Pope's Homily on Christ the King

"The Authentic Place of the Vicar of Christ Is on the Cross"

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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 23, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the homily Benedict XVI delivered Sunday, Solemnity of Christ the King, during Mass at St. Peter's Basilica. During the Mass, the Pope gave to 24 new cardinals the cardinal's ring.

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Esteemed Cardinals,
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters!
 
In the solemnity of the Christ king of the universe, we have the joy of gathering around the altar of the Lord with the 24 new cardinals, whom I added yesterday to the College of Cardinals. To them, first of all, I address my cordial greeting, which I extend to the other cardinals and to all the prelates present, as also to the different authorities, to the ambassadors, to the priests, religious and all the faithful, who have come from different parts of the world for this happy circumstance, which has a marked universal character.
 
Many of you will also have noticed that the previous Public Consistory for the creation of cardinals, in November 2007, was held on the eve of the solemnity of Christ the King. Three years have passed and, hence, in keeping with the Sunday liturgical cycle, the Word of God comes to meet us through the same biblical readings, proper to this important festivity. It is situated in the last Sunday of the liturgical year and presents to us, at the end of the itinerary of faith, the royal face of Christ, as the Pantocrator in the apse of an ancient basilica. This coincidence invites us to meditate profoundly on the ministry of the Bishop of Rome and on that of the cardinals, linked to it, in the light of the singular Royalty of Jesus, Our Lord.
 
The first service of the Successor of Peter is that of faith. In the New Testament, Peter becomes the "rock" of the Church in as much as bearer of the Creed: the "we" of the Church begins with the name of the one who first professed faith in Christ, it begins with his faith; a faith at first immature and even "too human," but then, after Easter, mature and capable of following Christ to the giving of himself; mature in believing that Jesus is truly the King; that he is so precisely because he stayed on the Cross, and in that way gave his life for sinners. Seen in the Gospel is that all ask Jesus to come down from the cross. They mock him, but it is also a way to excuse themselves, as if to say: It isn't our fault that you are on the cross; it's only your fault, because if you truly were the Son of God, the King of the Jews, you wouldn't be there, but you would save yourself by coming down from the infamous scaffold. Hence, if you stay there, it means that you are mistaken and that we are right.

The drama that unfolds under the cross of Jesus is a universal drama; it regards all men before God who reveals Himself for what He is, namely, Love. In Jesus crucified divinity is disfigured, stripped of all visible glory, but it is present and real. Only faith is able to recognize it: Mary's faith, who also united in her heart this last tile of the mosaic of the life of her Son; she still does not see the whole, but continues to trust in God, repeating yet again with the same abandonment, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord" (Luke 1:38). And then there is the faith of the good thief: a barely sketched faith, but enough to assure him of salvation: "Today you will be with me in Paradise." Decisive is that "with me." Yes, it is this that saves him. Of course, the good thief is on the cross like Jesus, but above all he is on the cross with Jesus. And, as opposed to the other evildoer, and of all the others who mock him, he does not ask Jesus to come down from the cross or to make him come down. Instead, he says: "Remember me when you come into your kingdom." He sees him on the cross, disfigured, unrecognizable, and yet he entrusts himself to Him as to a king, more than that, as the King. The good thief believes what is written on that plaque above Jesus' head: "The King of the Jews": he believes and entrusts himself. That is why he is already subject to the "today" of God, in paradise, because this is paradise: to be with Jesus, to be with God.
 
See emerge now clearly, dear Brothers, the first and fundamental message that the Word of God says to us today: to me, Successor of Peter, and to you, cardinals. It calls us to be with Jesus, like Mary, and not to ask him to come down from the cross, but to stay there with Him. And this, in regard to our ministry, we must do not only for ourselves, but for the whole Church, for all the People of God. We know from the Gospels that the cross was the critical point of the faith of Simon Peter and of the other Apostles. It is clear and it could not be otherwise: they were men and they thought "as men": they could not tolerate the idea of a crucified Messiah. Peter's conversion was realized fully when he gave up trying to "save" Jesus and accepted being saved by Him. He gave up wanting to save Jesus from the cross and accepted being saved by his cross. "I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren" (Luke 22:32), says the Lord. Peter's ministry consists altogether in his faith, a faith that Jesus recognizes immediately, from the beginning, as genuine, as a gift from the heavenly Father; but a faith that must go through the scandal of the cross, to become authentic, truly "Christian," to become "rock" on which Jesus can build his Church. Participation in Jesus' lordship is verified concretely only in sharing in his abasement, with the Cross. My ministry also, dear Brothers, and, consequently, also yours, consists altogether in faith. Jesus can build his Church on us the more he finds in us that true, paschal faith, that faith that does not want to make Jesus come down from the Cross, but entrusts itself to Him on the Cross. In this connection the authentic place of the Vicar of Christ is on the Cross, to persist in the obedience of the Cross.
 
This ministry is difficult, because it is not aligned with the way of men's thinking -- with that natural logic which, moreover, remains always active also in ourselves. But this is and remains always our first service, the service of faith, which transforms the whole of life: to believe that Jesus is God, that he is the King precisely because he went to that point, because he loved us to the end. And this paradoxical royalty, we must witness and proclaim as He did, the King, namely, following his same path and forcing ourselves to adopt his same logic, the logic of humility and service, of the grain of corn that dies to bear fruit. The Pope and the cardinals are called to be profoundly united first of all in this: all together, under the guidance of the Successor of Peter, they must remain in the lordship of Christ, thinking and operating according to the logic of the Cross -- and this is never easy or to be taken for granted. In this we must be close, and we are so because we are not united by an idea, a strategy, but we are united by the love of Christ, and his Holy Spirit. The efficacy of our service  to the Church, Bride of Christ, depends essentially on this, on our fidelity to the divine royalty of crucified Love. Because of this, on the ring that I hand to you today, seal of your nuptial pact with the Church, is represented the image of the Crucifixion. And for the same reason the color of your habit alludes to blood, symbol of life and love. The Blood of Christ that, according to an ancient iconography, Mary receives from the pierced side of her Son dead on the cross; and that the Apostle John contemplates while it gushes together with water, according to the prophetic Scriptures.
 
Dear Brothers, our wisdom stems from here: sapientia Crucis. Saint Paul reflected in depth on this, the first to trace an organic Christian thought, centered precisely on the paradox of the Cross (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; 2:1-8). In the Letter to the Colossians -- of which today's liturgy proposes the Christological hymn -- the Pauline reflection, fertilized by the grace of the Spirit, now reaches an impressive level of synthesis in expressing an authentic Christian conception of God and of the world, of personal and universal salvation; and all is centered on Christ, Lord of hearts, of history and of the cosmos: "For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross" (Colossians 1:19-20). This, dear Brothers, we are always called to proclaim to the world: Christ "image of the invisible God," Christ "first-born of all creation" and "of those who rise from the dead," so -- as the Apostle writes -- "that in everything he might be pre-eminent" (Colossians 1:15.18). The primacy of Peter and of his Successors is totally at the service of this primacy of Jesus Christ, only Lord; at the service of his Kingdom, namely, of the lordship of love, so that it will come and spread, renew men and things, transform the earth and make peace and justice sprout in it.
 
Within this design, which transcends history and at the same time, is revealed and realized in it, the Church finds a place, "body" of which Christ is "the head" (cf. Colossians 1:18). In the Letter to the Ephesians, Saint Paul speaks explicitly of the lordship of Christ and puts it in relation with the Church. He formulates a prayer of praise to the "greatness of the power of God," which resurrected Christ and constituted him universal Lord, and concludes: "and he [God] has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the Church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all" (Ephesians 1:22-23). The same word "fullness," which concerns Christ, Paul attributes here to the Church, by participation: the body, in fact, participates in the fullness of the Head. There, venerable brother cardinals -- and I also address all of you, who with us share the grace of being Christians -- see what is our joy: that of participating, in the Church, in the fullness of Christ through the obedience of the Cross, of "sharing in the inheritance of the saints in light," of being "transferred" to the kingdom of the Son of God (cf. Colossians 1:12-13). Because of this we live in everlasting thanksgiving, and also through trials the joy and peace that Christ has left us do not fail, as pledge of his Kingdom, which is already in our midst, which we await with faith and hope, and look forward to in charity. Amen.

[Translation by ZENIT]