The simplicity—and sublimity—of Pope Benedict’s funeral
Rod Dreher had a jaundiced view of Pope Francis's choices to eulogize Pope Benedict. On the contrary, it was a very subtle, but still meaningly, even sublime, homage to the former Pope.
Beautiful choirs ushered the worldwide audience into the Funeral Mass for Pope Emeritus Benedict. Then the singing paused, and the spoken words of the First Reading were released almost in a torrent of passion:
The Lord says this: “Is the potter no better than the clay? Can something that was made say of its maker, ‘He did not make me’? Or a pot say of the potter, ‘He is a fool’? Isaiah 29: 16.
And, so, Pope Francis permitted a First Reading that underscored the raison d’etre of Benedict’s short pontificate: to subvert positively the “dictatorship of relativism” that treads upon God’s Truth and upon His authoritative, yet beneficent, loving relationship with humankind.
As is the case with most Catholic funerals, the responsorial psalm was chosen to comfort the grieving. Here, it was Psalm 22 (aka Psalm 23), “The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.”
The Second Reading was from the First Letter of Saint Peter, and it ended with
You did not see him [God], yet you love him; and still without seeing him, you are filled with a joy so glorious that it cannot be described, because you believe; and you are sure of the end to which your faith looks forward, that is, the salvation of your souls.
1 Peter 1: 8-9.
This second reading was a gracious nod to Pope Benedict’s own statements in his lifetime that, although he was in reverent awe of God, and so had a necessary human quality of fear of the Lord at the thought of meeting His Maker, Benedict nevertheless considered Jesus his friend, Who walked alongside him and Who wanted his salvation.
Image: Pope Francis. YouTube screen grab.
The Gospel reading was the famous biblical scene from Luke 23, wherein the "good thief" gave Jesus His proper due and Jesus died committing His Spirit into the Hands of God the Father.
At Pope John Paul II’s funeral, Pope Benedict, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, focused his homily and choice of readings on his late friend’s energetic, peripatetic, and philosophically evangelistic papacy (go out into the world to testify to Christ).
Pope Francis, in his brief homily, deftly and sublimely encapsulated Benedict’s concern with what Francis called “the total synkatabasis of God.” As Jonathan Liedl wrote in the National Catholic Register, Benedict’s theology was focused on “the person of Christ, once described [by Benedict] as the one ‘in whom God’s love descends upon human beings.’”
And so Francis spent most of his homily showing the relationship of God the Father’s Hands with those of God the Son, and on
…the “condescension” and closeness of God, who is ready to entrust himself to the frail hands of his disciples, so that they can feed his people and say with him: Take and eat, take and drink, for this is my body which is given up for you (cf. Lk 22:19). The total synkatabasis of God.
Tucked within this homily is a whispering lament that Francis will no longer have his friend on earth to assist him in meekness:
….[T]he Lord quietly bestows the spirit of meekness that is ready to understand, accept, hope and risk, notwithstanding any misunderstandings that might result.
With a complimentary likening of Pope Benedict to Pope St. Gregory the Great, Pope Francis finished his homily with a loving smile as he described Benedict’s self-envisioning when Francis said,
Benedict, faithful friend of the Bridegroom, may your joy be complete as you hear his voice, now and forever!