entrust your dear soul to the Mother of God, your Mother, who guided you each day and who will guide you to the glory of her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
IMAGO / Everett Collection
Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, George Weigel is a Catholic theologian and one of America’s leading public intellectuals. He holds EPPC’s William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.