The following is the text of Bishop Malooly’s Feb. 28 homily during a Mass of thanksgiving for Pope Benedict XVI at St. Joseph on the Brandywine Church in Greenville.
We take a break from our Lenten season for a moment of thanksgiving, thanksgiving for the life and ministry of Pope Benedict XVI. As we pray at this moment he has already left the Vatican by helicopter to go to Castle Gandolfo. In less than two hours he will have resigned the papacy. I want to reflect for a few moments what he has meant to us and what he will continue to mean to us. Our pastor, Msgr. Joe Rebman, chose the readings for this particular Mass. He had intended to celebrate it himself and most graciously, as always, welcomed my request to be the celebrant as the diocesan bishop.
A helicopter carrying Pope Benedict XVI takes off from inside the Vatican on its way to the to the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, Italy, Feb. 28, the final day of his papacy. (CNS photo/Stefano Rellandini, Reuters)
In the Hebrew scriptures, the prophet Ezekiel talks about the shepherd who tends his flock and that shepherd would seek out the lost sheep. For Pope Benedict his ministry wasn’t just maintenance of the church but a constant emphasis on evangelization and strengthening the faith. We see that specifically in his writings, teachings and in his travels. He has that wonderful facility of being a learned man and yet able to communicate with the masses. His writings are simple and to the point, obvious and yet profound.
In the Gospel from John, Jesus reminds us that “this is my commandment, love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down ones life for ones friends.” This is exactly what Pope Benedict has done. His love is so great that his resignation is his laying down his life for the continued growth of the church.
The Holy Father reminds us that this will be a time of prayer for him. As each Christian gets older prayer becomes the opportunity to draw even closer to the lord and at the same time to provide a special gift of intercession before the lord for all of us.
The Holy Father in his last public appearance spoke very personally about his relationship with the Lord. He told us, “he has been close to me. Daily I could feel his presence.” And then he continued, “I have felt like St. Peter with the apostles in the boat on the Sea of Galilee. The Lord has given us many days of sunshine and gentle breeze, days in which the catch has been abundant, then there have been times when the seas were rough and the wind against us, as in the whole history of the church it has ever been – and the lord seemed to sleep. Nevertheless, I always knew that the lord is in the barque and that the barque of the church is not mine, not ours but — his and he shall not let her sink.”
What a beautiful image at this time of transition. As Pope Benedict has given his entire life for the good of the church and now generously and graciously he moves on so that someone else might lead and yet does not abandon us because he has promised to support the church through his prayer and intercession before the Lord. He now takes on a new role for the sake of the church, not unlike what Jesus did so often when he moved away from his disciples for moments of prayer and conversation with his heavenly father.
I have fond memories of Pope Benedict. I remember seeing him many times in St. Peter’s square as Cardinal Ratzinger walking up to priests from any country and beginning a conversation with them in there native language.
In June 2008, after I had been informed I was being appointed bishop of Wilmington but before the public announcement, I was in Rome and in greeting him with 100 other bishops thanked him for this assignment. Just last January of 2012, I greeted him at the Vatican with the other bishops of our province and he so graciously told me he understood the challenges I faced and kept me in prayer.
And now let me pray for him as in a new way he interceedes on our behalf with the Lord who has been close to him, daily, as he said, “I could feel his presence.”
I thank god for the gift of Pope Benedict!