“Among you, among the College of Cardinals, is also the future Pope, to whom I promise from today my unconditional respect and obedience,” said Pope Benedict XVI on the last day of his pontificate, four years ago this February 28, 2017. His words resounded as a precious theological and spiritual legacy for the whole Church.
In two days time, in fact, will be the anniversary of the evening when, at 8:00 pm, the Pope, having renounced the See of Peter after eight years of pontificate, the period of “vacancy” would begin of the Apostolic See until the election of Pope Francis, on March 13, 2013; thereby <enabling> Pope Benedict to “institute” in some way the “retreat” of Popes, under the double sign of “respect” and “obedience” to his successor.
“Before greeting you personally, I wish to say to you that I will continue to be close to you through prayer, in particular, in the course of the coming days, so that you are fully docile to the action of the Holy Spirit for the election of the new Pope. May the Lord show you what is His will. Among you, among you in the College of Cardinals, is also the future Pope, to whom I promise from today my unconditional respect and obedience. To this end, I give you with affection and gratitude my heartfelt Apostolic Blessing,” said solemnly Pope Benedict XVI during the last meeting of his pontificate with the College of Cardinals.
He quoted these thoughts of Romano Guardini on the Church as a spiritual legacy that he entrusted to them, and that he also entrusted to every Catholic: “I would like to leave with you a simple thought, which I have very much at heart: a thought on the Church, on her ministry, which constitutes for all of us – we can say – the reason and passion of our life. To help me, I borrow an expression of Romano Guardini., written precisely the year when the Fathers of Vatican Council II approved the Constitution Lumen gentium, in his last book, with an equally personal dedication to me: it is why the words of that book are particularly dear to me.
“Romano Guardini said: The Church “is not an institution conceived and built theoretically . . . but a living reality. She lives in the course of time, becoming, as every living being, being transformed. And therefore, in her nature she remains always the same, and her heart is Christ. It’s the experience we had, it seems to me, yesterday at Saint Peter’s Square: to see that the Church is a living body, animated by the Holy Spirit, and that she really lives by the strength of God. She is in the world, but she does not belong to the world: she belongs to God, to Christ, to the Spirit. We saw it yesterday. It is why the other famous expression of Romano Guardini is also true and eloquent: “The Church awakens in souls.” The Church lives, grows and awakens in souls that – like the Virgin Mary – receive the Word of God and conceive it by the operation of the Holy Spirit; they offer to God their own flesh and, precisely in their poverty and their humility, they become capable of engendering Christ today in the world. Through the Church, the mystery of the Incarnation remains present forever. Christ continues to walk through the times and in all places.”
“Dear Brothers, exhorted today’s Pope Emeritus, let us remain united in this Mystery: in prayer, in particular in the daily Eucharist, and thus serve the Church and the whole of humanity. This is our joy, which no one can take away from us.”
From the beginning of his address, he had already insisted on the communion of the College of Cardinals – in a ”unanimous higher harmony” – saying: “It was a joy for me also to walk with you in the course of these years, in the light of the presence of the Risen Lord (. . .). During these eight years, we lived with faith very beautiful moments of radiant light on the path of the Church, as well as moments when some clouds veiled the sky. We sought to serve Christ and His Church with profound and total love, which is the soul of our ministry. We have given hope, that hope which comes to us from Christ who alone can illumine the path. Together, we can give thanks to God who made us grow in communion, and pray to Him together to help you grow again in this profound unity, so that the College of Cardinals is like an orchestra, where the diversities – expression of the universal Church –always contribute to a higher and unanimous harmony.”