The Homily of Archbishop Anton Stres at the Holy Mass at the End of the Pontificate of the Pope Benedict XVI.

Nadškof Anton Stres

Reading (Eph 4: 10–16)

Christ gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ, so that we may no longer be infants, tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery, from their cunning in the interests of deceitful scheming. Rather, living the truth in love, we should grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, with the proper functioning of each part, brings about the body’s growth and builds itself up in love.

Gospel (Luke 22: 28–32)

Jesus said to his disciples: »It is you who have stood by me in my trials; and I confer a kingdom on you, just as my Father has conferred one on me that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom; and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. “Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers.”«

Homily by Archbishop Stres

Dear sisters and brothers! We are gathered here for the holy liturgy at the very moment when the Petrine ministry of Pope Benedict XVI is ending to say farewell to the Holy Father and to thank God for his ministry. Our local Church in Slovenia received his special pastoral attention in 2006, when he created three new dioceses and thus doubled the number of dioceses in Slovenia. He also doubled the number of metropolitan provinces when he elevated the Diocese of Maribor to an Archdiocese and created the Metropolitan Province of Maribor. He elevated a son of the Church in Slovenia to a cardinal, so that today Franc Cardinal Rode is one of the electors who will choose the next successor to St. Peter.

As we have just heard in the Gospel, Jesus gave Peter the Apostle a special responsibility for his brothers and sisters through apostolic ministry and asked him to strengthen their faith after his own conversion. Pope Benedict XVI has carried out this Petrine task of strengthening our faith with special care and responsibility. He brought to this task his unique intellectual and theological capacity. On the other hand, the Church in this day and age needs such a shepherd.

This concerns our fidelity to Jesus Christ and to our own Christian calling. It is also about keeping our Christian identity.

Today the right to one's own identity is widely recognized. We acknowledge the right of everyone to be what he or she is. We understand the meaning and importance of the papal ministry in the Church in the light of the right to our own Catholic identity and of our duty to nurture it. The true essence of the Petrine ministry is to maintain our Catholic Christian identity. Jesus promised to make sure that we would remain His disciples and that we would not become “of this world” although we live “in this world.” He gave this task to Peter and his successors.

Nobody has the right to take offense at the fact that we Catholics wish and want to remain Catholic. If remaining what one is and not following the whims of prevailing ideologies of the moment is conservative, then we can only be proud of being conservative. Saint Paul warns us against being “infants, tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery, from their cunning in the interests of deceitful scheming.” The truths and values we profess are lasting and above time. Jesus did not found His Church for 10 or 100 years but to endure until the end of the world, to be the same all the time, to maintain the same core values and message in spite of all inevitable cultural changes. Conservatism is really a quality and a sign of every lasting truth and value that is worth its name. The truth of God’s Love that Jesus testified for with His words, actions and His entire life to the point of His death on the cross and His resurrection is such a truth, to which we are beholden until the end of time. Every successor to St. Peter has the task to ensure fidelity to this Truth, and Pope Benedict XVI has fulfilled it with all of his unique intellectual power, ardor and courage.

Yes, with courage. In the world we live in one has to summon all the courage to remain faithful to Jesus Christ. We are confronted with demands from all sides that we lower our moral norms and spiritual requirements because of the difficult and trying times, and that we adapt to modern consumerism and relativism, where it is no longer clear what is in the end true and right. They promise us that we would again fill our churches if we gave up, for example, our defense of the human life and dignity from conception to natural death, or our defense of the family founded upon the marriage bond between a husband and a wife. However, the experience of history shows the opposite. The Christian ecclesial communities that followed this path have not raised the number of their adherents. Furthermore, who would still listen to the Christian message if we Christians caused our own identity crisis by giving up on the values we have held until now and if we did not know any longer who we were after all? Our future therefore is not in conformism and opportunism, which would turn us away from our fundamental Christian values and toward accepting the current worldly, consumer and sensuous “values.” Our future, however, is to even more faithfully and profoundly live according to the Gospel in all its rigor, which is the rigor of God’s Love and for which we have an example and norm in Jesus Christ crucified. The current crisis did not arise because of our being too faithful to Jesus, but for not being faithful enough. The “modernization” that we hear about all the time should not be an inducement for us also to become shallow and spoiled insipid salt, but a challenge for us to live even more faithfully according to the example of God’s unselfish and patient love that Jesus manifested through his suffering, death on the cross and resurrection, by which He clearly and convincingly proved that our victory and future are only in fidelity to Him.

Holy Father! In a few minutes, according to your responsible decision, your supreme pastoral responsibility for Jesus’ Church will end. We are grateful to you for your great example of fidelity, courage and dedication you gave to this ministry. We are also grateful for your prayers, through which you will accompany the Ship of the Church on the choppy seas of our time, so that her new helmsman will, like yourself, keep her firmly on the course drawn by Jesus Christ, who lives and guides the history of the Church and of the world, and to whom be glory forever. Amen.

Msgr. Anton Stres, Ph. D.
Metropolitan Archbishop of Ljubljana and
President of the Slovenian Bishops' Conference