Pope Francis’ homily for the funeral of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI did not address the life and works of Joseph Ratzinger.
Instead, his homily focused on the readings specially chosen for this Mass of Christian Burial.
The Holy Father was doing what every homilist is supposed to do. What’s more, he was honoring the wishes of his friend and predecessor by keeping the service “solemn and simple” and by refraining from excessive praise of the deceased.
Since the former pope returned to the Lord on Dec. 31, 2022, there has been an endless stream of comments and analysis from many different sources, including Pope Francis. No aspect of Joseph Ratzinger’s life and ministry has been overlooked in the wake of his death.
What was needed during the Mass of Christian Burial in St. Peter’s Square on Jan. 5 was not more commentary, analysis or even praise. What was needed, and what Pope Francis provided, was a reverent reflection on the meaning of God’s Word proclaimed in our hearing as we gathered to commend our brother Benedict to the Lord he loved, and longed for, his whole life.
Pope Francis began his homily by recalling the last words of Jesus:
“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.
Anyone who has read his books, encyclicals, prayers and homilies would have to agree that Pope Benedict’s only desire was to help us better understand and embrace what these final words of Jesus mean for all humanity.
Pope Benedict’s heart was carefully attuned to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. He viewed the service that he was called to provide as a priest, a professor, a bishop and as a pope (active and retired) as “a completely gracious gift” to be cared for and shared as a stewardship responsibility for which he would be held accountable on the Last Day.
Toward the end of his homily, Pope Francis spoke to the occasion that brought thousands of people together for this Mass:
“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!”
Pope Benedict received at the hands of his successor in the Chair of St. Peter a most appropriate and heartfelt farewell. May he assume his rightful place among the communion of saints. Now and forever. Amen.
Dan Conway is a member of Holy Trinity Church, serves as a member of The Record’s editorial board and is a writer, consultant and stewardship educator.