Benedict XVI Homilies 20048
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
"Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (Jn 12,24). The Evangelist John thus foretold the glorification of Christ through the mystery of his death on the Cross. In this Easter Season, in the light of the mystery of the Resurrection itself, these words acquire an even deeper and more incisive eloquence. If it is true that a certain sorrow can be detected in them because of his imminent departure from his disciples, it is also true that Jesus pointed to the secret for defeating the power of death. Death does not have the last word, it is not the end of everything but, redeemed by the sacrifice of the Cross, it can henceforth be the passage to the joy of life without end. Jesus said, "He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life" (Jn 12,25). Thus, if we can die to our selfishness, if we refuse to withdraw into ourselves and make our life a gift to God and to our brethren, we too will be able to know the rich fruitfulness of love. And love does not die.
Here is the renewed message of hope that we gather from God's Word today, as we say our last farewell to our beloved Brother, Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo. His death, which came just as he seemed to have recovered from a severe health crisis that began more than a year ago, has deeply distressed us all. In the United States, where I was on a Pastoral Visit, I immediately raised to God a prayer of suffrage for his soul and now, at the end of Holy Mass at which Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Dean of the College of Cardinals, has presided, I join you all with affection to recall the great generosity with which the late Cardinal served the Church and to thank the Lord for the many gifts with which he enriched the person and the ministry of our late Brother.
At the Consistory of 2 February 1983 Archbishop Alfonso López Trujillo was the youngest Cardinal on whom my Venerable Predecessor, Pope John Paul II, conferred a Cardinal's hat. He was born in Villahermosa in the Diocese of Ibagué, Colombia, in 1935, and while still a child moved with his family to the capital, Bogotá. Here, when he was a university student, he entered the Major Seminary. He continued his studies in Rome and was ordained a priest in November 1960. Having concluded his theological formation, he taught philosophy at the archdiocesan seminary and worked for many years at the service of the entire Church in Colombia. In 1971, the Servant of God Paul VI appointed him Auxiliary Bishop of Bogotá; in those same years he was also President of the Doctrinal Commission of the Colombian Bishops' Conference and was chosen shortly afterwards as Secretary General of CELAM, an office he carried out with recognized competence over a long period.
In 1978, again by Paul VI, he was entrusted with the office of Coadjutor Bishop of the Archdiocese of Medellín with the right of succession, and he later became its Pastor. His deep knowledge of the ecclesial situation in Latin America acquired during the long period in which he had worked as Secretary of CELAM led to his appointment as President of this important ecclesial body, which he directed wisely from 1979 to 1983. From 1987 to 1990 he was President of the Colombian Bishops' Conference. He also had opportunities to broaden his knowledge of the universal Church's problems, having taken part in the three Assemblies of the Synod of Bishops held in the Vatican: in 1974 on evangelization, in 1977 on catechesis and in 1980 on the family. Moreover, it was precisely to the family that he was called to be especially dedicated, from 8 November 1990 when John Paul II appointed him President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, an office that kept him in active service until the moment of his death.
On this occasion, how is it possible not to highlight the zeal and enthusiasm with which he worked during these approximately 18 years, carrying out a tireless activity to safeguard and promote the family and Christian marriage? How can we fail to thank him for the courage with which he defended the non-negotiable values of human life? We have all admired his indefatigable activity. One result of his hard work is the Lexicon, which constitutes a precious text for the formation of pastoral workers and an instrument for dialogue with the contemporary world on the basic themes of Christian ethics. We can only be grateful to him for the tenacious battle he fought in defence of the "truth", family love and to spread the "Gospel of the family". The enthusiasm and determination with which he worked in this field were the fruit of his personal experience, linked in particular with the suffering his mother had to bear; she died at the age of 44 from a very painful illness. "When in my work", he remarked, "I speak of the ideals of marriage and the family, it comes naturally to me to think of the family from which I come, because through my parents I have been able to understand how it is possible to fulfil both ideals".
The late Cardinal drew his love for the truth about man and for the Gospel of the family from the thought that every human being and every family reflect the mystery of God who is Love. His moving address to the Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in 1997 lives on, impressed in the minds of all: it was a true hymn to life. He presented a very practical spirituality to those who are involved in the implementation of the divine plan for the family. He emphasized that if knowledge does not concentrate on understanding and educating to life, it will lose the most crucial battle on the fascinating and mysterious ground of genetic engineering.
If Cardinal López Trujillo made the defence of and love for the family the characteristic commitment of his service in the Pontifical Council of which he was President, it was to the affirmation of the truth that he dedicated his whole life. He testifies to this in one of his writings in which he explains: "I have personally chosen the motto "Veritas in Caritate', because all that concerns the truth is at the heart of my studies". And he added that truth in love has always been an "existential pole" for him, at first in Colombia, when he strove "to find the meaning of genuine liberation in the theological context", and later on, here in Rome, when he devoted himself "to deepening, proclaiming and spreading the Gospel of life and the Gospel of the family, as a collaborator of the Holy Father". He concluded: "I deeply believe in the value of this decisive battle for the Church and for humanity and I ask the Lord to give me the strength to be neither lazy nor cowardly".
To bring to completion the mission that Jesus entrusts to us, we must not be lazy or cowardly. In the Second Reading we heard how the Apostle Paul, a prisoner in Rome, urged his trusted disciple Timothy to take heart and to persevere in witnessing to Christ, even at the cost of being subjected to harsh persecution, ever strong in the certainty that: "if we have died with him, we shall also live with him; if we endure, we shall also reign with him" (2Tm 2,11-12). May the late Cardinal's generosity, expressed in a multitude of charitable actions, especially for children in different parts of the world, be an encouragement to us to spend our physical and spiritual resources for the Gospel; may they spur us to work in defence of human life; help us to look constantly to the destination of our earthly pilgrimage. And St John points out to us what this comforting destination is, offering for our contemplation in the passage of Revelation which has just been proclaimed the visions of a "new Heaven" and a "new earth" (Ap 21,1), and sketching before our eyes the prophetic lines of the "holy city", the "new Jerusalem... prepared as a bride adorned for her husband" (Ap 21,2).
Venerable Brothers and dear friends, let us never lift our eyes from this vision: let us look to eternity, anticipating, even among trials and tribulations, the joy of the future "dwelling place of God with men", where our Redeemer will wipe away our every tear and where "death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away" (cf. Ap 21,4). We like to think that beloved Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, for whom we still desire to pray, has already reached this dwelling place of light and joy. May Mary welcome him and may the angels and saints in Paradise accompany him: may his soul athirst for God at last be able to enter and to rest in peace for ever in the "shrine" of infinite Love. Amen!
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today the words that say "You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing" come true for us in a very special way. Indeed, besides the joy of celebrating the Eucharist on the Lord's Day there is the spiritual exultation of the Easter Season, of which we have now reached the Sixth Sunday, and above all the celebration of the ordination of new priests. Together with you I greet with affection the 29 deacons who are shortly to be ordained priests. I express deep gratitude to those who have guided them in their process of discernment and preparation and I ask you all to thank God for his gift to the Church of these new priests. Let us support them with intense prayer during this celebration, in a spirit of fervent praise to the Father who has called them, to the Son who has attracted them to him and to the Spirit who has formed them. The Ordination of new priests usually takes place on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, known as "Good Shepherd" Sunday, which is also the World Day of Prayer for Vocations but this was not possible because I was away on the Pastoral Visit to the United States of America. The image of the Good Shepherd seems to be the one which sheds more light than any other on the role and ministry of the priest in the Christian community. However, the biblical passages which today's liturgy offers for our meditation also illumine the priest's mission, from a different angle.
The First Reading, from chapter 8 of the Acts of the Apostles, tells of the mission of the deacon Philip in Samaria. I would like immediately to draw attention to the sentence that ends the first part of the text: "The rejoicing in that town rose to fever pitch" (Ac 8,8). This expression does not communicate an idea or a theological concept but refers to a circumstantiated event, something that changed people's lives: in a specific city of Samaria, in the period that followed the violent persecution of the Church in Jerusalem (cf. Ac 8,1), something happened that caused "great joy". So what was it? The sacred Author recounts that to escape the persecution which had been unleashed in Jerusalem against those who had converted to Christianity, all the disciples except the Apostles left the Holy City and scattered in the countryside around it. This distressing event mysteriously and providentially gave new dynamism to the spread of the Gospel. Among those who had dispersed was Philip, one of the Community's seven deacons, a deacon like you, dear Ordinands although, of course, in a different way because, in the unrepeatable season of the nascent Church, the Apostles and deacons were endowed by the Holy Spirit with extraordinary power in both preaching and in healing. Now, it happened that the inhabitants of the region of Samaria mentioned in this chapter of the Acts of the Apostles unanimously accepted Philip's proclamation and, thanks to their adherence to the Gospel, he was able to heal many sick people. In that town of Samaria, in the midst of a people traditionally despised and virtually excommunicated by the Jews, the proclamation of Christ, which opened the hearts of all who accepted it, resounded. This explains why, St Luke emphasizes, "there was great joy" in that town.
Dear friends, this is also your mission: to bring the Gospel to everyone so that everyone may experience the joy of Christ and that there be joy in every city. What can be more beautiful than this? What can be greater, more exciting, than cooperating in spreading the Word of life in the world, than communicating the living water of the Holy Spirit? To proclaim and to witness joy: this is the central core of your mission, dear deacons who will soon become priests. The Apostle Paul called Gospel ministers "servants of joy". He wrote in his Second Letter to the Christians of Corinth: "Domineering over your faith is not my purpose. I prefer to work with you toward your happiness. As regards faith, you are standing firm" (2Co 1,24). These are programmatic words for every priest. In order to be collaborators in the joy of others, in a world that is often sad and negative, the fire of the Gospel must burn within you and the joy of the Lord dwell in you. Only then will you be able to be messengers and multipliers of this joy, bringing it to all, especially to those who are sorrowful and disheartened.
Let us return to the First Reading which offers us another element of meditation. In it is mentioned a prayer meeting which takes place precisely in the Samarian town evangelized by the deacon Philip. Presiding at it are the Apostles Peter and John, two "pillars" of the Church, who came from Jerusalem to visit this new community and strengthen it in the faith. Through the imposition of their hands, the Holy Spirit descended upon all those who had been baptized. In this episode we can see a first attestation of the rite of "Confirmation", the second Sacrament of Christian initiation. The reference to the ritual gesture of the imposition of hands is especially meaningful also for us who are gathered here. Indeed, it is also the central gesture of the rite of Ordination through which, in a little while, I shall confer on the candidates the dignity of the priesthood. It is a sign inseparable from the prayer of which it is a silent prolongation. Without speaking, the consecrating Bishop and after him the other priests, place their hands on the heads of the ordinands, thereby expressing the invocation to God that he will pour out his Spirit upon them and transform them, making them sharers in the priesthood of Christ. It is a matter of only a few seconds, a very short time, but full of an extraordinary spiritual intensity.
Dear Ordinands, in the future you must always think back to this moment, to this gesture that has nothing magical about it and yet is full of mystery, because this is the origin of your new mission. In that silent prayer the encounter between two freedoms comes into being: the freedom of God, who works through the Holy Spirit and the freedom of man. The imposition of hands visually expresses the specific manner of this meeting: the Church, impersonated by the Bishop standing with extended hands, prays to the Holy Spirit to consecrate the candidate: the deacon, on his knees, receives the imposition of hands and entrusts himself to this mediation. Altogether these gestures are important but the invisible spiritual movement that they express is infinitely more important, a movement clearly evoked by the sacred silence that envelops everything, internal and external.
We also find in this Gospel passage the mysterious Trinitarian "movement" that leads the Holy Spirit and the Son to dwell in the disciples. Here, it is Jesus himself who promises that he will ask the Father to send his Spirit, defined as "another Paraclete" (Jn 14,16), a Greek word that is equivalent to the Latin "ad-vocatus", an advocate-defender. The first Paraclete is in fact the Incarnate Son who came to defend man from the accuser by antonomasia, who is Satan. At the moment when Christ, his mission fulfilled, returns to the Father, he sends the Spirit as Defender and Consoler to remain with believers for ever, dwelling within them. Thus, through the mediation of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, an intimate relationship of reciprocity is established between God the Father and the disciples: "I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you", Jesus says (Jn 14,20). However, all this depends on one condition which Christ imposes clearly at the beginning: "If you love me" (Jn 14,15), and which he repeats at the end: "He who obeys the commandments he has from me is the man who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father. I too will love him and reveal myself to him" (Jn 14,21). Without love for Jesus, which is expressed in the observance of his commandments, the person is excluded from the Trinitarian movement and begins to withdraw into himself, losing the ability to receive and to communicate God.
"If you love me". Dear friends, Jesus said these words at the Last Supper in the context of the moment when he instituted the Eucharist and the priesthood. Although they were addressed to the Apostles, in a certain sense they are addressed to all their successors and to priests who are the closest collaborators of the successors of the Apostles. Let us hear them again today as an invitation to live our vocation in the Church ever more coherently: you, dear Ordinands, listen to them with special emotion because precisely today Christ makes you share in his priesthood. Accept them with faith and with love! Let them be imprinted on your hearts, let them accompany you on the journey of your whole life. Do not forget them, do not lose them on the way! Reread them, meditate on them often and, especially, pray on them. Thus you will remain faithful to Christ's love and realize with joy ever new that his divine word "walks" with you and "grows" within you.
One more observation on the Second Reading: it is taken from the First Letter of Peter, near whose tomb we find ourselves and to whose intercession I would especially like to entrust you. I make my own and consign to you with affection his words: "Venerate the Lord, that is, Christ, in your hearts. Should anyone ask you the reason for this hope of yours, be ever ready to reply (1P 3,15). Worship Christ the Lord in your hearts: cultivate a personal relationship of love with him, your first and greatest love, one and totalizing, in which to live, purify, illumine and sanctify all your other relationships. The "hope that is in you" is linked to this "adoration", to this love of Christ, who through the Spirit, as we said, dwells within us. Our hope, your hope is God, in Jesus and in the Spirit. It is a hope which from today becomes in you a "priestly hope", that of Jesus the Good Shepherd who dwells within you and gives shape to your desires in accordance with his divine Heart: a hope of life and forgiveness for the people who will be entrusted to your pastoral care; a hope of holiness and apostolic fruitfulness for yourselves and for all the Church; a hope of openness to faith and to the encounter with God for those who support you in their quest for the truth; a hope of peace and comfort for the suffering and for those wounded by life.
Dear friends, this is my wish on this day which is so important for you: that hope rooted in faith may become more and more your own! And may you, who are wise and generous, gentle and strong, always be respectful and convinced witnesses and dispensers of it. May the Virgin Mary, whom I urge you to welcome anew, as did the Apostle John beneath the Cross, accompany you on this mission and protect you always, as the Mother and Star of your life and your priesthood. Amen!
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
St Luke places the account of the event of Pentecost that we heard in the First Reading in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. The chapter is introduced by the words: "When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place" (Ac 2,1). These words refer to the previous setting in which Luke described the small company of disciples that had gathered perseveringly in Jerusalem after Jesus' Ascension into Heaven (cf. Ac 1,12-14). It is a description rich in detail: the place "where they were staying" - the Cenacle - was an "Upper Room"; the 11 Apostles are listed by name and the first three are Peter, John and James, the "pillars" of the community; mentioned with them are "the women" and "Mary the Mother of Jesus, and "his brethren", already an integral part of this new family, no longer based on blood ties but on faith in Christ.
The total number of people which was "about a hundred and twenty", a multiple of the "Twelve" of the Apostolic College, alludes to this "new Israel". The group constitutes an authentic "qlhll", an "assembly" in accordance with the model of the First Covenant, the community summoned to listen to the Lord's voice and to walk in his ways. The Acts of the Apostles stresses that "[a]ll these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer" (Ac 1,14). Prayer, therefore, is the principle activity of the nascent Church through which she receives her unity from the Lord and lets herself be guided by his will, as shown by the decision to cast lots in order to elect the one who would take Judas' place (cf. Ac 1,26).
This community was gathered in the same place, the Upper Room, on the morning of the Jewish Feast of Pentecost, the feast of the Covenant which commemorated the Sinai event, when God, through Moses, proposed that Israel be his own possession among all peoples to be a sign of his holiness (cf. Ex 19). According to the Book of Exodus, that ancient pact was accompanied by a terrifying manifestation of power by the Lord when we read: "Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and the smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain quaked greatly" (Ex 19,18). We find the elements of wind and fire in the Pentecost of the New Testament, but untainted by fear. The fire specifically took the form of tongues of flame which settled on each one of the disciples who "were all filled with the Holy Spirit" and through the effect of this outpouring "began to speak in other tongues" (Ac 2,4). It was a true and proper "baptism" of fire of the community, a sort of new creation. At Pentecost, the Church was not established by human will but by the power of God's Spirit. And it is immediately clear how this Spirit gives life to a community which is at the same time one and universal, thereby overcoming the curse of Babel (cf. Gn 11,7-9). Indeed, it is only the Holy Spirit who creates unity in love and in the reciprocal acceptance of diversity which can free humanity from the constant temptation to acquire earthly power that seeks to dominate and standardize all things.
"Societas Spiritus", a society of the Spirit, is what St Augustine calls the Church in one of his homilies (71, 19, 32: PL 38, 462). However, prior to him St Irenaeus had already formulated a truth which I would like to recall here: "Where the Church is, there also is God's Spirit; where God's Spirit is, there is the Church and every grace; and the Spirit is the truth; to distance oneself from the Church is to reject the Spirit", and thus "exclude oneself from life" (Adversus Haereses III, 24, 1). Beginning with the event of Pentecost this union between Christ's Spirit and his Mystical Body, in other words the Church, was fully manifest. I would like to reflect on a particular aspect of the Holy Spirit's action, that is, the manner in which multiplicity and unity are interwoven. The Second Reading speaks of this, addressing the harmony of the different charisms in the communion of the same Spirit. But already in Acts we heard the account of this interweaving which is revealed with extraordinary clarity. In the event of Pentecost it becomes clear that many languages and different cultures are part of the Church; in faith they can be understood and make one another fruitful. St Luke aims unambiguously to convey a fundamental idea, which is, that the very act of the Church's birth is already "catholic" or universal. From the outset the Church speaks in all languages, because the Gospel entrusted to her is destined for all peoples, according to the will and mandate of the Risen Christ (cf. Mt 28,19). The Church which is born at Pentecost is not primarily a particular Community - the Church of Jerusalem - but the universal Church, which speaks the languages of all peoples. From her other communities were to be born in every part of the world, particular Churches which are all and always actualizations of the one and only Church of Christ. The Catholic Church is therefore not a federation of Churches but a single reality: the universal Church has ontological priority. A community which was not catholic in this sense would not even be a Church.
In this regard, it is necessary to add another aspect: that of the theological vision of the Acts of the Apostles concerning the journey to Rome of the Church of Jerusalem. Among the peoples represented in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost, Luke also mentions "visitors from Rome" (Ac 2,10). At that time Rome was still distant, "foreign" to the newborn Church: it was a symbol of the pagan world in general. But the power of the Holy Spirit was to guide the footsteps of the witnesses "to the end of the earth" (Ac 1,8), even to Rome. The Acts of the Apostles ends precisely when St Paul, through a providential plan, reaches the capital of the Empire and proclaims the Gospel there (cf. Ac 28,30-31). Thus the journey of the Word of God which began in Jerusalem reached its destination, because Rome represents the entire world and therefore embodies Luke's idea of catholicity. The universal Church is brought into being, the Catholic Church, which is the extension of the Chosen People and makes its history and mission her own.
At this point, and to conclude, John's Gospel offers a word that harmonizes very well with the mystery of the Church created by the Spirit. The word that came twice from the lips of the Risen Jesus when he appeared among his disciples in the Upper Room on the evening of Easter Day: Shalom - "peace be with you!" (Jn 20,19). The expression "shalom" is not a mere greeting; it is far more: it is the gift of peace promised (cf. Jn 14,27) and won by Jesus at the price of his blood, it is the fruit of his victory in the battle against the spirit of evil. Thus, it is a peace "not as the world gives" but as God alone can give it.
On this feast of the Spirit and the Church, let us thank God for having given to his people, chosen and formed in the midst of all peoples, the precious good of peace, of his peace! At the same time, let us renew the awareness of the responsibility that is connected with this gift: the Church's responsibility to be, constitutionally, a sign and instrument of God's peace for all peoples. I sought to pass on this message recently by going to the Headquarters of the United Nations Organization in order to address my words to the representatives of the peoples. However, we must not only think of these events "at the summit". The Church carries out her service to Christ's peace above all in the ordinary presence and action among men and women, with the preaching of the Gospel and the signs of love and mercy that accompany it (cf. Mc 16,20).
Of course, among these signs it is mainly the Sacrament of Reconciliation that should be emphasized. The Risen Christ instituted it at the very moment he gave the disciples his peace and his Spirit. As we heard in the Gospel passage, Jesus breathed on the Apostles and said: "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained" (Jn 20,22-23). How important and, unfortunately, insufficiently understood is the gift of Reconciliation which sets hearts at rest! Christ's peace is only spread through the renewed hearts of reconciled men and women who have made themselves servants of justice, ready to spread peace in the world with the force of the truth alone, without descending to compromises with the world's mentality because the world cannot give Christ's peace: this is how the Church can be the leaven of that reconciliation which comes from God. She can only be so if she remains docile to the Spirit and bears witness to the Gospel, only if she carries the Cross like Jesus and with Jesus. The saints of every epoch witness precisely to this!
In the light of this word of life, dear brothers and sisters, may the prayer we are raising to God in spiritual union with the Virgin Mary become ever more fervent and intense. May the Virgin of listening, the Mother of the Church, obtain for our communities and for all Christians a renewed outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete. "Emitte Spiritum tuum et creabuntur, et renovabis faciem terrae - Send forth your Spirit, and they shall be recreated, and you shall renew the face of the earth". Amen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
It is a great joy for me to be in your midst and to celebrate the Eucharist for you on the solemn Feast of the Most Holy Trinity. I greet with affection your Pastor, Bishop Vittorio Lupi, whom I thank for the words with which he introduced the diocesan Community at the beginning of the celebration and, even more, for the sentiments of charity and pastoral hope that he expressed. I also thank the Mayor for his cordial greeting to me on behalf of the entire City. I greet the Civil Authorities, the priests, the Religious, the deacons, and the leaders of the Associations, Movements and Ecclesial Communities. I renew to you all in Christ my best wishes for grace and peace.
On this Solemnity, the liturgy invites us to praise God not merely for the wonders that he has worked, but for who he is; for the beauty and goodness of his being from which his action stems. We are invited to contemplate, so to speak, the Heart of God, his deepest reality which is his being One in the Trinity, a supreme and profound communion of love and life. The whole of Sacred Scripture speaks to us of him. Indeed, it is he who speaks to us of himself in the Scriptures and reveals himself as Creator of the universe and Lord of history. Today we have heard a passage from the Book of Exodus in which - something quite exceptional - God proclaims his own Name! He does so in the presence of Moses with whom he spoke face to face, as with a friend. And what is God's Name? It never fails to move us: "The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness" (Ex 34,6). These are human words but were prompted and, as it were, uttered by the Holy Spirit. They tell us the truth about God. They were true in the past, they are true today and they will always be true; they make us see in our mind's eye the Face of the Invisible One, they tell us the Name of the Ineffable One. This Name is Mercy, Grace, Faithfulness.
Dear friends, how can I fail to rejoice with you here in Savona for the fact that this is the very Name with which the Virgin Mary introduced herself, appearing on 18 March 1536 to a peasant, a son of this land? "Our Lady of Mercy" is the title by which she is venerated - and for some years now we have a large statue of her in the Vatican Gardens too. But Mary did not speak of herself, she never speaks of herself but always of God, and she did so with this name, so old yet ever new: mercy, which is a synonym of love, of grace. This is the whole essence of Christianity because it is the essence of God himself. God is One since he is all and only Love but precisely by being Love he is openness, acceptance, dialogue; and in his relationship with us, sinful human beings, he is mercy, compassion, grace and forgiveness. God has created all things for existence and what he wills is always and only life.
For those in danger he is salvation. We have just heard this in John's Gospel: "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (Jn 3,16): in God's gift of himself in the Person of the Son the whole of the Trinity is at work.
It is the Father who places at our disposal what is dearest to him; the Son who, consenting to the Father, empties himself of his glory in order to give himself to us; the Spirit who leaves the peace of the divine embrace to water the deserts of humanity. For this work of his mercy, in preparing himself to take on our flesh, God chose to need a human "yes", the "yes" of a woman who would become the Mother of his Incarnate Word, Jesus, the human Face of Divine Mercy. Mary thus became and remains for ever the "Mother of Mercy" as she also made herself known here in Savona.
In the course of the Church's history, the Virgin Mary did none other than to invite her children to return to God, to entrust themselves to him in prayer, to knock with trusting insistence at the door of his merciful Heart. In truth, all he wants is to pour out into the world the superabundance of his Grace. "Mercy and not justice", Mary implored, knowing that she would certainly have been heard by her Son Jesus but also knowing of the need for the conversion of sinners' hearts. For this reason she asked for prayer and penance. Therefore, my Visit to Savona on Trinity Sunday is first of all a pilgrimage, through Mary, to the sources of faith, hope and love. It is a pilgrimage that is also a memory and a tribute to my Venerable Predecessor Pius VII, whose dramatic experience is indissolubly linked to this City and its Marian Shrine. Two centuries later, I come to renew the expression of gratitude of the Holy See and of the entire Church for the faith, love and courage with which your fellow citizens supported the Pope under house arrest in this City, imposed upon him by Napoleon Bonaparte. Many testimonies of the manifestations of solidarity for the Pontiff, sometimes even at personal risk, have been preserved. They are events that the people of Savona can well be proud to commemorate today. As your Bishop rightly observed, through the power of the Holy Spirit, that dark page of Europe's history has become rich in graces and teachings for our day too. It teaches us courage in facing the challenges of the world: materialism, relativism, secularism without ever yielding to compromises, ready to pay in person while remaining faithful to the Lord and his Church. The example of serene firmness set by Pope Pius VII invites us to keep our trust in God unaltered in trials, aware that although he permits the Church to experience difficult moments he never abandons us. The episode the Great Pontiff went through in your land invites us always to trust in the intercession and motherly assistance of Mary Most Holy.
The apparition of the Virgin at a tragic moment in Savona's history and the terrible experience that the Successor of Peter faced here are helpful in passing on a message of hope to the Christian generations of our time and encourage us to trust in the means of grace that the Lord makes available to us in every situation. And among these means of salvation I would like first of all to recall prayer: personal, family and community prayer. On today's Feast of the Trinity, I would like to emphasize the dimension of praise, contemplation and adoration. I am thinking of young families and I would like to ask them not to be afraid to adopt, from the first years of marriage, a simple style of domestic prayer, encouraged by the presence of small children who are often prompted to speak spontaneously to the Lord and to Our Lady. I urge parishes and associations to give time and space to prayer since activities are pastorally sterile if they are not constantly preceded, accompanied and sustained by prayer.
And what can be said of the Eucharistic Celebration, especially Sunday Mass? The Lord's Day is rightly at the centre of the Italian Bishops' attention: the Christian root of Sunday must be rediscovered, starting with the celebration of the Risen Lord, encountered in the Word of God and recognized in the breaking of the Eucharistic Bread. Then the Sacrament of Reconciliation also asks to be reassessed as a fundamental means for spiritual growth and for facing today's challenges with strength and courage. Together with prayer and the Sacraments, other inseparable instruments for growth are works of charity, which should be practised with a lively faith. I also chose to reflect on this aspect of Christian life in my Encyclical, Deus Caritas Est. In the modern world, which often makes beauty and physical efficiency an idea to be pursued in every possible way, we are called as Christians to discover the Face of Jesus Christ, "the fairest of the sons of men" (Ps 45,2 : 2), precisely in people who are suffering and marginalized. Today, the moral and material emergencies that worry us are unfortunately numerous. In this regard, I gladly take this opportunity to address a greeting to the prisoners and personnel of the St Augustine Penitentiary in Savona, who have lived for some time in a situation of particular hardship. I also extend an equally warm greeting to the sick who are patients in the hospital, in clinics or in private homes.
I would like to address a special word to you, dear priests, to express my appreciation of your silent work and the demanding fidelity with which you carry it out. Dear brothers in Christ, always believe in the effectiveness of your daily priestly service! It is precious in the eyes of God and of the faithful and its value cannot be quantified in figures and statistics: we shall only know the results in Paradise! Many of you are quite elderly: this reminds me of that wonderful passage by the Prophet Isaiah which says: "Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint" (Is 40,30-31). Together with the deacons at the service of the diocese, live communion with the Bishop and among yourselves, expressing it in active collaboration, mutual support and shared pastoral coordination. Persevere in the courageous and joyful witness of your service. Search people out, as did the Lord Jesus: in visits to families, in contact with the sick, in dialogue with young people, making yourselves present in every context of work and life. To you, dear men and women religious, whom I thank for your presence, I confirm that the world needs your witness and your prayer. Live your vocation in daily fidelity and make your life an offering pleasing to God: the Church is grateful to you and encourages you to persevere in your service.
I want, of course, to give a special warm greeting to you young people! Dear friends, put your youth at the service of God and of your brethren. Following Christ always requires the courage to go against the tide. However, it is worth it: this is the way to real personal fulfilment and hence to true happiness. With Christ, in fact, one experiences that "it is more blessed to give than to receive" (Ac 20,35). This is why I encourage you to take the ideal of holiness seriously. A well known French writer has left us in one of his works a sentence I would like to consign to you today: "There is only one real sadness: not to be saints" (Léon Bloy, La femme pauvre, II, 27). Dear young people, dare to dedicate your life to courageous choices, not alone of course, but with the Lord! Give this City the impetus and enthusiasm that flow from your living experience of faith, an experience that does not spoil the expectations of human life but exalts them by participation in the very experience of Christ.
And this also applies for Christians who are no longer young. My hope for all is that faith in the Triune God will imbue in every person and in every community the fervour of love and hope, the joy of loving one another as brothers and sisters and of putting oneself humbly at the service of others. This is the "leaven" that causes humanity to grow, the light that shines in the world. May Mary Most Holy, Mother of Mercy, together with all your Patron Saints help you to express in living your life the Apostle's exhortation which we have just heard. I make it my own with great affection: "Mend your ways, heed my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you" (2Co 13,11). Amen.
Benedict XVI Homilies 20048