VATICAN CITY — When Benedict XVI said Mass on Sunday for the annual meeting of his former students, his homily focused on how God’s word frees us from the forgetfulness of a world that no longer even thinks about God.
“The truth, love and goodness which come from God render man pure; and truth, love and goodness are encountered in the word, which frees us from ‘forgetfulness’ in a world which no longer thinks of God,” the emeritus pope said Aug. 30, while saying Mass for the Ratzinger Schuelerkreis at the chapel of the Teutonic Cemetery in the Vatican.
The Ratzinger Schuelerkreis has gathered annually to discuss topics in theology and the life of the Church since 1978, shortly after their mentor was pulled from academia to become a bishop.
Ratzinger participated in the Schuelerkreis until his abdication as bishop of Rome; since then, he has come only for the concluding day of the meeting to say Mass for the group.
In his homily, which was delivered in German, Benedict recalled that three years ago the group had heard the same passage from the Gospel of Mark, which was proclaimed in the Mass, and that Cardinal Christoph Schönborn had asked, “Shouldn’t we be purified from the outside and not only from the inside? Does evil come solely from the inside or from outside as well?”
Calling it a very interesting question, Benedict replied to it in his homily, saying the answer must draw from the whole of the Gospel.
He asked whether the evil that attacks the Church comes from the world and suggested: “We could say that we should respond with an exterior hygiene to the many maladies and, at times, epidemics which threaten us.”
Such an attitude is necessary, he said, so that death cannot prevail; yet he also maintained that it is insufficient, because the “epidemic of heart” is interior, and it is this interior disease which “leads to corruption and to other dirty things, those that lead man to think only of himself and not of the good.”
“What makes man pure?” Benedict asked. “What is the true strength for purification? How do we reach a cleanness of the heart?”
He then explained that Christ told his followers they are pure because of the word he announced to them, and so it is the truth, love and goodness of God which make man pure.
“The word is much more than words, because it is through words that we encounter the Word himself,” Benedict explained. “The Word is Jesus Christ himself, and we encounter the Word in those who reflect him, who show the face of God and who reflect his mildness, his humility of heart, his simplicity, his affection, his sincerity.”
“May the Lord grant us this ‘cleanness of heart’ though the truth, which comes from God: This is the strength of purification,” Benedict concluded.
The emeritus pope was speaking to a group of some 70 persons: both the original Schuelerkreis of his former students and a younger group of scholars who studied his work after he was consecrated a bishop.
This year’s theme for discussion at the Schuelerkreis was “Speaking about God in the Contemporary World.”
Though Benedict was not present at the discussions, he is, in a sense, “always present among us, as we are in his footsteps, and as he always chooses the topic of discussion of our annual gathering,” Father Stephan Horn, who organizes the annual meetings, told CNA. He added that the former pope “was very lucid and spoke for some time with each of us.”
The Schuelerkreis met this year at Castel Gandolfo Aug. 28-2, and was addressed by Msgr. Tomas Halik, a Czech priest and philosopher, who has contributed to dialogue with nonbelievers. The group moved to the Vatican Aug. 30 for the Mass with Benedict.
Msgr. Halik told CNA he was “particularly impressed by the members of the young Schuelerkreis: In them, I saw the spirit of the young Ratzinger.”
In his lectures, Msgr. Halik said that “many say that Christianity is living a decay, while others say that it is completely dead. … In my view, we are living the afternoon of Christianity; that is, Christianity is now having a siesta, a little rest.”
Following this afternoon, Msgr. Halik believes there will be a new day: Recounting the traditional understanding of the day as beginning in the evening, he said that the stars which appear while vespers are said “are the beginning of a new day; so there will be a new day for Christianity.”
He added that many nonbelievers “are in fact seekers, and the Church’s task is now that of accompanying these seekers.”
The priest’s understanding was shared by the Schuelerkreis. Father Horn recounted that the group considered the crisis of current society, but found that there are reasons for optimism even within the crisis.
Following the Mass with Benedict, there was a ceremony to inaugurate Pope Benedict Hall. It was announced that the Teutonic College will in November open a library dedicated to the former pope, cared for by the Ratzinger Foundation.