Today, as you know, is Joseph Ratzinger’s final day as pope. The cardinals gathered in Rome each had a chance to share a final greeting this morning. The Catholic News Service caught the U.S. cardinals’ final moments with the pope here:
In his closing discourse to the cardinals, the Holy Father called the men gathering for their upcoming conclave to remember Who it is they live to serve:
In these 8 years we have experienced in faith beautiful moments of radiant light in the Churches’ journey along with times when clouds have darkened the sky. We have tried to serve Christ and his Church with deep and total love which is the soul of our ministry. We have gifted hope that comes from Christ alone, and which alone can illuminate our path. Together we can thank the Lord who has helped us grow in communion, to pray to together, to help you to continue to grow in this deep unity so that the College of Cardinals is like an orchestra, where diversity, an expression of the universal Church, always contributes to a superior harmony of concord.
At a time when so much of the buzz around the Vatican bureaucracy is of discord, the Holy Father, as he does, focuses the minds and the hearts of those who will elect his successor to the Chair of Peter. I was struck by this successor to the Apostles — an apostle himself — who has been calling all to join him in prayer and faithfulness to the Gospels. His second to last Tweet, even, simply said:
If only everyone could experience the joy of being Christian, being loved by God who gave his Son for us!
The pope would say things like “God is love” (you might recall the encyclical by that name) and that Christ is the center of our lives. And now he goes to finish his life — a pilgrimage to the Creator who loves him and each one of us — to dedicate himself to prayer, to pray that we might truly encounter Christ. (This is what he stressed with Catholic leaders from the Americas in December, at a small audience where I was present.) To pray that we might discover the hope and the healing that comes with true Christianity, that we might have lives immersed in the Divine mystery, as he discussed with the cardinals this morning, and as he has showed us how to do throughout his papacy.
I was particularly struck by the Holy Father’s reference to Emmaus in his talk with the cardinals this morning. They reminded me of the final words of George Weigel’s new book, Evangelical Catholicism, which is a significant and timely book, a blueprint for the future for every single man and woman who considers themselves Catholic:
There are still Emmaus roads to be walked. And along them the evangelical Catholics of the future, having met the Risen One in Word and Sacrament, will still proclaim, to those with ears to hear, “We have seen the Lord!” [John 20:25].
In an interview on the book’s publication date, Weigel added:
They’re everywhere, as the Risen One is everywhere, waiting to meet us along those roads, to surprise us with his exposition of the Scriptures, and to join us in the breaking of the bread.
In what might be his most powerful role yet — pointing us to the power of prayer — Pope Benedict XVI, pontiff until 2 p.m. EST now, spends the rest of his life praying that people the world over might truly walk that road, knowing we’re never alone.