Benedict XVI Homilies 31010
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear Brothers and Sisters!
The Eucharistic celebration, the rendering of thanks to God par excellence, is marked for us today, gathered around the Tomb of St Peter, by an extraordinary reason: the grace of seeing gathered together for the first time at a Synod, around the Bishop of Rome and the Universal Shepherd, the Bishops of the Middle Eastern region. Such a singular event demonstrates the interest of the whole Church for that precious and beloved part of God's people who live in the Holy Land and the whole of the Middle East.
Above all, we give thanks to the Lord of history, because despite the often difficult and tormented events, he has permitted the Middle East to see, from the time of Jesus until today, a continuity in the presence of Christians. In those lands, the one Church of Christ is expressed in the variety of liturgical, spiritual, cultural and disciplinary traditions of the six venerable Eastern Catholic Churches sui iuris, as well as in the Latin tradition. The fraternal greeting which I address with great affection to the Patriarchs of each one of them wishes to be extended at this time to all the faithful entrusted to their pastoral care in their respective countries as well as in the Diaspora.
On this Sunday, the 28th of Ordinary Time, the Word of God offers a theme for meditation which brings us closer in a meaningful way to the event of the Synod that we open today. Continued reading of the Gospel of Luke leads us to the story of the healing of the 10 lepers, of whom only one, a Samaritan, returns to thank Jesus. Connected with this text, the first reading, from the Second Book of Kings, tells the story of the healing of Naaman, head of the Aramaean army, also a leper, who was cured by immersing himself seven times in the waters of the Jordan River, on the orders of the Prophet Elisha. Naaman too returns to the prophet and, recognizing him as the mediator of God, professes his faith in the one Lord. So two lepers, two non-Jews, who are cured because they believe in the word of God's messenger. Their bodies are healed, but they are open to faith, and this heals their souls, that is, it saves them.
The Responsorial Psalm sings of this reality: "Yahweh has made known his saving power, / revealed his saving justice for the nations to see. / Mindful of his faithful love and his constancy to the House of Israel" (Ps 98,2-3). This then is the theme: salvation is universal, but it passes through a specific historical mediation, the mediation of the people of Israel, which goes on to become that of Jesus Christ and the Church. The door of life is open for everyone, but this is the point, it is a "door", that is, a definite and necessary passage. This is summed up in the Pauline formula we heard in the Second Letter to Timothy: "the salvation in Christ Jesus" (2Tm 2,10). It is the mystery of the universality of Salvation and, at the same time of its necessary link with the historical mediation of Christ Jesus, preceded by that of the People of Israel and continued by that of the Church. God is love and wants all men to be part of His life; to carry out this plan He, who is Triune, creates in the world a mystery of a communion that is human and divine, historical and transcendent: He creates it with the method so to speak of the Covenant, tying himself to men with faithful and inexhaustible love, forming a holy people, that becomes a blessing for all the families of the earth (cf. Gn 12,13). Thus He reveals Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (cf. Ex 3,6), who wants to lead his people to the "land" of freedom and peace. This "land" is not of this world; the whole of the divine plan goes beyond history, but the Lord wants to build it with men, for men and in men, beginning with the coordinates of space and time in which they live and which He Himself gave them.
With its own specificity, the land we call the "Middle East', makes up part of those coordinates. God sees this region of the world, too, from a different perspective, one might say, "from on high': it is the land of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the land of the Exodus and the return from exile; the land of the Temple and of the Prophets, the land in which the Only-Begotten Son of Mary was born, lived, died, and rose from the dead; the cradle of the Church, established in order to carry Christ's Gospel to the ends of the earth. And we too, as believers, look at the Middle East with this view, from the perspective of the history of salvation. It is this internal point of view which guided me during Apostolic visits to Turkey, the Holy Land Jordan, Israel, Palestine and Cyprus, where I was able to experience first-hand the joys and concerns of the Christian communities. It was for this reason, too, that I willingly accepted the proposal of the Patriarchs and Bishops to convoke a Synodal Assembly in order to reflect together, in light of Sacred Scripture and Church traditions, on the present as well as the future of the faithful and populations of the Middle East.
Looking at that part of the world from God's perspective means recognizing it as the "cradle' of a universal design of salvation in love, a mystery of communion which becomes true in freedom and thus asks man for a response. Abraham, the prophets, and the Virgin Mary are the protagonists of this response which, however, has its completion in Jesus Christ, Son of that same land, yet descended from Heaven. From Him, from his Heart and his Spirit was born the Church, which is a pilgrim in this world, yet belongs to Him. The Church was established to be a sign and an instrument of the unique and universal saving project of God among men; She fulfils this mission simply by being herself, that is, "Communion and witness", as the theme of this Synodal Assembly which opens today says, referring to Luke's famous description of the first Christian community: "The whole group of believers was united, heart and soul" (Ac 4,32). Without communion there can be no witness: the life of communion is truly the great witness. Jesus said it clearly: "It is by your love for one another, that everyone will recognize you as my disciples" (Jn 13,35). This communion is the life of God itself which is communicated in the Holy Spirit, through Jesus Christ. It is thus a gift, not something which we ourselves must build through our own efforts. And it is precisely because of this that it calls upon our freedom and waits for our response: communion always requires conversion, just as a gift is better if it is welcomed and utilized. In Jerusalem the first Christians were few. Nobody could have imagined what was going to take place. And the Church continues to live on that same strength which enabled her to begin and to grow. Pentecost is the original event but also a permanent dynamism, and the Synod of Bishops is a privileged moment in which the grace of Pentecost may be renewed in the Church's journey, so that the Good News may be announced openly and heard by all peoples.
Therefore, the reason for this Synodal Assembly is mainly a pastoral one. While not being able to ignore the delicate and at times dramatic social and political situation of some countries, the Pastors of the Middle Eastern Churches wish to concentrate on the aspects of their own mission. In this regard, the Instrumentum laboris, elaborated by a Pre-Synodal Council whose members we thank for their work, underlined these ecclesial finalities of the Assembly, pointing out that, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, it wishes to revive the communion of the Catholic Church in the Middle East. First of all within each Church, among all its members: Patriarch, Bishop, priests, religious, persons of consecrated life and the laity. And, thereby, in the relationships with the other Churches. Ecclesial life, thus strengthened, will see the development of very positive fruits in the ecumenical path with the other Churches and ecclesial Communities present in the Middle East. This occasion is also propitious for constructively continuing the dialogue with the Jews, to whom we are tied by an indissoluble bond, the lengthy history of the Covenant, and with the Muslims.
Also, the work of the Synodal Assembly is oriented to the witness of Christians at a personal, family and social level. This requires the reinforcing of their Christian identity through the Word of God and the Sacraments. We all hope that the faithful feel the joy in living in the Holy Land, a land blessed by the presence and by the Paschal Mystery of the Lord Jesus Christ. Over the centuries those places attracted multitudes of pilgrims and even men and women in religious communities, who have considered it a great privilege to be able to live and bear witness in the land of Jesus. Despite the difficulties, Christians in the Holy Land are called to enliven their consciousness of being the living stones of the Church in the Middle East, at the holy Places of our salvation. However, living in a dignified manner in one's own country is above all a fundamental human right: therefore, the conditions of peace and justice, which are necessary for the harmonious development of all those living in the region, should be promoted. Therefore all are called to make their personal contribution: the international community, by supporting a stable path, loyal and constructive, towards peace; those most prevalent religions in the region, in promoting the spiritual and cultural values that unite men and women and exclude every expression of violence. Christians will continue to contribute not only with the work of social promotion, such as institutes of education and healthcare, but above all with the spirit of the evangelical Beatitudes, which enliven the practice of forgiveness and reconciliation. In this commitment, they will always have the support of the entire Church, as is solemnly attested by the presence here of the Delegates of the Episcopates of other continents.
Dear friends, let us entrust the work of the Synodal Assembly for the Middle East to the many Saints of that blessed land; let us invoke upon it the constant protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, so that the coming days of prayer, of reflection and of fraternal communion may be the harbingers of the good fruits for the present and for the future of the beloved Middle Eastern populations. To them we address a hopeful greeting with all our heart: "Peace to you, peace to your family, peace to all that is yours!" (1S 25,6).
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The celebration of holiness is renewed today in St Peter's Square. I joyfully address my cordial welcome to you who have come from even very far away to take part in it. I offer a special greeting to the Cardinals, to the Bishops and to the Superiors General of the Institutes founded by the new Saints, as well as to the Official Delegations and to all the Civil Authorities. Let us seek together to understand what the Lord tells us in the Sacred Scriptures proclaimed just now. This Sunday's Liturgy offers us a fundamental teaching: the need to pray always, without tiring. At times we grow weary of praying, we have the impression that prayer is not so useful for life, that it is not very effective. We are therefore tempted to throw ourselves into activity, to use all the human means for attaining our goals and we do not turn to God. Jesus himself says that it is necessary to pray always, and does so in a specific parable (cf. Lc 18,1-8).
This parable speaks to us of a judge who does not fear God and is no respecter of persons: a judge without a positive outlook, who only seeks his own interests. He neither fears God's judgement nor respects his neighbour. The other figure is a widow, a person in a situation of weakness. In the Bible, the widow and the orphan are the neediest categories, because they are defenceless and without means. The widow goes to the judge and asks him for justice. Her possibilities of being heard are almost none, because the judge despises her and she can bring no pressure to bear on him. She cannot even appeal to religious principles because the judge does not fear God. Therefore this widow seems without any recourse. But she insists, she asks tirelessly, importuning him, and in the end she succeeds in obtaining a result from the judge. At this point Jesus makes a reflection, using the argument a fortiori: if a dishonest judge ends by letting himself be convinced by a widow's plea, how much more will God, who is good, answer those who pray to him. God in fact is generosity in person, he is merciful and is therefore always disposed to listen to prayers. Therefore we must never despair but always persist in prayer.
The conclusion of the Gospel passage speaks of faith: "When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" (Lc 18,8). It is a question that intends to elicit an increase of faith on our part. Indeed it is clear that prayer must be an expression of faith, otherwise it is not true prayer. If one does not believe in God's goodness, one cannot pray in a truly appropriate manner.
Faith is essential as the basis of a prayerful attitude. It was so for the six new Saints who are held up today for the veneration of the universal Church: Stanislaw Soltys, André Bessette, Cándida María de Jesús Cipitria y Barriola, Mary of the Cross MacKillop, Giulia Salzano and Battista Camilla Varano.
St Stanislaw Kazimierczyk, a religious of the 15th century, can also be an example and an intercessor for us. His whole life was bound to the Eucharist, first of all in the Church of Corpus Domini in Kazimierz, known today as Krakow, where, beside his mother and father, he learned faith and piety. Here he made his religious vows with the Canons Regular; here he worked as a priest and educator, attentive to the care of the needy. However, he was linked in a special way to the Eucharist through his ardent love for Christ present under the species of the Bread and the Wine; by living the mystery of his death and Resurrection, which is fulfilled in an unbloody way in the Holy Mass; by the practice of love for neighbour, of which Communion is a source and a sign.
Bro. André Bessette, a native of Quebec in Canada, and a religious of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, experienced suffering and poverty at a very early age. They led him to have recourse to God through prayer and an intense inner life. As porter of the College of Notre Dame in Montreal, he demonstrated boundless charity and strove to relieve the distress of those who came to confide in him. With very little education, he had nevertheless understood where the essential of his faith was situated. For him, believing meant submitting freely and through love to the divine will. Wholly inhabited by the mystery of Jesus, he lived the beatitude of pure of heart, that of personal rectitude. It is thanks to this simplicity that he enabled many people to see God. He had built the Oratory of St Joseph of Mount Royal, whose faithful custodian he remained until his death in 1937. He was the witness of innumerable cures and conversions. "Do not seek to have your trials removed", he said, "ask rather for the grace to bear them well". For him, everything spoke of God and of God's presence. May we, in his footsteps, seek God with simplicity in order to discover him ever present in the heart of our life! May the example of Bro. André inspire Canadian Christian life!
When the Son of man comes to do justice to the chosen ones, will he find this faith on earth? (cf. Lc 18,8). Today, contemplating figures such as Mother Cándida María de Jesús Cipitria y Barriola, we can say "yes" with relief and firmness. That girl of simple origins on whose heart God had set his seal and whom he brought very soon, with the guidance of her Jesuit spiritual directors, to make the firm decision to live "for God alone". She faithfully kept to her decision as she herself recalled when she was about to die. She lived for God and for what he most desires: to reach everyone, to bring everyone the hope that does not disappoint, especially to those who need it most. "Where there is no room for the poor, there is no room for me either" the new Saint said, and with limited means she imbued the other Sisters with the desire to follow Jesus and to dedicate themselves to the education and advancement of women. So it was that the Hijas de Jesús [Daughters of Jesus] came into being; today they have in their Foundress a very lofty model of life to imitate and an exciting mission to carry on Mother Cándida's apostolate with her spirit and aspirations, in many countries.
"Remember who your teachers were from these you can learn the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus". For many years countless young people throughout Australia have been blessed with teachers who were inspired by the courageous and saintly example of zeal, perseverance and prayer of Mother Mary MacKillop. She dedicated herself as a young woman to the education of the poor in the difficult and demanding terrain of rural Australia, inspiring other women to join her in the first women's community of religious sisters of that country. She attended to the needs of each young person entrusted to her, without regard for station or wealth, providing both intellectual and spiritual formation. Despite many challenges, her prayers to St Joseph and her unflagging devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, to whom she dedicated her new congregation, gave this holy woman the graces needed to remain faithful to God and to the Church. Through her intercession, may her followers today continue to serve God and the Church with faith and humility!
In the second half of the 19th century, in Campania, in the south of Italy, the Lord called a young elementary teacher, Giulia Salzano, and made her an apostle of Christian education, Foundress of the Congregation of the Catechist Sisters of the Sacred Heart. Mother Gulia understood well the importance of catechesis in the Church and, combining pedagogical training with spiritual fervour, dedicated herself with generosity and intelligence, contributing to the formation of people of every age and social class. She would repeat to the Sisters that she wished to catechize to the very last hour of her life, showing with her whole self that if "God created us to know him, love him and serve him in this life", it is necessary to put nothing before this task. May the example and intercession of St Giulia Salzano sustain the Church in her perennial duty to proclaim Christ and to form authentic Christian consciences.
St Battista Camilla Varano, a Poor Clare nun of the 15th century, witnessed to the deep evangelical meaning of life, especially through persevering prayer. She entered the monastery in Urbino at the age of 23, fitting into that vast movement of the reform of Franciscan female spirituality which aimed to recover fully the charism of St Clare of Assisi. She promoted new monastic foundations in Camerino where she was several times elected Abbess, in Fermo and in San Severino. St Battista's life, totally immersed in divine depths, was a constant ascent on the way of perfection, with a heroic love of God and neighbour. She was marked by profound suffering and mystic consolation; in fact she had decided, as she herself writes, "to enter the most Sacred Heart of Jesus and to drown in the ocean of his most bitter suffering". In a period in which the Church was undergoing a period of moral laxity, she took with determination the road of penance and prayer, enlivened by an ardent desire for the renewal of the Mystical Body of Christ.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us thank the Lord for the gift of holiness that is resplendent in the Church and today shines out on the faces of these brothers and sisters of ours. Jesus also invites each one of us to follow him in order to inherit eternal life. Let us allow ourselves to be attracted by these luminous examples and to be guided by their teaching, so that our life may be a canticle of praise to God. May the Virgin Mary and the intercession of the six new Saints whom we joyfully venerate today obtain this for us. Amen.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear brothers and sisters,
Two weeks from the opening Celebration, we are gathered once again on the Lord's day, at the Altar of the Confession in St Peter's Basilica, to conclude the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops. In our hearts is a deep gratitude towards God who has afforded us this truly extraordinary experience, not just for us, but for the good of the Church, for the People of God who live in the lands between the Mediterranean and Mesopotamia. As Bishop of Rome, I would like to express my gratitude to you, Venerable Synod Fathers: Cardinals, Patriarchs, Archbishops, Bishops. I wish to especially thank the Secretary General, the four Presidents Delegate, the Relator General, the Special Secretary and all the collaborators, who have worked tirelessly in these days. This morning we left the Synod Hall and came to “the temple to pray”: in this, we are touched directly by the parable of the pharisee and the publican, told by Jesus and recounted by the Evangelist St Luke (cf. Lc 18,9-14). We too may be tempted, like the pharisee, to tell God of our merits, perhaps thinking of our work during these days. However, to rise up to Heaven, prayer must emanate from a poor, humble heart. And therefore we too, at the conclusion of this ecclesial event, wish to first and foremost give thanks to God, not for our merits, but for the gift that He has given us. We recognize ourselves as small and in need of salvation, of mercy; we recognize all that comes from Him and that only with his Grace we may realize what the Holy Spirit told us. Only in this manner may we “return home” truly enriched, made more just and more able to walk in the path of the Lord.
The First Reading and the responsorial Psalm stress the theme of prayer, emphasizing that it is much more powerful to God's heart when those who pray are in a condition of need and are afflicted. “The prayer of the humble pierces the clouds” affirms Ecclesiasticus (Si 35,21); and the Psalmist adds: “Yahweh is near to the broken-hearted, he helps those whose spirit is crushed” (Ps 34,18). Our thoughts go to our numerous brothers and sisters who live in the region of the Middle East and who find themselves in trying situations, at times very burdensome, both for the material poverty and for the discouragement, the state of tension and at times of fear. Today the Word of God also offers us a light of consoling hope, there where He presents prayer, personified, that “until he has eliminated the hordes of the arrogant and broken the sceptres of the wicked, until he has repaid all people as their deeds deserve and human actions as their intentions merit” (Si 35,21-22). This link too, between prayer and justice makes us think of many situations in the world, particularly in the Middle East. The cry of the poor and oppressed finds an immediate echo in God, who desires to intervene to open up a way out, to restore a future of freedom, a horizon of hope.
This faith in God who is near, who frees his friends, is what the Apostle Paul witnesses to in today's epistle, in the Second Letter to Timothy. Realizing that the end of his earthly life was near, Paul makes an assessment: “I have fought the good fight to the end; I have run the race to the finish; I have kept the faith” (2Tm 4,7). For each one of us, dear brothers in the episcopacy, this is a model to imitate: may Divine Goodness allow us to make a similar judgment of ourselves! St Paul continues, “the Lord stood by me and gave me power, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed for all the gentiles to hear” (2Tm 4,17). It is a word which resounds with particular strength on this Sunday in which we celebrate World Mission Day! Communion with Jesus crucified and risen, witness of his love. The Apostle's experience is a model for every Christian, especially for us Shepherds. We have shared a powerful moment of ecclesial communion. We now leave each other so that each may return to his own mission, but we know that we remain united, we remain in his love.
The Synodal Assembly which concludes today has always kept in mind the icon of the first Christian community, described in the Acts of the Apostles: “The whole group of believers was united, heart and soul” (Ac 4,32). It is a reality that we experienced in these past days, in which we have shared the joys and the pains, the concerns and the hopes of Christians in the Middle East. We experienced the unity of the Church in the variety of Churches present in that region. Led by the Holy Spirit, we became “united, heart and soul” in faith, in hope, and in charity, most of all during the Eucharistic celebrations, source and summit of ecclesial communion, and in the Liturgy of the Hours as well, celebrated every morning according to one of the seven Catholic rites of the Middle East. We have thus enhanced the liturgical, spiritual and theological wealth of the Eastern Catholic Churches, as well as of the Latin Church. It involved an exchange of precious gifts, from which all the Synodal Fathers benefited. It is hoped that this positive experience repeats itself in the respective communities of the Middle East, encouraging the participation of the faithful in liturgical celebrations of other Catholic rites, thus opening themselves to the dimensions of the Universal Church.
Common prayer helped us to face the challenges of the Catholic Church in the Middle East as well. One of these is communion within each sui iuris Church, as well as in the relationships between the various Catholic Churches of different traditions. As today's Gospel reminded us (cf. Lc 18,9-14), we need humility, in order to recognize our limitations, our errors and omissions, in order to be able to truly be “united, heart and soul”. A fuller communion within the Catholic Church favours ecumenical dialogue with other Churches and ecclesial communities as well. The Catholic Church reiterated in this Synodal meeting its deep conviction to pursuing such dialogue as well, so that the prayer of the Lord Jesus might be completely fulfilled: “May they all be one” (Jn 17,21).
The words of the Lord Jesus may be applied to Christians in the Middle East: “There is no need to be afraid, little flock, for it has pleased your Father to give you the kingdom” (Lc 12,32). Indeed, even if they are few, they are bearers of the Good News of the love of God for man, love which revealed itself in the Holy Land in the person of Jesus Christ. This Word of salvation, strengthened with the grace of the Sacraments, resounds with particular potency in the places in which, by Divine Providence, it was written, and it is the only Word which is able to break that vicious circle of vengeance, hate, and violence. From a purified heart, in peace with God and neighbour, may intentions and initiatives for peace at local, national, and international levels be born. In these actions, to whose accomplishment the whole international community is called, Christians as full-fledged citizens can and must do their part with the spirit of the Beatitudes, becoming builders of peace and apostles of reconciliation to the benefit of all society.
Conflicts, wars, violence and terrorism have gone on for too long in the Middle East. Peace, which is a gift of God, is also the result of the efforts of men of goodwill, of the national and international institutions, in particular of the states most involved in the search for a solution to conflicts. We must never resign ourselves to the absence of peace. Peace is possible. Peace is urgent. Peace is the indispensable condition for a life worthy of humanity and society. Peace is also the best remedy to avoid emigration from the Middle East. “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem” we are told in the Psalm (Ps 122,6). We pray for peace in the Holy Land. We pray for peace in the Middle East, undertaking to try to ensure that this gift of God to men of goodwill should spread through the whole world.
Another contribution that Christians can bring to society is the promotion of an authentic freedom of religion and conscience, one of the fundamental human rights that each state should always respect. In numerous countries of the Middle East there exists freedom of belief, while the space given to the freedom to practice religion is often quite limited. Increasing this space of freedom becomes essential to guarantee to all the members of the various religious communities the true freedom to live and profess their faith. This topic could become the subject of dialogue between Christians and Muslims, a dialogue whose urgency and usefulness was reiterated by the Synodal Fathers.
During the work of the Synod what was often underlined was the need to offer the Gospel anew to people who do not know it very well or who have even moved away from the Church. What was often evoked was the need for a new evangelization for the Middle East as well. This was quite a widespread theme, especially in the countries where Christianity has ancient roots. The recent creation of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization also responds to this profound need. For this reason, after having consulted the episcopacy of the whole world and after having listened to the Ordinary Council of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, I have decided to dedicate the next Ordinary General Assembly, in 2012, to the following theme: “Nova evangelizatio ad christianam fidem tradendam — The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith”.
Dear brothers and sisters of the Middle East! May the experience of these days assure you that you are never alone, that you are always accompanied by the Holy See and the whole Church, which, having been born in Jerusalem, spread through the Middle East and then the rest of the world. We entrust the results of the Special Assembly for the Middle East, as well as the preparation for the Ordinary General Assembly, to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church and Queen of Peace. Amen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above”. The words we have just heard in the second reading (Col 3,1-4) invite us to raise our gaze to the reality of Heaven. With the expression “the things that are above” St Paul means Heaven, for he adds: “where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God”. The Apostle is referring to the condition of believers, of those who are “dead” to sin and whose life “is hidden with God in Christ”. They are called to live daily in the lordship of Christ, the principle and fulfilment of all their actions, witnessing to the new life bestowed upon them in Baptism. This renewal in Christ takes place in the heart of each person. While continuing the struggle against sin, it is possible to grow in virtue, attempting to give a full and willing answer to the grace of God.
Inversely, the Apostle indicates later “the things of the earth”. Thus highlighting that life in Christ entails a “choice of field”, a radical renunciation of everything that — like an anchor — ties man to earth, corrupting his soul. The search for the “things that are above” does not mean that Christians must neglect their earthly obligations and duties, rather that they must not get lost in them, as if they had a definitive value. Recalling the realities of Heaven is an invitation to recognize the relativity of what is destined to pass away, in the face of those values that do not know the deterioration of time. It is about working, committing oneself, allowing oneself the proper rest, but with the serene detachment of one who knows that he is only a traveller on the way to the heavenly Homeland; a pilgrim, in a certain sense, a foreigner on the path to Eternity.
The late Cardinals Peter Seiichi Shirayanagi, Cahal Brendan Daly, Armand Gaétan Razafindratandra, Tomáš Špidlík, Paul Augustin Mayer, Luigi Poggi have now arrived at this final destination; as have the numerous Archbishops and Bishops who left us in the course of this past year. Let us remember them with affection, thanking God for their gifts to the Church through our brothers who have preceded us in the sign of faith and now rest in the sleep of peace. Our gratitude becomes a prayer of suffrage for them, so that the Lord may receive them in the beatitude of Heaven. We offer this Holy Eucharist for their chosen souls, gathered around the altar on which is made present the Sacrifice which proclaims the victory of life over death, of grace over sin, of Heaven over hell.
We wish to remember our venerable Brothers as zealous Pastors, whose ministry was always marked by the eschatological horizon that sustains the hope of happiness without shadows, and has been promised to us after this life. As witnesses of the Gospel we are called to live the “things that are above”, which are fruits of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Ga 5,22), as Christians and pastors enlivened by profound faith, by the real desire to be conformed to Jesus and to be profoundly attached to his Person, ceaselessly contemplating his face in prayer. That is why they were able to have a foretaste of “eternal life”, of which the passage of today's Gospel speaks (Jn 3,13-17), and which Christ himself promised “to the one who believes in him”. Indeed the expression “eternal life” designates the divine gift granted to humanity: communion with God in this world and its fullness in that of the future.
Eternal life was opened to us by the Paschal Mystery of Christ and faith is the way to reach it. This is what what emerges from Jesus' words to Nicodemus in the Gospel of the Evangelist John: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life" (Jn 3,14-15). The explicit reference to the episode narrated in the book of Numbers (Nb 21,1-9) highlights the saving force of faith in the divine word. During the Exodus, the Hebrew people rebelled against Moses and God and were punished by the plague of fiery serpents. Moses asked for forgiveness and God, accepting the repentance of the Israelites, ordered him to “make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and every one who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live”. And so it happened. Jesus, in his conversation with Nicodemus, revealed a more profound significance of this event of salvation, referring it to his own death and Resurrection: the Son of Man must be lifted on the wood of the Cross so that whoever believes in him may have life. St John sees precisely in the mystery of the Cross the moment in which the real glory of Jesus is revealed, the glory of a love that gives itself totally in the passion and death. Thus, paradoxically, from a sign of condemnation, death and failure, the Cross becomes a sign of redemption, life and victory, through faith, the fruits of salvation can be gathered.
Continuing this dialogue with Nicodemus, Jesus elaborates further on the salvific meaning of the Cross, revealing with ever greater clarity that it consists in the immense love of God and in the gift of the Only-Begotten Son: “God so loved the world that he gave his Only-Begotten Son”. This is one of the central verses of the Gospel. The subject is God the Father, origin of the whole creating and redeeming mystery. The verbs “to love” and “to give” indicate a decisive and definitive act that expresses the radicalism with which God approached man in love, even to the total gift, crossing the threshold of our ultimate solitude, throwing himself into the abyss of our extreme abandonment, going beyond the door of death. The object and beneficiary of divine love is the world, namely, humanity. It is a word that erases completely the idea of a distant God alien to man's journey and reveals, rather, his true face. He gave us his Son out of love, to be the near God, to make us feel his presence, to come to meet us and carry us in his love so that the whole of life might be enlivened by this divine love. The Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give life.
God does not domineer but loves without measure. He does not express his omnipotence in punishment, but in mercy and in forgiveness. Understanding all this means entering into the mystery of salvation. Jesus came to save, not to condemn; with the sacrifice of the Cross he reveals the loving face of God. Precisely by faith in the abundant love that has been given to us in Christ Jesus, we know that even the smallest force of love is greater than the greatest destructive force, which can transform the world, and by this same faith we can have the “reliable hope”, in eternal life and in the resurrection of the flesh.
Dear brothers and sisters, with the words of the first reading, taken from the Book of Lamentations, we pray that the Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops, whom we are commemorating today, generous servants of the Gospel and of the Church, will now be able to know fully “how good the Lord is to the one who hopes in him, to the soul that seeks him” and experience that “in him is found mercy and redemption in abundance” (Ps 129), trying to walk in the path of goodness, sustained by the grace of God, always remembering that “here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come” (He 13,14). Amen.
Benedict XVI Homilies 31010