Jean Cardinal Villot

Author: Homily at the Mass for the Election of the Pope


Jean Cardinal Villot

The following is the homily of Cardinal Villot at the Mass "pro eligendo Pontifice" on 14 October 1978.

Once again, Fathers and Brothers, after just a few weeks, this Gospel is proclaimed in the same circumstances, and we need to draw from it teaching and points for reflection.

In the discourse of Jesus, let us briefly call attention to certain words: 1) What does it mean "to remain in his love"? 2) What is the meaning of: "to give his life for his friends"; 3) "all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you" 4) "you did not choose me, but I chose you"?

1) One cannot remain in the love of Jesus if one is not in his grace, because each good and meritorious work has its source in the blessing of divine love, that is, in grace. Christ obeys the will of his Father.

A little while before, Jesus had said: "He who sent me is with me, and he has not left me to myself, for I always do what pleases him." (John 8:29). He was speaking clearly as a man, because his divine nature is identical with that of the Father and cannot be apart from it.

Thus if Jesus, for the reasons he states, was not left to himself, neither shall we be left alone, if divine love creates in us grace and conformity to his will. It is timely to reflect on this fact: the task that is ours is a serious one; if only we "do what pleases him", it will not be left to us to do it alone.

2) "There is no greater love than to give one's life for one's friends". The red vestments appropriate to this body, Eminent Fathers, have their meaning in the obligation — an obligation one assumes when one is made a cardinal — to spend one's life even to the shedding of blood. And since our bodily lives are so dear to us, to risk life for one's neighbour is a great sign of love: "greater" in the words of the Lord. And this, as is clearly understood, on the example of Jesus.

We must not, however, be led astray by an interpretation of the text done in haste or heard in the context of a particular occasion. He speaks of "friends". We recall what was said in the letter to the Romans (5:8): "Christ died for us while we were still sinners... while we were still sinners!"

Pondering the text, we find, just as the Fathers before us did, that Jesus died for his enemies, for sinners, so that they might become his friends. But it would have been harsh to remind them that they were still in their original human condition; and so he at once called them "friends", taking into account the fact that the work of redemption had begun and had been applied to them.

Let us reflect, Brothers, that life — the lives of all of us certainly, but also in a special way the life of him whom we shall elect — must be given for the multitude of those redeemed, "that they may become friends of Christ". The entire mystical mission of the Church is contained in that concept. And, since God uses men as his ordinary instruments, we understand clearly what spirit should animate one whom he chooses to exercise the office of pastor and guide, as if announcing for the first time the evangelical message. With all our failings, we are, to the extent we wish to see ourselves as such, his friends; but we are such only and exclusively in virtue of his death.

3) As a tangible sign of true friendship, Jesus says: "All that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you." That "all" is surprising. But the Lord explains it a moment later: "I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth." Clearly, that "all" that the apostles were then able to receive was in the order of faith, not of science or insight.

We find ourselves in the same situation. Christ has told us what it takes to follow his way, what is sufficient to act in a manner pleasing to him; but he has not told us any more than that. He considers us friends, but he does not give us some sort of total supernatural enlightenment. He leaves freedom for the working of our intellect and will.

It is as men — responsible men certainly, but always only as men — that we shall have to approach the task entrusted to us. The result, then, is not a miracle, but the outcome of the action and prayer of men who, with all their might, wish to be ever better friends of Christ.

4) "You did not choose me, but I chose you." Here Jesus intimates that it was not the apostles' merit which compelled him to choose them, but that he did so by his own free will. That applies very well to us. We should not take pride in our abilities — some with more, some with less, according to human ways of judging — and insist on our own point of view.

Let us recall that our ability to fulfil our task as electors is rooted "in the free choice of the Lord", mystically understood, and not in such human merit as we may individually possess.

We must elect a bridegroom of the Church; we must elect a Father... It is characteristic of a bridegroom's love for his spouse to love her totally, while a father loves his children one by one, "singly". Thus love for the Church taken in its totality befits the bridegroom; love for single individuals, with their faults and defects, befits the father.

May the prayer of the People of God be with us, taking the primary place in this assembly, and may the Lord be with us now and always. Amen.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
19 October 1978, page 1

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