Friends, scholars, and former colleagues of Pope Benedict XVI gathered in the Campo Santo Teutonico in Vatican City from Dec. 30–31 for a two-day conference to reflect on the late pope’s life and rich theological legacy on the occasion of the one-year anniversary of his death.
Touching upon a wide range of themes, from his early life to his extensive theological corpus that covered the virtues of hope and love, the liturgy, and the life of Christ, the common thread uniting his work and life was a deep Christocentrism, which was made tangible in the Eucharist.
“When he spoke his final words ‘Lord, I love Thee’ at the end of his life, he said it all. He was expressing the fact that this love is stronger than death and that he remained in this love even in the moment of death,” Father Ralph Weimann said to the attendees gathered together for his lecture titled “Death and Eternal Life — Benedict XVI.”
“His parents’ testimony of faith, the participation in the holy Eucharist, the instruction in the faith, and the truth of the faith were not just gimmicks or nice customs for him but the key to understanding human existence. He wrote in his memoirs that this was why he wanted to serve Christ in his Church. At the same time, he wanted to fight for a better world, which would be better when God came into life,” Weimann said.
Noting that this was a theme that Benedict grappled with extensively both as cardinal and pope, Weimann added that “it had become clear to him that we can only stand before God at the end of our lives if we have held onto the truth and remained in love.”
Cardinal Kurt Koch, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, expressed that for Christians death is not an end but is defined by love of Christ and hope in eternal life.
“Pope Benedict has described this truly Christian hope in these profound words: ‘I am definitively loved and whatever happens to me — I am awaited by this Love,’” Koch said.
“This description of eternal life is not surprising when you consider that for Pope Benedict, God is that love, with which he encounters us humans and which he has definitively revealed in his Son, Jesus Christ,” the Swiss cardinal reflected.
For the late pope, his deep commitment to scholarship was not only a way to build an intellectual understanding of God but his attempt to make God accessible, which “became tangible for him in its most concrete form of expression: the holy Eucharist,” Weimann observed during his lecture.
“Anyone who got to know Pope Benedict — even in the last years of his life — knows what this means. He had lived in the presence of God. This was the reference point of his life, the source from which he drew. God was as real to him as fellow human beings are to us. He spoke to him as one speaks to a good friend who is also God,” Weimann added.
“A God who revealed himself as the unsurpassed truth. Throughout his life, he saw himself as a collaborator of this truth and held on to it because he knew that he was not following an illusion but the divine truth,” he added.
On the morning of Sunday, Dec. 31, Mass was celebrated by Archbishop Georg Gänswein, the longtime personal secretary of Pope Benedict, at the Altar of the Chair of St. Peter. During his emotional and intimate homily, the archbishop noted that Benedict’s life was characterized by rich prayer and a deep love of the Eucharist.
“Benedict XVI’s prayer, especially in the last years of his life, was distinguished by a growing intensity and interiority. This was also reflected in his attitude and his face: It became always more prayerful, contemplative of the one Lord who, in the strength of the Holy Spirit, continues to guide his Church,” Gänswein said.
Reflecting on the moment the late pontiff announced his resignation, Gänswein quoted from Benedict’s last Angelus address on Feb. 24, 2013, to highlight that the pope’s decision was motivated by a deep love and longstanding sense of service to the Church.
“’The Lord calls me to ’climb the mountain,’ to dedicate myself even more to prayer and meditation. But this does not mean abandoning the Church; on the contrary, if God asks me this it is precisely so that I can continue to serve her with the same dedication and the same love with which I have tried to do so up to now,’” a visibly emotional Gänswein said as he quoted the late pontiff.
Expanding his reflection to the centrality of the Eucharist for the late pope, Gänswein noted that for Benedict, “the heart of every day for him was the Eucharist, a source of light, strength, and consolation.”
“The intimate relationship with the Lord was then reflected in the relationships with the people around him, distinguished by great cordiality, humility, and simplicity, and also in his theological and pastoral work, always oriented toward the primacy of God and the building of the Church,” the German prelate added.
By Matthew Santucci