Several days ago, on the morning of December 31, 2022, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI passed into the arms of Jesus. The Vatican has been strangely quiet on the exact nature of his final illness, but it is known that Pope Francis visited him on Dec. 28th and then asked for the saints to pray for the retired Pope Benedict.
At the time of his death, the Pope Emeritus was 95 years old and was almost the oldest active Pope in the history of the papacy. He surpassed Pope Leo XIII who died at the age of 93, but there is an asterisk next to his name. That’s because Pope Leo XIII was still pope upon his death – while Pope Benedict had resigned back in 2013. Technically, Pope Leo still holds the record, at an age of 93, as the oldest pope in history.
Interestingly, Pope John Paul II was the 7th oldest pope in history and the current Pope Francis would be 6th on the list. Of course, Francis is still the pope so he increases his tenure as long as he lives. However, it should be noted that Pope Francis has also indicated that should he become too frail to carry out the duties of pope, he would possibly take the same route Pope Benedict did – he could resign.
Another interesting fact about the death of Pope Benedict is that there will not be a conclave of cardinals to choose a new pope – after all, there is already a sitting pope. And, incidentally, the current Pope Francis presided earlier today at the funeral of Pope Benedict. This is an incredibly rare occurrence, not seen in more than 600 years.
Personally, I have always found it interesting to study the faith of the popes – especially in their last hours. Pope John Paul II died in his apartment in the Vatican and apparently, according to witnesses, kept referencing seeing Jesus near the end.
A nurse who was with Pope Benedict in the wee hours of the morning, said that his last coherent words were, “Lord, I love you!” – spoken in Italian. What a testimony of faith. After that, he was unable to express himself as he entered the finals stage of life on this earth and prepared to meet the Lord Himself face to face. Pope Francis visited the bedside of the Pope Emeritus soon after his death and the Vatican then announced the death publicly by interrupting a radio broadcast.
In 2014, at the unveiling of a statue of Pope Benedict after his resignation, Pope Francis remarked about Benedict’s recounting the story of the restoration of Peter. How simple, and yet how profound that Peter expressed his love for Jesus so simply.
Pope Benedict uttered the same words as Peter during his final moments of consciousness. It is an incredible testimony for every Christian – whether Catholic or not. A simple profession of faith after a significant lifetime of service to the church.
Our verse for this evening recounts the words of Peter as recorded by the apostle John. After fishing and meeting Jesus on the shore, Peter was asked three times about his love for Jesus. Although the story is much more poignant in Greek, we are told about the exchange in John 21:16, “Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
My encouragement this evening is that Jesus wants us to love Him with all our hearts. Peter, in spite of all his human flaws, was on fire for the Lord. My prayer is that when the time comes for each of us to meet Jesus, we will end our earthly lives professing our love for our Savior – finishing well with an incredibly strong faith as a testimony to others. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…