Benedict XVI Homilies 21207
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Gathered in prayer around his mortal remains, let us pay our final respects to dear Cardinal Alfons Maria Stickler. He shared with us so many years of work in the Lord's vineyard. After a long day on earth, God has now called him to himself to welcome him in his merciful fatherly arms. While we gather with affection round his relatives, round the Salesian Congregation in which he made his first profession on 15 August 1928 and round all who have known and appreciated him, let us turn our gaze with trust to Heaven, from whence comes the one light that can illuminate the mystery of life and death. While the liturgical Season of Advent prepares us to relive the Christmas gift of the Redeemer, it also encourages us to look forward confidently to his final and definitive Coming. For this brother of ours was fulfilled the "blessed hope" which we await, as we say each day in the Eucharistic celebration, seeking during our pilgrimage on earth to live "free from sin and protect[ed] from all anxiety".
The Apostle to the Gentiles has just reminded us that if we die with Christ, "we shall also live with him; if we endure, we shall also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us" (2Tm 2,11-12). The entire plan of life of the Christian can only be modelled on Christ, all of it with him, for him and in him, to the glory of God the Father. Was it not this fundamental truth that oriented the life of this brother of ours? He chose as his episcopal motto: "Omnia et in omnibus Christus", and as he was approaching the end of his life, he explained how these words guided his every choice and decision. "At the root of my activities", he wrote a few years ago, "there has always been the ideal of faith and Christian life that is focused on Christ the Redeemer and then Founder of the Church. All my efforts and studies have served in particular to deepen religious knowledge with full fidelity to the Pope". And he added: "As a Salesian, I follow the three ideals passed on by Don Bosco: love for the Eucharist, devotion to Our Lady, and fidelity to the Holy Father". He was well aware that loving Christ means loving his Church, which is always holy, as he noted in his spiritual testament, "despite the weakness, at times even scandalous, of us, her representatives and members, in the past and in the present". He knew the opposition and challenges that Christians have to contend with in our age and concluded that only true love for Christ can make them sufficiently courageous and persevering in defending the truth of the Catholic faith.
In this regard, how often must Cardinal Alfons Maria Stickler have read and meditated upon the Gospel passage which has also been proclaimed today at our gathering! The Evangelist Matthew, who will accompany us throughout this liturgical year, adds to the eight Beatitudes that introduce the Sermon on the Mount another which says: "Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account", and ends: "Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in Heaven" (Mt 5,11-12). All of us, dear brothers and sisters, who have been called by Baptism to follow and serve Jesus, know that we cannot and must not expect applause and recognition on this earth. The true reward of the faithful disciple is "in Heaven": it is Christ himself. Let us never forget this truth! Let us never give in to the temptation to seek human success and support, rather than counting only and always on the One who came into the world to save us and who redeemed us on the Cross! Whatever service God may call us to in his vineyard, may it always be enlivened by humble adherence to his will!
That this was dear Cardinal Stickler's approach to the whole of human life, despite human frailty and weakness, is apparent from his spiritual testament, in which he noted: "My whole life was a plan, and an achievement superior to my strength to which I could do no more than consent - often not even fully evaluating the cause. Thus, my entire life was and is a work of Divine Providence".
His existence was totally dedicated first to teaching and then to the service of the Holy See.
Alfons Maria Stickler was born in Neunkirchen, Lower Austria, on 23 August 1910. As a young man he entered the novitiate of the Salesian Congregation in Germany. After completing his philosophical and theological studies, first in Germany, then in Austria and later, in Turin and Rome, he was ordained a priest on 27 March 1937, 70 years ago, in the Archbasilica of the Lateran.
He took an academic course at the Institutum Utriusque Iuris at the Apollinare and started teaching at the Faculty of Canon Law of the Salesian University in Turin, and then in Rome, where he was transferred. At this University, he was Dean of the Canon Law Faculty from 1953 to 1958, then Rector Magnificent (1958-1966) and, until 1968, Head of the newly founded Institutum Altioris Latinitatis. In 1971, his nomination by the Servant of God Pope Paul VI as Prefect of the Vatican Apostolic Library came as a great surprise. Here, he had the opportunity to carry out an intense academic activity, testified to in practice by various books and essays on the history of canon law. He was a member of three Commissions of the Second Vatican Council, a consultor to Roman Congregations, a member of the Commission for the new Code and of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences, as well as of many other international cultural institutions. On 8 September 1983, he was called to be Pro-Librarian of Holy Roman Church, and on the following 1 November, as he observed in his testament, he had received "at an advanced age, the great grace of the fullness of the priesthood [episcopal ordination] through the hands of the Holy Father [John Paul II] himself", who also entrusted him a year later with the office of Pro-Archivist of Holy Roman Church, and on 25 May 1985, elevated him to the dignity of Cardinal. At the end of his active service to the Holy See, this friend of ours continued to carry out his cultural and pastoral activity while at the same time giving even more time to reflection and prayer. Every day, as he did from the first year of his religious profession, he would invoke the Holy Spirit with the hymn Veni Sancte Spiritus. He was thus convinced that if he had been able to be of some use to the Congregation and to the Church, "he was indebted for this to the Holy Spirit". Death ushered him into the kingdom of peace and eternal light last Wednesday.
Our brotherly hope is that he may now enjoy the well-deserved reward and contemplate the brilliance of the eternal Truth. In the First Reading, the Prophet Daniel recalled that "those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever" (Da 12,3). May this be so for our esteemed Confrere in the priesthood and in the episcopate! May he be welcomed by Mary Most Holy, of whom he wrote: "Our Lady, at the moment of my death, will also be the true mother who bestows her love and mercy even upon her less faithful sons". May St John Bosco and the Salesian Saints and Blesseds accompany him. Let us join with affection and gratitude in the invocation with which Cardinal Stickler ended his spiritual testament: "I believe, I hope, I love; forgive my weakness in faith, hope and charity, and lead me, O my God, to the Kingdom of your love. Amen".
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice... The Lord is at hand" (Ph 4,4-5). The entrance antiphon of Holy Mass on this Third Sunday of Advent begins with this invitation to joy, and for this very reason is called "Gaudete" Sunday. Actually, the whole of Advent is an invitation to rejoice because "the Lord comes", because he comes to save us. The Prophet Isaiah's words addressed to the Jewish people - exiled in Babylon after the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem and uncertain about being able to return to the Holy City in ruins - ring out comfortingly almost every day in these weeks. The Prophet assures them: "They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint" (Is 40,31). And again, "they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away" (ibid., Is 35,10). The Advent liturgy constantly tells us that we must stir ourselves from the slumbers of habit and mediocrity, we must abandon sorrow and despair; we must lift up our hearts because "the Lord is at hand".
Today, there is another reason for us to rejoice, dear faithful of the Parish of Santa Maria del Rosario ai Martiri Portuensi: it is the dedication of your new parish church which stands on the very site where my beloved Predecessor, the Servant of God John Paul II, celebrated Holy Mass on 8 November 1998 on the occasion of his Pastoral Visit to your community. The solemn liturgy for the dedication of this church is an event of intense spiritual joy for the entire People of God who live in this neighbourhood. For my part, I gladly share in your legitimate pleasure at having your own welcoming and functional church at last. The place where it stands evokes a past of shining Christian witnesses. Indeed, precisely here, close by, are located the catacombs of Generosa, where tradition has it that two brothers and their sister were buried: Simplicius, Faustinus and Viatrix (Beatrice) - victims of the persecution unleashed in the year 303. Part of their relics are preserved in Rome in the Church of St Nicholas in Prison at Monte Savello, and another part at Fulda, Germany, a city which has honoured the Portuensi Martyrs as its Co-Patrons since the eighth century thanks to the fact that St Boniface took their relics there. In connection with this, I greet the representative of the Bishop of Fulda and also Archbishop Carlo Liberati, Prelate of Pompei, a Marian Shrine with which your parish has arranged a spiritual "twinning".
The dedication of this parish church acquires a truly special meaning for you who live in this district. Are not these young martyrs, who died at that time for bearing witness to Christ, a powerful incentive to you Christians of today to persevere in faithfully following Jesus Christ? And does not the protection of the Virgin of the Holy Rosary require you to be men and women of deep faith and prayer as she was? Today too, although in different ways, there is opposition to the saving message of Christ and Christians are called, just as they were in the past, to account for their hope, to offer to the world their witness to the Truth of the One who saves and redeems! May this new church thus be a privileged place for growth in the knowledge and love of the One whom we shall welcome in a few days time, rejoicing in his Birth as Redeemer of the world and our Saviour.
Allow me now, making the most of the dedication of this beautiful new church, to thank all who have contributed to building it. I know how committed the Diocese of Rome has been for years now to assuring adequate parish premises to every district of this city, in constant growth. I first greet and thank the Cardinal Vicar and, with him, Auxiliary Bishop Ernesto Mandara, Secretary of the Roman Work for the Preservation of the Faith and the Provision of New Churches in Rome.
I greet and thank you in particular, dear parishioners who have worked in various ways to build this parish centre. It joins the more than 50 parish churches already functioning, thanks to the considerable financial effort of the Diocese and of the many faithful and citizens of good will, as well as the collaboration of public institutions. On this Sunday which is precisely dedicated to supporting this praiseworthy work, I ask everyone to continue their generous commitment.
I would then like to greet with affection Bishop Benedetto Tuzia, Auxiliary of the Western Sector, and your parish priest, Fr Gerard Charles McCarthy, whom I thank for his warm words to me at the beginning of our solemn celebration. I greet his collaborators, the priests who belong to the Priestly Brotherhood of the Missionaries of St Charles Borromeo, to whom the pastoral care of this parish was entrusted in 1997 and who are represented here by Mons. Massimo Camisasca, Superior General. I greet the Sisters Oblates of Divine Love and the Missionaries of St Charles who work with dedication in this community, and all the groups of children, young people, families and the elderly who enliven life in the parish. I also extend a cordial greeting to the various ecclesial movements present here, including Ardent Marian Youth, Communion and Liberation, Catholic Charismatic Renewal, the Brotherhood of St Mary of the Angels and the Little St Therese Volunteers Group. Furthermore, I am eager to encourage all those who, together with the parish Caritas, seek to meet the many needs in the neighbourhood, especially by responding to the expectations of the poorest and neediest. Lastly, I greet the Authorities present and the personages who have desired to take part in our liturgical assembly. Dear friends, today we are experiencing a day that crowns everyone's efforts, labour and sacrifices and the community's commitment to building itself up to be a mature Christian community, anxious to have a place reserved definitively for the worship of God. The special wealth of words and symbols of today's celebration helps us to understand the profound value of what we are doing. Let us, therefore, briefly consider the teaching that comes to us from the Readings just proclaimed.
The First Reading is taken from the Book of Nehemiah, a book that tells of the reconstitution of the Jewish community after the Exile, the dispersion and the destruction of Jerusalem. Thus, it is the Book about the new origins of a community and is full of hope, even through great difficulties still loomed ahead. Two great figures stand out in the heart of the passage which has just been read: a priest, Ezra, and a lay man, Nehemiah, respectively the religious and civil Authorities of that time.
The text describes the solemn moment when the small Jewish community was officially reconstituted after the dispersion; it was the moment of the public re-proclamation of the law on which this community's life was based, and all this took place in an atmosphere of simplicity, poverty and hope. People listened to this proclamation in an atmosphere of great spiritual intensity. Some began to weep for joy at being able once again to listen in freedom to the Word of God after the tragedy of the destruction of Jerusalem and to begin salvation history once again. And Nehemiah cautioned them, saying that it was a feast day and that in order to have strength from the Lord, it was necessary to rejoice, expressing gratitude for God's gifts. The Word of God is strength and it is joy.
Does not this Old Testament Reading also inspire deep emotion in us? How many memories flood your minds at this moment! How much effort in building the community year after year! How many dreams, how many projects, how many difficulties! Now, however, we are given the opportunity to proclaim and listen to God's Word in a beautiful church, which is conducive to recollection and inspires joy; the joy of knowing that not only the Word of God is present, but the Lord himself: a church which desires to be a constant reference to unwavering faith and to the commitment to developing as a united community. Let us thank God for his gifts and thank all who have served as artisans in this church's construction and of the living community gathered in it.
In the Second Reading from the Book of Revelation, a marvellous vision is recounted for us. God's project for his Church and for all humanity is a holy city, Jerusalem, coming down from Heaven, gleaming with divine glory. The author describes this marvellous city, comparing it with the most precious gems, and finally explains that it is founded on the person and message of the Apostles. By saying this, the Evangelist John suggests to us that the living community is the true, new Jerusalem, and that the living community is more sacred than the material temple which we are dedicating. And to build this living temple, this new city of God in our cities, to build this temple - which you are -, much prayer is needed and it is necessary to make the most of every opportunity offered by the liturgy, catechesis and the numerous pastoral, charitable, missionary and cultural activities which keep your promising parish "youthful". May the care we show for the material building - sprinkling it with holy water, anointing it with oil, incensing it - be a sign and an encouragement for intensifying our care in defending and promoting the temple of people, formed by you, dear parishioners.
Lastly, the Gospel passage we heard tells of a conversation between Jesus and his followers, and in particular with Peter; a conversation wholly focused on the Person of the divine Teacher. The people had sensed something about him; some believed he was John the Baptist brought back to life, others said he was Elijah returned to the earth, still others, the Prophet Jeremiah, in every case placing him in the category of great religious figures. Instead, Peter, speaking on behalf of the disciples who knew Jesus well, declares that Jesus is far more than a prophet or a great historical religious person: he is the Messiah - he is Christ the Son of the living God. And Christ the Lord says to him solemnly: you are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church. Peter, the poor man with all his weaknesses and with his faith, becomes the rock associated, precisely because of his faith, with Jesus; he is the rock on which the Church was founded. Thus, once again, we see that Jesus Christ is the true steadfast rock on which our faith stands, on which the whole Church - hence, also this parish - is built. And we meet Jesus in listening to the Sacred Scriptures. He is present and makes himself our food in the Eucharist, he dwells in the community, in the faith of the parish community. Everything, therefore, in the church building and in the Church community speaks of Jesus, everything is related to him, everything refers to him. And the Lord Jesus gathers us in the great community of the Church of all times and all places, in close communion with the Successor of Peter as a rock of unity. The action of the Bishops and priests, the apostolic and missionary commitment of every member of the faithful, is to proclaim and to witness with his or her words and life that he, the Son of God made man, is our one Saviour.
Let us ask Jesus to guide your community and make it ever more faithful to his Gospel; let us ask him to inspire many holy priestly, religious and missionary vocations; to make all parishioners willing to follow the example of the holy Portuensi Martyrs. Let us entrust our prayers to the motherly hands of Mary, Queen of the Rosary. May she obtain that the last words of the First Reading come true for us today: "the joy of the Lord is our strength" (cf. Ne 8,10). Only the joy of the Lord and the power of faith in him can make your parish's progress fruitful. And thus may it be!
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
“The time came for Mary to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Lc 2,6f.). These words touch our hearts every time we hear them. This was the moment that the angel had foretold at Nazareth: “you will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High” (Lc 1,31). This was the moment that Israel had been awaiting for centuries, through many dark hours – the moment that all mankind was somehow awaiting, in terms as yet ill-defined: when God would take care of us, when he would step outside his concealment, when the world would be saved and God would renew all things. We can imagine the kind of interior preparation, the kind of love with which Mary approached that hour. The brief phrase: “She wrapped him in swaddling clothes” allows us to glimpse something of the holy joy and the silent zeal of that preparation. The swaddling clothes were ready, so that the child could be given a fitting welcome. Yet there is no room at the inn. In some way, mankind is awaiting God, waiting for him to draw near. But when the moment comes, there is no room for him. Man is so preoccupied with himself, he has such urgent need of all the space and all the time for his own things, that nothing remains for others – for his neighbour, for the poor, for God. And the richer men become, the more they fill up all the space by themselves. And the less room there is for others.
Saint John, in his Gospel, went to the heart of the matter, giving added depth to Saint Luke’s brief account of the situation in Bethlehem: “He came to his own home, and his own people received him not” (Jn 1,11). This refers first and foremost to Bethlehem: the Son of David comes to his own city, but has to be born in a stable, because there is no room for him at the inn. Then it refers to Israel: the one who is sent comes among his own, but they do not want him. And truly, it refers to all mankind: he through whom the world was made, the primordial Creator-Word, enters into the world, but he is not listened to, he is not received.
These words refer ultimately to us, to each individual and to society as a whole. Do we have time for our neighbour who is in need of a word from us, from me, or in need of my affection? For the sufferer who is in need of help? For the fugitive or the refugee who is seeking asylum? Do we have time and space for God? Can he enter into our lives? Does he find room in us, or have we occupied all the available space in our thoughts, our actions, our lives for ourselves?
Thank God, this negative detail is not the only one, nor the last one that we find in the Gospel. Just as in Luke we encounter the maternal love of Mary and the fidelity of Saint Joseph, the vigilance of the shepherds and their great joy, just as in Matthew we encounter the visit of the wise men, come from afar, so too John says to us: “To all who received him, he gave power to become children of God” (Jn 1,12). There are those who receive him, and thus, beginning with the stable, with the outside, there grows silently the new house, the new city, the new world. The message of Christmas makes us recognize the darkness of a closed world, and thereby no doubt illustrates a reality that we see daily. Yet it also tells us that God does not allow himself to be shut out. He finds a space, even if it means entering through the stable; there are people who see his light and pass it on. Through the word of the Gospel, the angel also speaks to us, and in the sacred liturgy the light of the Redeemer enters our lives. Whether we are shepherds or “wise men” – the light and its message call us to set out, to leave the narrow circle of our desires and interests, to go out to meet the Lord and worship him. We worship him by opening the world to truth, to good, to Christ, to the service of those who are marginalized and in whom he awaits us.
In some Christmas scenes from the late Middle Ages and the early modern period, the stable is depicted as a crumbling palace. It is still possible to recognize its former splendour, but now it has become a ruin, the walls are falling down – in fact, it has become a stable. Although it lacks any historical basis, this metaphorical interpretation nevertheless expresses something of the truth that is hidden in the mystery of Christmas. David’s throne, which had been promised to last for ever, stands empty. Others rule over the Holy Land. Joseph, the descendant of David, is a simple artisan; the palace, in fact, has become a hovel. David himself had begun life as a shepherd. When Samuel sought him out in order to anoint him, it seemed impossible and absurd that a shepherd-boy such as he could become the bearer of the promise of Israel. In the stable of Bethlehem, the very town where it had all begun, the Davidic kingship started again in a new way – in that child wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. The new throne from which this David will draw the world to himself is the Cross. The new throne – the Cross – corresponds to the new beginning in the stable. Yet this is exactly how the true Davidic palace, the true kingship is being built. This new palace is so different from what people imagine a palace and royal power ought to be like. It is the community of those who allow themselves to be drawn by Christ’s love and so become one body with him, a new humanity. The power that comes from the Cross, the power of self-giving goodness – this is the true kingship. The stable becomes a palace – and setting out from this starting-point, Jesus builds the great new community, whose key-word the angels sing at the hour of his birth: “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to those whom he loves” – those who place their will in his, in this way becoming men of God, new men, a new world.
Gregory of Nyssa, in his Christmas homilies, developed the same vision setting out from the Christmas message in the Gospel of John: “He pitched his tent among us” (Jn 1,14). Gregory applies this passage about the tent to the tent of our body, which has become worn out and weak, exposed everywhere to pain and suffering. And he applies it to the whole universe, torn and disfigured by sin. What would he say if he could see the state of the world today, through the abuse of energy and its selfish and reckless exploitation? Anselm of Canterbury, in an almost prophetic way, once described a vision of what we witness today in a polluted world whose future is at risk: “Everything was as if dead, and had lost its dignity, having been made for the service of those who praise God. The elements of the world were oppressed, they had lost their splendour because of the abuse of those who enslaved them for their idols, for whom they had not been created” (PL 158, 955f.). Thus, according to Gregory’s vision, the stable in the Christmas message represents the ill-treated world. What Christ rebuilds is no ordinary palace. He came to restore beauty and dignity to creation, to the universe: this is what began at Christmas and makes the angels rejoice. The Earth is restored to good order by virtue of the fact that it is opened up to God, it obtains its true light anew, and in the harmony between human will and divine will, in the unification of height and depth, it regains its beauty and dignity. Thus Christmas is a feast of restored creation. It is in this context that the Fathers interpret the song of the angels on that holy night: it is an expression of joy over the fact that the height and the depth, Heaven and Earth, are once more united; that man is again united to God. According to the Fathers, part of the angels’ Christmas song is the fact that now angels and men can sing together and in this way the beauty of the universe is expressed in the beauty of the song of praise. Liturgical song – still according to the Fathers – possesses its own peculiar dignity through the fact that it is sung together with the celestial choirs. It is the encounter with Jesus Christ that makes us capable of hearing the song of the angels, thus creating the real music that fades away when we lose this singing-with and hearing-with.
In the stable at Bethlehem, Heaven and Earth meet. Heaven has come down to Earth. For this reason, a light shines from the stable for all times; for this reason joy is enkindled there; for this reason song is born there. At the end of our Christmas meditation I should like to quote a remarkable passage from Saint Augustine. Interpreting the invocation in the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father who art in Heaven”, he asks: what is this – Heaven? And where is Heaven? Then comes a surprising response: “… who art in Heaven – that means: in the saints and in the just. Yes, the heavens are the highest bodies in the universe, but they are still bodies, which cannot exist except in a given location. Yet if we believe that God is located in the heavens, meaning in the highest parts of the world, then the birds would be more fortunate than we, since they would live closer to God. Yet it is not written: ‘The Lord is close to those who dwell on the heights or on the mountains’, but rather: ‘the Lord is close to the brokenhearted’ (Ps 34,18 [Ps 33,19]), an expression which refers to humility. Just as the sinner is called ‘Earth’, so by contrast the just man can be called ‘Heaven’” (Sermo in monte II 5, 17). Heaven does not belong to the geography of space, but to the geography of the heart. And the heart of God, during the Holy Night, stooped down to the stable: the humility of God is Heaven. And if we approach this humility, then we touch Heaven. Then the Earth too is made new. With the humility of the shepherds, let us set out, during this Holy Night, towards the Child in the stable! Let us touch God’s humility, God’s heart! Then his joy will touch us and will make the world more radiant. Amen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
As this year is also ending, we are gathered in the Vatican Basilica to celebrate First Vespers of the Solemnity of Mary Most Holy, Mother of God. The liturgy makes this important Marian feast coincide with the end and the beginning of the solar year. Our hymn of gratitude for 2007 which is drawing to a close and for 2008 which we are already glimpsing is therefore combined with contemplation of the mystery of the divine motherhood. Time passes and its inexorable passing induces us to raise our gaze in deep gratitude to the One who is eternal, to the Lord of time. Let us thank him together, dear brothers and sisters, on behalf of the entire diocesan community of Rome. I address my greeting to each one of you. In the first place, I greet the Cardinal Vicar, the Auxiliary Bishops, the priests and consecrated persons as well as all the lay faithful who are gathered here. I greet Mr Mayor and the Authorities present, and I extend my thoughts to the entire population of Rome and in a special way to all those in conditions of difficulty and hardship. I assure them all of my cordial closeness, strengthened by constant remembrance in prayer.
In the short Reading from the Letter to the Galatians that we have just heard, speaking of the liberation of man brought about by God with the mystery of the Incarnation, St Paul very discreetly mentions the One through whom the Son of God entered the world: "when the time had fully come", he wrote, "God sent forth his Son, born of woman" (Ga 4,4). The Church contemplates in the "woman" the features of Mary of Nazareth, a unique woman because she was called to carry out a mission that brought her into very close contact with Christ: indeed, it was an absolutely unique relationship, because Mary is Mother of the Saviour. Just as obviously, however, we can and must affirm that she is our Mother because, by living her very special maternal relationship with the Son, she shared in his mission for us and for the salvation of all people. In contemplating her, the Church makes out her own features: Mary lives faith and charity; Mary is also a creature saved by the one Saviour; Mary collaborates in the initiative of the salvation of all humanity. Thus, Mary constitutes for the Church her truest image: she in whom the Ecclesial Community must continually discover the authentic sense of its own vocation and its own mystery.
This short but intense Pauline passage then continues, showing how the fact that the Son assumed human nature unfolds the perspective of a radical change of the actual human condition. Paul says in it that "God sent forth his Son... to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons" (Ga 4,4-5). The Incarnate Word transforms human life from within, sharing with us his being as Son of the Father. He became like us in order for us to become like him: children of the Son, hence, people free from the law of sin. Is this not a fundamental reason to raise our thanksgiving to God? A thanksgiving which can only be even more motivated at the end of a year, considering the many benefits and his constant assistance that we have experienced over the period of the past 12 months. This is why every Christian community gathers together this evening and sings the Te Deum, a traditional hymn of praise and thanksgiving to the Most Holy Trinity. This is what we shall also do at the end of this liturgical meeting of ours, before the Most Blessed Sacrament.
As we sing we will pray: "Te ergo, quaesumus, tuis famulis subveni, quos pretioso sanguine redemisti: Come then, Lord, and help your people, bought with the price of your own blood". This is our prayer this evening: Come with your mercy, Lord, to the aid of the inhabitants of our City in which, as elsewhere, serious needs and poverty weigh on the lives of people and families, preventing them from looking with trust to the future. Many, especially young people, are attracted by a false exaltation or rather, by the profanation of the body and the trivialization of sexuality; so it is difficult to list the many challenges bound up with consumerism and secularism which call into question believers and people of good will. To say it in a word, in Rome one also notes that lack of hope and trust in life that constitutes the "obscure" evil of modern Western society.
But if the deficiencies are evident, there is no lack of light and reasons for hope on which to implore special divine blessings. Precisely in this perspective, in singing the Te Deum we shall pray: "Salvum fac populum tuum, Domine, et benedic hereditati tuae - Save your people, Lord, and bless your inheritance". O Lord, look upon and protect the diocesan community in particular, committed on the educational front to responding ever more vigorously to that great "educational emergency" of which I spoke last 11 June when I met the participants in the diocesan convention, or in other words, the increasing difficulty encountered in transmitting the basic values of life and upright conduct to the new generations (cf. Address to the Diocese of Rome Convention, 11 June 2007; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 20 June, p. 3). Let us calmly and with patient trust face this emergency first of all in the context of the family. Moreover, it is certainly comforting to note that the work undertaken in recent years by parishes, movements and associations for the pastoral care of the family is continuing to develop and bear fruit.
Also protect, Lord, the missionary initiatives which involve the world of youth: they are increasing and there are now an important number of young people who are assuming responsibility and the joy of proclamation and Gospel witness in the first person. In this context, how can we fail to thank God for the precious pastoral service offered to the world by the Roman universities? It would be appropriate to start something similar in schools, despite the numerous difficulties.
Bless, Lord, the many young men and adults who in recent decades have been ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Rome. At the present time there are 28 deacons who are awaiting priestly ordination, scheduled for next April. Thus, the average age of the clergy is rejuvenated and it is also possible to respond to the increase in pastoral needs, such as going to the help of other dioceses. Especially in the suburbs, the need for new parish complexes is growing, and there are eight currently under construction, after I myself had the pleasure not long ago of consecrating the one most recently completed: the Parish of Santa Maria del Rosario ai Martiri Portuensi. It is lovely to be able to tangibly feel the joy and gratitude of the inhabitants of a neighbourhood as they enter their own new church for the first time.
"In te, Domine, speravi: non confundar in aeternum - Lord, show us your love and mercy; for we put our trust in you". The majestic hymn of the Te Deum ends with this cry of faith, of total trust in God, with this solemn proclamation of our hope. Christ is our "trustworthy" hope, and to this theme I dedicated my recent Encyclical entitled Spe Salvi. But our hope is always essentially also hope for others, and only thus is it truly hope for each one of us (cf. ). Dear brothers and sisters of the Church of Rome, let us ask the Lord to make each one of us authentic leaven of hope in our various milieus, so that it will be possible to build a better future for the whole city. This is my wish for everyone on the eve of a New Year, a wish that I entrust to the motherly intercession of Mary, Mother of God and Star of Hope. Amen!
Benedict XVI Homilies 21207