Benedict XVI Homilies 11610
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Very Dear Ordinands,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
As Bishop of this Diocese I am particularly glad to welcome 14 new Priests into the "presbyterium" of Rome. Together with the Cardinal Vicar, the Auxiliary Bishops and all the Priests, I thank the Lord for the gift of these new pastors of the People of God. I would like to address a special greeting to you, beloved ordinands: today you are the centre of attention of the People of God, symbolically represented by the people who fill this Vatican Basilica. They fill it with their prayers and their singing, with their sincere and deep affection, their authentic emotion, their human and spiritual joy. Among this People of God a special place is reserved for your parents and relatives, your friends and companions, the Superiors and teachers at your Seminaries, the various parish communities and the different sectors of the Church from which you come and which have accompanied you on your journey, as well as those to whom you have already offered your pastoral service. Nor should we forget the unique closeness, at this moment, of many other people, humble and simple but great before God such as, for example, the cloistered women religious, the children, the sick and the infirm. They accompany you with the very precious gift of their prayers, their innocence and their suffering.
Thus today it is the whole Church of Rome which is giving thanks and praying for you, which puts such great trust and hope in your future, which expects abundant fruits of holiness and good from your priestly ministry. Yes, the Church relies on you, she relies very heavily on you! The Church needs each one of you, aware as she is of the gifts that God offers you and, at the same time, of the absolute need in every person's heart to encounter Christ, the one and universal Saviour of the world, to receive from him new and eternal life, true freedom and full joy. We therefore feel we are all invited to enter the "mystery", the event of grace that is being brought about in your hearts with Ordination to the priesthood, letting ourselves be illuminated by the Word of God that has been proclaimed.
The Gospel we have heard presents to us an important moment in Jesus' journey, the moment when he asks his disciples what people think of him and their own opinion of him. Peter answers on behalf of the Twelve with a profession of faith substantially different from the people's opinion of Jesus; in fact he says: You are the Christ of God (cf. Lc 9,20). What is the origin of this act of faith? If we go to the beginning of the Gospel passage, we note that Peter's profession is linked to a moment of Prayer: "as he [Jesus] was praying alone the disciples were with him", St Luke says (Lc 9,18). In other words the disciples become involved in Jesus' absolutely unique being and speaking with the Father. And so it is that they are granted to see the Teacher in his intimate condition as Son, they are granted to see what the others do not see; from "being with him", from "being with him" in prayer, derives a knowledge that goes beyond the people's opinion to reach the profound identity of Jesus, to reach the truth. Here we are given a very precise instruction for the priest's life and mission: he is called to rediscover in prayer the ever new face of his Lord and the most authentic content of his mission. Only those who have a profound relationship with the Lord are grasped by him, can take him to others, can be sent out. "Abiding with him" must always accompany the exercise of the priestly ministry. It must be its central part, even and above all in difficult moments when it seems that the "things that need doing" should have priority, wherever we are, whatever we are doing, we must always "abide with him".
I would like to underline a second element of today's Gospel. Immediately after Peter's profession, Jesus announces his Passion and Resurrection and follows this announcement with a teaching concerning the journey of the disciples, which means following him, the Crucified One, and following him on the Way of the Cross. And he then adds with paradoxical words that being a disciple means "losing his life", but in order to save himself fully (cf. Lc 9,22-24). What does this mean for every Christian, but what does it mean for a priest in particular? Discipleship; yet we can safely say: the priesthood can never be a means of achieving security in life or of acquiring a position in society. Anyone who aspires to the priesthood to enhance his own prestige and power has misunderstood the meaning of this ministry at its root. Anyone who wishes above all to achieve an ambition of his own, to attain success for himself will always be a slave to himself and to public opinion. In order to be esteemed, he must flatter, he must say what people want to hear; he will have to adapt to changing fashions and opinions and will thus deprive himself of the vital relationship with truth, reducing himself to condemning tomorrow what he had praised today. A man who plans his life in this manner, a priest who sees his ministry in these terms does not truly love God and others but only himself and, paradoxically, ends by losing himself. The priesthood let us always remember is based on having the courage to say "yes" to another will, in the awareness that we are growing every day, that precisely by conforming to God's will, by "immersing ourselves" in this will, not only will our own originality not be obliterated, but on the contrary, we will penetrate ever more deeply into the truth of our being and our ministry.
Dear Ordinands, I would like to propose for your reflection a third thought, closely linked to what I have just explained: Jesus' invitation to "lose [yourself]", to take up your cross, recalls the mystery we are celebrating: the Eucharist. Today, with the sacrament of Orders, you are granted to preside over the Eucharist! To you is entrusted the redeeming sacrifice of Christ, to you is entrusted his Body given and his Blood poured out. Of course, on the Cross Jesus offers his sacrifice, his gift of humble and total love to the Church his Bride. It is on that wood that the grain of wheat which the Father let fall on the field of the world dies in order to become a ripe fruit, a giver of life. However, in God's plan, Christ's gift of himself is made present in the Eucharist through that potestas sacra, which the sacrament of Orders confers upon you priests. When we celebrate Holy Mass we hold in our hands the Bread of Heaven, the Bread of God, which is Christ, the grain that breaks open in order to increase and to become the true food of life for the world. It is something that cannot but fill you with deep wonder, lively joy and immense gratitude: love and the gift of the Crucified and Glorious Christ now pass through your hands, your voice, your heart! It is an ever new experience of wonder to see that the Lord brings about this mystery of his Presence in my hands, in my voice!
So how can we fail to pray the Lord to give you an ever alert and enthusiastic awareness of this gift which is placed at the centre of your being as priests! And to give you the grace of being able to experience in depth the whole beauty and power of this presbyteral service of yours and, at the same time, the grace of being able to live this ministry with consistency and generosity, every day.
The grace of the priesthood, which will shortly be given to you, will associate you closely, indeed structurally, with the Eucharist. This is why it will connect you in the depths of your hearts with the sentiments of Jesus who loves to the very end, to the total gift of himself, to the point of his becoming Bread multiplied for the sacred banquet of unity and communion. This is the Pentecostal outpouring of the Holy Spirit, destined to set your heart on fire with the very love of the Lord Jesus. It is an outpouring which, while communicating the absolutely free nature of the gift, sculpts in your being an indelible law the new law, a law that impels you to insert and make flourish anew, in the material context of the attitudes and actions of your every day life, the same love that prompted the self-giving of the Crucified Christ. Let us listen once again to the Apostle Paul's voice, indeed in this voice we recognize the powerful voice of the Holy Spirit: "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Ga 3,27). Already in Baptism, and now by virtue of the sacrament of Orders, you have put on Christ. May care for the Eucharistic celebration always be accompanied by commitment to a Eucharistic life, namely, a life lived in obedience to one great law, that of love which is given without reserve and serves with humility, a life that the grace of the Holy Spirit renders ever closer to the life of Jesus Christ the Eternal High Priest, Servant of God and of humankind.
Dear friends, the path that today's Gospel points out to us is the path of your spirituality and of your pastoral action, of its efficacy and effectiveness, even in the most demanding and arid situations. Furthermore, this is the reliable way to finding true joy. May Mary, the Servant of the Lord who conformed her will to that of God, who brought forth Christ, giving him to the world, who followed the Son even to the foot of the Cross in the supreme act of love, accompany you every day of your life and of your ministry. Thanks to the affection of this tender and strong Mother, you will be able to be joyously faithful to the orders that as priests are being conferred on you today: to conform yourselves to Christ the Priest, who was able to obey the Father's will and to love man to the very end.
I address to each one of you the words of Psalm 125  that we have just prayed: "Do good, O Lord, to those who are good, and to those who are upright in their hearts!" (Ps 125,4). I greet you first of all with this wish: may the goodness of the Lord be upon you. I greet your Mother Prioress in particular and I warmly thank her for the kind words she has addressed to me on behalf of the Community. I accepted with great joy the invitation to visit this Monastery, to be able to reflect with you at the foot of the image of Our Lady Acheropita of St Sixtus, formerly Protectress of the Roman Monasteries of St Mary in Tempulo and of St Sixtus.
We have prayed the Midday Prayer together, a small part of that Liturgical Prayer which marks the rhythm of your day as cloistered religious and makes you interpreters of the Church-Bride, united in a special way with her Lord. Your consecration to the Lord in silence and in hiddenness is rendered fertile and fruitful through this choral prayer which culminates in daily participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice. This is not only with regard to the journey of personal sanctification and purification but to that apostolate of intercession which you carry out for the entire Church, so that she may appear pure and holy before the Lord. You who are well acquainted with the efficacy of prayer, experience every day all the graces of sanctification it can obtain for the Church.
Dear Sisters, the community you form is a place in which it is possible to dwell in the Lord; for you it is the new Jerusalem to which the tribes of the Lord go up to praise the name of the Lord (cf. Ps 122,4 :4). Be grateful to divine Providence for the sublime and free gift of the monastic vocation, to which the Lord has called you through no merit of your own. With Isaiah you can say: "The Lord formed me from the womb to be his servant" (cf. Is 49,5). Even before you were born, the Lord had reserved your heart for himself, to fill it with his love. Through the sacrament of Baptism you received divine Grace within you and, immersed in his death and Resurrection, you were consecrated to Jesus, in order to belong exclusively to him. The form of contemplative life, which you received from the hands of St Dominic in the manner of the cloister, place you as living, vital members in the heart of the Mystical Body of the Lord, which is the Church; and just as the heart makes the blood circulate and keeps the whole body alive, so your hidden existence with Christ, where work and prayer alternate, helps to sustain the Church, the instrument of salvation for every person whom the Lord has redeemed with his Blood.
You draw from this inexhaustible source with prayer, presenting to the Most High the spiritual and material needs of so many brothers and sisters in difficulty, the confused lives of those who have drifted away from the Lord. How can we not be moved by compassion for those who seem to be wandering purposelessly? How could we fail to hope that they may encounter Jesus in their life, the only encounter that gives meaning to existence? The holy wish that the Kingdom of God may be established in every human heart is identified with prayer itself, as St Augustine teaches us: "Ipsum desiderium tuum, oratio tua est; et si continuum desiderium, continua oratio": your desire is your prayer; and if it is an on-going desire, it is also continuous prayer (cf. Ep. 130,18-20); therefore, as a fire that burns and is never extinguished, the heart is made alert, it never ceases to desire God and always raises a hymn of praise to him.
Consequently, dear Sisters, may you recognize that your heart, in all that you do, over and above individual moments of prayer, continues to be guided by the desire to love God. Recognize, with the Bishop of Hippo, that it is the Lord who has instilled his love in your hearts, a desire that enlarges the heart even to the point of making it capable of receiving God himself. (cf. In ev. Jo. tr. 40, 10).
This is the horizon of the earthly pilgrimage! This is your destination! For this reason you have chosen to live in hiddenness, renouncing earthly goods: to desire above all things that good that has no equal, that precious pearl for which it is worth giving up every other good, to gain possession of it.
May you say every day your "yes" to God's plans with the same humility with which the Blessed Virgin said her "yes". May she, who received the Word of God in silence, guide you in your daily virginal consecration so that you may experience hiddenness, the profound intimacy that she herself lived with Jesus. As I invoke her motherly intercession upon you, together with that of St Dominic, St Catherine of Siena and of all the Saints of the Dominican Order, I impart to you all a special Apostolic Blessing which I willingly extend to the people who entrust themselves to your prayers.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
With the celebration of First Vespers we enter the Solemnity of Sts Peter and Paul. We have the grace to do so gathered in prayer by the tomb of the Apostle to the Gentiles, in the Papal Basilica named after him. For this reason I wish to focus my brief reflection on the perspective of the Church's missionary vocation. The third Antiphon of the Psalter which we have prayed in addition to the biblical Reading is oriented in this direction. The first two Antiphons are dedicated to St Peter and the third to St Paul, and it says: "You are the chosen instrument of God, St Paul, Apostle, the preacher of truth in all the world". And in the brief Reading, taken from the opening address of the Letter to the Romans, Paul introduces himself as "apostle by God's call, set apart for the service of the Gospel" (cf. Rm 1,1). The figure of Paul his person and his ministry, the whole of his life and his hard work for the Kingdom of God is entirely dedicated to the service of the Gospel. In these texts one notices a sense of movement where the protagonist is not man, but God, the breath of the Holy Spirit, that impels the Apostle on the highways of the world to bring the Good News to everyone: the promises of the Prophets are fulfilled in Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, who died for our sins and was raised for our justification. Saul is no longer, instead there is Paul, indeed there is Christ who lives in him (cf. Ga 2,20) and wants to reach out to all people. Although the Feast of the Holy Patrons of Rome thus calls to mind the twofold aspiration to unity and to universality that is characteristic of this Church, the context in which we are gathered this evening calls us to give priority to the latter, letting ourselves, so to speak, be "drawn" by St Paul and his extraordinary vocation.
When, during the Second Vatican Council, the Servant of God Giovanni Battista Montini was elected Successor of Peter he chose to take the name of the Apostle to the Gentiles. Paul VI included in his programme for the implementation of the Council the convocation, in 1974, of the Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the theme of evangelization in the modern world. About a year later, he published the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, which begins with these words: "There is no doubt that the effort to proclaim the Gospel to the people of today, who are buoyed up by hope but at the same time often oppressed by fear and distress, is a service rendered to the Christian community and also to the whole of humanity" (EN 1). The timeliness of these words is striking. Paul VI's special missionary sensitivity can be perceived in them and, through his voice, the Council's deep yearning for the evangelization of the contemporary world. This yearning culminates in the Decree Ad Gentes but runs through all the documents of the Second Vatican Council and, even earlier, inspired the thoughts and work of the Council Fathers, convoked to represent, in an unprecedented, tangible way, the dissemination throughout the world achieved by the Church.
Words are useless to explain how Venerable John Paul II, in his long Pontificate, developed this missionary outreach that it should always be remembered corresponded with the very nature of the Church which, with St Paul, can and must always repeat: "If I preach the Gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!" (1Co 9,16). Pope John Paul II represented the Church's missionary nature "in the flesh" with his Apostolic Journeys and with the insistence of his Magisterium on the urgent need for a "new evangelization": "new" not in its content but in its inner thrust, open to the grace of the Holy Spirit which constitutes the force of the new law of the Gospel that always renews the Church; "new" in ways that correspond with the power of the Holy Spirit and which are suited to the times and situations; "new" because of being necessary even in countries that have already received the proclamation of the Gospel. It is evident to all that my Predecessor gave the Church's mission an extraordinary impetus, not only I repeat because of the distances he covered but above all because of the genuine missionary spirit that motivated him and that he left as a legacy at the dawn of the third millennium.
In receiving this legacy, I was able to state, at the beginning of my Petrine ministry, that the Church is young and open to the future. And I repeat this today, close to the tomb of St Paul. The Church is an immense force for renewal in the world. This is not, of course, because of her own strength but because of the power of the Gospel in which the Holy Spirit of God breathes, God Creator and Redeemer of the world. The challenges of the present time, the historical and social and, especially, the spiritual challenges, are certainly beyond the human capacity. It sometimes seems to us Pastors of the Church that we are reliving the experience of the Apostles when thousands of needy people followed Jesus and he asked them: what can we do for all these people? They were then aware of their powerlessness. Yet Jesus himself had shown them that with faith in God nothing is impossible and that a few loaves and fish, blessed and shared, could satisfy the hunger of all. However, there was not and there is not hunger solely for material food: there is a deeper hunger that only God can satisfy. Human beings of the third millennium want an authentic, full life; they need truth, profound freedom, love freely given. Even in the deserts of the secularized world, man's soul thirsts for God, for the living God. It was for this reason that John Paul II wrote: "The mission of Christ the Redeemer, which is entrusted to the Church, is still very far from completion", and he added: "an overall view of the human race shows that this mission is still only beginning and that we must commit ourselves wholeheartedly to its service" (Encyclical Redemptoris Missio, RMi 1). There are regions of the world that are still awaiting a first evangelization; others that have received it, but need a deeper intervention; yet others in which the Gospel put down roots a long time ago, giving rise to a true Christian tradition but in which, in recent centuries with complex dynamics the secularization process has produced a serious crisis of the meaning of the Christian faith and of belonging to the Church.
From this perspective, I have decided to create a new body, in the form of a "Pontifical Council", whose principal task will be to promote a renewed evangelization in the countries where the first proclamation of the faith has already resonated and where Churches with an ancient foundation exist but are experiencing the progressive secularization of society and a sort of "eclipse of the sense of God", which pose a challenge to finding appropriate to propose anew the perennial truth of Christ's Gospel.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, the challenge of the new evangelization calls into question the universal Church and asks us to continue with commitment our search for full Christian unity. An eloquent sign of hope in this regard is the custom of reciprocal visits between the Church of Rome and that of Constantinople for the Feast day of their respective Holy Patrons. Today, therefore, we welcome with renewed joy and gratitude the Delegation sent by Patriarch Bartholomaios I, to whom we address our most cordial greeting. May the intercession of Sts Peter and Paul obtain for the entire Church ardent faith and apostolic courage, to proclaim to the world the truth we all need, the truth that is God, the beginning and end of the universe and of history, the merciful and faithful Father, hope of eternal life. Amen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In their great wealth, the biblical texts of this Eucharistic Liturgy on the Solemnity of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul highlight a theme that could be summed up in these words: God is close to his faithful servants and delivers them from all evil and delivers the Church from negative powers. It is the theme of the Church's freedom, that presents an historical aspect and another that is more profoundly spiritual.
This theme runs through the whole of today's Liturgy of the Word. The First and Second Readings speak respectively of St Peter and St Paul, stressing God's liberating action in their regard.
The text of the Acts of the Apostles especially describes with an abundance of detail the intervention of the Angel of the Lord who sets Peter free from his chains and leads him out of the prison of Jerusalem in which Herod the King had had him locked up and placed under strict surveillance (cf. Ac 12,1-11). Paul, on the other hand, in writing to Timothy when he felt he was approaching the end of his earthly life, makes a concise summary of it from which emerges the fact that the Lord has always been close to him, has delivered him from many dangers and will free him again, introducing him into his eternal Kingdom (cf. 2Tm 4,6-8,17). The theme is reinforced by the Responsorial Psalm (Ps 34 ), and is also given a special development in the Gospel passage of Peter's profession where Christ promises that the powers of death shall not prevail over the Church (cf. Mt 16,18).
A close look at this theme reveals a certain progression. In the First Reading a specific episode is recounted that shows the Lord's intervention to release Peter from prison. In the Second Reading Paul, on the basis of his extraordinary apostolic experience, says that he is convinced that the Lord, who has already rescued him "from the lion's mouth", will rescue him "from every evil", opening the gates of Heaven to him; on the other hand, in the Gospel nothing further is said of the individual Apostles but it speaks rather of the Church as a whole and of her indemnity from the forces of evil, meant in the full and profound sense. Thus we see that Jesus' promise "the powers of death shall not prevail against" the Church does indeed include the historical experiences of persecution that Peter and Paul and other Gospel witnesses suffered, but goes beyond them, with the intention of assuring protection, especially from threats of a spiritual kind; in accordance with what Paul himself writes in his Letter to the Ephesians: "for we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present world of darkness, against the evil spirits in the heavens" (cf. Ep 6,12).
Indeed if we think of the two millenniums of the Church's history, we may note as the Lord Jesus had foretold (cf. Mt 10,16-33) that trials for Christians have never been lacking and in certain periods and places have assumed the character of true and proper persecution. Yet, despite the suffering they cause, they do not constitute the gravest danger for the Church. Indeed she is subjected to the greatest danger by what pollutes the faith and Christian life of her members and communities, corroding the integrity of the Mystical Body, weakening her capacity for prophecy and witness, and marring the beauty of her face. The Pauline Letters already testified to this reality. The First Letter to the Corinthians, for example, responds precisely to certain problems of division, inconsistence and infidelity to the Gospel that seriously threaten the Church. However, the Second Letter to Timothy a passage to which we listened also speaks of the perils of the "last days", identifying them with negative attitudes that belong to the world and can contaminate the Christian community: selfishness, vanity, pride, the attachment to money, etc. (cf. 2Tm 3,1-5). The Apostle's conclusion is reassuring: men who do evil, he writes, "will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all" (2Tm 3,9). Therefore a guarantee exists of the freedom that God assures the Church, freedom both from material ties that seek to prevent or to coerce her mission and from spiritual and moral evils that can tarnish her authenticity and credibility.
The subject of the Church's freedom, which Christ guaranteed to Peter, is also specifically relevant to the rite of the conferral of the Pallium, which today we renew for 38 Metropolitan Archbishops, to whom I address my most cordial greeting, which I extend with affection to all who have wished to accompany them on this pilgrimage. Communion with Peter and with his Successors is in fact a guarantee of freedom for the Church's Pastors and for the Communities entrusted to them. It has been highlighted at both levels in the previous reflections. At the historical level, union with the Apostolic See guarantees the particular Churches and the Bishops' Conferences freedom from local, national or supranational powers that in some cases can hinder the Church's mission. In addition, and more essentially, the Petrine ministry is a guarantee of freedom in the sense of full adherence to the truth, to the authentic tradition, so that the People of God may be preserved from errors concerning faith and morals. Therefore the fact that new Metropolitans come to Rome every year to receive the Pallium from the Pope's hands as a gesture of communion should be understood in its true sense, and the subject of the Church's freedom gives us a particularly important key to its interpretation. This appears obvious in the case of Churches marked by persecution or subjected to political interference or other harsh trials. However, this is equally important in the case of Communities that suffer the influence of misleading doctrines or ideological trends and practices contrary to the Gospel. In this sense, therefore, the Pallium becomes a pledge of freedom, comparable to the "yoke" of Jesus which he invites each person to take upon his or her shoulders (cf. Mt 11,29-30). Just as Christ's commandment although exacting is "easy and light" and, instead of weighing on those who carry it uplifts them, so the bond with the Apostolic See although demanding sustains the Pastor and the portion of the Church entrusted to his care, making them freer and stronger.
I would like to draw one last instruction from the word of God, and in particular from Christ's promise that the powers of death will not prevail over his Church. These words can also have an ecumenical meaning since, as I mentioned just now, one of the typical effects of the action of the Evil One is, precisely, the internal division of the ecclesial Community. Ruptures are in fact symptoms of the power of sin that continues to act in members of the Church even after the redemption. However, Christ's word is clear: "Non praevalebunt they shall not prevail" (Mt 16,18). The unity of the Church is rooted in her union with Christ and the cause of full Christian unity that must ever be sought and renewed, from generation to generation is also sustained by his prayer and his promise. In the struggle against the spirit of evil, God gave us in Jesus, the "Advocate" defender, and after his Pasch, "another Counsellor" (cf. Jn 14,16), the Holy Spirit, who stays with us always and leads the Church towards the fullness of the truth (cf. Jn 14,16 Jn 16,13) that is also the fullness of love and of unity. With these sentiments of trusting hope, I am glad to greet the Delegation of the Patriarchate of Constantinople which, in accordance with the beautiful custom of reciprocal visits, is taking part in the celebrations for the Holy Patrons of Rome. Let us thank God together for the progress in ecumenical relations between Catholic and Orthodox, and let us renew our commitment to respond generously to God's grace that is leading us to full communion.
Dear friends, I cordially greet each one of you, Your Eminences, my Brothers in the Episcopate, the Ambassadors and the Civil Authorities and, in particular, the Mayor of Rome, the priests, religious and lay faithful. Thank you for coming. May the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul obtain that you increase in love for the Holy Church, Mystical Body of Christ and Messenger of Unity and Peace for all mankind. May they also obtain that you joyfully offer for her holiness and her missionary efforts your endeavours and suffering, borne out of faithfulness to the Gospel. May the Virgin Mary, Queen of Apostles and Mother of the Church always watch over you and in particular over the ministry of the Metropolitan Archbishops. With her heavenly help may you always live and act in that freedom which Christ won for us. Amen.
July 2010: PASTORAL VISIT TO SULMONA - EUCHARISTIC CONCELEBRATION
Benedict XVI Homilies 11610