Benedict XVI Homilies 7047

MASS OF THANKSGIVING IN REMEMBRANCE OF THE POPE'S 80th BIRTHDAY

St Peter's Square, Second Sunday of Easter, 15 April 2007

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This Sunday is called "in Albis", in accordance with an old tradition. On this day, neophytes of the Easter Vigil were still wearing their white garment, the symbol of the light which the Lord gave them in Baptism. Later, they would take off the white garment but would have to introduce into their daily lives the new brightness communicated to them.

They were to diligently keep alight the delicate flame of truth and good which the Lord had kindled within them, in order to bring to this world a gleam of God's splendour and goodness.

The Holy Father, John Paul II, wanted this Sunday to be celebrated as the Feast of Divine Mercy: in the word "mercy", he summed up and interpreted anew for our time the whole mystery of Redemption. He had lived under two dictatorial regimes, and in his contact with poverty, neediness and violence he had a profound experience of the powers of darkness which also threaten the world of our time.

But he had an equally strong experience of the presence of God who opposed all these forces with his power, which is totally different and divine: with the power of mercy. It is mercy that puts an end to evil. In it is expressed God's special nature - his holiness, the power of truth and love.

Two years ago now, after the First Vespers of this Feast, John Paul II ended his earthly life. In dying, he entered the light of Divine Mercy, of which, beyond death and starting from God, he now speaks to us in a new way.

Have faith, he tells us, in Divine Mercy! Become day after day men and women of God's mercy. Mercy is the garment of light which the Lord has given to us in Baptism. We must not allow this light to be extinguished; on the contrary, it must grow within us every day and thus bring to the world God's glad tidings.

In these days illumined in particular by the light of divine mercy, a coincidence occurs that is significant to me: I can look back over 80 years of life.

I greet all those who have gathered here to celebrate this birthday with me. I greet first of all the Cardinals, with a special, grateful thought for the Dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who has made himself an authoritative interpreter of your common sentiments. I greet the Archbishops and Bishops, including the Auxiliaries of the Diocese of Rome, of my Diocese; I greet the Prelates and other members of the Clergy, the men and women Religious and all the faithful present here.

I also offer respectful and grateful thoughts to the political figures and members of the Diplomatic Corps who have desired to honour me with their presence.

Lastly, I greet with fraternal affection His Eminence Ioannis, Metropolitan of Pergamon, personal envoy of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I. To him I express my appreciation for this kind gesture and the hope that the Catholic-Orthodox dialogue may proceed with new enthusiasm.

We are gathered here to reflect on the completion of a long period of my life. Obviously, the liturgy itself must not be used to speak of oneself, of myself; yet, one's own life can serve to proclaim God's mercy.

"Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for me", a Psalm says (66[65]:
Ps 66,16). I have always considered it a great gift of Divine Mercy to have been granted birth and rebirth, so to speak, on the same day, in the sign of the beginning of Easter. Thus, I was born as a member of my own family and of the great family of God on the same day.

Yes, I thank God because I have been able to experience what "family" means; I have been able to experience what "fatherhood" means, so that the words about God as Father were made understandable to me from within; on the basis of human experience, access was opened to me to the great and benevolent Father who is in Heaven.

We have a responsibility to him, but at the same time he gives us trust so that the mercy and goodness with which he accepts even our weakness and sustains us may always shine out in his justice, and that we can gradually learn to walk righteously.

I thank God for enabling me to have a profound experience of the meaning of motherly goodness, ever open to anyone who seeks shelter and in this very way able to give me freedom.

I thank God for my sister and my brother, who with their help have been close to me faithfully throughout my life. I thank God for the companions I have met on my way and for the advisers and friends he has given to me.

I am especially grateful to him because, from the very first day of my life, I have been able to enter and to develop in the great community of believers in which the barriers between life and death, between Heaven and earth, are flung open. I give thanks for being able to learn so many things, drawing from the wisdom of this community which not only embraces human experiences from far off times: the wisdom of this community is not only human wisdom; through it, the very wisdom of God - eternal wisdom - reaches us.

In this Sunday's First Reading we are told that at the dawn of the newborn Church, people used to take the sick out into the squares so that when Peter passed by his shadow might fall on them: to this shadow they attributed a healing power. This shadow, in fact, was cast by the light of Christ and thus in itself retained something of the power of divine goodness.

From the very first, through the community of the Catholic Church, Peter's shadow has covered my life and I have learned that it is a good shadow - a healing shadow precisely because it ultimately comes from Christ himself.

Peter was a man with all the human weaknesses, but he was above all a man full of passionate faith in Christ, full of love for him. It was through his faith and love that the healing power of Christ and his unifying force reached humanity, although it was mingled with all Peter's shortcomings. Let us seek Peter's shadow today in order to stand in the light of Christ!

Birth and rebirth, an earthly family and the great family of God: this is the great gift of God's multiple mercies, the foundation which supports us. As I continued on my path through life, I encountered a new and demanding gift: the call to the priestly ministry.

On the Feast of Sts Peter and Paul in 1951, as I faced this task, when we were lying prostrate on the floor of the Cathedral of Freising - we were more than 40 companions - and above us all the saints were invoked, I was troubled by an awareness of the poverty of my life.

Yes, it was a consolation that the protection of God's saints, of the living and the dead, was invoked upon us. I knew that I would not be left on my own. And what faith the words of Jesus, which we heard subsequently on the lips of the Bishop during the Ordination liturgy, inspire in us! "No longer do I call you servants, but my friends...". I have been able to experience this deeply: he, the Lord, is not only the Lord but also a friend. He has placed his hand upon me and will not leave me.

These words were spoken in the context of the conferral of the faculty for the administration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and thus, in Christ's Name, to forgive sins. We heard the same thing in today's Gospel: the Lord breathes upon his disciples. He grants them his Spirit - the Holy Spirit: "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven...".

The Spirit of Jesus Christ is the power of forgiveness. He is the power of Divine Mercy. He makes it possible to start all over again - ever anew. The friendship of Jesus Christ is the friendship of the One who makes us people who forgive, the One who also forgives us, raises us ceaselessly from our weakness and in this very way educates us, instils in us an awareness of the inner duty of love, of the duty to respond with our faithfulness to his trust.

In the Gospel passage for today we also heard the story of the Apostle Thomas' encounter with the Risen Lord: the Apostle is permitted to touch his wounds and thereby recognizes him - over and above the human identity of Jesus of Nazareth, Thomas recognizes him in his true and deepest identity: "My Lord and my God!" (Jn 20,28).

The Lord took his wounds with him to eternity. He is a wounded God; he let himself be injured through his love for us. His wounds are a sign for us that he understands and allows himself to be wounded out of love for us.

These wounds of his: how tangible they are to us in the history of our time! Indeed, time and again he allows himself to be wounded for our sake. What certainty of his mercy, what consolation do his wounds mean for us! And what security they give us regarding his identity: "My Lord and my God!". And what a duty they are for us, the duty to allow ourselves in turn to be wounded for him!

God's mercy accompanies us daily. To be able to perceive his mercy it suffices to have a heart that is alert. We are excessively inclined to notice only the daily effort that has been imposed upon us as children of Adam.

If, however, we open our hearts, then as well as immersing ourselves in them we can be constantly aware of how good God is to us; how he thinks of us precisely in little things, thus helping us to achieve important ones.

With the increasing burden of responsibility, the Lord has also brought new assistance to my life. I repeatedly see with grateful joy how large is the multitude of those who support me with their prayers; I see that with their faith and love they help me carry out my ministry; I see that they are indulgent with my shortcomings and also recognize in Peter's shadow the beneficial light of Jesus Christ.

At this moment, therefore, I would like to thank the Lord and all of you with all my heart. I wish to end this Homily with a prayer of the holy Pope, St Leo the Great, that prayer which precisely 30 years ago I had written on the souvenir cards for my ordination:

"Pray to our good God that in our day he will be so good as to reinforce faith, multiply love and increase peace. May he render me, his poor servant, adequate for his task and useful for your edification, and grant me to carry out this service so that together with the time given to me my dedication may grow. Amen".

PASTORAL VISIT TO VIGEVANO AND PAVIA (ITALY): EUCHARISTIC CONCELEBRATION

Piazza Ducale, Vigevano, Saturday, 21 April 2007

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"Cast the net... and you will find some" (
Jn 21,6).

We have heard Jesus' words once again in the Gospel passage just proclaimed. They are part of the account of the third appearance of the Risen One to the disciples, on the shores of the Sea of Tiberias, which tells of the miraculous catch.

After the "scandal" of the Cross, the disciples had returned to their land and their work as fishermen, to the activities they had carried out before they met Jesus. They had returned to their previous life and this suggests the atmosphere of dispersion and bewilderment that prevailed in their communities (cf. Mc 14,27 Mt 26,31).

It was difficult for the disciples to understand what had happened. But while everything seemed to have ended, once again, as on the road to Emmaus, it was Jesus who came to his friends. This time he met them by the lake, a place that evokes the trials and tribulations of life; he met them when day was breaking, after a futile night-long effort.

Their nets were empty. In a certain way, this seems to sum up their experience with Jesus: they had known him, they had been beside him, and he had promised them so many things. Nevertheless, they found themselves with empty nets and no fish.

Yet, here at dawn Jesus comes to meet them, even though they do not immediately recognize him (cf. Jn 21,4).

"Daybreak" in the Bible often points to God's extraordinary interventions. In the Book of Exodus, for example, it was "in the morning watch" that the Lord intervened "in the pillar of fire and of cloud" to save his people in the flight to Egypt (cf. Ex 14,24). And again it was dawn when Mary Magdalene and the other women who had hastened to the tomb met the Risen Lord.

In the Gospel passage on which we are meditating, night had also passed and the Lord said to the disciples, exhausted by their efforts and disappointed at having caught no fish: "Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some" (Jn 21,6).

Fish usually fall into the net at night when it is dark and not in the morning, by which time the water is transparent. Yet the disciples trusted Jesus and the result was a miraculously abundant catch with such a quantity of fish that they were unable to haul in the net (cf. Jn 21,6).

At this point John, enlightened by love, turned to Peter and said: "It is the Lord!" (Jn 21,7). The perceptive look of the disciple whom Jesus loved - an image of the believer - recognized the Teacher present on the lake shore. "It is the Lord!": his spontaneous profession of faith is also an invitation to us to proclaim that the Risen Christ is the Lord of our life.

Dear brothers and sisters, may the Church in Vigevano repeat this evening with John's enthusiasm: Jesus Christ "is the Lord!". And may your diocesan Community be able to listen to the Lord, who through my words repeats to you: "Cast the net, Church of Vigevano, and you will find some!".

Indeed, I have come among you above all to encourage you to be daring witnesses of Christ. It is trusting adherence to his Word that will make your pastoral efforts fruitful. When work in the Lord's vineyard seems to have been in vain like the nightlong efforts of the Apostles, you must never forget that Jesus can reverse everything in an instant.

The Gospel passage we have heard reminds us, on the one hand, that we must dedicate ourselves to pastoral activities as if the result depended totally on our own efforts. Yet, on the other, it makes us realize that the true success of our mission is totally a gift of Grace.

In the mysterious plans of his wisdom, God knows when the time is to intervene.

Therefore, just as docile adherence to the Lord's words ensured that the disciples' net would be filled, so in every age, even our own, the Spirit can make the Church's mission in the world effective.

Dear brothers and sisters, here I am in your midst with great joy: I thank you and cordially greet you all. I greet you as representatives of the People of God gathered in this particular Church whose spiritual centre is the Cathedral, outside of which we are celebrating the Eucharist.

I greet with affection Bishop Claudio Baggini, your Pastor, and I thank him for his cordial words at the beginning of the Celebration; with him, I greet the Metropolitan, Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, the Lombard Bishops and the other Prelates. I address a special, warm greeting to the priests, complimenting them on the generosity with which they carry out their ecclesial service, oblivious to effort or hardship.

I extend my greeting to the consecrated persons, the pastoral workers and all the lay faithful, whose precious collaboration is indispensable for the life of the various communities. An affectionate thought for the seminarians who are the hope of the Diocese cannot be lacking. I then offer a respectful greeting to the civil Authorities, to whom I am grateful for the significant message of courtesy that their presence expresses.

Lastly, my thoughts go to the faithful gathered in the various parishes to follow this occasion on television, and to all who are taking part in this Eucharistic assembly in the streets and squares adjacent to this evocative Piazza Ducale, set off by the artistic facade of the Cathedral in the background. It was devised by the distinguished Bishop Juan Caramuel of Vigevano, a famous European scientist, the fourth centenary of whose birth you celebrated solemnly a few months ago. With its unusual architecture, the facade harmoniously combines the temple on the square and the castle with its towers, thus symbolizing the wonderful synthesis of a tradition interwoven with the two essential dimensions of your City: civil and religious.

"Cast your net... and you will find some!" (Jn 21,6). Dear Ecclesial Community of Vigevano, what does Christ's invitation "to cast the net" really mean?

In the first place, it means, as it meant for the disciples, believing in him and trusting his word. Jesus asks you too, like them, to follow him with sincere and steadfast faith.

Listen to his words, therefore, and meditate on them every day. For you, this docile listening is implemented in practice in the decisions of your last Diocesan Synod, which concluded in 1999. At the end of that Synod, beloved John Paul II, who met you at a special Audience on 17 April 1999, exhorted you: "Put out into the deep; do not be afraid to venture on to the high seas!" (Address to Pilgrims from the Diocese of Vigevano, 17 April 1999; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 12 May, p. 8).

May the missionary enthusiasm awakened in your diocesan Community by that providential Meeting, inspired and desired by the late Bishop Giovanni Locatelli who ardently hoped that the Pope would visit Vigevano, never be extinguished in your hearts.

As you follow the fundamental guidelines of the Synod and your current Pastor's directives, stay united with one another and be open to the vast horizons of evangelization.

May these words of the Lord give you constant guidance: "All men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (Jn 13,35). Bear one another's burdens; sharing, collaborating and feeling co-responsible for one another is the spirit that must constantly motivate your Community. This style of communion demands the contribution of all: the Bishop and priests, the men and women religious, the lay faithful, the associations and the various groups committed to the apostolate.

The individual parishes, like the pieces of a mosaic in full harmony with one another, will form a lively particular Church, organically inserted into the entire People of God. Associations, communities and lay groups can make an indispensable contribution to evangelization, both for formation and for spiritual, charitable, social and cultural animation, always working in harmony with the diocesan pastoral programme and obeying the Bishop's instructions.

Next, I encourage you to continue to care for youth, both those you "know" and those you "do not know".

In this perspective, do not tire of promoting in a concrete and far-reaching way the pastoral care of vocations, which helps young people in search of a true meaning for their lives.

And lastly, what can be said of the family? It is the structural element of social life, which is why the fabric of the Ecclesial Community [after warm applause] - and I see that we agree - and civil society itself can only be renewed by working on behalf of families.

Your land is rich in religious traditions, spiritual leaven and a hardworking Christian life. Down the centuries, faith has forged thought, art and culture, fostering solidarity and respect for human dignity.
The exemplary figures of priests and laypeople are a particularly eloquent expression of your rich Christian patrimony; with a life programme rooted in the Gospel and the Church's teaching, especially during the social upheavals at the end of the 19th century and in the first decades of the 20th, they witnessed to authentic Gospel values as an effective support for a free and just coexistence, paying special attention to those in greatest need.

This shining spiritual legacy, rediscovered and nourished, can only be a secure reference point for effective service to the people of our time and for a journey of civilization and authentic progress.
"Cast the net... and you will find some!". Jesus' command was docilely accepted by the saints and their lives were marked by the miracle of an abundant spiritual catch. I am thinking in a special way of your heavenly Patrons: St Ambrose, St Charles Borromeo, Bl. Matteo Carreri.

I am also thinking of two distinguished sons of this area, the causes of whose beatification are underway: Venerable Francesco Pianzola, a priest motivated by an ardent evangelical spirit who was able to respond to the forms of spiritual poverty of his time with a courageous missionary approach, attentive to those who were most distant and particularly to the young; and the Servant of God Teresio Olivelli, a layman of Catholic Action who died in the concentration camp at Hersbruck when he was only 29 years old, a sacrificial victim of brutal violence which he tenaciously countered with the ardour of love.

These two exceptional figures of faithful disciples of Christ are an eloquent sign of the wonders the Lord has worked in the Church of Vigevano. Mirror these models, who make the action of Grace manifest and are an encouragement to the People of God to follow Christ on the demanding path of holiness.

Dear brothers and sisters of the Diocese of Vigevano, my thoughts lastly go to the Mother of God, whom you venerate under the title Madonna della Bozzola. I entrust all your Communities to her so that they may obtain a renewed outpouring of the Holy Spirit on this beloved Diocese.

The exhausting yet sterile nocturnal fishing of the disciples is a perennial warning for the Church of all ages: alone, without Jesus, we can do nothing! In apostolic tasks our own forces do not suffice; even if our work is well organized it proves ineffective without divine Grace.

Let us pray together that your diocesan Community will be able to receive Christ's mandate joyfully and with renewed generosity be ready to "cast" its nets. It will then certainly experience a miraculous catch, a sign of the dynamic power of the Word and Presence of the Lord, who ceaselessly confers upon his People a "renewed youth of the Spirit" (Collect).


EUCHARISTIC CONCELEBRATION

"Orti Borromaici" Esplanade, Pavia, Third Sunday of Easter, 22 April 2007

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Yesterday afternoon, I met the diocesan Community of Vigevano and the heart of my Pastoral Visit was the Eucharistic concelebration in Piazza Ducale; today, I have the joy of visiting your Diocese and a culminating moment of our encounter is also here at Holy Mass.

I greet with affection my Brothers who are concelebrating with me: Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, Archbishop of Milan, Bishop Giovanni Giudici, Pastor of your Diocese, Bishop emeritus Giovanni Volta, the retired Pastor, and the other Prelates of Lombardy.

I am grateful to the Government Representatives and local Administrations for their presence. I address my cordial greeting to the priests, deacons, Religious, leaders of lay associations, the young people, the sick and all the faithful, and I extend my thoughts to the entire population of this ancient and noble City, and of the Diocese.

During the Easter Season, the Church presents to us, Sunday after Sunday, some passages from the preaching with which, after Easter, the Apostles, particularly Peter, invited Israel to have faith in Jesus Christ, the Risen One, thereby founding the Church.

In today's reading, the Apostles stand before the Sanhedrin - before that institution which, having sentenced Jesus to death, could not tolerate that this same Jesus was now beginning to be active again through the Apostles' preaching. They could not tolerate that his saving power was once more making itself felt and that his Name was attracting people who believed in him as the promised Redeemer.

They accused the Apostles. Their accusation is: "You want to make us responsible for that man's blood".

Peter, however, reacted to this accusation with a brief catechesis on the essence of Christian faith: "No, we do not want to make you responsible for his blood. The effect of the death and Resurrection of Jesus is quite different. God has exalted him as "Head and Saviour' of all, and of you, too, his People of Israel". And where will this "Head" lead us? What does this "Saviour" bring?

He leads us, St Peter tells us, to conversion - creates for us the leeway and opportunity to mend our ways and repent, begin again. And he offers us forgiveness for our sins: he introduces us into the proper relationship with God, hence, into the proper relationship of each individual with himself or herself and with others.

Peter's brief catechesis did not only apply to the Sanhedrin. It speaks to us all, for Jesus, the Risen One, is also alive today. And for all generations, for all men and women, he is the "Head" who shows us the way and the "Saviour" who straightens out our lives.

The two terms: "conversion" and "forgiveness of sins", which correspond to the titles of Christ "Head", archeg˛s in Greek, and "Saviour", are the key words of Peter's catechesis, words intended to move our hearts too, here and now. And what do they mean?

The path we must take - the path that Jesus points out to us - is called "conversion". But what is it? What must we do? In every life conversion has its own form, because every human being is something new and no one is merely a copy of another.

But in the course of history, the Lord has sent us models of conversion to whom we can look to find guidance. We could thus look at Peter himself to whom the Lord said at the Last Supper: "[W]hen you have turned again, strengthen your brethren" (
Lc 22,32).

We could look at Paul as a great convert. The City of Pavia speaks of one of the greatest converts in the history of the Church: St Aurelius Augustine. He died on 28 August in 430 in the port town of Hippo, in Africa, at that time surrounded and besieged by the Vandals.

After the considerable turmoil of a turbulent history, the King of the Longobards acquired Augustine's remains for the City of Pavia so that today they belong to this City in a special way, and, in it and from it, have something special to say to all of us, to humanity, but to all of us here in particular.

In his book, Confessions, Augustine touchingly described the development of his conversion which achieved its goal with Baptism, administered to him by Bishop Ambrose in the Cathedral of Milan. Readers of his Confessions can share in the journey that Augustine had to make in a long inner struggle to receive at last, at the baptismal font on the night before Easter 387, the Sacrament which marked the great turning point in his life.

A careful examination of the course of St Augustine's life enables one to perceive that his conversion was not an event of a single moment but, precisely, a journey. And one can see that this journey did not end at the baptismal font.

Just as prior to his baptism Augustine's life was a journey of conversion, after it too, although differently, his life continued to be a journey of conversion - until his last illness, when he had the penitential Psalms hung on the walls so that he might have them always before his eyes, and when he excluded himself from receiving the Eucharist in order to go back once again over the path of his repentance and receive salvation from Christ's hands as a gift of God's mercy.

Thus, we can rightly speak of Augustine's "conversions", which actually consisted of one important conversion in his quest for the Face of Christ and then in the journeying on with him.

I would like to mention briefly three important landmarks in this process of conversion, three "conversions".

The first fundamental conversion was the inner march towards Christianity, towards the "yes" of the faith and of Baptism. What was the essential aspect of this journey?

On the one hand, Augustine was a son of his time, deeply conditioned by the customs and passions prevalent then as well as by all the questions and problems that beset any young man. He lived like all the others, yet with a difference: he continued to be a person constantly seeking. He was never satisfied with life as it presented itself and as so many people lived it.

The question of the truth tormented him ceaselessly. He longed to discover truth. He wanted to succeed in knowing what man is; where we ourselves come from, where we are going and how we can find true life.

He desired to find the life that was right and not merely to live blindly, without meaning or purpose.
Passion for truth is the true key phrase of his life. Passion for the truth truly guided him.

There is a further peculiarity: anything that did not bear Christ's Name did not suffice for him. Love for this Name, he tells us, he had tasted from his mother's milk (cf. Confessions, 3, 4, 8). And he always believed - sometimes rather vaguely, at other times, more clearly - that God exists and takes care of us (cf. Confessions, 6, 5, 8).

But to truly know this God and to become really familiar with this Jesus Christ and reach the point of saying "yes" to him with all its consequences - this was the great interior struggle of his youthful years.

St Augustine tells us that through Platonic philosophy he learned and recognized that "in the beginning was the Word" - the Logos, creative reason. But philosophy, which showed him that the beginning of all things was creative reason, did not show him any path on which to reach it; this Logos remained remote and intangible.

Only through faith in the Church did he later find the second essential truth: the Word, the Logos, was made flesh.

Thus, he touches us and we touch him. The humility of God's Incarnation - this is the important step - must be equalled by the humility of our faith, which lays down its self-important pride and bows upon entering the community of Christ's Body; which lives with the Church and through her alone can enter into concrete and bodily communion with the living God.

I do not have to say how deeply all this concerns us: to remain seekers; to refuse to be satisfied with what everyone else says and does; to keep our gaze fixed on the eternal God and on Jesus Christ; to learn the humility of faith in the corporeal Church of Jesus Christ, of the Logos Incarnate.

Augustine described his second conversion at the end of the 10th book of his Confessions with the words: "Terrified by my sins and the pile of my misery, I had racked my heart and had meditated, taking flight to live in solitude. But you forbade me and comforted me, saying: "That is why Christ died for all, so that those who live should not live for themselves, but for him who died for them' (2Co 5,15)"; Confessions, 10, 43, 70).

What had happened? After his baptism, Augustine had decided to return to Africa and with some of his friends had founded a small monastery there. His life was then to be totally dedicated to conversation with God and reflection on and contemplation of the beauty and truth of his Word.
Thus, he spent three happy years in which he believed he had achieved the goal of his life; in that period, a series of valuable philosophical and theological works came into being.

In 391, four years after his baptism, he went to the port town of Hippo to meet a friend whom he desired to win over for his monastery. But he was recognized at the Sunday liturgy in the cathedral in which he took part.

It was not by chance that the Bishop of the city, a man of Greek origin who was not fluent in Latin and found preaching rather a struggle, said in his homily that he was hoping to find a priest to whom he could entrust the task of preaching.

People instantly grabbed hold of Augustine and forced him forward to be ordained a priest to serve the city.

Immediately after his forced ordination, Augustine wrote to Bishop Valerius: "I was constrained... to accept second place at the helm, when as yet I knew not how to handle an oar.... And from this derived the tears which some of my brethren perceived me shedding in the city at the time of my ordination" (cf. Letter 21, 1ff.).

Augustine's beautiful dream of a contemplative life had vanished. As a result, his life had fundamentally changed. He could now no longer dedicate himself solely to meditation in solitude. He had to live with Christ for everyone. He had to express his sublime knowledge and thoughts in the thoughts and language of the simple people in his city. The great philosophical work of an entire lifetime, of which he had dreamed, was to remain unwritten.

Instead, however, we have been given something far more precious: the Gospel translated into the language of everyday life and of his sufferings.

These were now part of his daily life, which he described as the following: "reprimanding the undisciplined, comforting the faint-hearted, supporting the weak, refuting opponents... encouraging the negligent, soothing the quarrelsome, helping the needy, liberating the oppressed, expressing approval to the good, tolerating the wicked and loving all" (Sermon 340, 3).

"Continuously preaching, arguing, rebuking, building God's house, having to manage for everyone - who would not shrink from such a heavy burden?" (Sermon 339, 4).

This was the second conversion which this man, struggling and suffering, was constantly obliged to make: to be available to everyone, time and again, and not for his own perfection; time and again, to lay down his life with Christ so that others might find him, true Life.

Further, there was a third, decisive phase in the journey of conversion of St Augustine. After his Ordination to the priesthood he had requested a vacation period to study the Sacred Scriptures in greater detail.

His first series of homilies, after this pause for reflection, were on the Sermon on the Mount; he explained the way to an upright life, "the perfect life", pointed out by Christ in a new way. He presented it as a pilgrimage to the holy mountain of the Word of God. In these homilies it is possible to further perceive all the enthusiasm of faith newly discovered and lived; his firm conviction that the baptized, in living totally in accordance with Christ's message, can precisely be "perfect" in accordance with the Sermon on the Mount.

Approximately 20 years later, Augustine wrote a book called the Retractations, in which he critically reviewed all the works he had thus far written, adding corrections wherever he had in the meantime learned something new.

With regard to the ideal of perfection in his homilies on the Sermon on the Mount, he noted: "In the meantime, I have understood that one alone is truly perfect and that the words of the Sermon on the Mount are totally fulfilled in one alone: Jesus Christ himself.

"The whole Church, on the other hand - all of us, including the Apostles - must pray every day: forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us" (cf. Retract. I 19, 1-3).
Augustine had learned a further degree of humility - not only the humility of integrating his great thought into the humble faith of the Church, not only the humility of translating his great knowledge into the simplicity of announcement, but also the humility of recognizing that he himself and the entire pilgrim Church needed and continually need the merciful goodness of a God who forgives every day.

And we, he added, liken ourselves to Christ, the only Perfect One, to the greatest possible extent when we become, like him, people of mercy.

Let us now thank God for the great light that shines out from St Augustine's wisdom and humility and pray the Lord to give to us all, day after day, the conversion we need, and thus lead us toward true life. Amen.




Benedict XVI Homilies 7047