Benedict XVI Homilies 50211
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today we begin the liturgical Season of Lent with the evocative rite of the imposition of ashes through which we wish to commit ourselves to converting our hearts to the horizons of Grace. People generally associate this Season with the sadness and dreariness of life. On the contrary, it is a precious gift of God, a strong time full of meaning on the Church’s path, it is the journey that leads to the Passover of the Lord.
The biblical Readings of today’s celebration give us instructions for living this spiritual experience to the full. “Return to me with all your heart” (Jl 2,12). In the First Reading from the Book of the Prophet Joel we heard these words with which God invites the Jewish people to sincere and unostentatious repentance. This is not a superficial and transitory conversion; but a spiritual itinerary that deeply concerns the attitude of the conscience and implies sincere determination to reform.
The Prophet draws inspiration from the plague of locusts that descended on the people, destroying their crops, to ask them for inner repentance and to rend their hearts rather than their clothing (cf. Jl 2,13).
In other words, it is in practice a question of adopting an attitude of authentic conversion to God — of returning to him — recognizing his holiness, his power, his majesty.
And this conversion is possible because God is rich in mercy and great in love. His is a regenerating mercy that creates within us a pure heart, renews in our depths a firm spirit, restoring the joy of salvation (cf. Ps 51,14 :14). God, in fact — as the Prophet says — does not want the the sinner to die but to convert and live (cf. Ez 33,11).
The Prophet Joel orders in the Lord’s name the creation of a favourable penitential environment: the trumpet must be blown to convoke the gathering and reawaken consciences. The Lenten Season proposes to us this liturgical and penitential environment: a journey of 40 days in which to experience God’s merciful love effectively.
Today the appeal: “Return to me with all your heart”, resounds for us. Today it is we who are called to convert our hearts to God, in the constant awareness that we cannot achieve conversion on our own, with our own efforts, because it is God who converts us. Furthermore, he offers us his forgiveness, asking us to return to him, to give us a new heart cleansed of the evil that clogs it, to enable us to share in his joy. Our world needs to be converted by God, it needs his forgiveness, his love, it needs a new heart.
“Be reconciled to God” (2Co 5,20). In the Second Reading St Paul offers us another element on our journey of conversion. The Apostle invites us to remove our gaze from him and to pay attention instead to the One who sent him and to the content of the message he bears: “So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We therefore beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (ibid. 2Co 5,20).
An ambassador repeats what he has heard his Lord say and speaks with the authority and within the limits that he has been given. Anyone who serves in the office of ambassador must not draw attention to himself but must put himself at the service of the message to be transmitted and of the one who has sent it.
This is how St Paul acted in exercising his ministry as a preacher of the word of God and an Apostle of Jesus Christ. He does not shrink from the duty he has received, but carries it out with total dedication, asking us to open ourselves to Grace, to let God convert us. He writes: “Working together with him, then, we entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain” (2Co 6,1).
“Christ’s call to conversion”, the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us, “continues to resound in the lives of Christians... [it] is an uninterrupted task for the whole Church” which, “clasping sinners to her bosom”, and “‘at once holy and always in need of purification... follows constantly the path of penance and renewal”. “This endeavour of conversion is not just a human work. It is the movement of a ‘contrite heart’ (Ps 51,17), drawn and moved by grace to respond to the merciful love of God who loved us first” (CEC 1428).
St Paul was speaking to the Christians of Corinth but through them he intended to address all people. Indeed, all people have always needed God’s grace which illuminates minds and hearts. And the Apostle immediately insists “Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2Co 6,2). All can open themselves to God’s action, to his love; with our evangelical witness we Christians must be a living message; indeed in many cases we are the only Gospel that men and women of today still read.
This is our responsibility, following in St Paul’s footsteps, a further reason for living Lent fully: in order to bear a witness of faith lived to a world in difficulty in need of returning to God, in need of conversion.
“Beware of practising your piety before men in order to be seen by them” (Mt 6,1). In today’s Gospel Jesus reinterprets the three fundamental pious practices prescribed by Mosaic law. Almsgiving, prayer and fasting characterize the Jew who observes the law. In the course of time these prescriptions were corroded by the rust of external formalism or even transformed into a sign of superiority.
In these three practices Jesus highlights a common temptation. Doing a good deed almost instinctively gives rise to the desire to be esteemed and admired for the good action, in other words to gain a reward. And on the one hand this closes us in on ourselves and on the other, it brings us out of ourselves because we live oriented to what others think of us or admire in us.
In proposing these prescriptions anew the Lord Jesus does not ask for formal respect of a law that is alien to the human being, imposed by a severe legislator as a heavy burden, but invites us to rediscover these three pious practices by living them more deeply, not out of self-love but out of love of God, as a means on the journey of conversion to him. Alms-giving, prayer and fasting: these are the path of the divine pedagogy that accompanies us not only in Lent, towards the encounter with the Risen Lord; a course to take without ostentation, in the certainty that the heavenly Father can read and also see into our heart in secret.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us set out confidently and joyfully on the Lenten journey. Forty days separate us from Easter; this “strong” season of the liturgical year is a favourable time which is granted to us so that we may attend more closely to our conversion, listen more intensely to the word of God and intensify our prayer and penance. We thereby open our hearts to docile acceptance of the divine will for a more generous practice of mortification thanks to which we can go more generously to the aid of our needy neighbour: a spiritual journey that prepares us to relive the Paschal Mystery.
May Mary, our guide on the Lenten journey, lead us to ever deeper knowledge of the dead and Risen Christ, help us in the spiritual combat against sin, and sustain us as we pray with conviction: “Converte nos, Deus salutaris noster” — “Convert us to you, O God, our salvation”. Amen!
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I am very pleased to be with you to celebrate an event as important as the Dedication to God and to the service of the community of this church called after St Corbinian. Providence has ordained that our meeting take place on the Second Sunday of Lent, distinguished by the Gospel of the Transfiguration of Jesus.
Today, we therefore have the juxtaposition of two elements, both of which are very important: on the one hand, the mystery of the Transfiguration, and on the other, that of the temple, that is, of God’s house amidst your houses. The Bible Readings we have heard were chosen to illustrate these two aspects.
The Transfiguration. The Evangelist Matthew has told us what happened when Jesus, taking with him three of his disciples — Peter, James and John — climbed a high mountain. While they were up there, on their own, Jesus’ face, and likewise his garments, became radiant. This is what we call “Transfiguration”: a luminous, comforting mystery. What is its meaning? The Transfiguration is a revelation of the Person of Jesus, of his profound reality.
In fact, the eye witnesses of the event, that is, the three Apostles, were enfolded in a cloud, also bright — which in the Bible always heralds God’s presence — and they heard a voice saying: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Mt 17,5). This event prepared the disciples for the Paschal Mystery of Jesus: to endure the terrible trial of the Passion and also to understand properly the luminous event of the Resurrection.
The narrative also speaks of Moses and Elijah who appear and talk with Jesus. Actually, this episode is related to another two divine revelations. Moses climbed Mount Sinai and there received God’s revelation. He asked God to show him his glory but God answered Moses that he would not see his face but only his back (cf. Ex 33,18-23)
God made a similar revelation to Elijah on the mountain: a more intimate manifestation, not accompanied by a storm, an earthquake or by fire, but by a gentle breeze (cf 1R 19,11-13).
Unlike these two episodes, in the Transfiguration it is not Jesus who receives the revelation of God; rather, it is precisely in Jesus that God reveals himself and reveals his face to the Apostles. Thus, those who wish to know God must contemplate the face of Jesus, his face transfigured: Jesus is the perfect revelation of the Father’s holiness and mercy.
Let us also remember that on Mount Sinai Moses also received the revelation of God’s will: the Ten Commandments. And, again, it was on the mountain that Elijah received from God the divine Revelation of a mission he was to undertake.
Jesus, on the contrary, did not receive the revelation of what he was to do: he already knew it. Rather it was the Apostles who heard God’s voice in the cloud, commanding: “Listen to him”.
God’s will was fully revealed in the Person of Jesus. Anyone who wants to live in accordance with God’s will must follow Jesus, listen to him and accept his words, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, acquire a deep knowledge of them. This is the first invitation I wish to offer you, dear friends, with great affection: grow in the knowledge and love of Christ, both as individuals and as a parish community, encounter him in the Eucharist, in listening to his word, in prayer and in charity.
The second point is the Church as a building and especially as a community. Before reflecting, however, on the Dedication of your church, I would like to tell you that my joy at being with you today is enhanced for a special reason. Indeed, St Corbinian founded the Diocese of Freising, Bavaria, of which I was Bishop for four years. In my episcopal coat of arms I chose to insert an element closely associated with this Saint’s history: a bear.
It is said that a bear had torn St Corbinian’s horse to pieces while the Saint was on his way to Rome. He harshly reprimanded it, succeeded in taming it and on its back loaded his baggage which had so far been carried by the horse. The bear bore this burden as far as Rome and only then did the Saint set it free.
Perhaps this is the point at which to say a few words about the life of St Corbinian. St Corbinian was French. He was a priest from the region of Paris, not far from which he had founded a monastery for himself. He was held in high esteem as a spiritual counselor but was more inclined to contemplation and therefore came to Rome to build a monastery here, close to the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul.
However Pope Gregory II — it was in about the year 720 — had founded a monastery nearby — thought highly of his qualities, had understood his qualities and ordained him a Bishop, charging him to go to Bavaria and to proclaim the Gospel in that land. Bavaria: the Pope was thinking of the country between the Danube and the Alps which had been the Roman Province of Raetia for 500 years. Only at the end of the fifth century did the majority of the Latin population return to Italy.
A few simple people had stayed there. The land was sparsely populated and a new people settled in it, the Bavarian people which, because the Country had been Christianized in the Roman period, discovered there a Christian heritage. The Bavarian people had understood straight away that this was the true religion and wanted to become Christian. However, there was a lack of educated people and priests to preach the Gospel.
And so Christianity had remained very fragmented, in its early stages. The Pope knew of this situation, he knew of the thirst for faith that existed in that country. He thus charged St Corbinian to go there and proclaim the Gospel there. And in Freising, in the ducal city on the hilltop, the Saint built the Cathedral — there was already a Shrine to Our Lady — and the Bishops See remained there for more than 1,000 years.
Only after the Napoleonic period was it transferred to Munich, 30 kilometres further south. It is still called the “Diocese of Munich and Freising”, and Freising’s majestic Romanesque cathedral has remained the heart of the diocese. So we see that saints uphold the Church’s unity and universality.
Universality: St Corbinian connects France, Germany and Rome. Unity: St Corbinian tells us that the Church is founded on Peter and guarantees to us that the Church founded on the rock will endure for ever. One thousand years ago she was the same Church that she is today, because the Lord is always the same. He is always Truth, ever old and ever new, very up to date, present, and the key opening the future.
I would now like to thank all who have contributed to building this church. I know how hard the Diocese of Rome is working to ensure every neighbourhood suitable parish complexes.
I greet and thank the Cardinal Vicar, the Auxiliary Bishop of the Sector and the Bishop Secretary of the “Opera Romana” (Roman institution) for the preservation of faith and the provision of new churches. I greet in particular my two successors. I greet Cardinal Wetter, who conceived the initiative of dedicating a parish church to St Corbinian and provided effective support for the project’s realization. Thank you, Your Eminence, many thanks. I am glad that the church was built so quickly.
I greet Cardinal Marx, the current Archbishop of Munich and Freising, who feels love not only for St Corbinian but also for his Church in Rome. My cordial thanks to you too. I also greet Bishop Clemens, from the Diocese of Paderborn who is Secretary of the Council for the Laity. I extend a special thought to the parish priest, Fr Antonio Magnotta, with my sincere gratitude for your words to me. Thank you! and of course I also greet the parochial vicar!
Through all of you present here, I would like to extend a word of affectionate closeness to the approximately 10,000 residents in the Parish territory. Gathered round the Eucharist, we more easily note that the mission of every Christian community is to take the message of God’s love to everyone, to make everyone know his face. This is why it is important that the Eucharist always be the heart of the life of the faithful, as it is today for your Parish, although not all its members have been able to take part in person.
Today we are living an important day which crowns the efforts, exertions and sacrifices made by and the commitment of the local people to form a mature Christian community that now has a Church, now definitively consecrated, in which to worship God.
I rejoice that this goal has been achieved and I am sure that it will encourage the gathering and the development of the family of believers in this district. The Church wishes to be present in every neighbourhood in which people live and work, with the Gospel witness of consistent and faithful Christians, but also with appropriate premises for prayer gatherings and for the sacraments, Christian formation and the beginning of friendships and brotherhood, helping children, young people, families and the elderly grow in the spirit of community which Christ taught us and of which the Church stands in such great need.
Just as the parish premises were built, my Visit is intended to encourage you to build ever better the Church of living stones which you are. We heard in the Second Reading “You are God’s field, God’s building”, St Paul wrote to the Corinthians (1Co 3,9) and to us. And he urges us to build on the one true foundation which is Jesus Christ (1Co 3,11).
For this reason, I also urge you to make your new church the place where one learns how to listen to the word of God, the permanent “school” of Christian prayer from which stems every activity of this young and committed parish.
The text from the Book of Nehemiah, presented in the First Reading, is enlightening in this respect. There it can be clearly seen that Israel is the people convoked to listen to the word of God, written in the book of the Law. This book is read solemnly by the ministers and explained to the people who, standing, raise their hands to Heaven then kneel and prostrate themselves, face to the ground, in a sign of adoration. It is a true liturgy enlivened by faith in God who speaks, by repentance for infidelity to the Lord’s Law, and especially by joy — for the proclamation of his word is a sign that he has not abandoned his People, that he is close. May you too, dear brothers and sisters, in gathering to listen to the word of God with faith and perseverance, become, from one Sunday to the next, a Church of God, inwardly formed and fashioned by his Word. What a great gift this is! May you always be grateful for it.
Yours is a young community, consisting largely of newly married couples who have come to live in the neighbourhood; there are many children and young people. I know the dedication and attention that are given to families and to the guidance of young couples: may you be able to start a pastoral service for families, marked by open and cordial hospitality to the new family nuclei, which will be able to foster reciprocal knowledge, so that the parish community may always be, increasingly, a “family of families” able to share with them, alongside the joys, the inevitable initial difficulties.
I also know that various groups of the faithful meet to pray, learning at the school of the Gospel, to participate in the Sacraments and to live that essential dimension for Christian life which is charity. I am thinking of all those who with the Parish Caritas seek to meet the many needs in the area, especially by responding to the expectations of the poorest and neediest people.
I rejoice in all you do to prepare children and young people for the sacraments of Christian life, and I urge you to to take an increasing interest in their parents too, especially those who have small children; the Parish is striving to propose to them too, at convenient times and in suitable ways, prayer and formation meetings, especially for the parents of children who must receive Baptism and the other sacraments of Christian initiation.
May you also treat with special care and attention families in difficulty or in an irregular or precarious condition. Do not leave them on their own, but be lovingly close to them, helping them to understand God’s authentic plan for marriage and the family.
The Pope wishes to address a special word of affection and friendship also to you, dear children and young people who are listening to me, and to your peers who live in this parish. The present and the future of the ecclesial and civil community are entrusted in a special way to you. The Church expects much from your enthusiasm, from your ability to look ahead and from your wish for firm in the choices in life.
Dear friends of San Corbiniano! The Lord Jesus Christ who led the Apostles to the mountain to pray and showed them his glory, has invited us to this new church today. Here we can listen to him, we can recognize his presence in the breaking of the Eucharist Bread; and in this way become a living Church, a temple of the Holy Spirit, a sign of God’s love in the world.
Go home with your hearts full of this gratitude and joy, because you are part of this great spiritual building which is the Church. Let us entrust our Lenten journey, and that of the entire Church to the Virgin Mary. May Our Lady, who followed her Son Jesus to the Cross, help us to be faithful disciples of Christ, so that we may be able to take part together with her in the joy of Easter. Amen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Dear young people!
It is a moving experience each year on Palm Sunday as we go up the mountain with Jesus, towards the Temple, accompanying him on his ascent. On this day, throughout the world and across the centuries, young people and people of every age acclaim him, crying out: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
But what are we really doing when we join this procession as part of the throng which went up with Jesus to Jerusalem and hailed him as King of Israel? Is this anything more than a ritual, a quaint custom? Does it have anything to do with the reality of our life and our world? To answer this, we must first be clear about what Jesus himself wished to do and actually did. After Peter’s confession of faith in Caesarea Philippi, in the northernmost part of the Holy Land, Jesus set out as a pilgrim towards Jerusalem for the feast of Passover. He was journeying towards the Temple in the Holy City, towards that place which for Israel ensured in a particular way God’s closeness to his people. He was making his way towards the common feast of Passover, the memorial of Israel’s liberation from Egypt and the sign of its hope of definitive liberation. He knew that what awaited him was a new Passover and that he himself would take the place of the sacrificial lambs by offering himself on the cross. He knew that in the mysterious gifts of bread and wine he would give himself for ever to his own, and that he would open to them the door to a new path of liberation, to fellowship with the living God. He was making his way to the heights of the Cross, to the moment of self-giving love. The ultimate goal of his pilgrimage was the heights of God himself; to those heights he wanted to lift every human being.
Our procession today is meant, then, to be an image of something deeper, to reflect the fact that, together with Jesus, we are setting out on pilgrimage along the high road that leads to the living God. This is the ascent that matters. This is the journey which Jesus invites us to make. But how can we keep pace with this ascent? Isn’t it beyond our ability? Certainly, it is beyond our own possibilities. From the beginning men and women have been filled – and this is as true today as ever – with a desire to “be like God”, to attain the heights of God by their own powers. All the inventions of the human spirit are ultimately an effort to gain wings so as to rise to the heights of Being and to become independent, completely free, as God is free. Mankind has managed to accomplish so many things: we can fly! We can see, hear and speak to one another from the farthest ends of the earth. And yet the force of gravity which draws us down is powerful. With the increase of our abilities there has been an increase not only of good. Our possibilities for evil have increased and appear like menacing storms above history. Our limitations have also remained: we need but think of the disasters which have caused so much suffering for humanity in recent months.
The Fathers of the Church maintained that human beings stand at the point of intersection between two gravitational fields. First, there is the force of gravity which pulls us down – towards selfishness, falsehood and evil; the gravity which diminishes us and distances us from the heights of God. On the other hand there is the gravitational force of God’s love: the fact that we are loved by God and respond in love attracts us upwards. Man finds himself betwixt this twofold gravitational force; everything depends on our escaping the gravitational field of evil and becoming free to be attracted completely by the gravitational force of God, which makes us authentic, elevates us and grants us true freedom.
Following the Liturgy of the Word, at the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer where the Lord comes into our midst, the Church invites us to lift up our hearts: “Sursum corda!” In the language of the Bible and the thinking of the Fathers, the heart is the centre of man, where understanding, will and feeling, body and soul, all come together. The centre where spirit becomes body and body becomes spirit, where will, feeling and understanding become one in the knowledge and love of God. This is the “heart” which must be lifted up. But to repeat: of ourselves, we are too weak to lift up our hearts to the heights of God. We cannot do it. The very pride of thinking that we are able to do it on our own drags us down and estranges us from God. God himself must draw us up, and this is what Christ began to do on the cross. He descended to the depths of our human existence in order to draw us up to himself, to the living God. He humbled himself, as today’s second reading says. Only in this way could our pride be vanquished: God’s humility is the extreme form of his love, and this humble love draws us upwards.
Psalm 24, which the Church proposes as the “song of ascent” to accompany our procession in today’s liturgy, indicates some concrete elements which are part of our ascent and without which we cannot be lifted upwards: clean hands, a pure heart, the rejection of falsehood, the quest for God’s face. The great achievements of technology are liberating and contribute to the progress of mankind only if they are joined to these attitudes – if our hands become clean and our hearts pure, if we seek truth, if we seek God and let ourselves be touched and challenged by his love. All these means of “ascent” are effective only if we humbly acknowledge that we need to be lifted up; if we abandon the pride of wanting to become God. We need God: he draws us upwards; letting ourselves be upheld by his hands – by faith, in other words – sets us aright and gives us the inner strength that raises us on high. We need the humility of a faith which seeks the face of God and trusts in the truth of his love.
The question of how man can attain the heights, becoming completely himself and completely like God, has always engaged mankind. It was passionately disputed by the Platonic philosophers of the third and fourth centuries. For them, the central issue was finding the means of purification which could free man from the heavy load weighing him down and thus enable him to ascend to the heights of his true being, to the heights of divinity. Saint Augustine, in his search for the right path, long sought guidance from those philosophies. But in the end he had to acknowledge that their answers were insufficient, their methods would not truly lead him to God. To those philosophers he said: recognize that human power and all these purifications are not enough to bring man in truth to the heights of the divine, to his own heights. And he added that he should have despaired of himself and human existence had he not found the One who accomplishes what we of ourselves cannot accomplish; the One who raises us up to the heights of God in spite of our wretchedness: Jesus Christ who from God came down to us and, in his crucified love, takes us by the hand and lifts us on high.
We are on pilgrimage with the Lord to the heights. We are striving for pure hearts and clean hands, we are seeking truth, we are seeking the face of God. Let us show the Lord that we desire to be righteous, and let us ask him: Draw us upwards! Make us pure! Grant that the words which we sang in the processional psalm may also hold true for us; grant that we may be part of the generation which seeks God, “which seeks your face, O God of Jacob” (cf. Ps 24,6). Amen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
At the heart of this morning’s liturgy is the blessing of the holy oils – the oil for anointing catechumens, the oil for anointing the sick, and the chrism for the great sacraments that confer the Holy Spirit: confirmation, priestly ordination, episcopal ordination. In the sacraments the Lord touches us through the elements of creation. The unity between creation and redemption is made visible. The sacraments are an expression of the physicality of our faith, which embraces the whole person, body and soul. Bread and wine are fruits of the earth and work of human hands. The Lord chose them to be bearers of his presence. Oil is the symbol of the Holy Spirit and at the same time it points us towards Christ: the word “Christ” (Messiah) means “the anointed one”. The humanity of Jesus, by virtue of the Son’s union with the Father, is brought into communion with the Holy Spirit and is thus “anointed” in a unique way, penetrated by the Holy Spirit. What happened symbolically to the kings and priests of the Old Testament when they were instituted into their ministry by the anointing with oil, takes place in Jesus in all its reality: his humanity is penetrated by the power of the Holy Spirit. He opens our humanity for the gift of the Holy Spirit. The more we are united to Christ, the more we are filled with his Spirit, with the Holy Spirit. We are called “Christians”: “anointed ones” – people who belong to Christ and hence have a share in his anointing, being touched by his Spirit. I wish not merely to be called Christian, but also to be Christian, said Saint Ignatius of Antioch. Let us allow these holy oils, which are consecrated at this time, to remind us of the task that is implicit in the word “Christian”, let us pray that, increasingly, we may not only be called Christian but may actually be such.
In today’s liturgy, three oils are blessed, as I mentioned earlier. They express three essential dimensions of the Christian life on which we may now reflect. First, there is the oil of catechumens. This oil indicates a first way of being touched by Christ and by his Spirit – an inner touch, by which the Lord draws people close to himself. Through this first anointing, which takes place even prior to baptism, our gaze is turned towards people who are journeying towards Christ – people who are searching for faith, searching for God. The oil of catechumens tells us that it is not only we who seek God: God himself is searching for us. The fact that he himself was made man and came down into the depths of human existence, even into the darkness of death, shows us how much God loves his creature, man. Driven by love, God has set out towards us. “Seeking me, you sat down weary ... let such labour not be in vain!”, we pray in the Dies Irae. God is searching for me. Do I want to recognize him? Do I want to be known by him, found by him? God loves us. He comes to meet the unrest of our hearts, the unrest of our questioning and seeking, with the unrest of his own heart, which leads him to accomplish the ultimate for us. That restlessness for God, that journeying towards him, so as to know and love him better, must not be extinguished in us. In this sense we should always remain catechumens. “Constantly seek his face”, says one of the Psalms (Ps 105,4). Saint Augustine comments as follows: God is so great as to surpass infinitely all our knowing and all our being. Knowledge of God is never exhausted. For all eternity, with ever increasing joy, we can always continue to seek him, so as to know him and love him more and more. “Our heart is restless until it rests in you”, said Saint Augustine at the beginning of his Confessions. Yes, man is restless, because whatever is finite is too little. But are we truly restless for him? Have we perhaps become resigned to his absence, do we not seek to be self-sufficient? Let us not allow our humanity to be diminished in this way! Let us remain constantly on a journey towards him, longing for him, always open to receive new knowledge and love!
Then there is the oil for anointing the sick. Arrayed before us is a host of suffering people: those who hunger and thirst, victims of violence in every continent, the sick with all their sufferings, their hopes and their moments without hope, the persecuted, the downtrodden, the broken-hearted. Regarding the first mission on which Jesus sent the disciples, Saint Luke tells us: “he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal” (Lc 9,2). Healing is one of the fundamental tasks entrusted by Jesus to the Church, following the example that he gave as he travelled throughout the land healing the sick. To be sure, the Church’s principal task is to proclaim the Kingdom of God. But this very proclamation must be a process of healing: “bind up the broken-hearted”, we heard in today’s first reading from the prophet Isaiah (Is 61,1). The proclamation of God’s Kingdom, of God’s unlimited goodness, must first of all bring healing to broken hearts. By nature, man is a being in relation. But if the fundamental relationship, the relationship with God, is disturbed, then all the rest is disturbed as well. If our relationship with God is disturbed, if the fundamental orientation of our being is awry, we cannot truly be healed in body and soul. For this reason, the first and fundamental healing takes place in our encounter with Christ who reconciles us to God and mends our broken hearts. But over and above this central task, the Church’s essential mission also includes the specific healing of sickness and suffering. The oil for anointing the sick is the visible sacramental expression of this mission. Since apostolic times, the healing vocation has matured in the Church, and so too has loving solicitude for those who are distressed in body and soul. This is also the occasion to say thank you to those sisters and brothers throughout the world who bring healing and love to the sick, irrespective of their status or religious affiliation. From Elizabeth of Hungary, Vincent de Paul, Louise de Marillac, Camillus of Lellis to Mother Teresa – to recall but a few names – we see, lighting up the world, a radiant procession of helpers streaming forth from God’s love for the suffering and the sick. For this we thank the Lord at this moment. For this we thank all those who, by virtue of their faith and love, place themselves alongside the suffering, thereby bearing definitive witness to the goodness of God himself. The oil for anointing the sick is a sign of this oil of the goodness of heart that these people bring – together with their professional competence – to the suffering. Even without speaking of Christ, they make him manifest.
In third place, finally, is the most noble of the ecclesial oils, the chrism, a mixture of olive oil and aromatic vegetable oils. It is the oil used for anointing priests and kings, in continuity with the great Old Testament traditions of anointing. In the Church this oil serves chiefly for the anointing of confirmation and ordination. Today’s liturgy links this oil with the promise of the prophet Isaiah: “You shall be called the priests of the Lord, men shall speak of you as the ministers of our God” (Is 61,6). The prophet makes reference here to the momentous words of commission and promise that God had addressed to Israel on Sinai: “You shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex 19,6). In and for the vast world, which was largely ignorant of God, Israel had to be as it were a shrine of God for all peoples, exercising a priestly function vis-à-vis the world. It had to bring the world to God, to open it up to him. In his great baptismal catechesis, Saint Peter applied this privilege and this commission of Israel to the entire community of the baptized, proclaiming: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. Once you were no people but now you are God’s people” (1P 2,9f.) Baptism and confirmation are an initiation into this people of God that spans the world; the anointing that takes place in baptism and confirmation is an anointing that confers this priestly ministry towards mankind. Christians are a priestly people for the world. Christians should make the living God visible to the world, they should bear witness to him and lead people towards him. When we speak of this task in which we share by virtue of our baptism, it is no reason to boast. It poses a question to us that makes us both joyful and anxious: are we truly God’s shrine in and for the world? Do we open up the pathway to God for others or do we rather conceal it? Have not we – the people of God – become to a large extent a people of unbelief and distance from God? Is it perhaps the case that the West, the heartlands of Christianity, are tired of their faith, bored by their history and culture, and no longer wish to know faith in Jesus Christ? We have reason to cry out at this time to God: “Do not allow us to become a ‘non-people’! Make us recognize you again! Truly, you have anointed us with your love, you have poured out your Holy Spirit upon us. Grant that the power of your Spirit may become newly effective in us, so that we may bear joyful witness to your message!
For all the shame we feel over our failings, we must not forget that today too there are radiant examples of faith, people who give hope to the world through their faith and love. When Pope John Paul II is beatified on 1 May, we shall think of him, with hearts full of thankfulness, as a great witness to God and to Jesus Christ in our day, as a man filled with the Holy Spirit. Alongside him, we think of the many people he beatified and canonized, who give us the certainty that even today God’s promise and commission do not fall on deaf ears.
I turn finally to you, dear brothers in the priestly ministry. Holy Thursday is in a special way our day. At the hour of the last Supper, the Lord instituted the new Testament priesthood. “Sanctify them in the truth” (Jn 17,17), he prayed to the Father, for the Apostles and for priests of all times. With great gratitude for the vocation and with humility for all our shortcomings, we renew at this hour our “yes” to the Lord’s call: yes, I want to be intimately united to the Lord Jesus, in self-denial, driven on by the love of Christ. Amen.
Benedict XVI Homilies 50211