Father Benedict, as he would have preferred to have been called instead of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, celebrates his 88th birthday today. It’s going to be a private affair, as usual, with his brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, visiting.
The retired Pope is doing well, according to his private secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, in recent interviews: his mind as sharp as ever, although his legs have begun to give him trouble. Indoors he walks with a cane, outdoors with a walker. But at the age of 88, mortality is a topic that Father Benedict does not avoid. He has spoken about his own death several times with Msgr. Gänswein.
For now, however, we wish Benedict a happy birthday and all the blessings of the Lord for the future. May he live long in comfort, surrounded by those he loves, and aware of our gratitude for his prayer for us.
“The centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus… said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’. Many women were also there … Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee” (Matthew 27:54-56)
Lord Jesus, it is so often easy to despair and give up. When they took Your lifeless body from the Cross, many of Your followers also despaired. May our example be the centurion, who recognised the glimmer of hope and faith amid death and desolation.
“Then they handed him over to them to be crucified … Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews’” (John 19:16,19)
They are driving nails into my hands and feet. My arms are outstretched. The nails excruciatingly pierce my flesh. I am immobilized in body, but free in heart, with the same freedom with which I went forth to my passion. Free, for I am full of love, a love which embraces all.
I look at the men who are crucifying me. I think of those who have ordered them to do this: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing”. Beside me are two other men condemned to crucifixion. One of them asks me to remember him when I come into my kingdom. Yes, I tell him, “Today you will be with me in Paradise”.
Lord Jesus, after Your garments were taken away, they drove nails through your hands and feet. You know both physical and mental pain. Stand with us when we are struck, tortured or killed. We also pray for all those who are killed becuase they are a burden, especially the unborn and the elderly.
“They divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots” (Psalm 22:18)
I stand in silence. I feel humiliated by so apparently banal an act. I was already stripped hours ago. I think of my Mother, who is here. My humiliation is also hers. Once more her heart is pierced. To her I owe the robe which was torn from me, which is a sign of her love for me.
Lord Jesus, with your garments they took away your dignity, but you underwent it with an innate silent dignity. May we follow your example when we are vilified and mocked, and know that our human dignity comes from God and can not be taken away by men.
“I came from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and am going to the Father” (John 16:28)
My earthly journey is now at an end. When I was born, my Mother laid me in a manger. I lived almost my whole life in Nazareth. I immersed myself in the history of the Chosen People.
On my journey as the One sent by the Father, I preached the breadth of his love, which overlooks no one; the length of his love, which is faithful in every generation; the height of his love, a hope which triumphs over death itself; and the depth of his love, which sent me to call not the righteous, but sinners.
Many heard and followed me, becoming my disciples; others did not understand. Some even fought me and ultimately condemned me. But at his moment I am called, more than ever, to reveal God’s love for all mankind.
Lord Jesus, your third fall prefigures the falls we all take, and also Your ultimate fall. May we always recognise that from our fall we can rise again, as You rose on the third day.
“A great number of people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. But Jesus turned to them and said, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children’” (Luke 23:27-28)
Just a few days ago, I entered Jerusalem. A small crowd of disciples was there to welcome me. They even greeted me with the words: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”. For all its simplicity, that moment was also most solemn. And yet the Pharisees showed their displeasure. The joy did not stop me from weeping at the sight of the city. Now as I make my weary way towards Golgotha, I hear the cries of women weeping for me as they beat their breasts.
Lord Jesus, you have many followers. Like the women of Jerusalem, they look to you as their teacher, even in your time of suffering. May we, as your followers, always listen to your words and be taught by them.