Benedict XVI Homilies 15106
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today, in this Eucharistic celebration we live the key moment of the Fourth National Convention of the Church in Italy, which is gathered around the Successor of Peter. The heart of every ecclesial event is the Eucharist, in which Christ the Lord draws us together, speaks to us, nourishes and sends us.
The Verona stadium, the place chosen for this solemn liturgy, is significant: it is a place where non-religious rites are usually celebrated, sports events attracting millions of fans.
Today, this space is host to the Risen Jesus, truly present in his Word, in the assembly of the People of God with its Pastors and, in an eminent way, in the Sacrament of his Body and his Blood.
Christ comes today in this modern Areopagus to pour forth his Spirit on the Church in Italy, so that, renewed by his breath in a new Pentecost, she can "communicate the Gospel in a changing world", as proposed by the pastoral directives of the Italian Bishops' Conference for the years 2000-2010.
And you, dear Brother Bishops, with the Presbyters and Deacons, to you, dear delegates of the Dioceses and of lay groups, to you men and women religious and committed laity, I address my most cordial greeting that I extend to those joining us by radio and television.
I greet and spiritually embrace the entire Italian Church, the living Body of Christ. I want to express in a special way my appreciation to those who have worked hard to prepare and organize this Convention: the President of the Italian Bishops' Conference, Cardinal Camillo Ruini; the Secretary General, Mons. Giuseppe Betori, with the collaborators of the various offices; Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi and the other members of the preparatory committee; Bishop Flavio Roberto Carraro of Verona, to whom I am grateful for the kind words he addressed to me at the beginning of the celebration also in the name of this beloved community of Verona that welcomes us. Our esteem also goes to Mister President of the Council of Ministers and the other distinguished Authorities present. Lastly, a cordial thank you to the communications team following the work of this important session of the Church in Italy.
The Bible Reading proclaimed a short time ago illuminates the theme of the Convention: "Witnesses of the Risen Jesus, Hope of the World". The Word of God highlights Christ's Resurrection, an event that has regenerated believers to a lively hope, as the Apostle Peter states at the beginning of his First Letter. This text constitutes the axis underpinning the itinerary of preparations for this great national meeting. As his Successor, I too exclaim with joy: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1P 1,3), because through the Resurrection of his Son he has regenerated us and has given us by faith the invincible hope of eternal life, so that we live in the present always directed towards the goal, which is the final meeting with our Lord and Saviour.
Strengthened by this hope, we are not afraid of trials, which, however painful and heavy, can never impair the profound joy that comes from being loved by God. In his merciful providence, he has given his Son for us and we, even without seeing him, believe in him and love him (cf. 1P 1,3-9). His love is sufficient for us.
Strengthened by this love, firm in faith in the Resurrection of Jesus that builds hope, our Christian witness is born and constantly renewed. It is there that our "Creed" is rooted, the symbol of faith from which the initial preaching was drawn and that continues unaltered to nourish the People of God.
The content of the "kerygma", the proclamation, which constitutes the substance of the entire Gospel message, is Christ, the Son of God made Man, who died and rose for us. His Resurrection is the qualifying mystery of Christianity, the superabundant fulfilment of all salvific promises, also those we have heard in the First Reading taken from the end of the Book of the prophet Isaiah.
From the Risen Christ, the first fruits of the new humanity, regenerated and regenerating, the "poor" people are truly born, as the prophet foretold, who have opened their hearts to the Gospel and have become and always become new "oaks of righteousness", "the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified", rebuilders of ruins, restorers of deserted cities, considered by all as the blessed offshoot of the Lord (cf. Is 61,3-4 Is 61,9).
The mystery of the Resurrection of the Son of God, who, by rising to Heaven is next to the Father, has effused upon us the Holy Spirit and allows us to embrace with a single glance Christ and the Church: the Risen One and the resurrected, the first fruits and the field of God, the cornerstone and the living stones, to use another image from the First Letter of Peter (cf. 1P 2,4-8).
So it happened at the beginning with the first apostolic community, and thus it must be even now.
From the day of Pentecost, in fact, the light of the Risen Lord has transfigured the life of the Apostles. They already had the clear perception of not being simply disciples of a new and interesting doctrine, but witnesses chosen and responsible for a revelation linked to the salvation of their contemporaries and all future generations.
The Paschal faith filled their hearts with ardour and extraordinary zeal, which made them able to face every difficulty and even death, and impressed their words with an irresistible power of persuasion. Hence, a group of people, lacking human resources and strong by their faith alone, fearlessly faced difficult persecution and martyrdom.
The Apostle John writes: "This is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith" (1Jn 5,4). The truth of this affirmation is documented also in Italy by two millennia of Christian history, with the countless testimonies of martyrs, saints and blesseds who have left an indelible mark on every corner of the beautiful Peninsula in which we live. Some of them were recalled at the beginning of the Convention and their faces accompany our work.
Today, we are the heirs of those victorious witnesses! But precisely from this observation the question arises: what is our faith? To what extent are we able to communicate it today?
The certainty that Christ is risen assures us that no opposition can ever destroy the Church. We are heartened also by the awareness that only Christ can fully satisfy the profound longings of every human heart and respond to the most disturbing questions on pain, injustice and evil, on death and the afterlife.
Therefore, our faith is stable, but it is necessary that this faith come alive in each one of us. There is then a vast and capillary effort to be made so that each Christian is transformed into a "witness" ready and able to assume the duty to give a reason to everyone, and always of the hope that is in one (cf. 1P 3,15).
To do this, we must return to proclaiming powerfully and joyfully the event of Christ's death and Resurrection, heart of Christianity, principal fulcrum of our faith, powerful lever of our certainty, impetuous wind that sweeps away every fear and indecision, every doubt and human calculation.
This decisive change in the world can only come from God. Only starting from the Resurrection can the true nature of the Church and her witness be understood, which is not something detached from the Paschal Mystery but rather is a fruit of it, manifested and accomplished by those who, receiving the Holy Spirit, are sent by Christ to take up his very same mission (cf. Jn 20,21-23).
"Witnesses of the Risen Jesus": this definition of the Christian comes directly from the Gospel passage of Luke proclaimed today, but also from the Acts of the Apostles (cf. Ac 1,8 Ac 1,22). Witnesses of the Risen Jesus. That "of" must be well understood! It means that the witness is "of" the Risen Jesus, that is, belonging to him, and exactly as such can render a valid witness to him, can speak about him, make him known, lead to him, transmit his presence.
It is exactly the contrary of what happens with the other expression: "hope of the world". Here the preposition "of" does not at all mean belonging to, because Christ is not of the world, as also Christians must not be of the world.
The hope, which is Christ, is in the world, is for the world, but it is precisely because Christ is God, is "the Holy One" (in Hebrew, Qadosh). Christ is hope for the world because he is risen, and he is risen because he is God.
Christians too can bring hope to the world, because they are of Christ and of God in the measure in which they die with him to sin and rise with him to the new life of love, of forgiveness, of service, of non-violence.
As St Augustine said: "You have believed, you have been baptized: the old life is dead, it was killed on the Cross, buried in Baptism. The old life is buried in which you lived ill at east: may the new life arise" (cf. Sermone Guelf. IX, in M. Pellegrino, Vox Patrum, 177). Only if, like Christ, they are not of the world, can Christians be hope in the world and for the world.
Dear brothers and sisters, my wish, which surely you share, is that the Church in Italy can begin again from this Convention as urged on by the words of the Risen Lord, who repeats to each and every one of you: be witnesses in the world today of my passion and my Resurrection (cf. Lc 24,48).
In a changing world, the Gospel does not alter. The Good News always remains the same: Christ has died and is risen for our salvation! In his Name take the message of conversion and forgiveness for sins to everyone, but be yourselves the first to witness to a converted and forgiven life.
We know well that this is not possible without being "clothed with power from on high" (Lc 24,49), without the interior strength of the Spirit of the Risen One. To receive it, as Jesus told his disciples, one must not leave Jerusalem but must remain in the "city" where the mystery of salvation is consummated, the supreme act of love of God for humanity. One must remain in prayer with Mary, the Mother given to us by Christ from the Cross.
For Christians, citizens of the world, to remain in Jerusalem means none other than to remain in the Church, the "city of God", where one can receive the "unction" [anointing] of the Holy Spirit.
In these days of the National Ecclesial Convention, the Church in Italy, obeying the command of the Risen Lord, is gathered and has relived the original experience of the Upper Room, to receive anew the gift from on High.
Now, consecrated by this "unction", go! Take the happy news to the poor, bandage the wounds of broken hearts, proclaim freedom to the enslaved, liberty to captives, proclaim a year of mercy of the Lord (cf. Is 61,1-2).
Rebuild the ancient ruins, raise up former devastations, repair the deserted cities (cf. Is 61,4). There are many difficult situations that await a resolute intervention! Bring into the world the hope of God, who is Christ the Lord, he who is risen from the dead and lives and reigns for ever and ever.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Our Eucharistic celebration began with the exhortation: "Let us all rejoice in the Lord". The liturgy invites us to share in the heavenly jubilation of the Saints, to taste their joy. The Saints are not a small caste of chosen souls but an innumerable crowd to which the liturgy urges us to raise our eyes. This multitude not only includes the officially recognized Saints, but the baptized of every epoch and nation who sought to carry out the divine will faithfully and lovingly. We are unacquainted with the faces and even the names of many of them, but with the eyes of faith we see them shine in God's firmament like glorious stars.
Today, the Church is celebrating her dignity as "Mother of the Saints, an image of the Eternal City" (A. Manzoni), and displays her beauty as the immaculate Bride of Christ, source and model of all holiness. She certainly does not lack contentious or even rebellious children, but it is in the Saints that she recognizes her characteristic features and precisely in them savours her deepest joy.
In the first reading, the author of the Book of Revelation describes them as "a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues" (Ap 7,9).
This people includes the Saints of the Old Testament, starting with the righteous Abel and the faithful Patriarch, Abraham, those of the New Testament, the numerous early Christian Martyrs and the Blesseds and Saints of later centuries, to the witnesses of Christ in this epoch of ours.
They are all brought together by the common desire to incarnate the Gospel in their lives under the impulse of the Holy Spirit, the life-giving spirit of the People of God.
But "why should our praise and glorification, or even the celebration of this Solemnity, mean anything to the Saints?". A famous homily of St Bernard for All Saints' Day begins with this question. It could equally well be asked today. And the response the Saint offers us is also timely: "The Saints", he says, "have no need of honour from us; neither does our devotion add the slightest thing to what is theirs.... But I tell you, when I think of them, I feel myself inflamed by a tremendous yearning" (Disc. 2, Opera Omnia Cisterc. 5, 364ff.).
This, then, is the meaning of today's Solemnity: looking at the shining example of the Saints to reawaken within us the great longing to be like them; happy to live near God, in his light, in the great family of God's friends. Being a Saint means living close to God, to live in his family. And this is the vocation of us all, vigorously reaffirmed by the Second Vatican Council and solemnly proposed today for our attention.
But how can we become holy, friends of God? We can first give a negative answer to this question: to be a Saint requires neither extraordinary actions or works nor the possession of exceptional charisms. Then comes the positive reply: it is necessary first of all to listen to Jesus and then to follow him without losing heart when faced by difficulties. "If anyone serves me", he warns us, "he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if any one serves me, the Father will honour him" (Jn 12,26).
Like the grain of wheat buried in the earth, those who trust him and love him sincerely accept dying to themselves. Indeed, he knows that whoever seeks to keep his life for himself loses it, and whoever gives himself, loses himself, and in this very way finds life (cf. Jn 12,24-25).
The Church's experience shows that every form of holiness, even if it follows different paths, always passes through the Way of the Cross, the way of self-denial. The Saints' biographies describe men and women who, docile to the divine plan, sometimes faced unspeakable trials and suffering, persecution and martyrdom. They persevered in their commitment: "they... have come out of the great tribulation", one reads in Revelation, "they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" (Ap 7,14). Their names are written in the book of life (cf. Ap 20,12) and Heaven is their eternal dwelling-place.
The example of the Saints encourages us to follow in their same footsteps and to experience the joy of those who trust in God, for the one true cause of sorrow and unhappiness for men and women is to live far from him.
Holiness demands a constant effort, but it is possible for everyone because, rather than a human effort, it is first and foremost a gift of God, thrice Holy (cf. Is 6,3). In the second reading, the Apostle John remarks: "See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are" (1Jn 3,1).
It is God, therefore, who loved us first and made us his adoptive sons in Jesus. Everything in our lives is a gift of his love: how can we be indifferent before such a great mystery? How can we not respond to the Heavenly Father's love by living as grateful children? In Christ, he gave us the gift of his entire self and calls us to a personal and profound relationship with him.
Consequently, the more we imitate Jesus and remain united to him the more we enter into the mystery of his divine holiness. We discover that he loves us infinitely, and this prompts us in turn to love our brethren. Loving always entails an act of self-denial, "losing ourselves", and it is precisely this that makes us happy.
Thus, we have come to the Gospel of this feast, the proclamation of the Beatitudes which we have just heard resound in this Basilica.
Jesus says: Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed those who mourn, the meek; blessed those who hunger and thirst for justice, the merciful; blessed the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted for the sake of justice (cf. Mt 5,3-10).
In truth, the blessed par excellence is only Jesus. He is, in fact, the true poor in spirit, the one afflicted, the meek one, the one hungering and thirsting for justice, the merciful, the pure of heart, the peacemaker. He is the one persecuted for the sake of justice.
The Beatitudes show us the spiritual features of Jesus and thus express his mystery, the mystery of his death and Resurrection, of his passion and of the joy of his Resurrection. This mystery, which is the mystery of true blessedness, invites us to follow Jesus and thus to walk toward it.
To the extent that we accept his proposal and set out to follow him - each one in his own circumstances - we too can participate in his blessedness. With him, the impossible becomes possible and even a camel can pass through the eye of a needle (cf. Mc 10,25); with his help, only with his help, can we become perfect as the Heavenly Father is perfect (cf. Mt 5,48).
Dear brothers and sisters, we are now entering the heart of the Eucharistic celebration that encourages and nourishes holiness. In a little while, Christ will make himself present in the most exalted way, Christ the true Vine to whom the faithful on earth and the Saints in Heaven are united like branches.
Thus, the communion of the pilgrim Church in the world with the Church triumphant in glory will increase.
In the Preface we will proclaim that the Saints are friends and models of life for us. Let us invoke them so that they may help us to imitate them and strive to respond generously, as they did, to the divine call.
In particular, let us invoke Mary, Mother of the Lord and mirror of all holiness. May she, the All Holy, make us faithful disciples of her Son Jesus Christ! Amen.
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In the past few days the Solemnity of All Saints and the Commemoration of All Souls have helped us to meditate on the final destination of our earthly pilgrimage. In this spiritual atmosphere, we have gathered round the altar of the Lord today to celebrate Holy Mass for the repose of the souls of the Cardinals and Bishops whom God has called to himself during the past year.
We see their familiar faces once again as we listen to the names of the late lamented Cardinals who have departed from us in these past 12 months: Leo Scheffczyk, Pio Taofinu'u, Raúl Francisco Primatesta, Angel Suquía Goicoechea, Johannes Willebrands, Louis-Albert Vachon, Dino Monduzzi and Mario Francesco Pompedda. I would also like to name each one of the Archbishops and Bishops, but let the consoling certainty suffice for us that their names "are written in Heaven", as Jesus once said to the Apostles (Lc 10,20).
Remembering the names of these brothers of ours in the faith refers us to the Sacrament of Baptism which marked, for each one of them as for every Christian, entry into the Communion of the Saints.
At the end of life, death deprives us of all that is earthly, but not of that Grace and that sacramental "character" by virtue of which we are indissolubly associated with Our Lord and Saviour's Paschal Mystery. Emptied of all but clothed in Christ: thus do the baptized cross the threshold of death and are presented to the just and merciful God.
In order that the white garment received in Baptism may be purified of every speck and every stain, the Community of believers offers the Eucharistic Sacrifice and other prayers of suffrage for those whom death has called to pass from time to eternity.
Praying for the dead is a noble practice that implies belief in the resurrection of the dead, in accordance with what has been revealed to us by Sacred Scripture and, in a complete way, by the Gospel.
We have just heard the account of Ezekiel's vision of the dry bones (Ez 37,1-14). This is certainly one of the most important and impressive biblical passages which lends itself to a twofold interpretation.
From the historical viewpoint, it responds to the need for hope by the Israelites deported to Babylon, distressed and afflicted at having to bury their dead in a foreign land.
The Lord announces to them through the mouth of the prophet that he will rescue them from that nightmare and enable them to return to the land of Israel. The evocative image of the bones that come to life and come together thus represents this people, who regains vigour and hope in order to return to their homeland.
However, Ezekiel's long and eloquent oracle, which exalts the power of the Word of God to whom nothing is impossible, at the same time marks a decisive step ahead towards faith in the resurrection of the dead. This faith was to be fulfilled in the New Testament.
In the light of Christ's Paschal Mystery, the vision of the dry bones acquires the value of a universal parable on the human race, a pilgrim in earthly exile subjected to the yoke of death.
The divine Word, incarnate in Jesus, comes to dwell in the world, many aspects of which make it a desolate valley; he shows full solidarity with human beings and brings them the glad tidings of eternal life. This announcement of hope is proclaimed to the depths of the afterworld, while the way that leads to the Promised Land is opened once and for all.
In the Gospel passage, we listened once again to the first verses of Jesus' great prayer cited in Chapter 17 of John. The Lord's sorrowful words show that the ultimate purpose of the entire "work" of the Son of God Incarnate consisted in giving eternal life to men and women (Jn 17,2). Jesus also told us what eternal life consists in: "that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent" (Jn 17,3).
In these words one can hear the praying voice of the Ecclesial Community, aware that the revelation of the "Name" of God received from the Lord is equivalent to the gift of eternal life. Knowing Jesus means knowing the Father; and knowing the Father means entering into real communion with the very Origin of Life, Light and Love.
Dear brothers and sisters, today we are thanking God in a special way for having made his Name known to these Cardinals and Bishops who have departed from us. They belong, according to the words of John's Gospel, to the ranks of those whom the Father entrusted to the Son "out of the world" (Jn 17,6).
To each one of them Christ "gave the words" of the Father, and they "received them" and they have "believed"; they have placed their trust in the Father and in the Son (cf. Jn 17,8).
It was for them that he prayed (cf. Jn 17,9), entrusting them to the Father (cf. Jn 17,15 Jn 17,17 Jn 17,20-21), saying in particular, "Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to behold my glory" (Jn 17,24).
We intend our prayers of suffrage today to be united with this prayer of the Lord which is priestly par excellence. Christ substantiated his entreaty to the Father with the gift of himself on the Cross; let us offer our prayers in union with the Eucharistic Sacrifice, which is the real and actual representation of that unique and saving self-emptying.
Dear brothers and sisters, the venerable deceased Cardinals and Bishops whom we are commemorating this morning lived in this faith. Each one of them was called in the Church to feel as if the Apostle Paul's words, just now proclaimed in the second reading, were his own and to strive to put them into practice: "to me to live is Christ" (Ph 1,21).
This vocation, received in Baptism, was reinforced in them with the Sacrament of Confirmation and with the three degrees of Sacred Orders, and was constantly nourished by participation in the Eucharist.
Through this sacramental process, their "being in Christ" grew steadily stronger and deeper, so that dying was no longer a loss - since they had already evangelically "lost" all things for the Lord and for the Gospel (cf. Mc 8,35) - but a gain: that of encountering Jesus at last, and with him, finding fullness of life.
Let us ask the Lord to obtain for these beloved Brothers of ours, the deceased Cardinals and Bishops, that they may reach the destination they so deeply desired. Let us ask this relying on the intercession of Mary Most Holy and on the prayers of the many people who knew them in their lives and appreciated their Christian virtues.
Let us gather together in this Holy Eucharist every thanksgiving and every supplication, for the benefit of their souls and of the souls of all the deceased, whom we commend to the divine mercy.
The texts we have just heard - the Reading, the Responsorial Psalm and the Gospel - have a common theme that could be summarized in the phrase: "God never fails". Or more precisely: initially God always fails, he lets human freedom exist and this freedom constantly says "no"; but God's imagination, the creative power of his love, is greater than the human "no". With every human "no" a new dimension of his love is bestowed and he finds a new and greater way to bring about his "yes" to man, history and creation.
In the great hymn to Christ in the Letter to the Philippians with which we began, we listened first of all to an allusion to the story of Adam, who was not satisfied with God's friendship; it was not enough for him because he himself wanted to be a god. He considered friendship as a dependence and considered himself a god, as though he could exist solely by himself. He therefore said "no" in order to become a god himself and in this very way, he threw himself down from his exalted position.
God "failed" in Adam - and likewise, to all appearances, throughout history. But God did not fail, for now he becomes a man himself and so begins a new humanity; he roots God's being in a human being in an irrevocable way and descended to the deepest abysses of man's being: he humbled himself even unto the Cross. He overcame pride with the humility and the obedience of the Cross. And in this way what Isaiah had foretold (chapter Is 45) came to pass.
At the time when Israel was living in exile and had disappeared from the map, the Prophet predicted that the whole world - "every knee" - would bend before this powerless God. And the Letter to the Philippians confirms it: it has now happened.
Through the Cross of Christ, God made himself close to the peoples, he came out of Israel and became the God of the world. And now the cosmos kneels before Jesus Christ, and this is something we too can experience in a marvellous way today: on all the continents, even in the most humble of huts, the Crucifix is present.
The God who had "failed" now through his love truly brings man to bend his knee and thus overcomes the world with his love.
We sang the second part of the Psalm of the Passion as the Responsorial Psalm. It is the Psalm of the righteous sufferer, in the first place suffering Israel who, before the mute God who abandoned it, cries: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me?... Now I am almost spent... you do not act... you do not answer... why have you forsaken me?" (cf. Ps 22 ). Jesus identifies himself with the suffering Israel, with the suffering just ones of every age abandoned by God, and he cries out at God's abandonment; the pain of being forgotten he carries to the Heart of God himself, and in this way transforms the world.
The second part of the Psalm, the part that we recited, tells us the result of this: the poor will eat and be satisfied. It is the universal Eucharist that derives from the Cross. God now satisfies man throughout the world, the poor who are in need of him. He gives them the satiety they need: he gives God, he gives himself.
The Psalm then says: "All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord". The universal Church derives from the Cross. God goes beyond Judaism to embrace the whole world, to unite it in the banquet of the poor.
And lastly, the Gospel message: again, the failure of God. Those who were invited first declined, they did not come.
God's hall remains empty, the banquet seemed to have been prepared in vain. This is what Jesus experienced in the last stages of his activity: official groups, the authorities, say "no" to God's invitation, which is he himself. They do not come. His message, his call, ends in the human "no".
However, God did not fail here, either. The empty hall becomes an opportunity to invite a larger number of people. God's love, God's invitation is extended. Luke recounts this in two episodes
First, the invitation is addressed to the poor, the abandoned, those who were never invited by anyone in the city. In this way, God did what we heard in yesterday's Gospel reading.
(Today's Gospel is part of a small symposium in the setting of a meal at a Pharisee's house. There are four texts: first, the healing of the man with dropsy; then, the words about the lowest places; then, the teaching about not inviting friends who would invite you back but those who are really hungry, who cannot reciprocate the invitation; and then appropriately, our account follows).
God now does what he told the Pharisee to do: he invites those who possess nothing, who are truly hungry, who cannot invite him back, who cannot give him anything.
The second episode follows. He departs from the city to go on the country roads: the homeless are invited. We may suppose that Luke means these two episodes in the sense that the first to enter the hall are Israel's poor and later - because there were not enough of them since God's space was larger - the invitation extends beyond the Holy City to the world of the peoples. Those who do not at all belong to God, who are outside, are now invited to fill the hall. And Luke, who has handed down this Gospel to us, certainly saw in anticipation, in a figurative way, the events recounted later in the Acts of the Apostles, where precisely this happens.
Paul always begins his mission in the synagogue with those who are invited first; and only when the authoritative figures excuse themselves and he remains alone with a small group of poor people does he go to the Gentiles.
Thus, the Gospel through this ever new way of the Cross becomes universal, it influences everything, eventually even Rome.
In Rome, Paul summons the heads of the synagogue and proclaims to them the mystery of Jesus Christ, the Kingdom of God in his Person. However, the authorities excuse themselves and he takes his leave of them with these words: Well, since you will not listen, this message will be proclaimed to the Gentiles and they will listen to it. With such confidence he concludes the message of failure: they will listen; the Church of the Gentiles will be built. And she was built and continues to be built.
During the ad limina visits, I hear of many serious and tiresome things, but always - precisely from the Third World - I also hear this: that people listen, that they come, that even today the message spreads along the roads to the very ends of the earth and that people crowd into God's hall for his banquet.
Consequently, we should ask ourselves: what does all this mean for us?
First of all, it means one certainty: God does not fail. He "fails" continuously, but for this very reason he does not fail, because through this he finds new opportunities for far greater mercy and his imagination is inexhaustible.
He does not fail because he finds ever new ways to reach people and to open wider his great house so that it is completely filled.
He does not fail because he does not shrink from the prospect of asking people to come and sit at his table, to eat the food of the poor in which the precious gift is offered, God himself. God does not fail, not even today. Even if we come up against many "noes", we can be sure of it.
From the whole of this history of God, starting with Adam, we can conclude: God never fails.
Today too, he will find new ways to call men, and he wants to have us with him as his messengers and servants.
Precisely in our time we know very well how those who were invited first say "no". Indeed, Western Christianity, the new "first guests", now largely excuse themselves, they do not have time to come to the Lord. We know the churches that are ever more empty, seminaries continue to be empty, religious houses that are increasingly empty; we are familiar with all the forms in which this "no, I have other important things to do" is presented. And it distresses and upsets us to be witnesses of these excuses and refusals of the first guests, who in reality should know the importance of the invitation and should feel drawn in that direction.
What should we do?
First of all, we should ask ourselves: why is this happening?
In his Parable the Lord mentions two reasons: possessions and human relations, which involve people to the extent that they no longer feel the need for anything else to fill their time and therefore their interior existence.
St Gregory the Great in his explanation of this text sought to delve into it further and wondered: how can a man say "no" to the greatest thing that exists; that he has no time for what is most important; that he can lock himself into his own existence?
And he answers: in reality, they have never had an experience of God; they have never acquired a "taste" for God; they have never experienced how delightful it is to be "touched" by God! They lack this "contact" - and with it, the "taste for God". And only if we, so to speak, taste him, only then can we come to the banquet.
St Gregory cites the Psalm from which today's Communion Antiphon is taken: Taste, try it and see; taste and then you will see and be enlightened! Our task is to help people so they can taste the flavour for God anew.
In another homily, St Gregory the Great deepened further the same question and asked himself: how can it be that man does not even want to "taste" God?
And he responds: when man is entirely caught up in his own world, with material things, with what he can do, with all that is feasible and brings him success, with all that he can produce or understand by himself, then his capacity to perceive God weakens, the organ sensitive to God deteriorates, it becomes unable to perceive and sense, it no longer perceives the Divine, because the corresponding inner organ has withered, it has stopped developing.
When he overuses all the other organs, the empirical ones, it can happen that it is precisely the sense of God that suffers, that this organ dies, and man, as St Gregory says, no longer perceives God's gaze, to be looked at by him, the fact that his precious gaze touches me!
I maintain that St Gregory the Great has described exactly the situation of our time - in fact, his was an age very similar to ours. And the question still arises: what should we do?
I hold that the first thing to do is what the Lord tells us today in the First Reading, and which St Paul cries to us in God's Name: "Your attitude must be Christ's - Touto phroneite en hymin ho kai en Christo Iesou".
Learn to think as Christ thought, learn to think with him! And this thinking is not only the thinking of the mind, but also a thinking of the heart.
We learn Jesus Christ's sentiments when we learn to think with him and thus, when we learn to think also of his failure, of his passage through failure and of the growth of his love in failure.
If we enter into these sentiments of his, if we begin to practise thinking like him and with him, then joy for God is awakened within us, confident that he is the strongest; yes, we can say that love for him is reawakened within us. We feel how beautiful it is that he is there and that we can know him - that we know him in the face of Jesus Christ who suffered for us.
I think this is the first thing: that we ourselves enter into vital contact with God - with the Lord Jesus, the living God; that in us the organ directed to God be strengthened; that we bear within us a perception of his "exquisiteness".
This also gives life to our work, but we also run a risk: one can do much, many things in the ecclesiastical field, all for God..., and yet remain totally taken up with oneself, without encountering God. Work replaces faith, but then one becomes empty within.
I therefore believe that we must make an effort above all to listen to the Lord in prayer, in deep interior participation in the sacraments, in learning the sentiments of God in the faces and the suffering of others, in order to be infected by his joy, his zeal and his love, and to look at the world with him and starting from him.
If we can succeed in doing this, even in the midst of the many "noes", we will once again find people waiting for him who may perhaps often be odd - the parable clearly says so - but who are nevertheless called to enter his hall.
Once again, in other words: it is a matter of the centrality of God, and not just any god but the God with the Face of Jesus Christ. Today, this is crucial.
There are so many problems one could list that must be solved, but none of them can be solved unless God is put at the centre, if God does not become once again visible to the world, if he does not become the determining factor in our lives and also enters the world in a decisive way through us.
In this, I believe that the future of the world in this dramatic situation is decided today: whether God - the God of Jesus Christ - exists and is recognized as such, or whether he disappears.
We are concerned that he be present. What must we do? As the last resort? Let us turn to him! We are celebrating this votive Mass of the Holy Spirit, calling upon him: "Lava quod est sordidum, riga quod est aridum, sana quod est saucium. Flecte quod est rigidum, fove quod est frigidum, rege quod est devium".
Let us invoke him so that he will irrigate, warm and straighten, so that he will pervade us with the power of his sacred flame and renew the earth. Let us pray for this with all our hearts at this time, in these days. Amen.
Benedict XVI Homilies 15106