Benedict XVI Homilies 16101
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The day after the liturgical commemoration of all the faithful departed we are gathered at the altar of the Lord to offer his Sacrifice in suffrage for the cardinals and bishops who, during the course of this year, came to the end of their earthly pilgrimage. With great affection we recall the venerable members of the College of Cardinals who have left us: Urbano Navarrete, SJ, Michele Giordano, Varkey Vithayathil, CSRR, Giovanni Saldarini, Agustín García-Gasco Vicente, Georg Maximilian Sterzinsky, Kazimierz Swiatek, Virgilio Noè, Aloysius Matthew Ambrozic, Andrzej Maria Deskur. Together with them we present before the throne of the Most High the souls of the late Brothers in the Episcopate. For each and everyone we offer our prayers, enlivened by faith in eternal life and in the mystery of the communion of saints; a faith full of hope, also enlightened by the Word of God that we have heard.
The passage taken from the Book of the Prophet Hosea turns our thoughts immediately to the Resurrection of Jesus, to the mystery of his death and his reawakening to everlasting life. This text of Hosea — the first half of chapter six — was deeply impressed upon the heart and mind of Jesus. In fact, more than once in the Gospels he repeats verse six: “I desire love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God, rather than burnt offerings”. Jesus does not cite verse two but he makes it his own and brings it about in the Paschal Mystery: “After two days he will give life back to us and on the third he will raise us up again, and we will live in his presence”. In the light of these words the Lord Jesus entered the passion, he decisively embarked upon the road to the cross; he spoke openly to his disciples of what was to happen to him in Jerusalem, and the words of the Prophet Hosea echoed in his words: “The Son of man will be delivered into the hands of men and they will kill him; and when he is killed, after three days, he will rise” (Mc 9,31).
The Evangelist notes that the disciples “did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to ask him” (Mc 9,32). We too, in the face of death, cannot fail to experience the sentiments and thoughts dictated by our human condition. And we are always surprised and overcome by a God indeed, who draws so close to us that he does not even stop before the abyss of death, who rather passes through it, remaining in the tomb for two days. However, exactly here the mystery of the “third day” occurs. Christ takes on our mortal flesh completely that it may be invested with the glorious power of God, by the breath of the life-giving Spirit who transforms and regenerates it. This is the baptism of the passion (cf. Lc 12,50), which Jesus received for us and about which St Paul writes in the Letter to the Romans. The expression used by the Apostle — “baptized into his death” (Rm 6,3) — never ceases to surprise us, such is the precision with which he summarizes the breathtaking mystery. Christ’s death is the source of life, for into it God poured all of his love, as in an immense cascade, which makes us think of the image of Psalm 42: “Deep calls to deep / at the thunder of your cataracts / all your waves and all your billows have gone over me” (Ps 42,8). The abyss of death is filled by another abyss that is greater still, namely, the love of God, which is such that death no longer has power over Jesus Christ (cf. Rm 8,9), nor over those who are associated with him through faith and baptism: “If we have died with Christ”, says St Paul, “we believe that we shall also live with him” (Rm 6,8). This “living with Jesus” is the fulfilment of the hope prophesied by Hosea: “… and we will live in his presence” (Rm 6,2).
In truth, it is only in Christ that such a hope finds its real foundation. It had previously run the risk of becoming an illusion, a symbol taken from the rhythm of the seasons: “as the showers, as the spring rains” (Rm 6,3). At the time of the Prophet Hosea the faith of the Israelites was in danger of being contaminated by the naturalistic religions of the land of Canaan, but this faith is unable to save anyone from death. God’s intervention in the drama of human history, however, does not obey any natural cycle; it only obeys his grace and faithfulness. The new and eternal life is the fruit of the tree of the Cross, a tree that blossoms and bears fruit from the light and power that radiate from the sun of God. Without the Cross of Christ all the energy of nature remains powerless before the negative force of sin. A beneficial force greater than that which moves the cycles of nature is needed, a Good greater than that of Creation itself: a love that proceeds from the “heart” of God himself and that, while it reveals the ultimate meaning of creation, renews it and directs it toward its original and final goal.
All of this happened in those “three days”, when the “grain of wheat” fell into the earth; where it remained for the time necessary to fill up the measure of the justice and mercy of God, and in the end produced “much fruit”, not remaining alone, but as the firstborn of many brothers (cf. Jn 12,24 Rm 8,29). Now, thanks to Christ and the work accomplished through him by the Most Holy Trinity, the images drawn from nature are no longer only symbols, illusory myths, but speak to us of a reality. At the origin of hope is the desire of the Father and the Son, which we heard about in the Gospel for this liturgy: “Father, I desire that those whom you have given me, may be with me where I am” (Jn 17,24). And among those whom the Father gave to Jesus are also the venerable Brothers for whom we offer this Eucharist: They “knew” God through Jesus, they knew his name, and love of the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit, dwelled in them (cf. Jn 12,25-26), opening their life to heaven, to eternity. Let us thank God for this priceless gift. And, through the intercession of Mary Most Holy, let us pray that this mystery of communion, which filled their whole existence, be fully realized in each one of them.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
It is a joy for me to celebrate Vespers with you, the great community of Pontifical Universities in Rome. I greet Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, thanking him for the kind words he addressed to me and especially for his service as Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, assisted by the Secretary and the other members of staff. To them, and to all the rectors, professors and students, I extend my most cordial greeting.
Seventy years ago Venerable Pius XII established the Pontifical Work for Priestly Vocations with the Motu Proprio Cum Nobis (cf. AAS 33 [4 Nov. 1941], 479-481). Its purpose was to promote vocations to the priesthood, to spread knowledge of the dignity of and need for the ordained ministry and to encourage the faithful to pray so as to obtain many worthy priests from the Lord. For the anniversary, I would like to offer you some reflections this evening on the priestly ministry. The Motu Proprio Cum Nobis marked the beginning of a vast movement of prayer initiatives and pastoral activities. It was a clear and generous response to the Lord’s call: “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest” (Mt 9,37). After the Pontifical Mission had been launched, others like it developed everywhere. Among these I would like to mention Serra International founded by some entrepreneurs from the United States and named after Fr Junípero Serra, a Spanish Franciscan friar, with the aim of encouraging and supporting vocations to the priesthood and helping seminarians financially. I address a kind thought to the Serra members who are celebrating the 60th anniversary of their recognition by the Holy See. The Pontifical Work for Priestly Vocations was established on the liturgical feast of St Charles Borromeo, revered patron of seminarians. Let us ask him also at this celebration, to intercede for reawakening a sound formation and for an increase of vocations to the priesthood.
The Word of God, which we heard in the passage from the First Letter to Peter, also invites us to meditate on the mission of pastors in the Christian community. From the dawn of the Church, importance was clearly given to the leaders of the first communities established by the Apostles for the proclamation of the Word of God through preaching and the celebration of the sacrifice of Christ, the Eucharist. Peter avidly encourages them: “I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness to the sufferings of Christ as well as a partaker in the glory that is to be revealed” (1P 5,1). St Peter made this appeal on the strength of his personal relationship with Christ, which culminated in the dramatic events of the Passion and the experience of meeting him [Christ] risen from the dead. Peter also relies on the mutual solidarity of pastors in the ministry, underlining his and their belonging to the one Apostolic order: by saying “as a fellow elder”; the Greek term for this is sumpresbyteros. Tending the flock of Christ is a vocation and it is a common task for them and makes them particularly united because they are united to Christ by a special bond. In fact, the Lord Jesus compared himself many times to a caring shepherd, attentive to each one of his sheep. He said: “I am the good shepherd” (Jn 10,11). St Thomas Aquinas commented: “Although the Church’s leaders, are all shepherds, nevertheless he says explicitly ‘I am the good shepherd’, in order to introduce the virtue of charity gently. For no one can be a good shepherd unless he has become one with Christ and his members through charity. The first duty of a good shepherd is charity”. Thus St Thomas Aquinas comments on the Gospel of St John (cf. Expositio in evangelium Joannis, ch. 10, Lect. 3).
The Apostle Peter’s conception of the call to the ministry of leading the community is great. It was conceived in continuity with the special election of the Twelve. The apostolic vocation lives on thanks to the personal relationship with Christ, nourished by regular prayer and enlivened by the passion to spread the message received and the same experience of faith as the Apostles. Jesus called the Twelve to be with him and to be sent out to preach his message (cf. Mc 3,14). There are certain conditions to ensure growing harmony in priestly life with Christ. I would like to emphasize three of these, which emerge from the Reading that we have just heard: aspiration to work with Jesus in spreading in the Kingdom of God, pastoral duty freely given and the attitude of service.
First, in the call to the priestly ministry we meet Jesus and are drawn to him, struck by his words, his actions, and his person. It is to have the grace to distinguish his voice from so many other voices and to respond like Peter: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (Jn 6,68-69). It is like being touched by the radiance of Goodness and Love that shines from him, feeling enfolded and involved to the point of wishing to stay with him like the two disciples of Emmaus — “Stay with us, for it is toward evening” (Lc 24,29) and to proclaim the Gospel to the world. God the Father sent the Eternal Son into the world to bring about his plan of salvation. Jesus Christ established the Church so that it might extend in time the benefits of Redemption. The vocation of priests is rooted in the Father’s action realized in Christ, through the Holy Spirit. Therefore the Gospel minister is the one who lets himself be seized by Christ, who knows how to “stay” with him, who enters into harmony, into an intimate friendship with him, so that all is done “not by constraint but willingly” (1P 5,2), according to his will of love, with great interior freedom and profound joy in the heart.
In the second place, we are called to be administrators of the Mysteries of God “not for shameful gain but eagerly”, St Peter says in the Reading of this evening’s Vespers (ibid. 1P 5,2). One should never forget that one comes into the priesthood through the Sacrament of Orders and this means exactly opening oneself to the God’s action by choosing daily to give oneself up for God and for one’s brethren, according to the Gospel saying: “You received without pay, give without pay” (Mt 10,8). The Lord’s call to the ministry is not the fruit of special merit but a gift to be received and responded to by dedicating oneself not to one’s own plan but to God’s, in a generous and disinterested way, for he sends us out according to his will, even if this might not correspond to our idea of self-fulfilment. To love with him who loved us first and gave all of himself and to be open to allow oneself to become part of that act of full and total love for the Father and for every human being, fulfilled on Calvary. We must never forget — as priests — that the only legitimate ascent to the ministry of the pastor is not that of success, but of the Cross.
In this logic, being a priest means being a servant also through an exemplary life. Be “examples to the flock” is the Apostle Peter’s invitation (1P 5,3). Priests are stewards of the means of salvation, of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Reconciliation, not to dispense them according to their own will, but as humble servants for the good of the People of God. It is a life profoundly marked by this service: by care for the flock, by faithful celebration of the liturgy, and by ready concern for all brothers and sisters, especially for the poorest and most needy. In practising this “pastoral charity” modelled on Christ and with Christ, wherever the Lord may call you, every priest can completely fulfil himself and his vocation.
Dear brothers and sisters, I have offered some reflections on the priestly ministry. Also the consecrated and lay persons, I am thinking especially of the many religious and lay people who study at the Ecclesiastical Universities of Rome, as well as those who serve there as teachers or as personnel, can find useful elements for living out their time in the Eternal City more intensely. It is important for everyone, in fact, to learn ever better how to “remain” with the Lord daily in personal encounters to allow his love to take hold of them and to be proclaimers of the Gospel. It is important to seek to live one’s life generously, not according to one’s own plan, but to the one God has for each of us, conforming our own will to the Lord’s; it is important to be prepared, also through serious and committed study, to serve the People of God in the tasks which will be entrusted to them.
Dear friends, live sagely, in close communion with the Lord, this time of formation: it is a precious gift that God offers you, especially here in Rome where, in a completely unique way, the catholicity of the Church lives and breathes. May St Charles Borromeo obtain the grace of faith for everyone studying at the Roman Ecclesiastical Universities. May the Lord grant each of you, through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Sedes Sapientiae, a productive academic year. Amen.
Dear Brother Bishops and Priests,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Following in the footsteps of my blessed predecessor Pope John Paul II, it is a great joy for me to visit for the second time this dear continent of Africa, coming among you, in Benin, to address to you a message of hope and of peace. I would like first of all to express my cordial gratitude to Archbishop Antoine Ganyé Cotonou, for his words of welcome and to greet the Bishops of Benin, as well as the Cardinals and Bishops from various African countries and from other continents. To all of you, dear brothers and sisters, who have come to this Mass celebrated by the Successor of Peter, I offer my warm greetings. I am thinking certainly of the faithful of Benin, but also of those from other French-speaking countries, such as Togo, Burkina Faso, Niger and others. Our Eucharistic celebration on the Solemnity of Christ the King is an occasion to give thank to God for the one hundred and fifty years that have passed since the beginnings of the evangelization of Benin; it is also an occasion to express our gratitude to him for the Second Special Assembly of the Synod of African Bishops which was held in Rome a few months ago.
The Gospel which we have just heard tells us that Jesus, the Son of Man, the ultimate judge of our lives, wished to appear as one who hungers and thirsts, as a stranger, as one of those who are naked, sick or imprisoned, ultimately, of those who suffer or are outcast; how we treat them will be taken as the way we treat Jesus himself. We do not see here a simple literary device, or a simple metaphor. Jesus’s entire existence is an example of it. He, the Son of God, became man, he shared our existence, even down to the smallest details, he became the servant of the least of his brothers and sisters. He who had nowhere to lay his head, was condemned to death on a cross. This is the King we celebrate!
Without a doubt this can appear a little disconcerting to us. Today, like two thousand years ago, accustomed to seeing the signs of royalty in success, power, money and ability, we find it hard to accept such a king, a king who makes himself the servant of the little ones, of the most humble, a king whose throne is a cross. And yet, the Scriptures tell us, in this is the glory of Christ revealed; it is in the humility of his earthly existence that he finds his power to judge the world. For him, to reign is to serve! And what he asks of us is to follow him along the way, to serve, to be attentive to the cry of the poor, the weak, the outcast. The baptized know that the decision to follow Christ can entail great sacrifices, at times even the sacrifice of one’s life. However, as Saint Paul reminds us, Christ has overcome death and he brings us with him in his resurrection. He introduces us to a new world, a world of freedom and joy. Today, so much still binds us to the world of the past, so many fears hold us prisoners and prevent us from living in freedom and happiness. Let us allow Christ to free us from the world of the past! Our faith in him, which frees us from all our fears and miseries, gives us access to a new world, a world where justice and truth are not a byword, a world of interior freedom and of peace with ourselves, with our neighbours and with God. This is the gift God gave us at our baptism!
“Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Mt 25,34). Let us receive this word of blessing which the Son of Man will, on the Day of Judgement, address to those who have recognized his presence in the lowliest of their brethren, with a heart free and full of the love of the Lord! Brothers and sisters, the words of the Gospel are truly words of hope, because the King of the universe has drawn near to us, the servant of the least and lowliest. Here I would like to greet with affection all those persons who are suffering, those who are sick, those affected by AIDS or by other illnesses, to all those forgotten by society. Have courage! The Pope is close to you in his thoughts and prayers. Have courage! Jesus wanted to identify himself with the poor, with the sick; he wanted to share your suffering and to see you as his brothers and sisters, to free you from every affliction, from all suffering. Every sick person, every poor person deserves our respect and our love because, through them, God shows us the way to heaven.
This morning, I invite you once again to rejoice with me. One hundred and fifty years ago the cross of Christ was raised in your country, and the Gospel was proclaimed for the first time. Today, we give thanks to God for the work accomplished by the missionaries, by the “apostolic workers” who first came from among you or from distant lands, bishops, priests, men and women religious, catechists, all those who, both yesterday and today, enabled the growth of the faith in Jesus Christ on the African continent. I honour here the memory of the venerable Cardinal Bernardin Gantin, an example of faith and of wisdom for Benin and for the entire African continent.
Dear brothers and sisters, everyone who has received this marvellous gift of faith, this gift of an encounter with the risen Lord, feels in turn the need to proclaim it to others. The Church exists to proclaim this Good News! And this duty is always urgent! After 150 years, many are those who have not heard the message of salvation in Christ! Many, too, are those who are hesitant to open their hearts to the word of God! Many are those whose faith is weak, whose way of thinking, habits and lifestyle do not know the reality of the Gospel, and who think that seeking selfish satisfaction, easy gain or power is the ultimate goal of human life. With enthusiasm, be ardent witnesses of the faith which you have received! Make the loving face of the Saviour shine in every place, in particular before the young, who search for reasons to live and hope in a difficult world!
The Church in Benin has received much from her missionaries: she must in turn carry this message of hope to people who do not know or who no longer know the Lord Jesus. Dear brothers and sisters, I ask you to be concerned for evangelization in your country, and among the peoples of your continent and the whole world. The recent Synod of Bishops for Africa stated this in no uncertain terms: the man of hope, the Christian, cannot be uninterested in his brothers and sisters. This would be completely opposed to the example of Jesus. The Christian is a tireless builder of communion, peace and solidarity - gifts which Jesus himself has given us. By being faithful to him, we will cooperate in the realization of God’s plan of salvation for humanity.
Dear brothers and sisters, I urge you, therefore, to strengthen your faith in Jesus Christ, to be authentically converted to him. He alone gives us the true life and can liberate us for all our fears and sluggishness, from all our anguish. Rediscover the roots of your existence in the baptism which you received and which makes you children of God! May Jesus Christ give you strength to live as Christians and to find ways to transmit generously to new generations what you have received from your fathers in faith! AKLUN? NI K?N F?NU T?N L? DO MI JI [Fon: May the Lord fill you with his graces!]
On this feast day, we rejoice together in the reign of Christ the King over the whole world. He is the one who removes all that hinders reconciliation, justice and peace. We are reminded that true royalty does not consist in a show of power, but in the humility of service; not in the oppression of the weak, but in the ability to protect them and to lead them to life in abundance (cf. Jn 10,10). Christ reigns from the Cross and, with his arms open wide, he embraces all the peoples of the world and draws them into unity. Through the Cross, he breaks down the walls of division, he reconciles us with each other and with the Father. We pray today for the people of Africa, that all may be able to live in justice, peace and the joy of the Kingdom of God (cf. Rm 14,17). With these sentiments I affectionately greet all the English-speaking faithful who have come from Ghana and Nigeria and neighbouring countries. May God bless all of you!
[Dear brothers and sisters of the Portuguese-speaking nations of Africa who are listening to me! I greet all of you and I invite you to renew your decision to belong to Christ and to serve his Kingdom of reconciliation, justice and peace. His Kingdom can be threatened in our hearts. There God comes face to face with our freedom. We – and we alone – can prevent him from reigning over us and consequently obstructing his Lordship over our families, society and history. Because of Christ, many men and women successfully opposed the temptations of the world in order to live their faith truly, even to martyrdom. Dear pastors and faithful, following their example, be the salt and light of Christ, in the land of Africa! Amen.]
Dear Brothers and Sisters of the Parish of Santa Maria della Grazie,
We have heard Isaiah’s prophesy, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted... to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour” (Is 61,1-2). These words spoken so many centuries ago, ring out, in a very up-to-date way for us too, today, while we are halfway through Advent and already look forward to the great Solemnity of Christmas. These are words that revive hope, that prepare us to welcome the Lord’s salvation and announce the inauguration of a season of grace and liberation.
Advent is precisely a time of waiting, of hope and of preparation for the Lord’s coming. The figure and preaching of John the Baptist invite us to make this commitment, as we heard in the Gospel that has just been proclaimed (cf. Jn 1,6-8 Jn 1,19-28). John had withdrawn into the wilderness to live a very austere life and to invite people to conversion, also by the example of his life. He conferred on them a baptism of water, a single rite of penance which distinguished it from the many rites of external purification of the sects of that time.
So who was this man? Who was John the Baptist? The response he himself gave is surprisingly humble. He was not the Messiah, he was not the light. He was neither Elijah come back to the earth nor the great prophet awaited. He was the Forerunner, a simple witness, totally subordinate to the One he proclaimed; a voice in the wilderness, as in our day too, in the wilderness of the great cities of this world, of the great absence of God, we need voices that simply announce to us “God exists. He is always near, even if he seems absent”.
John the Baptist was a voice in the wilderness and a witness to the light; and this moves our hearts, for in this world where there are so many shadows, so much darkness, we are all called to be witnesses of light. This is the mission of the Season of Advent itself: to be witnesses of light, and we can only be this if we carry the light within us, if we are not only certain that the light exists, but also that we have seen a ray of light.
In the Church, in God’s word, in the celebration of the sacraments, in the Sacrament of Confession with the forgiveness that we receive, in the celebration of the Blessed Eucharist where the Lord gives himself into our hands and hearts, we touch the light and receive this mission: to bear witness today that there is light, and to carry the light in our time.
Dear brothers and sisters, I am very glad to be with you on this beautiful, “Gaudete” Sunday, the Sunday of joy that tells us that “even in the midst of so many doubts and difficulties, joy exists because God exists and is with us!”.
I cordially greet the Cardinal Vicar, the Auxiliary Bishop of the sector, your parish priest, Fr Domenico Monteforte, whom I thank not only for his kind words to me on behalf of you all, but also for the beautiful gift of the parish history. And I greet the parochial vicar. I also greet the religious communities, the Sisters, Apostles of the Consolata, the Religious Teachers Venerini and the Guanellians; they are a precious presence in your parish and an important spiritual and pastoral resource for the life of the community as witnesses of light!
I also greet all those who are involved in the parish context. I am referring to the catechists — I thank them for their work — the members of the prayer group inspired by the Renewal in the Holy Spirit and the young people of the Gioventù Ardente Mariana Movement.
Next I would like to extend my thoughts to all the inhabitants of the neighbourhood, especially the elderly, the sick, those who are lonely or in difficulty, without forgetting the large Filipino community which is well integrated and plays an active part in the fundamental moments of community life.
Your parish came into being in one of the typical suburbs of the Agro Romano. It was canonically established in 1985 with this beautiful title: Santa Maria delle Grazie [St Mary of Grace], it took its first steps in the 1960s when, at the initiative of a group of Dominican Fathers led by the memorable Fr Gerard Reed, a small chapel was set up in a family home that was later moved to larger premises and served as the parish church until 2010, last year. In that year, in fact, as you know the building in which we are celebrating the Eucharist was dedicated precisely on 1 May. This new church is a privileged space for growing in the knowledge and love of the One whom we shall welcome in a few days’ time in the joy of his Birth.
As I look at this church and at the parish buildings, I see them as the result of your patience, dedication and love and I would like to encourage you with my presence to bring into being, better and better, the Church of living stones which you yourselves are.
Each one of you must feel you are an element of this living building. The community is built with the contribution that each one makes, with the commitment of all; and I am thinking in a special way of the field of catechesis, that of the liturgy and that of charity: pillars that support Christian life.
Yours is a young community, I saw it in greeting your children. It is young because it is made up of young families — especially with regard to the new settlements — and because so many children and boys and girls live in it, thanks be to God! I warmly hope that through the contribution of competent and generous people, your educational commitment may develop ever better and that your parish, also with the help of the Vicariate of Rome, may set up as soon as possible a well-structured after-school recreation and prayer centre with sufficient space for games and meeting-rooms, so as to meet the need of the young generations to develop in faith and in a healthy sociability.
I congratulate you on your work in preparing the boys and girls and young people to receive the sacraments. The challenge we are facing consists in planning and proposing a true and proper itinerary of formation in faith which involves all those who are receiving Christian initiation, helping them not only to receive the sacraments but to live them out, in order to be true Christians. This aim, to receive, must be to live, as we heard in the First Reading: justice must sprout, just as the seed sprouts from the ground. Live the sacraments so that justice, law and love will sprout likewise.
In this regard, the diocesan pastoral work that is currently being reviewed and that concerns, precisely, Christian initiation, is a favourable opportunity to deepen and live the Sacraments we have already received — such as Baptism and Confirmation — and those we continue to receive for nourishment on our journey of faith, Penance and the Eucharist. For this reason, necessary in the first place is attention to the relationship with God through listening to his word, through your response to the word in prayer and through the gift of the Eucharist.
I know that in your parish prayer meetings take place and lectio divina and that Eucharistic adoration is organized. These are precious initiatives for spiritual growth at the personal and community levels. I warmly urge more and more of you to take part in them. In a special way I would like to recall the importance and centrality of the Eucharist. May the centre of your Sunday be Holy Mass which should be rediscovered and lived as a day of God and of the community, a day on which to praise and celebrate the One who was born for us, who died and rose for our salvation and asks us to live together joyfully and to be a community open and ready to receive every person who is lonely or in difficulty.
Do not lose your sense of Sunday and be faithful to the Eucharistic gathering. The early Christians were prepared to give their lives for this. They realized that this is life and gives life.
In coming to see you I cannot but know that a great challenge is posed to your territory by religious groups who claim to be the depositaries of the Gospel truth. In this regard it is my duty to recommend you to be alert and to deepen your knowledge of the reasons for faith and for the Christian message; so that you may transmit it in a way that guarantees the authentic millenary tradition of the Church. May you — as St Peter says — always be prepared “to make a defence to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you” (1P 3,15); put into practice the language of love and brotherhood that is comprehensible to all, but without forgetting the commitment to purifying and strengthening your own faith in the face of the dangers and snares that may threaten it in these times.
Overcome the limitations of individualism, withdrawal into self and the fascination of relativism that views any kind of behaviour as licit, and of the attraction exercised by forms of religious sentiment that exploit the deepest needs and aspirations of the human soul, offering prospects of easy but deceptive gratification. Faith is a gift of God but demands of us a response, a decision to follow Christ, not only when he heals and alleviates but also when he speaks of love even to the point of self-gift.
Another point on which I want to insist is the witnessing to charity that must characterize your community life. In recent years you have seen it increase rapidly, in the number of its members too, but you have also seen it help many people in difficulty and in situations of hardship who need you, who need your material aid, but also and above all need your faith and your testimony as believers. Make sure that the face of your community is always able to express in practice the love of God, who is rich in mercy, and invite people to approach him with trust.
I would like to address a special word of affection and friendship to you, dear boys and girls and young people who are listening to me, as well as to your peers who live in this parish. History’s today and tomorrow and the future of faith are entrusted especially to you who are the new generations. The Church expects much of your enthusiasm, your ability to look ahead, to be inspired by ideals and your desire for radicalism in the decisions of life. The parish is accompanying you and I would like you also to feel my encouragement.
“Brethren.... Rejoice always” (1Th 5,16). This invitation to joy which St Paul addressed to the Christians of Thessalonica in that time, also characterizes this Sunday, commonly known as “Gaudete” Sunday. It resonates from the very first words of the Entrance Antiphon: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice! The Lord is at hand”; St Paul, in prison, wrote these words to the Christians of Philippi (cf. Ph 4,4-5) and also addresses them to us.
Yes, we are glad because the Lord is near us and in a few days, on Christmas night, we shall be celebrating the mystery of his birth. Mary, who was the first to hear the Angel’s invitation: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” (Lc 1,28), points out to us the way to reach true joy, which comes from God. St Mary of Grace, Mother of Divine Love, pray for us all. Amen!
Benedict XVI Homilies 16101