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The Transfiguration

· For the 50th anniversary of the election of Paul VI, an unpublished homily by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger on 10 August 1978 ·

Four days after the death of Paul VI, the Archbishop of Munich and Freising, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger celebrated Mass for the late Pontiff in the Cathedral of the Bavarian capital. He gave a homily, until now printed only in n. 28 of the Archdiocesan bulletin, the Ordinariats-Korrespondenz , in which he drew a delicate portrait of Paul VI.

“The Transfiguration”, Cardinal Ratzinger said, “promised by the faith as the transformation of man is above all a journey of purification, a journey of suffering. Paul VI accepted his papal service increasingly as a transformation of faith in suffering. The last words of the Risen Lord to Peter, after constituting him the Shepherd of his flock, were: “when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go” (Jn 21:18). It was a reference to the cross awaiting Peter at the end of his journey. It was, in general, a reference to the nature of this service. Paul VI increasingly let himself be led where as a human being, he did not want to go alone. More and more the pontificate meant for him wearing the cloth of another, being nailed to the cross.... He gave new value to authority as service, bearing it as suffering. He took no pleasure in power, in position, in a successful career; and it was precisely because of this that his dutiful authority — ‘they will lead you where you do not want to go’ — became great and credible. Paul VI carried out his service by faith. From this derived both his firmness and his willingness to compromise. For both he was criticised, and some comments after his death were even in bad taste. But today a Pope who is not criticized would be failing to carry out his duty to this age. Paul VI stood up to the intense scrutiny of the media and of public opinion, two dictating powers of the day. He could do this because he didn't consider success and approval the measure of truth and faith, but rather his conscience.

Those who met him in his last years were able to experience directly his extraordinary transformation in faith, its transfiguring power. One could see how much the man, who by his nature was an intellectual, surrendered himself day after day to Christ, how he let himself be changed, transformed, purified by him, and how this made him ever freer, ever more profound, good, perceptive and simple.

Faith is a death, but it is also a metamorphosis in order to enter authentic life, towards transfiguration. In Pope Paul one could see all this. Faith gave him courage. Faith gave him goodness. And in him it was also clear that a convinced faith is not closed but open. In the end, our memory will treasure the image of a man who held out his hands. He was the first Pope to have travelled to all the continents, fixing in this way an itinerary of the Spirit, which began in Jerusalem, the meeting point and the parting point of the three great monotheistic religions. Then there was his journey to the United Nations, the visit to Geneva, his meeting humanity’s greatest non-monotheistic religious cultures, India, and his pilgrimage to the people suffering in Latin America, in Africa, in Asia. Faith holds out its hands. Its sign is not a fist, but an open hand”.

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