Benedict XVI Homilies 60111
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I am glad to offer a cordial welcome, especially to you, the parents and godparents of the 21 infants to whom, in a little while, I shall have the joy of administrating the sacrament of Baptism. Now a tradition, this year too the Rite is taking place during the Holy Eucharistic Celebration with which we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord. It is the Feast which, on the first Sunday after the Epiphany, concludes the Christmas Season with the Lord’s manifestation at the River Jordan.
According to the account of the Evangelist Matthew (Mt 3,13-17), Jesus came from Galilee to the River Jordan to be baptized by John; indeed people were flocking from all over Palestine to hear the preaching of this great Prophet and the proclamation of the coming of the Kingdom of God and to receive Baptism, that is, to submit to that sign of penance which calls for conversion from sin.
Although it was called “Baptism” it did not have the sacramental value of the rite we are celebrating today; as you well know, it was actually with his death and Resurrection that Jesus instituted the sacraments and caused the Church to be born. What John administered was a penitential act, a gesture of humility to God that invited a new beginning: by immersing themselves in the water, penitents recognized that they had sinned, begged God for purification from their sins and were asked to change wrong behaviour, dying in the water, as it were, and rising from it to new life.
For this reason, when John the Baptist saw Jesus who had come to be baptized queuing with sinners he was amazed; recognizing him as the Messiah, the Holy One of God, the One who is without sin, John expressed his consternation: he, the Baptist, would himself have liked to be baptized by Jesus. But Jesus urged him not to put up any resistance, to agree to do this act, to do what is fitting “to fulfil all righteousness”.
With these words Jesus showed that he had come into the world to do the will of the One who had sent him, to carry out all that the Father would ask of him. It was in order to obey the Father that he accepted to be made man. This act reveals, first of all, who Jesus is: he is the Son of God, true God as the Father; he is the One who “humbled himself” to make himself one of us, the One who was made man and who accepted to humble himself unto death on a cross (cf. Ph 2,7).
The Baptism of Jesus, which we are commemorating today, fits into this logic of humility and solidarity: it is the action of the One who wanted to make himself one of us in everything and who truly joined the line of sinners; he, who knew no sin, let himself be treated as a sinner (cf 2Co 5,21), to take upon his shoulders the burden of the sin of all humanity, including our own sin. He is the “servant” of Yahweh of whom the Prophet Isaiah spoke in the First Reading (cf. Is 42,1). His humility is dictated by the desire to establish full communion with humanity, by the desire to bring about true solidarity with man and with his human condition.
Jesus’ action anticipates the Cross, his acceptance of death for man’s sins. This act of abasement, by which Jesus wanted to comply totally with the loving plan of the Father and to conform himself with us, expresses the full harmony of will and intentions that exists between the Persons of the Most Holy Trinity. For this act of love, the Spirit of God revealed himself and descended to alight upon Jesus as a dove, and at that moment the love which unites Jesus to the Father was witnessed to all who were present at the Baptism by a voice from Heaven that everyone heard.
The Father reveals openly to human beings, to us, the profound communion that binds him to the Son: the voice that resounds from on high testifies that Jesus is obedient to the Father in all things and that this obedience is an expression of the love that unites them to each other.
Therefore the Father delights in Jesus, for he recognizes in the Son’s behaviour the wish to obey his will in all things: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt 3,17). And these words of the Father also allude, in advance, to the victory of the Resurrection and tell us how we must live in order to please the Father, by behaving like Jesus.
Dear parents, the Baptism, that you are asking for your children today, inserts them into this exchange of reciprocal love that is in God between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; through this act that I am about to carry out, God’s love is poured out upon them, showering them with his gifts. Your children, cleansed by the water, are inserted into the very life of Jesus who died on the Cross to free us from sin and in rising, conquered death.
Therefore, spiritually immersed in his death and Resurrection they are set free from original sin and the life of grace is born within them, which is the very life of the Risen Jesus. He “gave himself for us”, St Paul says, “to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds” (Tt 2,14).
Dear friends, in giving us faith, the Lord has given us what is most precious in life, that is, the truest and most beautiful reason for living: it is through grace that we have believed in God, that we have known his love with which he wants to save us and to deliver us from evil. Faith is the great gift with which he also gives us eternal life, true life. Now, dear parents and godparents, you are asking the Church to receive these children within her, to give them Baptism; and you are making this request by virtue of the gift of faith that you yourselves, in turn, have received.
Together with the Prophet Isaiah every Christian can say: “The Lord… formed me from the womb to be his servant” (cf. Is 49,5); thus, dear parents, your children are a precious gift of the Lord, who has kept their hearts for himself in order to fill them with his love. Today, through the sacrament of Baptism, he consecrates them and calls them to follow Jesus, through the realization of their personal vocation in accordance with that particular plan of love that the Father has in mind for each one of them; the destination of this earthly pilgrimage will be full communion with him in eternal happiness.
In receiving Baptism these children obtain as a gift an indelible spiritual seal, the “character” that inwardly marks their belonging to the Lord for ever and makes them living members of his Mystical Body, which is the Church. While they become part of the People of God, today a journey begins for these children which must be a journey of holiness and of conformation to Jesus, a reality that is placed within them like the seed of a splendid tree whose growth must be nurtured.
Therefore, understanding the greatness of this gift, from the earliest centuries care has been taken to give Baptism to newborn infants. Of course, later there will be the need for a free and conscious adherence to this life of faith and love. For this reason, after Baptism they must be educated in the faith, instructed in accordance with the wisdom of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church so that this seed of faith that they are receiving today may grow within them and that they may attain full Christian maturity. The Church, which welcomes them among her children must take charge of them, together with their parents and godparents, to accompany them on this journey of growth.
Collaboration between the Christian community and the family is especially necessary in the contemporary social context in which the family institution is threatened on many sides and finds itself having to face numerous difficulties in its role of raising children in the faith. The lack of stable cultural references and the rapid transformation to which society is constantly subjected, truly make the commitment to bring them up arduous. Parishes must therefore do their utmost increasingly to sustain families, small domestic churches, in their task of passing on the faith.
Dear parents, together with you I thank the Lord for the gift of the Baptism of your little sons and daughters; in raising our prayers for them, let us invoke in abundance the gift of the Holy Spirit, who today consecrates them in the image of Christ the Priest, King and Prophet. As I entrust them to the motherly intercession of Mary Most Holy, let us ask for life and health for them, so that they may grow and mature in the faith and with their lives bear fruits of holiness and of love. Amen!
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
After the example of Jesus who on the eve of his Passion prayed the Father for his disciples “that they may all be one” (Jn 17,21), Christians continue ceaselessly to invoke the gift of unity from God. Their request becomes more intense during the Week of Prayer, which ends today, when the Churches and Ecclesial Communities meditate and pray together for the unity of all Christians.
This year the theme offered for our meditation was suggested by the Christian Communities of Jerusalem, to which I would like to express my deep gratitude, together with the assurance of affection and prayers, on my part and on the part of the whole Church.
The Christians of the Holy City are asking us to renew and strengthen our commitment to the re-establishment of full unity, by meditating on the model of life of Christ’s first disciples, gathered in Jerusalem. “They,” we read in the Acts of the Apostles, “devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching, and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers” (Ac 2,42).
This is the portrait of the first community which came into being in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost itself, inspired by the preaching that the Apostle Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, addressed to all who had come to the Holy City for the feast. It was not a community closed in on itself but rather, catholic and universal since its birth, able to embrace peoples of different languages and cultures as the Book of the Acts of the Apostles itself attests.
It was not a community founded on an agreement between its members nor on merely sharing a project or an ideal but rather was founded on deep communion with God who revealed himself in his Son, in the encounter with Christ, dead and Risen.
In the brief synthesis which concludes the chapter that began with the account of the Holy Spirit’s descent on the Day of Pentecost, the Evangelist Luke sums up the life of this first community: when they had listened to the words preached by Peter and had been baptized, they listened to the word of God passed on by the Apostles; they willingly stayed together, taking on the necessary services and freely and generously sharing their material possessions; they celebrated the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, the mystery of his death and Resurrection, in the Eucharist, repeating his gesture of the breaking of the bread; they praised the Lord and gave him thanks constantly, calling on him for help in difficulty.
However, this description is not simply a memory of the past nor is it an example held up to imitate or an ideal objective to achieve. Rather, it is an affirmation of the presence and action of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church. It is an attestation, full of truth, that by uniting all things in Christ the Holy Spirit is the principle of unity of the Church and makes believers one.
The Apostles’ teaching, brotherly communion, the breaking of the bread and prayers are the practical forms of the life of Jerusalem’s first Christian community, gathered together by the action of the Holy Spirit, but at the same time constitute the essential features of all Christian communities, of every epoch and of every place. In other words we could say that they also represent the fundamental dimensions of unity of the visible Body of the Church.
We must be grateful because in recent decades the ecumenical movement, “fostered by the grace of the Holy Spirit” (Unitatis Redintegratio UR 1), has taken significant steps forward, which have made it possible to reach an encouraging convergence and consensus on various points, developing relations of esteem and reciprocal respect between the Churches and the ecclesial Communities, as well as practical collaboration in facing the challenges of the contemporary world.
However we know well that we are still far from that unity for which Christ prayed and which we find reflected in that portrait of the first community of Jerusalem.
The unity to which Christ, through his Spirit, calls the Church is not only brought about at the level of organizational structures but at a far deeper level, acquires the form of unity expressed “in the confession of one faith, in the common celebration of divine worship, and in the fraternal harmony of the family of God” (ibid., UR 2).
The search for the re-establishment of unity among the divided Christians cannot therefore be reduced to recognition of the reciprocal differences and the achievement of a peaceful coexistence: what we yearn for is that unity for which Christ himself prayed and which, by its nature is expressed in the communion of faith, of the sacraments, of the ministry.
The journey towards this unity must be perceived as a moral imperative, the answer to a precise call of the Lord. For this reason it is necessary not to give in to the temptation of resignation or pessimism, which is lack of trust in the power of the Holy Spirit. It is our duty to continue enthusiastically on our way towards this goal with a strict and serious dialogue in order to deepen the common theological, liturgical and spiritual patrimony; with reciprocal knowledge, with the ecumenical formation of the new generations and, especially, with conversion of heart and with prayer.
Indeed, as the Second Vatican Council declared, this “holy objective — the reconciliation of all Christians in the unity of the one and only Church of Christ — transcends human powers and gifts. It therefore places its hope entirely in the prayer of Christ for the Church, in the love of the Father for us, and in the power of the Holy Spirit” (ibid., UR 24).
The Apostle Paul goes with us and supports us on this journey in search of full and visible unity among all Christians. Today we are solemnly celebrating the Feast of his Conversion. Before the Risen One appeared to him on the road to Damascus saying to him: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting!” (Ac 9,5), Saul was one of relentless adversaries of the early Christian communities. The Evangelist Luke describes Saul as one of those who approved the killing of Stephen in the days when a violent persecution broke out against the Christians of Jerusalem (cf. Ac 8,1).
Saul departed from the Holy City to spread the persecution of Christians as far as Syria, and, after his conversion returned there to be introduced to the Apostles by Barnabas, who made himself the guarantor of the authenticity of his encounter with the Lord. From that time Paul was not only admitted to the Church as a member, but also as a preacher of the Gospel together with the other Apostles since, like them, the Risen Lord had appeared to him and he had received the special call to be “a chosen instrument” in order to carry his Name to the peoples (cf. Ac 9,15).
On his long missionary voyages, Paul, wandering as a pilgrim through different cities and regions, never forgot his bond of communion with the Church of Jerusalem.
The collection for the Christians of that community who were very soon in need of help (cf 1Co 16,1), occupied an important place in the concerns of Paul who considered it not only a work of charity but the sign and guarantee of unity and communion among the Churches he had founded and the primitive Community of the Holy City, a sign of the ;unity of the one Church of Christ.
In this intensely prayerful atmosphere I would like to address my cordial welcome to everyone present: to Cardinal Francesco Monterisi, Archpriest of this Basilica, to Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and to the other Cardinals; to my Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood, to the Abbot and to the Benedictine monks of this ancient community, to the men and women religious and to the lay people who represent the entire diocesan community of Rome.
I wish to greet the Brothers and Sisters of the other Churches and ecclesial Communities represented here this evening in a special way. Among them it gives me special pleasure to address my greeting to the members of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches, whose meeting is being held here in Rome in these days. Let us entrust the success of your meeting to the Lord, so that it may be a step ahead towards the unity so deeply longed for.
I would like to offer a special greeting to the representatives of the United Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Germany who have come to Rome led by the Evangelical-Lutheran Bishop of Bavaria.
Dear brothers and sisters, trusting in the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Mother of Christ and Mother of the Church, let us therefore invoke the gift of unity. United with Mary, who was present with the Apostles in the Upper Room on the Day of Pentecost, let us turn to God, Source of every gift, so that the miracle of Pentecost may be renewed for us today and, guided by the Holy Spirit, all Christians may re-establish full unity in Christ. Amen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
On today’s Feast we contemplate the Lord Jesus, whom Mary and Joseph bring to the Temple “to present him to the Lord” (Lc 2,22). This Gospel scene reveals the mystery of the Son of the Virgin, the consecrated One of the Father who came into the world to do his will faithfully (cf. He 10,5-7).
Simeon identifies him as “a light for revelation to the Gentiles” (Lc 2,32) and announces with prophetic words his supreme offering to God and his final victory (cf. Lc 2,32-35). This is the meeting point of the two Testaments, Old and New. Jesus enters the ancient temple; he who is the new Temple of God: he comes to visit his people, thus bringing to fulfilment obedience to the Law and ushering in the last times of salvation.
It is interesting to take a close look at this entrance of the Child Jesus into the solemnity of the temple, in the great comings and goings of many people, busy with their work: priests and Levites taking turns to be on duty, the numerous devout people and pilgrims anxious to encounter the Holy God of Israel. Yet none of them noticed anything. Jesus was a child like the others, a first-born son of very simple parents.
Even the priests proved incapable of recognizing the signs of the new and special presence of the Messiah and Saviour. Alone two elderly people, Simeon and Anna, discover this great newness. Led by the Holy Spirit, in this Child they find the fulfilment of their long waiting and watchfulness. They both contemplate the light of God that comes to illuminate the world and their prophetic gaze is opened to the future in the proclamation of the Messiah: “Lumen ad revelationem gentium!” (Lc 2,32). The prophetic attitude of the two elderly people contains the entire Old Covenant which expresses the joy of the encounter with the Redeemer. Upon seeing the Child, Simeon and Anna understood that he was the Awaited One.
The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple is an eloquent image of the total gift of one’s life for all those, men and women, who are called to represent “the characteristic features of Jesus — the chaste, poor and obedient one” (Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Vita Consecrata VC 1) in the Church and in the world, through the evangelical counsels. For this reason Venerable John Paul II chose today’s Feast to celebrate the Annual World Day of Consecrated Life.
In this context, I would like to offer a cordial and appreciative greeting to Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, whom I recently appointed Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, along with the Secretary and the co-workers. I also greet with affection the Superiors General present and all the consecrated people.
I would like to suggest three brief thoughts for reflection on this Feast. The first: the evangelical image of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple contains the fundamental symbol of light; the light that comes from Christ and shines on Mary and Joseph, on Simeon and Anna, and through them, on everyone. The Fathers of the Church connected this radiance with the spiritual journey. The consecrated life expresses this journey, in a special way, as “philokalia”, love of the divine beauty, a reflection of God’s divine goodness (cf. ibid., VC 19). On Christ’s Face the light of such beauty shines forth.
“The Church contemplates the transfigured face of Christ in order to be confirmed in faith and to avoid being dismayed at his disfigured face on the Cross.... she is the Bride before her Spouse, sharing in his mystery and surrounded by his light. This light shines on all the Church’s children.... But those who are called to the consecrated life have a special experience of the light which shines forth from the Incarnate Word. For the profession of the evangelical counsels makes them a kind of sign and prophetic statement for the community of the breth-ren and for the world” (ibid., VC 15).
Secondly, the evangelical image portrays the prophecy, a gift of the Holy Spirit. In contemplating the Child Jesus, Simeon and Anna foresee his destiny of death and Resurrection for the salvation of all peoples and they proclaim this mystery as universal salvation.
The consecrated life is called to bear this prophetic witness, linked to its two-fold contemplative and active approach. Indeed consecrated men and women are granted to show the primacy of God, passion for the Gospel practised as a form of life and proclaimed to the poor and the lowliest of the earth.
“Because of this pre-eminence nothing can come before personal love of Christ and of the poor in whom he lives.... True prophecy is born of God, from friendship with him, from attentive listening to his word in the different circumstances of history” (ibid., VC 84).
In this way the consecrated life in its daily experience on the roads of humanity, displays the Gospel and the Kingdom, already present and active.
Thirdly, the evangelical image of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple demonstrates the wisdom of Simeon and Anna, the wisdom of a life completely dedicated to the search for God’s Face, for his signs, for his will; a life dedicated to listening to and proclaiming his word. “Faciem tuam, Domine, requiram: ‘Your face, Lord, do I seek’ (Ps 27,8 :8).... Consecrated life in the world and in the Church is a visible sign of this search for the face of the Lord and of the ways that lead to the Lord (cf Jn 14,8) .... The consecrated person, therefore, gives witness to the task, at once joyful and laborious, of the diligent search for the divine will” (cf. Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, Instruction The Service of Authority and Obedience. Faciem tuam, Domine, requiram , n. 1).
Dear brothers and sisters, may you be assiduous listeners to the word, because all wisdom concerning life comes from the word of the Lord! May you seek the word, through lectio divina, since consecrated life “is born from hearing the word of God and embracing the Gospel as its rule of life. A life devoted to following Christ in his chastity, poverty and obedience thus becomes a living ‘exegesis’ of God’s word. The Holy Spirit, in whom the Bible was written, is the same Spirit who illumines the word of God with new light for the Founders and Foundresses. Every charism and every Rule springs from it and seeks to be an expression of it, thus opening up new pathways of Christian living marked by the radicalism of the Gospel” (Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini, n. 83).
Today, especially in the more developed societies, we live in a condition often marked by a radical plurality, by the progressive marginalization of religion in the public sphere and by relativism which touches the fundamental values. This demands that our Christian witness be luminous and consistent and that our educational effort be ever more attentive and generous.
May your apostolic action, in particular, dear brothers and sisters, become a commitment of life that with persevering enthusiasm attains to Wisdom as truth and as beauty, the “splendour of the truth”. May you, with the wisdom of your life and with trust in the inexhaustible possibilities of true education, guide the minds and hearts of the men and women of our time towards a “good life according to the Gospel”.
At this moment, my thoughts turn with special affection to all of the consecrated men and women throughout the world and I entrust them to the Blessed Virgin Mary:
O, Mary, Mother of the Church,
I entrust all consecrated people to you,
that you may obtain for them the fullness of divine light:
may they live in listening to the Word of God,
in the humility of following Jesus, your Son and our Lord,
in the acceptance of the visit of the Holy Spirit,
in the daily joy of the Magnificat,
so that the Church may be edified by the holy lives of these sons and daughters of yours,
in the commandment of love. Amen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I greet with affection these five priest brothers who will shortly be receiving Episcopal Ordination: Archbishop Savio Hon Tai-Fai, Archbishop Marcello Bartolucci, Archbishop Celso Morga Iruzubieta, Archbishop Antonio Guido Filipazzi and Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra. I would like to express to them my gratitude and the Church’s for the service they have carried out to this moment with generosity and dedication. I would also like to ask you to accompany them with your prayers in the ministry in the Roman Curia and in the Papal Representations, to which they have been called as Successors of the Apostles, so that the Holy Spirit may always enlighten and guide them in the Lord’s harvest.
“The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest” (Lc 10,2).
This Gospel passage in today’s Mass touches us particularly closely at this moment. It is the moment of mission: the Lord is sending you, dear friends, into his harvest. You must cooperate in this task of which the Prophet Isaiah speaks in the First Reading: “The Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted” (Is 61,1).
This is the labour for the harvest in the field of God, in the field of human history: to bring to men and women the light of truth, to set them free from the lack of truth, which is the true sorrow, the true impoverishment of man. It means bringing them the glad tidings that are not only words but an event: God himself has come among us. He takes us by the hand, he uplifts us toward himself and thus the broken heart is healed.
Let us thank the Lord for sending out labourers into the harvest of the world’s history. Let us give thanks because he is sending you, because you have said “yes” and at this moment are about to say once again your “yes” to being labourers of the Lord for humankind.
“The harvest is abundant” — today too, on this very day. Even though it may seem that large parts of the modern world, large numbers of our contemporaries turn their backs on God and consider faith something of the past — yet there is a yearning that justice, love and peace will be established at last, that poverty and suffering will be surmounted and that human beings will find joy.
The longing for all these things is present in the contemporary world, the longing for what is great and what is good. It is a yearning for the Redeemer, for God himself, even when he is denied. At this very moment the work in God’s field is particularly pressing and at this very moment we feel particularly acutely the truth of Jesus’ words: “The labourers are few”. At the same time the Lord makes us realize that it cannot be merely we ourselves who send labourers to his harvest; that it is not a question of management or of our own organizational ability. God alone can send out labourers to the field of his harvest.
Yet he wants to send them through the door of our prayers. We can cooperate for the coming of labourers but we can only do so by cooperating with God. So it is that this moment of thanksgiving for the realization of a missionary mandate is, in a special way, also a moment of prayer: Lord, send labourers to your harvest! Open hearts to your call! Do not let our supplication be in vain!
Today’s Liturgy thus gives us two definitions of your mission as Bishops, as priests of Jesus Christ: to be labourers in the harvest of the world’s history with the duty of healing by opening the doors of the world to the lordship of God, so that God’s will may be done on earth as it is in Heaven. And then our ministry is described as cooperation in the mission of Jesus Christ, as participation in the gift of the Holy Spirit, given to him as the Messiah, as the Son anointed by God.
The Letter to the Hebrews, the Second Reading, further completes this, starting with the image of the High Priest of the order of Melchizedek who is a mysterious reference to Christ, the true High Priest, the King of Peace and Justice.
Yet I would also like to say something about how this great task should be carried out in practice — about what it actually demands of us.
This year, for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity the Christian Communities of Jerusalem chose the words of the Acts of the Apostles in which St Luke chose to describe — in a prescriptive way — what the fundamental elements of Christian life are in the communion of the Church of Jesus Christ.
And this is what he says: “They devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Ac 2,42). At the same time in these four structural elements of the Church’s existence, the essential task of her Pastors is also described. All four elements are held together by the words: “they devoted themselves” — “erant perseverantes”: the Latin Bible translates in this way the Greek term: p??s?a?te???: perseverance, devotion is part of the essence of being Christian and is fundamental for the task of Pastors, of labourers in the Lord’s harvest.
The Pastor must not be a marsh reed that bends in the wind, a servant of the spirit of the times. Being undaunted hence brave enough to go against current trends is an essential part of the Pastor’s task. He must not be a reed but on the contrary — in accordance with the image of the first Psalm – he must be like a tree with deep roots, sound and firmly-established. This has nothing to do with rigidity or inflexibility. Only where there is stability is there also growth.
Cardinal Newman, whose way through life was marked by three conversions, said that living implies transforming oneself. Yet his three conversions and the transformations that occurred in them are one, consistent journey: the journey of obedience to the truth, to God; the journey of true continuity which in this very way brings progress.
“Devote yourselves to the Apostles’ teaching” — faith has a practical content. It is not a vague spirituality, an undefinable sensation of transcendence. God has acted and he himself has spoken. He has really done something and has really said something. Of course, in the first place faith is an entrustment of oneself to God, a living relationship with him. But God to whom we entrust ourselves has a face and has given us his Word. We may count on the permanence of his Word.
The ancient Church summed up the essential core of the Apostles’ teaching in the so-called Regula fidei, which is fundamentally identical to the Professions of Faith.
This is the reliable foundation on which we Christians still base ourselves today. It is the firm foundation on which we can build the house of our faith, of our life (cf. Mt 7,24ff.).
And once again, the permanence and definitiveness of what we believe does not mean rigidity. John of the Cross compared the world of faith to a mine in which we discover ever new treasures — treasures in which the one faith is developed, the profession of God who shows himself in Christ. As Pastors of the Church we live this faith and thus can also proclaim it as the glad message which assures us of God’s love, and that we are loved by him.
St Luke calls the second pillar of ecclesial life: ???????a — communio. After the Second Vatican Council, this term indeed became a central word of theology and of preaching, because it expresses all the dimensions of our being as Christians and of ecclesial life.
We do not know exactly what Luke wanted to say with this word in this text. We can therefore calmly understand it on the basis of the global context of the New Testament and of the Apostolic Tradition.
St John gives a first important definition of communio at the beginning of his First Letter: What we have seen and heard, what we have touched with our hands we proclaim to you, so that you too may have communio with us. And our communio is communion with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ (cf 1Jn 1,1-4). God made himself visible and tangible to us and thus created a real communion with himself.
We enter into this communion through believing and living together with those who have touched him. With them and through them, we ourselves, in a certain way, see him and touch the God who made himself close. Here, therefore, the horizontal and vertical dimensions are inseparably interwoven. By being in communion with the Apostles, by being in their faith, we ourselves are in contact with the living God.
Dear friends, this is the purpose of the ministry of Bishops: that this chain of communion be not broken. This is the essence of the Apostolic Succession: to preserve communion with those who have encountered the Lord in a visible and tangible way and thus to keep Heaven open, the presence of God in our midst. It is only through communion with the Successors of the Apostles that we are also in touch with God incarnate. But the opposite is also true: only thanks to communion with God, only thanks to communion with Jesus Christ does this chain of witnesses remain unbroken.
One is never a Bishop on one’s own, the Second Vatican Council tells us, but always and only in the College of Bishops. Moreover the latter cannot be enclosed in the time of a single generation. The interweaving of all generations, the living Church of every epoch, is part of collegiality. Dear Confreres, it is your mission to preserve this Catholic communion. You know that the Lord made St Peter and his Successors responsible for being the centre of this communion, the guarantors of abiding fully in the apostolic communion and of his faith.
Offer your help in order to keep alive joy in the great unity of the Church, in the communion of all places and times, in the communion of faith that embraces Heaven and earth. May you live communio and live with your heart, day after day, its deepest centre in that sacred moment in which the Lord gives himself in holy Communion.
With this we have already reached the next fundamental element of ecclesial life that St Luke mentioned: the breaking of the bread. The Evangelist’s gaze, at this point, turns back to the disciples at Emmaus, who recognized the Lord in the gesture of breaking the bread. And from here his gaze looks further back to the hour of the Last Supper when Jesus, in breaking the bread, distributed himself, made himself bread for us and anticipated his death and his Resurrection. Breaking the Bread — the blessed Eucharist is the centre of the Church and must be the centre of our being as Christians and of our priestly life.
The Lord gives himself to us. The Risen One enters the depths of my being and wants to transform me to make me enter into profound communion with him. Thus he also opens me to all others: we, the many, are one bread and one body, St Paul says (cf. 1Co 10,17). Let us seek to celebrate the Eucharist, with ever deeper dedication and zeal, let us seek to structure our days in accordance with his standard, let us seek to let ourselves be modelled by it.
Breaking the bread — this means at the same time sharing and communicating our love to others. The social dimension, sharing, is not a moral appendix that is added to the Eucharist but a part of it. This stands out clearly in the verse which follows the one cited above in the Acts of the Apostles: “all who believed were together and had all things in common” Luke says (Lc 2,44).
Let us be careful that faith is always expressed in love and justice for one another and that our social conduct is inspired by faith; that faith is lived in love.
As the last pillar of ecclesial life Luke mentions “the prayers”. He speaks in the plural: prayers. What does he mean by this? He was probably thinking of the participation of the first community of Jerusalem in the prayers in the Temple, in the common ordering of prayer. Thus he sheds light on something important.
Prayer, on the one hand, must be very personal, a uniting of myself with God in my innermost depths. It must be my struggle with him, my search for him, my gratitude for him and my joy in him. Yet it is never something private of my individual “ego” that does not concern others. Praying is essentially and also always praying in the “we” of God’s children.
In this “we” alone are we children of Our Father, which the Lord taught us to pray. This “we” alone gives us access to the Father. On the one hand our prayer must become more and more personal, must touch and penetrate ever more deeply the nucleus of our “ego”. On the other, it must always be nourished by the communion of those praying, by the unity of the Body of Christ, in order truly to shape myself on the basis of God’s love.
Thus, all things considered, prayer is not one activity among others, a certain corner of my time. Prayer is the response to the imperative at the beginning of the Canon in the Eucharistic celebration: Sursum corda – lift up your hearts! It is raising my life towards God’s height. In St Gregory the Great there is a beautiful saying in this regard. He recalls that Jesus called John the Baptist “a burning and shining lamp” (Jn 5,35) and continues: “burning with his desire for Heaven, shining through his words. Thus, if the truthfulness of preaching is to be preserved, loftiness of life must also be preserved” (Hom. in Ez. 1,11,7 CCL, 142, 134). We can only attain loftiness, the high standard of living that is so essential today for witnessing to Jesus Christ, if in prayer we allow ourselves to be continually drawn upwards by him towards his height.
Duc in altum (Lc 5,4) – “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch”. Jesus said this to Peter and his companions when he called them to become “fishers of men”. Duc in altum — Pope John Paul II, in his last years, forcefully took up these words and proclaimed them loudly to the Lord’s disciples in our day. Duc in altum — the Lord is saying to you at this moment, dear friends. You are called to undertake tasks that concern the universal Church. You are called to let down the Gospel net into the stormy seas of our time in order to obtain people’s adherence to Christ; to lift them, so to speak, from the brackish waters of death and from the darkness that the light of Heaven does not penetrate. You must bring them to life on earth, in communion with Jesus Christ.
In one passage from the first book of his work on the Blessed Trinity, St Hilary of Poitiers breaks unexpectedly into a prayer: for this I pray: “that you may swell the limp sails of our faith and of our profession with the breath of your Spirit and drive me forward on the voyage of my proclamation” (I 37 CCL 62, 35f).
Yes, let us pray for this for you at this moment, dear friends. Therefore unfold the sails of your souls, the sails of faith, of hope, of love, so that the Holy Spirit may fill them and grant you a blessed voyage as fishers of men in the ocean of our time. Amen.
Benedict XVI Homilies 60111