Homily of the Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Charles Brown
at the Requiem Mass for Pope Benedict XVI
Presided over by H.E. Jose Cardinal Advincula
January 6, 2022 | Manila Cathedral
"'Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?' Jesus said to him, 'I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'" - John 14:5-6
Your Eminence, Jose Cardinal Advincula, Archbishop of Manila, my brother bishops, distinguished ambassadors and members of the Diplomatic Corps., priests, consecrated women and men, lay faithful brothers and sisters in Christ, one and all.
We are gathered here together this evening in this beautiful cathedral in Manila decorated for Christmas, with a mixture of emotions in our hearts: sadness and sorrow at the loss of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, but thankfulness and gratitude to God for the gift that he was and is to the Church and to the world.
As we celebrate this Requiem Mass, my thoughts go back to the first time I met the then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger 35 years ago this month, on January 27, 1988, when I was just a third-year seminarian in St. Joseph Seminary, Dunwoodie, in the Archdiocese of New York. Cardinal Ratzinger had come to New York at the invitation of Cardinal John O'Connor, the Archbishop of New York at the time, and Cardinal Ratzinger visited the seminary where he celebrated mass for the seminary community and then engaged in a free and very open dialogue with all of us.
I was the acolyte for the mass that day so I had the opportunity to be in the sacristy with Cardinal Ratzinger before the mass. And I remember telling him how much we, as seminarians in the 1980's, looked up to him and admired him. In his informal dialogue with the seminarians and faculty after the mass, Cardinal Ratzinger showed his brilliance - his intellectual brilliance - but also his profound humility and approachability which were so characteristic of him. This was my first impression of the man who would later become Pope Benedict XVI, an impression that was repeatedly confirmed as I came to know him more personally in subsequent years.
Earlier, back in 1977, when Pope St. Paul VI had appointed him as Archbishop of Munich, Joseph Ratzinger had chosen as his episcopal motto the words from the Third Letter of St. John in which the beloved disciple expresses the hope, the desire, that we may become "coworkers of the truth" - in Latin, Cooperatores Veritatis.
It's a phrase which so perfectly summarizes the spirituality of Pope Benedict XVI. He was, as we all know, first of all, a great theologian - as a priest, as archbishop, as cardinal, and then as Pope.
But what is a theologian? A theologian, if we look at the etymology of the term theologos in Greek, is literally "someone who speaks words about God". And that is what Pope Benedict XVI did throughout his life and teaching: he spoke to us about God. And this is why he was and is such a gift to us.
But the indispensable key to his speaking about God was his deep and abiding respect for truth. He wanted always to be, as his motto said, a "coworker of the truth." He knew that there was a difference between theorizing about God as a concept and speaking about God as a living reality. And for Pope Benedict XVI, that was the second. That was always his goal. For him, theology was not intellectual acrobatics but rather the attempt to communicate in words what is true about God. What is true about God? A truth which is always greater than us, a truth which goes beyond us, but a truth which draws nearer to us and becomes accessible to us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
Master of Catechesis
As Pope Francis said two days ago about Pope Benedict, he was a great master of Catechesis. He continued by saying (that) Pope Benedict's acute and gentle thought was not self-referential but ecclesial because he always wanted to accompany us in the encounter with Jesus.
Jesus - crucified and risen, the Living One and the Lord - was the destination to which Pope Benedict led us, taking us by the hand, in the words of Pope Francis.
Even after his death, Pope Benedict continues to lead us to that encounter with Jesus.
In his recently published Spiritual Testament, he relates how he followed developments in theology for some 60 years. He says 60 years because he composed his Spiritual Testament in the year 2006. In fact, he followed developments in theology for close to 80 years. And he writes about how he had seen various challenges to the faith come and go in those years but how the truth of the faith remains.
He beseeches us in his Spiritual Testament, "stand firm in the faith."
And quoting the words of the Gospel, which we have just heard proclaimed at Mass this evening, Pope Benedict writes in his Spiritual Testament, "I have seen and see how out of the tangle of hypotheses, the reasonableness of faith has emerged and is emerging anew." Jesus Christ is truly, he says, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and the Church in all her shortcomings is truly His Body.
The Church Universal is celebrating Requiem Masses for Pope Benedict XVI in these days, which immediately precede the Solemnity of Epiphany, the day on which we commemorate the arrival of the Three Magi in Bethlehem. In fact, today, January 6, is traditionally the day of Epiphany.
Pope Benedict XVI's Homily on the Epiphany
For me, as your Apostolic Nuncio, it is a day which will always connect me with Pope Benedict XVI because it was on this day, today 11 years ago, that he ordained me to the episcopate in St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, and sent me as Nuncio to Ireland.
His homily on that January 6, 2012, focused on the Three Magi. And when I look back at that homily, I can see that his words about the Magi can in some way be applied to him, to Pope Benedict himself.
Here's what he said about the Magi:
The Magi "were men, with restless hearts, not satisfied with the superficial and the ordinary. They were men in search of the promise in search of God. And they were watchful men, capable of reading God's signs, his soft and penetrating language, but they were also courageous, yet humble. We can imagine them having to endure a certain amount of mockery for setting off to find the King of the Jews at the cost of so much effort. For them, for the Magi. It mattered little with this or that person what even influential and clever people thought and said about them. For them, it was a question of truth itself, not human opinion. Hence, they took upon themselves the sacrifices and the effort of a long and uncertain journey. Their humble courage was what enabled them to bend down before the child of poor people and to recognize in him in the infant Jesus, the promised King, the one they had set out on both their outward and their inward journey, to seek and to know."
Pope Benedict XVI's Journey
"To seek and to know." What perfect words to describe the life of Pope Benedict XVI.
He was a man in search of the Promise, in search of God. A watchful man capable of reading God's signs, God's soft and penetrating language.
For Pope Benedict XVI, it was a question of truth itself, not human opinion. He took upon himself the sacrifices and the effort of a long and uncertain journey which took him from being a university professor of Theology to being Archbishop of Munich, to being the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to being Pope and then to being the first Pope Emeritus in many centuries.
At each step of his long journey, it was his humble courage that enabled him always to bow down before the Child Jesus in adoration and to recognize in Jesus, the Son of Mary, his promised King, the one he had set out to find on both his outward and his inward journey, the one who had already found him and had spoken to him in the silence of his heart, and said to him, "I am the Way and the Truth, and the Life."
And now, brothers and sisters, at this moment, let's pray that our beloved Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, after his long journey of 95 years, has reached his destination. Not the historical Bethlehem where the Magi adored the infant Jesus, but the new and heavenly Jerusalem where saints and angels crowd before the victorious Lamb of God who is seen face to face, the promised King, the one whom many years before Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI, had set out on both his outward and his inward journey to seek and to know.
Eternal rest grant unto him, oh, Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon Him. May he rest in peace. Amen.
Transcribed by Gel Katalbas
Photos from Manila Cathedral Facebook page