It was only actually during Mass this morning that I realised it would be the last time I named Pope Benedict in the Canon (there is no morning Mass here tomorrow). I was unexpectedly moved and again as I came back into the house to watch the final audience in St Peter's Square (on Telepace, without the inane prattling of the BBC commentators and pundits). He spoke very simply and plainly from the heart, acknowledging the ordinary people who feel so close to him and reminding us of simple trust in God's guidance of His Church. It's clear that the Holy father sees his call from God continuing in a different way - through intense prayer and who knows if that might not be even more valuable than any public ministry. The contempative life is not one of abandoning the world but of offering for it the greatest and most demanding of acts - sincere and continuous prayer.
The Gospel at Mass today of the two brothers asking for places at Our Lord's left and right hand to the annoyance of the other ten reminded me that even amongst the Apostles there was dissension and human frailty. Whatever may or may not be the truth behind the allegations aimed at Cardinal O'Brien and the supposed reports of dissension among the Vatican Curia, it's a reminder that leaders of the Church are fallen creatures as well. There has never been a time in the Church's history when there were not sinful people leading it - as well as siants. It's interesting to note that the media and those outside the Church so often focus on anything connected to sexuality. It's supposed to be the Church that is hung up on sex but perhaps it is much more so in the world at large. The Church teaches that many other things are just as sinful as sexual sins. Gossip and detraction of someone's good name, for example, but I can't imagine the news report calling for a resignation because a bishop was caught gossiping! It shouldn't surprise us that the human condition casts its shadow on those who lead the Church but it calls for repentance, not human judgement. Too often, we are influenced by the way of the world.
How to elect a Pope - by the same sort of democracy that has left Italy reeling this week and has given us in the UK the ordinary man in the street David Cameron.
How are we to view Pope Benedict's future ministry? Like Mr Heath barracking his successor Margaret Thacher from the back benches.
How are priests who struggle or even get themselves into trouble to be treated? By the CEO of the Company abandoning them for the good of the corporate image.
As the Holy Father said today. The Church is of God.
We will be praying for him tomorrow in a very simple way with an hour of devotions including Stations of the Cross, Rosary offered for him and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament at 7pm - the hour he lays aside the ministry of successor of St Peter to take up his life of prayer for the Church.
THE TEXT OF HIS FINAL SPEECH
Dear brothers and sisters!
Thank you for coming in such large numbers in this last General Audience of my pontificate.
As the Apostle Paul in the biblical text that we have heard, I feel in my heart to have to especially thank God that guides and builds up the Church, which is sowing his Word and thus nourishes the faith in his people. At this moment my heart expands to embrace the whole Church throughout the world, and I thank God for the “news” that in recent years the Petrine ministry I could receive about faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love that circulates in the body of the Church and to live in love, and hope that it opens and directs us towards the fullness of life, towards the heavenly homeland.
I feel I bring all in prayer, in a present that is of God, where I collect every meeting, every trip, every pastoral visit. Everything and everyone gather in prayer to entrust them to the Lord, because we have full knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, and why we behave in a manner worthy of Him and His love, bearing fruit in every good work (cf. Col 1 0.9 to 10).
At this time, there is great confidence in me, because I know, all of us know, that the word of the truth of the Gospel is the power of the Church, it is his life. The Gospel purifies and renews, bears fruit, wherever the community of believers hears and receives the grace of God in truth and lives in charity. This is my belief and this is my joy.
When, on April 19, almost eight years ago, I agreed to take on the Petrine ministry, I always had the certainty that has always accompanied me. At that time, I had already stated several times, words that have been spoken in my heart were: Lord, what do you ask of me? The weight that you place on my shoulders is very great, but if you ask me, at your word I will let down the nets, confident that you will guide me. And the Lord has really driven, I was close, I could feel his presence every day. It ‘was a part of the journey of the Church that had moments of joy and light, but also moments that were not easy. I felt like St. Peter and the Apostles in the boat on the Sea of Galilee.
The Lord has given us many days of sunshine and gentle breeze. Days when the fishing is plentiful, and there were also times when the water was rough and there was a head wind, as in the whole history of the Church and it appeared to us that the Lord appeared to be sleeping. But I always knew that the boat is in the Lord and I always knew that the boat of the Church was not mine, not ours, but was his and not let her sink, it is he who leads it, certainly through men that he had chosen, because it wanted it to be so. This was and this is a certainty that nothing can tarnish. And that’s why today my heart is filled with gratitude to God because he did not ever let the Church lack in any way especially his consolation, his light, his love.
We are in the Year of Faith, which I wanted to strengthen our own faith in God in a context that seems to put it more and more into the background. I would like to invite everyone to renew their firm trust in the Lord, to trust like children in the arms of God, resting assured that those arms support us and are what allow us to walk every day, even when this requires effort. I would like everyone to feel loved by the God who gave his Son for us and showed us his love without boundaries. I want everyone to feel the joy of being Christian. In a beautiful prayer to be recited daily in the morning, we pray: “I adore you, my God, I love you with all my heart. Thank you for creating me and for making me Christian … did. “Yes, we are happy for the gift of faith is the most precious thing. No one can take from us! We thank God for this every day, with prayer and with an authentic Christian life. God loves us, but waits for us and expects that we love him!
But it is not only God that I want to thank at this time. A Pope is not alone in the leading the ship of Peter, even if it is your primary responsibility, and I have not ever heard only bring joy and weight of the Petrine ministry, the Lord placed many people next to me, with generosity and love for God and the Church, have helped me and I have been close. First of all you, dear Brother Cardinals: your wisdom, your advice, your friendship was precious to me, my collaborators, starting with my Secretary of State who accompanied me faithfully over the years, the Secretariat of State and the whole of the Roman Curia, as well as all those who, in various fields, give their service to the Holy See: there are many unseen faces which are not arise, remain in the shade, but in the silence, in their daily work, in a spirit of faith and humility, they have been a safe and reliable support to me. A special thought to the Church of Rome, my diocese! I can not forget the Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood, consecrated persons and the entire People of God in the pastoral visits, in meetings, at the audiences, travel, I always received great care and deep affection, but I too have loved each and every one, without exception, with that pastoral charity which is the heart of every pastor, especially the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of the Apostle Peter. Every day I carried each of you in my prayers, the heart of a father.
I want my greetings to reach out to all of you, everywhere: the heart of a Pope extends to the whole world. And I would like to express my gratitude to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, which makes up, this, our great family of nations. Here I also think of all those who work for good communication system and I thank them for their important service.
At this point I would like to thank with all of my heart the many people around the world in recent weeks who have sent me touching tokens of attention, friendship and prayer. Yes, the Pope is never alone, now I experience it again in a way that is great and touches the heart. The Pope belongs to everyone and a lot of people feel very close to him. In the truth that I receive letters from the world’s largest – by the Heads of State, religious leaders, representatives of the world of culture and so on. But I also received many letters from ordinary people who write to me simply from their heart and make me feel their affection born out of experience with Christ Jesus, in the Church. These people do not write to me as they write to a prince or a great one does not know. They write as brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, with the sense of family ties very affectionate. Here you can touch what is really the Church – not an organization, not an association for religious or humanitarian goals, but a living body, a community of brothers and sisters in the Body of Jesus Christ, who unites us all. We experience the Church in this way and could almost be able to touch it with your hands; the very power of his truth and love is a source of joy, in a time when many people speak of it in its decline.
In recent months, I felt that my strength had decreased, and I asked God earnestly in prayer to enlighten me with his light to make me take the right decision not for my sake, but for the good of the Church. I have taken this step in full awareness of its severity and also new, but with a deep peace of mind. Loving the Church also means having the courage to make tough choices, suffering, having always before the good of the Church and not themselves.
Allow me to return once again to April 19, 2005. The severity of the decision was precisely in the fact that from that moment on I was always and forever committed for the Lord. Always – those who assume the Petrine ministry no longer has any privacy. Always and totally belongs to everyone, the entire Church. His life is, so to speak, totally deprived of the private sphere. I experienced, and I am experiencing it right now that one receives life just as He gives. I said before that a lot of people who love the Lord also love the Successor of Saint Peter and are very fond of him. I’ve said before that the Pope has truly brothers and sisters, sons and daughters all over the world, and that he feels in the embrace of their communion, because it no longer belongs to himself, instead he belongs to everyone, everywhere.
The “always” is also a “forever” – there is a return to the private sector. My decision to forgo the exercise of active ministry does not revoke this fact. I am not returning to private life, to a life of travel, meetings, receptions, conferences and so on. I am not abandoning the cross, but I am remaining at the foot of the Crucified Lord. I will no longer vest the power of the office for the government of the Church, but in the service of prayer rest, so to speak, in the yard of St. Peter. St. Benedict, whose name I bare as Pope, is a great example of this. He showed us the way to a life which, active or passive, belongs wholly to the work of God
I thank each and everyone for your respect and understanding with which you have welcomed this important decision. I will continue to accompany the journey of the Church through prayer and reflection, with dedication to the Lord and to his Spouse, with which I have tried to live up to now every day and which I want to live forever. I ask you to remember me before God, and above all to pray for the Cardinals, who are called to such an important task, and the new Successor of Peter, the Lord accompany him with the light and the power of his Spirit.
Let us invoke the maternal intercession of Mary, the Mother of God and of the Church that she may accompany each of us and the whole ecclesial community, to her, as we trust, deep trust.