Benedict XVI Homilies 20078
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the oldest Marian Feast, returns every year in the heart of summer. It is an opportunity to rise with Mary to the heights of the spirit where one breathes the pure air of supernatural life and contemplates the most authentic beauty, the beauty of holiness. The atmosphere of today's celebration is steeped in paschal joy. "Today", the antiphon of the Magnificat says, "the Virgin Mary was taken up to Heaven. Rejoice, for she reigns with Christ for ever. Alleluia". This proclamation speaks to us of an event that is utterly unique and extraordinary, yet destined to fill the heart of every human being with hope and happiness. Mary is indeed the first fruit of the new humanity, the creature in whom the mystery of Christ - his Incarnation, death, Resurrection and Ascension into Heaven - has already fully taken effect, redeeming her from death and conveying her, body and soul, to the Kingdom of immortal life. For this reason, as the Second Vatican Council recalls, the Virgin Mary is a sign of certain hope and comfort to us (cf. Lumen Gentium LG 68). Today's feast impels us to lift our gaze to Heaven; not to a heaven consisting of abstract ideas or even an imaginary heaven created by art, but the Heaven of true reality which is God himself. God is Heaven. He is our destination, the destination and the eternal dwelling place from which we come and for which we are striving.
St Germanus, Bishop of Constantinople in the eighth century, in a homily given on the Feast of the Assumption, addressing the heavenly Mother of God said: "You are the One who through your immaculate flesh reunited the Christian people with Christ.... Just as all who thirst hasten to the fountain, so every soul hastens to you, the Fountain of love, and as every man aspires to live, to see the light that never fades, so every Christian longs to enter the light of the Most Blessed Trinity where you already are". It is these same sentiments that inspire us today as we contemplate Mary in God's glory. In fact, when she fell asleep in this world to reawaken in Heaven, she simply followed her Son Jesus for the last time, on his longest and most crucial journey, his passage "from this world to the Father" (cf. Jn 13,1).
Like him, together with him, she departed this world to return "to the Father's House" (cf. Jn 14,2). And all this is not remote from us as it might seem at first sight, because we are all children of the Father, God; we are all brothers and sisters of Jesus and we are all also children of Mary, our Mother. And we all aspire to happiness. And the happiness to which we all aspire is God, so we are all journeying on toward this happiness we call Heaven which in reality is God. And Mary helps us, she encourages us to ensure that every moment of our life is a step forward on this exodus, on this journey toward God. May she help us in this way to make the reality of heaven, God's greatness, also present in the life of our world. Is this not basically the paschal dynamism of the human being, of every person who wants to become heavenly, perfectly happy, by virtue of Christ's Resurrection? And might this not be the beginning and anticipation of a movement that involves every human being and the entire cosmos? She, from whom God took his flesh and whose soul was pierced by a sword on Calvary, was associated first and uniquely in the mystery of this transformation for which we, also often pierced by the sword of suffering in this world, are all striving.
The new Eve followed the new Adam in suffering, in the Passion, and so too in definitive joy. Christ is the first fruits but his risen flesh is inseparable from that of his earthly Mother, Mary. In Mary all humanity is involved in the Assumption to God, and together with her all creation, whose groans and sufferings, St Paul tells us, are the birth-pangs of the new humanity. Thus are born the new Heaven and the new earth in which death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more (cf. Ap 21,1-4).
What a great mystery of love is presented to us once again today for our contemplation! Christ triumphed over death with the omnipotence of his love. Love alone is omnipotent. This love impelled Christ to die for us and thus to overcome death. Yes, love alone gives access to the Kingdom of life! And Mary entered after her Son, associated with his Glory, after being associated with his Passion. She entered it with an uncontainable force, keeping the way behind her open to us all. And for this reason we invoke her today as "Gate of Heaven", "Queen of Angels" and "Refuge of sinners". It is certainly not reasoning that will make us understand this reality which is so sublime, but rather simple, forthright faith and the silence of prayer that puts us in touch with the Mystery that infinitely exceeds us. Prayer helps us speak with God and hear how the Lord speaks to our heart.
Let us ask Mary today to make us the gift of her faith, that faith which enables us already to live in the dimension between finite and infinite, that faith which also transforms the sentiment of time and the passing of our existence, that faith in which we are profoundly aware that our life is not retracted by the past but attracted towards the future, towards God, where Christ, and behind him Mary, has preceded us.
By looking at Mary's Assumption into Heaven we understand better that even though our daily life may be marked by trials and difficulties, it flows like a river to the divine ocean, to the fullness of joy and peace. We understand that our death is not the end but rather the entrance into life that knows no death. Our setting on the horizon of this world is our rising at the dawn of the new world, the dawn of the eternal day.
"Mary, while you accompany us in the toil of our daily living and dying, keep us constantly oriented to the true homeland of bliss. Help us to do as you did".
Dear brothers and sisters, dear friends who are taking part in this celebration this morning, let us pray this prayer to Mary together. In the face of the sad spectacle of all the false joy and at the same time of all the anguished suffering which is spreading through the world, we must learn from her to become ourselves signs of hope and comfort; we must proclaim with our own lives Christ's Resurrection.
"Help us, Mother, bright Gate of Heaven, Mother of Mercy, source through whom came Jesus Christ, our life and our joy. Amen".
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The most beautiful sight that a people can offer is without any doubt is that of its own faith. At this moment I feel tangibly a moving manifestation of the faith that enlivens you and I would like immediately to express to you my admiration of this. I gladly accepted the invitation to come to your most beautiful Island on the occasion of the centenary of the proclamation of Our Lady of Bonaria as your principal Patroness. Today, together with the panorama of the wonderful nature that surrounds us, you offer me a view of your fervent devotion to the Most Holy Virgin. Thank you for this beautiful witness!
I greet you all with deep affection, starting with Archbishop Giuseppe Mani of Cagliari, President of the Sardinian Bishops' Conference, whom I thank for his courteous words at the beginning of this Holy Mass also on behalf of the other Bishops, to whom I extend my cordial thoughts, and on behalf of the whole ecclesial community which lives in Sardinia. Thank you, above all, for the dedication with which you prepared my Pastoral Visit. And I see that everything was indeed prepared perfectly. I greet the Civil Authorities and in particular the Mayor, who will address to me both his greeting and that of the City. I greet the other Authorities present and express my gratitude to them for the generous collaboration they offered to the organization of my Visit here in Sardinia. Thus I would like to greet the priests, and especially the Community of Mercedarian Fathers, the deacons, the men and women religious, those responsible for the associations and ecclesial movements, the youth and all the faithful, with a cordial remembrance for the elderly centenarians who I was able to greet at the Church entrance, and all those who have joined us in spirit or via the radio and television. In a very special way I greet the sick and the suffering, with a particular thought for the lowliest.
It is the Lord's Day, but - given this special circumstance - the Liturgy of the Word has proposed to us the Readings for the celebrations dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. These are in particular texts planned for the Feast of the Birth of Mary which for centuries has been fixed on 8 September, the date of the consecration of the basilica built in Jerusalem above the house of St Anne, Mother of Our Lady. They are Readings which effectively always contain the reference to the mystery of her birth. First of all there is the Prophet Micah's marvellous oracle concerning Bethlehem, in which the birth of the Messiah is announced. The Messiah, the oracle says, was to be a descendant of King David, like him a native of Bethlehem but a figure who would exceed human limitations: his "origin", it says, are "from ancient times", lost in the most remote ages, at the frontier of eternity. His greatness would reach "to the ends of the earth", as would also be his peace (cf. Mi 5,1-4). The coming of the "Lord's anointed", who was to mark the beginning of the people's liberation was described by the Prophet with an enigmatic expression: "until the time when she who is in travail has brought forth" (Mi 5,3). Thus the Liturgy - which is a privileged school of the faith - teaches us to see in Mary's birth a direct connection with that of the Messiah, Son of David.
The Gospel, a passage from the Apostle Matthew, proposed to us precisely the account of Jesus' birth. However, the Evangelist introduces it with a summary of his genealogy, which he sets at the beginning as a prologue. Here too the full evidence of Mary's role in salvation history stands out: Mary's being is totally relative to Christ and in particular to his Incarnation. "Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ" (Mt 1,16). The lack of continuity in the layout of the genealogy immediately meets the eye; we do not read "begot" but instead: "Mary, of whom Jesus was born who is called Christ". Precisely in this we perceive the beauty of the plan of God who, respecting the human being, makes him fertile from within, causing the most beautiful fruit of his creative and redeeming work to develop in the humble Virgin of Nazareth. Then the Evangelist brings on stage the figure of Joseph, his inner drama, his robust faith and his exemplary rectitude. Behind Joseph's thoughts and deliberations is his love for God and his firm determination to obey him. But how is it possible not to feel that Joseph's distress, hence his prayers and his decision, were motivated at the same time by esteem and love for his betrothed? God's beauty and that of Mary are inseparable in Joseph's heart; he knows that there can be no contradiction between them; he seeks the answer in God and finds it in the light of the Word and of the Holy Spirit: "The Virgin shall be with child and give birth to a son, and they shall call him Emmanuel (which means, God with us)" (Mt 1,23 cf. Is 7,14).
Thus, once again, we can contemplate Mary's place in the saving plan of God, that "purpose" which we find in the Second Reading, taken from the Letter to the Romans. Here the Apostle Paul expresses in two verses, unusually dense with meaning, the synthesis of what human life is from a meta-historical viewpoint: a parabola of salvation that starts from God and returns to him; a parabola entirely motivated and governed by his love. This is a salvific design totally permeated by divine freedom, which nonetheless awaits a fundamental contribution by human freedom: the creature's corresponds to the Creator's love. And it is here, in this space of human freedom, that we perceive the presence of the Virgin Mary, without her ever having been explicitly mentioned: she is in fact, in Christ, the first fruits and model of "those who love him [God]" (Rm 8,28). The predestination of Mary is inscribed in the predestination of Jesus, as likewise is that of every human person. The "here I am" of the Mother faithfully echoes the "here I am" of the Son (cf. He 10,6), as does the "here I am" of all adoptive children in the Son, that of us all, precisely.
Dear friends of Cagliari and Sardinia, thanks to their faith in Christ and through the spiritual motherhood of Mary and of the church, your people too are called to be integrated in the spiritual "genealogy" of the Gospel. Christianity did not arrive in Sardinia with the swords of conquerors or by foreign imposition but germinated from the blood of the martyrs who gave their life here as an act of love for God and for men and women. It is in your mines that the Good News rang out for the first time. It had been brought by Pope Pontianus and the priest Hyppolitus and by many brothers condemned ad metalla [to work the silver, lead and iron mines] for their faith in Christ. Saturnius, Gavin, Protus, and Januarius, Simplicius, Lussorius, Ephysius and Antiochus were witnesses of total dedication to Christ as true God and Lord. The witness of martyrdom conquered a proud spirit such as that of the Sardinians, instinctively recalcitrant to all that came from over the sea. From the martyrs' example Bishop Lucifer of Cagliari drew the strength to defend orthodoxy against Arianism and, together with Eusebius of Vercelli, also from Cagliari, opposed the condemnation of Athanasius at the Council of Milan in 335, and for this both of them, Lucifer and Eusebius, were sentenced to exile, a very harsh exile. Sardinia has never been a land of heresies; its people have always shown filial fidelity to Christ and to the See of Peter. Yes, dear friends, in the sequence of invasions and dominations, faith in Christ endured in your peoples' soul as a constitutive element of your Sardinian identity itself.
In the fifth century, after the martyrs, many Bishops arrived from Africa who were obliged to suffer exile for refusing to adhere to the Arian heresy. They brought the riches of their faith with them to the Island. More than 100 Bishops, under the guidance of Fulgentius of Ruspe, founded monasteries and intensified the task of evangelization. Together with Augustine's glorious relics, they brought the wealth of their liturgical and spiritual tradition, traces of which you still preserve. Thus the faith became ever more deeply rooted in the hearts of the faithful until it became a culture and produced fruits of holiness. Ignatius of Laconi and Nicholas of Gésturi are Saints with whom Sardinia identifies. The martyr Antonia Mesina, the contemplative Gabriella Sagheddu, and the Sister of Charity, Josephine Nicóli, are the expression of a youth that was able to pursue great ideals. This simple and courageous faith continues to thrive in your communities, in your families, where one breathes the Gospel fragrance of the virtues that belong to your land: faithfulness, dignity, discretion, sobriety, the sense of duty.
And then, obviously, there is your love for Our Lady. Indeed, we are here today to commemorate a great act of faith made by your ancestors a century ago when they entrusted their lives to the Mother of Christ, choosing her to be the most important Patroness of the Island. They could not have known then that the 20th century was to be a very difficult century but it was certainly in that consecration to Mary that they subsequently found the strength to face the difficulties that arose, especially with the two World Wars. It could only be like this. Your Island, dear friends of Sardinia, could have no other protectress than Our Lady. She is the Mother, Daughter and Wife par excellence: "Sa Mama, Fiza, Isposa de su Segnore", as you like to sing. She is the Mother who loves, protects, advises, consoles and gives life so that life may be born and endure. She is the Daughter who honours her family, is ever attentive to the needs of her brothers and sisters and is prompt in making her home beautiful and welcoming; she is the Wife capable of faithful, patient love, of sacrifice and of hope. In Sardinia at least 350 churches and shrines are dedicated to Mary. A people of mothers is reflected in that humble girl from Nazareth who with her "yes" enabled the Word to become flesh.
I well know that Mary is in your hearts. A hundred years later, let us thank her today for her protection and renew our trust in her, recognizing her as the "Star of the New Evangelization" at whose school we may learn how to bring Christ the Saviour to the men and women of our time.
May Mary help you to bring Christ to families, little domestic churches and cells of society, which today more than ever are in need of both spiritual and social trust and support. May she help you to find appropriate pastoral strategies to ensure that Christ is encountered by young people who by their nature bring new dynamism but often fall prey to the widespread nihilism, thirsting for truth and ideals precisely when they seem to deny them. May she render you capable of evangelizing the world of work, the economy and politics which need a new generation of committed lay Christians who can seek competently and with moral rigour sustainable solutions of development. In all these aspects of Christian commitment you can always count on the guidance and support of the Blessed Virgin. Let us therefore entrust ourselves to her maternal intercession.
Mary is the harbour, refuge and protection for the Sardinian people who have within them the strength of oak. When the storm has passed the oak stands strong; fires rage and it sends out new shoots; the drought comes and it wins through once again. Let us therefore renew joyfully our consecration to such a caring Mother. I am sure that generations of Sardinians will continue to climb to the Shrine at Bonaria to invoke the Virgin's protection. Those who entrust themselves to Our Lady of Bonaria, a merciful and powerful Mother, will never be disappointed. May Mary Queen of Peace and Star of Hope intercede for us. Amen!10098
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
You have gathered around the altar of the Lord to accompany with the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, in which the Paschal Mystery is relived, dear Cardinal Antonio Innocenti on his last journey. In addressing my cordial greeting to each one of you, I thank in particular Cardinal Sodano who, as Dean of the College of Cardinals, has presided at the holy Funeral Mass. We all remember our late Brother with affection, and this makes our prayers even more fervent and heartfelt. Above all, we are enlivened by faith in the Risen Lord, who is the source of eternal life for those who believe in him and follow him with love.
The dear Deceased has had a long life, spent serving the Lord; already in the early years of his adolescence he set out to follow Jesus, entering the Diocesan Seminary at Fiesole. We like to think of him in the light of the beautiful words of Sirach, contained in the beginning of the First Reading: "My son, if you come forward to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for temptation. Set your heart right and be steadfast, and do not be hasty in time of calamity" (Si 2,1-2). As it was for Jesus and is for all who are called to follow him more closely, the whole of life becomes a spiritual combat that is sustained and won by responding generously and joyfully to God's grace and his unswerving fidelity. "Trust in him and he will help you" (Si 2,6). Sirach exhorts us; and further: "You who fear the Lord, wait for his mercy" (Si 2,7). But at the same time he also suggests a mindset informed by wisdom: "Accept whatever is brought upon you, and in changes that humble you be patient. For gold is tested in the fire, and acceptable men in the furnace of humiliation" (Si 2,4-5). Faith and wisdom of life, closely interwoven, characterize the style of the Lord's disciple and in particular of his ordained minister, to the point of reaching that full conformation of which the Apostle Paul confessed himself: "Mihi vivere Christus est" (Ph 1,21). With the extraordinary conciseness that the Holy Spirit inspired in him, St Paul summarizes in these words the perfect form of Christian living: it is being with Jesus, being in him to the point that this communion flows over the threshold of separation between earthly life and the hereafter so that the death of the body is no longer loss but "gain" (ibid. Ph 1,21).
This naturally concerns a goal that, in a certain way, always lies ahead of us but that we, like the Apostle, can nevertheless already anticipate in this life, especially through the Sacrament of the Eucharist, a real bond of communion with Christ in his death and Resurrection. If the Eucharist becomes the form of our existence, then for us to live is truly Christ and to die is equivalent to passing fully to him and to Trinitarian life in God, where we will also be in full communion with our brethren. "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him... he who eats this bread will live for ever" (Jn 6,56 Jn 6,58). The words of the Lord Jesus that resonate in this liturgy are the light of faith and hope and give our prayers of suffrage a solid and sound foundation - the foundation upon which Cardinal Innocenti built his life.
A native of Poppi, in the Diocese of Fiesole and the Province of Arezzo, he received priestly Ordination in 1938 and, after an important pastoral experience in the world of work, was sent to Rome to specialize in theology and law. Upon returning to his diocese, he taught at the Seminary and assisted the Bishop on his pastoral visits during the Second World War. In that dramatic period, he distinguished himself by his self-denial and generosity in helping people and saving those who were destined to be deported. For this he was arrested and condemned to be shot, but when he stood before the firing squad the order was revoked. After the war he completed his theological studies in Rome and the then Substitute of the Secretariat of State, Archbishop Giovanni Battista Montini, asked him to attend the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy. So it was that he entered the Holy See's diplomatic service. He had the opportunity to become acquainted with various countries in Africa, Europe and the Near East, without ever forgetting his profound and genuine priestly inspiration, doing his utmost for his brethren and instilling courage and fostering faith and Christian hope in all.
Appointed Papal Representative in Paraguay, he was ordained a Bishop in 1968. He was then recalled to Rome, to take up the office of Secretary at the Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship. Subsequently, in 1980, he was sent to Spain as Apostolic Nuncio, where he twice welcomed my venerable Predecessor John Paul ii on his Pastoral Visits. John Paul ii created him a Cardinal in May 1985 and from that moment our late Brother was even more deeply integrated into the life of the Church in Rome. In a new and more senior capacity he continued to offer his appreciated collaboration to the Supreme Pontiff, as Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, as President of the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church and of the Pontifical Commission "Ecclesia Dei".
I would like to end this brief reflection by referring to Cardinal Antonio Innocenti's episcopal motto: "Lucem spero fide". These are particularly appropriate words at this moment; words which, as he confided to people who were close to him, he had always carried in his heart since, when he was an adolescent, he had received the gift of his priestly vocation. Now that he has crossed the last threshold, let us pray that his faith and hope may give way to the reality that is "the greatest of these", love that "never ends" (1Co 13,8 1Co 13,13). Let us give thanks for the gift of having known him and for all the benefits which the Lord has lavished upon his holy Church, in him and through him. While we invoke the motherly intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary for this Brother of ours, let us entrust his chosen soul to the Father of life, so that he may welcome him into his Kingdom of light and peace.
Dear Brother Cardinals and Bishops,
Reverend Canons of the Cathedral Chapter,
Reverend Chaplains of Notre-Dame,
Dear Priests and Deacons,
Dear Friends from Non-Catholic Churches and Ecclesial Communities,
Dear Brothers and Sisters!
Blessed be God who has brought us together in a place so dear to the heart of every Parisian and all the people of France! Blessed be God, who grants us the grace of offering him our evening prayer and giving him due praise in the very words which the Church’s liturgy inherited from the synagogue worship practised by Christ and his first disciples! Yes, blessed be God for coming to our assistance – in adiutorium nostrum – and helping us to offer him our sacrifice of praise!
We are gathered in the Mother Church of the Diocese of Paris, Notre-Dame Cathedral, which rises in the heart of the city as a living sign of God’s presence in our midst. My predecessor, Pope Alexander III, laid its first stone, and Popes Pius VII and John Paul II honoured it by their presence. I am happy to follow in their footsteps, a quarter of a century after coming here to offer a conference on catechesis. It is hard not to give thanks to the Creator of both matter and spirit for the beauty of this edifice. The Christians of Lutetia had originally built a cathedral dedicated to Saint Stephen, the first martyr; as time went on it became too small, and was gradually replaced, between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries, by the great building we admire today. The faith of the Middle Ages built the cathedrals, and here your ancestors came to praise God, to entrust to him their hopes and to express their love for him. Great religious and civil events took place in this shrine, where architects, painters, sculptors and musicians have given the best of themselves. We need but recall, among so many others, the architect Jean de Chelles, the painter Charles Le Brun, the sculptor Nicolas Coustou and the organists Louis Vierne and Pierre Cochereau. Art, as a pathway to God, and choral prayer, the Church’s praise of the Creator, helped Paul Claudel, who attended Vespers here on Christmas Day 1886, to find the way to a personal experience of God. It is significant that God filled his soul with light during the chanting of the Magnificat, in which the Church listens to the song of the Virgin Mary, the Patroness of this church, who reminds the world that the Almighty has lifted up the lowly (cf. Lc 1,52). As the scene of other conversions, less celebrated but no less real, and as the pulpit from which preachers of the Gospel like Fathers Lacordaire, Monsabré and Samson transmitted the flame of their passion to the most varied congregations, Notre-Dame Cathedral rightly remains one of the most celebrated monuments of your country’s heritage. Following a tradition dating back to the time of Saint Louis, I have just venerated the relics of the True Cross and the Crown of Thorns, which have now found a worthy home here, a true offering of the human spirit to the power of creative Love.
Beneath the vaults of this historic Cathedral, which witnesses to the ceaseless dialogue that God wishes to establish with all men and women, his word has just now echoed to become the substance of our evening sacrifice, as expressed in the offering of incense, which makes visible our praise of God. Providentially, the words of the Psalmist describe the emotion filling our souls with an exactness we could hardly have dared to imagine: “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’” (Ps 121,1). Laetatus sum in his quae dicta sunt mihi: the Psalmist’s joy, brimming over in the very words of the Psalm, penetrates our hearts and resonates deeply within them. We truly rejoice to enter the house of the Lord, since, as the Fathers of the Church have taught us, this house is nothing other than a concrete symbol of Jerusalem on high, which comes down to us (cf. Ap 21,2) to offer us the most beautiful of dwelling-places. “If we dwell therein”, writes Saint Hilary of Poitiers, “we are fellow citizens of the saints and members of the household of God, for it is the house of God” (Tract. in PS 121,2). And Saint Augustine adds: “This is a psalm of longing for the heavenly Jerusalem … It is a Song of Steps, not for going down but for going up … On our pilgrimage we sigh, in our homeland we will rejoice; but during this exile, we meet companions who have already seen the holy city and urge us to run towards it” (En. in PS 121,2). Dear friends, during Vespers this evening, we are united in thought and prayer with the voices of the countless men and women who have chanted this psalm in this very place down the centuries. We are united with the pilgrims who went up to Jerusalem and to the steps of its Temple, and with the thousands of men and women who understood that their earthly pilgrimage was to end in heaven, in the eternal Jerusalem, trusting Christ to guide them there. What joy indeed, to know that we are invisibly surrounded by so great a crowd of witnesses!
Our pilgrimage to the holy city would not be possible if it were not made in the Church, the seed and the prefiguration of the heavenly Jerusalem. “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain” (Ps 126,1). Who is this Lord, if not our Lord Jesus Christ? It is he who founded his Church and built it on rock, on the faith of the Apostle Peter. In the words of Saint Augustine, “It is Jesus Christ our Lord who himself builds his temple. Many indeed labour to build, yet unless the Lord intervenes to build, in vain do the builders labour” (Tract. in PS 126,2). Dear friends, Augustine goes on to ask how we can know who these builders are, and his answer is this: “All those who preach God’s word in the Church, all who are ministers of God’s divine Sacraments. All of us run, all of us work, all of us build”, yet it is God alone who, within us, “builds, exhorts, and inspires awe; who opens our understanding and guides our minds to faith” (ibid.). What marvels surround our work in the service of God’s word! We are instruments of the Holy Spirit; God is so humble that he uses us to spread his word. We become his voice, once we have listened carefully to the word coming from his mouth. We place his word on our lips in order to bring it to the world. He accepts the offering of our prayer and through it he communicates himself to everyone we meet. Truly, as Paul tells the Ephesians, “he has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing” (Ep 1,3), for he has chosen us to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth, and he made us his elect, even before we came into existence, by a mysterious gift of his grace.
God’s Word, the Eternal Word, who was with him from the beginning (cf. Jn 1,1), was born of a woman, born a subject of the law, in order to redeem the subjects of the law, “to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (cf. Ga 4,4-5). The Son of God took flesh in the womb of a woman, a virgin. Your cathedral is a living hymn of stone and light in praise of that act, unique in the annals of human history: the eternal Word of God entering our history in the fulness of time to redeem us by his self-offering in the sacrifice of the Cross. Our earthly liturgies, entirely ordered to the celebration of this unique act within history, will never fully express its infinite meaning. Certainly, the beauty of our celebrations can never be sufficiently cultivated, fostered and refined, for nothing can be too beautiful for God, who is himself infinite Beauty. Yet our earthly liturgies will never be more than a pale reflection of the liturgy celebrated in the Jerusalem on high, the goal of our pilgrimage on earth. May our own celebrations nonetheless resemble that liturgy as closely as possible and grant us a foretaste of it!
Even now the word of God is given to us as the soul of our apostolate, the soul of our priestly life. Each morning the word awakens us. Each morning the Lord himself “opens our ear” (cf. Is 50,5) through the psalms in the Office of Readings and Morning Prayer. Throughout the day, the word of God becomes the substance of the prayer of the whole Church, as she bears witness in this way to her fidelity to Christ. In the celebrated phrase of Saint Jerome, to be taken up in the XII Assembly of the Synod of Bishops next month: “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ” (Prol. in Is). Dear brother priests, do not be afraid to spend much time reading and meditating on the Scriptures and praying the Divine Office! Almost without your knowing it, God’s word, read and pondered in the Church, acts upon you and transforms you. As the manifestation of divine Wisdom, if that word becomes your life “companion”, it will be your “good counsellor” and an “encouragement in cares and grief” (Sg 8,9).
“The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword”, as the author of the Letter to the Hebrews tells us (He 4,12). Dear seminarians, who are preparing to receive the sacrament of Holy Orders and thus to share in the threefold office of teaching, governing and sanctifying, this word is given to you as a precious treasure. By meditating on it daily, you will enter into the very life of Christ which you will be called to radiate all around you. By his word, the Lord Jesus instituted the Holy Sacrament of his Body and Blood; by his word, he healed the sick, cast out demons and forgave sins; by his word, he revealed to us the hidden mysteries of his Kingdom. You are called to become stewards of this word which accomplishes what it communicates. Always cultivate a thirst for the word of God! Thus you will learn to love everyone you meet along life’s journey. In the Church everyone has a place, everyone! Every person can and must find a place in her.
And you, dear deacons, effective co-workers of the Bishops and priests, continue to love the word of God! You proclaim the Gospel at the heart of the Eucharistic celebration, and you expound it in the catechesis you offer to your brothers and sisters. Make the Gospel the centre of your lives, of your service to your neighbours, of your entire diakonia. Without seeking to take the place of priests, but assisting them with your friendship and your activity, may you be living witnesses to the infinite power of God’s word!
In a particular way, men and women religious and all consecrated persons draw life from the Wisdom of God expressed in his word. The profession of the evangelical counsels has configured you, dear consecrated persons, to Christ, who for our sakes became poor, obedient and chaste. Your only treasure – which, to tell the truth, will alone survive the passage of time and the curtain of death – is the word of the Lord. It is he who said: “Heaven and earth will pass away; my words will not pass away” (Mt 24,35). Your obedience is, etymologically, a “hearing”, for the word obey comes from the Latin obaudire, meaning to turn one’s ear to someone or something. In obeying, you turn your soul towards the one who is the Way, and the Truth and the Life (cf. Jn 14,6), and who says to you, as Saint Benedict taught his monks: “Hear, my child, the teaching of the Master, and hearken to it with all your heart” (Prologue to the Rule of Saint Benedict RB 1). Finally, let yourselves be purified daily by him who said: “Every branch that bears fruit my Father prunes, to make it bear more fruit” (Jn 15,2). The purity of God’s word is the model for your own chastity, ensuring its spiritual fruitfulness.
With unfailing confidence in the power of God, who has saved us “in hope” (cf. Rm 8,24) and who wishes to make of us one flock under the guidance of one shepherd, Christ Jesus, I pray for the unity of the Church. I greet once again with respect and affection the representatives of the Christian Churches and ecclesial communities who, as our brothers and sisters, have come to pray Vespers together with us in this cathedral. So great is the power of God’s word that we can all be entrusted to it, remembering what Saint Paul once did, our privileged intercessor during this year. As Paul took leave of the presbyters of Ephesus at Miletus, he did not hesitate to entrust them “to God and to the word of his grace” (Ac 20,32), while warning them against every form of division. I implore the Lord to increase within us the sense of this unity of the word of God, which is the sign, pledge and guarantee of the unity of the Church: there is no love in the Church without love of the word, no Church without unity around Christ the Redeemer, no fruits of redemption without love of God and neighbour, according to the two commandments which sum up all of Sacred Scripture!
Dear brothers and sisters, in Our Lady we have the finest example of fidelity to God’s word. Her great fidelity found fulfilment in the Incarnation; with absolute confidence, Mary can say: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word!” (Lc 1,38). Our evening prayer is about to take up the Magnificat, the song of her whom all generations will call blessed. Mary believed in the fulfilment of the words the Lord had spoken to her (cf. Lc 1,45); she hoped against all hope in the resurrection of her Son; and so great was her love for humanity that she was given to us as our Mother (cf. Jn 19,27). Thus we see that “Mary is completely at home with the word of God; with ease she moves in and out of it. She speaks and thinks with the word of God; the word of God becomes her word, and her word issues from the word of God” (Deus Caritas est ). To her, then, we can say with confidence: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, our Mother, teach us to believe, to hope, to love with you. Show us the way to his Kingdom!” (Spe Salvi, ). Amen.
Benedict XVI Homilies 20078