Mass for Pope Benedict XVI (Given the week following his election)

Homily — Mass for Pope Benedict XVI (April 29, 2005)
Pope Benedict XVI

I give you Peter the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.

Jesus’ conferral of the Keys wasn’t simply so that Catholics can make good jokes about standing before Peter at the pearly gates when you die.

Note that Jesus gave Peter not one Key but Keys to the Kingdom. Every Pope’s Coat of Arms shows Two Keys, a Gold One which does open that pearly gate found in the next life, and a Silver One which open’s the gate to God’s Kingdom in this life on earth — the key which opens the doors of the Church of Christ, which opens the Word of God in its fullness, which opens the floodgates of grace found in the seven sacraments.

I give you the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. That same Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus says belongs only to the poor in spirit, Christ has given Peter the keys to.

That same Kingdom of Heaven that no one can enter unless he becomes like a little child, unless he is born anew of water and the Spirit, Christ has given Peter the keys to.

That same Kingdom of Heaven that is neither here nor there, but within you — Peter holds the Keys to that Kingdom. And Whatever he binds on earth shall be bound in Heaven, whatever Peter loosens on earth shall be loosed in Heaven.

From the early centuries of the Church up until today, we have believed that when Peter died, he handed on those Keys of the Kingdom to his successor, the Bishop of Rome. We see in the most ancient Christian accounts how the Church in Rome was viewed as the Mother Church. We also see how the Bishop of Rome from the beginning exercised his moral and spiritual authority outside the bounds of his territory without an outcry from the other Churches that he had no authority to do so. Finally, history shows us that Churches outside the Bishop of Rome’s territory appealed to Rome to settle disputes.

This led to the realization in the Church that Jesus’ unchangeable will was that these Keys to the Kingdom are to be passed down to each successor of Peter until Christ’s Second Coming at the end of time.

And it is Catholic Faith to believe: 1) that the papacy wasn’t invented by men in the Church, but willed and instituted by Christ himself, 2) that until Jesus comes again we are guaranteed to have a Pope, and 3) just as the Jews will always have a spiritual connection with the land of Israel, so the Pope will always have a spiritual connection with the city of Rome.

But why did Jesus establish the Papacy? Christ asked Peter “who do they say I am?” — well, who does Jesus say the Pope is?

The answer can be found in the many names and titles we give the Pope.

First of all, Pope — it means “papa” — Father. The Pope is our Father who leads us to our one and only Father in Heaven.

The Pope is also called Peter — the Rock of true faith in the midst of a world of shaky foundations; the Rock in a world plagued with doubt, disbelief, and falsehoods.

The Pope is Bishop — that word means “overseer” — not only of the City of Rome, but of the entire world. Urbi et Orbi — the city and the world — is overseen spiritually by the Pope.

The most formal and stuffy of titles the Pope has is Supreme Pontiff. Actually as stuffy as it sounds its probably one of the best titles, because the word Pontiff means “bridge builder.” The Pope is the Supreme Bridge Builder — he is called to build bridges between man and God, between earth and heaven, between the Church and other religions, between nations and peoples, and lastly the most difficult bridge he must build, between Catholics and Catholics.

The Pope is also Supreme Pastor — Shepherd — of the billion-plus flock of Jesus Christ on earth. He is to see that all those sheep are kept safe and well fed. If other shepherds aren’t able or willing to, the Pope is also to identify and stand up bravely against the many wolves that threaten to harm this precious flock.

He is the vicar of Christ, as Catherine of Sienna whose feast is today called him “the Sweet Christ on Earth.”

He is like St. Peter the Fisherman — called to “put out into the deep” of contemporary society, and catch men with the bait of the Gospel, bringing them up into the ship which is the One Holy Catholic Church, and ultimately leading them safely to the shores of Heaven where the Risen Christ stands waiting for this great catch of fish.

The Pope is the highest court of appeal in the Church. He is also the supreme court where matters of faith or morals can be definitively settled. He alone can declare a deceased Christian a canonized saint.

He is the Head of the Universal College of Bishops, not as a king among servants, but also not as a first among equals. Rather the Pope is called to strengthen his brother bishops as they each teach, sanctify and rule the people Christ has entrusted to each of them personally. The Pope is to always strengthen the bishops, while the bishops in turn must always act in union with the Pope.

All of what I’ve just mentioned should make the last title obvious — that the Pope is the Servant of the Servants of God, called to a total life of service with a special care for the poor and the young. At times, the Pope is called, as Christ was, to be a suffering servant, bearing persecution and even martyrdom with love and patience, also offering up his weaknesses, his sicknesses, ultimately his old age and his own death in union with Christ’s Redeeming Suffering and Death.

All this and more the Pope is called by Christ to be, for the good of the Church.

It is to this high office that Joseph Alois Ratzinger, in his own words a “humble worker in God’s vineyard,” has been called.

This theologian greatly loved and admired by Pope John Paul II, this Bavarian who loves Mozart Symphonies, the Mountains, and watching pro Soccer games, this somewhat shy but gentle and friendly man who prayed that God would let him go back to Germany to retire — has now become our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI.

While I knew and admired Cardinal Ratzinger before he became Pope, as I continue to read more by and about him I continue to be more impressed with him. I am sure that the more the Church and the world comes to know him, the more all will come to love him and respect his wisdom and learning.

From the moment he was elected, Pope Benedict has asked us to pray for him, that he will with God’s help be a good Pope.

May we all make it a special intention each day to pray for Pope Benedict, that he would follow in the footsteps of St. Benedict, Pope Benedict XV, and our late great Holy Father John Paul II. May he succeed in being a peace maker, a promoter of the Faith, and a unifier of Christians.

Thank you Jesus, for giving the Keys to Peter and to his successors. May you and your Mother bless and strengthen our new Pope, that we your Church may continue to grow in your love.

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