This week when I was preparing the homily, I went to my usual sources of inspiration. One of them is a website of all of Pope Benedict XVI’s homilies from when he was pope. And so last night when I heard the news, I thought I should probably shelve what I had written and say something about one of the greatest minds of the past few centuries. However, I do want to link it to our gospel today because our Lady provides the model who Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI, sought to emulate.
In our Gospel today, our Lady hears the message of the angels relayed by the shepherds. The message that comes from heaven by way of the marginalised. Our Lady ponders this message. Neither is its source to high, nor its messengers too low. She only has an ear for the Word of God, her Son. She is the Mother of God and yet she is constantly on the lookout. She always has an open ear. She is always alert for the wonders that God is working in her life.
And she ponders all that she receives. She turns them over in her heart. She knows God is all holy. But she also knows that God has spoken, spoken that she might hear, so that she might understand. And so she wonders. She thinks. She imagines. But also as we hear in today’s Gospel, she is supremely obedient to the Law, following its dictates even in relation to her Son, God’s Only Begotten. She is formed by God’s Word so thoroughly that she can give God her very flesh. She becomes the site of the manifestation, the revelation of God’s personhood.
As I said, I am sure Pope Benedict XVI’s whole ministry as priest, as bishop, as Pope was modelled on our Lady’s fidelity to God’s Word in her life. He pondered the revelation of Christ in all aspects. He knew both the message of the angels and the cry of the marginalised, and thought each worth his time if it would but draw him closer to Christ.
He thought and thought about both the message of the Scriptures and especially our elder siblings in the Jewish faith, the tradition of the Church and the beauty of her art, her saints and above all her liturgy. He knew deeply the questions of the age. If you have not read his Introduction to Christianity, please do. Even after so many years, it is still one of the best meditations on the question of faith and the nature of the Creed. He also knew that the questions of the age spoke to a deep disease of lack of faith, lack of faith in discourse, in authority but fundamentally in reason. If you have a chance please check out his speeches to the German and British parliaments. Before many others and perhaps more perceptively, he highlighted the night of reason that was approaching.
But more than all this, and like our Lady, he knew that what comes first is Christ. In Jesus God has blessed us. God has shown us his face. Pope Benedict knew that our Lady was the best witness because she better than anyone knew the Lord personally.
When I was younger, perhaps 11 or 12, we were on holiday in Rome, and through some friends, we got a chance to meet Cardinal Ratzinger, as he then was. He was kind enough to greet us and it was all a bit awkward. Awkward that is until someone asked him whether he had any advice for me and my brothers. He immediately came to our level and told us to learn Latin and especially Ancient Greek. He wanted us to know firsthand the New Testament. He wanted us to hear the Word of God. He wanted us to encounter Christ, the heart of life.
So, today as we pray for the repose of his soul, we might also ask him to intercede for us. May we be confident in our proclamation of Jesus as Lord. May we like our Lady seek out all the signs and words from him in our world. May we preach truth and mercy as the conditions of a real society. But most of all may we know Christ personally that we might share him with the world.