Benedict XVI Homilies 10109
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Epiphany, the "manifestation" of Our Lord Jesus Christ, is a many-facetted mystery. The Latin tradition identifies it with the visit of the Magi to the Infant Jesus in Bethlehem and thus interprets it above all as a revelation of the Messiah of Israel to the Gentiles. The Eastern tradition on the other hand gives priority to the moment of Jesus' Baptism in the River Jordan when he manifested himself as the Only-Begotten Son of the heavenly Father, consecrated by the Holy Spirit. John's Gospel, however, also invites us to consider as an "epiphany" the Wedding at Cana, during which, by changing the water into wine, Jesus "manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him" (Jn 2,11). And what should we say, dear brothers and sisters, especially we priests of the New Covenant who are every day witnesses and ministers of the "epiphany" of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist? The Church celebrates all the mysteries of the Lord in this most holy and most humble Sacrament in which he both reveals and conceals his glory. "Adoro te devote, latens Deitas" in adoration, thus we pray along with St Thomas Aquinas.
In this year 2009, which has been dedicated in a special way to astronomy to mark the fourth centenary of Galileo Galilei's first observations with the telescope, we cannot fail to pay particular attention to the symbol of the star that is so important in the Gospel account of the Magi (cf. Mt 2,1-12). In all likelihood the Wise Men were astronomers. From their observation point, situated in the East compared to Palestine, perhaps in Mesopotamia, they had noticed the appearance of a new star and had interpreted this celestial phenomenon as the announcement of the birth of a king, specifically that in accordance with the Sacred Scriptures of the King of the Jews (cf. Nb 24,17). The Fathers of the Church also saw this unique episode recounted by St Matthew as a sort of cosmic "revolution" caused by the Son of God's entry into the world. For example, St John Chrysostom writes: "The star, when it stood over the young Child, stayed its course again: which thing itself was of a greater power than belongs to a star, now to hide itself, now to appear, and having appeared to stand still" (Homily on the Gospel of MT 7,3). St Gregory of Nazianzen states that the birth of Christ gave the stars new orbits (cf. Dogmatic Poems, v, 53-64: PG 37, 428-429). This is clearly to be understood in a symbolic and theological sense. In effect, while pagan theology divinized the elements and forces of the cosmos, the Christian faith, in bringing the biblical Revelation to fulfilment, contemplates only one God, Creator and Lord of the whole universe.
The divine and universal law of creation is divine love, incarnate in Christ. However, this should not be understood in a poetic but in a real sense. Moreover, this is what Dante himself meant when, in the sublime verse that concludes the Paradiso and the entire Divina Commedia, he describes God as "the Love which moves the sun and the other stars" (Paradiso, xxxiii, 145). This means that the stars, planets and the whole universe are not governed by a blind force, they do not obey the dynamics of matter alone. Therefore, it is not the cosmic elements that should be divinized. Indeed, on the contrary, within everything and at the same time above everything there is a personal will, the Spirit of God, who in Christ has revealed himself as Love (cf. Encyclical Spe Salvi, ). If this is the case, then as St Paul wrote to the Colossians people are not slaves of the "elemental spirits of the universe" (cf. Col 2,8) but are free, that is, capable of relating to the creative freedom of God. God is at the origin of all things and governs all things, not as a cold and anonymous engine but rather as Father, Husband, Friend, Brother and as the Logos, "Word-Reason" who was united with our mortal flesh once and for all and fully shared our condition, showing the superabundant power of his grace. Thus there is a special concept of the cosmos in Christianity which found its loftiest expression in medieval philosophy and theology. In our day too, it shows interesting signs of a new flourishing, thanks to the enthusiasm and faith of many scientists who following in Galileo's footsteps renounce neither reason nor faith; instead they develop both in their reciprocal fruitfulness.
Christian thought compares the cosmos to a "book" the same Galileo said this as well considering it as the work of an Author who expresses himself in the "symphony" of the Creation. In this symphony is found, at a certain point, what might be called in musical terminology a "solo", a theme given to a single instrument or voice; and it is so important that the significance of the entire work depends on it. This "solo" is Jesus, who is accompanied by a royal sign: the appearance of a new star in the firmament. Jesus is compared by ancient Christian writers to a new sun. According to current astrophysical knowledge, we should compare it with a star that is even more central, not only for the solar system but also for the entire known universe. Within this mysterious design simultaneously physical and metaphysical, which led to the appearance of the human being as the crowning of Creation's elements Jesus came into the world: "born of woman" (Ga 4,4), as St Paul writes. The Son of man himself epitomizes the earth and Heaven, the Creation and the Creator, the flesh and the Spirit. He is the centre of the cosmos and of history, for in him the Author and his work are united without being confused with each other.
In the earthly Jesus the culmination of Creation and of history is found but in the Risen Christ this is surpassed: the passage through death to eternal life anticipates the point of the "recapitulation" of all things in Christ (cf. Ep 1,10). Indeed "all things", the Apostle wrote "were created through him and for him (Col 1,16). And it is precisely with the resurrection of the dead that he became "pre-eminent in all things" (Col 1,18). Jesus himself affirms this, appearing to his disciples after the Resurrection: "all authority in Heaven and on earth has been given to me" (Mt 28,18). This awareness supports the way of the Church, Body of Christ, on the paths of history. There is no shadow, however dark, that can obscure Christ's light. This is why believers in Christ never lack hope, even today, in the face of the great social and financial crisis that is tormenting humanity, in the face of the destructive hatred and violence that have not ceased to stain many of the earth's regions with blood, in the face of the selfishness and pretension of the human being in establishing himself as his own God, which sometimes leads to dangerous distortions of the divine plan concerning life and the dignity of the human being, the family and the harmony of the Creation. Our efforts to free human life and the world from the forms of poison and contamination that could destroy the present and the future retain their value and meaning as I noted in the Encyclical Spe Salvi mentioned above even if we apparently fail or seem powerless when hostile forces appear to gain the upper hand, because "it is the great hope based upon God's promises that gives us courage and directs our action in good times and bad" ().
Christ's universal lordship is exercised in a special way on the Church. We read in the Letter to the Ephesians that God "has put all things under [Christ's] feet and has made him the head over all things for the Church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all (Ep 1,22-23).
The Epiphany is the manifestation of the Lord and as a reflection, it is the manifestation of the Church, since the Body is inseparable from the Head. Today's First Reading, from "Third Isaiah", gives us the precise perspective for understanding the reality of the Church as a mystery of reflected light: "Arise, shine" the Prophet says, addressing Jerusalem, "for your light has come, / and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you" (Is 60,1). The Church is humanity illuminated, "baptized" in the glory of God, that is in his love, in his beauty, in his dignity. The Church knows that her own humanity, with its limitations and wretchedness, serve especially to highlight the work of the Holy Spirit. She can boast of nothing, save in her Lord. It is not from her that light comes; the glory is not hers. But this is precisely her joy, which no one can take from her: to be a "sign and instrument" of the One who is "lumen gentium", the light of humanity (cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium LG 1).
Dear friends, in this Pauline Year, the Feast of the Epiphany invites the Church, and in her, every community and every individual member of the faithful, to imitate, as did the Apostle to the Gentiles, the service that the star rendered to the Magi from the East, guiding them to Jesus (cf. St Leo the Great, Disc. 3 for Epiphany, 5: PL 54, 244). What was Paul's life after his conversion other than a "race" to bring the light of Christ to the peoples, and vice versa, to lead the peoples to Christ? God's grace made Paul a "star" for the Gentiles. His ministry is an example and an incentive for the Church to rediscover herself as essentially missionary and to renew the commitment to proclaim the Gospel, especially to those who do not yet know it. Yet, in looking at St Paul, we cannot forget that his preaching was completely nourished by the Sacred Scriptures. Therefore it should be powerfully reaffirmed in the perspective of the recent Assembly of the Synod of Bishops that the Church and individual Christians can be a light that leads to Christ only if they are diligently and intimately nourished by the Word of God. It is the Word, certainly not us, that illumines, purifies and converts. We are merely servants of the Word of life. This is how Paul saw himself and his ministry: as a service to the Gospel. "I do it all for the sake of the Gospel", he wrote (1Co 9,23). The Church, every ecclesial community, every Bishop and every priest ought also to be able to say this: "I do it all for the sake of the Gospel". Dear brothers and sisters, pray for us, Pastors of the Church, that by assimilating the Word of God daily we may pass it on faithfully to our brethren. Yet we too pray for you, all the faithful, because every Christian is called through Baptism and Confirmation to proclaim Christ, the light of the world, in word and in the witness of his life. May the Virgin Mary, Star of Evangelization, help us to bring this mission to completion together, and may St Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, intercede for us from Heaven. Amen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The words that the Evangelist Mark recounts at the beginning of his Gospel: "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased" (Mc 1,11), introduce us into the heart of today's Feast of the Baptism of the Lord with which the Christmas Season ends. The cycle of the Christmas Solemnities leads us to meditate on the birth of Jesus, announced by the angels who were surrounded with the luminous splendour of God; the Christmas Season speaks to us of the star that guided the Magi of the East to the House in Bethlehem, and invites us to look to Heaven, which opens above the Jordan as God's voice resounds. These are all signs through which the Lord never tires of repeating: "Yes, I am here. I know you. I love you. There is a path that leads from me to you. And there is a path that rises from you to me". The Creator assumed the dimensions of a child in Jesus, of a human being like us, to make himself visible and tangible. At the same time, by making himself small, God caused the light of his greatness to shine. For precisely by lowering himself to the point of defenceless vulnerability of love, he shows what his true greatness is indeed, what it means to be God.
Christmas, and more generally the liturgical year, is exactly that drawing near to these divine signs, to recognize them as impressed into daily events, so that our hearts may be open to God's love. And if Christmas and Epiphany serve primarily to render us capable of seeing, of opening our eyes and hearts to the mystery of a God who comes to be with us, then we can say that the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus introduces us into the daily regularity of a personal relationship with him. Indeed, by immersion in the waters of the Jordan, Jesus united himself with us. Baptism is, so to speak, the bridge he built between himself and us, the road on which he makes himself accessible to us. It is the divine rainbow over our lives, the promise of God's great "yes", the door of hope and, at the same time, the sign that that indicates to us the path to take actively and joyfully in order to encounter him and feel loved by him.
Dear friends, I am truly glad that this year too, on this Feast day, I have been granted the opportunity to baptize these children. God's "favour" rests on them today. Ever since the Only-Begotten Son of the Father had himself baptized, the heavens are truly open and continue to open, and we may entrust every new life that begins into the hands of the One who is more powerful than the dark powers of evil. This effectively includes Baptism: we restore to God what came from him. The child is not the property of the parents but is entrusted to their responsibility by the Creator, freely and in a way that is ever new, in order that they may help him or her to be a free child of God. Only if the parents develop this awareness will they succeed in finding the proper balance between the claim that their children are at their disposal, as though they were a private possession, shaping them on the basis of their own ideas and desires, and the libertarian approach that is expressed in letting them grow in full autonomy, satisfying their every desire and aspiration, deeming this the right way to cultivate their personality. If, with this sacrament, the newly-baptized becomes an adoptive child of God, the object of God's infinite love that safeguards him and protects him from the dark forces of the evil one, it is necessary to teach the child to recognize God as Father and to be able to relate to him with a filial attitude. And therefore, when in accordance with the Christian tradition as we are doing today children are baptized and introduced into the light of God and of his teachings, no violence is done to them. Rather, they are given the riches of divine life in which is rooted the true freedom that belongs to the children of God a freedom that must be educated and modelled as the years pass to render it capable of responsible personal decisions.
Dear parents, dear godfathers and godmothers, I greet you all with affection and join in your joy for these little ones who today are reborn into eternal life. May you be aware of the gift received and never cease to thank the Lord who, with today's sacrament, introduces your children into a new family, larger and more stable, more open and more numerous than your own; I am referring to the family of believers, to the Church, to a family that has God as Father and in which all recognize one another as brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ. Today, therefore, you are entrusting your children to God's goodness, which is a force of light and love and they, even amid life's difficulties, will never feel abandoned if they stay united with him. Therefore, be concerned with educating them in the faith, teaching them to pray and grow as Jesus did and with his help, "in wisdom and in stature, and in favour with God and man" (Lc 2,52).
Returning now to the Gospel passage, let us seek to better understand what is happening today. St Mark recounts that it was just when John the Baptist was preaching on the banks of the River Jordan, proclaiming the urgent need for conversion in view of the now imminent coming of the Messiah, that Jesus, who was among the crowds, presented himself to be baptized. John's Baptism is indisputably a Baptism of penance, very different from the sacrament that Jesus was to institute. At that moment, however, the Redeemer's mission is already glimpsed because, when he comes out of the water, a voice comes from Heaven and the Holy Spirit descends upon him (cf. Mc 1,10); the heavenly Father proclaims him as his beloved Son and publicly attests to his universal saving mission, which will be fully accomplished with his death on the Cross and his Resurrection. Only then, with the Paschal Sacrifice, would the forgiveness of sins be rendered universal and total. With Baptism we do not simply emerge from the waters of the Jordan to proclaim our commitment to conversion, but the redeeming Blood of Christ that purifies and saves us is poured out upon us. It is the Father's beloved Son, in whom he was pleased, who regains for us the dignity and joy of calling ourselves truly "children" of God.
In a little while we shall relive this mystery evoked by today's solemnity; the signs and symbols of the sacrament of Baptism will help us to understand what the Lord works in the hearts of these our little ones, making them "his" for ever, the chosen dwelling place of his Spirit and "living stones" for the construction of the spiritual temple which is the Church. May the Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus, the beloved Son of God, watch over them and their families and always accompany them, so that they may fully carry out the plan of salvation that is brought into their lives through Baptism. And may we, dear brothers and sisters, accompany them with our prayers. Let us pray for the parents, godparents, and godmothers and for their relatives, so that they may help them grow in faith. Let us pray for all of us here present so that, by devoutly taking part in this celebration, we may renew the promises of our Baptism and give thanks to the Lord for his constant assistance. Amen!
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Gathered in prayer around the Lord's altar for the Eucharistic celebration, in the light of faith, we are paying our last respects on earth to beloved Cardinal Pio Laghi, whom the Lord has called to himself at the end of his days marked by serious illness. In his spiritual testament, dated 14 November last year, he wrote: "Once again I offer God my life for the Church, for the Holy Father and for the sanctification of my brothers in the priesthood. From this moment, I accept the death that Divine Providence has in store for me: all I ask is that the days of my suffering, may be shortened, if possible, so as not to cause those who must care for me too much inconvenience". And the Lord, to whose service he devoted his whole being, as a good and merciful Father, has now opened his arms to him. In the light of this hope, I address my deep condolences to all who are mourning his sorrowful departure: to his relatives, his friends and those who appreciated his human and priestly gifts. I especially join you in your prayers, dear brothers and sisters, who attended his funeral, at which Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Dean of the College of Cardinals, presided.
In the Gospel proclaimed at this celebration, the message of the Beatitudes resounded once again. The Lord Jesus, as he once did on that mountain in Galilee, continues to teach his disciples with these ever valid teachings that constitute as it were the "Magna Carta" of an authentic Christian life. How often beloved Cardinal Pio Laghi must have paused to meditate on these words of the Gospel and how often he explained them to the faithful! With their strong eschatological charge, they sustain our hope in the Kingdom of Heaven, promised to all who strive to follow the Teacher's path faithfully, abiding by his teachings. God has created us for himself and in him we find happiness. By conforming to his Word we can transform into a fount of peace and a source of joy even the trials and suffering that are an inevitable part of our earthly pilgrimage. We pray that the Lord may enable our Brother to share in the eternal bliss, of whose first-fruits he already had a foretaste of here on earth, in ecclesial communion and in building bonds of peace and harmony between the peoples and nations in which he was posted as Papal Representative.
We may say that the entire priestly mission of Cardinal Pio Laghi was spent in the direct service of the Holy See. He always drew inspiration from the words that Jesus addressed to Peter on the occasion of the miraculous catch: "Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets" In verbo tuo laxabo rete" (Lc 5,5). Cardinal Laghi chose these words as the motto for his episcopal ministry. As he explained later this was because when he received episcopal ordination on 22 June 1969, the liturgy of that Sunday provided for the Gospel account of the miraculous catch. His coat of arms depicted among other things a lake above which a stretch of sky and an arm with a net can be seen. It was the crest of his family in which he received a sound human and Christian formation which in his spiritual testament he describes as "Christian, Catholic, hardworking and honest". In the heart of his family he nourished the seed of a priestly vocation. After his elementary and secondary studies at the local Salesian Institute at Faenza, he entered the diocesan seminary to study philosophy which he continued later, together with theological courses, in Rome as a student at the Pontifical Major Seminary, until he was ordained a priest on 20 April 1946.
He was then summoned to serve the Holy See and in March 1952, after earning degrees in theology and in canon law at the Pontifical Lateran University, he embarked on his long diplomatic and pastoral career in the Nunciatures of various nations: from Nicaragua to Washington in the U.S.A., to New Delhi in India, from which he subsequently returned to work for five years at the Secretariat of State. After his appointment as titular Archbishop of Mauriana in May 1969, the Pope named him as his Delegate in Jerusalem and in Palestine, as well as charging him with the office of Pro-Nuncio in Cyprus and Apostolic Visitator for Greece. In April 1974, he became Apostolic Nuncio in Argentina where he remained until December 1980, when he was called to take on the mission of Apostolic Delegate in the United States. It was precisely during these years that official relations were established between the Holy See and the Government in Washington.
Cardinal Laghi's long experience and knowledge of the Church prompted my beloved Predecessor John Paul II to choose him as Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education and to create him a Cardinal at the Consistory on 28 June 1991 and also from May 1993 to invest him with the lofty role of Patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. It is likewise only right to recall with gratitude the special missions that were entrusted to the late Cardinal: in May 2001, to Israel and to the Palestinian Authority, to deliver an autograph Papal Message in order to encourage both parties to call for an immediate cease fire and the resumption of dialogue. Two years later, on 1 March 2003, he was charged to go as Special Envoy to Washington to present a Papal Message to the President of the United States and to explain the position and initiatives undertaken by the Holy See to contribute to disarmament and peace in the Middle East. These were delicate missions which he endeavoured to carry out, as always, with faithful dedication to Christ and to his Church. "I have desired to love Christ", he wrote in his spiritual testament, "and to serve him all my life, although my human frailty has often prevented me from expressing to him my love, fidelity and total dedication to his will in as edifying a way as I would have wished".
Let us thank God for the gift of this Brother and friend of ours, and for all the good that with the help of divine grace he was able to carry out in the various milieus in which he was called to perform his invaluable pastoral and diplomatic service. The zeal he devoted to vocations promotion and to the formation of priests deserves special mention. Let us trust that he may now contemplate face to face, that Jesus whom he tried so much to love and serve in his brethren (cf. 1Jn 3,2). At the moment when we are taking our leave of him, may our hearts be uplifted by the firm hope that the hope that illuminated the priestly and apostolic life of Cardinal Pio Laghi may be "full of immortality" (cf. Sg 3,4), as today's liturgy has reminded us, and that it may now find complete and definitive fulfilment in the divine invitation to partake of the banquet in Heaven. As the conclusion of his spiritual testament, the Cardinal expressed this hope: "With the sweet name of Mary on my lips and the adorable name of her divine Son Jesus, I breathe my last". Let us accompany him with fraternal affection in the passage from time to eternity, uniting ourselves with him in a prayer that he particularly liked to repeat: "Jesu, filii Dei et Mariae, miserere mei: Mater mea, Fiducia mea, ora pro me in hora mortis meae. Amen".25019
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
It is a great joy every time we meet again at the sepulchre of the Apostle Paul, on the liturgical memorial of his conversion at the conclusion of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. I greet all of you with affection. In a particular way I greet Cardinal Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo, the Abbot and the Community of monks who are hosting us. I also greet Cardinal Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. With him I greet the Cardinals present, the Bishops and the Pastors of the various Churches and Ecclesial Communities, who have come here this evening. A special word of recognition goes to those who have collaborated in the preparation of the prayer materials, personally living the practice of reflection and encounter in order to listen to one another and, together, to listen to the Word of God.
St Paul's conversion offers us the model and indicates to us the way towards full unity. Unity, in fact, requires conversion: from division to communion, from wounded unity to one that is healed and full. This conversion is a gift of the Risen Christ as it happened for St Paul. We have heard it in the Apostle's own words in the Reading just proclaimed: "By the grace of God I am what I am" (1Co 15,10). The same Lord who called Saul on the road to Damascus addresses the members of his Church which is one and holy and calling each one by name asks: why have you divided me? Why have you wounded the unity of my body? Conversion implies two dimensions. In the first step one knows and recognizes one's faults in the light of Christ, and this recognition becomes sorrow and contrition, the desire for a new beginning.
In the second step one recognizes that this new journey cannot come from oneself. It consists in letting oneself be conquered by Christ. As St Paul says: "I am racing to grasp the prize if possible, since I have been grasped by Christ [Jesus]" (Ph 3,12). Conversion demands our "yes", my "racing"; ultimately it is not my action, but a gift in letting myself be formed by Christ. It is death and resurrection. Therefore St Paul does not say: "I am converted", but he says "I died" (Ga 2,19), I am a new creature. Actually, St Paul's conversion was not a passage from immorality to morality his was a high morality from a mistaken faith to a correct faith his faith was true, even if incomplete but rather it was a state of being conquered by Christ's love. It was the renunciation of his own perfection, the humility of the one who places himself without reserve at the service of Christ for the brethren. And only in this renunciation of ourselves, in this conformity with Christ can we be united also among ourselves, do we become "one" in Christ. It is communion with the Risen Christ that gives us unity.
We can observe an interesting analogy with the dynamic of St Paul's conversion also by meditating on the biblical text of the Prophet Ezekiel (Ez 37,15-28) chosen as the basis of our prayer this year. In it, in fact, is presented the symbolic gesture of the two pieces of wood reunited into one in the prophet's hand; the future action of God is represented with this gesture. The second part of chapter 37 the first part of which contains the famous vision of the dry bones and the resurrection of Israel is a work of God's Spirit. How can one fail to note that the prophetic sign of the reunification of the people of Israel is placed after the great symbol of the dry bones vivified by the Spirit? From it derives a theological scheme analogous to that of the conversion of St Paul. It is above all the power of God who, with his Spirit, works the resurrection as a new creation. This God, who is the Creator and is able to raise the dead, is also able to lead the divided people to unity again. Paul both as and more than Ezekiel becomes the elect instrument for preaching the unity Jesus won through his Cross and Resurrection: unity among Jews and pagans, to form a single new people.
Christ's Resurrection thus extends the parameters of unity: not only a unity of the tribes of Israel, but a unity of Jews and pagans (cf. Ep 2 Jn 10,16); the unification of humanity dispersed by sin, and still more, a unity of all believers in Christ.
We owe the choice of this passage of the Prophet Ezekiel to our brothers from Korea, who felt strongly challenged by this biblical text both as Koreans and as Christians. With the division of the Hebrew people into two kingdoms, they have mirrored themselves as sons of a single land, whose political events have separated them into the north and the south. And this human experience of theirs has helped them to understand better the plight of the division of Christians. Now, in the light of this Word of God that our Korean brothers have chosen and proposed to all, emerges a truth full of hope: God promises his people a new unity that must be a sign and instrument of reconciliation and peace also on a historical level, for all the nations. The unity that God gives to his Church, and for which we pray, is naturally communion in the spiritual sense, in faith and in charity. But we know that this unity in Christ is the leaven of fraternity also on the social level, in relationships among nations and for the entire human family. It is the yeast of the Kingdom of God that makes the mass of dough rise (cf. Mt 13,33). In this sense, the prayer we are raising in these days, with reference to the prophecy of Ezekiel, has also become an intercession for the diverse situations of conflict currently afflicting humanity. There, where human words become powerless, because the tragic noise of violence and arms prevails, the prophetic power of the Word of God does not waver and it repeats to us that peace is possible, and that we must be instruments of reconciliation and peace. Therefore our prayer for unity and for peace asks always to be proven by courageous gestures of reconciliation among us Christians. I am thinking still of the Holy Land: how important it is that the faithful who live there, as well as the pilgrims who go there, offer to all the witness that diversity of rites and of traditions should not constitute an obstacle to mutual respect and fraternal charity. In the legitimate diversity of the various traditions we must seek unity in the faith, through our fundamental "yes" to Christ and to his one Church. In this way diversity will no longer be an obstacle that separates us, but an enrichment through the multiple expressions of the common faith.
I would like to conclude this reflection of mine by referring to an event that the more elderly among us certainly cannot forget. On 25 January 1959, exactly 50 years ago, Bl. Pope John XXIII manifested for the first time in this place his will to convoke "an ecumenical Council for the universal Church" (AAS LI , p. 68). He made this announcement to the Cardinal Fathers in the Chapter Hall of the Monastery of St Paul after having celebrated solemn Mass in the Basilica. From that provident decision, suggested to my venerable Predecessor, according to his firm conviction, by the Holy Spirit, has also derived a fundamental contribution to ecumenism, summarized in the Decree Unitatis redintegratio. Among other things, in it one reads: "There can be no ecumenism worthy of the name without interior conversion. For it is from newness of attitudes of mind (cf. Ep 4,23), from self-denial and unstinted love, that desires of unity take their rise and develop in a mature way" (UR 7). The attitude of interior conversion in Christ, of spiritual renewal, of growth in charity toward other Christians has given way to a new situation in ecumenical relations. The fruits of theological dialogue, with their convergence and with the most precise identification of the divergences that still remain, urge the courageous pursuance of two directions: in the acceptance of what has been positively achieved and in a renewed commitment toward the future. Opportunely, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, whom I thank for the service they render to the cause of unity of all the Lord's disciples, has recently reflected on the reception of ecumenical dialogue and on he future. This reflection, if on one hand rightly wishes to value what has been gained, on the other, then, it intends to find new ways to continue the relations among the Churches and Ecclesial Communities in the current context. The horizon of full unity remains open before us. It is an arduous duty, but stirring for Christians who want to live in harmony with the Lord's prayer: "that they may be one, that the world may believe" (Jn 17,21). The Second Vatican Council has given us the prospect of "this holy objective the reconciliation of all Christians in the unity of the one and only Church of Christ transcends human powers and gifts" (UR 24). Trusting in the prayer of the Lord Jesus Christ, and encouraged by the significant steps accomplished by the ecumenical movement, let us invoke the Holy Spirit with faith so that he continues to illuminate and guide our way. May the Apostle Paul, who fatigued and suffered so much for the unity of the Mystical Body of Christ, urge us and assist us from heaven. May the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the unity of the Church, accompany and sustain us.
Benedict XVI Homilies 10109