Donkeys are the best!


Did you know that Saint Corbinian’s Bear on the Coat of Arms of Benedict XVI is actually a donkey? 

benedict xvi coat of arms

Did you know that Israel’s national symbol from time immemorial is the donkey, so that the new Jewish Christians were considered to belong to Israel and were therefore also symbolized as donkeys, as is Jesus in this early graffito etching in Imperial Rome?


Did you know that donkeys are guard donkeys for the sheep?


Did you know that donkeys figure into the life of the Holy Family, carrying Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem and to Egypt and back to Nazareth, also carrying Jesus into Jerusalem for His crucifixion?

If you’re not convinced that priests should be proud to be donkeys, read this analysis of Cardinal Raymond Burke of the Coat of Arms of Pope Benedict XVI:

Pope Benedict XVI: Christ’s humble servant
Archbishop Raymond L. Burke

Our Lord has blessed us with a new shepherd for the universal Church, Pope Benedict XVI.Having enjoyed the extraordinary service of Pope John Paul II, we prayed fervently for a worthy successor to St. Peter as Vicar of Christ on earth.Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger worked intimately with our late Holy Father for practically his entire pontificate.His words at the Mass of Christian Burial for Pope John Paul II and since the time of his election make clear the profound esteem which he has for the late Holy Father and his desire to continue Pope John Paul II’s work of the new evangelization. On April 23 I offered the Holy Mass, with the participation of priests, consecrated persons and laity from throughout the archdiocese, for the intentions of Pope Benedict XVI.We cannot imagine the heaviness of the burdens of his office.We want to lighten those burdens with our prayers, our affectionate love and our obedience.The Mass offered for his intentions was the best way that the faithful of the Archdiocese of St. Louis could assist our new Holy Father at the beginning of his service as successor of St. Peter.What follows is an adaptation of the homily which I gave at the Mass. Christ always provides for the Church Throughout the Easter Season, we hear readings from the Acts of the Apostles, which testify to the living presence of the Risen Christ in the Church.Hearing the accounts of the first days of the life of the Church, we marvel at how Christ is always providing for the needs of His Bride.In tonight’s First Reading, we have heard how our Risen Lord provided for the ordination of deacons to carry out the ministry of charity, in union with the bishops and priests. We see in the events recounted in the Acts of the Apostles the fulfillment of Christ’s promise made to the disciples during His last conversation with them before His Passion and Death.He urged them to put aside their fears at His return to God the Father, for the very purpose of His Passion and Death was to be the Resurrection and the Sending of the Holy Spirit.Christ rose from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the Father to pour forth into our souls the gift of the Holy Spirit.The Risen Christ returned to the Father, so that He might always work, through us, in the world.He told the disciples: “[W]hoever believes in Me will do the works I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father (Gospel).” Reflecting upon the life of the Church in her earliest days, we consider our own life in the Church, united, by an unbroken line of apostolic ministry, to the life of the first disciples.We recognize our great dignity.We have been called “out of darkness into (Christ’s) wonderful light” to be “living stones” which make up the spiritual house of the Church (Reading II). Christ provides a new shepherd Our reflection upon the living presence of the Risen Christ in the Church, from her very beginning until the present, is most fitting as we gather tonight to pray for Pope Benedict XVI, our new shepherd in the universal Church.Within a few hours, God willing, our Holy Father will offer the Eucharistic Sacrifice to begin his service as successor of St. Peter, vicar of Christ on earth.We see in the election of our new pope a most comforting sign of Christ’s faithful presence in the Church, providing for all her needs. In these days, we have experienced directly how Christ, through the action of the Holy Spirit, always provides a shepherd for the universal Church, as He first did through the call and consecration of St. Peter.In the words of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, “[t]he Roman Pontiff, as the successor of Peter, is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful” (Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen gentium, no. 23a).St. Peter and his successors guard and foster the unity of our Catholic faith and practice and, thereby, guard and foster our communion with Christ who alone is our salvation. The burdens of the Roman pontiff We are deeply conscious of the challenges of following Christ in our time and what these mean for the shepherd of the universal Church.Our late and beloved Pope John Paul II wrote in his last testament: “The times we are living in are unspeakably difficult and disturbing.The Church’s journey has also become difficult and stressful, … ” (The testament of John Paul II: Totus tuus ego sum, L’Osservatore Romano, weekly edition in English, April, 13, 2005, page 4). Then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, as dean of the College of Cardinals, in his homily at the Mass for the Election of the Pope on the morning of the opening of the conclave, reflected upon the same difficulty of teaching the unchanging word of Christ in a world in which “a dictatorship of relativism is being formed” (Ratzinger: Let us ask God for a pastor to lead us to Christ, Vatican Information Service, April 18, 2005, page 2).We live in a world in which the teaching of Christ, handed down faithfully in the Church, is viewed, even most sadly by some Catholics, as just one more opinion, when, in fact, it is the divinely revealed and abiding truth about God, ourselves and our world. Considering the burdens which Pope Benedict XVI has accepted for the sake of the Church throughout the world, one recalls the words of our Risen Lord to St. Peter on the occasion of the miraculous catch of fish at the Sea of Tiberias.After our Risen Lord had served breakfast to the Apostles, he asked St. Peter three times: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” (John 21:15, 16, 17).Peter, with sorrow, surely recalling how he had three times denied that he even knew our Lord during His Passion, fervently confessed his love of Christ.When, for a third time, he confessed his love of our Lord, our Lord spoke words to St. Peter, which indicated the full import of that love: “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go” (John 21:18). The Gospel comments that these words were intended to show the death by which St. Peter would give glory to God.Our Lord then said to St. Peter: “Follow me” (John 21:19). Surely, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, has obediently responded to our Lord’s invitation to follow Him and understands the immolation of self, which such obedience entails.As he reminded us in his homily before the beginning of the conclave: “The mercy of Christ is not cut-rate grace, it does not presuppose that evil is something banal.Jesus bears all the weight of evil, all its destructive force, in His Body and upon His Soul (Ratzinger: Let us ask God for a pastor to lead us to Christ, Vatican Information Service, April 18, 2005, page 1). Following Christ necessarily means carrying the cross with Him and engaging with Him in the spiritual warfare through which He overcomes sin and death in our individual lives and transforms our world into a civilization of His divine love and mercy. Abandonment to Divine Providence Surely, Pope Benedict XVI, at 78 years of age, may well have thought that his service of Christ would now permit him to have some relief from the burdens of pastoral office, the heavy burdens of his outstanding and yet most difficult service as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith.Our Lord, however, through the work of the Holy Spirit, has called him to go where he perhaps would not wish, to serve even more fully the universal Church, now as its Supreme Pastor.In his first address to the College of Cardinals, on the day after his election, our Holy Father stated: “Surprising every prevision I had, Divine Providence, through the will of the venerable cardinal fathers, called me to succeed this great Pope ….I undertake this special ministry, the “Petrine” ministry at the service of the universal Church, with humble abandon to the hands of the Providence of God.And it is to Christ in the first place that I renew my total and trustworthy adhesion” (Benedict XVI, a pope of Christ, communion, collegiality, Vatican Information Service, April 20, 2005, pages 1-2). In his memoirs published in 1997, then-Cardinal Ratzinger commented on his life as a bishop, reflecting upon the image of the bear of St. Corbinian, founding bishop of Freising, the ancient see which is now the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising, to which Cardinal Ratzinger was called to serve as archbishop.He relates the story to a meditation of St. Augustine on the text of verses 22 and 23 of Psalm 73 (72). St. Corbinian’s bear: Christ’s donkey As the story goes, St. Corbinian was on his way to Rome when a bear attacked and killed his pack animal, his donkey.St. Corbinian rebuked the bear and placed the load of the donkey upon his back to carry to Rome.The story of the bear of St. Corbinian reminded the cardinal of St. Augustine’s meditation on the verses of Psalm 73 which he translates thusly: “A draft animal am I before you, for you, and this is precisely how I abide with you” (Psalm 73:22-23; Joseph Ratzinger, Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, page 155). The cardinal, like St. Augustine, had chosen the life of a scholar, but God called him to take up the burdens of the episcopal office, eventually serving the Holy Father as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.He comments on the frustrations which St. Augustine experienced in dealing with the many practical concerns of a pastor of souls, when he had in mind to carry out great intellectual and spiritual works. The text of the psalm reminded the saint and reminded Cardinal Ratzinger that God chose to keep them close to Him by having them serve as His “draft animals,” carrying out the humble tasks of the pastoral office, rather than the exalted service which they had in mind for themselves.Relating the meditation of St. Augustine to the story of St. Corbinian’s bear, Cardinal Ratzinger comments: “Just as the draft animal is closest to the farmer, doing his work for him, so is Augustine closest to God precisely through such humble service, completely within God’s hand, completely His instrument.He could not be closer to his Lord or be more important to Him.The laden bear that took the place of St. Corbinian’s horse, or rather donkey — the bear that became his donkey against its will: Is this not an image of what I should do and of what I am?”A beast of burden have I become for you, and this is just the way for me to remain wholly yours and always abide with you” (Milestones, pages 156-157). Tonight, we thank God for Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, who has found his happiness in serving as Christ’s “donkey,” His “draft animal,” who has given his entire self to working humbly and steadfastly with Christ in the vineyard of the Father.When we see the image of the bear of St. Corbinian on his coat-of-arms, may we be reminded of how he has given and gives his life in service to Christ and His Church. Assisting our Holy Father with his burdens Conscious of the many and heavy burdens which our Holy Father carries, with Christ, for us, let us assist him, offering him the joy of our faithful prayers, loyal affection and unfailing obedience.Our Holy Father, in continuity with the teaching and direction of his much beloved predecessor Pope John Paul II, has already given us an indication of his desires for our growth in holiness of life.In his first address to the College of Cardinals on the day after his election, Pope Benedict XVI stated that the Holy Eucharist “cannot but be the permanent center and the source of the petrine service entrusted to [him]” (Benedict XVI, a pope of Christ, communion, collegiality, Vatican Information Service, April 20, 2005, page 2). Reflecting upon Divine Providence, which called him to the office of St. Peter during the Year of the Eucharist, he has asked that the Solemnity of Corpus Christi “be celebrated in a particularly special way.”He reminded us that the celebration of World Youth Day in Cologne in August will center on the Holy Eucharist, and that the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, to be held this coming October, will devote itself to the theme: “The Eucharist, Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church.”He concluded with a solemn request addressed to us all: “I ask everyone to intensify in coming months love and devotion to the Eucharistic Jesus and to express in a courageous and clear way the real presence of the Lord, above all through the solemnity and the correctness of the celebrations” (Benedict XVI, a pope of Christ, communion, collegiality, Vatican Information Service, April 20, 2005, page 3). As we thank God tonight for the gift of Pope Benedict XVI, let us help him shoulder his heavy burdens by deepening and strengthening our knowledge and love of the Holy Eucharist, above all by the piety with which we participate in Holy Mass, and adore and worship the Blessed Sacrament outside of Mass. As we are now united sacramentally to the Sacrifice of Christ on Calvary, let us lift up to His glorious and open Heart the intentions of our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. Placing our Holy Father and his intentions into the all-merciful and all-loving Heart of Jesus, we trust that no grace will be lacking to our Holy Father as he pours out his life, with Christ, as Christ’s “donkey”for our salvation and the salvation of our world. We ask the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, and the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul to pray with us for our Holy Father: “The Lord preserve him and give him life, and make him blessed upon the earth, and deliver him not up to the will of his enemies” (Enchiridion of Indulgences, June 29, 1968, no. 39). Conclusion I hope that the text of my homily has helped you in some way to understand the office of St. Peter and the deep trust in Divine Providence with which Pope Benedict XVI has accepted the office from our Lord.He is the humble worker in the vineyard, Christ’s “draft animal” who seeks only to do God’s will. Let us continue to assist our Holy Father by our daily prayers.I ask especially that you remember the intentions of our Holy Father when you pray the rosary.The indulgenced prayer with which I conclude my homily is also a good way to pray for our Holy Father every day, gaining a partial indulgence. In a most special way, let us heed his call for a deeper knowledge and more arduous love of the Most Blessed Sacrament.Let us make every effort to intensify our observance of the Year of the Eucharist, so that we, as members of Christ’s Mystical Body, may grow in holiness of life, building up the whole Church in unity and love. Long live Pope Benedict XVI!


Filed under Donkeys

3 responses to “Donkeys are the best!

  1. sanfelipe007

    Father! you are killing me! I know you pasted the Sermon, but with no Paragraphs? I am in a daze.

  2. Great post. That’s a lot of things about donkeys I did not know. I love the photo of the three donkeys. They must be staring at the photographer.

    I wrote a fable called “The Donkey King.” If you would like to read it, I am open to any feedback:

    • Father George David Byers

      I tend to always be positive about donkeys. If the topic of stubborn comes up I refer people to mules.

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