Benedict XVI Homilies 40709
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
First of all, I should like to say "Thank you" to you, Your Excellency, for your kind words of introduction to the great history of this Cathedral Church, thus making me feel that not only do we pray here, at this moment, but that we can pray through the centuries in this beautiful church.
And my thanks to all of you, who have come to pray with me, and in this way to manifest this network of prayer which binds us all at all times.
In this brief Homily I should like to say a few words about the prayer which concludes these Vespers as it seems to me that the excerpt from the Letter to the Romans which has just been read is interpreted and transformed here into prayer.
The prayer is composed of two parts: an address a heading, so to speak and then the prayer, which consists of two requests.
Let us begin with the address, which is also, in its turn, composed of two parts: here the "you" to whom we speak is made more specific, so that we can knock with greater force on the heart of God.
In the Italian text, we read simply: "Merciful Father". The original Latin is a little fuller; it says, "Almighty and Merciful God". In my recent Encyclical, I have tried to show the prime importance of God both in one's private life and in the life of society, of the world, of history.
Certainly the relationship with God is a profoundly personal matter, and the individual is a being in relationship with others. If the fundamental relationship that with God is not living, is not lived, then no other relationship can find its right form. But this is also true for society, for humanity as such. Here, too, if God is missing, if God is discounted, if he is absent, then the compass is lacking which would show the way forward, the direction to follow in relationships as a whole.
God! We must bring the reality of God back into our world, make him known and present. But how can we know God? During the "ad limina" visits I always speak with the Bishops, in particular African Bishops, but also those from Asia and Latin America where traditional religions still exist, about these religions. They differ greatly from one another in many details, but they also share common elements. They all know that God exists, one God, that "god" is a singular noun, that the gods are not God, that God exists, God. But at the same time this God seems absent, far away, he does not seem to come into our daily lives, he hides, we do not know his Face. Therefore the religions deal for the most part with objects, with powers nearer to us, with spirits, ancestors and so on, since God himself is too far away, and so we have to make do with these closer powers. And the act of evangelization consists precisely in the fact that the distant God draws near, that he is no longer far away, but is close to us, that this "known and unknown" figure now makes himself truly known, shows his Face, reveals himself: the veil covering his Face disappears and he shows his true Face. And so, since God himself is now near us, we can know him, he shows us his Face and enters our world. There is no longer any need to make do with those other powers, because he is the true power, the Omnipotent.
I do not know why the word "omnipotent" has been omitted from the Italian text, but it is true that we feel a little threatened by the word "omnipotence": it seems to limit our freedom, it seems to be too strong. But we must learn that the omnipotence of God is not an arbitrary power, because God is Good, he is Truth, and therefore he can do anything, but he cannot act against good, he cannot act against truth, love or freedom, because he himself is good, love, and true freedom. And therefore nothing he does can ever be in contrast with truth, love and freedom. The contrary is true. He, God, is the guardian of our freedom, of love and of truth. This eye which looks upon us is not an evil eye watching us; it is the presence of love which will never abandon us but rather gives us the certainty that Good is being, Good is living: it is the eye of love that gives us the air to live.
Almighty and Merciful God. A Roman prayer, connected with the text of the Book of Wisdom, says: "O God, show your omnipotence through pardon and mercy". The summit of God's power is mercy, pardon. In our modern-day worldly concept of power, we think of someone who owns large estates, who has some say in the world of economics, who has capital and can influence the world of the market. We think of someone who has military power, who can threaten. Stalin's question, "How many armed divisions does the Pope have?" still characterizes the common idea of power. Whoever has power and many worldly effects may be dangerous, as he could threaten and destroy. But Revelations tells us. "It is not so"; true power is the power of grace and of mercy. In his mercy, God demonstrates true power.
And so the second part of this address says: "You have redeemed the world with the Passion, with the suffering of Your Son". God has suffered, and through his Son he suffers with us. This is the summit of his power, that he can suffer with us. In this way he demonstrates the true divine power: he desired to suffer with us and for us. In our suffering we are never left alone. God, through his Son, suffered first, and he is close to us in our suffering.
However a difficult question remains, one I cannot answer at length at this moment: why was it necessary to suffer to save the world? It was necessary because there exists in the world an ocean of evil, of injustice, hatred, and violence, and the many victims of hatred and injustice have the right to see justice done. God cannot ignore the cries of the suffering who are oppressed by injustice. To forgive is not to ignore, but to transform. God must enter into this world in order to set against the ocean of injustice a larger ocean of goodness and of love. And this is the event of the Cross: from that moment, against the ocean of evil, there exists a river that is boundless, and so ever mightier than all the injustices of the world, a river of goodness, truth, and love. Thus God forgives, coming into the world and transforming it so that there may be a real strength, a river of goodness wider than all the evil that could ever exist.
So our address to God becomes an address to ourselves: God invites us to join with him, to leave behind the ocean of evil, of hatred, violence, and selfishness and to make ourselves known, to enter into the river of his love.
This is precisely the content of the first part of the prayer that follows: "Let Your Church offer herself to You as a living and holy sacrifice". This request, addressed to God, is made also to ourselves. It is a reference to two passages from the Letter to the Romans. We ourselves, with our whole being, must be adoration and sacrifice, and by transforming our world, give it back to God. The role of the priesthood is to consecrate the world so that it may become a living host, a liturgy: so that the liturgy may not be something alongside the reality of the world, but that the world itself shall become a living host, a liturgy. This is also the great vision of Teilhard de Chardin: in the end we shall achieve a true cosmic liturgy, where the cosmos becomes a living host. And let us pray the Lord to help us become priests in this sense, to aid in the transformation of the world, in adoration of God, beginning with ourselves. That our lives may speak of God, that our lives may be a true liturgy, an announcement of God, a door through which the distant God may become the present God, and a true giving of ourselves to God.
Then the second request. We pray: "Let Your people know always the fullness of Your love". The Latin text reads: "Satisfy us with Your love". The text refers to the Psalm we have sung, which says: "Open your hand and satisfy the hunger of every living creature". How much hunger there is on Earth, hunger for bread in many parts of the world: Your Excellency has also spoken of the suffering of the families here: hunger for justice, hunger for love. And with this prayer, we pray to God: "Open Your hand and satisfy fully the hunger of every living creature. Satisfy our hunger for the truth and for Your love".
So be it. Amen.
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today's Solemnity crowns the series of important liturgical celebrations in which we are called to contemplate the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the history of salvation. Indeed, the Immaculate Conception, the Annunciation, the Divine Motherhood and the Assumption are the fundamental, interconnected milestones with which the Church exalts and praises the glorious destiny of the Mother of God, but in which we can also read our history. The mystery of Mary's conception recalls the first page of the human event, pointing out to us that in the divine plan of creation man was to have had the purity and beauty of the Virgin Immaculate. This plan, jeopardized but not destroyed by sin, through the Incarnation of the Son of God, proclaimed and brought into being in Mary, was recomposed and restored to the free acceptance of the human being in faith. Lastly, in Mary's Assumption, we contemplate what we ourselves are called to attain in the following of Christ the Lord and in obedience to his word, at the end of our earthly journey.
The last stage of the Mother of God's earthly pilgrimage invites us to look at the manner in which she journeyed on toward the goal of glorious eternity.
In the Gospel passage just proclaimed, St Luke tells that, after the Angel's announcement, Mary "arose and went with haste into the hill country", to visit Elizabeth (Lc 1,39). With these words the Evangelist wishes to emphasize that for Mary to follow her own vocation in docility to God's Spirit, who has brought about within her the Incarnation of the Word, means taking a new road and immediately setting out from home, allowing herself to be led on a journey by God alone. St Ambrose, commenting on Mary's "haste", says: "the grace of the Holy Spirit admits of no delay" (Expos. Evang. sec. Lucam, II, 19: PL 15, 1560). Our Lady's life is guided by Another: "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word" (Lc 1,38); it is modelled by the Holy Spirit, it is marked by events and encounters, such as that with Elizabeth, but above all by her very special relationship with her Son Jesus. It is a journey on which Mary, cherishing and pondering in her heart the events of her own life, perceives in them ever more profoundly the mysterious design of God the Father for the salvation of the world.
Then, by following Jesus from Bethlehem to exile in Egypt, in both his hidden and his public life and even to the foot of the Cross, Mary lives her constant ascent to God in the spirit of the Magnificat, fully adhering to God's plan of love, even in moments of darkness and suffering, and nourishing in her heart total abandonment in the Lord's hands in order to be a paradigm for the faithful of the Church (cf. Lumen Gentium LG 64-65).
The whole of life is an ascent, the whole of life is meditation, obedience, trust and hope, even in darkness; and the whole of life is marked by this "holy haste" which knows that God always has priority and nothing else must create haste in our existence.
And, lastly, the Assumption reminds us that Mary's life, like that of every Christian, is a journey of following, following Jesus, a journey that has a very precise destination, a future already marked out: the definitive victory over sin and death and full communion with God, because as Paul says in his Letter to the Ephesians the Father "raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Ep 2,6). This means that with Baptism we have already fundamentally been raised and are seated in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, but we must physically attain what was previously begun and brought about in Baptism. In us, union with Christ resurrection is incomplete, but for the Virgin Mary it is complete, despite the journey that Our Lady also had to make. She has entered into the fullness of union with God, with her Son, she draws us onwards and accompanies us on our journey.
In Mary taken up into Heaven we therefore contemplate the One who, through a unique privilege, was granted to share with her soul and her body in Christ's definitive victory over death. "When her earthly life was over", the Second Vatican Council says, the Immaculate Virgin "was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory... and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords (cf. Ap 19,16) and conqueror of sin and death" (Lumen Gentium LG 59). In the Virgin taken up into Heaven we contemplate the crowning of her faith, of that journey of faith which she points out to the Church and to each one of us: the One who, at every moment, welcomed the Word of God, is taken up into Heaven, in other words she herself is received by the Son in the "dwelling place" which he prepared for us with his death and Resurrection (cf. Jn 14,2-3).
Human life on earth as the First Reading has reminded us is a journey that takes place, constantly, in the intense struggle between the dragon and the woman, between good and evil. This is the plight of human history: it is like a voyage on a sea, often dark and stormy. Mary is the Star that guides us towards her Son Jesus, "the sun that has risen above all the shadows of history" (cf. Spe Salvi, ) and gives us the hope we need: the hope that we can win, that God has won and that, with Baptism we entered into this victory. We do not succumb definitively: God helps us, he guides us.
This is our hope: this presence of the Lord within us that becomes visible in Mary taken up into Heaven. "The Virgin" in a little while we shall read in the Preface for this Solemnity "that you made to shine out as "a sign of hope and comfort for your people on their pilgrim way'".
With St Bernard, a mystic who sang the Blessed Virgin's praises, let us thus invoke her: "We pray you, O Blessed One, for the grace that you found, for those prerogatives that you deserved, for the Mercy you bore, obtain that the One who for your sake deigned to share in our wretchedness and infirmity, through your prayers may make us share in his graces, in his bliss and in his eternal glory, Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who is above all things, Blessed God for ever and ever. Amen" (Sermo 2 "de Adventu", 5: PL 183, 43).
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
We find in the Gospel one of the fundamental themes of humanity's religious history: the question of the purity of the human being before God. In turning his gaze to God, man recognizes that he is "contaminated" and finds himself in a condition in which he has no access to the Holy One. Thus the question arises as to how he can be purified, and rid himself of the "dirt" that separates him from God. This has given rise in the different religions to rites of purification, to processes of interior and exterior cleansing. In today's Gospel we encounter rites of purification that are rooted in the Old Testament tradition but are nonetheless performed in a very unilateral manner. Consequently they no longer serve to open man to God, they no longer lead to purification and salvation but become elements of a self-contained system of fulfilment which to be fully implemented even requires specialists. The human heart is no longer touched. Man, who moves within this system, either feels enslaved or falls into the arrogance of being able to justify himself.
Liberal exegesis says that this Gospel seems to reveal that Jesus would have replaced worship with morals, he would have set aside worship with all its empty practices. The relationship between man and God would then have been based solely on morals. If this were true it would mean that Christianity was essentially morality that is, that we make ourselves pure and good through our moral action. If we reflect more deeply on this opinion, it is obvious that this cannot be Jesus' complete answer to the question on purity. If we want to hear and understand the Lord's message fully we must listen carefully we cannot be content with a detail, we must pay attention to the whole of his message. In other words we must read the Gospels, the whole of the New and the Old Testament in their entirety and together.
Today's First Reading from the Book of Deuteronomy offers us important details that provide an answer and make us take a step forward. We are listening here to something that we may find surprising: God himself asks Israel to be grateful and to feel humbly proud of knowing God's will and therefore of being wise. In that very period humanity, in both the Greek and Semitic contexts, was seeking wisdom: it was seeking to understand what matters. Science says many things and many aspects of it are useful to us, but wisdom is knowledge of the essential knowledge of the aim of our life and of how we should live in order to live life in the best possible way. The Reading from Deuteronomy mentions the fact that wisdom, in the final analysis, is identical to the Torah to the Word of God that reveals to us what is essential, for what purpose and in what way we should live. Thus the Law does not appear as a form of slavery, but is as the great Psalm 119 states a cause of great joy: we do not grope in the dark, we do not wander in vain seeking what might be righteous, we are not like sheep without a shepherd who do not know which is the right path. God has manifested himself. He himself shows us the way. We know his will and with it, the truth that counts in our life. We are told two things about God: on the one hand, that he manifested himself and that he shows us the right path to take; on the other, that God is a God who listens, who is close to us, answers us and guides us. With this we also come to the topic of purity: his will purifies us, his closeness guides us.
I believe that it is worth reflecting for a moment on Israel's joy at knowing God's will and thus having received as a gift wisdom which heals us and which we cannot find on our own. Is there among us, in the Church today, a similar sentiment of joy at God's closeness and at the gift of his Word? Anyone who wished to show this joy would soon be accused of triumphalism. In fact it is not our ability that shows us God's true will. It is an undeserved gift that makes us at the same time humble and glad. If we reflect on the world's perplexity in the face of the great issues of the present and the future, joy should arise again within us at the fact that God has freely shown us his Face, his will, himself. Should this joy manifest itself again in us it would also move the hearts of non-believers. Without this joy we are not convincing. However, where this joy is present even involuntarily it has a missionary power. Indeed, it makes human beings wonder if this might not truly be the way if this joy might not effectively guide us in God's footsteps.
All this is found in greater depth in the passage from the Letter of James that the Church presents to us today. I especially like the Letter of St James because it gives us an idea of the devotion of Jesus' family. It was an observant family. Observant in the sense that it lived the joy at God's closeness, described in Deuteronomy and which is given to us in his Word and in his Commandment. It is quite a different kind of observance from what we encounter in the Pharisees of the Gospel, who had made it into an exteriorized and enslaving system. Moreover it is a kind of observance unlike that which Paul, as a rabbi, had learned: that was as we see from his Letters the observance of an expert who knew everything; who was proud of his knowledge and of his righteousness but nevertheless suffered under the burden of the Law's prescriptions, so that the Law no longer appeared as a joyous guide to God but rather as an exigency which, ultimately, it was impossible to fulfil.
In the Letter of St James we find that observance which does not look inwards but turns joyfully towards the caring God who gives us his closeness and points out to us the right way. Thus the Letter of St James speaks of the perfect Law of freedom that perseveres to reach a new and deeper understanding of the Law given to us by the Lord. For James the Law is not a requirement that demands too much of us, which stands before us and can never be satisfied. He is thinking in the perspective that we find in a sentence of Jesus' farewell discourse: "No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you" (Jn 15,15). The one to whom all is revealed is part of the family; he is no longer a servant but is free precisely because he himself belongs to the household. A similar, initial introduction into the thought of God himself happened in Israel on Mount Sinai. It happened again in a definitive and grand way at the Last Supper and, generally through the work, the life, the Passion and the Resurrection of Jesus; in him God told us everything, he manifested himself completely. We are no longer servants, but friends. And the Law is no longer a prescription for people who are not free but is contact with God's love being introduced to become part of the family, an act that makes us free and "perfect". It is in this sense that James says in today's Reading that the Lord has created us by means of his Word, that he planted his Word deep within us as a life force. Here he also speaks of "pure religion" which consists in love for our neighbour particularly for orphans and widows who are needier than we are and in freedom from the ways of the world that contaminate us. The Law, like a word of love, is not a contradiction of freedom but a renewal from within by means of friendship with God. Something similar occurs when Jesus, in the discourse on the vine, says to the disciples: "You are already made clean by the word which I have spoken to you" (Jn 15,3). And the same thing appears again in the Priestly Prayer: sanctify them in the truth (cf. Jn 17,17-19). Thus we now find the right structure for the process of purification and of purity: we do not create what is good that would be mere moralism but Truth comes to us. He himself is Truth, Truth in person. Purity happens through dialogue. It begins with the fact that he comes to us he who is Truth and Love he takes us by the hand and penetrates our being. Insofar as we allow him to touch us, insofar as the encounter becomes friendship and love, we ourselves, on the basis of his purity, become pure people and then people who love with his love, people who introduce others to his purity and his love.
Augustine summed all this up in a beautiful saying: Da quod iubes et iube quod vis grant what you command, and command what you will. Let us now bring this request before the Lord and pray to him: yes, purify us in the truth. May you be the Truth that makes us pure. Obtain that through friendship with you we may become free and thus truly children of God, make us capable of sitting at your table and spreading in this world the light of your purity and goodness. Amen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The setting in which we are celebrating Mass is truly original and evocative: we are in the "Valley" overlooking the ancient Port called Faul, a word whose four letters recall the four hills of the ancient Viterbium: Fanum-Arbanum-Vetulonia-Longula. On one side stands the imposing Palace, once the residence of the Popes, which as your Bishop recalled witnessed five conclaves in the 13th century. We are surrounded by buildings and spaces, the testimony of many events in the past and today woven into the life of your City and Province. In this context, which evokes centuries of civil and religious history, the whole of your Diocesan Community is gathered here, with the Successor of Peter, to be strengthened by him in fidelity to Christ and to his Gospel.
Dear brothers and sisters, I address to all of you my thoughts of gratitude for your warm welcome. I greet in the first place your beloved Pastor, Bishop Lorenzo Chiarinelli, whom I thank for his words of welcome. I greet the other Bishops, in particular those of Lazio, together with the Cardinal Vicar of Rome, the beloved diocesan priests, the deacons, the seminarians, the men and women religious, the young people and the children, and I extend my remembrance to all the members of the diocese.
Your Diocese has recently been united with Viterbo, with the Abbey of San Martino of Monte Cimino, with the Dioceses of Acquapendente, Bagnoregio, Montefiascone and Tuscania. This new configuration is now artistically portrayed, sculpted on the "Bronze Doors" of the Cathedral Church which I was able to bless and to admire as I began my Visit at Piazza San Lorenzo. I address with respect the Civil and Military Authorities, the representatives of the Parliament, the Government, the Region and the Province, and especially the Mayor of the City, who has expressed the cordial sentiments of the population of Viterbo. I thank the Police Forces and I greet the many soldiers present in this city, as well as those involved in peace missions throughout the world. I greet and thank the volunteers and all who have contributed to the fulfilment of my Visit. I reserve a very particular greeting for the elderly and those who are alone, for the sick, for those in prison and for all those who have been unable to take part in our meeting of prayer and friendship.
Dear brothers and sisters, every liturgical assembly is a space for the presence of God. Gathered for the Blessed Eucharist, disciples of the Lord proclaim that he is risen, that he is alive and is the Giver of life; and let us witness that his presence is grace, it is fulfilment, it is joy. Let us open our hearts to his word and welcome the gift of his presence! In this Sunday's First Reading, the Prophet Isaiah (Is 35,4-7) encourages those "who are of a fearful heart" and proclaims this marvellous newness which experience has confirmed: when the Lord is present the eyes of the blind are reopened, the ears of the deaf unstopped and the lame man leaps like a hart. All things are reborn and all things are revived, for beneficial waters irrigate the desert. The "desert", in Isaiah's symbolic language, can call to mind the tragic events, difficult situations and loneliness that often mark life; the deepest desert is the human heart when it loses the capacity for listening, speaking and communicating with God and with others. Eyes then become blind because they are incapable of seeing reality; ears are closed so as not to hear the cry of those who implore help; hearts are hardened in indifference and selfishness. But now, the Prophet proclaims, all is destined to change; the "dry land" of a closed heart will be watered by a new, divine sap. And when the Lord comes, to those who are fearful of heart in every epoch he says authoritatively: "Be strong, fear not!" (Is 35,4).
Here the Gospel episode recounted by St Mark (Mc 7,31-37) fits in perfectly. Jesus heals a deaf-mute in the pagan land. First he welcomes him and takes care of him with the language of gestures which is more direct than words; and then, using an Aramaic term, he says "Eph'phatha", that is, "be opened", restoring the man's hearing and speech. Full of wonder, the crowd exclaims: "he has done all things well" (Mc 7,37). We can see in this "sign" Jesus' ardent desire to overcome man's loneliness and incommunicability created by selfishness, in order to bring about a "new humanity", the humanity of listening and speech, of dialogue, of communication, of communion with God. A "good" humanity, just as all of God's Creation is good; a humanity without discrimination, without exclusion as the Apostle James recommends in his Letter (Jc 2,1-5) so that the world is truly and for all a "scene of true brotherhood" (Gaudium et Spes GS 37), in an opening to love of our common Father, who created us and made us his sons and daughters.
Dear Church of Viterbo, may Christ, whom we see in the Gospel opening ears and releasing the tongue of the deaf-mute, open your hearts and always give you the joy of listening to his word, the courage to proclaim his Gospel, the ability to speak of God and to speak in this way with your brothers and sisters and, finally, the courage to discover God's Face and his Beauty! However, for this to happen, as St Bonaventure of Bagnoregio where I shall go this afternoon recalls, the mind must, "in beholding these things, transcend and pass over, not only this visible world, but even itself" (Itinerarium mentis in Deum VII, 1). This is the itinerary of salvation, illumined by the light of God's word and nourished by the sacraments that bring together all Christians.
I would now like to take up certain spiritual and pastoral paths of this journey which you too are called to take, beloved Church which dwells in this region. One priority that is very close to your Bishop's heart is education in the faith, as research, as Christian initiation, as life in Christ. It is "becoming Christian" that consists in that "learning Christ" which St Paul expresses with the phrase: "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Ga 2,20). Parishes, families and the various associations are involved together in this experience. Catechists and all educators are called to commit themselves. Schools from primary schools to the University of Tuscia, ever more important and prestigious, and in particular Catholic schools, including the "San Pietro" Philosophical and Theological Institute are called to offer their own contribution. There are ever timely models, authentic pioneers of education in the faith from which to draw inspiration. I would like to mention, among others, St Rose Venerini (1656-1728) whom I had the joy of canonizing three years ago a true precursor of girls' schools in Italy, precisely during the "Age of Enlightenment"; St Lucia Filippini (1672-1732), who, with the help of Venerable Cardinal Marco Antonio Barbarigo (1640-1706), founded the praiseworthy "Religious Teachers Filippini". It will be possible to draw further from these spiritual sources successfully in order to face with clarity and consistency the current, unavoidable and overriding "educational emergency", a great challenge to every Christian community and to the whole of society, which is actually a process of "Eph'phatha", of opening the eyes and the ears and also releasing the tongue.
Education goes together with the witness of faith. "Faith", St Paul writes, "work[s] through love" (Ga 5,6). It is from this perspective that the Church's charitable action gains her identity: her initiatives, her works, are signs of faith and of the love of God who is Love, as I recalled frequently in my Encyclicals Deus Caritas Est and Caritas in Veritate. Here the presence of volunteers is flourishing and ever increasing both at the personal level and as voluntary associations Caritas is the organization that serves as their vehicle and for their education. The young St Rose (1233-1251), Co-Patroness of the Diocese whose feast falls precisely in these days, is a shining example of faith and generosity to the poor. Furthermore, how can we omit to mention that St Giacinta Marescotti (1585-1640) from her monastery encouraged Eucharistic Adoration in the city and gave life to institutions and projects for prisoners and social outcasts? Nor can we forget the Franciscan witness of St Crispin, a Capuchin (1668-1759), which still inspires the presence of praiseworthy social aid. It is significant that in this atmosphere of Gospel fervour many houses of consecrated life came into being and in particular, cloistered monasteries, which constitute a visible reminder of the primacy of God in our lives and remind us that the first form of charity is, precisely, prayer. Emblematic in this regard is the example of Bl. Gabriella Sagheddu (1914-1939), a Trappist nun. In the Monastery of Vitorchiano, where she is buried, the spiritual ecumenism that was urgently pressed for by the Second Vatican Council (cf. Unitatis Redintegratio UR 8) continues to be presented, nourished by ceaseless prayer. I also recall Bl. Domenico Bārberi (1792-1849), a Passionist from Viterbo. In 1845 he accepted into the Church John Henry Newman, who later became a Cardinal, a high-profile intellectual of luminous spirituality.
Lastly, I would like to mention a third aspect of your pastoral plan: attention to the signs of God. As Jesus did with the deaf-mute, God continues likewise to reveal to us his project through "events and words". Listening to his word and discerning his signs must therefore be the task of every Christian and every community. The most immediate of God's signs is undoubtedly attention to one's neighbour in accordance with what Jesus said: "As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me" (Mt 25,40). Furthermore, as the Second Vatican Council affirmed, the Christian is called to be "a witness before the world to the resurrection and life of the Lord Jesus, and a sign of the living God" (Lumen Gentium LG 38). The priest whom Christ has chosen all for himself must be such in the first place. During this Year for Priests, pray with greater intensity for priests, for seminarians and for vocations, so that they may be faithful to this vocation of theirs! Likewise, every consecrated and every baptized person must be a sign of the living God.
Lay faithful, young people and families, do not be afraid to live and to bear witness to the faith in the various sectors of society, in the many situations of human existence! In this context also Viterbo has contributed prestigious figures. On this occasion it is a duty and a joy to commemorate Mario Fani of Viterbo the young man who founded the "Circolo Santa Rosa" who, together with Giovanni Acquaderni of Bologna, kindled that first spark which was later to become the historic experience of the laity in Italy: Catholic Action. The seasons of history come and go, social contexts change, but the vocation of Christians to live the Gospel in solidarity with the human family, in step with the times, has not been silenced and does not go out of fashion. This is social commitment, this is the service proper to political action, this is integral human development.
Dear brothers and sisters, when the heart is fearful in the desert of life do not be afraid, entrust yourselves to Christ, the first-born of the new humanity: a family of brothers and sisters built in freedom and justice, in the truth and charity of God's children. Saints dear to you belong to this great family: Lawrence, Valentine, Hilary, Rose, Lucia, Bonaventure and many others. Our common Mother is Mary whom you venerate with the title of Our Lady of the Oak as Patroness of the whole Diocese in its new configuration. May they keep you ever united and nourish in each one the desire to proclaim Christ's presence and love with words and with deeds!
Benedict XVI Homilies 40709