Benedict XVI Homilies 11409
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Saint Mark tells us in his Gospel that as the disciples came down from the Mount of the Transfiguration, they were discussing among themselves what “rising from the dead” could mean (cf. Mc 9,10). A little earlier, the Lord had foretold his passion and his resurrection after three days. Peter had protested against this prediction of death. But now, they were wondering what could be meant by the word “resurrection”. Could it be that we find ourselves in a similar situation? Christmas, the birth of the divine Infant, we can somehow immediately comprehend. We can love the child, we can imagine that night in Bethlehem, Mary’s joy, the joy of Saint Joseph and the shepherds, the exultation of the angels. But what is resurrection? It does not form part of our experience, and so the message often remains to some degree beyond our understanding, a thing of the past. The Church tries to help us understand it, by expressing this mysterious event in the language of symbols in which we can somehow contemplate this astonishing event. During the Easter Vigil, the Church points out the significance of this day principally through three symbols: light, water, and the new song – the Alleluia.
First of all, there is light. God’s creation – which has just been proclaimed to us in the Biblical narrative – begins with the command: “Let there be light!” (Gn 1,3). Where there is light, life is born, chaos can be transformed into cosmos. In the Biblical message, light is the most immediate image of God: He is total Radiance, Life, Truth, Light. During the Easter Vigil, the Church reads the account of creation as a prophecy. In the resurrection, we see the most sublime fulfilment of what this text describes as the beginning of all things. God says once again: “Let there be light!” The resurrection of Jesus is an eruption of light. Death is conquered, the tomb is thrown open. The Risen One himself is Light, the Light of the world. With the resurrection, the Lord’s day enters the nights of history. Beginning with the resurrection, God’s light spreads throughout the world and throughout history. Day dawns. This Light alone – Jesus Christ – is the true light, something more than the physical phenomenon of light. He is pure Light: God himself, who causes a new creation to be born in the midst of the old, transforming chaos into cosmos.
Let us try to understand this a little better. Why is Christ Light? In the Old Testament, the Torah was considered to be like the light coming from God for the world and for humanity. The Torah separates light from darkness within creation, that is to say, good from evil. It points out to humanity the right path to true life. It points out the good, it demonstrates the truth and it leads us towards love, which is the deepest meaning contained in the Torah. It is a “lamp” for our steps and a “light” for our path (cf. Ps 119,105). Christians, then, knew that in Christ, the Torah is present, the Word of God is present in him as Person. The Word of God is the true light that humanity needs. This Word is present in him, in the Son. Psalm 19 had compared the Torah to the sun which manifests God’s glory as it rises, for all the world to see. Christians understand: yes indeed, in the resurrection, the Son of God has emerged as the Light of the world. Christ is the great Light from which all life originates. He enables us to recognize the glory of God from one end of the earth to the other. He points out our path. He is the Lord’s day which, as it grows, is gradually spreading throughout the earth. Now, living with him and for him, we can live in the light.
At the Easter Vigil, the Church represents the mystery of the light of Christ in the sign of the Paschal candle, whose flame is both light and heat. The symbolism of light is connected with that of fire: radiance and heat, radiance and the transforming energy contained in the fire – truth and love go together. The Paschal candle burns, and is thereby consumed: Cross and resurrection are inseparable. From the Cross, from the Son’s self-giving, light is born, true radiance comes into the world. From the Paschal candle we all light our own candles, especially the newly baptized, for whom the light of Christ enters deeply into their hearts in this Sacrament. The early Church described Baptism as fotismos, as the Sacrament of illumination, as a communication of light, and linked it inseparably with the resurrection of Christ. In Baptism, God says to the candidate: “Let there be light!” The candidate is brought into the light of Christ. Christ now divides the light from the darkness. In him we recognize what is true and what is false, what is radiance and what is darkness. With him, there wells up within us the light of truth, and we begin to understand. On one occasion when Christ looked upon the people who had come to listen to him, seeking some guidance from him, he felt compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd (cf. Mc 6,34). Amid the contradictory messages of that time, they did not know which way to turn. What great compassion he must feel in our own time too – on account of all the endless talk that people hide behind, while in reality they are totally confused. Where must we go? What are the values by which we can order our lives? The values by which we can educate our young, without giving them norms they may be unable to resist, or demanding of them things that perhaps should not be imposed upon them? He is the Light. The baptismal candle is the symbol of enlightenment that is given to us in Baptism. Thus at this hour, Saint Paul speaks to us with great immediacy. In the Letter to the Philippians, he says that, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, Christians should shine as lights in the world (cf. Ph 2,15). Let us pray to the Lord that the fragile flame of the candle he has lit in us, the delicate light of his word and his love amid the confusions of this age, will not be extinguished in us, but will become ever stronger and brighter, so that we, with him, can be people of the day, bright stars lighting up our time.
The second symbol of the Easter Vigil – the night of Baptism – is water. It appears in Sacred Scripture, and hence also in the inner structure of the Sacrament of Baptism, with two opposed meanings. On the one hand there is the sea, which appears as a force antagonistic to life on earth, continually threatening it; yet God has placed a limit upon it. Hence the book of Revelation says that in God’s new world, the sea will be no more (cf. Ap 21,1). It is the element of death. And so it becomes the symbolic representation of Jesus’ death on the Cross: Christ descended into the sea, into the waters of death, as Israel did into the Red Sea. Having risen from death, he gives us life. This means that Baptism is not only a cleansing, but a new birth: with Christ we, as it were, descend into the sea of death, so as to rise up again as new creatures.
The other way in which we encounter water is in the form of the fresh spring that gives life, or the great river from which life comes forth. According to the earliest practice of the Church, Baptism had to be administered with water from a fresh spring. Without water there is no life. It is striking how much importance is attached to wells in Sacred Scripture. They are places from which life rises forth. Beside Jacob’s well, Christ spoke to the Samaritan woman of the new well, the water of true life. He reveals himself to her as the new, definitive Jacob, who opens up for humanity the well that is awaited: the inexhaustible source of life-giving water (cf. Jn 4,5-15). Saint John tells us that a soldier with a lance struck the side of Jesus, and from his open side – from his pierced heart – there came out blood and water (cf. Jn 19,34). The early Church saw in this a symbol of Baptism and Eucharist flowing from the pierced heart of Jesus. In his death, Jesus himself became the spring. The prophet Ezekiel saw a vision of the new Temple from which a spring issues forth that becomes a great life-giving river (cf. Ez 47,1-12). In a land which constantly suffered from drought and water shortage, this was a great vision of hope. Nascent Christianity understood: in Christ, this vision was fulfilled. He is the true, living Temple of God. He is the spring of living water. From him, the great river pours forth, which in Baptism renews the world and makes it fruitful; the great river of living water, his Gospel which makes the earth fertile. Jesus, however, prophesied something still greater. He said: “Whoever believes in me … out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water” (Jn 7,38). In Baptism, the Lord makes us not only persons of light, but also sources from which living water bursts forth. We all know people like that, who leave us somehow refreshed and renewed; people who are like a fountain of fresh spring water. We do not necessarily have to think of great saints like Augustine, Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, Mother Teresa of Calcutta and so on, people through whom rivers of living water truly entered into human history. Thanks be to God, we find them constantly even in our daily lives: people who are like a spring. Certainly, we also know the opposite: people who spread around themselves an atmosphere like a stagnant pool of stale, or even poisoned water. Let us ask the Lord, who has given us the grace of Baptism, for the gift always to be sources of pure, fresh water, bubbling up from the fountain of his truth and his love!
The third great symbol of the Easter Vigil is something rather different; it has to do with man himself. It is the singing of the new song – the alleluia. When a person experiences great joy, he cannot keep it to himself. He has to express it, to pass it on. But what happens when a person is touched by the light of the resurrection, and thus comes into contact with Life itself, with Truth and Love? He cannot merely speak about it. Speech is no longer adequate. He has to sing. The first reference to singing in the Bible comes after the crossing of the Red Sea. Israel has risen out of slavery. It has climbed up from the threatening depths of the sea. It is as it were reborn. It lives and it is free. The Bible describes the people’s reaction to this great event of salvation with the verse: “The people … believed in the Lord and in Moses his servant” (Ex 14,31). Then comes the second reaction which, with a kind of inner necessity, follows from the first one: “Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord …” At the Easter Vigil, year after year, we Christians intone this song after the third reading, we sing it as our song, because we too, through God’s power, have been drawn forth from the water and liberated for true life.
There is a surprising parallel to the story of Moses’ song after Israel’s liberation from Egypt upon emerging from the Red Sea, namely in the Book of Revelation of Saint John. Before the beginning of the seven last plagues imposed upon the earth, the seer has a vision of something “like a sea of glass mingled with fire; and those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb …” (Ap 15,2f.). This image describes the situation of the disciples of Jesus Christ in every age, the situation of the Church in the history of this world. Humanly speaking, it is self-contradictory. On the one hand, the community is located at the Exodus, in the midst of the Red Sea, in a sea which is paradoxically ice and fire at the same time. And must not the Church, so to speak, always walk on the sea, through the fire and the cold? Humanly speaking, she ought to sink. But while she is still walking in the midst of this Red Sea, she sings – she intones the song of praise of the just: the song of Moses and of the Lamb, in which the Old and New Covenants blend into harmony. While, strictly speaking, she ought to be sinking, the Church sings the song of thanksgiving of the saved. She is standing on history’s waters of death and yet she has already risen. Singing, she grasps at the Lord’s hand, which holds her above the waters. And she knows that she is thereby raised outside the force of gravity of death and evil – a force from which otherwise there would be no way of escape – raised and drawn into the new gravitational force of God, of truth and of love. At present, the Church and all of us are still between the two gravitational fields. But once Christ is risen, the gravitational pull of love is stronger than that of hatred; the force of gravity of life is stronger than that of death. Perhaps this is actually the situation of the Church in every age, perhaps it is our situation? It always seems as if she ought to be sinking, and yet she is always already saved. Saint Paul illustrated this situation with the words: “We are as dying, and behold we live” (2Co 6,9). The Lord’s saving hand holds us up, and thus we can already sing the song of the saved, the new song of the risen ones: alleluia!
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
“Christ, our Paschal lamb, has been sacrificed!” (1Co 5,7). On this day, Saint Paul’s triumphant words ring forth, words that we have just heard in the second reading, taken from his First Letter to the Corinthians. It is a text which originated barely twenty years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, and yet – like many Pauline passages – it already contains, in an impressive synthesis, a full awareness of the newness of life in Christ. The central symbol of salvation history – the Paschal lamb – is here identified with Jesus, who is called “our Paschal lamb”. The Hebrew Passover, commemorating the liberation from slavery in Egypt, provided for the ritual sacrifice of a lamb every year, one for each family, as prescribed by the Mosaic Law. In his passion and death, Jesus reveals himself as the Lamb of God, “sacrificed” on the Cross, to take away the sins of the world. He was killed at the very hour when it was customary to sacrifice the lambs in the Temple of Jerusalem. The meaning of his sacrifice he himself had anticipated during the Last Supper, substituting himself – under the signs of bread and wine – for the ritual food of the Hebrew Passover meal. Thus we can truly say that Jesus brought to fulfilment the tradition of the ancient Passover, and transformed it into his Passover.
On the basis of this new meaning of the Paschal feast, we can also understand Saint Paul’s interpretation of the “leaven”. The Apostle is referring to an ancient Hebrew usage: according to which, on the occasion of the Passover, it was necessary to remove from the household every tiny scrap of leavened bread. On the one hand, this served to recall what had happened to their forefathers at the time of the flight from Egypt: leaving the country in haste, they had brought with them only unleavened bread. At the same time, though, the “unleavened bread” was a symbol of purification: removing the old to make space for the new. Now, Saint Paul explains, this ancient tradition likewise acquires a new meaning, once more derived from the new “Exodus”, which is Jesus’ passage from death to eternal life. And since Christ, as the true Lamb, sacrificed himself for us, we too, his disciples – thanks to him and through him – can and must be the “new dough”, the “unleavened bread”, liberated from every residual element of the old yeast of sin: no more evil and wickedness in our heart.
“Let us celebrate the feast … with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth”. This exhortation from Saint Paul, which concludes the short reading that was proclaimed a few moments ago, resounds even more powerfully in the context of the Pauline Year. Dear brothers and sisters, let us accept the Apostle’s invitation; let us open our spirit to Christ, who has died and is risen in order to renew us, in order to remove from our hearts the poison of sin and death, and to pour in the life-blood of the Holy Spirit: divine and eternal life. In the Easter Sequence, in what seems almost like a response to the Apostle’s words, we sang: “Scimus Christum surrexisse a mortuis vere” – we know that Christ has truly risen from the dead. Yes, indeed! This is the fundamental core of our profession of faith; this is the cry of victory that unites us all today. And if Jesus is risen, and is therefore alive, who will ever be able to separate us from him? Who will ever be able to deprive us of the love of him who has conquered hatred and overcome death?
The Easter proclamation spreads throughout the world with the joyful song of the Alleluia. Let us sing it with our lips, and let us sing it above all with our hearts and our lives, with a manner of life that is “unleavened”, that is to say, simple, humble, and fruitful in good works. “Surrexit Christus spes mea: praecedet vos in Galileam” – Christ my hope is risen, and he goes before you into Galilee. The Risen One goes before us and he accompanies us along the paths of the world. He is our hope, He is the true peace of the world. Amen!
A short while ago we said in the Responsorial Psalm "I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth" (Ps 34,1 : 1). Let us praise him today for the Sixth World Meeting of Families, celebrated successfully in Mexico City last January, in whose organization and programme you took part in various ways. I am deeply grateful to you. I also offer a cordial greeting to Cardinals Ennio Antonelli, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, and Norberto Rivera Carrera, Archbishop Primate of Mexico, the leader of this pilgrimage to Rome.
In reading the Acts of the Apostles we heard from St Peter's lips, "We must obey God rather than men" (Ac 5,29). This fully agrees with what John's Gospel tells us: "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son shall not see life" (Jn 3,36). Thus the word of God speaks to us of an obedience that is not mere subjection nor a mere fulfilment of mandates but is born from intimate communion with God and consists in an insight that can discern what "comes from above" and "is above all". It is a fruit of the Holy Spirit which God grants "without measure".
Dear friends, our contemporaries need to discover this obedience which is not theoretical but vital, which means opting for a practical form of behaviour based on obedience to God's will which renders us completely free. Christian families with their domestic life, simple and happy, sharing day after day their joys, hopes and anxieties, lived in the light of faith, are schools of obedience and an environment of true freedom. Those who have lived their marriage in accordance with God's plan for many years, like some of those present, testify to the goodness of the Lord who helps and encourages us.
Christ is truly present in the Eucharist; he is the Bread which comes down from Heaven to replenish our energy and enable us to face the effort and exertion of the journey. He is beside us. May he also be the best friend of those who are receiving First Communion today, transforming them within so that they may be his enthusiastic witnesses to others.
Let us now continue our Eucharistic celebration, invoking the loving intercession of our Heavenly Mother, Our Lady of Guadalupe, so that we may receive Jesus and have life and, strengthened with the Eucharistic Bread, may be servants of true joy for the world. Amen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
On this Third Sunday in the Easter Season, the liturgy once again focuses our attention on the mystery of the Risen Christ. Victorious over evil and over death, the Author of life who sacrificed himself as a victim of expiation for our sins, "is still our priest, our advocate who always pleads our cause. Christ is the victim who dies no more, the Lamb, once slain, who lives for ever" (Easter Preface III). Let us allow ourselves to be bathed in the radiance of Easter that shines from this great mystery and with the Responsorial Psalm let us pray: "O Lord, let the light of your countenance shine upon us".
The light of the face of the Risen Christ shines upon us today especially through the Gospel features of the five Blesseds who during this celebration are enrolled in the Roll of Saints: Arcangelo Tadini, Bernardo Tolomei, Nuno de Santa Maria Álvares Pereira, Geltrude Comensoli and Caterina Volpicelli. I willingly join in the homage that the pilgrims are paying to them, gathered here from various nations and to whom I address a cordial greeting with great affection. The various human and spiritual experiences of these new Saints show us the profound renewal that the mystery of Christ's Resurrection brings about in the human heart; it is a fundamental mystery that orients and guides the entire history of salvation. The Church therefore, especially in this Easter Season, rightly invites us to direct our gaze to the Risen Christ, who is really present in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
In the Gospel passage, St Luke mentions one of the appearances of the Risen Jesus (Lc 24,35-48). At the very beginning of the passage the Evangelist notes that the two disciples of Emmaus, who hurried back to Jerusalem, had told the Eleven how they recognized him in "the breaking of the bread" (Lc 24,35). And while they were recounting the extraordinary experience of their encounter with the Lord, he "himself stood among them" (Lc 24,36). His sudden appearance frightened the Apostles. They were fearful to the point that Jesus, in order to reassure them and to overcome every hesitation and doubt, asked them to touch him he was not a ghost but a man of flesh and bone and then asked them for something to eat. Once again, as had happened for the two at Emmaus, it is at table while eating with his own that the Risen Christ reveals himself to the disciples, helping them to understand the Scriptures and to reinterpret the events of salvation in the light of Easter. "Everything written about me", he says, "in the law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled" (Lc 24,44). And he invites them to look to the future: "repentance and forgiveness of sins [shall] be preached in his name to all nations" (cf. Lc 24,47).
This very experience of repentance and forgiveness is relived in every community in the Eucharistic celebration, especially on Sundays. The Eucharist, the privileged place in which the Church recognizes "the Author of life" (Ac 3,15) is "the breaking of the bread", as it is called in the Acts of the Apostles. In it, through faith, we enter into communion with Christ, who is "the priest, the altar, and the lamb of sacrifice" (cf. Preface for Easter, 5) and is among us. Let us gather round him to cherish the memory of his words and of the events contained in Scripture; let us relive his Passion, death and Resurrection. In celebrating the Eucharist we communicate with Christ, the victim of expiation, and from him we draw forgiveness and life. What would our lives as Christians be without the Eucharist? The Eucharist is the perpetual, living inheritance which the Lord has bequeathed to us in the Sacrament of his Body and his Blood and which we must constantly rethink and deepen so that, as venerable Pope Paul vi said, it may "impress its inexhaustible effectiveness on all the days of our earthly life" (Insegnamenti, V , p. 779). Nourished with the Eucharistic Bread, the Saints we are venerating today brought their mission of evangelical love to completion with their own special charisms in the various areas in which they worked.
St Arcangelo Tadini spent long hours in prayer before the Eucharist. Always focusing his pastoral ministry on the totality of the human person, he encouraged the human and spiritual growth of his parishioners. This holy priest, this holy parish priest, a man who belonged entirely to God ready in every circumstance to let himself be guided by the Holy Spirit, was at the same time prepared to face the urgent needs of the moment and find a remedy for them. For this reason he undertook on many practical and courageous initiatives such as the organization of the "Catholic Workers Mutual Aid Association", the construction of a spinning mill and a residence for the workers and, in 1900, the foundation of the "Congregation of Worker Sisters of the Holy House of Nazareth" to evangelize the working world by sharing in the common efforts after the example of the Holy Family of Nazareth. How prophetic the charismatic intuition of Fr Tadini was and how timely his example remains today in an epoch of serious financial crisis! He reminds us that only by cultivating a constant and profound relationship with the Lord, especially in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, can we bring the Gospel leaven to the various fields of work and to every area of our society.
Love for prayer and for manual labour also distinguished St Bernardo Tolomei, the initiator of a unique Benedictine monastic movement. His was a Eucharistic life, entirely dedicated to contemplation, expressed in humble service to neighbour. Because of his rare spirit of humility and brotherly acceptance, he was re-elected abbot for 27 years, until his death. Moreover, in order to guarantee the future of his foundation, on 21 January 1344 he obtained from Clement vi papal approval of the new Benedictine Congregation called "Our Lady of Monte Oliveto". During the epidemic of the Black Death in 1348, he left the solitude of Monte Oliveto for the monastery of S. Benedetto at Porta Tufi, Siena, to attend to his monks stricken with the plague, and died, himself a victim, as an authentic martyr of love. The example of this Saint invites us to express our faith in a life dedicated to God in prayer and spent at the service of our neighbour, impelled by a love that is also ready to make the supreme sacrifice.
"Know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself; the Lord hears when I call to him" (Ps 4,3). These words of the Responsorial Psalm express the secret of the life of Bl. Nuno de Santa María, a hero and saint of Portugal. The 70 years of his life belong to the second half of the 14th century and the first half of the 15th, which saw this nation consolidate its independence from Castille and expand beyond the ocean not without a special plan of God opening new routes that were to favour the transit of Christ's Gospel to the ends of the earth. St Nuno felt he was an instrument of this lofty design and enrolled in the militia Christi, that is, in the service of witness that every Christian is called to bear in the world. He was characterized by an intense life of prayer and absolute trust in divine help. Although he was an excellent soldier and a great leader, he never permitted these personal talents to prevail over the supreme action that comes from God. St Nuno allowed no obstacle to come in the way of God's action in his life, imitating Our Lady, to whom he was deeply devoted and to whom he publicly attributed his victories. At the end of his life, he retired to the Carmelite convent whose building he had commissioned. I am glad to point this exemplary figure out to the whole Church particularly because he exercised his life of faith and prayer in contexts apparently unfavourable to it, as proof that in any situation, even military or in war time, it is possible to act and to put into practice the values and principles of Christian life, especially if they are placed at the service of the common good and the glory of God.
Since childhood, Geltrude Comensoli felt a special attraction for Jesus present in the Eucharist. Adoration of Christ in the Eucharist became the principal aim of her life, we could almost say the habitual condition of her existence. Indeed, it was in the presence of the Eucharist that St Geltrude realized what her vocation and mission in the Church was to be: to dedicate herself without reserve to apostolic and missionary action, especially for youth. Thus, in obedience to Pope Leo XIII, her Institute came into being which endeavoured to translate the "charity contemplated" in the Eucharistic Christ, into "charity lived", in dedication to one's needy neighbour. In a bewildered and all too often wounded society like ours, to a youth, like that of our day in search of values and a meaning for their lives, as a sound reference point St Geltrude points to God who, in the Eucharist, has made himself our travelling companion. She reminds us that "adoration must prevail over all the other charitable works", for it is from love for Christ who died and rose and who is really present in the Eucharistic Sacrament, that Gospel charity flows which impels us to see all human beings as our brothers and sisters.
St Caterina Volpicelli was also a witness of divine love. She strove "to belong to Christ in order to bring to Christ" those whom she met in Naples at the end of the 19th century, in a period of spiritual and social crisis. For her too the secret was the Eucharist. She recommended that her first collaborators cultivate an intense spiritual life in prayer and, especially, in vital contact with Jesus in the Eucharist. Today this is still the condition for continuing the work and mission which she began and which she bequeathed as a legacy to the "Servants of the Sacred Heart". In order to be authentic teachers of faith, desirous of passing on to the new generations the values of Christian culture, it is indispensable, as she liked to repeat, to release God from the prisons in which human beings have confined him. In fact, only in the Heart of Christ can humanity find its "permanent dwelling place". St Caterina shows to her spiritual daughters and to all of us the demanding journey of a conversion that radically changes the heart, and is expressed in actions consistent with the Gospel. It is thus possible to lay the foundations for building a society open to justice and solidarity, overcoming that economic and cultural imbalance which continues to exist in a large part of our planet.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us thank the Lord for the gift of holiness that shines out in the Church with rare beauty today in Arcangelo Tadini, Bernardo Tolomei, Nuno de Santa Maria Álvares Pereira, Geltrude Comensoli and Caterina Volpicelli. Let us be attracted by their examples, let us be guided by their teachings, so that our existence too may become a hymn of praise to God, in the footsteps of Jesus, worshipped with faith in the mystery of the Eucharist and served generously in our neighbour. May the maternal intercession of Mary, Queen of Saints and of these five new luminous examples of holiness whom we venerate joyfully today, obtain for us that we may carry out this evangelical mission. Amen!
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
According to a beautiful tradition, the Sunday of "the Good Shepherd" is when the Bishop of Rome meets with his clergy for the Ordination of new priests for the Diocese. This is a great gift from God every time; it is his grace! Therefore let a deep feeling of faith and gratitude in living today's celebration arise in us. With this sentiment I am pleased to greet the Cardinal Vicar Agostino Vallini, the Auxiliary Bishops, the other Brothers in the episcopacy and in the priesthood, and with special affection you, dear Deacon candidates to the priesthood, with your families and friends. The word of God that we have listened to offers many points for meditation: I will choose a few to shed an indelible light on the path of your life and your ministry.
"This [Jesus] is the stone... there is no other name... given among men by which we must be saved" (Ac 4,11-12). In the passage of the Acts of the Apostles the first reading the singular "homonymy" between Peter and Jesus strikes us and makes us reflect: Peter, who received his name from Jesus himself, here asserts that he, Jesus, is "the stone". In fact, the only true rock is Jesus. The only name that saves is his. The apostle, and therefore the priest, receives his "name", his very identity, from Christ. Everything he does is done in his name. His "I" becomes totally relative to the "I" of Jesus. In the name of Christ, and most certainly not in his own, the apostle may perform acts of healing for the brethren, may help the "crippled" to rise again and take their path (cf. Ac 4,9-10). In Peter's case, the miracle that had just occurred makes this especially evident. And even the reference to what was said in the Psalm is essential: "The stone which the builders rejected has become the corner stone" (Ps 118,22 : 22). Jesus was "rejected", but the Father favoured him and put him as the foundation of the Temple of the New Covenant. Thus the apostle, like the priest, experiences in turn the Cross, and only through this can he become truly useful to the building of the Church. God loves to build his Church with people who, following Jesus, place their entire trust in God, as the Psalm itself mentions: "It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in man. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in princes" (Ps 118,8-9).
The disciple shares the same destiny as the Teacher, which ultimately is the destiny expressed in God the Father's own will! Jesus confessed at the end of his life, in the great prayer called "priestly": "O righteous Father, the world has not known you, but I have known you" (Jn 17,25). Even before he had asserted: "No one knows the Father except the Son" (Mt 11,27). Jesus himself experienced the rejection of God by the world, the misunderstanding, the indifference, the disfiguration of the Face of God. And Jesus passed the "witness" on to the disciples: "I made known to them your name", he further confides in the prayer to the Father, "and I will make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them" (Jn 17,26). Therefore the disciple and especially the apostle experiences the same joy that Jesus did, in knowing the name and the Face of the Father; and also shares his suffering, seeing that God is not recognized, that his love is not returned. On one hand we joyfully exclaim, like John did with joy in his first Letter: "See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are!"; and on the other with bitterness we observe: "The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him" (1Jn 3,1). It is true, and we priests experience this: the "world" in an acceptance of the Johannine definition of the term does not understand the Christian, does not understand the ministers of the Gospel. Somewhat because it does not know God, and somewhat because it does not want to know him. The world does not want to know God so as not to be disturbed by his will, and therefore it does not want to listen to his ministers; this could cause a crisis.
Here we must pay attention to a de facto reality: that this "world", interpreted in the evangelical sense, also lures the Church, infecting her members and even ordained ministers. With the word "world", St John indicates and seeks to define a mentality, a way of thinking and living that can pollute even the Church, that in fact does pollute her, thereby requiring constant vigilance and purification. Until God is fully manifest, even his sons are not yet fully "like Him" (1Jn 3,2). We are "in" the world, and we risk being also "of" the world, the world in the sense of this mentality. And in fact at times we are. Because of this, Jesus at the end did not pray for the world in this same sense but for his disciples, so that the Father may keep them from evil that they may be free and different from the world, while living in the world (cf. Jn 17,9). At that moment, at the end of the Last Supper, Jesus raised to the Father the prayer of consecration for the apostles and for all the priests of all times, when he said: "Sanctify them in the truth" (Jn 17,17). And he added: "And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they may also be consecrated in truth" (Jn 17,19). I emphasized these words of Jesus in the Homily of the Chrism Mass, last Holy Thursday. Today I take up this reflection referring to the Gospel of the Good Shepherd, when Jesus declared: "I give my life for the sheep" (cf. Jn 10,15 Jn 10,17 Jn 10,18).
To become priests in the Church means to enter into this self-donation of Christ through the Sacrament of Orders and to enter with all of one's being. Jesus gave his life for all, but in a special way he consecrated himself for those the Father had given to him, that they may be consecrated in truth, that is in him, and could speak and act in his name, represent him, continue his saving actions: breaking the Bread of life and remitting sins. Thus, the Good Shepherd offered his life for all the sheep, but he gave it and gave it in a special way for those that he himself, "with a feeling of favour", called and calls to follow him on the path of pastoral service. Then, in a singular way, Jesus prayed for Simon Peter, and sacrificed himself for him, because he would say to him one day, on the banks of the Sea of Tiberias: "Feed my sheep" (Jn 21,16-17). In the same way, every priest is the recipient of Christ's personal prayer, and only because of this he is able to collaborate with him in feeding the flock, which is completely and only the Lord's.
Here I would like to touch upon a point that is particularly dear to me: the prayer and its ties with service. We have seen that to be ordained priests means to enter in a sacramental and existential way into Christ's prayer for "his own". From this we priests derive a particular vocation to pray in a strongly Christocentric sense: we are called, that is, to "remain" in Christ as the evangelist John likes to repeat (cf. Jn 1,35-39 Jn 15,4-10) and this abiding in Christ is achieved especially through prayer. Our ministry is totally tied to this "abiding" which is equivalent to prayer, and draws from this its efficacy. In this perspective, we must think of the different forms of prayer of a priest, first of all daily Holy Mass. The Eucharistic Celebration is the greatest and highest act of prayer, and constitutes the centre and the source from which even the other forms receive "nourishment": the Liturgy of the Hours, Eucharistic adoration, Lectio divina, the Holy Rosary, meditation. All these expressions of prayer, which have their centre in the Eucharist, fulfil the words of Jesus in the priest's day and in all his life: "I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep" (Jn 10,14-15). In fact, this "knowing" and "being known" in Christ and, through him, in the Most Holy Trinity, is none other than the most true and deep reality of prayer. The priest who prays a lot, and who prays well, is progressively drawn out of himself and evermore united to Jesus the Good Shepherd and the Servant of the Brethren. In conforming to him, even the priest "gives his life" for the sheep entrusted to him. No one takes it from him: he offers it himself, in unity with Christ the Lord, who has the power to give his life and the power to take it back not only for himself, but also for his friends, bound to him in the Sacrament of Orders. Thus the life of Christ, Lamb and Shepherd, is communicated to the whole flock, through the consecrated ministers.
Dear Deacons, may the Holy Spirit impress this divine word which I have briefly commented upon in your hearts, so that it may bear abundant and lasting fruit. We ask this through the intercession of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul and St John Mary Vianney, the Curé d'Ars, to whose protection I have dedicated the next Presbyteral Year. And through the Mother of the Good Shepherd, Mary Most Holy. In every circumstance of your life, look to her, the star of your priesthood. As she said to the servants at the wedding in Cana, Mary repeats to you too: "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn 2,5). At the school of the Virgin, always be men of prayer and service, to become, in the faithful practice of your ministry, holy priests after God's heart.
Benedict XVI Homilies 11409