At the end of part I of this two-part post, we ended with Benedict drawing the synthesis of hope and joy in their inner-relationship with the Easter message and its significance. He then quotes a passage from the Second Reading, which illustrates the relationship beautifully, first quoting from St. Peter in the Second Reading: “‘by his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead’. And he adds: ‘In this you rejoice…’ (1 Pt 1:3, 6). Here too, the fact that hope and joy are theological realities which radiate from the mystery of Christ’s Resurrection and from the gift of his Spirit clearly emerges. We could say that the Holy Spirit takes them from the Heart of the Risen Christ and transfuses them in the hearts of his friends”.
At this point, Benedict clearly introduces into his preaching the image of the heart. On Cardinal Spidlík’s coat of arms, there is the motto: “ex toto corde” (“with all your heart”). Biblically, this phrase is founded in the instruction of how Israel must love her God: “Hear, O Israel…you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart” (cf. Dt 6:4-5). The heart as the nucleus of man is clear. Hence, the whole human person is called to love, and this is what is meant when the term “repent” is found in the Bible, as in the words of St. John the Baptist. To repent is to re-orient one’s heart—one’s soul, might, personality, attitude, sight—toward the Kingdom of God.
Last Tuesday, April 20th, Pope Benedict XVI delivered the homily at the funeral Mass for Cardinal Spidlík. As always, the words of the Holy Father are touching and practical; yet, at the same time, they are filled with great theological depth. In this particular homily, Benedict introduces themes of theology that appear consistently in his thought: hope, joy, and the significance of the heart. In this two-part post, I want to examine the homily of Benedict through the lens of these three theological subjects.
The Pope opens the homily with some of the Cardinal’s last words before his death. They are beautiful, and in themselves, a reflection could be written: “Throughout my life I have sought the Face of Jesus and I am now happy and at peace because I am about to go and see him”. In a recent post, we have already reflected—briefly—over the theological understanding of death, especially through the thought of Benedict. Not surprising, then, the Holy Father is drawing the same conclusion as before—this time, through the words of another Christian. In the person of Jesus Christ, the dark, unknown abyss has been opened, has been walked through; and not just that, but the abyss itself has been conquered. Love has defeated that sting of death (cf. 1 Cor 15:54-55 ); love has given birth to a hope, rooted in the supernatural, that grants man true life, thereby making it possible to overcome the burden of death.
In the history of religious thought, from the primitive times until now, a consistent theme has breeched the thought of every sort of believer: death. Is this all life is? Is death really the end? Does my existence take me, in the final stage, to nothing? Without a doubt, death has been a subject of intense inquiry from the earliest times of religious and philosophical, indeed human, thought.
Pope Benedict XVI, in his homily given on Easter Vigil, confronts this question, and does so positively. The Bishop opens his homily with a brief summary of an ancient Jewish legend from the apocryphal book The Life of Adam and Eve, in which Adam, “in his final illness…sent his son Seth together with Eve into the region of Paradise to fetch the oil of mercy, so that he could be…healed”. Eventually, after some time searching and prayer, the Archangel Michael appears to them and explains that they will be unable to obtain “the oil of the tree of mercy and that Adam would have to die”. Such a myth “lays bare the whole of humanity’s anguish at the destiny of illness, pain and death that has been imposed upon us. Man’s resistance to death becomes evident: somewhere—people have constantly thought—there must be some cure for death”.