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Homily on the Election of Pope Benedict XVI

Archbishop Alex J. Brunett
St. James Cathedral, Seattle
May 1, 2005

    This is a moment of great joy for our Church. We have a pope!

    After the death of Pope John Paul II, we will not be left as orphans, as Jesus assured us in the Gospel. Through the workings of the Holy Spirit and the two-thousand-year tradition of the Church, we have a successor to Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI.

    Our readings today remind us that the Holy Spirit has been at work in the Church from the beginning. Peter and John went down to Samaria so that the people who had already been baptized could “receive the Holy Spirit,” the Advocate who was promised so that they could proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ, experience the meaning of Easter joy, and remain faithful to the living tradition of the Church.

    Today, as in the early church, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is leading the Church to that same truth, joy and faithfulness in Christ. It is that Spirit we celebrate in the election of our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI.

    Two weeks ago at the funeral Mass for Pope John Paul II, I asked if we shouldn’t be surprised by the worldwide expression of love for him. I reminded people that his papacy had frequently disappointed those who define themselves according to their positions on the so-called ‘hot button’ issues of our day.

    My point was that we did not love Pope John Paul because he agreed with us. We loved him because he loved us with the heart of Jesus. Gospel values guided his papacy with an unerring moral compass. As a result his leadership transcended temporal concerns and led us again and again to the source of our unity…to Jesus, “the way, the truth and the life”—the ultimate principle of our faith, transcending all issues.

    Today we gather on this Sunday to rejoice in the election of Pope Benedict XVI and pray for his successful ministry to all of the Church. It is no secret that many outside our Church and some within it have questioned whether this election is truly a cause for celebration.

    In response, I would pose another question. Do you think the apostles greeted Peter’s selection as leader of the Church with unanimous approval? We should not be surprised if we discover that some of them were less than enthusiastic.

    We know from Scripture that Peter was slow to grasp the meaning of Jesus’ ministry. He was impulsive, prone to violence and, at the very moment of our Lord’s passion, he denied and deserted him.

    The apostles may be forgiven if they had misgivings about this “Rock” upon which Jesus had chosen to build his Church. And yet Jesus made this flawed fisherman the principal foundation of unity among his “bishops” and his disciples.

    In this Easter season as we read the Acts of the Apostles, we learn that despite his flaws Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit. After his final meeting with Jesus, he boldly proclaimed the Good News and exercised great wisdom and judgment as the leader of the early Church.

    As the successor to Peter and John Paul, Pope Benedict’s selection by our cardinal electors was an unexpected choice for many. For some here in the Archdiocese of Seattle who had been puzzled by his perceived role in questioning certain aspects of Archbishop Hunthausen’s ministry, it opened old wounds.

    To them I would offer this story. When the Vatican was scrutinizing activities in the Archdiocese of Seattle – the now infamous visitation – a young priest who had been ordained by Archbishop Hunthausen went to see him. This young cleric was devoted to the archbishop and was devastated by what he considered unfair treatment of his spiritual father and leader.

    These events challenged his very ministry as a priest, and he met with the archbishop to give him support and express his frustration. After listening to the young priest for a time, Archbishop Hunthausen turned to him and, with a shepherd’s voice, said, “I think the Spirit is working here.”

    Last year, when I had an opportunity to discuss this with Archbishop Hunthausen, he told me if he could do things over again, he would do them differently.

    As we gather around the table of the Lord to celebrate the election of Pope Benedict XVI and pray for the success of his reign, I believe the spirit is at work again. It is working just as it did when Jesus selected an outspoken fisherman to lead his Church.

    And it is working just as it did when the cardinals emerged from the conclave and introduced Joseph Ratzinger to the world as Pope Benedict XVI.
In the homily he delivered at his inaugural Mass last week, Pope Benedict XVI gave us some insight into his own shepherd’s spirit. Using words spoken by Pope John Paul on the occasion of his own inaugural in October of 1978, he offered these words of comfort: “Do not be afraid.”

    And then the pope asked for our prayers so that he would learn to love each of us and all of us like Jesus, the Good Shepherd. My sisters and brothers in Christ, do not be afraid, the Spirit is working here today.

    And as it works, it asks only that we pray for our shepherd, Benedict, and, in the words from his first homily as Pope: “to listen, together with the whole Church, to the word and the will of the Lord, to be guided by Him, so that He Himself will lead the Church at this hour of our history.”

    From personal experience, I can assure you that Benedict XVI is a humble man, deeply spiritual, profoundly intelligent and motivated by a genuine compassion for all people.

    Do not be afraid, the spirit is working. It was at work when the newly-elected Holy Father called us to unity with other Christians and other faith traditions. The Spirit was working as Pope Benedict reminded the wealthy that the path of Christ leads to human freedom, dignity and a just society for all.

    And to those concerned about the future of the Church, the successor to Peter and the successor to John Paul called young people to friendship with Christ. A friendship which he assured them reveals the potential of human existence… a friendship that allows us to experience true beauty and true liberation. Do not be afraid. The Spirit is working.

    As brothers and Sisters in Christ, we are not orphans. Because of Jesus, the reason for our hope, the Holy Spirit is being poured out on our Church today. With the election of Pope Benedict XVI, the lineage of Peter continues. It is a succession of dependent leaders who must rely like us on the prayers of others and the grace of God.

    We have a pope, and we must celebrate this gift of the Spirit and pray for him and for our Church. With our prayers and the assistance of the Holy Spirit, Pope Benedict XVI, the bishops, clergy, religious and lay faithful will proclaim Christ in an unbroken succession of hope and joy that began when our crucified Lord was “… brought to life in the Spirit.”

    We have a pope. This is a moment of great joy. May God bless Pope Benedict XVI, and may God bless each of us with His Spirit.

Most Reverend Alexander J. Brunett
Archbishop of Seattle



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