The Testament of the Wise Helmsman
The central passages of the last address of pope Joseph Ratzinger, Wednesday, February 27, 2013. “I no longer bear the authority of the office, but I remain within the enclosure of Saint Peter”
by Benedict XVI
Dear brothers and sisters […] In this moment my spirit reaches out to the whole Church scattered throughout the world; and I give thanks to God for the “news” that during these years of the Petrine ministry I have been able to receive about the faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and about the charity that circulates in the body of the Church and makes it live in love, and about the hope that opens us and orients us toward the fullness of life, toward our homeland in heaven. […]
At this moment there is in me a great trust, because I know, we all know, that the Word of life of the Gospel is the power of the Church, it is its life. The Gospel purifies and renews, it bears fruit, wherever the community of believers listens to it and welcomes the grace of God in truth and lives in charity. This is my trust, this is my joy.
When, on April 19 almost eight years ago, I agreed to assume the Petrine ministry, I held firm this certainty that has always accompanied me.
At that time, as I have already expressed repeatedly, the words that resounded in my heart were these: Lord, what are you asking of me, and why are you asking it of me? It is a great weight that you are placing on my shoulders, but if You are the one who is asking me, at your word I will cast out the nets, sure that you will guide me. And the Lord has truly guided me, he has been close to me, I have been able to perceive his presence every day.
It has been a segment of the journey of the Church that has had moments of joy and light, but also moments that have not been easy; I have felt like Saint Peter with the Apostles in the boat on the Sea of Galilee: the Lord has given us so many days of sun and of gentle breeze, days in which the fish have been abundant; there have also been moments in which the waters were agitated and the wind contrary, as in all the history of the Church, and the Lord seemed to be sleeping.
But I have always known that in that boat is the Lord, and I have always known that the barque of the Church is not mine, it is not ours, but it is his and he does not let it sink; it is he who pilots it, certainly also through the men whom he has chosen, because this is how he has wanted it. This has been and is a certitude that nothing can obscure. And it is for this reason that today my heart is full of thanksgiving to God that he has never deprived the whole Church and me as well of his consolation, his light, his love.
We are in the Year of Faith, which I wanted in order to reinforce precisely our faith in God in a context that seems to put him ever more in the background. I would like to invite all of us to renew our firm trust in the Lord, to entrust ourselves like children into the arms of God, certain that those arms support us always and are that which permits us to walk every day even in weariness. I would like that each one of us should feel loved by that God who has given his Son for us and has demonstrated to us his love without limit. I would like that each one should feel the joy of being Christian.
In a beautiful prayer to be recited every day in the morning it says: “I adore you, my God, and I love you with all my heart. I thank you for having created me, made me Christian…” Yes, we are content with the gift of faith; it is the most precious good, which no one can take away from us! Let us thank the Lord for this every day, with prayer and with a consistent Christian life. God loves us, but he is waiting for us to love him too! […]
In these last months I have felt that my powers were diminished, and I asked God with insistence, in prayer, to illuminate me with his light in order to help me make the best decision not for my own good, but for the good of the Church. I have taken this step in full awareness of its gravity and also of its novelty, but with a profound serenity of spirit. Loving the Church also means having the courage to make difficult and painful decisions, keeping always in view the good of the Church and not of oneself.
Allow me here to return once again to April 19, 2005. The gravity of the decision has lain precisely also in the fact that from that moment on, I was engaged always and forever by the Lord. Always: the one who assumes the Petrine ministry no longer has any privacy. He belongs always and completely to all, to the whole Church. His life is, so to speak, completely stripped of the private dimension. I have been able to experience, and I am experimenting it right now, that one receives life precisely in giving it away. Before I have said that many persons who love the Lord also love the successor of Saint Peter and are fond of him; that the pope truly has brothers and sisters, sons and daughters all over the world, and that he feels secure in the embrace of their communion; because he no longer belongs to himself, he belongs to all and all belong to him.
The “always” is also a “forever”: there is no more returning to the private. My decision to resign from the active exercise of the ministry does not revoke this. I am not returning to private life, to a life of travel, meetings, receptions, conferences etc. I am not abandoning the cross, but I remain in a new way with the crucified Lord. I no longer bear the authority of office for the governance of the Church, but in the service of prayer I remain, so to speak, within the enclosure of Saint Peter. St. Benedict, whose name I bear as pope, will be a great example for me in this. He showed us the way to a life that, active or passive, belongs completely to the work of God.
I thank all and each one also for the respect and understanding with which you have received this very important decision. I will continue to accompany the journey of the Church with prayer and reflection, with that dedication to the Lord and to his Bride which I have sought to live every day until now and which I want to live always.
I ask you to remember me before God, and above all to pray for the cardinals called to such a significant task, and for the new successor of the apostle Peter: may the Lord accompany him with the light and strength of his spirit. […]
The complete text of the address of Benedict XVI:
English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.