At the start of his homily Bishop Peter welcomed his ecumenical guests: Graham Usher, the Bishop of Norwich, Canon Aidan Platten, Precentor and Acting Dean at Norwich Cathedral, Canon Julian Pursehouse, Chair of the East Anglia District of the Methodist Church, Fr Richard Stanton, Parish Priest of St John the Baptist, Timber Hill, and Fr Paulinus Heggs, Lead Chaplain at HMP Norwich and a priest of the Orthodox Church. The guests joined Fr Alan Hodgson, the Dean, and Fr Michael Smith in the sanctuary for the celebration of Solemn Vespers.
Bishop Peter also welcomed the civil dignitaries who were among the congregation: Councillor Dr Kevin Maguire, the Mayor of Norwich and his Consort, Julie Keane; Councillor Elizabeth Hughes, Deputy Mayor of Ipswich, and Caroline Jarrold, High Sheriff of Norwich.
In the homily Bishop Peter said he was still awaiting the erection of bookshelves at Bishop’s House. “Over these past days, since the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, I have longed all the more to gain access to my library. Joseph Ratzinger’s writings have undoubtedly been whispering to me, agitating for release.”
Bishop Peter recalled that Joseph Ratzinger would many times have had this same experience of boxing up his library as he travelled to different academic positions across Germany. Just four years later there was to be yet another move, this time to Rome to become Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
“The theologian was well equipped to become a theological guardian,” commented Bishop Peter. “Joseph Ratzinger had always sought to be of service to the authenticity of truth, the truth of Jesus Christ that cannot be compromised nor relativised.”
The Bishop noted that in every home that Joseph Ratzinger occupied a piano could be found and the air reverberated with the sound of Mozart, perhaps the closest human expression of ‘celestial’ music. “Across the pages of Joseph Ratzinger’s immense theological repertoire, one can hear the striving for harmony, for the eternal truth is forever expansive and creative.”
Turning to Gospel reading from St John, Bishop Peter considered the question of Jesus, ‘What do you want?’ “The question posed is in fact addressed to us all,” he said. “God himself deigns to ask us ‘what do we want?’ Because human pride so easily captures and confines our thinking, we so very easily misinterpret the question. God is in fact asking us to recognise what we ‘need’ in the context of eternity rather than what we ‘want’ within the finite confines of the moment.”
Following his election to the chair of St Peter, at the Mass celebrating the inauguration of his papacy, Pope Benedict XVI declared that “the Gospel remains forever new, and the Church remains forever young.” Bishop Peter noted that “this was the authentic voice of Joseph Ratzinger. As successor of St Peter, Pope Benedict XVI reminded us constantly that the strands of human existence are meant to be held together in that harmony which is fashioned and secured by the redemptive sacrifice and triumph of Jesus Christ.”
Reflecting on book collections, the Bishop added: “It might seem disappointing in hearing me say that there is but one book in heaven – the Book of Life. This book holds nothing but names, a rather boring prospect for an avid reader. But…we can plausibly envisage how each one will be invited to read their name and thereby at last discover who they really are, learn to know fully the one who wrote our name, the one who fashioned our very existence.”
He concluded: “The beauty of human theological imagination and expression is not fantastical, not deceptive, but is real and true. By faith and reason Joseph Ratzinger strove to depict this beauty, this reality, this eternal truth. His arduous labours, his faithful ministry, bore abundant fruit. Well done good and faithful servant.
“Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace. Amen.”
Pictured above is Bishop Peter preaching at Solemn Vespers
You can see a gallery of the Solemn Vespers by clicking on the link or the picture below.