With a homily as beautiful as it is profound – which goes far beyond the occasion but of course illuminates it — Benedict xvi celebrated the Feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul. Surrounded, in accordance with custom, by the Metropolitan Archbishops (who this year came from 22 nations on five continents) upon whom he conferred the Pallium and in the presence of a Delegation of the Sister Church of Constantinople, in a Basilica where the marvellous singing of the Westminster Abbey Anglican Choir soared aloft united with that of the Sistine.
No image of the Catholic and Ecumenical dimensions (two synonyms, and they are not solely etymological) of the Church and of the Christian brotherhood which it expresses could have been more elegant. It is a brotherhood — a theme that was dear to the young Ratzinger — which on this occasion the Pope introduced by speaking of the two principal patrons of the city, the nova sidera [new stars] celebrated by Damasus in the second half of the fourth century. As Benedict XVI explained, the two Apostles do not only replace the mythical figures of Romulus and Remus but overturn the tragic image of Cain and Abel, ushering in “a new way of being brothers” which Christ made possible.
It is this new Christian brotherhood brought into being by Peter and Paul, who are inseparable “much as they differ from one another in human terms and notwithstanding the conflicts that arose in their relationship”, which the Pope chose to pinpoint, sticking closely to the historical facts of the Christian Tradition. Immediately afterwards Benedict xvi applied this profound theological realism to the figure of Peter, through the grace of God, the stone and rock, hence “the visible foundation on which the entire spiritual edifice of the Church is built”. Yet this same disciple “who, through God’s gift, was able to become a solid rock”, here, the Pope says, also “shows himself for what he is in his human weakness”: a stumbling block along the path on which the Lord asks one to follow him.
And this is the founding scene that anticipates and illuminates, in Benedict XVI's opinion, the drama of the history of the papacy. The foundation of the Church, “because of the light and the strength that come from on high”, a light and strength which alone can transform that “human weakness”, present down the centuries in the Church herself. However, despite these weaknesses and imperfections which the Pontiff knows and which he takes upon himself — we cannot but remember here his heartfelt words on the filth in the Church written by Cardinal Ratzinger for the Way of the Cross at the Colosseum shortly before he was elected Pope — Benedict's gaze is fixed on Christ's promise that evil will not have the last word.
A promise contained in that non praevalebunt which not by chance Jesus addressed to Peter himself and that the Pope already traces in the account of the calling of the prophet Jeremiah. With words of hope that reassure the first of the Apostles concerning the future of the Church; words which extend “to all of history”.
St. Peter’s Square
Sept. 22, 2019
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