April 2005: Confirmation homily at Medjugorje

Bishop Ratko Perić

Medjugorje, 24 April 2005

Dear confirmation candidates,

After having completed your catechetical preparations, as young Catholic believers who are not yet adults, but who are fully aware of the words of Holy Scripture “Depart from evil, and do good” (Ps 34:14; 37:27), you will receive today the Sacrament of Confirmation, that is, the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. All of us gathered here in the Lord for this special and holy occasion, not just your parents and sponsors who have accompanied you today, want you to be faithful sons and daughters, as well as healthy moral persons.

Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Four of the gifts of the Spirit: wisdom, understanding knowledge and counsel, regard our human capacity to believe and understand, our perception of life – both transitory and eternal, while the remaining three gifts: fortitude, piety and fear of God concern our moral behavior and integrity in this life which leads us to eternal life. The first four hence involve our mind, while the other three our heart!

Would you dear candidate, like to be wise and understanding? Yes I would, you respond! Then cooperate with God’s gifts of wisdom and understanding which you will receive today.

Would you like to have living knowledge which leads to eternal life? Yes I would! Then cooperate with the gift of the Spirit of knowledge through prayer and faith!

Would you like to give and receive the Spirit’s gift of good counsel? Yes I would! Cooperate through prayer and faith with this gift and you will have it!

Would you young lady like to be a weak girl, a weak woman and mother? No I would not! Well then, cooperate with the Spirit’s gift of fortitude in order to become a strong girl, woman and mother!

Would you young lady like to be an atheist? How could I ever want this? Pray then and cooperate with the Holy Spirit so that you may receive the gift of healthy piety.

Would you young lady like to lose all sense of modesty and fear of God? No I would not! Then cooperate with the gift of fear of God, which comes from God and leads you to God. All that has been said to the young ladies is valid also for all the young men present as well.

All of us are born into this world through our parents, created and equipped by God with wonderful resources of body and spirit, especially of mind and heart. These skills and possibilities develop during our earthly lives along with the love of our parents and their direction, by the care of the Church, as well as through our education and formation. They especially develop, dear young people, through your free and rational cooperation with the inner voice of your conscience and the outer voice of God’s and the Church’s commandments: which teach us out of fear of God to avoid all human passions and impulses, and to wisely and piously hold to God’s gifts of grace.

The new Pope. After the death of Pope John Paul II on 2 April, who was the 264th Vicar of Christ on earth and whose pontificate lasted 27 years, the same Holy Spirit that you will receive today in the sevenfold gift of the Sacrament of Confirmation was present and active on 19 April in the election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as the new Pope, who took the name Benedict XVI.

Today, at St. Peter’s Basilica, the new Pope is presiding at Holy Mass for the solemn inauguration of his pontificate. We too, in our parishes throughout Herzegovina unite ourselves today in prayer and at Holy Mass to the immense joy and praise of thanksgiving for this great gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church and the world. Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini – Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

The general view is that St. Peter’s Chair has been taken up by a cardinal who possesses extraordinary gifts from God, who through 24 years progressed alongside the dearly departed Pope John Paul II as his first collaborator, and humanly speaking, truly matured for this new service which God has entrusted to him in the Church.

In following the works that he has written as a prominent theologian and professor, which have been translated into Croatian as well, especially those works which he published with the authorization of the Pope while serving at one of the highest offices of responsibility at the Holy See as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, we have always considered the new Pope as a responsible, serious and open herald of the eternal Truth. 28 years ago he took as his Episcopal motto the phrase: “Co-workers in the truth” ( 3 Jn 8) and has kept this same motto for his new service as the first Pastor of the Church.

Responsible. I recall that sometime between 1983 and 1984, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and successor of our Cardinal Franjo Šeper, gave an interview to an Italian daily newspaper after having held a lecture during a theological meeting in Italy. The journalist’s question was somewhat like this: ‘Your Eminence, after listening to your lecture one has the impression that you have taken a very conservative position. While you were a theologian and your works were translated into many languages, your ideas seemed more open as well as your conclusions, yet today it appears you are slowing down and not moving forward at all.’ The Cardinal responded calmly and humbly by saying that he was grateful to the Holy Father for his nomination as Bishop, because earlier being just a theologian he had more opportunities for theological study and debate, as well as for running the risk of going off course while studying. When Pope John Paul II nominated him as the Archbishop of Munich, he could no longer behave as a bold theologian and researcher, not knowing where he would end up. He expressed his humble gratitude to the Pope for giving him a position of responsibility in the Church through the episcopate. And yet we also know that he never avoided responsible theological thinking nor writings during his time as professor, neither as the Archbishop of Munich nor as the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, during which time he had the opportunity to meet with many theologians of the Catholic Church who were not always in line with the Church and the Truth. This man of God has always proven to be a responsible co-worker of the Truth and hence a co-worker of the joy of the faithful and co-worker of the Kingdom of God. If the Papal nomination as Archbishop made him feel responsible in the Church earlier, how much more responsibility will he feel today after being chosen by God to be Pope – the greatest responsibility in our midst, which places him above us all! Let us praise and thank the Lord for his gift. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

Serious. During these last few days, many newspapers have been writing sensational, loud and hence irresponsible articles regarding the position on the events of Medjugorje taken by the new Pope while he was still a Cardinal. Some say that it was positive, others say it was negative, while still others claim that he secretly visited Medjugorje hiding his identity from people so as not to be recognized, and so on. In a letter to a lay person on 22 July 1998, after many statements attributed to the late Pope and to the Pope’s collaborator, he responsibly and seriously replied in brief: Regarding the 8 page memorandum which supposedly contains the words of the Pope and of the Cardinal, he expressed his gratitude. And he added the following: “All I can say regarding the statements on Medjugorje attributed to the Holy Father and to myself are that they are complete fabrication”. /Ich kann dazu nur sagen, dass die dem Heiligen Vater und mir zugeschriebenenen Äusserungen über Medjugorje frei erfunden sind/ (Ogledalo Pravde, Mostar 2001, p. 283). As if the Cardinal didn’t have the opportunity to follow that which the late Bishop of Mostar Pavao Žanić along with his two Commissions as well as all the Bishops of the Bishops’ Conference with their investigative Commission had studied and proclaimed regarding these events. The Cardinal’s first collaborator at the time Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and now the Cardinal of Genoa, also wrote in 1998 that the 1991 Declaration of Zadar of the Bishops’ Conference regarding Medjugorje which states: “On the basis of investigations made thus far, it cannot be affirmed that these events involve supernatural apparitions or revelations” is still valid and obligatory for all. Hence official pilgrimages are not permitted, nor “private” ones, if such pilgrims were to attribute any truthfulness or authenticity to these so-called apparitions, thereby shunning the official position of the Church (Ogledalo Pravde, pp.276-278).

Open. Any person who is a responsible and serious co-worker of the Truth is not afraid of taking a stand in the Catholic church. Pope Benedict XVI in his recent talks has clearly stated that he wishes to continue along the path set by John Paul II regarding openness and the inner renewal of the Church, along with ecumenical efforts for the promotion of Christian unity and dialogue with the world.

Both Joseph and his older brother Georg, the two brothers of the Ratzinger family became priests. Their sister Maria, followed her brother the Cardinal all her life, up to her death in the Vatican in the early 1990’s. Humanly speaking, one could say that their family line has ended. Yet can one really say this? Joseph became the Holy Father, the spiritual father of over a billion Catholics worldwide. Is there a more fertile fatherhood in this world?

We as believers pray to the Holy Trinity – God the Father, God the Son and God Holy Spirit – that the Lord may always sustain our Holy Father in his responsible, serious and open Petrine service in the Church. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

Lord, Shepherd and guide of all the faithful, look with mercy upon your servant Benedict XVI, whom you have chosen as Pastor of your Church. Grant him we pray, that through his words and example he may edify those who he leads, so that with the flock entrusted to him, he may obtain eternal life. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.