Benedict XVI Homilies 41009
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
"What must I do to inherit eternal life?". The brief conversation we heard in the Gospel passage, between a man identified elsewhere as the rich young man and Jesus, begins with this question (cf. Mc 10,17-30). We do not have many details about this anonymous figure; yet from a few characteristics we succeed in perceiving his sincere desire to attain eternal life by leading an honest and virtuous earthly existence. In fact he knows the commandments and has observed them faithfully from his youth. Yet, all this which is of course important is not enough. Jesus says he lacks one thing, but it is something essential. Then, seeing him well disposed, the divine Teacher looks at him lovingly and suggests to him a leap in quality; he calls the young man to heroism in holiness, he asks him to abandon everything to follow him: "go, sell what you have, and give to the poor... and come, follow me" (Mc 10,21).
"Come, follow me". This is the Christian vocation which is born from the Lord's proposal of love and can only be fulfilled in our loving response. Jesus invites his disciples to give their lives completely, without calculation or personal interest, with unreserved trust in God. Saints accept this demanding invitation and set out with humble docility in the following of the Crucified and Risen Christ. Their perfection, in the logic of faith sometimes humanly incomprehensible consists in no longer putting themselves at the centre but in choosing to go against the tide, living in line with the Gospel. This is what the five Saints did who are held up today with great joy for the veneration of the universal Church: Zygmunt Szczesny Felinski, Francisco Coll y Guitart, Jozef Damien de Veuster, Rafael Arnáiz Barón and Mary of the Cross (Jeanne Jugan). In them we contemplate the Apostle Peter's words fulfilled: "Lo, we have left everything and followed you" (Mc 10,28), and Jesus' comforting reassurance: "there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the Gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time... with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life" (Mc 10,29-30).
Zygmunt Szczesny Felinski, Archbishop of Warsaw, the Founder of the Congregation of the Franciscan Sisters of the Family of Mary, was a great witness of faith and pastoral charity in very troubled times for the nation and for the Church in Poland. He zealously concerned himself with the spiritual development of the faithful, he helped the poor and orphans. At the Ecclesiastical Academy in St Petersburg he saw to the sound formation of priests and as Archbishop of Warsaw he instilled in everyone the desire for inner renewal. Before the January 1863 Uprising against Russian annexation he put the people on guard against useless bloodshed. However, when the rebellion broke out and there were repressions he courageously defended the oppressed. On the Tsar of Russia's orders he spent 20 years in exile at Jaroslaw on the Volga, without ever being able to return to his diocese. In every situation he retained his steadfast trust in Divine Providence and prayed: "O God, protect us not from the tribulations and worries of this world... only multiply love in our hearts and obtain that in deepest humility we may keep our infinite trust in your help and your mercy". Today his gift of himself to God and to humankind, full of trust and love, becomes a luminous example for the whole Church.
St Paul reminds us in the Second Reading that "the word of God is living and active" (He 4,12). In it the Father who is in Heaven speaks lovingly to his children in all the epochs (cf. Dei Verbum DV 21), making them know his infinite love and, in this way, encouraging them, consoling them and offering them his plan of salvation for humanity and for every person. Aware of this, St Francisco Coll dedicated himself eagerly to disseminating it, thus faithfully fulfilling his vocation in the Order of Preachers, in which he had made his profession. His passion was for preaching, mainly as an itinerant preacher, following the form of the "popular missions". Thus he aimed to proclaim and to revive the word of God in the villages and towns of Catalonia, thereby guiding people to profound encounter with God. This encounter leads to conversion of heart, to receiving divine grace joyfully and to keeping up a constant conversation with Our Lord through prayer. For this reason his evangelizing activity included great dedication to the sacrament of Reconciliation, a special emphasis on the Eucharist and constant insistence on prayer. Francisco Coll moved the hearts of others because he conveyed to them what he himself lived passionately within, what set his own heart on fire: love for Christ and surrender to him. To ensure that the seed of the word of God fell on good ground, Francisco founded the Congregation of the Dominican Sisters of the Anunciata to give an integral education to children and young women so that they might continue to discover the unfathomable treasure that is Christ, the faithful friend who never abandons us and never wearies of being beside us, enlivening our hope with his word of life.
Jozef De Veuster received the name of Damien in the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. When he was 23 years old, in 1863, he left Flanders, the land of his birth, to proclaim the Gospel on the other side of the world in the Hawaiian Islands. His missionary activity, which gave him such joy, reached its peak in charity. Not without fear and repugnance, he chose to go to the Island of Molokai to serve the lepers who lived there, abandoned by all. Thus he was exposed to the disease from which they suffered. He felt at home with them. The servant of the Word consequently became a suffering servant, a leper with the lepers, for the last four years of his life. In order to follow Christ, Fr Damien not only left his homeland but also risked his health: therefore as the word of Jesus proclaimed to us in today's Gospel says he received eternal life (cf. Mc 10,30). On this 20th anniversary of the Canonization of another Belgian Saint, Bro. Mutien-Marie, the Church in Belgium has once again come together to give thanks to God for the recognition of one of its sons as an authentic servant of God. Let us remember before this noble figure that it is charity which makes unity, brings it forth and makes it desirable. Following in St Paul's footsteps, St Damien prompts us to choose the good warfare (cf. 1Tm 1,18), not the kind that brings division but the kind that gathers people together. He invites us to open our eyes to the forms of leprosy that disfigure the humanity of our brethren and still today call for the charity of our presence as servants, beyond that of our generosity.
Turning to today's Gospel, the figure of the young man who tells Jesus of his desire to be something more than one who fulfils to the letter the duties imposed by the law contrasts with Bro. Rafael, canonized today, who died at age 26 as an oblate at the Trappist Monastery of San Isidro de Dueñas. Bro. Rafael also came from a rich family and, as he himself said, was of a "somewhat dreamy disposition", but his dreams did not vanish before the attraction of material goods and the other aims that the worldly life sometimes proposes with great insistence. He said "yes" to the call to follow Jesus, instantly and with determination, without limits or conditions. So it was that he set out on a journey which, from the moment when he realized at the Monastery that "he did not know how to pray", brought him in just a few years to the peak of spiritual life, which he recounts in a very frank and natural style in many of his letters. Bro. Rafael, who is also near to us, continues with his example and his actions to offer us an attractive path, especially for young people who are not content with little but aspire to the full truth, the ineffable happiness which is attained through God's love. "A life of love.... This is the only reason for living", the new Saint said. And he insisted: "All things come from God's love". May the Lord listen kindly to one of the last prayers of St Rafael Arnáiz, when he offered God his whole life, imploring him: "Take me to yourself and give yourself to the world". May he give himself to revive the inner life of today's Christians. May he give himself so that his Brother Trappists and monastic centres continue to be beacons that reveal the intimate yearning for God which he himself instilled in every human heart.
By her admirable work at the service of the most deprived elderly, St Mary of the Cross is also like a beacon to guide our societies which must always rediscover the place and the unique contribution of this period of life. Born in 1792 at Cancale in Brittany, Jeanne Jugan was concerned with the dignity of her brothers and sisters in humanity whom age had made more vulnerable, recognizing in them the Person of Christ himself. "Look upon the poor with compassion", she would say, "and Jesus will look kindly upon you on your last day". Jeanne Jugan focused upon the elderly a compassionate gaze drawn from her profound communion with God in her joyful, disinterested service, which she carried out with gentleness and humility of heart, desiring herself to be poor among the poor. Jeanne lived the mystery of love, peacefully accepting obscurity and self-emptying until her death. Her charism is ever timely while so many elderly people are suffering from numerous forms of poverty and solitude and are sometimes also abandoned by their families. In the Beatitudes Jeanne Jugan found the source of the spirit of hospitality and fraternal love, founded on unlimited trust in Providence, which illuminated her whole life. This evangelical dynamism is continued today across the world in the Congregation of Little Sisters of the Poor, which she founded and which testifies, after her example, to the mercy of God and the compassionate love of the Heart of Jesus for the lowliest. May St Jeanne Jugan be for elderly people a living source of hope and for those who generously commit themselves to serving them, a powerful incentive to pursue and develop her work!
Dear brothers and sisters, let us thank the Lord for the gift of holiness which shines out in the Church today with unique beauty. While I greet with affection each one of you Cardinals, Bishops, civil and military authorities, priests, men and women religious and members of the lay faithful of various nationalities who are taking part in this solemn Eucharistic celebration I would like to address to all the invitation to let yourselves be attracted by the luminous examples of these Saints, to let yourselves be guided by their teaching so that our entire life may become a song of praise to God's love. May their heavenly intercession obtain for us this grace and, especially, the motherly protection of Mary, Queen and Mother of humanity. Amen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Here is a message of hope for Africa: we have just listened to the Word of God. It is the message that the Lord of history never tires of renewing for the oppressed and overcome humanity of every era and every land, since the time he revealed to Moses his will for the Israelite slaves of Egypt: "I have witnessed the affliction of my people... and have heard their cry... so I know well what they are suffering. Therefore I have come down to rescue them... and lead them out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey" (Ex 3,7-8). What is this land? Is it not the Kingdom of Reconciliation, Justice and Peace, to which all of humanity is called? God's plan does not change. It is the same as that prophesied by Jeremiah, in the magnificent oracles called "The Book of Consolation", from which today the First Reading is taken. It is an announcement of hope for the people of Israel, laid low by the invasion of the army of Nebuchadnezzar, by the devastation of Jerusalem and the Temple and the deportation to Babylonia. A message of joy for the "remainder" of Jacob's sons, which announces a future for them, because the Lord will lead them back to their lands, by a straight and easy road. The persons needing support, like the blind or the crippled, the pregnant woman and the woman in labor, will all experience the strength and tenderness of the Lord: he is a father for Israel, ready to care for it as if it were his firstborn (cf. Jr 31,7-9).
God's plan does not change. Through the centuries and turns of history, he always aims at the same finality: the Kingdom of liberty and peace for all. And this implies his predilection for those deprived of freedom and peace, for those violated in their dignity as human beings. We think in particular of our brothers and sisters who in Africa suffer poverty, diseases, injustice, wars and violence, forced migration. These favorite children of the heavenly Father are like the blind man in the Gospel, Bartimaeus (Mc 10,46) at the gates of Jericho. Jesus the Nazarene passed that way. It is the road that leads to Jerusalem, where the Paschal Event will take place, his sacrificial Easter, towards which the Messiah goes for us. It is the road of his exodus which is also ours: the only way that leads to the land of reconciliation, justice and peace. On that road, the Lord meets Bartimaeus, who has lost his sight. Their paths cross, they become a single path. The blind man calls out, full of faith "Jesus, son of David, have pity on me!". Jesus replies: "Call him!", and adds: "What do you want me to do for you?". God is light and the Creator of light. Man is the son of light, made to see the light, but has lost his sight, and is forced to beg. The Lord, who became a beggar for us, walks next to him: thirsting for our faith and our love. "What do you want me to do for you?". God knows the answer, but asks; he wants the man to speak. He wants the man to stand up, to find the courage to ask for what is needed for his dignity. The Father wants to hear in the son's own voice the free choice to see the light once again, the light, the reason for Creation. "Master, I want to see!" And Jesus says to him: "Go your way; your faith has saved you'. Immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way" (Mc 10,51-52).
Dear Brothers, we give thanks because this "mysterious encounter between our poverty and the greatness" of God was achieved also in the Synodal Assembly for Africa that has ended today. God renewed his call: "Take courage! Get up..." (Mc 10,49). And the Church in Africa, through its Pastors, having come from all the countries in the continent, from Madagascar and the other islands, has embraced the message of hope and light to walk on the path that leads to the Kingdom of God. "Go your way; your faith has saved you" (Mc 10,52). Yes, faith in Jesus Christ when properly understood and experienced guides men and peoples to liberty in truth, or, to use the three words of the Synodal theme, to reconciliation, to justice and to peace. Bartimaeus who, healed, follows Jesus along the road, is the image of that humanity that, illuminated by faith, walks on the path towards the promised land. Bartimaeus becomes in turn a witness of the light, telling and demonstrating in the first person about being healed, renewed, regenerated. This is the Church in the world: a community of reconciled persons, operators of justice and peace; "salt and light" amongst the society of men and nations. Therefore the Synod strongly confirmed and manifested this that the Church is the Family of God, in which there can be no divisions based on ethnic, language or cultural groups. Moving witnesses showed us that, even in the darkest moments of human history, the Holy Spirit is at work and transforming the hearts of the victims and the persecutors, that they may know each other as brothers. The reconciled Church is the potent leaven of reconciliation in each country and in the whole African continent.
The Second Reading offers another perspective: the Church, the community that follows Christ on the path of love, has a sacerdotal form. The category of priesthood, as the interpretive key of the Mystery of Christ and, consequently, of the Church, was introduced in the New Testament, by the author of the Letter to the Hebrews. His intuition originates from Psalm 110, quoted in today's words, where the Lord God assures the Messiah with a solemn promise: "You are a priest for ever of the order of Melchizedek" (Ps 110,4). A reference which leads to another, taken from Psalm 2, in which the Messiah announces the Lord's decree which says about him: "You are my son, today have I fathered you" (Ps 2,7). From these texts derives the attribution to Jesus Christ of a sacerdotal character, not in the generic sense, rather "of the order of Melchizedek", in other words the supreme and eternal priesthood, of divine not human origins. If each supreme priest "is taken from among men and made their representative before God" (He 5,1), He alone, Christ, the Son of God, possesses a ministry that can be identified to his own person, a singular and transcendent ministry, on which universal salvation relies. Christ transmitted this ministry of his to the Church through the Holy Spirit; therefore the Church has in itself, in each of its members, because of Baptism, a sacerdotal characteristic. However here is a decisive aspect the priesthood of Jesus Christ is no longer primarily ritual, rather it is existential. The dimension of the rite is not abolished, but, as clearly seen in the institution of the Eucharist, takes its meaning from the Paschal Mystery, which completes the ancient sacrifices and surpasses them. Thus contemporarily a new sacrifice, a new ministry and a new temple are born, and all three coincide with the Mystery of Jesus Christ. United to him through the Sacraments, the Church prolongs its saving action, allowing man to be healed, like the blindman Bartimaeus. Thus the ecclesial community, in the steps of its Master and Lord, is called to walk decisively along the path of service, to share the condition of men and women in its time, to witness to all the love of God and thus sow hope.
Dear friends, this message of salvation is always transmitted by the Church by joining evangelization and the promotion of humanity. Let us take the example of the historical Encyclical Popolorum Progressio: what the Servant of God Paul VI elaborated in terms of reflection, the missionaries created and continue to create in the field, promoting a development that respects local cultures and the environment, following a logic that now, more than 40 years later, appears to be the only one capable of allowing the African people to emerge from the slavery of hunger and sickness. This means transmitting the announcement of hope, following a "sacerdotal form", that is, living the Gospel in the first person, trying to translate it into projects and undertakings that are consistent with its principle dynamic foundation, which is love. In these three weeks, the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops has confirmed what my venerable Predecessor John Paul II had already clearly focused on, and that I also wanted to look at more closely in the recent Encyclical Caritas in Veritate: what is necessary, therefore, is the renewal of the model of global development, in such a way that it be capable of "including within its range all peoples and not just the better off" (). What the social doctrine of the Church has always maintained is what is required today of globalization (cf. ibid. ). This we must remember should not be understood fatalistically as though its dynamics were produced by anonymous impersonal forces or structures independent of the human will. Globalization is a human reality and as such can be modified in line with one or another cultural impositions. The Church works with its personalist and community concept to steer the globalization of humanity in relational terms, in terms of communion and the sharing of goods (cf. ibid. ).
"Take courage! Get up"... This is how the Lord of life and hope addresses the Church and peoples of Africa at the end of these weeks of Synodal reflection. Get up, Church in Africa, Family of God, because you are being called by the Heavenly Father whom your ancestors invoked as Creator, before knowing his merciful closeness, revealed in his only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ. Set out on the path of a new evangelization with the courage that comes from the Holy Spirit. The urgent action of evangelization which has been spoken about so much in these days also involves an urgent appeal for reconciliation, an indispensable condition for instilling in Africa justice among men and building a fair and lasting peace that respects each individual and people; a peace that requires and is open to the contribution of all people of good will irrespective of their religious, ethnic, linguistic, cultural and social backgrounds. In such a challenging mission, pilgrim Church in Africa of the third millennium, you are not alone. The whole Catholic Church is near to you with its prayer and active solidarity, and from heaven you are accompanied by the African saints who, with their lives to the point of martyrdom sometimes, testified to the fullness of their faith in Christ.
Courage! Get up, African continent, land that welcomed the Savior of the World when as a child he had to take refuge with Joseph and Mary in Egypt to save his life from the persecution of King Herod. Welcome with renewed enthusiasm the Gospel proclamation so that the Face of Christ may light with its splendor the multiplicity of cultures and languages of your peoples. As it offers the bread of the Word and the Eucharist, the Church also undertakes to operate, with every means at its disposal, to ensure that no African should be deprived of his or her daily bread. For this reason, along with the work of primary importance of evangelization, Christians are actively involved in interventions in favor of promoting humanity.
Dear Synodal Fathers, at the end of these reflections of mine, I want to salute you most warmly, and thank you for your edifying participation. Return home, you, pastors of the Church in Africa, take my blessing to your communities. Transmit to everyone the oft-heard appeal of this Synod for reconciliation, justice and peace. As the Synodal Assembly draws to a close, I have to renew my most vivid thanks to the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops and all their collaborators. I express my grateful thoughts to the choirs of the Nigerian community in Rome and the Ethiopian College who are contributing to the celebration of this liturgy. And finally I would like to thank everyone who has accompanied the Synodal work with their prayer. May the Virgin Mary recompense each and every one of them, and allow the Church in Africa to grow in every part of that great continent, spreading the "salt" and "light" of the Gospel everywhere.
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
"I was glad when they said to me, "Let us go to the house of the Lord!'". The words of Psalm 122: 1 which we have just sung invite us to lift our heart's gaze towards the "house of the Lord", towards the Heavens. It is there that the host of all the Saints whom, a few days ago, the Liturgy brought us to contemplate is mysteriously gathered in the beatific vision of God. The Solemnity of All Saints is followed by the commemoration of all the faithful departed. These two celebrations, lived in a profound atmosphere of faith and prayer, help to us to understand better the mystery of the Church in its totality and to comprehend ever more that life must be lived in continual, vigilant anticipation. It is a pilgrimage towards eternal life, the ultimate fulfilment that gives meaning and fullness to our earthly journey. Already "our feet have been standing" (Ps 122,2) at the gates of the heavenly Jerusalem.
By now the following late Cardinals have reached this definitive destination: Avery Dulles, Pio Laghi, Stéphanos II Ghattas, Stephen Kim Sou-hwan, Paul Joseph Pham Ðính Tung, Umberto Betti, Jean Margéot, as have the numerous Archbishops and Bishops who have left us during this past year. We remember them with affection and we give thanks to God for the good that they achieved. We are gathered in this Vatican Basilica, as every year, to offer the Eucharistic Sacrifice for their souls. We think of them in the real and mysterious communion that unites us pilgrims on earth and those who have gone before us into the afterlife, certain that death does not break the bonds of spiritual fraternity forged by the Sacraments of Baptism and of Holy Orders.
In these our Venerable Brothers we like to recognize the servants of whom the Gospel parable we just heard speaks: faithful servants whom the master finds awake and ready when he comes home from the marriage feast (cf. Lc 12,36-38); Pastors who have served the Church, providing the flock of Christ with the necessary care; witnesses of the Gospel whom, in the diversity of their gifts and works, have given proof of active vigilance, of generous dedication to the cause of the Kingdom of God. Every Eucharistic Celebration in which these men participated so many times, first as faithful and then as priests anticipates the Lord's promise in the most eloquent way: that he himself, supreme and eternal Priest, will seat his servants at table and will come to serve them (cf. Lc 12,37). Upon the Eucharistic table, nuptial feast of the New Covenant, Christ as the Paschal Lamb makes of himself food for us; destroys death; and gives us his life, life without end. Brothers and sisters, we too must be alert and vigilant: may the master find us so when he returns from the marriage feast, "if he comes in the second watch, or in the third" (cf. Lc 12,37-38). Thus may we too, like the servants in the Gospel, become blessed!
"The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God" (Sg 3,1). The First Reading, taken from the Book of Wisdom, speaks of the righteous who are persecuted, unjustly put to death. But, the sacred Author emphasizes, even if their deaths occurred in circumstances so humiliating and painful as to seem shocking, in truth, for those who have faith this is not so, for "they are at peace". And even if they undergo punishment in the eyes of men, "their hope is full of immortality" (vv. Sg 3,3-4). The loss of loved ones is painful. The event of death is a disquieting enigma; but for believers, however it occurs, it is always illumined by the "hope of immortality". Faith sustains us in these moments, charged with human sadness and discouragement. "In your eyes, life is not taken away but transformed," the Liturgy recalls, "and whilst the land of this earthly exile is destroyed, an eternal home is being prepared in Heaven" (Preface, Mass for the Dead). Dear brothers and sisters, we know well and we experience in our own journeys that there is no lack of difficulties and problems in this life. There are situations of suffering and of pain, difficult moments to understand and accept. All this, however, acquires worth and meaning if it is considered in the perspective of eternity. In fact, every challenge, accepted with persevering patience and offered for the Kingdom of God, already works to our spiritual advantage here on earth and above all in the next life, in Heaven. In this world we are in transit; we are tested in the crucible like gold, as the Sacred Scripture affirms (cf. Sg 3,6). United mysteriously to Christ's passion, we can make of our existence a pleasing offering to the Lord, a voluntary sacrifice of love.
In the Responsorial Psalm and in the Second Reading, taken from the First Letter of Peter, we find something of an echo of the words from the Book of Wisdom. While Psalm 122, which takes up the song of the pilgrims who come to the Holy City and, after a long journey, reach its gates full of joy, projects a festive feeling of paradise. St Peter exhorts us to keep the perspective of hope a "living hope" (1P 1,3) alive in our hearts during the earthly pilgrimage. He notes that, in the face of the inevitable dissolution of this world, we are made the promise of "an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading" (1P 1,4), because God in his great mercy has given us new life "through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1P 1,3). This is why we must be "full of joy", even if we are burdened with various afflictions. If, in fact, we persevere in the good, our faith, purified by many trials, will shine in all its splendour one day and will return to our praise, glory, and honour when Jesus manifests himself in his glory. Herein lies the reason for our hope, that already makes us "rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy" here, while we are journeying towards the purpose of our faith: the salvation of souls (cf. 1P 1,6-8).
Dear brothers and sisters, it is with these sentiments that we wish to entrust to Divine Mercy these Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops, with whom we have worked together in the Lord's vineyard. Once liberated from whatever remains of their human frailty, may the Heavenly Father welcome them into his eternal Kingdom and confer upon them the reward promised to the good and faithful servants of the Gospel. May the Blessed Virgin, with her maternal care, accompany them and open to them the gates of Paradise. May the Virgin Mary help us too, still travellers upon the earth, to keep our eyes fixed on the homeland that awaits us. May she encourage us to be ready with our "loins... girded and our lamps burning" to welcome the Lord "when he comes and knocks" (Lc 12,35-36). At any hour and at any moment. Amen!
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I have great joy in being able to break the Bread of the Word of God and of the Eucharist with you here, in the heart of the Diocese of Brescia, where the Servant of God Giovanni Battista Montini, Pope Paul VI was born and educated in his youth. I greet you all with affection and thank you for your warm welcome! In particular I thank Bishop Luciano Monari, for his words to me at the beginning of the celebration and with him I greet the Cardinals, Bishops, priests and deacons, the men and women religious and all the pastoral workers. I thank the Mayor for his words and his gift, and the other civil and military Authorities. I address a special thought to the sick who have gathered in the Cathedral.
At the heart of the Liturgy of the Word this Sunday the 32nd in Ordinary Time we find the figure of the poor widow or, more precisely, we find her gesture when she dropped her last coins into the collection box of the Temple treasury. Thanks to Jesus' attentive look it has become the proverbial "widow's mite" and indeed is synonymous with the generosity of those who give unsparingly the little they possess. However, I would like first of all to emphasize the importance of the atmosphere in which this Gospel episode takes place, that is, the Temple of Jerusalem, the religious centre of the People of Israel and the heart of its whole life. The Temple was the place of public and solemn worship, but also of pilgrimage, of the traditional rites and of rabbinical disputations such as those recorded in the Gospel between Jesus and the rabbis of that time in which, however, Jesus teaches with unique authority as the Son of God. He judges the scribes severely as we have heard because of their hypocrisy: indeed, while they display great piety they are exploiting the poor, imposing obligations that they themselves do not observe. Indeed, Jesus shows his affection for the Temple as a house of prayer but for this very reason wishes to cleanse it from improper practices; actually he wants to reveal its deepest meaning which is linked to the fulfilment of his own Mystery, the Mystery of his death and Resurrection, in which he himself becomes the new and definitive Temple, the place where God and man, the Creator and his creature, meet.
The episode of the widow's mite fits into this context and leads us, through Jesus' gaze itself, to focus our attention on a transient but crucial detail: the action of the widow, who is very poor and yet puts two coins into the collection box of the Temple treasury. Jesus is saying to us too, just as he said to his disciples that day: Pay attention! Take note of what this widow has done, because her act contains a great teaching; in fact, it expresses the fundamental characteristic of those who are the "living stones" of this new Temple, namely the total gift of themselves to the Lord and to their neighbour; the widow of the Gospel, and likewise the widow in the Old Testament, gives everything, gives herself, putting herself in God's hands for others. This is the everlasting meaning of the poor widow's offering which Jesus praises; for she has given more than the rich, who offer part of what is superfluous to them, whereas she gave all that she had to live on (cf. Mc 12,44), hence she gave herself.
Dear friends, starting with this Gospel icon I would like to meditate briefly on the mystery of the Church, the living Temple of God, and thereby pay homage to the memory of the great Pope Paul VI who dedicated his entire life to the Church. The Church is a real spiritual organism that prolongs in space and time the sacrifice of the Son of God, an apparently insignificant sacrifice in comparison with the dimensions of the world and of history but in God's eyes crucial. As the Letter to the Hebrews says and also the text we have just heard Jesus' sacrifice offered "once" sufficed for God to save the whole world (cf. He 9,26), because all the Love of the Son of God made man is condensed in that single oblation, just as all the widow's love for God and for her brethren is concentrated in this woman's action; nothing is lacking and there is nothing to add. The Church, which is ceaselessly born from the Eucharist, from Jesus' gift of self, is the continuation of this gift, this superabundance which is expressed in poverty, in the all that is offered in the fragment. It is Christ's Body that is given entirely, a body broken and shared in constant adherence to the will of its Head.
I am glad that guided by your Bishop's Pastoral Letter you are examining in depth the Eucharistic nature of the Church, this Church which the Servant of God Paul VI loved passionately and sought with all his might to make understood and loved. Let us reread his Pensiero alla morte, the part where, in the last section, he speaks of the Church. " I could say", he writes, "that I have always loved her... and that it seems to me I have lived for her and for nothing else; but I would like the Church to know it". These are the accents of a palpitating heart and he continues: "Lastly, I would like to understand her fully, in her history, in her divine plan, in her final destiny, in her complex, total and unitary composition, in her human and imperfect consistence, in her adversities and her sufferings, in her weakness and in the wretchedness of so many of her children, in her less sympathetic aspects and in her eternal aspiration to fidelity, love, perfection and charity. The Mystical Body of Christ". "I would like", the Pope continues, "to embrace, greet her and love her in every being of whom she is made up, in every Bishop and priest who serves and guides her, in every soul who lives and illustrates her; I would like to bless her". Moreover, his last words were to her, as to the bride of his whole life: "And what shall I say to the Church, to whom I owe everything and whom was mine? May God's Blessings be upon you; may you be aware of your nature and your mission; may you have a sense of humanity's true and profound needs; and walk in poverty, in other words free, strong and in love with Christ".
What can be added to such lofty and intense words? I would just like to underline this last vision of the Church "poor and free" which evokes the Gospel figure of the widow. If it is to succeed in speaking to contemporary humanity the ecclesial community must be like this. Giovanni Battista Montini had particularly at heart the Church's encounter and dialogue with the humanity of our time in all the seasons of his life, from the early years of his priesthood until the Pontificate. He dedicated all his energy to serving a Church which would conform as closely as possible to his Lord Jesus Christ so that in encountering her contemporary men and women might encounter him, Christ, because their need for him is absolute. This was the basic desire of the Second Vatican Council with which Paul VI's reflection on the Church corresponds. He wanted to expound programmatically on some of her salient points in his first Encyclical, Ecclesiam Suam of 6 August 1964, at a time when the conciliar Constitutions Lumen gentium and Gaudium et spes had not yet been written.
With that first Encyclical the Pontiff sought to explain to all the Church's importance for humanity's salvation and, at the same time, the need to establish a relationship based on mutual knowledge and love between the ecclesial community and society (cf. Enchiridion Vaticanum 2 p. 199, 164)."Conscience", "renewal", "dialogue"; these were the three words that Paul VI chose to express his principal "policies", as he himself describes them at the beginning of his Petrine ministry, and all three concern the Church. First of all comes the need for her to increase her self-awareness: of her origins, nature, mission and final destiny; secondly, comes her need to renew herself, to cleanse herself by looking at her model, Christ. Lastly there is the problem of establishing relations with the modern world (cf. ibid ., pp. 203-205,166-168). Dear friends and I am addressing in a special way my Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood how can we fail to see concerning the Church, the need for her in the plan of salvation and her relationship with the world that is still absolutely central today? And, indeed, that the developments of secularization and globalization have made it even more essential, in the confrontation on the one hand with the disregard for God and on the other with the non-Christian religions? Pope Montini's reflection on the Church is more timely than ever; and even more valuable is his exemplary love for her, inseparable from his love for Christ. "The mystery of the Church", we read once again in the Encyclical Ecclesiam suam, "is not to be confined to the realms of speculative theology. It must be lived, so that the faithful may have a kind of intuitive experience of it, even before they come to understand it clearly" (ibid., n. 37). This presupposes a robust inner life which, the Pope continues, is thus "the richest source of the Church's spiritual strength. It is the means, peculiarly its own, whereby the Church receives the sunlight of Christ's Spirit. It is the Church's natural and necessary way of expressing her religious and social activity, her surest defence and the cause of her constant renewal of strength amid the difficulties of the secular world" (cf. ibid., n. 38). It is precisely the Christian who is open, the Church open to the world, that need a robust inner life.
Dear friends what an invaluable gift for the Church the lesson of the Servant of God Paul VI is! And how exciting it is, every time, to learn from him! It is a lesson that concerns all and involves all in accordance with the various gifts and ministries with which the action of the Holy Spirit has enriched the People of God. In this Year for Priests I would like to stress how this lesson concerns and involves priests in particular, for whom Pope Montini always reserved special affection and concern. In his Encyclical on priestly celibacy he wrote: ""Laid hold of by Christ' unto the complete abandonment of one's entire self to him, the priest takes on a closer likeness to Christ, even in the love with which the eternal Priest has loved the Church his Body and offered himself entirely for her sake.... In fact "the consecrated celibacy of the sacred ministers manifests the virginal love of Christ for the Church and above all the virginal and supernatural fecundity of this marriage" (Sacerdotalis caelibatus, n. 26). I dedicate the great Pope's words to the many priests of the Diocese of Brescia, well represented here, as well as to the young men in formation at the Seminary. And I would also like to recall the words that Paul VI addressed to the students at the Lombard Seminary on 7 December 1968, when the difficulties of the post-conciliar period had to contend with the ferment in the world of youth: "So many", he said, "expect of the Pope sensational work, energetic and decisive interventions. The Pope does not consider he should follow any other line than that of trust in Jesus Christ, whose concern for his Church is greater than for anyone else. It will be he who rides out the storm.... This expectation is neither sterile nor inert; rather, it is attentive watching in prayer. This is the condition Jesus chose for us so that he might fully carry out his work. The Pope too needs the help of prayer" (Insegnamenti VI, , 1189). Dear Brothers and Sisters, may the priestly example of the Servant of God Giovanni Battista Montini always guide you, and may St Arcangelo Tadini whom I have just venerated during my brief stop at Botticino intercede for you.
While I greet and encourage the priests, I cannot forget, especially here in Brescia, the lay faithful in this region who have shown extraordinary vitality in their faith and actions, in the various fields of the associated apostolate and of social commitment. In the Insegnamenti of Paul VI, dear friends of Brescia, you can find ever precious instructions for facing the challenges of the present time including, above all, the financial crisis, immigration and the education of youth. At the same time, Pope Montini did not miss an opportunity to underline the primacy of the contemplative dimension, in other words the primacy of God in human experience and therefore never tired of promoting the consecrated life in the variety of its aspects. He deeply loved the many-facetted beauty of the Church, recognizing in it the infinite beauty of God which shines on Christ's Face.
Let us pray that the brightness of divine beauty may be resplendent in all our communities and that the Church may be a luminous sign of hope for humanity in the third millennium. May Mary, whom at the end of the Second Vatican Council, Paul VI wished to proclaim Mother of the Church, obtain this grace for us. Amen!
Benedict XVI Homilies 41009