Benedict XVI: Ascension and Papal Primacy —obedience to Christ and the Scriptures…
(CUSA) – On the Feast of the Ascension in 2005, Pope Benedict XVI gave this homily on the occasion of his election as pope. He reflected on his role as teacher and witness to Christ as Peter. You won’t find a better summary as to the role of the successor of Peter.
He also reminded those gathered that all of the intellectual and scientific ability cannot provide humanity that which obedience and service to Christ can—the certainty of faith from Scripture and the from living tradition of the Church. —Ed.
MASS OF POSSESSION OF THE CHAIR
OF THE BISHOP OF ROME
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
Basilica of St John Lateran
Saturday, May 7, 2005
Dear Father Cardinals,
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today, when I can sit for the first time on the Chair of the Bishop of Rome as Successor of Peter, is the day on which the Church in Italy celebrates the Feast of the Ascension of the Lord.
At the center of this day we find Christ. And it is also only thanks to him, thanks to the mystery of his Ascension, that we can understand the significance of the Chair, which in turn is the symbol of the Bishop’s power and responsibility.
So what does the Feast of the Ascension of the Lord mean for us? It does not mean that the Lord has departed to some place far from people and from the world. Christ’s Ascension is not a journey into space toward the most remote stars; for basically, the planets, like the earth, are also made of physical elements.
Christ’s Ascension means that he no longer belongs to the world of corruption and death that conditions our life. It means that he belongs entirely to God. He, the Eternal Son, led our human existence into God’s presence, taking with him flesh and blood in a transfigured form.
The human being finds room in God; through Christ, the human being was introduced into the very life of God. And since God embraces and sustains the entire cosmos, the Ascension of the Lord means that Christ has not departed from us, but that he is now, thanks to his being with the Father, close to each one of us for ever.
Each one of us can be on intimate terms with him; each can call upon him. The Lord is always within hearing. We can inwardly draw away from him. We can live turning our backs on him. But he always waits for us and is always close to us.
From the readings of today’s liturgy we also learn something more about the concrete way the Lord makes himself close to us. The Lord promises the disciples his Holy Spirit. The first reading that we heard tells us that the Holy Spirit will give “power” to the disciples; the Gospel adds that he will guide them to the whole truth.
As the living Word of God, Jesus told his disciples everything, and God can give no more than himself. In Jesus, God gave us his whole self, that is, he gave us everything. As well as or together with this, there can be no other revelation which can communicate more or in some way complete the Revelation of Christ.
In him, in the Son, all has been said to us, all has been given.
But our understanding is limited: thus, the Spirit’s mission is to introduce the Church, in an ever new way from generation to generation, into the greatness of Christ’s mystery. The Spirit places nothing different or new beside Christ; no pneumatic revelation comes with the revelation of Christ – as some say -, no second level of Revelation.
No: “He will have received from me…”, Christ says in the Gospel (Jn 16: 14). And as Christ says only what he hears and receives from the Father, thus the Holy Spirit is the interpreter of Christ. “He will have received from me”.
He does not lead us to other places, far from Christ, but takes us further and further into Christ’s light. Consequently, Christian Revelation is both ever old and new. Thus, all things are and always have been given to us. At the same time, every generation, in the inexhaustible encounter with the Lord – an encounter mediated by the Holy Spirit – always learns something new.
The Holy Spirit, therefore, is the power through which Christ causes us to experience his closeness. But the first reading also has something else to say: you will be my witnesses. The Risen Christ needs witnesses who have met him, people who have known him intimately through the power of the Holy Spirit; those who have, so to speak, actually touched him, can witness to him.
It is in this way that the Church, the family of Christ, “beginning at Jerusalem”…, as the Reading says, spread to the very ends of the earth. It is through witnesses that the Church was built – starting with Peter and Paul and the Twelve, to the point of including all who, filled with Christ, have rekindled down the centuries and will rekindle the flame of faith in a way that is ever new. All Christians in their own way can and must be witnesses of the Risen Lord.
When we read the saints’ names we can see how often they have been – and continue to be – first and foremost simple people from whom shone – and shines – a radiant light that can lead others to Christ.
But this chorus of witnesses is also endowed with a clearly defined structure: the successors of the Apostles, the Bishops, who are publicly responsible for ensuring that the network of these witnesses survives.
The power and grace required for this service are conferred upon Bishops through the sacrament of Episcopal Ordination. In this network of witnesses, the Successor of Peter has a special task. It was Peter who, on the Apostles’ behalf, made the first profession of faith: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
This is the task of all Peter’s Successors: to be the guide in the profession of faith in Christ, Son of the living God. The Chair of Rome is above all the Seat of this belief. From high up on this Chair the Bishop of Rome is constantly bound to repeat: Dominus Iesus – “Jesus is Lord”, as Paul wrote in his Letters to the Romans and to the Corinthians.
To the Corinthians he stressed: “Even though there are so-called gods in the heavens and on the earth… for us there is one God, the Father… and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom everything was made and through whom we live.”
The Chair of Peter obliges all who hold it to say, as Peter said during a crisis time among the disciples when so many wanted to leave him: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe; we are convinced that you are God’s holy one.”
The One who sits on the Chair of Peter must remember the Lord’s words to Simon Peter at the Last Supper: “…You in turn must strengthen your brothers.” The one who holds the office of the Petrine ministry must be aware that he is a frail and weak human being – just as his own powers are frail and weak – and is constantly in need of purification and conversion.
But he can also be aware that the power to strengthen his brethren in the faith and keep them united in the confession of the Crucified and Risen Christ comes from the Lord. In St Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, we find the oldest account we have of the Resurrection.
Paul faithfully received it from the witnesses. This account first speaks of Christ’s death for our sins, of his burial and of his Resurrection which took place the third day, and then says: “[Christ] was seen by Cephas, then by the Twelve….” Thus, the importance of the mandate conferred upon Peter to the end of time is summed up: being a witness of the Risen Christ.
The Bishop of Rome sits upon the Chair to bear witness to Christ. Thus, the Chair is the symbol of the potestas docendi, the power to teach that is an essential part of the mandate of binding and loosing which the Lord conferred on Peter, and after him, on the Twelve.