Benedict XVI Homilies 60107
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
This year too, we are meeting for a real family celebration, the Baptism of 13 children in this wonderful Sistine Chapel, where with their creativity, Michelangelo and other outstanding artists achieved masterpieces that illustrate the wonders of the history of salvation.
I would like immediately to greet all of you present here: the parents, the godparents, the relatives and friends who accompany these newborn babies at such an important moment for their lives and for the Church. Every child who is born brings us God's smile and invites us to recognize that life is his gift, a gift to be welcomed with love and preserved with care, always and at every moment.
The Christmas Season, which ends precisely today, has made us contemplate the Child Jesus in the poor grotto of Bethlehem, lovingly tended by Mary and Joseph. God entrusts every child who is born to his parents: so how important is the family founded on marriage, the cradle of life and love!
The House of Nazareth where the Holy Family lived is the model and school of simplicity, patience and harmony for all Christian families. I pray the Lord that your families too may be welcoming places where these little ones can not only grow in good health but also in faith and love for God, who today, with Baptism, makes them his children.
The Rite of Baptism of these children is taking place on the day in which we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, an event which, as I said, brings the Christmas Season to a close.
So far, we have heard the account of the Evangelist Luke, who presents Jesus who remained hidden in the crowd while he went to John the Baptist to be baptized. Jesus had also been baptized, and, St Luke tells us, "was praying" (Lc 3,21). Jesus speaks with his Father. And we may be certain that he did not only speak for himself but also of us and for us; he also spoke of me, of each one of us and for each one of us.
And then the Evangelist tells us that above the Lord in prayer, Heaven was opened.
Jesus entered into contact with the Father, Heaven opened above him. At this moment we can think that Heaven has also opened here, above these children of ours who, through the Sacrament of Baptism, come into contact with Jesus. Heaven opens above us in the Sacrament. The more we live in contact with Jesus in the reality of our Baptism, the more Heaven will open above us. And from Heaven - let us return to the Gospel - that day a voice came which said to Jesus: "You are my beloved Son" (Lc 3,22).
In Baptism, the Heavenly Father also repeats these words for each one of these infants. He says: "You are my child". Baptism is adoption and admission into God's family, into communion with the Most Holy Trinity, into communion with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. For this very reason, Baptism should be administered in the Name of the Most Holy Trinity. These words are not merely a formula; they are reality. They mark the moment when your children are reborn as children of God. From being the children of human parents, they also become the children of God in the Son of the living God.
However, we must now meditate on the words in the Second Reading of this liturgy where St Paul tells us: "He saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit" (Tt 3,5).
A washing of regeneration: Baptism is not only a word, it is not only something spiritual but also implies matter. All the realities of the earth are involved. Baptism does not only concern the soul. Human spirituality invests the totality of the person, body and soul. God's action in Jesus Christ is an action of universal efficacy. Christ took flesh and this continues in the sacraments in which matter is taken on and becomes part of the divine action.
We can now ask precisely why water should be the sign of this totality. Water is the element of fertility. Without water there is no life. Thus, in all the great religions water is seen as the symbol of motherhood, of fruitfulness. For the Church Fathers, water became the symbol of the maternal womb of the Church.
Tertullian, a Church writer of the second and third centuries, said something surprising. He said: "Never is Christ without water". By these words, Tertullian meant that Christ is never without the Church. In Baptism we are adopted by the Heavenly Father, but in this family that he establishes there is also a mother, Mother Church. Man cannot have God as Father, the ancient Christian writers were already saying, unless he has the Church as mother.
We perceive in a new way that Christianity is not merely an individual, spiritual reality, a simple subjective decision that I take, but something real and concrete, we could also say something material. Adoption as children of God, of the Trinitarian God, is at the same time being accepted into the family of the Church, it is admission as brothers and sisters into the great family of Christians. And only if, as children of God, we are integrated as brothers and sisters into the reality of the Church can we say "Our Father", to our Heavenly Father. This prayer always implies the "we" of God's family.
Now, however, let us return to the Gospel in which John the Baptist says: "I baptize you with water; but he who is mightier than I is coming... he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire" (Lc 3,16).
We have seen water; but now the question is unavoidable: of what does the fire that St John the Baptist referred to consist? To see this reality of the fire, present in Baptism with water, we must note that John's baptism was a human gesture, an act of penance, a human impulse for God, to ask the forgiveness of sins and the chance to begin a new life. It was only a human desire, a step towards God with their own effort.
Now this is not enough. The distance would be too great. In Jesus Christ we see that God comes to meet us. In Christian Baptism, instituted by Christ, we do not only act with the desire to be cleansed through the prayer to obtain forgiveness.
In Baptism God himself acts, Jesus acts through the Holy Spirit. In Christian Baptism the fire of the Holy Spirit is present. God acts, not only us. God is present here today. He takes on your children and makes them his own.
But naturally, God does not act in a magical way. He acts only with our freedom. We cannot renounce our freedom. God challenges our freedom, invites us to cooperate with the fire of the Holy Spirit. These two things must go together. Baptism will remain throughout life a gift of God, who has set his seal on our souls. But it will then be our cooperation, the availability of our freedom to say that "yes" which makes divine action effective.
These children of yours, whom we will now baptize, are not yet able to collaborate, to manifest their faith. For this reason, your presence, dear fathers and mothers, and yours, dear godfathers and godmothers, acquires a special value and significance. Always watch over your little ones, so that they may learn to know God as they grow up, love him with all their strength and serve him faithfully. May you be their first educators in faith, offering together with your teaching also the examples of a coherent Christian life. Teach them to pray and to feel as living members of the concrete family of God, of the Ecclesial Community.
The attentive study of the Catechism of the Catholic Church or of the Compendium of this Catechism can offer you important help. It contains the essential elements of our faith and can be a particularly useful and immediate means, for you yourselves, to grow in the knowledge of the Catholic faith and to transmit it integrally and faithfully to your children. Above all, do not forget that it is your witness, it is your example, that has the greatest effect on the human and spiritual maturation of your children's freedom. Even caught up in the sometimes frenetic daily activities, do not neglect to foster prayer, personally and in the family, which is the secret of Christian perseverance.
Let us entrust these children and their families to the Virgin Mother of Jesus, Our Saviour, presented in today's liturgy as the beloved Son of God: may Mary watch over them and accompany them always, so that they can fully carry out the project of salvation which God has for each one. Amen.25107
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
During the "Week of Prayer" that will conclude this evening, the common entreaty addressed to the Lord for Christian unity was intensified in the various Churches and Ecclesial Communities across the world. Together, we meditated on the words of Mark's Gospel that have just been proclaimed: "He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak" (Mc 7,37), the biblical theme suggested by the Christian Communities of South Africa.
The situations of racism, poverty, conflict, exploitation, sickness and suffering in which they find themselves because of the impossibility of being able to make themselves understood in their needs, gives rise in them to an acute need to hear the word of God and to speak courageously.
Is not being deaf and mute, that is, being unable either to listen or to speak, a sign of a lack of communion and a symptom of division? Division and the inability to communicate, a consequence of sin, are contrary to God's plan. This year Africa has given us a theme for reflection of great religious and political importance, because the ability "to speak" and "to listen" is an essential condition for building the civilization of love.
The words "He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak" are good news that proclaim the coming of the Kingdom of God and the healing of the inability to communicate and of division. This message is rediscovered in all Jesus' preaching and work. Wherever he went, whether travelling through villages, cities or the countryside, the people "laid the sick in the market places, and besought him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment; and as many as touched it were made well" (Mc 6,56).
The healing of the deaf-mute, on which we have meditated in these days occurred while Jesus, having left the region of Tyre, was making his way to the Sea of Galilee through the so-called "Decapolis", a multi-ethnic and multi-religious district (cf. Mc 7,31), an emblematic situation even in our day.
As elsewhere, in the Decapolis too, they presented a sick man to Jesus, a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment (moghìlalon), begging him to lay his hands upon him because they considered him a man of God.
Jesus took the man aside from the multitude and performed gestures that infer a salvific contact: he put his fingers into his ears, and touched the tongue of the sick man with his own saliva, then, looking up to Heaven, he commanded: "Be opened!". He spoke this command in Aramaic (Ephphatha), in all likelihood the language of the people present and of the deaf-mute himself. The Evangelist translated this term into Greek as (dianoìchtheti). The ears of the deaf man were opened, his tongue was released, and "he spoke plainly" (orthos).
Jesus exhorted them to say nothing about the miracle. But the more he exhorted them, "the more zealously they proclaimed it" (Mc 7,36). And the comment full of wonder of those who had been there recalls the preaching of Isaiah concerning the coming of the Messiah: "He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak" (Mc 7,37).
The first lesson we draw from this biblical episode, also recalled in the rite of Baptism, is that listening, in the Christian perspective, is a priority.
In this regard, Jesus says explicitly: "Blessed ... are those who hear the word of God and keep it" (Lc 11,28). Indeed, to Martha worried about many things, he said that "one thing is needful" (Lc 10,42). And from the context it becomes evident that this "one thing" is the obedient listening to the Word. Therefore, listening to the Word of God is a priority for our ecumenical commitment. Indeed, it is not we who act or who organize the unity of the Church. The Church does not make herself or live of herself, but from the creative Word that comes from the mouth of God.
To listen to the word of God together; to practice the lectio divina of the Bible, that is, reading linked with prayer; letting ourselves be amazed by the newness of the Word of God that never ages and is never depleted; overcoming our deafness to those words that do not correspond with our prejudices and our opinions; to listen and also to study, in the communion of believers of all ages; all these things constitute a path to be taken in order to achieve unity in the faith as a response to listening to the Word.
Anyone who listens to the Word of God can and must speak and transmit it to others, to those who have never heard it, or who have forgotten it and buried under the thorny troubles and deceptions of the world (cf. Mt 13,22).
We must ask ourselves: have not we Christians become perhaps too silent? Do we not perhaps lack the courage to speak out and witness as did those who witnessed the healing of the deaf-mute in the Decapolis? Our world needs this witness; above all, it is waiting for the common testimony of Christians.
Therefore listening to the God who speaks also implies a reciprocal listening, the dialogue between the Churches and the Ecclesial Communities. Honest and loyal dialogue is the typical and indispensable instrument in the quest for unity.
The Decree on Ecumenism of the Second Vatican Council emphasized that if Christians do not know each other reciprocally, progress on the path of communion is unthinkable. Indeed, in dialogue we listen and communicate; we confront one another and, with God's grace, it is possible to converge on his Word, accepting its demands that apply to all.
The Council Fathers did not expect listening and dialogue to be helpful for ecumenical progress alone, but they added a perspective which refers to the Catholic Church herself: "From such dialogue" the conciliar text states, "will emerge still more clearly what the situation of the Catholic Church really is" (Unitatis Redintegratio UR 9).
It is indispensable "that the doctrine be clearly presented in its entirety" for a dialogue that confronts, discusses and overcomes the divergences that still exist among Christians, but of course, "the manner and order in which Catholic belief is expressed should in no way become an obstacle to dialogue with our brethren" (ibid., UR 11).
It is necessary to speak correctly (orthos) and in a comprehensible way. The ecumenical dialogue entails evangelical fraternal correction and leads to a reciprocal spiritual enrichment in the sharing of authentic experiences of faith and Christian life.
For this to happen, we must tirelessly implore the help of God's grace and the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit. This is what the Christians of the whole world did during this special "Week" or what they will do in the Novena that precedes Pentecost, as on every appropriate occasion, raising their trusting prayer that all Christ's disciples may be one, and that, in listening to the Word, they may be able to give a concordant witness with the men and women of our time.
In this atmosphere of intense communion, I would like to address my cordial greeting to all those present: to the Cardinal Archpriest of this Basilica and to the Cardinal President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and to the other Cardinals, to my venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the priesthood, to the Benedictine monks, to the men and women Religious, to the lay people who represent the entire diocesan community of Rome.
I would especially like to greet the brethren from the other Churches and Ecclesial Communities who have taken part in the celebration, thereby renewing the important tradition of concluding the "Week of Prayer" together on the day when we commemorate the striking conversion of St Paul on the road to Damascus.
I am pleased to point out that the tomb of the Apostle to the Gentiles, where we are today, has recently undergone investigation and study, subsequent to which it was decided to make it visible to pilgrims by a timely adjustment under the main altar. I express my congratulations on this important initiative.
To the intercession of St Paul, untiring builder of the unity of the Church, I entrust the fruits of listening and of the common witness we have been able to experience in the numerous fraternal meetings and dialogues that took place during 2006, both with the Eastern Churches and with the Churches and Ecclesial Communities in the West.
In these events, it was possible to perceive the joy of brotherhood, together with regret that the tensions endure, keeping ever alive the hope that the Lord kindles within us.
Let us thank all those who helped to intensify the ecumenical dialogue with prayer, with the offering of their suffering and with their tireless action. It is above all to Our Lord Jesus Christ that we render our fervent thanks for everything.
May the Virgin Mary obtain that we may achieve as soon as possible the ardent desire of her divine Son: "that they may all be one... so that the world may believe" (Jn 17,21).
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Yesterday, the day after the liturgical memorial of St John Bosco, a spiritual son of his, our beloved Cardinal Antonio María Javierre Ortas departed for Heaven. At the time of his departure, he was surrounded by the unanimous prayer for the repose of his soul that Salesians customarily raise for their deceased confreres and sisters on the very day after the Feast of their Founder.
Today, the Roman Curia, his friends and relatives join his Religious family on the day in which the liturgy commemorates the Presentation of the Lord at the temple.
The words of elderly Simeon as he clasped the Infant Jesus in his arms re-echo on this occasion with special emotion: "Nunc dimittis servum tuum Domine, secundum verbum tuum in pace - now let your servant depart in peace, according to your word" (Lc 2,29). This is the prayer that the Church raises to God at nightfall and it is especially important to remember it today, thinking again of our Brother who has reached the end of his earthly life.
"Misercordias Domini in aeternum cantabo". Let us make our own these words from Cardinal Javierre Ortas' spiritual diary, as we accompany him on his journey to the Father's House.
He was born in Siétamo, in the Diocese of Huesca, on 21 February 1921. He was granted the gift of a long life, inspired from his youth by a pronounced missionary spirit. He would have liked, after the example of Don Bosco, to live out his vocation as a Salesian in direct contact with young people in a mission land but Providence summoned him to other offices.
Thus, he was an apostle in the university environment and in the milieus of the Roman Curia. However, he never missed an opportunity to carry out his intense spiritual activity in the essentially theological sphere, as well as in the broader domain of culture, especially by directing groups of professors and Religious and as chaplain to university students.
His was a faithful and generous service to the Church, always willing and cordial. Despite his venerable age, his departure was somewhat unexpected. Impelled by faith, but also by affection for his venerable figure, we are now gathered round the altar of the Lord, preparing to offer the Eucharistic sacrifice for him.
Christ's words that we have just heard in the Gospel ring out: "I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh" (Jn 6,51).
This is one of the sayings of Jesus that sums up the whole of his mystery. And it is comforting to listen to it and meditate upon it while we pray for a priestly soul who found in the Eucharist the centre of his life.
Intimate and persevering sacramental communion with the Body and Blood of Christ brings about a profound transformation of the person. The fruit of this inner process, which involves the whole person, is what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians: "Mihi vivere Christus est" (Ph 1,21).
Thus, to die is a "gain", because only by dying is it possible to achieve fully that "being-in-Christ" of which Eucharistic Communion is a pledge on this earth.
Yesterday, I had in my hands several letters that Cardinal Javierre had written to beloved John Paul II in which this privileged reference to the Eucharist appears.
In 1992, when he was appointed Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, he wrote: "I repeat on this occasion my unconditional desire for service. Your Holiness, I am relying on my sincere efforts to bring to completion the task you have entrusted to me. I imagine it gravitating totally around the EUCHARIST", written in capitals. "Everything is attracted to this barycentre".
Then on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of his Priestly Ordination, he wrote in his letter thanking the Holy Father for his good wishes: "At the time of my ordination in Salamanca, the priesthood gravitated entirely around the Eucharist.... It is a joy to relive the sentiments of our ordination, aware that in the Eucharist, the Sacrament of his Sacrifice, Christ actualizes his one Priesthood to the full".
Our beloved late Cardinal is now joyfully participating in the Heavenly Banquet, the Messianic Feast mentioned by Isaiah in the First Reading, where death is swallowed up for ever and tears wiped from every face (cf. Is 25,8).
As we ourselves wait to take part in this eternal banquet of love, when the Lord pleases, we who are still pilgrims and he who has reached the goal are now brought together by the singing of the Responsorial Psalm that has resounded: "Dominus pascit me, et nihil mihi deerit: in loco pascuae, ibi me collocavit" (Ps 23,1-2 : 1-2). No, death does not frighten the person who lives in Christ; he experiences at every moment what the Psalmist says with trust: "Nam et si ambulavero in valle umbrae mortis, non timebo mala, quoniam tu mecum es" (Ps 23,4 : 4).
"Tu mecum es": these words refer to other words which the Risen Jesus addressed to the Apostles and which our Brother chose as his episcopal motto: "Ego vobiscum sum" (Mt 28,20).
In fact, Cardinal Javierre Ortas desired his personal existence and his ecclesial mission to be a message of hope; through his apostolate, after the example of St John Bosco, he strove to communicate to all that Christ is continually with us.
He, a son of the homeland of St Teresa and of St John of the Cross, prayed so often in his heart: "Let no one upset you, no one frighten you. One who holds fast to God lacks nothing. God alone suffices".
It is precisely because he was accustomed to living supported by these convictions that Cardinal Javierre Ortas, at the time of his retirement from active ministry in the Curia, was able to write anew to the Pope words steeped in hope: "It only remains for me to implore the Lord, in divine tones, to treat his Vicar kindly when, in the evening of life - not far off - the hour of examination on love strikes".
The coat-of-arms of our late Brother features a boat moored to two pillars; the boat is the Church, the helmsman is the Pope and the two pillars are the Eucharist and Our Lady. As a worthy Son of Don Bosco, the Cardinal was deeply devoted to Mary, whom he loved and venerated with the title: "Help of Christians". He sought to imitate the style of discreet and generous service of Our Lady, "Ancilla Domini" [Handmaid of the Lord].
He left his office as Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments "on tiptoe", to devote himself to the service which on the contrary one must never give up: prayer. And now that the Heavenly Father has desired to have the Cardinal beside him, I am certain that in Heaven - where we trust the Lord has welcomed him in his fatherly embrace - he continues to pray for us.
I would like to conclude with a reflection that leads us to the embrace of the Redeemer.
"It is marvellous", he wrote, "to think that the series of sins of our life does not matter, that it suffices to raise our eyes and see the gesture of the Saviour, who welcomes us one by one with infinite kindness in an extremely loving way. In this perspective", he ended, "the farewell is haloed with hope and joy".
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
With the penitential procession we have entered into the austere climate of Lent and, beginning the Eucharistic celebration, we have just prayed to the Lord to help the Christian people "to begin the journey of true conversion in order to victoriously face, with the arms of penance, the battle against the spirit of evil" (cf. Collect).
In a short while, by receiving ashes on our head, we will hear once again a clear invitation to conversion which can be expressed with a double formula: "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel", or: "Remember, man, that you are dust and unto dust you will return".
Precisely due to the richness of the symbols and of the biblical and liturgical texts, Ash Wednesday is considered the "door" to Lent. In effect, today's liturgy and the gestures that mark it, together form, in anticipation and in a synthetic way, the very physiognomy of the entire period of Lent.
In her tradition, the Church does not limit herself to offering us liturgical and spiritual themes for the Lenten journey, but also points out to us ascetical instruments and practices to benefit from them.
"[R]eturn to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping and mourning". The First Reading opens with these words of the Prophet Joel (Jl 2,12). The suffering and calamities that afflicted the land of Judah in that time impel the sacred author to encourage the Chosen People to conversion, to return, that is, with filial trust to the Lord, rending their hearts and not their garments.
The prophet recalls, in fact, that [God] "is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, rich in kindness and relenting in punishment" (Jl 2,13). Joel's invitation, addressed to his listeners, also applies to us, dear brothers and sisters. Let us not hesitate to rediscover the friendship of God lost by sin; encountering the Lord, we experience the joy of his forgiveness.
And so, almost responding to the words of the Prophet, we have made our own the invocation of the Responsorial Psalm: "Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned". Proclaiming Psalm 50, the great penitential Psalm, we appeal to divine mercy, we ask the Lord that by the power of his love he give us the joy of being saved.
With this spirit we begin the "acceptable time" of Lent, as St Paul reminds us in the Second Reading, to allow ourselves to be reconciled with God in Christ Jesus.
The Apostle introduces himself as an ambassador of Christ and clearly shows precisely how, in virtue of Christ, the sinner - that is each one of us - is offered the possibility of authentic reconciliation. "For our sakes God made him who did not know sin" he said, "to be sin, so that in him we might become the very holiness of God" (2Co 5,21).
Only Christ can transform every situation of sin into newness of grace. This is why the spiritual exhortation of Paul, addressed to the Christians of Corinth, has a strong impact: "We implore you in Christ's name: be reconciled to God"; and again: "Now is the acceptable time! Now is the day of salvation!" (2Co 5,20 2Co 6,2).
While Joel spoke of the future day of the Lord as a day of terrible judgment, St Paul, referring to the words of the Prophet Isaiah, speaks of the "acceptable time", of the "day of salvation". The future day of the Lord has become the "today". The terrible day is transformed by the Cross and Resurrection of Christ into the day of salvation. And this day is now, as we have heard in the Gospel verse: "If today you hear the voice of the Lord, harden not your hearts". The call to conversion, to penance, resounds today with all its strength, so that its echo accompanies us in every moment of life.
The Ash Wednesday liturgy indicates the fundamental dimension of Lent in the conversion of the heart to God. This is the evocative message contained in the traditional Rite of Ashes, which we will renew shortly.
It is a rite with a double meaning: the first is related to interior change, to conversion and penance, while the second recalls the precarious human condition, as it is easy to understand from the two different formulas that accompany the gesture.
Here in Rome, the penitential procession of Ash Wednesday begins at the Church of Sant'Anselmo and concludes in this Basilica of Santa Sabina, where the first station of Lent takes place.
In regard to this it is interesting to remember that the ancient Roman Liturgy, through the Lenten Stations, elaborated a singular geography of faith, starting from the idea that, with the arrival of the Apostles Peter and Paul and with the destruction of the Temple, Jerusalem was transferred to Rome.
Christian Rome was understood as a reconstruction of the Jerusalem of the time of Jesus within the walls of the City.
This new interior and spiritual geography, inherent in the tradition of the Lenten Station Churches, is not simply a memory of the past, nor an empty anticipation of the future; on the contrary, it intends to help the faithful along the interior journey, the journey of conversion and reconciliation, in order to reach the glory of the heavenly Jerusalem where God dwells.
Dear brothers and sisters, we have 40 days to deepen this extraordinary ascetical and spiritual experience. In the Gospel that has been proclaimed, Jesus indicates some of the useful instruments to accomplish an authentic interior and communitarian renewal: the works of charity (almsgiving), prayer and penance (fasting).
They are the three fundamental practices also dear to the Hebrew tradition, because they contribute to the purification of man before God (cf. Mt 6,1-6 Mt 6,16-18). Such exterior gestures, which are done to please God and not to obtain the approval and consensus of men, are acceptable to him if they express the determination of the heart to serve him with simplicity and generosity.
One of the Lenten Prefaces also reminds us of this with regards to fasting, as we read this singular expression: "ieiunio... mentem elevas: with fasting the spirit is raised" (Preface IV).
Fasting, to which the Church invites us in this particular season, certainly is not motivated by the physical or aesthetical order, but stems from the need that man has for an interior purification that detoxifies him from the pollution of sin and evil; it educates him to that healthy renunciation which releases the believer from the slavery to self; that renders him more attentive and open to listen to God and to be at the service of the brethren.
For this reason fasting and the other Lenten practices are considered the traditional Christian spiritual "arms" used to fight evil, unhealthy passions and vice. Concerning this, I would like to listen, together with you, to a brief comment of St John Chrysostom.
"As at the end of winter", he writes, "the summer season returns and the navigator launches his boat into the sea, the soldier polishes his arms and trains the horse for battle, the farmer sharpens the scythe, the wayfarer strengthened, continues his journey, and the athlete sets aside his vestments and prepares for the race; so we too, at the start of this fast, like returning to a spiritual springtime, we polish the arms like the soldiers, we sharpen the scythe like the farmers, and as mariners we launch the boat of our spirit to confront the waves of senseless passions, like the wayfarer we continue the journey to heaven, and as the athlete we prepare ourselves for the fight by totally setting aside everything" (cf. Homily to the People of Antioch, n. 3).
In the Message for Lent I extended the invitation to live these 40 days of special grace as a "Eucharistic" time. Drawing from the inexhaustible font of love that the Eucharist is, in which Christ renews the redemptive sacrifice of the Cross, each Christian can persevere on the journey that we solemnly begin today.
The works of charity (almsgiving), prayer, fasting, together with every sincere effort of conversion, find their most lofty significance and value in the Eucharist, centre and culmination of the life of the Church and the history of salvation.
"May this Sacrament that we have received, O Father", we will pray at the end of Holy Mass, "sustain us on our Lenten way, make holy our fasting and render it efficacious to heal our spirit".
We ask Mary to accompany us so that, at the end of Lent, we may contemplate the Risen Lord, interiorly renewed and reconciled with God and our brethren. Amen!
Benedict XVI Homilies 60107