Pope gave witness of ‘suffering and silence,’ Cardinal Ratzinger says
By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In a sermon recalling the stages of Pope John Paul II's life, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger described how the once-vigorous priest who camped with young people in his native Poland grew frail and weak in old age, giving a witness of "suffering and silence."

"Our pope—and we all know this—never wanted to make his own life secure, to keep it for himself; he wanted to give of himself unreservedly, to the very last moment, to Christ and thus also to us," Cardinal Ratzinger said at the April 8 funeral Mass in St. Peter's Square.

Cardinal Ratzinger said the words "follow me"—the words of the risen Christ to St. Peter –were the thread running through the pope's life.

"As a young student, Karol Wojtyla was thrilled by literature, the theater and poetry. Working in a chemical plant, surrounded and threatened by the Nazi terror, he heard the voice of the Lord: Follow me," Cardinal Ratzinger said.

After entering a clandestine seminary, he was ordained a priest in 1946 and came to love the academic world and pastoral work among the young, Cardinal Ratzinger said. When he was called to be a bishop in 1958, it was probably not a welcome appointment, the cardinal said.

"All this must have seemed to him like losing his very self," Cardinal Ratzinger said, but the future pope accepted the appointment, remembering the words, "Follow me."

As a bishop, he was able to use talents and his special love of words, poetry and literature to give new vitality and new urgency to the preaching of the Gospel, Cardinal Ratzinger said.

When called to the papacy in 1978, the pope accepted because he loved the Lord, the cardinal said.

"The love of Christ was the dominant force in the life of our beloved Holy Father. Anyone who ever saw him pray, who ever heard him preach, knows that," he said.

In a reflection on Pope John Paul's last, difficult years, when he could no longer stand or walk on his own, Cardinal Ratzinger recalled Christ's words to St. Peter, recounted in the Gospel of St. John:

"When you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go."

"In the first years of his pontificate, still young and full of energy, the Holy Father went to the very ends of the earth, guided by Christ," Cardinal Ratzinger said.

"But afterward, he increasingly entered into the communion of Christ's sufferings; increasingly he understood the truth of the words: 'Someone else will fasten a belt around you,'" he said.

Cardinal Ratzinger pointed to a simple but key part of Pope John Paul's teaching, that "the limit imposed upon evil is ultimately divine mercy." The pope saw the truth of that in the failed attempt on his life in 1981, and in his later struggles, he said.

"Impelled by this vision, the pope suffered and loved in communion with Christ, and that is why the message of his suffering and his silence proved so eloquent and so fruitful," the cardinal said.

Cardinal Ratzinger cited the late pope's Marian devotion.

"The Holy Father found the purest reflection of God's mercy in the Mother of God. He, who at an early age had lost his own mother, loved his divine mother all the more," he said.

At the end of his sermon, amid applause, Cardinal Ratzinger recalled how on Easter Sunday the pope had stood at his apartment window and given his blessing to the world one last time.

"We can be sure that our beloved pope is standing today at the window of the Father's house, that he sees us and blesses us," he said.

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