|Pope Paul VI places the Cardinal's biretta on Joseph Ratzinger. Screenshot from L'Osservatore Romano|
Cardinal Ratzinger begins by noting that the Pope had died on the even of the Feast of the Transfiguration. His reflections are framed by the Feast. He notes that in the Churches of the East, "so loved by Paul VI," the Transfiguration is considered as a "synthesis of all: Cross and Resurrection, the present and the future of creation are reunited here. The Feast of the Transfiguration is the guarantee that the Lord does not abandon creation." Furthermore, the Transfiguration, which is known as "metamorphosis" in the Greek of the New Testament, shows to us the immediate relevance of this Feast. "In Christ Transfigured, what faith is, is revealed even more: transformation, which for man occurs throughout his life. From the point of view of biology, life is a metamorphosis, a continual transformation, which ends with death. To live means to die, means to be metamorphosed towards death. The account of the Lord's Transfiguration adds to it something new: to die, signifies to rise. Faith is a metamorphosis in which man matures definitively and becomes mature to be defined. For this reason, the evangelist John defines the Cross as a glorification."
Having established this framework of "metamorphosis," he notes how Pope Paul VI traveled this path of continual transformation:
Paul VI accepted his papal service more and more as a the metamorphosis of faith in suffering. The final words of the Risen Lord to Peter, after having constituted him pastor 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" (John 21:18). It was a hint of the Cross that would accompany Peter at the end of his life. In general, it was a hint of the nature of this service. Paul VI let himself be carried ever more where, humanly speaking, by himself, he did not wish to go. More and more the papacy meant for him to be girded with the vestments of another, and to be nailed to the Cross. We know that before his seventy-fifth birthday, and also before his eightieth birthday, he intensely battled with the idea of retiring. And we can imagine just how much the thought of not being able to belong anymore to himself weighed on him. Of not having any more a private moment. Of being chained until the end, along with his body which yielded, to a task which demanded, day after day, the full and living use of all the forces of a man. "None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8 If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord." (Romans 14:7-8) These words from today's reading had literally defined his life. He has given a new value to authority as service, carrying it as a sort of suffering. He did not enjoy any pleasure in power, in position, in the success of a career, and precisely because of this, authority being a task endured -- it (authority) has become great and credible.
Paul VI performed his service by faith. From this both his firmness or his disposition to compromise derived. For both he had to accept criticism, and even in some comments after his death, there has been no lack of bad taste. But today, a Pope who does not suffer criticism would fail at his task at this time. Paul VI resisted both the influence of the media (telecrazia) and the pressure of popular opinion (demoscopia), the two dictatorial powers of the present. He was able to do this because he did not take as parameters success or approval, but rather, conscience, which is measured by the truth, by faith. This is why in many occasions he sought compromise; faith leaves many things open. and offers a wide range of decisions. It requires as a parameter love, which it senses, obliges it to the whole, and thus, requires a lot of respect. And this is why he was able to be inflexible and decisive, when the essential tradition of the Church was at stake. In him, this hardness did not derive from the insensibility of the one whose path is dictated by the pleasure of power and the contempt of persons, but by the depth of faith, which enabled him to endure opposition.The above translation is my own. The entire homily is worth reading, and it turns out that EWTN has the full text online in English. It had been published first in L'Osservatore on the 50th anniversary of the election of Paul VI, in June 21.
The homily is a great testament to the Pope as a disciple, of the trajectory of faith, of a journey of continual discovery, of self, and of the Lord who calls, and who transforms. It reminds me of the metaphor Pope Francis has often used, of walking with the Lord, not stopping, not being spiritual tourists.
Apart from this moving testimony towards the Pope who called him to the Episcopacy, and made him a Cardinal, one can only marvel at the prophetic words of Cardinal Ratzinger about Paul VI's struggle with the thought of resigning the Papacy.
Beate Paule Sexte, ora pro nobis!