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John Allen has pointed out that Pope Benedict’s last address to the College of Cardinals this morning made direct reference to the writings of the twentieth century theologian, Romano Guardini. On a number of occasions Benedict XVI has included Guardini’s work in his own, not least in the title of his book as Joseph Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, which is also the title of one of Guardini’s central works. This morning, though, it was Guardini’s emphasis on the mystical nature of the Church (no doubt influenced as much by Pius XII’s Mystici Corporis as by Lumen Gentium) which the Pope chose to propose.

In her recent article, The Pope and the Philistines, Australian theologian Tracey Rowland reflected on the way in which Pope Benedict – negatively portrayed as a conservative, by some – has in fact sought to distance himself from the ‘administrative machinery’ of the Church. Instead, as this week, proposing the Church as ‘a living reality’, or ‘a living body, a community of brothers and sisters in the Body of Jesus Christ’ (General Audience, 27 February 2013). Emphasising not the structure the world sees, but the person into whom the baptised are incorporated.

Professor Rowland reminds us that in Called to Communion, the then-Cardinal Ratzinger wrote, ‘The more administrative machinery we construct […] the less place there is for the Spirit, the less place there is for the Lord, and the less freedom there is’. In many respects, we have seen this approach – a light-touch institutional bureaucracy – very clearly in his pontificate, and especially in his proposals for liturgical reform, each of which has been by personal example rather than institutional decree. If this has limited the implementation, then it is has – at least as much – enabled it to be a deep reform and renewal where it has found fertile soil.

It is typical of Benedict to leave us with this thought, because it reminds us again that not only is the office that he will soon leave not about him, but that the Church – and thus her mission – is not about us, rather (because it is fundamentally his body), it is about Jesus Christ. Again and again we have seen this in Pope Benedict’s writings and in his own life, and now in these final hours – in this final act as the Vicar of Christ – we see it again. ‘It is not I’, he says with St Paul, ‘but Christ living in me’ (cf. Gal. 2:20). May we strive to say the same.