Benedict XVI Homilies 23105
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Presbyterate,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The month of November draws its special spiritual tone from the two days with which it opens: the Solemnity of All Saints and the Commemoration of all the faithful departed. The mystery of the communion of saints illumines this month and the whole of the last part of the liturgical year in particular, directing our meditation to the earthly destiny of man in the light of Christ's Pasch.
In it is founded that hope which, as St Paul said, is such that it "will not leave us disappointed" (cf. Rm 5,5). Today's celebration fits into this very context in which faith sublimates sentiments deeply engraved into the human soul.
The great family of the Church finds in these days a time of grace and lives them, in accordance with her vocation, gathered closely around the Lord in prayer and offering his redeeming Sacrifice for the repose of the deceased faithful. Today, we offer it especially for the Cardinals and Bishops who have departed from us in this past year.
For a long time I was a member of the College of Cardinals, of which I was Dean for two and a half years. I therefore feel particularly attached to this special community over which I also had the honour to preside during the unforgettable days that followed the departure of the beloved Pope John Paul II.
Among the other shining examples he left us, his most precious is that of prayer, and at this time we are also piecing together his spiritual heritage, aware that his intercession continues even more intensely from Heaven.
In the past 12 months, five venerable Brother Cardinals have passed to "the other bank": Juan Carlos Aramburu, Jan Pieter Schotte, Corrado Bafile, Jaime Sin and, less than a month ago, Giuseppe Caprio. Today, together with their souls, let us entrust to the Lord the souls of the Archbishops and Bishops who have ended their earthly lives in the same period. Together, let us raise our prayers for each one of them, in the light of God's words to us in this Liturgy.
The passage from the Book of Sirach contains first of all an exhortation to constancy in trial, hence, an invitation to trust in God. To men and women who are passing through the vicissitudes of life, Wisdom recommends: "Cling to him [the Lord], forsake him not; thus will your future be great" (Si 2,3).
Those who place themselves at the Lord's service and spend their lives in the ecclesial ministry are not exempt from trials; on the contrary, the trials are even more insidious, as the experience of the saints shows.
However, living in fear of God sets the heart free from any fear and immerses it into the abyss of his love. "You who fear the Lord, trust him... hope for good things, for lasting joy and mercy" (Si 2,8-9).
This invitation to trust is directly linked to the beginning of the passage of John's Gospel just proclaimed: "Do not let your hearts be troubled", Jesus said to the Apostles at the Last Supper. "Have faith in God and have faith also in me" (Jn 14,1). The human heart, ever restless until it finds a safe landing place in its wanderings, here at last reaches the solid rock where it can stop and rest.
Those who trust in Jesus place their trust in God himself. In fact, Jesus is true Man, but we can have complete and unconditional faith in him because, as he himself said to Philip a little later, he is in the Father and the Father is in him (cf. Jn 14,10). In this, God truly came to meet our needs.
We human beings need a friend, a brother who takes us by the hand and accompanies us to the "Father's house" (Jn 14,2); we need someone who knows the way well. And God, with his "super-abundant" love for us (cf. Ep 2,4), sent his Son not only to point it out to us but to become himself "the way" (Jn 14,6).
"No one comes to the Father but through me" (Jn 14,6), Jesus says. That "no one" admits no exceptions: indeed, it matches another word that Jesus also said at the Last Supper when, offering the cup, he said: "This is my blood, the blood of the covenant, to be poured out on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins" (Mt 26,28).
There are also "many places" in the Father's house, in the sense that with God there is room for "all" (cf. Jn 14,2). Jesus is the way open to "all"; there are no others. And what seem to be "other" ways, lead to him if they are authentic, or else they do not lead to life. Therefore, in sending his Only-begotten Son, the Father offered humanity a gift that is priceless.
This gift implies a responsibility which is all the greater, the closer the relationship with Jesus is that derives from it. "When much has been given a man", the Lord says, "much will be required of him. More will be asked of a man to whom more has been entrusted" (Lc 12,48).
For this reason, while we thank God for all the benefits that he has bestowed upon our deceased Brothers, let us offer for them the merits of the passion and death of Christ, so that they may fill the gaps due to human frailty.
The Responsorial Psalm (Ps 122 ) and the second reading (1Jn 3,1-2) enlarge our hearts with the wonder of hope to which we have been called. The Psalmist makes us sing this Psalm as a hymn to Jerusalem, asking us to imitate in spirit the pilgrims who "go up" to the Holy City and after a long climb, arrive full of joy at its gates: "I rejoiced because they said to me, "We will go up to the house of the Lord'. And now we have set foot within your gates, O Jerusalem" (Ps 122,1-2 : 1-2).
The Apostle John, in his First Letter, expresses this joy, communicating to us the certainty, full of gratitude, that we have become children of God and at the same time, the expectation of the full manifestation of this reality: "We are God's children now; what we shall later be has not yet come to light... when it comes to light we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is" (1Jn 3,2).
Venerable and dear Brothers, with our minds turned to this mystery of salvation, let us offer the divine Eucharist for the Cardinals and Prelates who have recently preceded us in the last journey, to eternal life. Let us invoke the intercession of St Peter and of the Blessed Virgin Mary in order that they welcome them to the Father's house, in the trusting hope that we will one day be able to join them, to enjoy the fullness of life and peace. Amen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
With the celebration of First Vespers of the First Sunday in Advent we are beginning a new liturgical year. In singing the Psalms together, we have raised our hearts to God, placing ourselves in the spiritual attitude that marks this season of grace: "vigilance in prayer" and "exultation in praise" (cf. Roman Missal, Advent Preface, II/A).
Taking as our model Mary Most Holy, who teaches us to live by devoutly listening to the Word of God, let us reflect on the short Bible Reading just proclaimed.
It consists of two verses contained in the concluding part of the First Letter of St Paul to the Thessalonians (2Th 5,23-24). The first expresses the Apostle's greeting to the community: the second offers, as it were, the guarantee of its fulfilment.
The hope expressed is that each one may be made holy by God and preserved irreproachable in his entire person - "spirit, soul and body" - for the final coming of the Lord Jesus; the guarantee that this can happen is offered by the faithfulness of God himself, who will not fail to bring to completion the work he has begun in believers.
This First Letter to the Thessalonians is the first of all St Paul's Letters, written probably in the year 51. In this first Letter we can feel, more than in the others, the Apostle's pulsating heart, his paternal, indeed we can say maternal, love for this new community. And we also feel his anxious concern that the faith of this new Church not die, surrounded as she was by a cultural context in many regards in opposition to the faith.
Thus, Paul ends his Letter with a hope, or we might almost say with a prayer. The content of the prayer we have heard is that they [the Thessalonians] should be holy and irreproachable to the moment of the Lord's coming. The central word of this prayer is "coming". We should ask ourselves what does "coming of the Lord" mean? In Greek it is "parousia", in Latin "adventus", "advent", "coming". What is this "coming"? Does it involve us or not?
To understand the meaning of this word, hence, of the Apostle's prayer for this community and for communities of all times - also for us - we must look at the person through whom the coming of the Lord was uniquely brought about: the Virgin Mary.
Mary belonged to that part of the People of Israel who in Jesus' time were waiting with heartfelt expectation for the Saviour's coming. And from the words and acts recounted in the Gospel, we can see how she truly lived steeped in the Prophets' words; she entirely expected the Lord's coming.
She could not, however, have imagined how this coming would be brought about. Perhaps she expected a coming in glory. The moment when the Archangel Gabriel entered her house and told her that the Lord, the Saviour, wanted to take flesh in her, wanted to bring about his coming through her, must have been all the more surprising to her.
We can imagine the Virgin's apprehension. Mary, with a tremendous act of faith and obedience, said "yes": "I am the servant of the Lord". And so it was that she became the "dwelling place" of the Lord, a true "temple" in the world and a "door" through which the Lord entered upon the earth.
We have said that this coming was unique: "the" coming of the Lord. Yet there is not only the final coming at the end of time: in a certain sense the Lord always wants to come through us. And he knocks at the door of our hearts: are you willing to give me your flesh, your time, your life?
This is the voice of the Lord who also wants to enter our epoch, he wants to enter human life through us. He also seeks a living dwelling place in our personal lives. This is the coming of the Lord. Let us once again learn this in the season of Advent: the Lord can also come among us.
Therefore we can say that this prayer, this hope, expressed by the Apostle, contains a fundamental truth that he seeks to inculcate in the faithful of the community he founded and that we can sum up as follows: God calls us to communion with him, which will be completely fulfilled in the return of Christ, and he himself strives to ensure that we will arrive prepared for this final and decisive encounter. The future is, so to speak, contained in the present, or better, in the presence of God himself, who in his unfailing love does not leave us on our own or abandon us even for an instant, just as a father and mother never stop caring for their children while they are growing up.
Before Christ who comes, men and women are defined in the whole of their being, which the Apostle sums up in the words "spirit, soul and body", thereby indicating the whole of the human person as a unit with somatic, psychic and spiritual dimensions. Sanctification is God's gift and his project, but human beings are called to respond with their entire being without excluding any part of themselves.
It is the Holy Spirit himself who formed in the Virgin's womb Jesus, the perfect Man, who brings God's marvellous plan to completion in the human person, first of all by transforming the heart and from this centre, all the rest.
Thus, the entire work of creation and redemption which God, Father and Son and Holy Spirit, continues to bring about, from the beginning to the end of the cosmos and of history, is summed up in every individual person. And since the first coming of Christ is at the centre of the history of humanity and at its end, his glorious return, so every personal existence is called to be measured against him - in a mysterious and multiform way - during the earthly pilgrimage, in order to be found "in him" at the moment of his return.
May Mary Most Holy, the faithful Virgin, guide us to make this time of Advent and of the whole new liturgical year a path of genuine sanctification, to the praise and glory of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Pope Paul VI solemnly concluded the Second Vatican Council in the square in front of St Peter's Basilica 40 years ago, on 8 December 1965. It had been inaugurated, in accordance with John XXIII's wishes, on 11 October 1962, which was then the Feast of Mary's Motherhood, and ended on the day of the Immaculate Conception.
The Council took place in a Marian setting. It was actually far more than a setting: it was the orientation of its entire process.
It refers us, as it referred the Council Fathers at that time, to the image of the Virgin who listens and lives in the Word of God, who cherishes in her heart the words that God addresses to her and, piecing them together like a mosaic, learns to understand them (cf. Lc 2,19 Lc 2,51).
It refers us to the great Believer who, full of faith, put herself in God's hands, abandoning herself to his will; it refers us to the humble Mother who, when the Son's mission so required, became part of it, and at the same time, to the courageous woman who stood beneath the Cross while the disciples fled.
In his Discourse on the occasion of the promulgation of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Paul VI described Mary as "tutrix huius Concilii" - "Patroness of this Council" (cf. Oecumenicum Concilium Vaticanum II, Constitutiones Decreta Declarationes, Vatican City, 1966, p. 983) and, with an unmistakable allusion to the account of Pentecost transmitted by Luke (cf. Ac 1,12-14), said that the Fathers were gathered in the Council Hall "cum Maria, Matre Iesu" and would also have left it in her name (p. 985).
Indelibly printed in my memory is the moment when, hearing his words: "Mariam Sanctissimam declaramus Matrem Ecclesiae" - "We declare Mary the Most Holy Mother of the Church", the Fathers spontaneously rose at once and paid homage to the Mother of God, to our Mother, to the Mother of the Church, with a standing ovation.
Indeed, with this title the Pope summed up the Marian teaching of the Council and provided the key to understanding it. Not only does Mary have a unique relationship with Christ, the Son of God who, as man, chose to become her Son. Since she was totally united to Christ, she also totally belongs to us. Yes, we can say that Mary is close to us as no other human being is, because Christ becomes man for all men and women and his entire being is "being here for us".
Christ, the Fathers said, as the Head, is inseparable from his Body which is the Church, forming with her, so to speak, a single living subject. The Mother of the Head is also the Mother of all the Church; she is, so to speak, totally emptied of herself; she has given herself entirely to Christ and with him is given as a gift to us all. Indeed, the more the human person gives himself, the more he finds himself.
The Council intended to tell us this: Mary is so interwoven in the great mystery of the Church that she and the Church are inseparable, just as she and Christ are inseparable. Mary mirrors the Church, anticipates the Church in her person, and in all the turbulence that affects the suffering, struggling Church she always remains the Star of salvation. In her lies the true centre in which we trust, even if its peripheries very often weigh on our soul.
In the context of the promulgation of the Constitution on the Church, Paul VI shed light on all this through a new title deeply rooted in Tradition, precisely with the intention of illuminating the inner structure of the Church's teaching, which was developed at the Council. The Second Vatican Council had to pronounce on the institutional components of the Church: on the Bishops and on the Pontiff, on the priests, lay people and Religious, in their communion and in their relations; it had to describe the Church journeying on, "clasping sinners to her bosom, at once holy and always in need of purification..." (Lumen Gentium LG 8).
This "Petrine" aspect of the Church, however, is included in that "Marian" aspect. In Mary, the Immaculate, we find the essence of the Church without distortion. We ourselves must learn from her to become "ecclesial souls", as the Fathers said, so that we too may be able, in accordance with St Paul's words, to present ourselves "blameless" in the sight of the Lord, as he wanted us from the very beginning (cf. Col 1,21 Ep 1,4).
But now we must ask ourselves: What does "Mary, the Immaculate" mean? Does this title have something to tell us? Today, the liturgy illuminates the content of these words for us in two great images.
First of all comes the marvellous narrative of the annunciation of the Messiah's coming to Mary, the Virgin of Nazareth. The Angel's greeting is interwoven with threads from the Old Testament, especially from the Prophet Zephaniah. He shows that Mary, the humble provincial woman who comes from a priestly race and bears within her the great priestly patrimony of Israel, is "the holy remnant" of Israel to which the prophets referred in all the periods of trial and darkness.
In her is present the true Zion, the pure, living dwelling-place of God. In her the Lord dwells, in her he finds the place of his repose. She is the living house of God, who does not dwell in buildings of stone but in the heart of living man. She is the shoot which sprouts from the stump of David in the dark winter night of history. In her, the words of the Psalm are fulfilled: "The earth has yielded its fruits" (Ps 67,7).
She is the offshoot from which grew the tree of redemption and of the redeemed. God has not failed, as it might have seemed formerly at the beginning of history with Adam and Eve or during the period of the Babylonian Exile, and as it seemed anew in Mary's time when Israel had become a people with no importance in an occupied region and with very few recognizable signs of its holiness.
God did not fail. In the humility of the house in Nazareth lived holy Israel, the pure remnant. God saved and saves his people. From the felled tree trunk Israel's history shone out anew, becoming a living force that guides and pervades the world.
Mary is holy Israel: she says "yes" to the Lord, she puts herself totally at his disposal and thus becomes the living temple of God.
The second image is much more difficult and obscure. This metaphor from the Book of Genesis speaks to us from a great historical distance and can only be explained with difficulty; only in the course of history has it been possible to develop a deeper understanding of what it refers to.
It was foretold that the struggle between humanity and the serpent, that is, between man and the forces of evil and death, would continue throughout history.
It was also foretold, however, that the "offspring" of a woman would one day triumph and would crush the head of the serpent to death; it was foretold that the offspring of the woman - and in this offspring the woman and the mother herself - would be victorious and that thus, through man, God would triumph.
If we set ourselves with the believing and praying Church to listen to this text, then we can begin to understand what original sin, inherited sin, is and also what the protection against this inherited sin is, what redemption is.
What picture does this passage show us? The human being does not trust God. Tempted by the serpent, he harbours the suspicion that in the end, God takes something away from his life, that God is a rival who curtails our freedom and that we will be fully human only when we have cast him aside; in brief, that only in this way can we fully achieve our freedom.
The human being lives in the suspicion that God's love creates a dependence and that he must rid himself of this dependency if he is to be fully himself. Man does not want to receive his existence and the fullness of his life from God.
He himself wants to obtain from the tree of knowledge the power to shape the world, to make himself a god, raising himself to God's level, and to overcome death and darkness with his own efforts. He does not want to rely on love that to him seems untrustworthy; he relies solely on his own knowledge since it confers power upon him. Rather than on love, he sets his sights on power, with which he desires to take his own life autonomously in hand. And in doing so, he trusts in deceit rather than in truth and thereby sinks with his life into emptiness, into death.
Love is not dependence but a gift that makes us live. The freedom of a human being is the freedom of a limited being, and therefore is itself limited. We can possess it only as a shared freedom, in the communion of freedom: only if we live in the right way, with one another and for one another, can freedom develop.
We live in the right way if we live in accordance with the truth of our being, and that is, in accordance with God's will. For God's will is not a law for the human being imposed from the outside and that constrains him, but the intrinsic measure of his nature, a measure that is engraved within him and makes him the image of God, hence, a free creature.
If we live in opposition to love and against the truth - in opposition to God - then we destroy one another and destroy the world. Then we do not find life but act in the interests of death. All this is recounted with immortal images in the history of the original fall of man and the expulsion of man from the earthly Paradise.
Dear brothers and sisters, if we sincerely reflect about ourselves and our history, we have to say that with this narrative is described not only the history of the beginning but the history of all times, and that we all carry within us a drop of the poison of that way of thinking, illustrated by the images in the Book of Genesis.
We call this drop of poison "original sin". Precisely on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, we have a lurking suspicion that a person who does not sin must really be basically boring and that something is missing from his life: the dramatic dimension of being autonomous; that the freedom to say no, to descend into the shadows of sin and to want to do things on one's own is part of being truly human; that only then can we make the most of all the vastness and depth of our being men and women, of being truly ourselves; that we should put this freedom to the test, even in opposition to God, in order to become, in reality, fully ourselves.
In a word, we think that evil is basically good, we think that we need it, at least a little, in order to experience the fullness of being. We think that Mephistopheles - the tempter - is right when he says he is the power "that always wants evil and always does good" (J.W. von Goethe, Faust I, 3). We think that a little bargaining with evil, keeping for oneself a little freedom against God, is basically a good thing, perhaps even necessary.
If we look, however, at the world that surrounds us we can see that this is not so; in other words, that evil is always poisonous, does not uplift human beings but degrades and humiliates them. It does not make them any the greater, purer or wealthier, but harms and belittles them.
This is something we should indeed learn on the day of the Immaculate Conception: the person who abandons himself totally in God's hands does not become God's puppet, a boring "yes man"; he does not lose his freedom. Only the person who entrusts himself totally to God finds true freedom, the great, creative immensity of the freedom of good.
The person who turns to God does not become smaller but greater, for through God and with God he becomes great, he becomes divine, he becomes truly himself. The person who puts himself in God's hands does not distance himself from others, withdrawing into his private salvation; on the contrary, it is only then that his heart truly awakens and he becomes a sensitive, hence, benevolent and open person.
The closer a person is to God, the closer he is to people. We see this in Mary. The fact that she is totally with God is the reason why she is so close to human beings.
For this reason she can be the Mother of every consolation and every help, a Mother whom anyone can dare to address in any kind of need in weakness and in sin, for she has understanding for everything and is for everyone the open power of creative goodness.
In her, God has impressed his own image, the image of the One who follows the lost sheep even up into the mountains and among the briars and thornbushes of the sins of this world, letting himself be spiked by the crown of thorns of these sins in order to take the sheep on his shoulders and bring it home.
As a merciful Mother, Mary is the anticipated figure and everlasting portrait of the Son. Thus, we see that the image of the Sorrowful Virgin, of the Mother who shares her suffering and her love, is also a true image of the Immaculate Conception. Her heart was enlarged by being and feeling together with God. In her, God's goodness came very close to us.
Mary thus stands before us as a sign of comfort, encouragement and hope. She turns to us, saying: "Have the courage to dare with God! Try it! Do not be afraid of him! Have the courage to risk with faith! Have the courage to risk with goodness! Have the courage to risk with a pure heart! Commit yourselves to God, then you will see that it is precisely by doing so that your life will become broad and light, not boring but filled with infinite surprises, for God's infinite goodness is never depleted!".
On this Feast Day, let us thank the Lord for the great sign of his goodness which he has given us in Mary, his Mother and the Mother of the Church. Let us pray to him to put Mary on our path like a light that also helps us to become a light and to carry this light into the nights of history. Amen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
It really is a great joy for me to be with you this morning and to celebrate Holy Mass with you and for you. Indeed, my Visit to Santa Maria Consolatrice, the first Roman parish I have been to since the Lord wished to summon me to be Bishop of Rome, is for me, in a very real and concrete sense, a return home.
I remember very well that 15 October 1977 on which I took possession of this titular church of mine. Fr Ennio Appignanesi was parish priest and Fr Enrico Pomili and Fr Franco Camaldo were the parochial vicars. The master of ceremonies assigned to me was Mons. Piero Marini. Well, here we all are together again! This is truly a great joy to me.
Since then, our reciprocal bond has grown gradually stronger and deeper. It is a bond in the Lord Jesus Christ, whose Eucharistic Sacrifice I have so often celebrated and whose Sacraments I have so often administered in this church. It is a bond of affection and friendship that truly warmed my heart and still warms it today. It is a bond that has bound me to you all, and especially to your parish priest and the other priests of the parish. It is a bond that did not weaken when I became titular Cardinal of the suburbicarian Diocese of Velletri-Segni; a bond that has acquired a new and deeper dimension because I am now Bishop of Rome and your Bishop.
Moreover, I am particularly glad that my visit today, as Fr Enrico has already said, is taking place in the year in which you are celebrating the 60th anniversary of your parish, the 50th anniversary of the ordination to the priesthood of our beloved parish priest, Mons. Enrico Pomili, and lastly, the 25th anniversary of the episcopal ordination of Archbishop Ennio Appignanesi. It is a year, therefore, in which we have special reasons for thanking the Lord.
I now greet with affection Mons. Enrico himself and thank him for his very kind words to me. I greet Cardinal Camillo Ruini, Vicar, Cardinal Ricardo Marķa Carles Gordņ, titular of this church, hence, my successor to this Title, Cardinal Giovanni Canestri, formerly your deeply loved parish priest, Archbishop Luigi Moretti, Vicegerent and Bishop of the Eastern Sector of Rome; we have already greeted Archbishop Ennio Appignanesi, your former parish priest, and Bishop Massimo Giustetti, your former parochial vicar.
I extend an affectionate greeting to your current parochial vicars and to the women religious of Santa Maria Consolatrice. They have been in Casalbertone since 1932 as precious collaborators of the parish and true messengers of mercy and consolation in this neighbourhood, especially for the poor and for children. With the same sentiments, I greet each one of you, all the families in the parish and all who, in their various capacities, work in the parish services.
Let us now meditate briefly on the most beautiful Gospel of this Fourth Sunday of Advent, which for me is one of the loveliest passages of Sacred Scripture. And so as not to take too long, I would like to reflect on only three words from this rich Gospel.
The first word on which I would like to meditate with you is the Angel's greeting to Mary. In the Italian translation the Angel says: "Hail, Mary". But the Greek word below, "Kaire", means in itself "be glad" or "rejoice".
And here is the first surprising thing: the greeting among the Jews was "Shalom", "peace", whereas the greeting of the Greek world was "Kaire", "be glad". It is surprising that the Angel, on entering Mary's house, should have greeted her with the greeting of the Greeks: "Kaire", "be glad, rejoice". And when, 40 years later, the Greeks had read this Gospel, they were able to see an important message in it: they realized that the beginning of the New Testament, to which this passage from Luke referred, was bringing openness to the world of peoples and to the universality of the People of God, which by then included not only the Jewish people but also the world in its totality, all peoples. The new universality of the Kingdom of the true son of David appears in this Greek greeting of the Angel.
However, it is appropriate to point out straightaway that the Angel's words took up a prophetic promise that is found in the Book of the Prophet Zephaniah. We find the same greeting almost literally. Inspired by God, the Prophet Zephaniah says to Israel: "Shout for joy, O daughter Zion!... the Lord [is with you and] is in your midst". We know that Mary was very familiar with the Sacred Scriptures. Her Magnificat is a fabric woven of threads from the Old Testament. We may thus be certain that the Blessed Virgin understood straightaway that these were the words of the Prophet Zephaniah addressed to Israel, to the "daughter Zion", considered as a dwelling place of God. And now the surprising thing, which must have given Mary food for thought, is that these words, addressed to all Israel, were being specifically addressed to her, Mary. And thus, it must clearly have appeared to her that she herself was the "daughter Zion" of whom the Prophet spoke, and that the Lord, therefore, had a special intention for her, that she was called to be the true dwelling place of God, a dwelling place not built of stones but of living flesh, of a living heart, that God was really intending to take her, the Virgin, as his own true temple. What an intention! And as a result, we can understand that Mary began to think with special intensity about what this greeting meant.
However, let us now reflect in particular on the first word: "Rejoice, be glad". This is the first word that resounds in the New Testament as such, because the Angel's announcement to Zechariah of the birth of John the Baptist is the word that still rings out on the threshold between the two Testaments. It is only with this dialogue which the Angel Gabriel has with Mary that the New Testament really begins. We can therefore say that the first word of the New Testament is an invitation to joy: "rejoice, be glad!". The New Testament is truly "Gospel", the "Good News" that brings us joy. God is not remote from us, unknown, enigmatic or perhaps dangerous. God is close to us, so close that he makes himself a child and we can informally address this God.
It was the Greek world above all that grasped this innovation, that felt this joy deeply, for it had been unclear to the Greeks whether there was a good God, a wicked God or simply no God. Religion at that time spoke to them of so many divinities: therefore, they had felt they were surrounded by very different divinities that were opposed to one another; thus, they were afraid that if they did something for one of these divinities, another might be offended and seek revenge.
So it was that they lived in a world of fear, surrounded by dangerous demons, never knowing how to save themselves from these forces in conflict with one another. It was a world of fear, a dark world. Then they heard: "Rejoice, these demons are nothing; the true God exists and this true God is good, he loves us, he knows us, he is with us, with us even to the point that he took on flesh!".
This is the great joy that Christianity proclaims. Knowing this God is truly "Good News", a word of redemption.
Perhaps we Catholics who have always known it are no longer surprised and no longer feel this liberating joy keenly. However, if we look at today's world where God is absent, we cannot but note that it is also dominated by fears and uncertainties: is it good to be a person or not? Is it good to be alive or not? Is it truly a good to exist? Or might everything be negative? And they really live in a dark world, they need anaesthetics to be able to live. Thus, the words: "Rejoice, because God is with you, he is with us", are words that truly open a new epoch. Dear friends, with an act of faith we must once again accept and understand in the depths of our hearts this liberating word: "Rejoice!".
We cannot keep solely for ourselves this joy that we have received; joy must always be shared. Joy must be communicated. Mary went without delay to communicate her joy to her cousin Elizabeth. And ever since her Assumption into Heaven she has showered joy upon the whole world, she has become the great Consoler: our Mother who communicates joy, trust and kindness and also invites us to spread joy. This is the real commitment of Advent: to bring joy to others. Joy is the true gift of Christmas, not expensive presents that demand time and money.
We can transmit this joy simply: with a smile, with a kind gesture, with some small help, with forgiveness. Let us give this joy and the joy given will be returned to us. Let us seek in particular to communicate the deepest joy, that of knowing God in Christ. Let us pray that this presence of God's liberating joy will shine out in our lives.
The second word on which I would like to meditate is another word of the Angel's: "Do not fear, Mary", he says. In fact, there was reason for her to fear, for it was a great burden to bear the weight of the world upon herself, to be the Mother of the universal King, to be the Mother of the Son of God: what a burden that was! It was too heavy a burden for human strength to bear! But the Angel said: "Do not fear! Yes, you are carrying God, but God is carrying you. Do not fear!".
These words, "Do not fear", must have deeply penetrated Mary's heart. We can imagine how in various situations the Virgin must have pondered on those words, she must have heard them again.
At the moment when Simeon said to her: "This child is destined to be the downfall and the rise of many in Israel, a sign that will be opposed - and you yourself will be pierced with a sword", at that very moment in which she might have succumbed to fear, Mary returned to the Angel's words and felt their echo within her: "Do not fear, God is carrying you". Then, when contradictions were unleashed against Jesus during his public life and many said, "He is crazy", she thought once again of the Angel's words in her heart; "Do not fear", and went ahead. Lastly, in the encounter on the way to Calvary and then under the Cross, when all seemed to be destroyed, she again heard the Angel's words in her heart: "Do not fear". Hence, she stood courageously beside her dying Son and, sustained by faith, moved towards the Resurrection, towards Pentecost, towards the foundation of the new family of the Church.
"Do not fear": Mary also addresses these words to us. I have already pointed out that this world of ours is a world of fear: the fear of misery and poverty, the fear of illness and suffering, the fear of solitude, the fear of death. We have in this world a widely developed insurance system; it is good that it exists. But we know that at the moment of deep suffering, at the moment of the ultimate loneliness of death, no insurance policy will be able to protect us. The only valid insurance in those moments is the one that comes to us from the Lord, who also assures us: "Do not fear, I am always with you". We can fall, but in the end we fall into God's hands, and God's hands are good hands.
The third word: at the end of the colloquium, Mary answered the Angel, "I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be done to me as you say". Thus, Mary anticipated the "Our Father's" third invocation: "Your will be done". She said "yes" to God's great will, a will apparently too great for a human being; Mary said "yes" to this divine will, she placed herself within this will, placed her whole life with a great "yes" within God's will, and thus opened the world's door to God.
Adam and Eve, with their "no" to God's will, had closed this door. "Let God's will be done": Mary invites us too to say this "yes" which sometimes seems so difficult. We are tempted to prefer our own will, but she tells us: "Be brave, you too say: "Your will be done', because this will is good". It might at first seem an unbearable burden, a yoke impossible to bear; but in reality, God's will is not a burden, God's will gives us wings to fly high and thus we too can dare, with Mary, to open the door of our lives to God, the doors of this world, by saying "yes" to his will, aware that this will is the true good and leads us to true happiness. Let us pray to Mary, Comfort of the Afflicted, our Mother, the Mother of the Church, to give us the courage to say this "yes" and also to give us this joy of being with God and to lead us to his Son, to true life. Amen!
Benedict XVI Homilies 23105