This year we celebrate the feast of the Chair of Saint Peter with a particular poignancy as we prepare, in just under a week, for our beloved Holy Father to renounce the office which that very chair signifies. Pope Benedict XVI’s relatively short pontificate has been an astonishing moment in the life of the Church, but far from simply being a series of exciting events, it has also been a masterclass in the Christian life and, more specifically, in the nature of the papacy. Pope Benedict has shown us the primary role of the occupant of the Chair of Saint Peter: to point us to Christ.
How has this been achieved? We have seen it in the establishment of Personal Ordinariates – a fatherly hand extended in love to those who have sought his care; we have seen it in his gentle but decisive renewal of the sacred liturgy – always by example, never by force; we have seen it in his clear teaching, at once simple and profound – always true and always loving. And now, in this final action of his public ministry, we see it once more: ‘It is not I’, he says, ‘But Christ’. Joseph Ratzinger means nothing, the action tells us, except as a lens through whom can see more clearly the Lord whom he has served so faithfully.
Today, then, is a feast not of earthly ecclesiastical power, but of Christ. Today we celebrate the Lord’s abiding presence in the Church, made known to us in a particular way through the office of the successor of Saint Peter, the Pope, the Vicar of Christ. And we do so with sincere gratitude for the example of the current occupant of the Chair of Saint Peter, and in confident hope of the example of the next, because – as Pope Benedict has shown us – the office is greater than the man. We know that the Lord will not leave his flock abandoned – he is the Good Shepherd, how could he? Rather in the office of the Chair of Saint Peter he sends us a man whom he has entrusted with the task of gathering us in, so that, united in the one true fold, we may be so united to him.