Homily of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger

on the occasion of the pontifical approbation of our community on 10th November 2001

Dear Brothers and Sisters in the Lord!

Today in the great thanksgiving of the Holy Eucharist we include the special thanksgiving for the approbation of the Spiritual Family The Work as a community of pontifical right. Thus it is fully situated in the heart of the Church and at the same time opened up to the universal Church as a gift of the Holy Spirit, as a way forward for today and into tomorrow.



It was a dark time, when Mother Julia planted this modest seed in the earth of the Church in January 1938. When we speak of this beginning, we have to always remind ourselves that she said: “I have founded nothing. Since Christ founded the Church everything has been founded. It is only necessary that people live this foundation profoundly, that is, on and from the foundation which Jesus himself laid.”
In fact, she didn’t put another work next to the work of Jesus Christ, but gave herself totally to His work. Thus she invites all of us, not to put our own works next to the work of Christ, but to give ourselves to His work, to be in His work and to live with His work, and thus through Him, with Him and in Him to serve the salvation of the world. Everything she did relates to Christ, the Son of the living God.

And she knew that Christ is not a figure of the past, but that he lives forever in His Church. Communion with Christ is therefore communion with Him where alive he walks through the ages – in the community of the Church. And again, she knew that the sign of the Church is the Petrine ministry, that where Peter is the Church is, and that whoever wants to be in the Church and with Christ, must be close to Peter. So she leads us to the Saint of today, to Pope St. Leo the Great, who in his own way also taught what her message was.


»I have founded nothing. Since Christ founded the Church everything has been founded. It is only necessary that people live this foundation profoundly, that is, on and from the foundation which Jesus himself laid.«
Mother Julia Verhaeghe

In troubled times, from 440 to 461, Leo the Great led the Church. It was the time of the fall of the western Roman Empire, the time of the great migration, the onslaught of the Huns under Attila and of the Vandals under Geiserich. In such a time Leo carried the light of faith. The greatest crisis of faith during his time was of a political-military nature; at the root of every political crisis there is a spiritual crisis. That was also the case in Leo’s time. Certainly the Church after Constantine was free. The emperors were Catholic and promoted the Church. Nevertheless with this new freedom came also new dangers, new temptations.

The first temptation consisted in the submission of the Church and the faith to political power, in the exploitation and use of the Church for power, in the use of the faith for political purposes. The emperor Constantius once said: “I am the law of the Church.” This expresses a profound temptation to falsification of the faith, which in fact did degenerate to a means of political power.


The second temptation was of an ideological nature and consisted in the adaptation of the faith to the intellectual trends of the time. It is called the hellenisation of the faith, that is a conforming of the gift of God, of the light of Revelation, to that which the people of that time thought and wanted. With the great Greek philosophy it was said: God cannot truly have a son; this is a mythological idea. God is far away. God cannot go out of himself, and the great sons of God are simply great men, just as is Jesus. He is not really the son of God. He is a great man of religious and human history. In the fifth century, the century of Pope Leo, the mystery of the Triune God and the divine sonship of Jesus was accepted after the first great Councils, but then people tried other ways of adapting it to their own mode of thinking. They said on the one hand, Christ is not entirely man, he has a divine nature only. On the other hand others said, Christ is entirely man, he only attained divinity during his life. The mystery was rethought according to human standards in order to make it understandable. But precisely because of that, the great, the new and totally other which God’s revelation gave to us was lost.

In the face of this great temptation, St. Leo, enlightened by the wisdom of the faith, put the truth of divine revelation on the lampstand – that Truth which gives us life and forms the foundation of a good life and a good death. St. Leo the Great was above all a teacher of Christology for the great Council of Chalcedon. He found the formulation of the dogma, and the fathers of the Council gave their consent to his letter with the words: Peter has spoken through Leo. And indeed: against the sophism of human thinking, this letter expresses the depth and simplicity of the true faith. Leo said with Peter: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

With the formulation of this dogma in which the true Godhead and true humanity of Christ shine equally forth, St. Leo did not discover anything new, he did not create any new ideas. Just the opposite; he invited us to enter into that great light which God gave us and he showed us that light anew. Faith in Christ is at the heart of the person and the message of St. Leo the Great. Only in his love for Christ, in his being permeated by the love of Christ was he able to grasp the mystery in its profundity and give again to Christ the kind of service Peter gave. Thus the Petrine mystery in this confession, which is the rock of the Church, is made present again: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”



The primacy of Christology, the primacy of the love of Christ and of the faith in Christ is the nucleus of the message of St. Leo the Great. Of course, this primacy of Christology, this preeminence of the faith in Christ implies the existence of the Church in which Christ lives. And when St. Leo again gives his voice to Peter he shows himself with his confession to be the living rock; he lets us know that the Church is founded on the rock of Peter; and he shows us this threefold aspect: the primacy of the love of Christ, concretized in the life of the living Church, and again concretized in the Petrine mystery, and in the succession of Peter who remains always present in his successors.
So we are led back through St. Leo the Great to Mother Julia and to that which she began, to this new fidelity to Christ in His Church. When the “Holy Covenant” is at the centre of The Work, it is again nothing new next to Christ. It is an entering into the New Covenant which he gave; in the Covenant which is based on the gift of the Holy Eucharist; in the Covenant which comes from the Sacred Heart of Jesus, from which blood and water, the holy sacraments flow. Her primacy of christology, her love for Christ, expressed itself in the love for the pierced Heart of Jesus. It is not by chance, I think, that The Work considers itself a friend of Newman, with his motto “Cor ad cor loquitur”. Mother Julia thought from the heart and knew the Heart of Jesus – this pierced Heart, which is the source of the Covenant, the source of our life – from the heart.
Whoever stands up for love in this world, against egotism, which is nearer mankind, lets himself be wounded, says yes to the pierced Heart, says yes to the crown of thorns.

When the symbol of the crown of thorns is added, it becomes evident that union with Christ means union with his suffering. That means, being ready to accept the wounds of the truth. Whoever stands up for the truth in a world in which lies are more comfortable accepts being wounded. And whoever stands up for love in this world, against egotism, which is nearer mankind, lets himself be wounded, says yes to the pierced Heart, says yes to the crown of thorns. This crown is the true king’s crown, with which Christ proves Himself to be the true Lord of the world and shows us the face of the living God, who is Love and Forgiveness unto death. Through union with the suffering Christ we find ourselves in the midst of the afflictions of the times to be also in union with His glory, the glory which is love: Love is stronger than suffering, stronger than death.

The papal approbation is not a juridical formality for the Spiritual Family The Work. It is rather an expression of what The Work is, the confirmation of its deepest being in the Church, which is at the same time unity with Christ. When we thus grasp the gift of The Work and let it lead us into the Mystery of the Church, to find the Heart of Jesus and to let our hearts be enlightened by His, then we will have the same experience as Mother Julia: she knew and experienced that the seemingly heavy yoke of Christ is light because He carries it for us and with us, that his burden is good, because it is the burden of love. Let us pray that He may help us ever more deeply to experience this and to enter into the Work of Christ and thus to serve the salvation of the world. Amen.

© Copyright: The Spiritual Family The Work


Mass of Thanksgiving on 10th November 2001