Sixty Years a Priest | On the 60th Anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI's Ordination | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. | August 16, 2011 | Ignatius InsightSixty Years a Priest | On the 60th Anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI's Ordination | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. | August 16, 2011 | Ignatius Insight

"What is friendship? Idem velle, idem nolle—wanting the same things, rejecting the same things: this was how I was expressed in antiquity. Friendship is a communication of thinking and willing.... Friendship is not just about knowing someone; it is above all a communication of the will." — Pope Benedict XVI, June 29, 2011, Homily on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul (60th Anniversary of His Ordination to the Priesthood)

"Dime con quien andar y te dire quien eres. --Tell me with whom you walk and I will tell you who you are." -— Old Spanish Saying


When he began his famous walk from Toul in France to Rome in 1901, the English writer Hilaire Belloc vowed that he would reach Rome by foot and go to Mass at Noon at St. Peter's on June 29th, the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul. He actually made it to Rome by walking, with one or two exceptions, but dithered away the time and did not make it to Mass. In the meantime, on his walk he described most of Europe with its faith and its sanity. Belloc thought that if you want to see a place and understand it, you had to stand on it, look at it, talk to the people there, drink their vino and eat their pasta.
All you that feel youth slipping past you and that are desolate at the approach of age, be merry; it is not what it looks like from in front and from outside. There is a glory in all completion, and all good endings are but shining transitions. Then will come a sharp moment of revelation when you will bless the effect of time. But this divine moment—it is not on the Emilian Way in the rain that you should seek it.
All you that feel youth slipping past you and that are desolate at the approach of age, be merry; it is not what it looks like from in front and from outside. There is a glory in all completion, and all good endings are but shining transitions. Then will come a sharp moment of revelation when you will bless the effect of time. But this divine moment—it is not on the Emilian Way in the rain that you should seek it.

I suspect Benedict would enjoy that touching passage from Belloc's walk to Rome on the Emilian Way, to St. Peter's on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, a hundred years before his ordination to the priesthood.

Whether Benedict has ever read this marvelous book of Belloc, I doubt, but one never knows. Germans have the reputation of having read everything. And Joseph Ratzinger seems to have read more than most and in many languages. (Benedict does cite Chesterton.) This year, the 110th year after Belloc's walk, the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul was the 60th Anniversary of Joseph Ratzinger's ordination to the priesthood in Freising in 1951 by Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber. Joseph Ratzinger's elder brother, George, was ordained the same day.

L'Osservatore Romano notes that Benedict is the first pope since the long-lived Leo XIII, who died in 1903 at the age of 93, to celebrate his 60th anniversary as a priest while also being pope of Rome. Ratzinger was 24 years old at the time of his ordination. He was ordained with 42 other men, three of whom were present in Rome for the occasion, along with the pope's brother.

A certain divine irony can be found in that this pope, who writes so well on the papacy and the theology that supports it, should not only celebrate his own priestly ordination on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul but on the following day confer the pallium, the sign of office, on 41 Metropolitan archbishops from around the world, including the archbishops of Seattle, San Antonio, Los Angeles, and Oklahoma City. The pallium is made of wool from sheep blessed on the Feast of St Agnes, a sign that a shepherd of the New Testament, like Christ, is to be both protector and victim.

Few people today wonder why the ancient office of the papacy, one of whose symbols is still the Good Shepherd, still exists. But it is an extraordinary thing, the likes of which cannot be found anywhere else in the world. It is a living institution within a society that transcends the nations and even the passing ages themselves.

Benedict's reflections are very personal. He apologizes three or four times during his sermon for referring back so much to himself and to the event of his own ordination to the priesthood. He begins by recalling the words of Cardinal Faulhaber to the ordinandi of that day in 1951. This is the passage from the Gospel of John (15:15) in which Christ says to the Apostles: "I no longer call you servants but friends." Faulhaber even cites it in Latin, as did the pope in his recollection—"Non iam dicam servos, sed amicos"—perhaps one of the most profound passages in the whole Gospels for what it implies in the history of human thought.


In the liturgy of his ordination, the Pope recalls that the hearing of these words of Christ about being friends not servants was the sign of the power to forgive sins being conferred on each priest. These words spoke to Joseph Ratzinger in a "very personal" way. In baptism and confirmation we are incorporated into the Body of Christ. "But what was taking place now was something greater still. He (Christ) calls me his friend. He welcomes me into the circle of those to whom he had spoken in the Upper Room, into the circle of those whom he knows in a very special way and who thereby come to know him in a very special way." It is more than interesting to reflect that in Christian thought the notions of friendship and forgiveness of sins are so intimately related.

Thus, Joseph Ratzinger realized at the time that he had received "the most frightening faculty to do what only He, the Son of God, can legitimately say and do: I forgive you your sins." When the priest forgives sins, or speaks the words of Consecration, or preaches, he speaks in the first person singular—"I absolve you; this is my body; I say to you." Ratzinger was rightly awed at such power, particularly because it was given to him under the aspect of Christ calling him His friend. Yet, as he reflects on this power, he realized that "behind these words lies His suffering for us and on account of us. I knew that forgiveness comes at a price: In his Passion he went deep down into the sordid darkness of our sins." True friendship eventually confronts our sins and what to do about them.

The power to forgive sins, if we think of it, is precisely the power to be a friend of the sinner, to make him worthy of being loved. We often forget that to be loveable we must be ourselves worthy, though thankfully there are those who love us in our sin but not because of it. Though existence is a great gift, it is not enough that we simply are. We must also seek to be what we ought to be and are not. Sins do make us unlovable. This fact seems to indicate that we need in the world some place where sins can be forgiven, a power that cannot come from the world, no matter how hard we try to deny this. We also need to utilize this power ourselves. When they are forgiven, we are more able to be friends in the highest of sense if we abide.

I was particularly stuck by this passage of Benedict: "And by giving me authority to forgive sins, he (Christ) lets me look down into the abyss of man, into the immensity of his suffering for us men, and enables me to sense the immensity of his love." No one in his right mind really wants to know the sins of others or have them know his. Yet what we do in secret will be "shouted" from the housetops.

This comment of the pope recalls the scene about which Chesterton spoke of when he was talking to the original Father Brown, about how much more of human nature the priest who hears our sins knows than do the dons and students of our universities who blithely doubt the existence of evil. It seems counterintuitive to say that what Christ asked of his friends was that they know the worst (and ordinary) sins of men. But they were to know them to forgive them. This connection too is why the friendship of Christ in association with the forgiveness of sins makes the priest alone with the sinner and the Lord. The communication of such things, our sins, can only be with the Lord. Once forgiven, we can talk of them all we want, laugh at them even, though it is usually best to forget them.

Again Benedict recalls the words of Cardinal von Faulhaber: "I no longer call you servants but friends." With this friendship, the Lord "entrusts to me the words of consecration in the Eucharist. He trusts me to proclaim his word, to explain it aright and to bring it to the people of today." This realization is why friendship of the Lord is a spur in our souls. It changes our lives. We have been chosen through no merit of our own. It gives us a world we never expected. Who knows this better than a pope on the sixtieth anniversary of his ordination?


The pope then examines the nature of friendship—the existential question: what is it? He obviously knows his Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero, those ancients who wrote so well on the great experience of friendship. What more might a Christian have to say on this topic that the classical authors did not say? First, we gratefully acknowledge, they said very much. Aquinas used Aristotle's friendship to explain charity. When the pope said that friendship is thinking and willing together, he is agreeing with Aristotle and Cicero. "Idem velle, idem nolle." The highest act of friendship is the reciprocity of their exchanging highest things in a full lifetime, of truth and goodness and beauty. Christianity takes none of this away but enhances it, rejoices in it. Revelation is addressed to our experience of nature and reason. We need to know more than we know to know what we know.

The Holy Father remarks that Christ's friendship is never general. He does not love "mankind," but John, Suzie, and Henry. The Good Shepherd knows the names of His sheep. "He knows me by name. I am not just some nameless being in the infinity of the universe." That is the real fear of the modern man in the vast reaches of a meaningless universe, isn't it? Pascal, in a famous passage, understood this. We try to escape from the logic of our own beliefs.

We try to console ourselves by claiming that the universe has no cosmic or human meaning or only the meaning we give it. Then we wonder why we are depressed and empty, why we have no reason to worry about the other who has no meaning in himself. On the other hand, we claim that with the right formula—political, scientific, or economic—we will be able ourselves to solve our problems. The pope dealt with this latter issue in Spe Salvi. This pope knows the modern mind and its strange gyrations. We either have to despair or look for a solution that none of us will ever see.

Friendship is not static. "It is not just about knowing someone; it is above all a communion of the will. It means that my will grows into ever greater conformity with his will." The proper relation of will to will is not force or will-power, as Hobbes and others have thought. Christ came to "do" the will of His Father. He did this by an obedience that saw that what the Father willed was for a good could not come about otherwise. "No, in friendship, my will grows together with his (the friend's) will, and his will becomes mine: this is how I become truly myself." What a remarkable sentence! We really cannot, and do not want to become ourselves only by ourselves. We are persons whose good is always to be related to the good that is not ourselves, however good we are. This is the Trinitarian image in our very being. We are destined for more good than we are, and we are created good.


The Pope even has some words to say about wine! He recalls the parable of the vine bearing good fruit. Christ's "first commission to his disciples" to his friends, is that they should "go forth." (There is a town in Wendell Berry's writings called "Goforth!?) Their friendship is not only for themselves. Great things are only done when friends realize that they also go forth, something even in the marriage vows themselves. The disciples are to go forth to make disciples of all nations. "The Lord challenges us to move beyond the boundaries of our own world, and to bring the Gospel to the world of others...." This world often does not want to hear. It persecutes and closes its ears.

"The fruit of the vine is the grape, and it is from the grape that wine is made. Let us reflect for a moment on this image." The pope, who obviously can recall the beautiful vineyards of the German valleys, tells us that the grapes need rain and sun, "day and night." "For noble wine to mature, the grapes need to be pressed, patience is needed while the juice ferments, watchful care is necessary to assist the process of maturation. Noble wine is marked not only by sweetness, but by rich and subtle flavors, the manifold aromas that develop during the process of maturation and fermentation." I am not sure what the world's teetotalers will think of this passage, but it does remind me of nothing so much as Belloc's refrain: "Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, there's always laughter and rich red wine."

The Pope's application of these thoughts on vine and wine is that "we must thank God for both the challenges and the joys, for the dark times and for the glad times." He adds that "wine is an image of love." The fruit abides in the wine. In the Old Testament, wine from the "noble grape" is the image of "justice." This justice arises from living according to God's law. The true content of the law is the love of God and neighbor. And this "twofold love" is not "saccharine." It leads in the New Testament to patience, humility, and attention to the will of God. And love's inner demand of faithfulness to Christ and the Church "seeks a fulfillment that always includes suffering." There is no love that is true that will not include suffering in this life. Indeed, the notion that suffering is an excuse not to love or to break love is precisely what undermines a civilization of love.


Benedict then turns to the archbishops about to receive their pallium. He again tells them that he has been recalling his own priesthood but to be patient with him. This pope always cites something from one of the Fathers of the Church. This time he cites from Gregory the Great: "If you are striving for God, take care not to go to him by yourselves alone." Priests, the Pope tells the bishops, need to keep this advice in their minds every day. One also might reverse Gregory: "If you are not striving for God, be sure to do so alone." Surely this is a fitting comment on much of our time.

The Pope finally tells the bishops what they might expect to happen to them because of their friendship with Christ. Christ's yoke is sweet; yet it is a yoke. It is "demanding." The friendship of Christ takes us outside of ourselves. "For us, then, it is first and foremost the yoke of leading others to friendship with Christ and being available to others, caring for them as a shepherd." And because of the wool of the pallium and that Agnes means sheep, we recall that Christ the shepherd became the lamb of sacrifice out of love of others.

The friendship of the New Testament, as it applies to those whom Christ has chosen to rule the Church, is the perfection of communication of thought and will, but it is demanding and it will require suffering and sacrifice. The New Testament is built in a way on the phrase "Non jam dicam servos, sed amicos." The young Joseph Ratzinger saw this passage to grant him as a priest the power to forgive sins. The universality of this command is an ordered universality. It allows us to think and hope that anyone can be a friend of any one. Ordinarily, this sort of hope would be simply utopian and dangerous, bypassing the particularity and name of each person who is really the object of love. This is why, in a sense, bishops and priests are in the world but not of it; they stand for the potential love of everyone for everyone.

Aristotle and Plato certainly searched the dilemma of how we can be friends with God and how can we be friends with more than a few. The New Testament answer to these concerns is not to deny them but to acknowledge them. It proposes solutions that arose out of their concerns. These solutions are eternal life, the forgiveness of sins, and the distinction of the different kinds of love that are proper to our state in life.

"Sixty years of priestly ministry—dear friends, perhaps I have spoken for too long about this. But I felt prompted at this moment to look back upon the things that have left their mark on the last six decades. I felt prompted to address to you, to all priests and bishops, and to the faithful of the Church, a word of hope and encouragement; a word that has matured in long experience of how good the Lord is." These are Benedict's words as he ends his reflection. How extraordinary it is to have such a Pope who speaks this way to us, about friendship, about his priestly life!
"Friendship is a communication of thinking and willing." "Tell me with whom you walk and I will tell you who you are." "There is a glory in all completions, and all good things are but shining transitions."

Biography of Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI
Jesus of Nazareth (Part 2)
Other Recent Books by Pope Benedict XVI
All books by or about Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI
Excerpts from books by Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI
Articles about Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI

Fr. James V. Schall, S.J., is Professor of Political Philosophy at Georgetown University.

He is the author of numerous books on social issues, spirituality, culture, and literature including Another Sort of Learning, Idylls and Rambles, A Student's Guide to Liberal Learning, The Life of the Mind (ISI, 2006), The Sum Total of Human Happiness (St. Augustine's Press, 2007), The Regensburg Lecture (St. Augustine's Press, 2007), and The Mind That Is Catholic: Philosophical and Political Essays (CUA, 2008). His most recent book from Ignatius Press is The Order of Things (Ignatius Press, 2007). His new book, The Modern Age, is available from St. Augustine's Press. Read more of his essays on his website.

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