Below is the homily delivered by the Archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, on Sunday at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Northeast Washington. It was part of a Mass, given in honor of Pope Benedict, that was among the key official events in the United States in the run-up to a meeting of the cardinals to pick a successor to Benedict. It was broadcast live on EWTN, a Catholic television network.--
Today the Church in her Sunday liturgy continues our Lenten pilgrimage with the Second Sunday of Lent. Later today in this Basilica we will have the Rite of Election, receiving the public declaration of those who together with 1,200 others from across this archdiocese are declaring their intention to receive the Easter Sacraments – baptism, confirmation and Eucharist – at the Easter Vigil Mass five weeks from now.
It is in the context of our faith journey – the journey that each of us makes through life guided by the light of Christ – that we come together today in an act of faith and a profession of love. Our faith is directed to Christ who established his Church on Peter, whom he named the Rock, and our love to the Chief Shepherd of the Church who exercises that ministry today and who has recently announced his decision to step aside from those weighty responsibilities.
The news that Pope Benedict XVI plans to resign less than a week from today came to all of us as a surprise and in some way a shock because this is the first time in modern history that this has happened. But now that some of the startling quality of this announcement has subsided, we are able to recognize that our Holy Father’s action speaks to us of his greatness and his ability to recognize the needs of the Church Universal today and his own estimation of the demands of the Papal office.
Now that some of the dust has settled, we are able clearly to see the courage, humility and honesty of our Holy Father that would lead him to say that it would be better that someone with more energy serve as Chief Shepherd of the Church at this time.
Pope Benedict tells us that he prayed over this decision and that in his conscience opened before God he is at peace. While many of us would have said, “Holy Father, don’t go,” he is clearly hearing a stronger and more powerful voice.
His actions provide us an opportunity to reflect not only on the role of Peter, but how that ministry is exercised today.
Papal service in our day, more than ever, includes a ministry of presence. It often involves extensive travel around the world to visit and pray with the faithful. The Petrine Office is exercised today in an age of instantaneous communication, where social media dominate how we relate to one another, and how, therefore, the voice of Peter must be articulated to be heard.
In his more than seven-year Pontificate, Pope Benedict has offered us guidance and example in both of these challenging areas through which the office of Peter, the rock on which Christ built his Church, and the teaching voice of the apostolic tradition can be proclaimed.