Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Citizen of Freising

Many people think our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI is not as warm as his predecessor the late beloved, Venerable Pope John Paul II. I have never shared that feeling and in fact, in some ways he is warmer and more personal in his writings and addresses. On January 16, 2010 His Holiness was made an honorary citizen of the City of Freising, the city of his seminary days. He spoke extemporaneously to those present in the Clementine Hall and used a phrase that I found especially touching: "In my life biography -- in the biography of my heart, if I may -- the City of Freising has played a very special role." The notion of a "biography of my heart" is just so moving for me.

He shares some memories of his time in the city but the following recollection struck and especially sweet chord with me as a fellow priest. About the day of his ordination to the priesthood he writes:

"Three moments are particularly deeply impressed within me.

First of all, lying stretched out on the ground during the litany of the saints. In lying prostrate on the ground, one becomes newly aware of all one's poverty and asks oneself: am I truly capable of it? And at the same time the names of all the saints of history and the entreaty of the faithful ring out: "Hear us; help them".

In this way the awareness grows that, yes, I am weak and inadequate but I am not alone, there are others with me, the entire community of the saints is with me. They accompany me and thus I can make this journey and become a companion and guide for others.

The second moment, the imposition of hands by the elderly, venerable Cardinal Faulhaber who laid his hands upon me, upon all of us, in a profound and intense manner and the knowledge that it was the Lord who was laying his hands upon me and saying: "you belong to me, you do not simply belong to yourself, I want you, you are at my service"; but also the awareness that this imposition of hands is a grace, that it does not only create obligations, but above all is a gift, that he is with me and that his love protects and accompanies me.

Then there was also the old rite in which the power to forgive sins was conferred at a separate moment. It began when the Bishop, pronouncing the Lord's words, said: "No longer do I call you servants... but... friends". And I knew we knew that this is not only a quotation from John 15 but a timely word that the Lord is addressing to me now. He accepts me as a friend; I am in this friendly relationship; he has given me his trust and I can work within this friendship and make others friends of Christ."

He also shared the memory: "...I was able to pass a further unforgettable three and a half years with my parents at Lerchenfeldhof. Thus once again I could feel completely at home. These last three and a half years with my parents were an immense gift to me and truly made Freising my home. I am thinking of the celebrations, of how we celebrated Christmas, Easter and Pentecost together; of our walks through the fields together, of how we would go to the woods to gather fir-tree branches and moss for the crib, and of our outings to the fields on the banks of the Isar. Thus Freising became a real homeland to us, and as a homeland it lives on in my heart."

Pope Benedict's memories, personal as they are to him, resonated in me as well in the "biography of my heart."