Benedict XVI Homilies 7310
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Dear Young People,
The Gospel of the blessing of the palms that we have heard gathered here in St Peter's Square, begins with the sentence: "[Jesus] went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem" (Lc 19,28). At the very beginning of today's Liturgy, the Church anticipates her response to the Gospel saying: "Let us follow the Lord". This clearly expresses the theme of Palm Sunday. It is the sequela. Being Christian means considering the way of Jesus Christ as the right way for being human as that way which leads to our destination, to a completely fulfilled and authentic humanity. In a special way I would like to repeat to all young people on this 25th World Youth Day that being Christian is a path or, better, a pilgrimage; it is to travel with Jesus Christ, to journey in the direction he has pointed out and is pointing out to us.
But what direction is this? How do we find it? Our Gospel passage offers two clues in this regard. In the first place it says that it is an ascent. This has first of all a very concrete meaning. Jericho, where the last part of Jesus' pilgrimage began, is 250 metres below sea-level, whereas Jerusalem the destination is located at 740 to 780 metres above sea level: a climb of almost 1,000 metres. But this external route is above all an image of the internal movement of existence that occurs in the following of Christ: it is an ascent to the true heights of being human. Man can choose an easy path and avoid every effort. He can also sink to the low and the vulgar. He can flounder in the swamps of falsehood and dishonesty. Jesus walks before us and towards the heights. He leads us to what is great, pure. He leads us to that healthy air of the heights: to life in accordance with the truth; to courage that does not let itself be intimidated by the gossip of prevalent opinions; to patience that bears with and sustains the other. He guides people to be open towards the suffering, to those who are neglected. He leads us to stand loyally by the other, even when the situation becomes difficult. He leads us to the readiness to give help; to the goodness that does not let itself be disarmed, even by ingratitude. He leads us to love he leads us to God.
Jesus "went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem". If we interpret these words of the Gospel in the context of the way Jesus took in all its aspects a journey which, precisely, continues to the end of time in the destination, "Jerusalem", we can discover various levels indicated. Of course, first of all, it must be understood that this simply means the place, "Jerusalem": it is the city in which God's Temple stood, whose uniqueness must allude to the oneness of God himself. This place, therefore, proclaims two things: on the one hand it says that there is only one God in all the world, who exceeds by far all our places and times; he is that God to which the entire creation belongs. He is the God whom all men and women seek in their own depths, and of whom, in a certain way, they all have some knowledge. But this God gave himself a Name. He made himself known to us, he initiated a history with human beings; he chose a man Abraham as the starting point of this history. The infinite God is at the same time the close God. He, who cannot be confined to any building, nevertheless wants to dwell among us, to be totally with us.
If Jesus, with the pilgrim Israel, goes up to Jerusalem, he goes there to celebrate with Israel the Passover: the memorial of Israel's liberation a memorial which, at the same time, is always a hope of definitive freedom, which God will give. And Jesus approaches this feast in the awareness that he himself is the Lamb in which will be accomplished what the Book of Exodus says in this regard: a lamb without blemish, a male, who at sunset, before the eyes of the children of Israel, is sacrificed "as an ordinance for ever" (cf. Ex 12,5-6 Ex 12,14). And lastly, Jesus knows that his way goes further: the Cross will not be his end. He knows that his journey will rend the veil between this world and God's world; that he will ascend to the throne of God and reconcile God and man in his Body He knows that his Risen Body will be the new sacrifice and the new Temple; that around him, from the hosts of Angels and Saints the new Jerusalem will be formed, that is in Heaven and yet also on the earth, because by his Passion he was to open the frontier between Heaven and earth. His way leads beyond the summit of the Mountain of the Temple to the heights of God himself: this is the great ascent to which he calls us all. He always remains with us on earth and he has always already arrived with God. He guides us on earth and beyond the earth.
Thus, the dimensions of our sequela become visible in the ascent of Jesus the goal to which he wants to lead us: to the heights of God, to communion with God, to being-with-God. This is the true destination and communion with him is the way to it. Communion with Christ is being on the way, a permanent ascent toward the true heights of our call. Journeying on together with Jesus is at the same time also a journeying on in the "we" of those who want to follow him. It introduces us into this community. Since the way to true life, to being people in conformity with the model of the Son of God Jesus Christ, surpasses our own strength, this journey always means being carried. We find ourselves, so to speak, roped to Jesus Christ together with him on the ascent towards God's heights. He pulls and supports us. It is part of following Christ that we allow ourselves to be roped together; that we acknowledge we cannot do it alone. This act of humility, entering into the "we" of the Church is part of it; holding tight to the rope, the responsibility of communion not breaking the rope through stubbornness or self-importance. Humbly believing, with the Church, like being a roped-party on the ascent towards God, is an essential condition for the following of Christ. This being roped together also entails not behaving as masters of the Word of God, not running after a mistaken idea of emancipation. The humility of "being with" is essential for the ascent. The fact that in the Sacraments we always let the Lord once again take us by the hand is also part of it; that we let ourselves be purified and strengthened by him; that we accept the discipline of the ascent, even when we are weary.
Lastly, we must say again: the Cross is also part of the ascent towards the heights of Jesus Christ, of the ascent to the heights of God. Just as in the affairs of this world it is impossible to achieve great results without self-sacrifice and hard work; just as joy in a great discovery of knowledge or in a true operational skill is linked to discipline, indeed, to the effort of learning, so the way toward life itself, to the realization of one's own humanity, is linked to communion with the One who ascended to God's heights through the Cross. In the final analysis, the Cross is an expression of what love means: only those who lose themselves find themselves.
Let us sum up: the following of Christ requires, as a first step, a reawakening of the desire to be authentic human beings and thus the reawakening of oneself for God. It then requires us to join the climbing party, in the communion of the Church. In the "we" of the Church we enter into communion with the "you" of Jesus Christ and thus reach the path to God. We are also asked to listen to the Word of Jesus Christ and to live it: in faith, hope and love. Thus we are on the way toward the definitive Jerusalem and, from this moment, in a certain way, we already find ourselves there, in the communion of all God's Saints.
Our pilgrimage following Christ is not therefore bound for an earthly city, but for the new City of God that develops in the midst of this world. Yet the pilgrimage to the earthly Jerusalem can also be useful to us Christians for that more important journey. I myself linked three meanings to my pilgrimage in the Holy Land last year. First of all I thought that what St John says at the beginning of his First Letter can happen to us on such an occasion: that what we have heard, we can in a certain manner see and touch with our hands (cf. 1Jn 1,1). Faith in Jesus Christ is not a legendary invention. It is based on a true story. This history we can, so to speak, contemplate and touch. It is moving to find oneself in Nazareth in the place where the Angel appeared to Mary and intimated to her the duty to become the Mother of the Redeemer. It is moving to be in Bethlehem on the spot where the Word, made flesh, came to dwell among us; to walk on the holy ground in which God chose to become a man and a child. It is moving to climb the steps to Calvary, to the place where Jesus died for us on the Cross. And lastly, to stand before the empty sepulchre; to pray where his holy body rested and where, on the third day, the Resurrection occurred. Following the exterior ways taken by Jesus must help us walk more joyfully and with new certainty on the interior way that he pointed out to us, that is he himself.
When we go to the Holy Land as pilgrims we also go, however and this is the second aspect as messengers of peace, with the prayer for peace; with the strong invitation to all to do our utmost in that place, which includes in its name the word "peace", to make it truly become a place of peace. Thus this pilgrimage is at the same time as a third aspect an encouragement to Christians to stay in their country of origin and to work hard in it for peace.
Let us return once again to the Palm Sunday Liturgy. In the prayer with which the palms are blessed, we pray that in communion with Christ we may bear fruit with good works. Subsequent to an erroneous interpretation of St Paul, the opinion that good works are not part of being Christian or in any case are insignificant for the human being's salvation has emerged time and again in the course of history and also today. But if Paul says that works cannot justify man, with this he did not oppose the importance of right action and, if he speaks of the end of the Law, he does not say that the Ten Commandments are obsolete and irrelevant. There is no need now to reflect on the full breadth of the issue that concerned the Apostle. What is important is to point out that with the term "Law" he does not mean the Ten Commandments but rather the complex way of life Israel had adopted to protect itself against the temptations of paganism. Now, however, Christ has brought God to the pagans. This form of distinction was not imposed upon them. They were given as the Law Christ alone. However, this means love of God and of neighbour and of everything that this entails. The Commandments, interpreted in a new and deeper way starting from Christ, are part of this love, those Commandments are none other than the fundamental rules of true love: first of all, and as a fundamental principle, the worship of God, the primacy of God, which the first three Commandments express. They say: "without God nothing succeeds correctly. Who this God is and how he is we know from the person of Jesus Christ. Next come the holiness of the family (4th Commandment), the holiness of life (5th Commandment), the order of marriage (6th Commandment), the social order (7th Commandment), and lastly the inviolability of the truth (8th Commandment). Today all this is of the greatest timeliness and precisely also in St Paul's meaning if we read all his Letters. "Bear fruit with good works": at the beginning of Holy Week let us pray the Lord to grant us this fruit in ever greater abundance.
At the end of the Gospel for the blessing of the palms, we hear the acclamation with which the pilgrims greet Jesus at the Gates of Jerusalem. It takes up the words of Psalm 118 (117), which priests originally proclaimed to pilgrims from the Holy City but which, in the meantime had become an expression of messianic hope: "Blessed is he who enters in the Name of the Lord" (Ps 118,26 : 26; cf. Lc 19,38). Pilgrims see in Jesus the One who is to come in the Name of the Lord. Indeed, according to St Luke's Gospel they insert one more word: "Blessed is the King who comes in the Name of the Lord". And they continue with an acclamation that recalls the message of the Angels at Christmas, but change it in a manner that prompts reflection. The Angels spoke of the glory of God in the highest and of peace on earth among men with whom he was pleased. The pilgrims at the entrance to the Holy City say: "Peace on earth and glory be to God in the highest!". They know only too well that there is no peace on earth. And they know that the place of peace is Heaven they know that it is an essential part of Heaven to be a haven of peace. This acclamation is therefore an expression of profound suffering and, at the same time, a prayer of hope; may the One who comes in the Name of the Lord bring to the earth what there is in Heaven. May his kingship become the kingship of God, the presence of Heaven on earth. The Church, before the Eucharistic consecration, sings the words of the Psalm with which Jesus was greeted before his entry into the Holy City: She greets Jesus as the King who, coming from God, comes among us in the Name of God. Today too, this joyous greeting is always a supplication and hope. Let us pray the Lord that he bring to us Heaven, the glory of God and peace among men. Let us understand this greeting in the spirit of the request in the Our Father: "Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven". We know that Heaven is Heaven, a place of glory and peace because the will of God totally prevails there. And we know that the earth will not be Heaven as long as God's will is not done on it. Let us therefore greet Jesus who comes down from Heaven and pray him to help us to recognize and to do God's will. May God's kingship enter the world and thus be filled with the splendour of peace. Amen.
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
We are gathered round the altar, near the tomb of the Apostle Peter, to offer the Eucharistic sacrifice in suffrage for the chosen soul of Venerable John Paul II, on the fifth anniversary of his departure. We are doing so a few days early, because this year 2 April falls on Good Friday. All the same we are in Holy Week, a particularly favourable time for recollection and prayer, in which the Liturgy makes us relive the last days of Jesus' earthly life more intensely. I would like to express my gratitude to all of you who are taking part in this Holy Mass. I cordially greet the Cardinals especially Archbishop Stanis³aw Dziwisz the Bishops, priests, and men and women religious; as well as the pilgrims who have come specially from Poland, the many young people and the numerous faithful who did not want to miss this Celebration.
In the first Reading from the Bible that has been proclaimed the Prophet Isaiah presents the figure of a "Servant of God" who at the same time is his chosen one, in whom he is well pleased. The Servant was to act with steadfast firmness, with an energy that was never lacking until he had completed the task assigned to him. Yet he appeared not to have at his disposal those human means that seemed indispensable for the implementation of so grandiose a plan. He was to present himself with the power of conviction, and the Spirit whom God had placed within him was to give him the ability to act with gentleness and force, assuring him of ultimate success. What the inspired prophet says of the Servant we may apply to beloved John Paul ii: the Lord called him to his service and, in entrusting to him tasks of ever greater responsibility, also accompanied him with his grace and ceaseless assistance. During his long Pontificate John Paul II did his utmost to proclaim the law with firmness, without weaknesses or indecision, especially when he had to contend with resistence, hostility or rejection. He knew that the Lord had taken him by the hand and this enabled him to exercise a very fruitful ministry, for which, once again, we give fervent thanks to God.
The Gospel just proclaimed takes us to Bethany, where, as the Evangelist notes, Lazarus, Martha and Mary were giving a supper for the Teacher (Jn 12,1). This banquet in the house of Jesus' three friends was marked by presentiments of his imminent death: the six days before Easter, the suggestion of Judas, the traitor, Jesus' answer that calls to mind one of the devout burial rites, anticipated by Mary, the hint that they would not always have him with them and the attempt to put Lazarus to death that mirrors the desire to kill Jesus. In this Gospel account there is one gesture to which I would like to draw attention. Mary of Bethany "took 300 grams [a pound] of costly ointment of pure nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair" (cf. Jn 12,3). Mary's gesture is the expression of great faith and love for the Lord; it is not enough for her to wash the Teacher's feet with water; she sprinkles on them a great quantity of the precious perfume which as Judas protested it would have been possible to sell for 300 denarii. She did not anoint his head, as was the custom, but his feet: Mary offers Jesus the most precious thing she has and with a gesture of deep devotion. Love does not calculate, does not measure, does not worry about expense, does not set up barriers but can give joyfully; it seeks only the good of the other, surmounts meanness, pettiness, resentment and the narrow-mindedness that human beings sometimes harbour in their hearts.
Mary stood at the feet of Jesus in a humble attitude of service, the same attitude that the Teacher himself was to assume at the Last Supper, when, the fourth Gospel tells us, he "rose from supper, laid aside his garments, and girded himself with a towel. Then he poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet" (Jn 13,4-5), so that, he said, "you also should do as I have done to you" (Jn 13,15): the rule of the community of Jesus is that of love which knows how to serve to the point of offering one's life. And the scent spread: "the house" the Evangelist remarks, "was filled with the fragrance of the ointment" (Jn 12,3). The meaning of Mary's action, which is a response to God's infinite Love, spreads among all the guests; no gesture of charity and authentic devotion to Christ remains a personal event or concerns solely the relationship between the individual and the Lord. Rather, it concerns the whole Body of the Church, it is contagious: it instils love, joy and light.
"He came to his own home, and his own people received him not" (Jn 1,11). Mary's action is in contrast to the attitude and words of Judas who, under the pretext of the aid to be given to the poor, conceals the selfishness and falsehood of a person closed into himself, shackled by the greed for possession and who does not let the good fragrance of divine love envelop him. Judas calculates what one cannot calculate, he enters with a mean mindset the space which is one of love, of giving, of total dedication. And Jesus, who had remained silent until that moment, intervenes defending Mary's gesture: "Let her alone, let her keep it for the day of my burial" (Jn 12,7). Jesus understands that Mary has intuited God's love and points out that his "hour" is now approaching, the "hour" in which Love will find its supreme expression on the wood of the Cross: the Son of God gives himself so that many may have life, he descends to the abysses of death to bring man to the heights of God, who is not afraid to humble himself, to make himself "obedient, unto death, even death on a cross" (Ph 2,8). In the Sermon in which he comments on this Gospel passage St Augustine addresses each one of us, with insistent words, the invitation to enter this circuit of love by imitating Mary's gesture and really placing ourselves in the sequela of Christ. Augustine writes: "Whatever soul of you wishes to be truly faithful, anoint like Mary the feet of the Lord with precious ointment.... Anoint the feet of Jesus: follow by a good life the Lord's footsteps. Wipe them with your hair: what you have of superfluity, give to the poor, and you have wiped the feet of the Lord" (In Ioh. evang., 50, 6).
Dear brothers and sisters, the entire life of Venerable John Paul II was lived under the sign of this love, this capacity to give himself generously, without reserve, without measure, without counting the cost. What motivated him was love for Christ to whom he consecrated his life, a superabundant and unconditional love. And precisely because he drew ever closer to God in love, he could become a travelling companion for people today, sprinkling in the world the scent of God's Love. Those who had the joy of knowing him and seeing him regularly could appreciate how alive was his certainty that he would "see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living", as we heard in the Responsorial Psalm (Ps 27,13 : 13); a certainty that accompanied him throughout his life and that was manifest in a special way during the last period of his pilgrimage on this earth: his increasing physical weakness did not corrode his unshakable faith, his luminous hope, his fervent charity. He let himself be consumed for Christ, for the Church, for the whole world: his was a state of suffering lived to the end for love and with love.
In his Homily for the 25th anniversary of his Pontificate he confided that he had felt echoing in his soul, at the moment of his election, Jesus' question to Peter: "Do you love me? Do you love me more than these? (Jn 21,15-16); and he added: "Every day that same dialogue between Jesus and Peter takes place in my heart. In spirit, I focus on the benevolent gaze of the Risen Christ. Although he knows of my human frailty, he encourages me to answer confidently, like Peter: "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you" (Jn 21,17). And then he invites me to take on the responsibilities that he himself has entrusted to me" (Homily, 16 October 2003; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 22 October, p. 3). These words are laden with faith and love, the love of God, that conquers everything!
Lastly, I would like to greet the Poles present. Many of you have gathered round the tomb of the Venerable Servant of God with a special feeling as sons and daughters of the same country, who grew up in the same culture and spiritual tradition. The life and work of John Paul ii, a great Pole, may be a cause of pride for you. However, you must remember that this is also a great call to be faithful witnesses to faith, hope and love, as he himself continuously taught. Through the intercession of John Paul ii, may the Lord's Blessing sustain you always.
As we continue the Eucharistic Celebration, preparing to live the glorious days of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of the Lord, let us entrust ourselves confidently after the example of Venerable John Paul ii to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, so that she may sustain us in our commitment to being, on every occasion, unflagging apostles of her divine Son and of his merciful Love. Amen!
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
At the centre of the Church’s worship is the notion of “sacrament”. This means that it is not primarily we who act, but God comes first to meet us through his action, he looks upon us and he leads us to himself. Another striking feature is this: God touches us through material things, through gifts of creation that he takes up into his service, making them instruments of the encounter between us and himself. There are four elements in creation on which the world of sacraments is built: water, bread, wine and olive oil. Water, as the basic element and fundamental condition of all life, is the essential sign of the act in which, through baptism, we become Christians and are born to new life. While water is the vital element everywhere, and thus represents the shared access of all people to rebirth as Christians, the other three elements belong to the culture of the Mediterranean region. In other words, they point towards the concrete historical environment in which Christianity emerged. God acted in a clearly defined place on the earth, he truly made history with men. On the one hand, these three elements are gifts of creation, and on the other, they also indicate the locality of the history of God with us. They are a synthesis between creation and history: gifts of God that always connect us to those parts of the world where God chose to act with us in historical time, where he chose to become one of us.
Within these three elements there is a further gradation. Bread has to do with everyday life. It is the fundamental gift of life day by day. Wine has to do with feasting, with the fine things of creation, in which, at the same time, the joy of the redeemed finds particular expression. Olive oil has a wide range of meaning. It is nourishment, it is medicine, it gives beauty, it prepares us for battle and it gives strength. Kings and priests are anointed with oil, which is thus a sign of dignity and responsibility, and likewise of the strength that comes from God. Even the name that we bear as “Christians” contains the mystery of the oil. The word “Christians”, in fact, by which Christ’s disciples were known in the earliest days of Gentile Christianity, is derived from the word “Christ” (Ac 11,20-21) – the Greek translation of the word “Messiah”, which means “anointed one”. To be a Christian is to come from Christ, to belong to Christ, to the anointed one of God, to whom God granted kingship and priesthood. It means belonging to him whom God himself anointed – not with material oil, but with the One whom the oil represents: with his Holy Spirit. Olive oil is thus in a very particular way a symbol of the total compenetration of the man Jesus by the Holy Spirit.
In the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday, the holy oils are at the centre of the liturgical action. They are consecrated in the bishop’s cathedral for the whole year. They thus serve also as an expression of the Church’s unity, guaranteed by the episcopate, and they point to Christ, the true “shepherd and guardian” of our souls, as Saint Peter calls him (1P 2,25). At the same time, they hold together the entire liturgical year, anchored in the mystery of Holy Thursday. Finally, they point to the Garden of Olives, the scene of Jesus’ inner acceptance of his Passion. Yet the Garden of Olives is also the place from which he ascended to the Father, and is therefore the place of redemption: God did not leave Jesus in death. Jesus lives for ever with the Father, and is therefore omnipresent, with us always. This double mystery of the Mount of Olives is also always “at work” within the Church’s sacramental oil. In four sacraments, oil is the sign of God’s goodness reaching out to touch us: in baptism, in confirmation as the sacrament of the Holy Spirit, in the different grades of the sacrament of holy orders and finally in the anointing of the sick, in which oil is offered to us, so to speak, as God’s medicine – as the medicine which now assures us of his goodness, offering us strength and consolation, yet at the same time points beyond the moment of the illness towards the definitive healing, the resurrection (cf. Jc 5,14). Thus oil, in its different forms, accompanies us throughout our lives: beginning with the catechumenate and baptism, and continuing right up to the moment when we prepare to meet God, our Judge and Saviour. Moreover, the Chrism Mass, in which the sacramental sign of oil is presented to us as part of the language of God’s creation, speaks in particular to us who are priests: it speaks of Christ, whom God anointed King and Priest – of him who makes us sharers in his priesthood, in his “anointing”, through our own priestly ordination.
I should like, then, to attempt a brief interpretation of the mystery of this holy sign in its essential reference to the priestly vocation. In popular etymologies a connection was made, even in ancient times, between the Greek word “elaion” – oil – and the word “eleos” – mercy. In fact, in the various sacraments, consecrated oil is always a sign of God’s mercy. So the meaning of priestly anointing always includes the mission to bring God’s mercy to those we serve. In the lamp of our lives, the oil of mercy should never run dry. Let us always obtain it from the Lord in good time – in our encounter with his word, in our reception of the sacraments, in the time we spend with him in prayer.
As a consequence of the story of the dove bearing an olive branch to signal the end of the flood – and thus God’s new peace with the world of men – not only the dove but also the olive branch and oil itself have become symbols of peace. The Christians of antiquity loved to decorate the tombs of their dead with the crown of victory and the olive branch, symbol of peace. They knew that Christ conquered death and that their dead were resting in the peace of Christ. They knew that they themselves were awaited by Christ, that he had promised them the peace which the world cannot give. They remembered that the first words of the Risen Lord to his disciples were: “Peace be with you!” (Jn 20,19). He himself, so to speak, bears the olive branch, he introduces his peace into the world. He announces God’s saving goodness. He is our peace. Christians should therefore be people of peace, people who recognize and live the mystery of the Cross as a mystery of reconciliation. Christ does not conquer through the sword, but through the Cross. He wins by conquering hatred. He wins through the force of his greater love. The Cross of Christ expresses his “no” to violence. And in this way, it is God’s victory sign, which announces Jesus’ new way. The one who suffered was stronger than the ones who exercised power. In his self-giving on the Cross, Christ conquered violence. As priests we are called, in fellowship with Jesus Christ, to be men of peace, we are called to oppose violence and to trust in the greater power of love.
A further aspect of the symbolism of oil is that it strengthens for battle. This does not contradict the theme of peace, but forms part of it. The battle of Christians consisted – and still consists – not in the use of violence, but in the fact that they were – and are – ready to suffer for the good, for God. It consists in the fact that Christians, as good citizens, keep the law and do what is just and good. It consists in the fact that they do not do whatever within the legal system in force is not just but unjust. The battle of the martyrs consists in their concrete “no” to injustice: by taking no part in idolatry, in Emperor worship, they refused to bow down before falsehood, before the adoration of human persons and their power. With their “no” to falsehood and all its consequences, they upheld the power of right and truth. Thus they served true peace. Today too it is important for Christians to follow what is right, which is the foundation of peace. Today too it is important for Christians not to accept a wrong that is enshrined in law – for example the killing of innocent unborn children. In this way we serve peace, in this way we find ourselves following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, of whom Saint Peter says: “When he was reviled he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1P 2,23f.).
The Fathers of the Church were fascinated by a phrase from Psalm 45 (44) – traditionally held to be Solomon’s wedding psalm – which was reinterpreted by Christians as the psalm for the marriage of the new Solomon, Jesus Christ, to his Church. To the King, Christ, it is said: “Your love is for justice; your hatred for evil. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above other kings” (Ps 45,8). What is this oil of gladness with which the true king, Christ, was anointed? The Fathers had no doubt in this regard: the oil of gladness is the Holy Spirit himself, who was poured out upon Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit is the gladness that comes from God. From Jesus this gladness sweeps over us in his Gospel, in the joyful message that God knows us, that he is good and that his goodness is the power above all powers; that we are wanted and loved by him. Gladness is the fruit of love. The oil of gladness, which was poured out over Christ and comes to us from him, is the Holy Spirit, the gift of Love who makes us glad to be alive. Since we know Christ, and since in him we know the true God, we know that it is good to be a human being. It is good to be alive, because we are loved, because truth itself is good.
In the early Church, the consecrated oil was considered a special sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit, who communicates himself to us as a gift from Christ. He is the oil of gladness. This gladness is different from entertainment and from the outward happiness that modern society seeks for itself. Entertainment, in its proper place, is certainly good and enjoyable. It is good to be able to laugh. But entertainment is not everything. It is only a small part of our lives, and when it tries to be the whole, it becomes a mask behind which despair lurks, or at least doubt over whether life is really good, or whether non-existence might perhaps be better than existence. The gladness that comes to us from Christ is different. It does indeed make us happy, but it can also perfectly well coexist with suffering. It gives us the capacity to suffer and, in suffering, to remain nevertheless profoundly glad. It gives us the capacity to share the suffering of others and thus by placing ourselves at one another’s disposal, to express tangibly the light and the goodness of God. I am always struck by the passage in the Acts of the Apostles which recounts that after the Apostles had been whipped by order of the Sanhedrin, they “rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for the name of Jesus” (Ac 5,41). Anyone who loves is ready to suffer for the beloved and for the sake of his love, and in this way he experiences a deeper joy. The joy of the martyrs was stronger than the torments inflicted on them. This joy was ultimately victorious and opened the gates of history for Christ. As priests, we are – in Saint Paul’s words – “co-workers with you for your joy” (2Co 1,24). In the fruit of the olive-tree, in the consecrated oil, we are touched by the goodness of the Creator, the love of the Redeemer. Let us pray that his gladness may pervade us ever more deeply and that we may be capable of bringing it anew to a world in such urgent need of the joy that has its source in truth. Amen.
Benedict XVI Homilies 7310