While Pope Benedict XVI delivered his final public address on February 27, 2013, at his final general audience, the Vatican Information Service has released an official English translation of portions of his remarks this morning to 144 members of the College of Cardinals, who gathered in the Clementine Hall to wish the Holy Father farewell. As with his remarks to the more than 200,000 people who thronged Saint Peter's Square for yesterday's general audience, Pope Benedict spoke today from the heart, exploring one last time themes that have run throughout his papacy, including the essential unity of the Church, which is the living reality of Christ in the world.
Too often we forget that fact, or—just as sadly—we remember it intellectually, but we act as if the Church is a divinely inspired human institution rather than a divine institution—indeed, the very Body of Christ—comprising men and women who are both saints and sinners. For all of its failings, brought on by the humans who make it up, the Church, as the Holy Father reminded the cardinals through the words of Romano Guardini, "in the very depths of its being . . . remains the same: its inmost nucleus is Christ." And that is how, "Through the Church, the Mystery of the Incarnation remains present forever. Christ continues to walk through all ages and places."
The full text of Pope Benedict's remarks, in an unofficial translation by Vatican Radio, follows:
Dear beloved brothers
I welcome you all with great joy and cordially greet each one of you. I thank Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who as always, has been able to convey the sentiments of the College, Cor ad cor loquitur ["heart speaks to heart"]. Thank you, Your Eminence, from my heart.
And referring to the disciples of Emmaus, I would like to say to you all that it has also been a joy for me to walk with you over the years in light of the presence of the Risen Lord. As I said yesterday, in front of thousands of people who filled St. Peter's Square, your closeness, your advice, have been a great help to me in my ministry. In these 8 years we have experienced in faith beautiful moments of radiant light in the Churches’ [sic] journey along with times when clouds have darkened the sky. We have tried to serve Christ and his Church with deep and total love which is the soul of our ministry. We have gifted hope that comes from Christ alone, and which alone can illuminate our path. Together we can thank the Lord who has helped us grow in communion, to pray to [sic] together, to help you to continue to grow in this deep unity so that the College of Cardinals is like an orchestra, where diversity, an expression of the universal Church, always contributes to a superior harmony of concord. I would like to leave you with a simple thought that is close to my heart, a thought on the Church, Her mystery, which is for all of us, we can say, the reason and the passion of our lives. I am helped by an expression of Romano Guardini’s, written in the year in which the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council approved the Constitution Lumen Gentium, his last with a personal dedication to me, so the words of this book are particularly dear to me.
Guardini says: "The Church is not an institution devised and built at table, but a living reality. She lives along the course of time by transforming Herself, like any living being, yet Her nature remains the same. At Her heart is Christ." This was our experience yesterday, I think, in the square. We could see that the Church is a living body, animated by the Holy Spirit, and truly lives by the power of God, She is in the world but not of the world. She is of God, of Christ, of the Spirit, as we saw yesterday. This is why another eloquent expression of Guardini’s is also true: "The Church is awakening in souls." The Church lives, grows and awakens in those souls which like the Virgin Mary accept and conceive the Word of God by the power of the Holy Spirit. They offer to God their flesh and in their own poverty and humility become capable of giving birth to Christ in the world today. Through the Church the mystery of the Incarnation remains present forever. Christ continues to walk through all times in all places. Let us remain united, dear brothers, to this mystery, in prayer, especially in daily Eucharist, and thus serve the Church and all humanity. This is our joy that no one can take from us.
Prior to bidding farewell to each of you personally, I want to tell you that I will continue to be close to you in prayer, especially in the next few days, so that you may all be fully docile to the action of the Holy Spirit in the election of the new Pope. May the Lord show you what is willed by Him. And among you, among the College of Cardinals, there is also the future Pope, to whom, here to [sic] today, I already promise my unconditional reverence and obedience. For all this, with affection and gratitude, I cordially impart upon you my Apostolic Blessing.