Benedict XVI Homilies 24911
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
It is moving for me to celebrate this Eucharist, this Thanksgiving, with so many people from different parts of Germany and the neighbouring countries. We offer our thanks above all to God, in whom we live and move and have our being (cf. Ac 17,28). But I would also like to thank all of you for your prayers that the Successor of Peter may continue to carry out his ministry with joy and faithful hope, and that he may strengthen his brothers in faith.
“Father, you show your almighty power in your mercy and forgiveness”, as we said in today’s Collect. In the first reading we heard how God manifested the power of his mercy in the history of Israel. The experience of the Babylonian Exile caused the people to fall into a deep crisis of faith: Why did this calamity happen? Perhaps God was not truly powerful at all?
There are theologians who, in the face of all the terrible things that happen in the world today, say that God cannot possibly be all-powerful. In response to this we profess God, the all-powerful Creator of heaven and earth. And we are glad and thankful that God is all-powerful. At the same time, we have to be aware that he exercises his power differently from the way we normally do. He has placed a limit on his power, by recognizing the freedom of his creatures. We are glad and thankful for the gift of freedom. However, when we see the terrible things that happen as a result of it, we are frightened. Let us put our trust in God, whose power manifests itself above all in mercy and forgiveness. Let us be certain, dear faithful, that God desires the salvation of his people. He desires our salvation, my salvation, the salvation of every single person. He is always close to us, especially in times of danger and radical change, and his heart aches for us, he reaches out to us. We need to open ourselves to him so that the power of his mercy can touch our hearts. We have to be ready freely to abandon evil, to raise ourselves from indifference and make room for his word. God respects our freedom. He does not constrain us. He is waiting for us to say “yes”, he as it were begs us to say “yes”.
In the Gospel Jesus takes up this fundamental theme of prophetic preaching. He recounts the parable of the two sons invited by their father to work in the vineyard. The first son responded: “‘I will not go’, but afterward he repented and went.” The other son said to the father: “‘I go, sir,’ but did not go.” When asked by Jesus which of the two sons did the father’s will, those listening rightly respond: “the first” (Mt 21,29-31). The message of the parable is clear: it is not words that matter, but deeds, deeds of conversion and faith. As we heard, Jesus directs this message to the chief priests and elders of the people of Israel, that is, to the religious experts of his people. At first they say “yes” to God’s will, but their piety becomes routine and God no longer matters to them. For this reason they find the message of John the Baptist and the message of Jesus disturbing. The Lord concludes his parable with harsh words: “Truly, the tax collectors and the harlots go into the Kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the harlots believed him, and even when you saw it, you did not afterward repent and believe him” (Mt 21,32). Translated into the language of the present day, this statement might sound something like this: agnostics, who are constantly exercised by the question of God, those who long for a pure heart but suffer on account of their sin, are closer to the Kingdom of God than believers whose life of faith is “routine” and who regard the Church merely as an institution, without letting it touch their hearts, or letting the faith touch their hearts.
These words should make all of us stop and reflect, in fact they should disturb us. However, this is by no means to suggest that everyone who lives in the Church and works for her should be considered far from Jesus and the Kingdom of God. Absolutely not! On the contrary, this is a time to offer a word of profound gratitude to the many co-workers, employees and volunteers, without whom life in the parishes and in the entire Church would be hard to imagine. The Church in Germany has many social and charitable institutions through which the love of neighbour is practised in ways that bring social benefits and reach to the ends of the earth. At this moment I would like to express my gratitude and appreciation to all those working in Caritas Germany and in other church organizations who give their time and effort generously in voluntary service to the Church. In the first place, such service requires objective and professional expertise. But in the spirit of Jesus’ teaching something more is needed – an open heart that allows itself to be touched by the love of Christ, and thus gives to our neighbour, who needs us, something more than a technical service: it gives love, in which the other person is able to see Christ, the loving God. So let us ask ourselves, in the light of today’s Gospel, how is my personal relationship with God: in prayer, in participation at Sunday Mass, in exploring my faith through meditation on sacred Scripture and study of the Catechism of the Catholic Church? Dear friends, in the last analysis, the renewal of the Church will only come about through openness to conversion and through renewed faith.
The Gospel for this Sunday, as we saw, speaks of two sons, but behind them, in a mysterious way, is a third son. The first son says “no,” but does the father’s will. The second son says “yes,” but does not do what he was asked. The third son both says “yes” and does what he was asked. This third son is the Only-begotten Son of God, Jesus Christ, who has gathered us all here. Jesus, on entering the world, said: “Lo, I have come to do thy will, O God” (He 10,7). He not only said “yes”, he acted on that “yes”, and he suffered it, even to death on the Cross. As the Christological hymn in the second reading says: “Though he was in the form of God, [Jesus] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a Cross” (Ph 2,6-8). In humility and obedience, Jesus fulfilled the will of the Father and by dying on the Cross for his brothers and sisters, for us, he saved us from our pride and obstinacy. Let us thank him for his sacrifice, let us bend our knees before his name and proclaim together with the disciples of the first generation: “Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Ph 2,11).
The Christian life must continually measure itself by Christ: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (Ph 2,5), as Saint Paul says in the introduction to the Christological hymn. And a few verses before, he exhorts us: “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any incentive of love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (Ph 2,1-2). Just as Christ was totally united to the Father and obedient to him, so too the disciples must obey God and be of one mind among themselves. Dear friends, with Paul I dare to exhort you: complete my joy by being firmly united in Christ. The Church in Germany will overcome the great challenges of the present and future, and it will remain a leaven in society, if the priests, consecrated men and women, and the lay faithful, in fidelity to their respective vocations, work together in unity, if the parishes, communities, and movements support and enrich each other, if the baptized and confirmed, in union with their bishop, lift high the torch of untarnished faith and allow it to enlighten their abundant knowledge and skills. The Church in Germany will continue to be a blessing for the entire Catholic world: if she remains faithfully united with the Successors of Saint Peter and the Apostles, if she fosters cooperation in various ways with mission countries and allows herself to be “infected” by the joy that marks the faith of these young Churches.
To his exhortation to unity, Paul adds a call to humility, saying: “Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Ph 2,3-4). Christian life is a life for others: existing for others, humble service of neighbour and of the common good. Dear friends, humility is a virtue that does not enjoy great esteem in the world of today, or indeed of any time. But the Lord’s disciples know that this virtue is, so to speak, the oil that makes the process of dialogue fruitful, cooperation possible and unity sincere. The Latin word for humility, humilitas, is derived from humus and indicates closeness to the earth. Those who are humble stand with their two feet on the ground, but above all they listen to Christ, the Word of God, who ceaselessly renews the Church and each of her members.
Let us ask God for the courage and the humility to walk the path of faith, to draw from the riches of his mercy, and to fix our gaze on Christ, the Word, who makes all things new and is for us “the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn 14,6): he is our future. Amen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
It is my great joy to be able to break with you the bread of the word of God and of the Eucharist. I am delighted to be here in Calabria and in this city, Lamezia Terme, for the first time. I offer my cordial greeting to all of you who have come here in such great numbers and I thank you for your warm welcome! I greet in particular Bishop Luigi Antonio Cantafora, your Pastor, and thank him for the courteous words of welcome he has addressed to me on behalf of all. I also greet the archbishops and bishops present, the priests, men and women religious, representatives of the ecclesial Associations and Movements. I address a respectful thought to the Mayor, Prof. Gianni Speranza, with gratitude for his courteous greeting, to the Government Representative and the civil and military Authorities, who have wished to honour this meeting with their presence. Special thanks are due to those who have generously collaborated in the realization of my Pastoral Visit.
This Sunday’s liturgy presents a parable to us that speaks of a wedding banquet to which many were invited. The First Reading, from the Book of Isaiah, prepares the ground for this theme, for it speaks about the banquet of God. It is an image — the banquet — often used in the Scriptures to indicate the joy in communion and in the abundance of the Lord’s gifts, and it gives some idea of the celebration of God with humanity as Isaiah describes: “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wine on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wine... well refined” (Is 25,6). The Prophet adds that God’s intention is to put an end to sadness and shame; he wants all people to live happily in love of him and in mutual communion. Therefore his plan is to eliminate death forever, to wipe away the tears from all faces, to take away once and for all the dishonourable condition of his people, as we heard (Is 25,7-8). All this awakens deep gratitude and hope: “Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation” (Is 25,9).
In the Gospel Jesus speaks to us of the answer that is given to the invitation of God — represented by a king — to take part in this marriage feast (cf. Mt 22,1-14). Many guests were invited but something unexpected happens: they refuse to take part in the celebration, they have other things to do; indeed, some of them show contempt for the invitation. God is generous to us, he offers us his friendship, his gifts, his joy, but often we do not welcome his words, we show greater interest in other things and put our own material concerns, our own interests, first. The king’s invitation even meets with hostile and aggressive reactions. Yet this does not impede his generosity. He is not discouraged and sends his servants out to invite many other people. The refusal of those invited first causes the invitation to be extended to everyone, even the poorest, the abandoned and disinherited. The servants gather together those they find and the wedding hall is filled: the king’s goodness knows no bounds and all are given the possibility of answering his call. However, there was one condition in order to attend this wedding feast: that the wedding garment be worn. And, on entering the hall, the king notices that someone has not wished to wear it and for this reason bars him from the banquet.
I would like to reflect for a moment on this point with a question: why did this man accept the king’s invitation, enter the banquet hall, find the door opened to him but not put on the wedding garment? What is this wedding garment? At the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, in Coena Domini, this year I mentioned a beautiful commentary on this parable by St Gregory the Great. He explains that the guest had accepted God’s invitation to take part in his banquet, that in a certain way he had faith which opened the door of the banquet hall to him, but he lacked something essential: the wedding garment, which is charity or love. And St Gregory adds: “Therefore each one of you in the Church who has faith in God has already taken part in the wedding feast, but cannot claim to wear the wedding garment unless he jealously guards the grace of love” (Homily 38, 9; PL 76, 1287). And this garment is woven symbolically on two looms of wood, one above and one below: love of God and love of neighbour (cf. ibid., 10: PL 76, 1288). We are all invited to be the Lord’s guests, to enter his banquet with faith, but we must put on and take care of the wedding garment: charity, to live in the profound love of God and neighbour.
Dear brothers and sisters, I have come to share with you the joys and hopes, efforts and commitments, ideals and aspirations of this diocesan community. I know that you have prepared yourselves for this Visit with an intense spiritual journey, taking as your motto a verse from the Acts of the Apostles: “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” (Ac 3,6). I also know that in Lamezia Terme, as in all of Calabria, there is no lack of difficulties, problems and anxieties. If we look at this beautiful region, we recognize in it a land that is seismic not just geologically but also from a structural, behavioural and social point of view; a land, that is, where problems arise in acute and destabilizing forms; a land where unemployment is staggering, where all too often a high crime rate damages the social fabric; it is a land in which one has a constant feeling of being in a state of emergency.
You Calabrians have been able to respond to the emergency with surprising promptness and readiness, with an extraordinary capacity for adapting to hardship. I am sure you will be able to overcome today’s difficulties to make way for a better future. Never give in to the temptation of pessimism or of withdrawal. Summon up the resources of your faith and your human gifts; strive to grow in the ability to collaborate, to care for others and for every public good, look after the wedding garment of love; persevere in witnessing to the human and Christian values that are so deeply rooted in the faith and history of this territory and of its population.
Dear friends, my Visit comes almost at the end of the process begun by this local Church as part of a quinquennial pastoral project. Together with you I would like to thank the Lord for the fruitful journey and for the many seeds of good that promise great hope for the future. To face the new social and religious situation, diverse from that of the past, perhaps more problematic but also richer in potential, a modern and organic pastoral endeavour is necessary, one that musters all Christian forces around the Bishop: priests, religious and lay people, animated by the common commitment to evangelization. In this regard, I learned with pleasure of the effort being made to listen attentively and perseveringly to the word of God, through organized monthly meetings in various diocesan centres and the spread of the practice of lectio divina. The School of the Social Doctrine of the Church is equally timely, both because of its well articulated proposal and because of its far-reaching circulation. I warmly hope that from these initiatives will spring a new generation of men and women who can promote not so much their private interests but rather the common good. I would also like to encourage and bless the efforts of all those, priests and lay people, who are involved in the preparation of Christian couples for marriage and the family, in order to give an evangelical and competent response to the many contemporary challenges in the area of the family and of life.
Moreover, I am aware of the zeal and dedication with which you priests carry out your pastoral service, as well as the systematic and effective work of formation you address to them, and especially to the youngest. Dear priests, I urge you to root your spiritual life ever more deeply in the Gospel, cultivating your inner life, an intense relationship with God and detaching yourselves with determination from a certain consumerist and worldly mentality, which is a recurrent temptation in the situation in which we live. Learn to grow in communion among yourselves and with your bishop, among yourselves and with the lay faithful, fostering esteem and reciprocal collaboration. There is no doubt that many benefits will derive from this for parish life and for civil society itself. May you be able to encourage the groups and movements, with discernment and in accordance with the well-known ecclesial criteria: they should be well integrated in the ordinary pastoral service of the diocese and parishes, in a profound spirit of communion.
To you, lay faithful, young people and families I say: do not be afraid to live and to witness to faith in the different sectors of society, in the many contexts of human life! You have every reason to show you are strong, confident and courageous, and this is thanks to the light of faith and the power of love. And when you encounter opposition from the world, make the Apostle’s words your own: “I can do all things in him who strengthens me” (Ph 4,13). This is how the saints behaved that blossomed down the centuries throughout Calabria. May it be they who keep you ever united and nourish in each one the desire to proclaim, with words and with works, the presence and love of Christ. May the Mother of God, whom you so deeply venerate, help you and lead you to profound knowledge of her Son. Amen!
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate,
Dear Carthusian Brothers,
Brothers and Sisters,
I thank the Lord who has brought me to this place of faith and prayer, the Charterhouse of Serra San Bruno. In renewing my grateful greeting to Archbishop Vincenzo Bertolone of Catanzaro-Squillace, I address this Carthusian Community, each one of its members, with deep affection, starting with the Prior, Fr Jacques Dupont, whom I warmly thank for his words, while I ask him to communicate my grateful thoughts and my blessing to the Minister General and to the Nuns of the Order.
I am first of all eager to stress that this Visit of mine comes in continuity with certain signs of strong communion between the Apostolic See and the Carthusian Order, which became apparent in the past century. In 1924, Pope Pius XI issued an Apostolic Constitution with which he approved the Statutes of the Order, revised in the light of the Code of Canon Law. In May 1984, Blessed John Paul II addressed a special Letter to the Minister General, on the occasion of the ninth centenary of the foundation by St Bruno of the first community at the Chartreuse [Charterhouse] near Grenoble. On 5 October that same year my beloved Predecessor came here and the memory of him walking by these walls is still vivid.
Today I come to you in the wake of these events, past but ever timely, and I would like our meeting to highlight the deep bond that exists between Peter and Bruno, between pastoral service to the Church’s unity and the contemplative vocation in the Church. Ecclesial communion, in fact, demands an inner force, that force which Father Prior has just recalled, citing the expression “captus ab Uno”, ascribed to St Bruno: “grasped by the One”, by God, “Unus potens per omnia”, as we sang in the Vespers hymn. From the contemplative community the ministry of pastors draws a spiritual sap that comes from God.
“Fugitiva relinquere et aeterna captare”: to abandon transient realities and seek to grasp that which is eternal. These words from the letter your Founder addressed to Rudolph, Provost of Rheims, contain the core of your spirituality (cf. Letter to Rudolph, n. 13): the strong desire to enter in union of life with God, abandoning everything else, everything that stands in the way of this communion, and letting oneself be grasped by the immense love of God to live this love alone.
Dear brothers you have found the hidden treasure, the pearl of great value (cf. Mt 13,44-46); you have responded radically to Jesus’ invitation: “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mt 19,21). Every monastery — male or female — is an oasis in which the deep well, from which to draw “living water” to quench our deepest thirst, is constantly being dug with prayer and meditation. However, the charterhouse is a special oasis in which silence and solitude are preserved with special care, in accordance with the form of life founded by St Bruno and which has remained unchanged down the centuries. “I live in a rather faraway hermitage... with some religious brothers”, is the concise sentence that your Founder wrote (Letter to Rudolph “the Green”, n. 4). The Successor of Peter’s Visit to this historic Charterhouse is not only intended to strengthen those of you who live here but the entire Order in its mission which is more than ever timely and meaningful in today’s world.
Technical progress, especially in the area of transport and communications, has made human life more comfortable but also more keyed up, at times even frenetic. Cities are almost always noisy, silence is rarely to be found in them because there is always background noise, in some areas even at night. In recent decades, moreover, the development of the media has spread and extended a phenomenon that had already been outlined in the 1960s: virtuality risks predominating over reality. Unbeknownst to them, people are increasingly becoming immersed in a virtual dimension because of the audiovisual messages that accompany their life from morning to night.
The youngest, born into this condition, seem to want to fill every empty moment with music and images, out of fear of feeling this very emptiness. This is a trend that has always existed, especially among the young and in the more developed urban contexts but today it has reached a level such as to give rise to talk about anthropological mutation. Some people are no longer able to remain for long periods in silence and solitude.
I chose to mention this socio-cultural condition because it highlights the specific charism of the Charterhouse as a precious gift for the Church and for the world, a gift that contains a deep message for our life and for the whole of humanity. I shall sum it up like this: by withdrawing into silence and solitude, human beings, so to speak, “expose” themselves to reality in their nakedness, to that apparent “void”, which I mentioned at the outset, in order to experience instead Fullness, the presence of God, of the most real Reality that exists and that lies beyond the tangible dimension. He is a perceptible presence in every creature: in the air that we breathe, in the light that we see and that warms us, in the grass, in stones.... God, Creator omnium, [the Creator of all], passes through all things but is beyond them and for this very reason is the foundation of them all.
The monk, in leaving everything, “takes a risk”, as it were: he exposes himself to solitude and silence in order to live on nothing but the essential, and precisely in living on the essential he also finds a deep communion with his brethren, with every human being.
Some might think that it would suffice to come here to take this “leap”. But it is not like this. This vocation, like every vocation, finds an answer in an ongoing process, in a life-long search. Indeed it is not enough to withdraw to a place such as this in order to learn to be in God’s presence. Just as in marriage it is not enough to celebrate the Sacrament to become effectively one but it is necessary to let God’s grace act and to walk together through the daily routine of conjugal life, so becoming monks requires time, practice and patience, “in a divine and persevering vigilance”, as St Bruno said, they “await the return of their Lord so that they might be able to open the door to him as soon as he knocks” (Letter to Rudolph “the Green”, n. 4); and the beauty of every vocation in the Church consists precisely in this: giving God time to act with his Spirit and to one’s own humanity to form itself, to grow in that particular state of life according to the measure of the maturity of Christ.
In Christ there is everything, fullness; we need time to make one of the dimensions of his mystery our own. We could say that this is a journey of transformation in which the mystery of Christi’s resurrection is brought about and made manifest in us, a mystery of which the word of God in the biblical Reading from the Letter to the Romans has reminded us this evening: the Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead and will give life to our mortal bodies also (cf. Rm 8,11) is the One who also brings about our configuration to Christ in accordance with each one’s vocation, a journey that unwinds from the baptismal font to death, a passing on to the Father’s house. In the world’s eyes it sometimes seems impossible to spend one’s whole life in a monastery but in fact a whole life barely suffices to enter into this union with God, into this essential and profound Reality which is Jesus Christ.
This is why I have come here, dear Brothers who make up the Carthusian Community of Serra San Bruno, to tell you that the Church needs you and that you need the Church! Your place is not on the fringes: no vocation in the People of God is on the fringes. We are one body, in which every member is important and has the same dignity, and is inseparable from the whole. You too, who live in voluntary isolation, are in the heart of the Church and make the pure blood of contemplation and of the love of God course through your veins.
Stat Crux dum volvitur orbis [the cross is steady while the world is turning], your motto says. The Cross of Christ is the firm point in the midst of the world’s changes and upheavals. Life in a Charterhouse shares in the stability of the Cross which is that of God, of God’s faithful love. By remaining firmly united to Christ, like the branches to the Vine, may you too, dear Carthusian Brothers, be associated with his mystery of salvation, like the Virgin Mary who stabat (stood) beneath the Cross, united with her Son in the same sacrifice of love.
Thus, like Mary and with her, you too are deeply inserted in the mystery of the Church, a sacrament of union of men with God and with each other. In this you are singularly close to my ministry. May the Most Holy Mother of the Church therefore watch over us and the holy Father Bruno always bless your community from Heaven. Amen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today I celebrate Holy Mass with joy for you who are involved in many parts of the world on the front of the New Evangelization. This liturgy concludes of the meeting that called you yesterday to an exchange on the areas of this mission and to listen to several significant testimonies. I myself wished to offer you some thoughts, whereas today I break the bread of the Word and of the Eucharist with you, in the certainty – shared by us all – that without Christ, the Word and Bread of Life, we can do nothing (cf. Jn 15,5). I am glad that this congress fits into the context of the month of October, exactly a week before World Mission Day: this reminds us of the proper universal dimension of the New Evangelization, in harmony with that of the mission ad gentes.
I address a cordial greeting to all of you who have accepted the invitation of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization. In particular, I greet and thank the President of this recently established dicastery, Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella, and his collaborators.
Let us now come to the biblical Readings in which the Lord speaks to us today. The first, taken from the Second Book of Isaiah, tells us that God is one, there is no other; there are no gods other than the Lord and even the powerful Cyrus, Emperor of the Persians, was part of a larger plan that God alone knew and carried ahead. This Reading gives us the theological meaning of history: the epochal upheavals and the succession of great powers are under the supreme domination of God; no earthly power can stand in his stead. The theology of history is an important and essential aspect of the New Evangelization because the people of our time, after the inauspicious season of the totalitarian empires in the 20th century, need to rediscover an overall look at the world and at time, a truly free, peaceful look, that look which the second Vatican Council communicated in its documents and which my predecessors, the Servant of God Paul vi and Bl. John Paul ii, illustrated with their Magisterium.
The Second Reading is the beginning of the First Letter to the Thessalonians and this is already very evocative because it is the oldest letter that has come down to us of the greatest evangelizer of all time, the Apostle Paul. He tells us first of all that one does not evangelize by oneself: in fact he too had collaborators, Silvanus and Timothy (cf. 1Th 1,1) and many others. And he immediately adds something else that is very important: that proclamation must always be preceded, accompanied and followed by prayer. Indeed, he writes: “We give thanks to God always for you all, constantly mentioning you in our prayers” (1Th 1,2). The Apostle then says he is well aware of the fact that he did not choose the members of the community, but that [God]: “has chosen you”, he says (1Th 1,4).
Every Gospel missionary must always bear in mind this truth: it is the Lord who touches hearts with his word and with his Spirit, calling people to faith and to communion in the Church. Lastly, Paul leaves us a very valuable teaching, taken from his experience. He writes: “our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1Th 1,5). Evangelization, to be effective, needs the power of the Spirit, who gives life to proclamation and imbues those who convey it with the “full conviction” of which the Apostle speaks. This term “conviction” or “full conviction” in the original Greek is pleroforia: a word that does not so much express the subjective, psychological aspect, rather the fullness, fidelity, completeness, in this case of the proclamation of Christ. It is a proclamation which, to be complete and faithful, asks to be accompanied by signs and gestures, like the preaching of Jesus. Word, Spirit and certainty — understood in this way — are therefore inseparable and compete to ensure that the Gospel message is spread effectively.
Let us now reflect on the Gospel passage. It is the text about the legitimacy of the tribute to be paid to Caesar which contains Jesus’ famous answer: “render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mt 22,21). But, before reaching this point there is a passage that can be applied to those who have the mission of evangelizing. Indeed, those who are speaking with Jesus — disciples of the Pharisees and the Herodians — compliment him, saying “we know that you are true, and teach the way of God truthfully, and care for no man” (Mt 22,16). It is this affirmation itself, although it is prompted by hypocrisy, that must attract our attention. The disciples of the Pharisees and Herodians do not believe in what they say. They are only affirming it as a captatio benevolentiae to make people listen to them, but their heart is far from that truth; indeed, they want to lure Jesus into a trap to be able to accuse him. For us, instead, those words are precious: indeed, Jesus is true and teaches the way of God according to the truth, and stands in awe of none. He himself is that “way of God”, which we are called to take. Here we may recall the words of Jesus himself in John’s Gospel: “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn 14,6).
In this regard St Augustine’s comment is illuminating: “It was necessary for Jesus to say ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life’, when knowing the way by which he went they had to learn where he was going. The way led to truth, it led to life.... And where are we going, but to him, and by what way do we go, but by him? (In Evangelium Johannis tractatus 69, 2). The new evangelizers are called to walk first on this Way that is Christ, to make others know the beauty of the Gospel that gives life. And on this Way one never walks alone but in company, an experience of communion and brotherhood that is offered to all those we meet, to share with them our experience of Christ and of his Church. Thus testimony combined with proclamation can open the hearts of those who are seeking the truth so that they are able to arrive at the meaning of their own life.
A brief reflection also on the central question of the tribute to Caesar. Jesus replies with a surprising political realism, linked to the theocentrism of the prophetic tradition. The tribute to Caesar must be paid because his image is on the coin; but the human being, every person, carries in him- or herself another image, that of God, and therefore it is to him and to him alone that each one owes his or her existence. The Fathers of the Church, drawing inspiration from the fact that Jesus was referring to the image of the Emperor impressed on the coin of the tribute, interpreted this passage in the light of the fundamental concept of the human being as an image of God, contained in the first chapter of the Book of Genesis.
An anonymous author wrote: “The image of God is not impressed on gold, but on the human race. Caesar’s coin is gold, God’s coin is humanity…. Therefore give your riches to Caesar but keep for God the unique innocence of your conscience, where God is contemplated…. Caesar, in fact, asked that his image be on every coin, but God chose man, whom he created to reflect his glory” (Anonymous, Incomplete Work on Matthew, Homily 42). And St Augustine used this reference several times in his homilies: “If Caesar reclaims his own image impressed on the coin”, he says, “will not God demand from man the divine image sculpted within him?” (En. Ps., Psalm 94:2). And further, “as the tribute money is rendered to him [Caesar], so should the soul be rendered to God, illumined and stamped with the light of his countenance” (ibid. , Ps 4,8).
This word of Jesus is rich in anthropological content and it cannot be reduced only to the political context. The Church, therefore, is not limited to reminding human beings of the right distinction between the sphere of Caesar’s authority and that of God, between the political and religious contexts. The mission of the Church, like that of Christ, is essentially to speak of God, to remember his sovereignty, to remind all, especially Christians who have lost their own identity, of the right of God to what belongs to him, that is, our life.
Precisely in order to give a fresh impetus to the mission of the whole Church to lead human beings out of the wilderness in which they often find themselves to the place of life, friendship with Christ that gives us life in fullness, I have decided to proclaim a “Year of Faith”, which I shall have the opportunity to illustrate with a special Apostolic Letter. It will begin on 11 October 2012 on the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and will end on 24 November 2013, the Solemnity of Christ the King. It will be a moment of grace and commitment for an ever fuller conversion to God, to strengthen our faith in him and to proclaim him with joy to the people of our time.
Dear brothers and sisters, you are among the protagonists of the New Evangelization that the Church has undertaken and carries forth, not without difficulties but with the same enthusiasm as the first Christians. To conclude, I make my own the words of the Apostle Paul that we have heard: I give thanks to God always for you all, constantly mentioning you in my prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
May the Virgin Mary, who was not afraid to answer “yes” to the Word of the Lord and, after conceiving in her womb, set out full of joy and hope, always be your model and your guide. Learn from the Mother of the Lord and our Mother to be humble and at the same time courageous, simple and prudent; meek and strong, not with the strength of the world but with the strength of the truth. Amen.
Benedict XVI Homilies 24911