On Jan. 5, Archbishop Gomez celebrated a memorial Mass for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, the day the late pontiff was laid to rest in Rome. The following is adapted from his homily.
I have had the privilege to know and minister under three popes: St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and now the Holy Father Pope Francis.
Each has his own distinctive personality and pastoral style. In my own ministry, I draw inspiration and guidance from all of them, from their words, and even more, from their example.
I will always be grateful to Pope Benedict because he chose me to be archbishop here in Los Angeles. It has been the blessing of my life to be your shepherd and pastor.
In my experience, Pope Benedict was a gentle soul, a beautiful man. It is true that he was a great teacher and biblical theologian, and one of the most brilliant minds in the history of the Church and Western civilization.
But I will remember him, most of all, for his kindness to me and his deep humility.
Our pope emeritus put Jesus Christ at the center of his life. And leading men and women to friendship with Jesus was the purpose of his life.
In his first homily as pope, he told us, “Only when we meet the living God in Christ do we know what life is. … There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel, by the encounter with Christ. There is nothing more beautiful than to know Him and to speak to others of our friendship with Him.”
We see this beautiful encounter in the Gospel story of the calling of Nathanael.
Our Christian life, the life of faith, always begins with an invitation. It begins in friendship, in witness. One heart speaking to another heart about the love that they have found in Jesus.
This story that we hear today is from the early days of Jesus’ public ministry. Philip has just met Jesus and begun to follow him. Now he goes to invite his friend, Nathanael. He says, simply, “Come and see.”
Philip makes this gentle invitation, and Jesus does the rest.
Pope Benedict is right: There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel! Nothing more beautiful than to meet Jesus!
He understood that the modern world is moving away from God, that faith is fading from the hearts of many people, that our society is growing cold and intolerant toward religion.
But he also knew that God is not finished with his creation, not done building his kingdom on earth. Jesus is still calling, still knocking at the door of every human heart.
Pope Benedict reminded us: The Church’s mission is Christ’s mission — to seek and to save the lost. It’s not just about popes and bishops, priests and religious. All of us share in this mission! Every one of us who has been baptized.
Each of us is called — in our own way and in our own lives — to be like Philip. Speaking to others of our love for Jesus and our friendship with him. Calling others to “Come and see.”
It really is true: when we meet the living God in Jesus Christ and follow him, our life changes.
To be surprised by the Gospel is to discover the truth about where we come from, and what we are living for.
Brothers and sisters, Jesus knows and loves each one of us, just as he knew and loved Nathanael. We heard in the first reading today: “God is greater than our hearts and knows everything.”
And Jesus makes the same promise to you that he made to Nathanael: when you come to him, “you will see greater things.”
When we allow his love to fill our hearts, the gate of heaven stands open before us. We see with certainty that we walk in the light of his presence, in the company of angels and saints. The little things in our everyday lives become like a ladder leading us to heaven.
I am confident that Pope Benedict will be remembered among the great figures in the history of the Church.
But as he looks on the face of God and hears his voice, his legacy will not be one of great words and important books.
His legacy will be the countless souls who found friendship with Jesus through his love, through his gentle invitation to “Come and see.”
Let us honor his memory by renewing our own friendship with Jesus, and dedicating ourselves once more to the beautiful task of bringing others to be surprised by the Gospel!
May Mary Most Holy pray for us, and keep us all under the mantle of her protection.