Eulogy for Ida Friederike Görres
by Fr. Joseph Ratzinger
translated by Jennifer S. Bryson
reprinted with permission from LOGOS: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture vol. 23, no. 4 (Fall 2020): 148-151.
Eulogy at the passing of Ida Friederike Görres,
delivered by Professor Doctor Joseph Ratzinger at the Requiem Mass
in the Cathedral of Freiburg, Germany on May 19, 1971.
The Church engages in worship by commemorating the death of her Lord. She does this gratefully because she knows that this death has given life to suffering. With such knowledge, the Church dares to give thanks at the graves of her dead. She can do this because she believes that the death of those who believe in Jesus Christ is held in His death and thus in His resurrection. It is overcome in advance. It is not destruction but merely transition into a new and final way of being with God and with all who belong to the Lord.
Nevertheless, humanly speaking, this is something shocking, and sometimes we feel this outrageousness, such as when the words from the Song of Zechariah, which had been a song at the birth of a long-awaited child, are used at the open grave: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for he has visited and brought redemption to his people.” In the face of tears and pain, in the face of all the hardship and abandonment that a person’s departure can mean, the Church praises God and sees in this fate of death His visitation, His closeness that gives salvation. And even before that, in the center of the liturgy, the words ring out: It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks—even at this hour.
Even at this hour: can we give thanks? Can we give thanks at the death of Ida Friederike Görres, with which a voice has been taken away from us, a voice which seems irreplaceable to the Church in this situation, when we are in a desert of conformism or embarrassed silence? She spoke with an insightful certainty and a fearlessness about the pressing questions and tasks of the Church today, something which is given only to the one who truly believes. And where else are there such voices?
This wasn’t all easy for her. She had grown up in the liberal Catholicism of the waning Habsburg monarchy. Her education at a convent provided access to faith, rooted her in it, but everything remained strangely stale, inanimate, dry. Encountering the [Catholic] Youth Movement was what brought the great turning point, which determined her entire further path until the end. She realized what from then on remained the center of her thought and work: the living Church. She realized that the Church is not just an organization, a hierarchy, an administrative office, but an organism that grows and lives through the centuries. She realized that the Church is not just the small spatial and temporal segment to which we belong, but that the whole community of believers throughout all time and all places belongs to the Church. In her own words: the Church is “not a system, an idea, an ideology, a structure, a society, but the tremendous living establishment, which has existed since the apostles until today, fulfilling her history from century to century, growing, unfolding, struggling, ailing, recovering, living out her destiny and maturing toward the return of the Lord.” This very community throughout the eras, the whole that lives from the Lord—this is the Church in which the Lord Himself continues to walk through time and to draw her to Himself.
From this point of view, a decisive insight had become a self-evident matter for her, which at the same time made it possible for her to survive the darkening of the past few years and to maintain independence and serenity in them: a church built in this way must be the Church of sinners. In her last letter to me, she supported this idea passionately: A church of the elites—what would that be? No, it is precisely this that belongs to the Church: that she reaches down to the lowest misery of man, is disfigured by it, wounded, often almost completely concealed. However, still, this permeates everything again and again, that she calls all illness her own and, in this way, brings this to the Lord who desired to take on our weakness.
Certainly, it was not easy at the same time for Ida Friederike Görres to deal with a Church that no longer seemed to know her- self, and which often appeared to be her own opponent. One of her most recent presentations, her speech “Trusting the Church?,” gives us a rousing insight into her questions and struggles with what was becoming an ever new necessity of groping one’s way along in the Church:
What if the rebels really were to own the future? What if this process, which seems to us like destruction and betrayal, were actually God’s will and to resist it were impious and an act of petty faith? What if—an agonizing thought in the midnight hours—what if I were tied to a great but inexorably dying body, through just emotionally stirring, but ultimately subjective, unreasonable inhibitions, habits, prejudices, antiquated piety, wrongly grounded loyalty? . . . Are we living on a leaky ship sinking inch by inch, from which not only the rats but also the sensible, sober people jump off just in time?
But all this questioning is offset by a great, indestructible confidence. It is expressed in the simple yet likewise great affirmation: “I believe in God’s faithfulness.” From this center, she was able to survive during the crisis of this mysterious organism, even to advance during the crisis and grow to a deeper understanding. I believe in God’s faithfulness—this statement is followed by what is almost a hymn of confidence, hope, and joy: “I trust the suffering in the Church . . . I believe in the praying Church made up of laity and priests, the forbearing, the atoning Church.” “I believe in the hidden saints.” She, who had been ill for a long time, belonged to a great extent to the suffering and the praying Church, to that living center, that is the assurance for all of us. And in all of this, there was no fanaticism, no rigidity in her. It was especially in the loyalty that imbued her life that she stayed lively, kept going. Until the very end, she emanated an unrestrained cheerfulness that is only possible for a person who knows himself or herself to be in harmony with the truth.
And so, we ask again: can we be thankful at this death? I think we can and must say yes. We thank God that she existed, that this insightful, brave, and faithful woman was given to the Church in this century. We give thanks for her writing, for the way she was and will continue to be present to many people through her writing. We give thanks for the path along which God led her, step by step. And we give thanks for the death that He gave her: she was called from the midst of her witness, from her work on the synod commission. She had been invited by friends to vacation in Styria, but ministry was more important to her—no matter how much she had been looking forward to pleasant days in her beloved Austria. We can give thanks—most deeply because we know that she has not been taken from us, just changed her location, as it were, in the communion of the saints, in that living Church spanning across all time and borders, in which she believed and for which she lived.
She followed a path to the end, whose goal for her was hope. In the lecture that I mentioned there is the witness of this hope of hers: “The new taboos are also good for something, rarely heard words unfold their almost unbearable force again”; I am on the way “to eternal bliss in the perfect unity of God, in the physical resurrection in a new heaven and a new earth.” I am on the way to eternal bliss—for her, that was not a figure of speech but calm certainty. I am on the way to eternal bliss: at this hour, we want to ask God to say His definitive yes to such faith. Amen.
27. Joseph Ratzinger,“Gedenkworte zum Heimgang von Ida Friederike Görres,” in Ida Görres, Walter Nigg, and Joseph Ratzinger, Aufbruch—aber keine Auflösung. Briefe über die Kirche und anderes (Freiburg, Germany: Jung Verlag, 1971), 145–51.
29. Ida Fr ieder ike Görres, Im Winter wächst das Brot, (Einsiedeln, Switzerland: Johannes Verlag, 1970), 114.
30. This question mark in the title “Trusting the Church?” appears only in the 1971 version of the Ratzinger eulogy. In the 1970 printed edition of the Görres lecture, “Vertrauen zur Kirche” [“Trusting the Church”], there is no question mark in the title of the lecture. —Translator.
31. Görres, Im Winter wächst das Brot, 113.