Although the full text has yet to appear, Benedict XVI’s homily during Mass for his former students on Sunday is one of wisdom and truth.
Essentially a treatise on humility, his words come as a welcome surprise, especially as the world wasn’t expecting to see or hear from the Pope Emeritus after his retirement.
He began by saying that "everyone is looking for a good place in history, and each wants to find his right place in life. The only question is: which place is good and which is right? The word of the Lord from last Sunday’s Gospel comes to mind: The first shall be last and the last shall be first. A seemingly good place can be a very bad place, and we know that this happens not only at the Last Judgment, but often in the midst of this world. We have seen it ourselves in the last decades, how the first have suddenly fallen and what appeared to be a good place proved to be a misguided place."
Whoever calls himself a Christian, Benedict said, must be “the last in the opinion of the world.”
He continued: "Those who in this world and throughout history are perhaps driven ahead and arrive in first place, must be aware of the danger they are in; they must look ever more to the Lord… they must measure up their responsibility for others, become those who serve, who in reality place themselves at the feet of others, who bless and are in turn blessed.”
He added: “I think all of this must pass through the heart, if we look to the One who is the firstborn of creation, born in a manger and died on the Cross. The place before him [is] the right place, the place from which history is always assigned to us. Critically, responsibility is to Him, responsibility for love, justice and for the truth."
In history, the Cross of Jesus was proven to be “the last place," Benedict XVI continued. But John the Evangelist painted this “extreme humiliation” of the Cross as “the true exaltation.”
"Yes, Jesus is at the level of God, because the height of the Cross is the height of God's love, the height of His self-abnegation and His dedication to others,” Benedict XVI said. “Thus, this is the divine place, and we pray to God that He may enable us to understand this ever more clearly so that we might accept with humility, each in his own way, this mystery of exaltation and humiliation.”.
Benedict continued by saying that “without the gratuitousness of forgiveness no society can grow," and he added that the greatest things of life, namely, “love, friendship, goodness, forgiveness, we cannot pay for, they are free, in the same way that God gives to us freely.”
Finally, he reflected on the liturgy, a subject which has always been close to his heart, saying a “humble” liturgy is at the same time “incommensurably great,” because “ it unites us to the choirs of angels and saints in the festive joy of God.”
“The liturgy renews the sacrifice, Christ’s extreme self-abasement, who sheds His Blood in the Eucharist,” he said, “and this Blood enables us to enter into the splendor of the joyful gathering of God,” because it represents “His love,” “the Mountain of God that opens us to the glory of God.”
About 50 people attended the Mass on Sunday, celebrated in the Chapel of the Governorate of Vatican City State.
His former students, part of the “Ratzinger Schuelerkreis”, meet every year in Castel Gandolfo. This year for the first time Benedict XVI did not participate in the meeting which examined the theme: “The question of God against the background of secularisation”. It was held in the light of the theological work of the French historian of philosophy Remi Brague, who was awarded last year's Ratzinger Prize for theology.
Concelebrating the Mass were Cardinal Kurt Koch, the Swiss president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, Archbishop of Vienna, Austria; and Archbishops Georg Ganswein, prefect of the Papal Household, Barthelemy Adoukonou, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture; and Bishop Hans-Jochen Jaschke, auxiliary of Hamburg, Germany.
Former students said the Pope Emeritus looked relatively healthy. “He was in very good form and he seemed very relaxed,” said Fr. Vincent Twomey, adding that Benedict XVI actually looked “much frailer last year, when he was still Pope, than he did this year."