Benedict XVI Homilies 25019
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I meet you with great joy at the end of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, on this liturgical Feast which for 13 years now has gathered men and women religious for the Day for Consecrated Life. I cordially greet Cardinal Franc Rodé, with special gratitude to him and to his collaborators at the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life for their service to the Holy See and to what I would call the "cosmos" of consecrated life. I greet with affection the men and women Superiors General present here and all of you, brothers and sisters who, with your witness as consecrated persons modelled on the Virgin Mary, carry Christ's light in the Church and in the world. In this Pauline Year, I make my own the Apostle's words: "I give thanks to my God every time I think of you which is constantly, in every prayer I utter rejoicing, as I plead on your behalf, at the way you have all continually helped promote the gospel from the very first day" (Ph 1,3-5). In this greeting addressed to the Christian community of Philippi, Paul expresses the affectionate remembrance he cherishes of all who live the Gospel personally and toil to pass it on, combining the care of their interior life with the effort of the apostolic mission.
In the Church's tradition, St Paul has always been recognized as father and teacher of those, called by the Lord, who have chosen unconditional dedication to him and to his Gospel. Various religious Institutes are named after St Paul and draw from him a specific charismatic inspiration. One can say that he repeats to all consecrated men and women a forthright and affectionate invitation: "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ" (1Co 11,1). What in fact is consecrated life other than a radical imitation of Jesus, a total "sequela" of him? (cf. Mt 19,27-28). Well, in all this Paul represents a sound pedagogical mediation: imitating him in the following of Jesus, dear friends, is the privileged way to correspond fully to your vocation of special consecration in the Church.
Indeed, form his own voice we can recognize a lifestyle that expresses the substance of consecrated life inspired by the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience. He sees the life of poverty as the guarantee of a Gospel proclamation carried out totally gratuitously (cf. 1Co 9,1-23) while at the same time he expresses concrete solidarity to his brethren in need. In this regard we all know of Paul's decision to support himself with the work of his hands and of his commitment to collecting offerings for the poor of Jerusalem (cf. 1Th 2,9 2Co 8-9). Paul is also an apostle who, in accepting God's call to chastity, gave his heart to the Lord in an undivided manner to be able to serve his brethren with even greater freedom and dedication (cf. 1Co 7,7 2Co 11,1-2). Furthermore, in a world in which the values of Christian chastity were far from widespread (cf. 1Co 6,12-20) he offered a reliable reference for conduct. Then concerning obedience it suffices to note that doing God's will and the "daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches" (2Co 11,28) motivated, shaped and consummated his existence, rendered a sacrifice that found favour with God. All this brought him to proclaim, as he wrote to the Philippians: "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Ph 1,21).
Another fundamental aspect of Paul's consecrated life is the mission.
He belongs wholly to Jesus in order, like Jesus, to belong to all; indeed, to be Jesus for all: "I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some" (1Co 9,22). In him, so closely united to the person of Christ, we recognize a profound capacity for combining spiritual life and missionary action. In him the two dimensions refer to each other reciprocally. And thus we can say that he belongs to the ranks of those "mystical builders" whose existence is both contemplative and active, open to God and to the brethren, in order to carry out an effective service to the Gospel. In this mystic and apostolic tension, I would like to remark on the Apostle's courage as he faced the sacrifice of confronting terrible trials, even to the point of martyrdom (cf. 2Co 11,16-33) and on his steadfast faith based on the words of his Lord: "my grace is enough for you, for in weakness power reaches perfection" (2Co 12,9-10). His spiritual experience thus appears to us as a lived-out expression of the Paschal Mystery, which he investigated intensely and proclaimed as a form of Christian life. Paul lives for, with and in Christ. "I have been crucified with Christ", he writes, "it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Ga 2,20); and again: "for to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Ph 1,21).
This explains why he does not tire of urging us to behave in such a way that Christ's word may dwell within us in its richness (cf. Col 3,16). This brings to mind the invitation addressed to you in the recent Instruction on The Service of Authority and Obedience, to seek "every morning... a living and faithful contact with the Word which is proclaimed that day, meditating on it and holding it in [your] heart as a treasure, making of it the root of every action and the primary criterion of each choice". I therefore hope that the Pauline Year will nourish still more in you the determination to accept the testimony of St Paul, meditating every day upon the word of God with the faithful practice of lectio divina, praying with "psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness..." (Col 3,16). May he also help you to carry out your apostolic service in and with the Church with a spirit of communion without reservation, making a gift of your own charisms to others (cf. 1Co 14,12), and witnessing in the first place to the greatest charism which is charity (cf. 1Co 13).
Dear brothers and sisters, today's liturgy urges us to look at the Virgin Mary, the "consecrated one" par excellence. Paul speaks of her with concise but effective words that describe her greatness and her task: she is the "woman" from whom, in the fullness of time, the Son of God was born (cf. Ga 4,4). Mary is the Mother who today presents her Son to the Father at the Temple, also continuing in this action the "yes" she spoke at the moment of the Annunciation. May she once again be the mother who accompanies and sustains us, God's children and her children, in carrying out a generous service to God and to the brethren. To this end, I invoke her heavenly intercession as I warmly impart the Apostolic Blessing to all of you and to your respective religious families.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today, Ash Wednesday a liturgical door opening onto Lent the texts chosen for the celebration sketch the entire structure of the Lenten Season, if only in outline. The Church takes care to indicate to us the necessary spiritual orientation, and she provides us with divine assistance to decisively and courageously make the special spiritual journey we are now beginning, already illuminated by the brilliance of the Paschal Mystery.
"Return to me with all your heart". The appeal for conversion emerges as a dominant theme in every component of today's liturgy. Already in the Entrance Antiphon, it states that the Lord overlooks and forgives the sins of those who repent; in the Collect, Christian people are invited to pray so that each one may undertake a "journey of true conversion". In the First Reading, the Prophet Joel urges us to return to the Father "with your whole heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.... For he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment" (Jl 2,12-13). God's promise is clear: if the people will listen to the invitation to conversion, God will make his mercy triumph and his friends will be showered with countless favours. With the Responsorial Psalm, the liturgical assembly makes the invocations of Psalm 51 its own, asking the Lord to create within us "a clean heart" and to renew in us "a right spirit". Next is the Gospel passage in which Jesus warns us against the canker of vanity that leads to ostentation and hypocrisy, to superficiality and self-satisfaction, and reasserts the need to foster uprightness of heart. At the same time he shows us the means to grow in this purity of intention: by cultivating intimacy with the heavenly Father.
Particularly welcome in this Jubilee Year, commemorating the 2,000th anniversary of St Paul's birth, the words of the Second Letter to the Corinthians reach us: "We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God" (2Co 5,20). The Apostle's invitation rings out as a further encouragement to take the Lenten call to conversion seriously. Paul experienced in an extraordinary way the power of God's grace, the grace of the Paschal Mystery which gives life to Lent itself. He presents himself to us as an "ambassador" of the Lord. Who better than he, therefore, can help us to progress productively on this journey of inner conversion? In the First Letter to Timothy he writes: "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And I am the foremost of sinners; but", he adds, "I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience for an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life" (1Tm 1,15-16). Thus, the Apostle is aware that he has been chosen as an example, and this exemplarity of his concerns precisely conversion, the transformation of his life that was brought about by God's merciful love. "I formerly blasphemed and persecuted and insulted him", he recognizes, "but I received mercy... and the grace of our Lord overflowed" (ibid., 1Tm 1,13-14). All of his preaching and even more his entire missionary existence was sustained by an inner urge that can be traced back to the fundamental experience of "grace". "By the grace of God I am what I am", he writes to the Corinthians, "...I worked harder than any of them [the Apostles], though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me" (1Co 15,10). It is a question of an awareness that surfaces in all his writings and that served as an inner "lever" with which God could propel him onwards, toward ever further boundaries, not only geographical but also spiritual.
St Paul recognizes that everything in him is the work of divine grace but he does not forget that it is necessary to adhere freely to the gift of new life received in Baptism. In the text of chapter six of his Letter to the Romans, which will be proclaimed during the Easter Vigil, he writes: "Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. Do not yield your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but yield yourselves to God as men who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments of righteousness" (Rm 6,12-13). Contained in these words we find the entire programme of Lent, in accordance with its intrinsic baptismal perspective. On one hand they affirm the victory of Christ over sin, which happened once and for all with his death and Resurrection. On the other, we are urged not to yield our bodies to sin, that is, not to allow sin any room, so to speak, to take its revenge. The victory of Christ expects the disciple to make it his own and this happens first of all with Baptism, through which, united with Jesus, we became "living, returned from the dead". The baptized person, however, in order that Christ may fully reign within him, must faithfully follow his teachings; he must never lower his gaze so as not to let the adversary gain ground in any way.
But how can the baptismal vocation be brought to fulfilment so as to be victorious in the struggle between the flesh and the spirit, between good and evil, a combat that marks our existence? In the Gospel passage today the Lord indicates to us three useful means: prayer, almsgiving and fasting. We also find useful references to this in St Paul's experience and writings. Concerning prayer he urges us to be "constant", and to be "watchful in it with thanksgiving" (Rm 12,12 Col 4,2), to "pray constantly" (1Th 5,17). Jesus is in the depths of our hearts. He makes himself present and his presence will remain, even if we speak and act in accordance with our professional duties. For this reason, in prayer there is within our hearts an inner presence of relationship with God, which gradually becomes also an explicit prayer. With regard to almsgiving the passages on the great collection for the poor brethren are certainly important (cf. 2Co 8-9) but it should be noted that for St Paul, love is the apex of the believer's life, "the bond of perfection"; "and above all these", he writes to the Colossians, "put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony" (Col 3,14). He does not speak specifically of fasting but urges people frequently to have moderation, as a characteristic of those who are called to live in watchful expectation of the Lord (cf. 1Th 5,6-8 Tt 2,12). His reference to that spiritual "competitiveness" which calls for sobriety is also interesting: "Every athlete", he writes to the Corinthians, "exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable" (1Co 9,25). The Christian must be disciplined in order to discover the way and truly reach the Lord.
This, then, is the vocation of Christians: risen with Christ they have passed through death and their life is henceforth hidden with Christ in God (cf. Col 3,1-2). To live this "new" existence in God it is indispensable to be nourished with the word of God. Only in this way can we truly be united with God and live in his presence if we are in dialogue with him. Jesus says so clearly when he responds to the first of the three temptations in the desert, citing Deuteronomy: "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (Mt 4,4 cf. Dt 8,3). St Paul advises: "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as you teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs" (Col 3,16). In this too, the Apostle is primarily a witness. His Letters are eloquent proof that he lived in constant dialogue with the word of God. His thought, action, prayer, theology, preaching and exhortation: everything in him was the fruit of the word, received in the Jewish faith from his youth and fully revealed to his eyes by his encounter with the dead and Risen Christ, which he preached for the rest of his life during his missionary "race". It was revealed to St Paul that in Jesus Christ God had pronounced his definitive Word, himself, a Word of salvation that coincided with the Paschal Mystery the gift of himself on the Cross which then became Resurrection, because love is stronger than death. Thus, St Paul could conclude: "Far be it from me to glory except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (Ga 6,14). In Paul the Word became life and his one boast is the Crucified and Risen Christ.
Dear brothers and sisters, while we prepare to receive Ashes on our heads as a sign of conversion and repentance, let us open our hearts to the vivifying action of the word of God. May Lent, marked by more frequent listening to this word, by more intense prayer, by an austere and penitential lifestyle, be an incentive to conversion and to sincere love towards our brothers, especially those who are poorest and neediest. May the Apostle Paul accompany us; may Mary, the attentive Virgin of listening and the humble Handmaid of the Lord guide us. Thus spiritually renewed, we shall succeed in celebrating Easter joyfully. Amen!
Dear Brother Bishops,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Praised be Jesus Christ who has gathered us in this stadium today that we may enter more deeply into his life!
Jesus Christ brings us together on this day when the Church, here in Cameroon and throughout the world, celebrates the Feast of Saint Joseph, Husband of the Virgin Mary. I begin by wishing a very happy feast day to all those who, like myself, have received the grace of bearing this beautiful name, and I ask Saint Joseph to grant them his special protection in guiding them towards the Lord Jesus Christ all the days of their life. I also extend cordial best wishes to all the parishes, schools, colleges, and institutions named after Saint Joseph. I thank Archbishop Tonyé-Bakot of Yaoundé for his kind words, and I warmly greet the representatives of the African Episcopal Conferences who have come to Yaoundé for the promulgation of the Instrumentum Laboris of the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops.
How can we enter into the specific grace of this day? In a little while, at the end of Mass, the liturgy will remind us of the focal point of our meditation when it has us pray: “Lord, today you nourish us at this altar as we celebrate the feast of Saint Joseph. Protect your Church always, and in your love watch over the gifts you have given us.” We are asking the Lord to protect the Church always – and he does! – just as Joseph protected his family and kept watch over the child Jesus during his early years.
Our Gospel reading recalls this for us. The angel said to Joseph: “Do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home,” (Mt 1,20) and that is precisely what he did: “he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him” (Mt 1,24). Why was Saint Matthew so keen to note Joseph’s trust in the words received from the messenger of God, if not to invite us to imitate this same loving trust?
Although the first reading which we have just heard does not speak explicitly of Saint Joseph, it does teach us a good deal about him. The prophet Nathan, in obedience to God’s command, tells David: “I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins” (2S 7,12). David must accept that he will die before seeing the fulfilment of this promise, which will come to pass “when (his) time comes” and he will rest “with (his) ancestors”. We thus come to realize that one of mankind’s most cherished desires – seeing the fruits of one’s labours – is not always granted by God. I think of those among you who are mothers and fathers of families. Parents quite rightly desire to give the best of themselves to their children, and they want to see them achieve success. Yet make no mistake about what this “success” entails: what God asks David to do is to place his trust in him. David himself will not see his heir who will have a throne “firm for ever” (2S 7,16), for this heir, announced under the veil of prophecy, is Jesus. David puts his trust in God. In the same way, Joseph trusts God when he hears his messenger, the Angel, say to him: “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her” (Mt 1,20). Throughout all of history, Joseph is the man who gives God the greatest display of trust, even in the face of such astonishing news.
Dear fathers and mothers here today, do you have trust in God who has called you to be the fathers and mothers of his adopted children? Do you accept that he is counting on you to pass on to your children the human and spiritual values that you yourselves have received and which will prepare them to live with love and respect for his holy name? At a time when so many people have no qualms about trying to impose the tyranny of materialism, with scant concern for the most deprived, you must be very careful. Africa in general, and Cameroon in particular, place themselves at risk if they do not recognize the True Author of Life! Brothers and sisters in Cameroon and throughout Africa, you who have received from God so many human virtues, take care of your souls! Do not let yourselves be captivated by selfish illusions and false ideals! Believe – yes! – continue to believe in God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – he alone truly loves you in the way you yearn to be loved, he alone can satisfy you, can bring stability to your lives. Only Christ is the way of Life.
God alone could grant Joseph the strength to trust the Angel. God alone will give you, dear married couples, the strength to raise your family as he wants. Ask it of him! God loves to be asked for what he wishes to give. Ask him for the grace of a true and ever more faithful love patterned after his own. As the Psalm magnificently puts it: his “love is established for ever, his loyalty will stand as long as the heavens” (Ps 88,3).
Just as on other continents, the family today – in your country and across Africa – is experiencing a difficult time; but fidelity to God will help see it through. Certain values of the traditional life have been overturned. Relationships between different generations have evolved in a way that no longer favours the transmission of accumulated knowledge and inherited wisdom. Too often we witness a rural exodus not unlike that known in many other periods of human history. The quality of family ties is deeply affected by this. Uprooted and fragile members of the younger generation who often – sadly – are without gainful employment, seek to cure their pain by living in ephemeral and man-made paradises which we know will never guarantee the human being a deep, abiding happiness. Sometimes the African people too are constrained to flee from themselves and abandon everything that once made up their interior richness. Confronted with the phenomenon of rapid urbanization, they leave the land, physically and morally: not as Abraham had done in response to the Lord’s call, but as a kind of interior exile which alienates them from their very being, from their brothers and sisters, and from God himself.
Is this an irreversible, inevitable development? By no means! More than ever, we must “hope against all hope” (Rm 4,18). Here I wish to acknowledge with appreciation and gratitude the remarkable work done by countless associations that promote the life of faith and the practice of charity. May they be warmly thanked! May they find in the word of God renewed strength to carry out their projects for the integral development of the human person in Africa, especially in Cameroon!
The first priority will consist in restoring a sense of the acceptance of life as a gift from God. According to both Sacred Scripture and the wisest traditions of your continent, the arrival of a child is always a gift, a blessing from God. Today it is high time to place greater emphasis on this: every human being, every tiny human person, however weak, is created “in the image and likeness of God” (Gn 1,27). Every person must live! Death must not prevail over life! Death will never have the last word!
Sons and daughters of Africa, do not be afraid to believe, to hope, and to love; do not be afraid to say that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life, and that we can be saved by him alone. Saint Paul is indeed an inspired author given to the Church by the Holy Spirit as a “teacher of nations” (1Tm 2,7) when he tells us that Abraham, “hoping against hope, believed that he should become the father of many nations; as he had been told, ‘So shall your descendants be’” (Rm 4,18).
“Hoping against hope”: is this not a magnificent description of a Christian? Africa is called to hope through you and in you! With Jesus Christ, who trod the African soil, Africa can become the continent of hope! We are all members of the peoples that God gave to Abraham as his descendants. Each and every one of us was thought, willed and loved by God. Each and every one of us has a role to play in the plan of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. If discouragement overwhelms you, think of the faith of Joseph; if anxiety has its grip on you, think of the hope of Joseph, that descendant of Abraham who hoped against hope; if exasperation or hatred seizes you, think of the love of Joseph, who was the first man to set eyes on the human face of God in the person of the Infant conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary. Let us praise and thank Christ for having drawn so close to us, and for giving us Joseph as an example and model of love for him.
Dear brothers and sisters, I want to say to you once more from the bottom of my heart: like Joseph, do not be afraid to take Mary into your home, that is to say do not be afraid to love the Church. Mary, Mother of the Church, will teach you to follow your pastors, to love your bishops, your priests, your deacons and your catechists; to heed what they teach you and to pray for their intentions. Husbands, look upon the love of Joseph for Mary and Jesus; those preparing for marriage, treat your future spouse as Joseph did; those of you who have given yourselves to God in celibacy, reflect upon the teaching of the Church, our Mother: “Virginity or celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of God not only does not contradict the dignity of marriage but presupposes and confirms it. Marriage and virginity are two ways of expressing and living the one mystery of the Covenant of God with his people” (Redemptoris Custos, 20).
Once more, I wish to extend a particular word of encouragement to fathers so that they may take Saint Joseph as their model. He who kept watch over the Son of Man is able to teach them the deepest meaning of their own fatherhood. In the same way, each father receives his children from God, and they are created in God’s own image and likeness. Saint Joseph was the spouse of Mary. In the same way, each father sees himself entrusted with the mystery of womanhood through his own wife. Dear fathers, like Saint Joseph, respect and love your spouse; and by your love and your wise presence, lead your children to God where they must be (cf. Lc 2,49).
Finally, to all the young people present, I offer words of friendship and encouragement: as you face the challenges of life, take courage! Your life is priceless in the eyes of God! Let Christ take hold of you, agree to pledge your love to him, and – why not? – maybe even do so in the priesthood or in the consecrated life! This is the supreme service. To the children who no longer have a father, or who live abandoned in the poverty of the streets, to those forcibly separated from their parents, to the maltreated and abused, to those constrained to join paramilitary forces that are terrorizing some countries, I would like to say: God loves you, he has not forgotten you, and Saint Joseph protects you! Invoke him with confidence.
May God bless you and watch over you! May he give you the grace to keep advancing towards him with fidelity! May he give stability to your lives so that you may reap the fruits he awaits from you! May he make you witnesses of his love here in Cameroon and to the ends of the earth! I fervently beg him to give you a taste of the joy of belonging to him, now and for ever. Amen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Beloved labourers in the Lord’s vineyard,
As we have just heard, the children of Israel said to one another, “let us make haste to know the Lord.” They encouraged one another with these words amid their many tribulations. These misfortunes had overtaken them – the Prophet explains – because they lived without knowledge of God; their hearts were poor in love. The only physician capable of healing them was the Lord. Indeed, he himself, as a good physician, opened their wounds so that the sore might heal. And the people made up their mind: “Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn, that he may heal us” (Os 6,1). Thus human poverty was to intersect with divine mercy, which desires only to embrace the poor.
We see this in the Gospel passage that we have just heard: “Two men went up into the temple to pray”; the one “went down to his house justified rather than the other” (Lc 18,10). The latter had paraded all his merits before God, virtually making God his debtor. Deep down, he felt no need for God, even though he thanked him for letting him become so perfect, “not like this tax collector”. And yet it was the tax collector who went down to his house justified. Conscious of his sins, and so not even lifting his head – although in his trust he is completely turned towards Heaven – he awaits everything from the Lord: “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner” (Lc 18,13). He knocks on the door of mercy, which then opens and justifies him, for, as Jesus concludes: “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Lc 18,14).
Saint Paul, the patron saint of the city of Luanda and of this splendid church built some fifty years ago, speaks to us from personal experience about this God who is rich in mercy. I wanted to highlight the second millennium of the birth of Saint Paul by celebrating the present Pauline Year, so that we can learn from him how to know Jesus Christ more fully. This is the testimony which Paul has bequeathed to us: “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. And I am the foremost of sinners; but I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience for an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (1Tm 1,15-16). In the course of the centuries, the number of people touched by grace has continually grown. You and I are among them. Let us give thanks to God because he has called us to be part of this age-long procession and thus to advance towards the future. In the footsteps of all Jesus’ followers, let us join them in following Christ himself and thus enter into the Light.
Dear brothers and sisters, I feel great joy to be here today with you, my fellow-workers in the Lord’s vineyard, where you labour daily to prepare the wine of divine mercy and to pour it out as balm on the wounds of your people who have suffered so many tribulations. Archbishop Gabriel Mbilingi has spoken of your hopes and your struggles in his gracious words of welcome. With a heart full of gratitude and hope I greet you all – women and men devoted to the cause of Jesus Christ – those of you who are here and the many others whom you represent: Bishops, priests, consecrated men and women, seminarians, catechists, leaders of the many different movements and associations present in this beloved Church of God. I would also like to mention the contemplative women religious, an unseen but extremely fruitful presence for our common journey. Finally, let me offer a particular greeting to the Salesian community and the faithful of this parish of Saint Paul; they have welcomed us to their church, without hesitating to yield the place which is usually theirs in the liturgical assembly. I know that they are gathered in the field next door, and I hope, at the end of this Eucharist, to see them and give them my blessing, but even now I say to them: “Many thanks! May God raise up in you, and through you, many apostles modelled on your patron.”
The decisive event in Paul’s life was his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus: Christ appeared to him as a dazzling light, he spoke to him and he won him over. The Apostle saw the Risen Jesus; and in him he beheld the full stature of humanity. As a result Paul experienced an inversion of perspective; he now saw everything in the light of this perfect stature of humanity in Christ: what had earlier seemed essential and fundamental, he now considered nothing more than “refuse”; no longer “gain” but loss, for now the only thing that mattered was life in Christ (cf. Ph 3,7-8). Far from being merely a stage in Paul’s personal growth, this was a death to himself and a resurrection in Christ: one form of life died in him, and a new form was born, with the Risen Christ.
My brothers and sisters, “let us make haste to know the Lord”, the Risen One! As you know, Jesus, perfect man, is also our true God. In him, God became visible to our eyes, to give us a share in his divine life. With him a new dimension of being, of life, has come about, a dimension which integrates matter and through which a new world arises. But this qualitative leap in universal history which Jesus brought about in our place and for our sake – how is it communicated to human beings, how does it permeate their life and raise it on high? It comes to each of us through faith and Baptism. This sacrament is truly death and resurrection, transformation and new life, so much so that the baptized person can say together with Paul: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Ga 2,20). I live, but no longer I. In a certain way, my identity has been taken away and made part of an even greater identity; I still have my personal identity, but now it is changed and open to others as a result of my becoming part of Another: in Christ I find myself living on a new plane. What then has happened to us? Paul gives us the answer: You have become one in Christ Jesus (cf. Ga 3,28).
Through this process of our “christification” by the working and grace of God’s Spirit, the gestation of the Body of Christ in history is gradually being accomplished in us. At this moment I would like to go back in thought five centuries, to the years following 1506, when, in these lands, then visited by the Portuguese, the first sub-Saharan Christian kingdom was established, thanks to the faith and determination of the king, Dom Alphonsus I Mbemba-a-Nzinga, who reigned from 1506 until his death in 1543. The kingdom remained officially Catholic from the sixteenth century until the eighteenth, with its own ambassador in Rome. You see how two quite different ethnic groups – the Bantu and the Portuguese – were able to find in the Christian religion common ground for understanding, and committed themselves to ensuring that this understanding would be long-lasting, and that differences – which undoubtedly existed, and great ones at that – would not divide the two kingdoms! For Baptism enables all believers to be one in Christ.
Today it is up to you, brothers and sisters, following in the footsteps of those heroic and holy heralds of God, to offer the Risen Christ to your fellow citizens. So many of them are living in fear of spirits, of malign and threatening powers. In their bewilderment they end up even condemning street children and the elderly as alleged sorcerers. Who can go to them to proclaim that Christ has triumphed over death and all those occult powers (cf. Ep 1,19-23 Ep 6,10-12)? Someone may object: “Why not leave them in peace? They have their truth, and we have ours. Let us all try to live in peace, leaving everyone as they are, so they can best be themselves.” But if we are convinced and have come to experience that without Christ life lacks something, that something real – indeed, the most real thing of all – is missing, we must also be convinced that we do no injustice to anyone if we present Christ to them and thus grant them the opportunity of finding their truest and most authentic selves, the joy of finding life. Indeed, we must do this. It is our duty to offer everyone this possibility of attaining eternal life.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us say to them, in the words of the Israelite people: “Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn, that he may heal us.” Let us enable human poverty to encounter divine mercy. The Lord makes us his friends, he entrusts himself to us, he gives us his Body in the Eucharist, he entrusts his Church to us. And so we ought truly to be his friends, to be one in mind with him, to desire what he desires and to reject what he does not desire. Jesus himself said: “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (Jn 15,14). Let this, then, be our common commitment: together to do his holy will: “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation” (Mc 16,15). Let us embrace his will, like Saint Paul: “Preaching the Gospel … is a necessity laid upon me; woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” (1Co 9,16).
Benedict XVI Homilies 25019