Feast Day Sermons by Pope Benedict (from March 2011)

 

 

On Ash Wednesday (General Audience - Ash Wednesday)
"The forty days of Lent recall Israel's sojourn in the desert and the temptations of Jesus at the beginning of his public ministry."

VATICAN CITY, February 13, 2013  - Before delivering his catechesis today, the Holy Father said the following to the faithful present:

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,

As you know, I have decided [applause] Thank you for your sympathy, I have decided to give up the ministry that the Lord has entrusted to me on April 19, 2005. I did this in full freedom for the good of the Church, after having prayed at length and having examined my conscience before God, well aware of the seriousness of the act, but equally conscious of no longer being able to carry out the Petrine ministry with the strength that it requires. I am supported and enlightened by the certainty that the Church is Christ, who will never allow it to lack his leadership and care. Thank you all for the love and prayer with which you have accompanied me. Thank you, I have felt almost physically in these days, which are not easy for me, the power of prayer that the love of the Church, your prayer, is bringing me. Continue to pray for me, for the Church, for the future Pope, who will lead us."

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today, Ash Wednesday, we begin the liturgical time of Lent, forty days that prepare us for the celebration of Holy Easter. It is a time of particular commitment on our spiritual journey. The number forty occurs several times in Scripture. In particular, it recalls the forty years that the Israelites wandered in the desert: a long period of formation to become the people of God, but also a long period in which the temptation to be unfaithful to the covenant with the Lord was always present. Forty is also the number of days it took the prophet Elijah to reach the Mountain of God, Horeb, as well as the days that Jesus spent in the desert before beginning his public life and where he was tempted by the devil. In this Catechesis I would like to reflect on precisely this moment of the earthly life of the Son of God, which we will read in this Sunday's Gospel.

First of all, the desert, where Jesus withdraws, is a place of silence, of poverty, where man is deprived of all material support and is faced with the fundamental questions of life, he is prompted to examine that which is most essential, and hence it is easier to meet God. But the desert is also a place of death, because where there is no water there is no life, and it is a place of solitude, where man feels temptation more intensely. Jesus goes into the desert, and there undergoes the temptation to leave the path indicated by God the Father, to follow other, easier and worldly paths (cf. Lk 4:1-13). And so he bears our temptations, takes upon himself our misery, to defeat the Evil one and open us to the way towards God, the way of conversion.

Reflecting on the temptations undergone by Jesus in the desert is an invitation for each of us to answer a fundamental question: what is truly important in our lives? In the first temptation the devil suggests that Jesus turn a stone into bread to satisfy his hunger. Jesus replies that man also lives from bread, but not by bread alone: ​​without an answer to his hunger for truth, hunger for God, man cannot be saved (cf. vv. 3-4). In the second temptation, the devil offers Jesus the way of power: he leads him on high and offers him dominion over the world, but this is not the way of God: Jesus knows clearly that it is not worldly power that saves the world, but the power of the Cross, of humility, of love (cf. vv. 5-8). In the third temptation, the devil proposes that Jesus throw himself down from the pinnacle of the Temple of Jerusalem and make God save him through His angels, that is, to do something sensational to test God; but Jesus answers that God is not someone upon whom we may impose our conditions: He is the Lord of all (cf. vv. 9-12). What is the crux of the three temptations that Jesus undergoes? It is the proposal to manipulate God, to use Him for one's own interests, for one's own glory and success. And, in essence, to put oneself in the place of God, removing Him from one's life and making Him seem superfluous. Everyone should then ask himself: what is God's role in my life? Is He is the Lord or am I?


Overcoming the temptation to place God beneath oneself and one's own interests or to place Him in a corner and to convert to the proper ordering of priorities, to give God the first place, is a journey that every Christian must undertake. "Conversion", an invitation that we will hear many times in Lent, means to follow Jesus in such a way that his Gospel is a real guide for life; it means letting God transform us, to stop thinking that we are the only creators of our lives; it means recognizing that we are creatures who depend on God, on His love, and only by "losing" our life in Him can we gain it. This requires making our choices in the light of the Word of God. Today one can no longer be Christian as a simple consequence of living in a society with Christian roots: even those who come from Christian families, and are brought up religiously must renew every day the choice to be Christian, that is, to give God the first place, in front of the temptations that a secularized culture presents us with all the time, before the criticism of many of our contemporaries.

The tests to which modern society subjects Christians, indeed, are many, and affect both personal and social life. It is not easy to be faithful to Christian marriage, to practice mercy in everyday life, to leave space for prayer and inner silence, it is not easy to publicly oppose choices that many consider obvious, such as abortion in the event of an unwanted pregnancy, euthanasia in the case of serious illness, or the selection of embryos to prevent hereditary diseases. The temptation to set aside one's faith is always present and conversion becomes a response to God which must be confirmed repeatedly in life.

There are, as an example and stimulus, the great conversions such as that of St. Paul on the road to Damascus, or of St. Augustine, but also in our time of eclipses of the sense of the sacred, God's grace is at work and works wonders in the lives of many people. The Lord never gets tired of knocking at the door of man in social and cultural contexts that seem swallowed up by secularization, as occurred with the Russian Orthodox Pavel Florensky. After a completely agnostic upbringing, to the point that he felt outright hostility to the religious teachings taught in school, the scientist Florensky found himself exclaiming: "No, one cannot live without God!", and changed his life completely, so much so that he became a monk.

I also have in mind the figure of Etty Hillesum, a young Dutch girl of Jewish origin who would die in Auschwitz. Initially far from God, she discovered Him by looking deep within herself and wrote: "There is a very deep well inside me. And God is in that well. Sometimes I manage to reach Him, more often stones and grit block the well, and God is buried beneath. Then God must be dug out again"(Diary, 97). In her scattered and restless life, she found God right in the midst of the great tragedy of the twentieth century, the Shoah. This young fragile and dissatisfied girl, transfigured by faith, became a woman full of love and inner peace, able to say: "I live in constant intimacy with God."

The ability to oppose the ideological blandishments of her time, to choose the search for truth and open herself to the discovery of faith is evidenced by another woman of our time, the American Dorothy Day. In her autobiography, she confesses openly that she fell in the temptation to solve everything with politics, adhering to the Marxist cause: she writes: "I wanted to go off with the protesters, go to jail, write, influence others and leave my dream to the world. How much ambition and how much self-seeking there was in all this!" The journey of faith in so secularized an environment was particularly difficult, but Grace acts all the same, as she herself points out: "It is certain that I felt more and more often the need to go to church, to kneel down, to bow my head in prayer. A blind instinct, one might say, because I was not conscious of praying. But I went, I inserted myself into the atmosphere of prayer...". God led her to a conscious adherence to the Church, in a life dedicated to the underprivileged.

In our time there is no small number of conversions understood as the return of those who, after perhaps a superficial Christian upbringing, have fallen away from the faith for years and later rediscover Christ and His Gospel. In the Book of Revelation we read: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me "(3:20). Our inner man must prepare itself to be visited by God, and precisely for this reason should not let itself be invaded by illusions, by appearances, by material things.

In this time of Lent, in the Year of Faith, we renew our commitment on the way of conversion, to overcome the tendency to close in on ourselves and to make room for God instead, looking at our daily reality through His eyes. We might say that the choice between closing in on our egoism and opening to the love of God and others, corresponds to the alternatives in Jesus' tempations: the choice, that is, between human power and love of the Cross, between a redemption viewed solely as material well-being and redemption as the work of God, to whom we give the first place in life. Conversion means not closing in on oneself in the pursuit of one's own success, one's own prestige, one's own position, but making sure that every day, in the small things, truth, faith in God and love become the most important thing. Thank you!

[Translation by Peter Waymel]

Addressing the English-speaking pilgrims, the Holy Father said the following:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today, Ash Wednesday, we begin our yearly Lenten journey of conversion in preparation for Easter. The forty days of Lent recall Israel’s sojourn in the desert and the temptations of Jesus at the beginning of his public ministry. The desert, as the place of silent encounter with God and decision about the deepest meaning and direction of our lives, is also a place of temptation. In his temptation in the desert, Jesus showed us that fidelity to God’s will must guide our lives and thinking, especially amid today’s secularized society. While the Lord continues to raise up examples of radical conversion, like Pavel Florensky, Etty Hillesum and Dorothy Day, he also constantly challenges those who have been raised in the faith to deeper conversion. In this Lenten season, Christ once again knocks at our door (cf. Rev 3:20) and invites us to open our minds and hearts to his love and his truth. May Jesus’ example of overcoming temptation inspire us to embrace God’s will and to see all things in the light of his saving truth.

I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, including those from England, Denmark and the United States. My particular greeting goes to the many student groups present. With prayers that this Lenten season will prove spiritually fruitful for you and your families, I invoke upon all of you God’s blessings of joy and peace.

[Original text: English]

© Copyright 2012 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

 
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Pope's Homily on the Feast of the Presentation

VATICAN CITY, February 03, 2013 - Here is the translation of Pope Benedict's homily at a Mass in St. Peter's Basilica commemorating the Feast of the Presentation as well as the 27th World Day for Consecrated Life.

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Dear brothers and sisters!

In his account of Jesus’ childhood, St. Luke stresses how faithful Mary and Joseph were to the Law of the Lord. With profound devotion they perform everything that is prescribed after the birth of a male child. There are 2 very ancient prescriptions: one regards the mother and the other the newborn baby. For the woman it is prescribed that she abstain for 40 days from ritual practices and afterward offer a twofold sacrifice: a lamb as a holocaust and a turtledove or pigeon for sin; but if the woman is poor, she can offer 2 turtledoves or 2 pigeons (cf. Leviticus 12:1-8). St. Luke notes that Mary and Joseph offer the sacrifice of the poor (cf. 2:24) to show that Jesus was born in a family of simple folk, humble but strong in faith: a family belonging to the poor ones of Israel who form the true people of God. For the first born son, who, according to the Law of Moses, belongs to God, a ransom was prescribed, consisting in an offering of 5 shekels to be paid to a priest in any place. This was done in perennial remembrance of the fact that at the time of the Exodus, God spared the firstborn of the Hebrews (cf. Exodus 13:11-16).

It is important to observe that it was not necessary that these 2 acts – the purification of the mother and the ransoming of the son – be performed in the Temple. But Mary and Joseph wish to do them in Jerusalem, and St. Luke makes us see how the whole scene converges on the Temple, and he thus focuses on Jesus, who enters the Temple. And precisely through the prescriptions of the Law, the principal event becomes something else, namely, the “presentation” of Jesus in the Temple of God, which signifies the act of offering the Son of the Most High to the Father who sent him (cf. Luke 1:32, 35).

The words of the prophet Malachi that we heard in the first reading is confirmed this narrative of the evangelist: “Thus says the Lord God: ‘Behold, I will send you a messenger to prepare the way before me and immediately the Lord whom you seek will enter his temple; the angel of the covenant, whom you seek, see he is coming ... He will purify the sons of Levi ... that they might offer a just sacrifice to the Lord’” (3:1, 3). Clearly here we are not talking about a child and nevertheless these words are fulfilled in Jesus, because, thanks to the faith of his parents, he was “immediately” brought to the Temple; and in the act of his “presentation,” or of his personal “offering” to God the Father, the theme of sacrifice and priesthood shines forth, as in the passage from Malachi. The child Jesus, who is immediately presented in the Temple, will be that adult who will purify the Temple (cf. John 2:13-22; Mark 11:15, 19) and above all will be the sacrifice and the high priest of the new covenant.

This is also the perspective of the Letter to the Hebrews, from which a passage was proclaimed in the second reading, so that the theme of the new priesthood is reinforced: the priesthood inaugurated by Jesus is an existential priesthood: “Because he himself was tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested” (Hebrews 2:18). And here we also see the theme of suffering, which is very clear in the Gospel passage in which Simeon pronounces his prophecy about the Child and the Mother: “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted – and you yourself a sword will pierce – so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35). The “salvation” that Jesus brings to his people, and which he incarnates in himself, passes through the cross, through the violent death that he will overcome and transform with his sacrifice of his life for love. This oblation is announced beforehand in the presentation in the Temple, a gesture that is, of course, motivated by the traditions of the old covenant, but that is intimately animated by the fullness of faith and love that corresponds to the fullness of time, to the presence of God and his Holy Spirit in Jesus. The Spirit, in effect, hovers above the whole scene of the presentation of Jesus in the Temple, especially above the figures of Simeon and Anna. It is the Spirit, the “Paraclete,” that brings the “consolation” of Israel and guides the steps and hearts of those who await it. It is the Spirit that suggests the prophetic words to Simeon and Anna, words of benediction, of praise to God, of faith in the one he has consecrated, of thanksgiving because finally our eyes can see and our arms can hold “his salvation” (cf. 2:30).

“A light to reveal you to the gentiles and the glory of your people, Israel” (2:32): thus Simeon defines the Messiah of the Lord at the end of his song of blessing. The theme of light, which echoes the first and second songs of the Servant of the Lord in Deutero-Isaiah (cf. Isaiah 42:6, 49:6), is forcefully present in this liturgy. This liturgy, in fact, was opened with a suggestive procession, in which the superiors general of the institutes of consecrated life represented here participated, carrying lit candles. This sign, specific to the liturgical tradition of this feast, is very expressive. It manifests the beauty and the value of the consecrated life as a reflection of the light of Christ; a sign that recalls the entrance of Mary into the Temple: the Virgin Mary, the consecrated person par excellence, carried the Light Itself in her arms, the Incarnate Word, who had come to disperse the darkness of the world with God’s love.

Dear consecrated brothers and sisters, you are all represented in that symbolic pilgrimage, which in the Year of Faith expresses all the more your own entry into the Church to be confirmed in faith and renewed in the offering of yourselves to God. To each of you and your institutes I offer my most cordial greeting with affection and I thank you for your presence. In the light of Christ, with the many contemplative and apostolic charisms, you cooperate in the life and the mission of the Church in the world. In this spirit of gratitude and communion, I would like to make 3 proposals to you so that you might enter fully into that “door of faith” that is always open for us (cf. “Porta fidei,” 1).

I invite you first to nourish a faith that will be able to enlighten your vocation. I exhort you in this regard to recall to your mind, as in an interior pilgrimage, the “first love” with which the Lord Jesus Christ warmed your heart, not out of nostalgia but to nourish that flame. This is why it is necessary to be with him, in the silence of adoration, and in this way reawaken the will and the joy of sharing life, decisions, the obedience of faith, the blessedness of the poor, the radicality of love. Always beginning again from this meeting of love, you leave everything to be with him and, like him, place yourselves in the service of God and the brethren (cf. John Paul II, “Vita consecrata,” 1).

Second, I invite you to a faith that knows how to recognize the wisdom of weakness. In the joys and sufferings of the present time, when the difficulty and weight of the cross make themselves felt, do not doubt that the kenosis of Christ is already the paschal victory. Precisely in human limits and weakness we are called to live conformation to Christ, in a totalizing tension that anticipates, in the measure possible in time, eschatological perfection (ibid., 16). In the society of effectiveness and success, your life, marked by the humility and weakness of little ones, by empathy with those who do not have a voice, becomes an evangelical sign of contradiction.

Finally, I invite you to renew the faith that leads you as pilgrims toward the future. By its nature the consecrated life is a pilgrimage of the spirit in search of the Face that shows itself and hides itself: “Faciem tuam, Domine, requiram” (Psalm 26:8) (We seek your face, O Lord). This is the constant longing of your heart, the fundamental criterion that orients your journey, whether in the small steps of daily life or in the most important decisions. Do not join with the prophets of misadventure who proclaim the end of or the meaninglessness of the consecrated life of the Church in our time; rather, put on Jesus Christ and arm yourselves with the weapons of light, as St. Paul says (cf. Romans 13:11-14) – remaining awake and vigilant. St. Chromatius of Aquileia wrote: “May the Lord remove such a danger from us so that we are never lulled into the sleep of infidelity; but may he grant his grace and his mercy so that we can always be vigilant in fidelity to him” (Sermon 32, 4).

Dear brothers and sisters, the joy of consecrated life necessarily passes through participation in the cross of Christ. This is how it way for Mary Most Holy. Hers is the suffering of the heart that is wholly one with the Heart of the Son of God, pierced for love. From that wound poured forth God’s light and from the sufferings, sacrifices, gift of self of consecrated persons who live for the love of God and others there also shines the same light, the light that evangelizes the nations. On this feast I pray in a special way for you who live the consecrated life that your life always have the flavor of evangelical “parrhesia” (boldness) that in you the Good News is lived, witnessed to, announced and manifested as the Word of truth (cf. “Porta fidei,” 6).

Amen.

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Pope Benedict's Homily on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord 2013
"Upon your Children Too the Heavens have Opened,"

VATICAN CITY, January 13, 2013 - Here is the translation of Pope Benedict XVI's Homily during the Mass celebrating the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord where he baptized 20 babies.

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Dear brothers and sisters!

The joy that flowed from the celebration of Christmas finds its fulfillment today in the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. For us who are gathered together here there is a further reason for this joy. In the sacrament of Baptism that I will soon administer to these newborns there is infact manifested the living and active presence of the Holy Spirit who, enriching the Church with new children, vivifies her and makes her grow and we cannot help but rejoice over this. I would like to address a special greeting to you, dear parents, godfathers and godmothers, who are witnessing to your faith today, asking for Baptism for these children, so that they might be begotten in the new life in Christ and become a part of the community of believers.

The Gospel account of the baptism of Jesus that we heard today in the reading from St. Luke, displays the path of abasement and humility that the Son of God freely chose in order to follow the Father’s plan, to be obedient to his will of love for man in all things, to the point of the sacrifice on the cross. Now an adult, Jesus initiates his public ministry, traveling to the Jordan River to receive a baptism of repentance and conversion from John. There occurs here something that might seem paradoxical in our eyes. Does Jesus need to repent and convert? Certainly not. And yet he who is without sin places himself among sinners to be baptized, to perform this gesture of repentance; the Holy One of God joins with those who recognize their need of forgiveness and ask God for the gift of conversion, that is, the grace to return to him with all their heart, to be completely his. Jesus wishes to place himself among sinners, making himself solidary with them, expressing God’s nearness. Jesus shows himself to be solidary with us, with our effort to convert, to leave our egoism behind, to turn from our sins, to tell us that if we accept him in our lives he is able to lift us back up and lead us to the heights of God the Father. And this solidarity of Jesus is not, so to say, a simple exercise of the mind and will. Jesus has truly immersed himself in our human condition, he lived it through and through, except for sin, and is able to understand weakness and frailty. For this reason he has compassion, chooses to “suffer with” men, to make himself a penitent with us. The work of God that Jesus wishes to accomplish is this: the divine mission heal those who are wounded and to care for the sick, to take the sin of the world upon himself.

What happens in the moment that Jesus has himself baptized by John? With this act of humble love on the part of the Son of God the heavens open and the Holy Spirit is visibly manifest as a dove, while a voice from on high expresses the Father’s pleasure, who points to his only begotten Son, the Beloved. This is an authentic manifestation of the Most Holy Trinity, which witnesses to Jesus’ divinity, his being the promised Messiah, he whom God sent to free his people so that they might be saved (cf. Isaiah 40:2). In this way the prophecy of Isaiah that we heard in the first reading is realized: the Lord God comes with power to destroy the works of sin and his arm exercises dominion to disarm the Evil One; but let us remember that this arm is the arm stretched out upon the cross and that Jesus’ power is the power of him who suffers for us: this is the power of God, different from the power of the world; in this way God comes to destroy sin. Jesus truly acts as the Good Shepherd who feeds the flock and gathers it together that it not be scattered (cf. Isaiah 40:10-11), and he offers his life itself so that it have life. It is through Jesus’ redemptive death that man is freed from the reign of sin and is reconciled with the Father; it is through his resurrection that man is saved from eternal death and is made victorious over the Evil One.

Dear brothers and sisters, what occurs in the Baptism that in a few moments I will administer to your children? It is this: they will be forever united in a profound way with Jesus, in the mystery of this power of his, that is in the mystery of his death, which is the font of life, to participate in his resurrection, to be reborn in a new life. This is the wonder that today is repeated also for your children: receiving Baptism they are reborn as children of God, participants in the filial relation of Jesus with the Father, able to turn toward God calling him “Abbà, Father” with complete confidence. Upon your children too the heavens have opened, and God says: these are my children, children in whom I am pleased. Inserted in this relation and liberated from original sin, they become members of the one body that is the Church and are now able to live in the fullness of their vocation to sanctity so as to have the possibility of eternal life, obtained for us by Jesus’ resurrection.

Dear parents, in asking for Baptism for your children you manifest and witness to your faith, the joy of being Christians and of belonging to the Church. It is the joy that flows from the awareness of having received a great gift from God, precisely the faith, a gift that none of us was able to merit, but that was given to us gratuitously and to which we responded with our “yes.” It is the joy of recognizing ourselves as children of God, to find ourselves entrusted into his hands, to feel ourselves welcomed in the embrace of love, in the same way that a mother holds and embraces her child. This joy, which orients the journey of every Christian, is based on a personal relationship with Jesus, a relationship that orients the whole of human existence. He is in fact the meaning of our lives, he upon whom it is good to fix our gaze, to be enlightened by his truth and be able to live his fullness. The journey of faith that today begins for these children is thus founded on a certainty, the experience that there is nothing greater than knowing Christ and communicating friendship with him to others; only in this friendship is there really disclosed the extraordinary possibilities of the human condition and can we experience that which is beautiful and that which frees (cf. Homily for the beginning of the pontificate, April 24, 2005). Those who have had this experience are not willing to give up their faith for anything in the world.

You, dear godfathers and godmothers, have the important task of supporting and helping the parents in the work of education, assisting them in the transmission of the truths of the faith and in witnessing to the values of the Gospel, in making these children grow in an ever deeper friendship with the Lord. Always know how to give them your good example through the exercise of the Christian virtues. It is not easy to manifest openly and without compromises what we believe, especially in the context in which we live, faced with a society that often considers those live their faith in Jesus unfashionable and out of date. On account of the wave of this mentality, there may also be among Christians the danger of understanding this relationship with Jesus as limiting, as something that is harmful to one’s self-realization; “God is seen as the limit on our freedom, a limit that must be eliminated so that man might be completely himself” (“Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives,” 101 [Italian edition]). But this is not so! It is clear that such a vision does not understand anything of man’s relationship with God because precisely as one progresses in the journey of faith, we grasp how Jesus exercises the liberating love of God upon us, which draws us out of our egoism, from our being closed in on ourselves, to lead us to a full life in communion with God and others. “‘God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 John4:16). These words from theFirst Letter of Johnexpress with remarkable clarity the heart of the Christian faith: the Christian image of God and the resulting image of mankind and its destiny” (“Deus caritas est,” 1).

The water with which these children will be signed in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, will immerse them in that “font” of life that is God himself and makes them his true children. And the seed of the theological virtues, infused by God, faith, hope, and charity, a seed that today is placed in their hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit, must always be cared for by the Word of God and the Sacraments, so that these Christian virtues might grow and reach maturity to make each of them a true witness to the Lord. As we invoke the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon these little ones, we entrust them to the protection of the Holy Virgin; may she guard them always with her maternal presence and accompany them in every moment of their life. Amen.

 

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Pope's Homily at Mass for Solemnity of the Epiphany 2013
"Faith's inner pilgrimage towards God occurs above all in prayer"

VATICAN CITY, January 07, 2013  - Here is the translation of the Holy Father's homily for the Solemnity of the Epiphany.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

For the Church which believes and prays, the Wise Men from the East who, guided by the star, made their way to the manger of Bethlehem, are only the beginning of a great procession which winds throughout history. Thus the liturgy reads the Gospel which relates the journey of the Wise Men, together with the magnificent prophetic visions of the sixtieth chapter of the Book of Isaiah and Psalm 71, which depict in bold imagery the pilgrimage of the peoples to Jerusalem. Like the shepherds, who as the first visitors to the newborn Child in the manger, embodied the poor of Israel and more generally those humble souls who live in deep interior closeness to Jesus, so the men from the East embody the world of the peoples, the Church of the Gentiles – the men and women who in every age set out on the way which leads to the Child of Bethlehem, to offer him homage as the Son of God and to bow down before him. The Church calls this feast "Epiphany" – the appearance of the Godhead. If we consider the fact that from the very beginning men and women of every place, of every continent, of all the different cultures, mentalities and lifestyles, have been on the way to Christ, then we can truly say that this pilgrimage and this encounter with God in the form of a Child is an epiphany of God’s goodness and loving kindness for humanity (cf. Tit 3:4).

Following a tradition begun by Pope John Paul II, we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany of the Lord also as the day when episcopal ordination will be conferred on four priests who will now cooperate in different ways in the ministry of the Pope for the unity of the one Church of Jesus Christ in the multiplicity of the Particular Churches. The connection between this episcopal ordination and the theme of the pilgrimage of the peoples to Jesus Christ is evident. It is the task of the Bishop in this pilgrimage not merely to walk beside the others, but to go before them, showing the way. But in this liturgy I would like to reflect with you on a more concrete question. Based on the account of Matthew, we can gain a certain idea of what sort of men these were, who followed the sign of the star and set off to find that King who would establish not only for Israel but for all mankind a new kind of kingship. What kind of men were they? And we can also ask whether, despite the difference of times and tasks, we can glimpse in them something of what a Bishop is and how he is to carry out his task.

These men who set out towards the unknown were, in any event, men with a restless heart. Men driven by a restless quest for God and the salvation of the world. They were filled with expectation, not satisfied with their secure income and their respectable place in society. They were looking for something greater. They were no doubt learned men, quite knowledgeable about the heavens and probably possessed of a fine philosophical formation. But they desired more than simply knowledge about things. They wanted above all else to know what is essential. They wanted to know how we succeed in being human. And therefore they wanted to know if God exists, and where and how he exists. Whether he is concerned about us and how we can encounter him. Nor did they want just to know. They wanted to understand the truth about ourselves and about God and the world. Their outward pilgrimage was an expression of their inward journey, the inner pilgrimage of their hearts. They were men who sought God and were ultimately on the way towards him. They were seekers after God.

Here we come to the question: What sort of man must he be, upon whom hands are laid in episcopal ordination in the Church of Jesus Christ? We can say that he must above all be a man concerned for God, for only then will he also be truly concerned about men. Inversely, we could also say that a Bishop must be a man concerned for others, one who is concerned about what happens to them. He must be a man for others. But he can only truly be so if he is a man seized by God, if concern for God has also become for him concern for God’s creature who is man. Like the Wise Men from the East, a Bishop must not be someone who merely does his job and is content with that. No, he must be gripped by God’s concern for men and women. He must in some way think and feel with God. Human beings have an innate restlessness for God, but this restlessness is a participation in God’s own restlessness for us. Since God is concerned about us, he follows us even to the crib, even to the Cross. "Thou with weary steps hast sought me, crucified hast dearly bought me, may thy pains not be in vain", the Church prays in the Dies Irae. The restlessness of men for God and hence the restlessness of God for men must unsettle the Bishop. This is what we mean when we say that, above all else, the Bishop must be a man of faith. For faith is nothing less than being interiorly seized by God, something which guides us along the pathways of life. Faith draws us into a state of being seized by the restlessness of God and it makes us pilgrims who are on an inner journey towards the true King of the world and his promise of justice, truth and love. On this pilgrimage the Bishop must go ahead, he must be the guide pointing out to men and women the way to faith, hope and love.

Faith’s inner pilgrimage towards God occurs above all in prayer. Saint Augustine once said that prayer is ultimately nothing more than the realization and radicalization of our yearning for God. Instead of "yearning", we could also translate the word as "restlessness" and say that prayer would detach us from our false security, from our being enclosed within material and visible realities, and would give us a restlessness for God and thus an openness to and concern for one another. The Bishop, as a pilgrim of God, must be above all a man of prayer. He must be in constant inner contact with God; his soul must be open wide to God. He must bring before God his own needs and the needs of others, as well as his joys and the joys of others, and thus in his own way establish contact between God and the world in communion with Christ, so that Christ’s light can shine in the world.

Let us return to the Wise Men from the East. These were also, and above all, men of courage, the courage and humility born of faith. Courage was needed to grasp the meaning of the star as a sign to set out, to go forth – towards the unknown, the uncertain, on paths filled with hidden dangers. We can imagine that their decision was met with derision: the scorn of those realists who could only mock the reveries of such men. Anyone who took off on the basis of such uncertain promises, risking everything, could only appear ridiculous. But for these men, inwardly seized by God, the way which he pointed out was more important than what other people thought. For them, seeking the truth meant more than the taunts of the world, so apparently clever.

How can we not think, in this context, of the task of a Bishop in our own time? The humility of faith, of sharing the faith of the Church of every age, will constantly be in conflict with the prevailing wisdom of those who cling to what seems certain. Anyone who lives and proclaims the faith of the Church is on many points out of step with the prevalent way of thinking, even in our own day. Today’s regnant agnosticism has its own dogmas and is extremely intolerant regarding anything that would question it and the criteria it employs. Therefore the courage to contradict the prevailing mindset is particularly urgent for a Bishop today. He must be courageous. And this courage or forcefulness does not consist in striking out or in acting aggressively, but rather in allowing oneself to be struck and to be steadfast before the principles of the prevalent way of thinking. The courage to stand firm in the truth is unavoidably demanded of those whom the Lord sends like sheep among wolves. "Those who fear the Lord will not be timid", says the Book of Sirach (34:16). The fear of God frees us from the fear of men. It liberates.

Here I am reminded of an episode at the very beginning of Christianity which Saint Luke recounts in the Acts of the Apostles. After the speech of Gamaliel, who advised against violence in dealing with the earliest community of believers in Jesus, the Sanhedrin summoned the Apostles and had them flogged. It then forbade them from preaching in the name of Jesus and set them free. Saint Luke continues: "As they left the council, they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonour for the name of Jesus. And every day… they did not cease to teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah" (Acts 5:40ff.). The successors of the Apostles must also expect to be repeatedly beaten, by contemporary methods, if they continue to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a way that can be heard and understood. Then they can rejoice that they have been considered worthy of suffering for him. Like the Apostles, we naturally want to convince people and in this sense to obtain their approval. Naturally, we are not provocative; on the contrary we invite all to enter into the joy of that truth which shows us the way. The approval of the prevailing wisdom, however, is not the criterion to which we submit. Our criterion is the Lord himself. If we defend his cause, we will constantly gain others to the way of the Gospel. But, inevitably, we will also be beaten by those who live lives opposed to the Gospel, and then we can be grateful for having been judged worthy to share in the passion of Christ.

The Wise Men followed the star, and thus came to Jesus, to the great Light which enlightens everyone coming into this world (cf. Jn 1:9). As pilgrims of faith, the Wise Men themselves became stars shining in the firmament of history and they show us the way. The saints are God’s true constellations, which light up the nights of this world, serving as our guides. Saint Paul, in his Letter to the Philippians, told his faithful that they must shine like stars in the world (cf. 2:15).

Dear friends, this holds true for us too. It holds true above all for you who are now to be ordained Bishops of the Church of Jesus Christ. If you live with Christ, bound to him anew in this sacrament, then you too will become wise men. Then you will become stars which go before men and women, pointing out to them the right path in life. All of us here are now praying for you, that the Lord may fill you with the light of faith and love. That that restlessness of God for man may seize you, so that all may experience his closeness and receive the gift of his joy. We are praying for you, that the Lord may always grant you the courage and humility of faith. We ask Mary, who showed to the Wise Men the new King of the world (cf. Mt 2:11), as a loving mother, to show Jesus Christ also to you and to help you to be guides along the way which leads to him. Amen.

[00020-02.02] [Original text: Italian]

 

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On the New Year
"Our Lady Believed the Message Revealed to Her by the Angels Word"

VATICAN CITY, January 02, 2013 - Here is the translation of the Angelus delivered yesterday on the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Happy New Year to all! On this first day of 2013 I would like extend God's blessing to every man and every woman in the world. I do so with the ancient formula contained in Sacred Scripture: "The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you. The Lord turn his face to you and give you peace "(Num. 6:24-26).

Just as the Sun's light and the warmth are a blessing for the Earth, so the light of God is a blessing for humanity, when He makes his face shine on it. This happened with the birth of Jesus Christ! God has made his face shine on us: at the beginning in a very humble, hidden way - in Bethlehem, only Mary and Joseph and some shepherds were witnesses to this revelation - but little by little, like the sun that rises from dawn until noon, the light of Christ has grown and spread everywhere. Already in the short time of his earthly life, Jesus of Nazareth caused the face of God to shine on the Holy Land; and then, through the Church animated by his Spirit, he extended to all peoples the Gospel of peace. "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those whom he favors" (Lk 2:14). This is the song of the angels at Christmas, and the song of the Christians in every time, a song that from the hearts and lips passes into concrete actions, actions of love that build dialogue, understanding and reconciliation.

For this, eight days after Christmas, when the Church, like the Virgin Mother Mary, show the world the infant Jesus, the Prince of Peace, we celebrate the World Day of Peace. Yes, that Child, who is the Word of God made flesh, came to give men a peace which the world cannot give (cf. Jn 14:27). His mission is to break down the "dividing wall of hostility" (Eph 2:14). And when, on the shores of the Sea of ​​Galilee, He proclaims his "Beatitudes", among them there is also "blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God" (Mt 5:9). Who are the peacemakers? They are all those who, day by day, try to overcome evil with good, with the power of truth, with the weapons of prayer and forgiveness, with honest work well done, with scientific research at the service of life, with the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. The peacemakers are many, but they do not make noise. Like leaven in the dough, they make humanity grow according to God's plan.

In this first Angelus of the New Year, we ask the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, to bless us, like a mother blesses her children who depart on a journey. A new year is like a journey: with the light and grace of God, may it be a path to peace for every person and every family, for each country and for the whole world.

[After the Angelus, the Holy Father addressed the pilgrims]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I extend to you all the most cordial good wishes for the new year: may it truly be a good year, and it will be if we accept within us and among us, the love that Christ has given us. With gratitude I express my best wishes to the President of the Italian Republic and the entire nation, as well as to other authorities who have sent me greetings.

I renew my affectionate greeting to the young people who came to Rome for the European meeting of the Taizé Community. I express my spiritual closeness to the ecclesial initiatives at the World Day of Peace: I am thinking, in particular, of the national march which took place last night in Lecce, as well as that of this morning here in Rome, animated by the Community of St. Egidio. I greet the members of the Family Love Movement who last night kept vigil in prayer in St. Peter's Square, as well as in Milan and Aquila. To all I repeat the words of Jesus: "Blessed are the peacemakers"!

[I am pleased to greet all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present today for this prayer. Today, New Year’s Day, we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. With affectionate trust, Our Lady believed the message revealed to her by the angel’s word and bore Jesus Christ, true God and true man. May her powerful intercession bring you a happy and prosperous New Year!]

Finally, I greet all the Italian-speaking pilgrims: the church groups, the families, the young people, particularly the youth of the Student Youth Movement of Liguria. I wish you all an abundance of peace and happiness for every day of the New Year!

[Translation by Peter Waymel]

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Pope's Homily at Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God

VATICAN CITY, January 02, 2013 - Here is the translation of the Holy Father's homily yesterday during the Mass for the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God held in St. Peter's Basilica.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

"May God bless us and make his face to shine upon us." We proclaimed these words from Psalm 66 after hearing in the first reading the ancient priestly blessing upon the people of the covenant. It is especially significant that at the start of every new year God sheds upon us, his people, the light of his Holy Name, the Name pronounced three times in the solemn form of biblical blessing. Nor is it less significant that to the Word of God – who "became flesh and dwelt among us" (Jn 1:14) as "the true light that enlightens every man" (1:9) – is given, as today’s Gospel tells us, the Name of Jesus eight days after his birth (cf. Lk 2:21).

It is in this Name that we are gathered here today. I cordially greet all present, beginning with the Ambassadors of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See. I greet with affection Cardinal Bertone, my Secretary of State, and Cardinal Turkson, with all the officials of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace; I am particularly grateful to them for their effort to spread the Message for the World Day of Peace, which this year has as its theme "Blessed are the Peacemakers".

Although the world is sadly marked by "hotbeds of tension and conflict caused by growing instances of inequality between rich and poor, by the prevalence of a selfish and individualistic mindset which also finds expression in an unregulated financial capitalism," as well as by various forms of terrorism and crime, I am convinced that "the many different efforts at peacemaking which abound in our world testify to mankind’s innate vocation to peace. In every person the desire for peace is an essential aspiration which coincides in a certain way with the desire for a full, happy and successful human life. In other words, the desire for peace corresponds to a fundamental moral principle, namely, the duty and right to an integral social and communitarian development, which is part of God’s plan for mankind. Man is made for the peace which is God’s gift. All of this led me to draw inspiration for this Message from the words of Jesus Christ: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God’ (Mt 5:9)" (Message, 1). This beatitude "tells us that peace is both a messianic gift and the fruit of human effort … It is peace with God through a life lived according to his will. It is interior peace with oneself, and exterior peace with our neighbours and all creation" (ibid., 2, 3). Indeed, peace is the supreme good to ask as a gift from God and, at the same time, that which is to be built with our every effort.

We may ask ourselves: what is the basis, the origin, the root of peace? How can we experience that peace within ourselves, in spite of problems, darkness and anxieties? The reply is given to us by the readings of today’s liturgy. The biblical texts, especially the one just read from the Gospel of Luke, ask us to contemplate the interior peace of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. During the days in which "she gave birth to her first-born son" (Lk2:7), many unexpected things occurred: not only the birth of the Son but, even before, the tiring journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, not finding room at the inn, the search for a chance place to stay for the night; then the song of the angels and the unexpected visit of the shepherds. In all this, however, Mary remains even tempered, she does not get agitated, she is not overcome by events greater than herself; in silence she considers what happens, keeping it in her mind and heart, and pondering it calmly and serenely. This is the interior peace which we ought to have amid the sometimes tumultuous and confusing events of history, events whose meaning we often do not grasp and which disconcert us.

The Gospel passage finishes with a mention of the circumcision of Jesus. According to the Law of Moses, eight days after birth, baby boys were to be circumcised and then given their name. Through his messenger, God himself had said to Mary – as well as to Joseph – that the Name to be given to the child was "Jesus" (cf. Mt 1:21; Lk 1:31); and so it came to be. The Name which God had already chosen, even before the child had been conceived, is now officially conferred upon him at the moment of circumcision. This also changes Mary’s identity once and for all: she becomes "the mother of Jesus", that is the mother of the Saviour, of Christ, of the Lord. Jesus is not a man like any other, but the Word of God, one of the Divine Persons, the Son of God: therefore the Church has given Mary the title Theotokos or Mother of God.

The first reading reminds us that peace is a gift from God and is linked to the splendour of the face of God, according to the text from the Book of Numbers, which hands down the blessing used by the priests of the People of Israel in their liturgical assemblies. This blessing repeats three times the Holy Name of God, a Name not to be spoken, and each time it is linked to two words indicating an action in favour of man: "The Lord bless you and keep you: the Lord make his face to shine upon you: the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace" (6:24-26). So peace is the summit of these six actions of God in our favour, in which he turns towards us the splendour of his face.

For sacred Scripture, contemplating the face of God is the greatest happiness: "You gladden him with the joy of your face" (Ps 21:7). From the contemplation of the face of God are born joy, security and peace. But what does it mean concretely to contemplate the face of the Lord, as understood in the New Testament? It means knowing him directly, in so far as is possible in this life, through Jesus Christ in whom he is revealed. To rejoice in the splendour of God’s face means penetrating the mystery of his Name made known to us in Jesus, understanding something of his interior life and of his will, so that we can live according to his plan of love for humanity. In the second reading, taken from the Letter to the Galatians (4:4-7), Saint Paul says as much as he describes the Spirit who, in our inmost hearts, cries: "Abba! Father!" It is the cry that rises from the contemplation of the true face of God, from the revelation of the mystery of his Name. Jesus declares, "I have manifested thy name to men" (Jn 17:6). God’s Son made man has let us know the Father, he has let us know the hidden face of the Father through his visible human face; by the gift of the Holy Spirit poured into our hearts, he has led us to understand that, in him, we too are children of God, as Saint Paul says in the passage we have just heard: "The proof that you are sons is that God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts: the Spirit that cries, ‘Abba, Father’" (Gal 4:6).

Here, dear brothers and sisters, is the foundation of our peace: the certainty of contemplating in Jesus Christ the splendour of the face of God the Father, of being sons in the Son, and thus of having, on life’s journey, the same security that a child feels in the arms of a loving and all-powerful Father. The splendour of the face of God, shining upon us and granting us peace, is the manifestation of his fatherhood: the Lord turns his face to us, he reveals himself as our Father and grants us peace. Here is the principle of that profound peace – "peace with God" – which is firmly linked to faith and grace, as Saint Paul tells the Christians of Rome (cf. Rom 5:2). Nothing can take this peace from believers, not even the difficulties and sufferings of life. Indeed, sufferings, trials and darkness do not undermine but build up our hope, a hope which does not deceive because "God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us" (5:5).

May the Virgin Mary, whom today we venerate with the title of Mother of God, help us to contemplate the face of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. May she sustain us and accompany us in this New Year: and may she obtain for us and for the whole world the gift of peace. Amen!

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On the Feast of St. Stephen
"St. Stephen is a Model for All Those Who Want to Serve the New Evangelization"

VATICAN CITY, December 27, 2012  - Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Each year, on the day after Christmas, the liturgy celebrates the feast of St. Stephen, deacon and first martyr. The book of Acts presents him as a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 6.8 to 10, 7.55); in him the full promise of Jesus recounted in today's Gospel passage is fulfilled, which is that believers who are called to bear witness in difficult and dangerous circumstances will not be abandoned or left defenseless: the Spirit of God will speak to them (cf. Mt 10:20).

The deacon Stephen, in fact, worked, spoke and died animated by the Holy Spirit, bearing witness to the love of Christ to the point of extreme sacrifice. The first martyr is described, in his suffering, as a perfect imitation of Christ, whose passion is repeated even in the details. The life of Saint Stephen is entirely shaped by God, conformed to Christ, whose passion is repeated in him; in the final moment of death, on his knees, he takes up the prayer of Jesus on the cross, trusting in the Lord (cf. Acts 7.59 ) and forgiving his enemies: " Lord, do not hold this sin against them" (v. 60). Filled with the Holy Spirit, as his eyes are about to close, he fixed his gaze on "Jesus standing at the right hand of God" (v. 55), the Lord of all, who draws all to Him.

On St. Stephen’s Day, we are called to fix our gaze on the Son of God, who in the joyful atmosphere of Christmas we contemplate in the mystery of His Incarnation. In Baptism and Confirmation, with the precious gift of faith nourished by the Sacraments of the Church, especially the Eucharist, Jesus Christ has bound us to Him and wants to continue in us, through the action of the Holy Spirit, his work of salvation that redeems, enhances, elevates and leads all to fulfillment. Allowing ourselves be drawn by Christ, like St. Stephen, means opening our lives to the light that calls, directs and makes us walk the path of good, the path of humanity according to God’s loving plan.

Finally, St. Stephen is a model for all those who want to serve the new evangelization. He shows that the novelty of proclamation does not primarily consist in the use of original methods or techniques, which certainly have their uses, but in being filled with the Holy Spirit and allowing ourselves to be guided by Him. The novelty of proclamation lies in immerging ourselves deeply in the mystery of Christ, the assimilation of His Word and of His presence in the Eucharist, so that He Himself, the living Jesus, can act and speak through His envoy. In essence, the evangelizer becomes able to bring Christ to others effectively when he lives of Christ, when the newness of the Gospel manifests itself in his own life. We pray to the Virgin Mary, so that the Church, in this Year of Faith, sees more men and women who, like St. Stephen, know how to give a convinced and courageous witness of the Lord Jesus.

[Translation by Vatican Radio]

After the Recitation of the Angelus, the Holy Father greeted the pilgrims present in various languages. In English, the Holy Father said:

I am pleased to welcome all those present for this Angelus prayer. Today, immediately after Christmas Day, by tradition we celebrate the feast of the first martyr, Saint Stephen the Deacon. Like him, may we be blessed by God’s grace to have the courage to speak up and to defend the truth of our faith in public, with charity and constancy. God bless all of you and your loved ones!

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Benedict XVI's Christmas Eve Homily 2012
"What would happen if Mary and Joseph were to knock at my door"

VATICAN CITY, December 24, 2012 - Here is a Vatican translation of the homily Benedict XVI gave at tonight's Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter's Basilica.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters!

Again and again the beauty of this Gospel touches our hearts: a beauty that is the splendour of truth. Again and again it astonishes us that God makes himself a child so that we may love him, so that we may dare to love him, and as a child trustingly lets himself be taken into our arms. It is as if God were saying: I know that my glory frightens you, and that you are trying to assert yourself in the face of my grandeur. So now I am coming to you as a child, so that you can accept me and love me.

I am also repeatedly struck by the Gospel writer’s almost casual remark that there was no room for them at the inn. Inevitably the question arises, what would happen if Mary and Joseph were to knock at my door. Would there be room for them? And then it occurs to us that Saint John takes up this seemingly chance comment about the lack of room at the inn, which drove the Holy Family into the stable; he explores it more deeply and arrives at the heart of the matter when he writes: "he came to his own home, and his own people received him not" (Jn 1:11). The great moral question of our attitude towards the homeless, towards refugees and migrants, takes on a deeper dimension: do we really have room for God when he seeks to enter under our roof? Do we have time and space for him? Do we not actually turn away God himself? We begin to do so when we have no time for him. The faster we can move, the more efficient our time-saving appliances become, the less time we have. And God? The question of God never seems urgent. Our time is already completely full. But matters go deeper still. Does God actually have a place in our thinking? Our process of thinking is structured in such a way that he simply ought not to exist. Even if he seems to knock at the door of our thinking, he has to be explained away. If thinking is to be taken seriously, it must be structured in such a way that the "God hypothesis" becomes superfluous. There is no room for him. Not even in our feelings and desires is there any room for him. We want ourselves. We want what we can seize hold of, we want happiness that is within our reach, we want our plans and purposes to succeed. We are so "full" of ourselves that there is no room left for God. And that means there is no room for others either, for children, for the poor, for the stranger. By reflecting on that one simple saying about the lack of room at the inn, we have come to see how much we need to listen to Saint Paul’s exhortation: "Be transformed by the renewal of your mind" (Rom 12:2). Paul speaks of renewal, the opening up of our intellect (nous), of the whole way we view the world and ourselves. The conversion that we need must truly reach into the depths of our relationship with reality. Let us ask the Lord that we may become vigilant for his presence, that we may hear how softly yet insistently he knocks at the door of our being and willing. Let us ask that we may make room for him within ourselves, that we may recognize him also in those through whom he speaks to us: children, the suffering, the abandoned, those who are excluded and the poor of this world.

There is another verse from the Christmas story on which I should like to reflect with you – the angels’ hymn of praise, which they sing out following the announcement of the new-born Saviour: "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased." God is glorious. God is pure light, the radiance of truth and love. He is good. He is true goodness, goodness par excellence. The angels surrounding him begin by simply proclaiming the joy of seeing God’s glory. Their song radiates the joy that fills them. In their words, it is as if we were hearing the sounds of heaven. There is no question of attempting to understand the meaning of it all, but simply the overflowing happiness of seeing the pure splendour of God’s truth and love. We want to let this joy reach out and touch us: truth exists, pure goodness exists, pure light exists. God is good, and he is the supreme power above all powers. All this should simply make us joyful tonight, together with the angels and the shepherds.

Linked to God’s glory on high is peace on earth among men. Where God is not glorified, where he is forgotten or even denied, there is no peace either. Nowadays, though, widespread currents of thought assert the exact opposite: they say that religions, especially monotheism, are the cause of the violence and the wars in the world. If there is to be peace, humanity must first be liberated from them. Monotheism, belief in one God, is said to be arrogance, a cause of intolerance, because by its nature, with its claim to possess the sole truth, it seeks to impose itself on everyone. Now it is true that in the course of history, monotheism has served as a pretext for intolerance and violence. It is true that religion can become corrupted and hence opposed to its deepest essence, when people think they have to take God’s cause into their own hands, making God into their private property. We must be on the lookout for these distortions of the sacred. While there is no denying a certain misuse of religion in history, yet it is not true that denial of God would lead to peace. If God’s light is extinguished, man’s divine dignity is also extinguished. Then the human creature would cease to be God’s image, to which we must pay honour in every person, in the weak, in the stranger, in the poor. Then we would no longer all be brothers and sisters, children of the one Father, who belong to one another on account of that one Father. The kind of arrogant violence that then arises, the way man then despises and tramples upon man: we saw this in all its cruelty in the last century. Only if God’s light shines over man and within him, only if every single person is desired, known and loved by God is his dignity inviolable, however wretched his situation may be. On this Holy Night, God himself became man; as Isaiah prophesied, the child born here is "Emmanuel", God with us (Is 7:14). And down the centuries, while there has been misuse of religion, it is also true that forces of reconciliation and goodness have constantly sprung up from faith in the God who became man. Into the darkness of sin and violence, this faith has shone a bright ray of peace and goodness, which continues to shine.

So Christ is our peace, and he proclaimed peace to those far away and to those near at hand (cf. Eph 2:14, 17). How could we now do other than pray to him: Yes, Lord, proclaim peace today to us too, whether we are far away or near at hand. Grant also to us today that swords may be turned into ploughshares (Is 2:4), that instead of weapons for warfare, practical aid may be given to the suffering. Enlighten those who think they have to practise violence in your name, so that they may see the senselessness of violence and learn to recognize your true face. Help us to become people "with whom you are pleased" – people according to your image and thus people of peace.

Once the angels departed, the shepherds said to one another: Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened for us (cf. Lk 2:15). The shepherds went with haste to Bethlehem, the Evangelist tells us (cf. 2:16). A holy curiosity impelled them to see this child in a manger, who the angel had said was the Saviour, Christ the Lord. The great joy of which the angel spoke had touched their hearts and given them wings.

Let us go over to Bethlehem, says the Church’s liturgy to us today. Trans-eamus is what the Latin Bible says: let us go "across", daring to step beyond, to make the "transition" by which we step outside our habits of thought and habits of life, across the purely material world into the real one, across to the God who in his turn has come across to us. Let us ask the Lord to grant that we may overcome our limits, our world, to help us to encounter him, especially at the moment when he places himself into our hands and into our heart in the Holy Eucharist.

Let us go over to Bethlehem: as we say these words to one another, along with the shepherds, we should not only think of the great "crossing over" to the living God, but also of the actual town of Bethlehem and all those places where the Lord lived, ministered and suffered. Let us pray at this time for the people who live and suffer there today. Let us pray that there may be peace in that land. Let us pray that Israelis and Palestinians may be able to live their lives in the peace of the one God and in freedom. Let us also pray for the countries of the region, for Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and their neighbours: that there may be peace there, that Christians in those lands where our faith was born may be able to continue living there, that Christians and Muslims may build up their countries side by side in God’s peace.

The shepherds made haste. Holy curiosity and holy joy impelled them. In our case, it is probably not very often that we make haste for the things of God. God does not feature among the things that require haste. The things of God can wait, we think and we say. And yet he is the most important thing, ultimately the one truly important thing. Why should we not also be moved by curiosity to see more closely and to know what God has said to us? At this hour, let us ask him to touch our hearts with the holy curiosity and the holy joy of the shepherds, and thus let us go over joyfully to Bethlehem, to the Lord who today once more comes to meet us. Amen.

 

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MIDNIGHT MASS      SOLEMNITY OF THE NATIVITY OF THE LORD

HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI   Saint Peter's Basilica    Monday, 24 December 2012

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

Again and again the beauty of this Gospel touches our hearts: a beauty that is the splendour of truth. Again and again it astonishes us that God makes himself a child so that we may love him, so that we may dare to love him, and as a child trustingly lets himself be taken into our arms. It is as if God were saying: I know that my glory frightens you, and that you are trying to assert yourself in the face of my grandeur. So now I am coming to you as a child, so that you can accept me and love me. 

I am also repeatedly struck by the Gospel writer’s almost casual remark that there was no room for them at the inn. Inevitably the question arises, what would happen if Mary and Joseph were to knock at my door. Would there be room for them? And then it occurs to us that Saint John takes up this seemingly chance comment about the lack of room at the inn, which drove the Holy Family into the stable; he explores it more deeply and arrives at the heart of the matter when he writes: “he came to his own home, and his own people received him not” (Jn 1:11). The great moral question of our attitude towards the homeless, towards refugees and migrants, takes on a deeper dimension: do we really have room for God when he seeks to enter under our roof? Do we have time and space for him? Do we not actually turn away God himself? We begin to do so when we have no time for God. The faster we can move, the more efficient our time-saving appliances become, the less time we have. And God? The question of God never seems urgent. Our time is already completely full. But matters go deeper still. Does God actually have a place in our thinking? Our process of thinking is structured in such a way that he simply ought not to exist. Even if he seems to knock at the door of our thinking, he has to be explained away. If thinking is to be taken seriously, it must be structured in such a way that the “God hypothesis” becomes superfluous. There is no room for him. Not even in our feelings and desires is there any room for him. We want ourselves. We want what we can seize hold of, we want happiness that is within our reach, we want our plans and purposes to succeed. We are so “full” of ourselves that there is no room left for God. And that means there is no room for others either, for children, for the poor, for the stranger. By reflecting on that one simple saying about the lack of room at the inn, we have come to see how much we need to listen to Saint Paul’s exhortation: “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom 12:2). Paul speaks of renewal, the opening up of our intellect (nous), of the whole way we view the world and ourselves. The conversion that we need must truly reach into the depths of our relationship with reality. Let us ask the Lord that we may become vigilant for his presence, that we may hear how softly yet insistently he knocks at the door of our being and willing. Let us ask that we may make room for him within ourselves, that we may recognize him also in those through whom he speaks to us: children, the suffering, the abandoned, those who are excluded and the poor of this world.

There is another verse from the Christmas story on which I should like to reflect with you – the angels’ hymn of praise, which they sing out following the announcement of the new-born Saviour: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased.” God is glorious. God is pure light, the radiance of truth and love. He is good. He is true goodness, goodness par excellence. The angels surrounding him begin by simply proclaiming the joy of seeing God’s glory. Their song radiates the joy that fills them. In their words, it is as if we were hearing the sounds of heaven. There is no question of attempting to understand the meaning of it all, but simply the overflowing happiness of seeing the pure splendour of God’s truth and love. We want to let this joy reach out and touch us: truth exists, pure goodness exists, pure light exists. God is good, and he is the supreme power above all powers. All this should simply make us joyful tonight, together with the angels and the shepherds.

Linked to God’s glory on high is peace on earth among men. Where God is not glorified, where he is forgotten or even denied, there is no peace either. Nowadays, though, widespread currents of thought assert the exact opposite: they say that religions, especially monotheism, are the cause of the violence and the wars in the world. If there is to be peace, humanity must first be liberated from them. Monotheism, belief in one God, is said to be arrogance, a cause of intolerance, because by its nature, with its claim to possess the sole truth, it seeks to impose itself on everyone. Now it is true that in the course of history, monotheism has served as a pretext for intolerance and violence. It is true that religion can become corrupted and hence opposed to its deepest essence, when people think they have to take God’s cause into their own hands, making God into their private property. We must be on the lookout for these distortions of the sacred. While there is no denying a certain misuse of religion in history, yet it is not true that denial of God would lead to peace. If God’s light is extinguished, man’s divine dignity is also extinguished. Then the human creature would cease to be God’s image, to which we must pay honour in every person, in the weak, in the stranger, in the poor. Then we would no longer all be brothers and sisters, children of the one Father, who belong to one another on account of that one Father. The kind of arrogant violence that then arises, the way man then despises and tramples upon man: we saw this in all its cruelty in the last century. Only if God’s light shines over man and within him, only if every single person is desired, known and loved by God is his dignity inviolable, however wretched his situation may be. On this Holy Night, God himself became man; as Isaiah prophesied, the child born here is “Emmanuel”, God with us (Is 7:14). And down the centuries, while there has been misuse of religion, it is also true that forces of reconciliation and goodness have constantly sprung up from faith in the God who became man. Into the darkness of sin and violence, this faith has shone a bright ray of peace and goodness, which continues to shine.

So Christ is our peace, and he proclaimed peace to those far away and to those near at hand (cf. Eph 2:14, 17). How could we now do other than pray to him: Yes, Lord, proclaim peace today to us too, whether we are far away or near at hand. Grant also to us today that swords may be turned into ploughshares (Is 2:4), that instead of weapons for warfare, practical aid may be given to the suffering. Enlighten those who think they have to practise violence in your name, so that they may see the senselessness of violence and learn to recognize your true face. Help us to become people “with whom you are pleased” – people according to your image and thus people of peace.

Once the angels departed, the shepherds said to one another: Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened for us (cf. Lk 2:15). The shepherds went with haste to Bethlehem, the Evangelist tells us (cf. 2:16). A holy curiosity impelled them to see this child in a manger, who the angel had said was the Saviour, Christ the Lord. The great joy of which the angel spoke had touched their hearts and given them wings.

Let us go over to Bethlehem, says the Church’s liturgy to us today. Trans-eamus is what the Latin Bible says: let us go “across”, daring to step beyond, to make the “transition” by which we step outside our habits of thought and habits of life, across the purely material world into the real one, across to the God who in his turn has come across to us. Let us ask the Lord to grant that we may overcome our limits, our world, to help us to encounter him, especially at the moment when he places himself into our hands and into our heart in the Holy Eucharist.

Let us go over to Bethlehem: as we say these words to one another, along with the shepherds, we should not only think of the great “crossing over” to the living God, but also of the actual town of Bethlehem and all those places where the Lord lived, ministered and suffered. Let us pray at this time for the people who live and suffer there today. Let us pray that there may be peace in that land. Let us pray that Israelis and Palestinians may be able to live their lives in the peace of the one God and in freedom. Let us also pray for the countries of the region, for Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and their neighbours: that there may be peace there, that Christians in those lands where our faith was born may be able to continue living there, that Christians and Muslims may build up their countries side by side in God’s peace.

The shepherds made haste. Holy curiosity and holy joy impelled them. In our case, it is probably not very often that we make haste for the things of God. God does not feature among the things that require haste. The things of God can wait, we think and we say. And yet he is the most important thing, ultimately the one truly important thing. Why should we not also be moved by curiosity to see more closely and to know what God has said to us? At this hour, let us ask him to touch our hearts with the holy curiosity and the holy joy of the shepherds, and thus let us go over joyfully to Bethlehem, to the Lord who today once more comes to meet us. Amen.

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URBI ET ORBI MESSAGE    OF HIS HOLINESS POPE BENEDICT XVI      CHRISTMAS 2012

“Veritas de terra orta est!” – “Truth has sprung out of the earth” (Ps 85:12).

Dear brothers and sisters in Rome and throughout the world, a happy Christmas to you and your families!

In this Year of Faith, I express my Christmas greetings and good wishes in these words taken from one of the Psalms: “Truth has sprung out of the earth”. Actually, in the text of the Psalm, these words are in the future: “Kindness and truth shall meet; / justice and peace shall kiss. / Truth shall spring out of the earth, /and justice shall look down from heaven. / The Lord himself will give his benefits; / our land shall yield its increase. / Justice shall walk before him, / and salvation, along the way of his steps” (Ps 85:11-14).

Today these prophetic words have been fulfilled! In Jesus, born in Bethlehem of the Virgin Mary, kindness and truth do indeed meet; justice and peace have kissed; truth has sprung out of the earth and justice has looked down from heaven. Saint Augustine explains with admirable brevity: “What is truth? The Son of God. What is the earth? The flesh. Ask whence Christ has been born, and you will see that truth has sprung out of the earth … truth has been born of the Virgin Mary” (En. in Ps. 84:13). And in a Christmas sermon he says that “in this yearly feast we celebrate that day when the prophecy was fulfilled: ‘truth shall spring out of the earth, and justice shall look down from heaven’. The Truth, which is in the bosom of the Father has sprung out of the earth, to be in the womb of a mother too. The Truth which rules the whole world has sprung out of the earth, to be held in the arms of a woman ... The Truth which heaven cannot contain has sprung out of the earth, to be laid in a manger. For whose benefit did so lofty a God become so lowly? Certainly not for his own, but for our great benefit, if we believe” (Sermones, 185, 1).

“If we believe”. Here we see the power of faith! God has done everything; he has done the impossible: he was made flesh. His all-powerful love has accomplished something which surpasses all human understanding: the Infinite has become a child, has entered the human family. And yet, this same God cannot enter my heart unless I open the door to him. Porta fidei! The door of faith! We could be frightened by this, our inverse omnipotence. This human ability to be closed to God can make us fearful. But see the reality which chases away this gloomy thought, the hope that conquers fear: truth has sprung up! God is born! “The earth has yielded its fruits” (Ps 67:7). Yes, there is a good earth, a healthy earth, an earth freed of all selfishness and all lack of openness. In this world there is a good soil which God has prepared, that he might come to dwell among us. A dwelling place for his presence in the world. This good earth exists, and today too, in 2012, from this earth truth has sprung up! Consequently, there is hope in the world, a hope in which we can trust, even at the most difficult times and in the most difficult situations. Truth has sprung up, bringing kindness, justice and peace.

Yes, may peace spring up for the people of Syria, deeply wounded and divided by a conflict which does not spare even the defenceless and reaps innocent victims. Once again I appeal for an end to the bloodshed, easier access for the relief of refugees and the displaced, and dialogue in the pursuit of a political solution to the conflict.

May peace spring up in the Land where the Redeemer was born, and may he grant Israelis and Palestinians courage to end to long years of conflict and division, and to embark resolutely on the path of negotiation.

In the countries of North Africa, which are experiencing a major transition in pursuit of a new future – and especially the beloved land of Egypt, blessed by the childhood of Jesus – may citizens work together to build societies founded on justice and respect for the freedom and dignity of every person.

May peace spring up on the vast continent of Asia. May the Child Jesus look graciously on the many peoples who dwell in those lands and, in a special way, upon all those who believe in him. May the King of Peace turn his gaze to the new leaders of the People’s Republic of China for the high task which awaits them. I express my hope that, in fulfilling this task, they will esteem the contribution of the religions, in respect for each, in such a way that they can help to build a fraternal society for the benefit of that noble People and of the whole world.

May the Birth of Christ favour the return of peace in Mali and that of concord in Nigeria, where savage acts of terrorism continue to reap victims, particularly among Christians. May the Redeemer bring help and comfort to the refugees from the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and grant peace to Kenya, where brutal attacks have struck the civilian population and places of worship.

May the Child Jesus bless the great numbers of the faithful who celebrate him in Latin America. May he increase their human and Christian virtues, sustain all those forced to leave behind their families and their land, and confirm government leaders in their commitment to development and fighting crime.

Dear brothers and sisters! Kindness and truth, justice and peace have met; they have become incarnate in the child born of Mary in Bethlehem. That child is the Son of God; he is God appearing in history. His birth is a flowering of new life for all humanity. May every land become a good earth which receives and brings forth kindness and truth, justice and peace. Happy Christmas to all of you!

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"The Birth of Christ Challenges us to Reassess our Priorities, Our Values, Our Very Way of Life"

By Pope Benedict XVI

The following is the full text of the article written by His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI which appeared in the Financial Times.

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VATICAN CITY, DEC. 20, 2012 - "Render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God," was the response of Jesus when asked about paying taxes. His questioners, of course, were laying a trap for him. They wanted to force him to take sides in the highly charged political debate about Roman rule in the land of Israel. Yet there was more at stake here: if Jesus really was the long-awaited Messiah, then surely he would oppose the Roman overlords. So the question was calculated to expose him either as a threat to the regime, or as a fraud.

Jesus' answer deftly moves the argument to a higher plane, gently cautioning against both the politicization of religion and the deification of temporal power, along with the relentless pursuit of wealth. His audience needed to be reminded that the Messiah was not Caesar, and Caesar was not God. The kingdom that Jesus came to establish was of an altogether higher order. As he told Pontius Pilate: "My kingship is not of this world."

The Christmas stories in the New Testament are intended to convey a similar message. Jesus was born during a "census of the whole world" ordered by Caesar Augustus, the emperor renowned for bringing the Pax Romana to all the lands under Roman rule. Yet this infant, born in an obscure and far-flung corner of the empire, was to offer the world a far greater peace, truly universal in scope and transcending all limitations of space and time.

Jesus is presented to us as King David’s heir, but the liberation he brought to his people was not about holding hostile armies at bay; it was about conquering sin and death forever.

The birth of Christ challenges us to reassess our priorities, our values, our very way of life. While Christmas is undoubtedly a time of great joy, it is also an occasion for deep reflection, even an examination of conscience. At the end of a year that has meant economic hardship for many, what can we learn from the humility, the poverty, the simplicity of the crib scene?

Christmas can be the time in which we learn to read the Gospel, to get to know Jesus not only as the child in the manger, but as the one in whom we recognize that God made man. It is in the Gospel that Christians find inspiration for their daily lives and their involvement in worldly affairs – be it in the Houses of Parliament or the stock exchange. Christians should not shun the world; they should engage with it. But their involvement in politics and economics should transcend every form of ideology.

Christians fight poverty out of a recognition of the supreme dignity of every human being, created in God’s image and destined for eternal life. They work for more equitable sharing of the earth's resources out of a belief that – as stewards of God’s creation – we have a duty to care for the weakest and most vulnerable. Christians oppose greed and exploitation out of a conviction that generosity and selfless love, as taught and lived by Jesus of Nazareth, are the way that leads to fullness of life. The belief in the transcendent destiny of every human being gives urgency to the task of promoting peace and justice for all.

Because these goals are shared by so many, much fruitful co-operation is possible between Christians and others. Yet Christians render to Caesar only what belongs to Caesar, not what belongs to God. Christians have at times throughout history been unable to comply with demands made by Caesar. From the emperor cult of ancient Rome to the totalitarian regimes of the past century, Caesar has tried to take the place of God. When Christians refuse to bow down before the false gods proposed today, it is not because of an antiquated worldview. Rather, it is because they are free from the constraints of ideology and inspired by such a noble vision of human destiny that they cannot collude with anything that undermines it.

In Italy, many crib scenes feature the ruins of ancient Roman buildings in the background. This shows that the birth of the child Jesus marks the end of the old order, the pagan world, in which Caesar’s claims went virtually unchallenged. Now there is a new king, who relies not on the force of arms, but on the power of love.

He brings hope to all those who, like himself, live on the margins of society. He brings hope to all who are vulnerable to the changing fortunes of a precarious world. From the manger, Christ calls us to live as citizens of his heavenly kingdom, a kingdom that all people of goodwill can help to build here on earth.

The writer is the Bishop of Rome and author of ‘Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives'

 

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On the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist

"The Truth is the Truth; there is no compromise"

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, AUG. 29, 2012 - Here is a translation of the Italian-language catechesis Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience held in the main square at Castel Gandolfo. Today the Holy Father reflected on the figure of St. John the Baptist, whose martyrdom we celebrate today.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

This final Wednesday of the month of August marks the liturgical memorial of the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus. In the Roman calendar, he is the only saint for whom we celebrate both his birth (June 24th) and his death by martyrdom. Today's memorial dates back to the dedication of a crypt of Sebaste, in Samaria, where by the mid 4th century his head was already being venerated. The cult then spread to Jerusalem, to the Churches of the East and to Rome under the title of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist. In the roman martyrology, reference is made to a second-century discovery of this precious relic, which was transported for the occasion to the Church of St. Sylvester in Campo Marzio, Rome.

These little historical references help us to understand how ancient and deep the veneration of St. John the Baptist truly is. In the Gospels his role in relation to Jesus is quite prominent. In particular, St. Luke recounts his birth, his life in the desert and his preaching, and in today's Gospel St. Mark speaks to us about his dramatic death. John the Baptist begins his preaching under the emperor Tiberius, in 27-28 A.D., and the clear invitation he addresses to the people who come out to hear him is to prepare the way to welcome the Lord, to make straight the paths of their lives through a radical conversion of heart (cf. Luke 3:4).

But the Baptist does not limit himself to preaching repentance and conversion; rather, in recognizing Jesus as "the Lamb of God" who has come to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29), he has the deep humility to point to Jesus as the One truly sent by God, and he steps aside so that Christ might increase, be heard and followed.

As a last act, the Baptist bears witness with his blood to his fidelity to God's commandments, without giving up or turning back, thus fulfilling his mission to the end. St. Bede, a 9th century monk, in his Homilies says: St. John, for Christ, gave up his life, even though [his persecutor] had not demanded that he should deny Jesus Christ, but only that he should keep silent about the truth (cf. Hom. 23: CCL 122, 354). And he did not keep silent about the truth, and thus he died for Christ who is the Truth. For love of the truth, he did not give in to compromises with those who were powerful, nor was he afraid to address strong words to the one who lost his way to God.

Now we see this great figure -- this force -- in his passion, in his resistance against the powerful. We ask: where does this life come from, this interiority, which is so strong, so principled, so consistent, which is spent so totally for God and in preparing the way for Jesus? The answer is simple: from his relationship with God, from prayer, which is the guiding thread of his entire life. John is the divine gift long besought by his parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth (cf. Luke 1:13); a great gift, humanly unhoped-for since both of them were advanced in years and Elizabeth was barren (cf. Luke 1:7); but nothing is impossible for God (cf. Luke 1:36). The announcement of this birth occurred precisely in a place of prayer, in the temple of Jerusalem; indeed, it took place when, to Zechariah, there fell the great privilege of entering the temple's most sacred place, in order to offer incense to the Lord (cf. Luke 1:8-20). Even the Baptist's birth is marked by prayer: the hymn of joy, praise and thanksgiving that Zechariah raises to the Lord and that we recite each morning in Lauds -- the "Benedictus" -- extols God's action in history and prophetically points to the mission of his son John: to go before the Son of God made flesh in order to prepare the way for him (Luke 1:67-79).

The entire life of Jesus' precursor was nourished by his relationship with God, especially during the time he spent in the wilderness (cf. Luke 1:80); the wilderness, a place of temptation, but also a place where man feels his own poverty, for there he is deprived of all support and material security, and he comes to understand that the only secure reference point is God himself.

But John the Baptist is not only a man of prayer, of constant contact with God; he is also a guide in this relationship. The Evangelist Luke, in relating the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples -- the "Our Father" -- notes that the request made by the disciples was formulated with these words: "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples" (cf. Luke 11:1).

Dear brothers and sisters, celebrating the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist also reminds us -- Christians in our own times -- that we cannot give into compromise when it comes to our love for Christ, for his Word, for his Truth. The Truth is the Truth; there is no compromise. The Christian life requires, as it were, the "martyrdom" of daily fidelity to the Gospel; the courage, that is, to allow Christ to increase in us and to direct our thoughts and actions. But this can only occur in our lives if our relationship with God is strong. Prayer is not time lost, nor does it steal space away from our activities, even those that are apostolic; it is exactly the opposite: only if we are able to have a life of faithful, constant, trusting prayer, will God himself give us the ability and strength to live in happiness and peace, to overcome difficulties and to courageously bear witness to him. May St. John the Baptist intercede for us, that we might always maintain the primacy of God in our lives. Thank you.

[Translation by Diane Montagna]

[In English, he said:]

I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from England, Indonesia, Japan and Malta. Today, the Church celebrates the Martyrdom of Saint John the Baptist. John, whose birth we celebrate on the twenty-fourth of June, gave himself totally to Christ, by preparing the way for him through the preaching of repentance, by leading others to him once he arrived, and by giving the ultimate sacrifice. Dear friends, may we follow John's example by allowing Christ to penetrate every part of our lives so that we may boldly proclaim him to the world. May God bless all of you!

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On the Queenship of Mary: "She is queen precisely by loving us"

CASTEL GANDOLFO, AUG. 22, 2012 - Here is a translation of the Italian-language catechesis Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience held at Castel Gandolfo. The Holy Father focused his meditation on today's liturgical memorial of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

Today marks the liturgical memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, invoked under the title: "Queen." It is a feast of recent institution, even though it is ancient in its origin and devotion: It was established by the Venerable Pius XII in 1954, at the conclusion of the Marian Year; its date was set at May 31 (cf. Lett. Enc. Ad caeli Reginam, 11 Octobris 1954: AAS 46 [1954], 625-640). On this occasion, the Pope stated that Mary is Queen above every other creature on account of the elevation of her soul and the excellence of the gifts she received. She never ceases to bestow all the treasures of her love and care on humanity (cf. Speech in honor of Queen Mary, 1 November 1954). Now, following the post-conciliar reform of the liturgical calendar, it has been placed eight days after the Solemnity of the Assumption, in order to emphasize the close bond between Mary's queenship and her glorification in body and soul next to her Son. In the Second Vatican Council's Constitution on the Church, we read: "Mary was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen of the universe, that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son" (Lumen Gentium, 59).

This is the root of today's feast: Mary is Queen because of her unique association to her Son, both during her earthly journey as well as in heavenly glory. The great saint of Syria, Ephrem of Syria, said regarding the queenship of Mary that it derives from her maternity: She is Mother of the Lord, of the King of kings (cf. Is 9:1-6), and she points to Jesus as our life, salvation and our hope. The Servant of God Paul VI recalled in his apostolic exhortation Marialis Cultus: "In the Virgin Mary everything is relative to Christ and dependent upon Him. It was with a view to Christ that God the Father from all eternity chose her to be the all-holy Mother and adorned her with gifts of the Spirit granted to no one else" (n. 25).

But now we may ask ourselves: What does it mean that Mary is Queen? Is it merely a title along with others, the crown, an ornament like others? What does it mean? What is this queenship? As already noted, it is a consequence of her being united with her Son, of her being in heaven, i.e. in communion with God. She participates in God's responsibilities over the world and in God's love for the world. There is the commonly held idea that a king or queen should be person with power and riches. But this is not the kind of royalty proper to Jesus and Mary. Let us think of the Lord: The Lordship and Kingship of Christ is interwoven with humility, service and love: it is, above all else, to serve, to assist, to love. Let us recall that Jesus was proclaimed king on the Cross, with this inscription written by Pilate: "King of the Jews" (cf. Mark 15:26). In that moment on the Cross it is revealed that He is king. And how is he king? By suffering with us, for us, by loving us to the end; it is in this way that he governs and creates truth, love and justice. Or let us also think of another moment: at the Last Supper, he bends down to wash the feet of his disciples. Therefore, the kingship of Jesus has nothing to do with that which belongs to the powerful of the earth. He is a king who serves his servants; he showed this throughout his life. And the same is true for Mary. She is queen in God's service to humanity. She is the queen of love, who lives out her gift of self to God in order to enter into His plan of salvation for man. To the angel she responds: Behold the handmaid of the Lord (cf. Luke 1:38), and in the Magnificat she sings: God has looked upon the lowliness of His handmaid (cf. Luke 1:48). She helps us. She is queen precisely by loving us, by helping us in every one of our needs; she is our sister, a humble handmaid.

Thus we have arrived at the point: How does Mary exercise this queenship of service and love? By watching over us, her children: the children who turn to her in prayer, to thank her and to ask her maternal protection and her heavenly help, perhaps after having lost their way, or weighed down by suffering and anguish on account of the sad and troubled events of life. In times of serenity or in the darkness of life we turn to Mary, entrusting ourselves to her continual intercession, so that from her Son we may obtain every grace and mercy necessary for our pilgrimage along the paths of the world. To Him who rules the world and holds the destinies of the universe in His hands we turn with confidence, through the Virgin Mary. For centuries she has been invoked as the Queen of heaven; eight times, after the prayer of the holy Rosary, she is implored in the Litany of Loreto as Queen of the Angels, Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Martyrs, Confessors, Virgins, of all Saints and of Families. The rhythm of this ancient invocation, and daily prayers such as the Salve Regina, help us to understand that the Holy Virgin, as our Mother next to her Son Jesus in the glory of Heaven, is always with us, in the daily unfolding of our lives.

The title of Queen is therefore a title of trust, of joy and of love. And we know that what she holds in her hands for the fate of the world is good; she loves us, and she helps us in our difficulties.

Dear friends, devotion to Our Lady is an important element in our spiritual lives. In our prayer, let us not neglect to turn trustfully to her. Mary will not neglect to intercede for us next to her Son. In looking to her, let us imitate her faith, her complete availability to God's plan of love, her generous welcoming of Jesus. Let us learn to live by Mary. Mary is the Queen of heaven who is close to God, but she is also the Mother who is close to each one of us, who loves us and who listens to our voice. Thank you for your attention.

 

[The Holy Father then addressed the people in various languages. In English, he said:]

I welcome all the English-speaking pilgrims present at today’s Audience, especially the groups from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Japan and the United States of America. I also greet the young altar servers from Malta and their families. Today the Church celebrates the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary. May the prayers of Our Lady guide us along our pilgrimage of faith, that we may share in her Son’s victory and reign with him in his eternal Kingdom. Upon all of you I invoke the Lord’s abundant blessings!

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Pope's Homily on Solemnity of the Assumption

"Mary is the Dawn and Splendor of the Church Triumphant"

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, AUG. 16, 2012 - Here is the translation of Pope Benedict XVI’s homily on the feast of the Assumption at the parish church of St. Thomas of Villanova in Castel Gandolfo.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

On November 1, 1950, the Venerable Pope Pius XII proclaimed as dogma that the Virgin Mary "having ended the course of earthly life, was assumed into heavenly glory in soul and body." This truth of faith was known by the Tradition, affirmed by the Fathers of the Church, and it was above all a relevant of the veneration that the Church offered the Mother of Christ. Precisely this element of veneration was the moving force, so to speak, that determined the formulation of this dogma: the dogma appears as act of praise and exaltation with respect to the Holy Virgin. This also emerges text itself of the apostolic constitution, where it is stated that the dogma is proclaimed "to honor the Son, for the glorification of the Mother and to the joy of the whole Church." In this way what was already celebrated in the worship and devotion of the People of God as the highest and most stable glorification of Mary was expressed in dogmatic form: the act of the proclamation of her Assumption was presented almost as a liturgy of faith. And in the Gospel that we heard, Mary herself prophetically speaks some words that point in this direction: "From this day forth, all generations shall call me blessed" (Luke 1:48). It is a prophecy for the whole history of the Church. The "Magnificat," which we find in Luke’s Gospel, indicates that the praise of the Holy Virgin, the Mother of God, intimately united to Christ her son, regards the Church of all times and places. The evangelist’s report of these words presupposes that the glorification of Mary was already present at that time and that he saw it as a duty and task of the Christian community for all generations. Mary’s words tell us that it is a duty of the Church to recall Our Lady’s greatness in faith. This solemnity is, then, an invitation to praise God and to look to Our Lady’s greatness since we know who God is by gazing about the faces of those who are his.

But why is Mary glorified by the Assumption into heaven? St. Luke, as we have heard, sees the root of Mary’s exaltation and praise in Elizabeth’s words: "Blessed is she who believed" (Luke 1:45). And the "Magnificat," this song to the living God who acts in history is a hymn of faith and love that flows from the heart of the Virgin. She lived with exemplary fidelity and treasured in the depths of her heart God’s words to his people, the promises made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, making them the content of her prayer: in the "Magnificat" God’s Word becomes Mary’s word, the light of her path, making her open even to receiving the Word of God made flesh in her womb. Today’s Gospel passage recalls this presence of God in history and in the very unfolding of events; in particular it is a reference to the second Book of Samuel, chapter 6 (6:1-5), in which David transports the Ark of the Holy Covenant. The parallel that the evangelist makes is clear: Mary awaiting the birth of the Son, Jesus, is the Holy Ark. Mary is God’s "visit" that brings joy. Zachariah, in his song of praise, will say this explicitly: "Blessed be the Lord, God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people" (Luke 1:68). Zachariah’s house had experienced God’s visit with the birth of John the Baptist, but above all with the presence of Mary, who bears the Son of God in her womb.

But we now ask ourselves: what does Mary’s Assumption do for our journey, our life? The first answer is: in the Assumption we see that in God there is space for man, God himself is the mansion with many rooms of which Jesus speaks (cf. John 14:2); God is the house of man; in God there is the space of God. And Mary, uniting herself, and united to God, does not distance herself from us, she does not enter an unknown galaxy, but those who go to God comes near to us because God is near to us, and Mary, united to God, participates in God’s presence, very near to us, to each one of us. There is a beautiful line that St. Gregory the Great says of St. Benedict but that we can also apply to Mary: St. Gregory the Great says that heart of St. Benedict became so large that whole of creation was able to enter into this heart. This is even more true of Mary: Mary, completely united to God, has a heart that is so immense that the whole of creation can enter into this heart, and the ex-votos that are in every part of the world show this. Mary is near, she can hear, she can help, she is near to all of us. There is space for man in God, and God is near, and Mary, united to God, is very near, she has a heart that is great like the heart of God.

But there is another aspect: not only is there space for man in God; in man there is space for God. We also see this in Mary, the Holy Ark that bears the presence of God. In us there is space for God and this presence of God in us – so important for bringing light to the world’s sadness, its problems – this presence is realized in faith: in faith we open the gates of our being so that God may enter into us, so that God can be the power that gives a light and a path to our being. There is space in us, let us open ourselves us as Mary did, saying: "Thy will be done, I am the Lord’s servant." Opening up to God, we lose nothing. On the contrary: our life becomes rich and great.

And thus, faith and hope and love combine. Today there are many things said about a better world in the future: it would be our hope. Whether and when this better world will come, we do not know, I do not know. It is certain that a world that distances itself from God does not become better, but worse. Only the presence of God can guarantee a good world too. But let us take this aside. One thing, one hope is certain: God awaits us, he attends to us, we are not headed for a void, we are expected. God awaits us and passing to the other world we will find the Mother’s goodness, we will find our loved ones, we will find Eternal Love. God awaits us: this is our great joy and our great hope that is born precisely from this feast. Mary visits us, and she is the joy of our life and joy is hope.

So, what, then, should be said? Great heart, presence of God in the world, space of God in us and space of God for us, hope, being awaited: this is the symphony of this feast, the instruction that we are given by meditating on this solemnity. Mary is the dawn and splendor of the Church triumphant; she is the consolation and hope of the people still on pilgrimage, says today’s preface. Let us entrust ourselves to her maternal intercession, so that she obtain from the Lord the strengthening of our faith in eternal life; may she help us to live well and with hope the time offered to us by God. A Christian hope, that is not only a nostalgia for heaven, but a living and active desire of God here in the world, desire of God that makes us pilgrims who are unwearied, nourishing in courage in us and the power of faith, which at the same time is the courage and power of love. Amen.

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Pope's Homily on Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul
"The Church is not a community of the perfect, but a community of sinners"

VATICAN CITY, JULY 2, 2012 .- Here is a Vatican translation of the homily Benedict XVI gave Friday, feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, at a Mass in St. Peter's Basilica concelebrated with 43 metropolitan archbishops upon whom he imposed the pallium.

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Your Eminences,
Brother Bishops and Priests,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We are gathered around the altar for our solemn celebration of Saints Peter and Paul, the principal Patrons of the Church of Rome. Present with us today are the Metropolitan Archbishops appointed during the past year, who have just received the Pallium, and to them I extend a particular and affectionate greeting. Also present is an eminent Delegation from the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, sent by His Holiness Bartholomaios I, and I welcome them with fraternal and heartfelt gratitude. In an ecumenical spirit, I am also pleased to greet and to thank the Choir of Westminster Abbey, who are providing the music for this liturgy alongside the Cappella Sistina. I also greet the Ambassadors and civil Authorities present. I am grateful to all of you for your presence and your prayers.

In front of Saint Peter’s Basilica, as is well known, there are two imposing statues of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, easily recognizable by their respective attributes: the keys in the hand of Peter and the sword held by Paul. Likewise, at the main entrance to the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls, there are depictions of scenes from the life and the martyrdom of these two pillars of the Church. Christian tradition has always considered Saint Peter and Saint Paul to be inseparable: indeed, together, they represent the whole Gospel of Christ. In Rome, their bond as brothers in the faith came to acquire a particular significance. Indeed, the Christian community of this City considered them a kind of counterbalance to the mythical Romulus and Remus, the two brothers held to be the founders of Rome. A further parallel comes to mind, still on the theme of brothers: whereas the first biblical pair of brothers demonstrate the effects of sin, as Cain kills Abel, yet Peter and Paul, much as they differ from one another in human terms and notwithstanding the conflicts that arose in their relationship, illustrate a new way of being brothers, lived according to the Gospel, an authentic way made possible by the grace of Christ’s Gospel working within them. Only by following Jesus does one arrive at this new brotherhood: this is the first and fundamental message that today’s solemnity presents to each one of us, the importance of which is mirrored in the pursuit of full communion, so earnestly desired by the ecumenical Patriarch and the Bishop of Rome, as indeed by all Christians.

In the passage from Saint Matthew’s Gospel that we have just heard, Peter makes his own confession of faith in Jesus, acknowledging him as Messiah and Son of God. He does so in the name of the other Apostles too. In reply, the Lord reveals to him the mission that he intends to assign to him, that of being the "rock", the visible foundation on which the entire spiritual edifice of the Church is built (cf. Mt 16:16-19). But in what sense is Peter the rock? How is he to exercise this prerogative, which naturally he did not receive for his own sake? The account given by the evangelist Matthew tells us first of all that the acknowledgment of Jesus’ identity made by Simon in the name of the Twelve did not come "through flesh and blood", that is, through his human capacities, but through a particular revelation from God the Father. By contrast, immediately afterwards, as Jesus foretells his passion, death and resurrection, Simon Peter reacts on the basis of "flesh and blood": he "began to rebuke him, saying, this shall never happen to you" (16:22). And Jesus in turn replied: "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me ..." (16:23). The disciple who, through God’s gift, was able to become a solid rock, here shows himself for what he is in his human weakness: a stone along the path, a stone on which men can stumble – in Greek, skandalon. Here we see the tension that exists between the gift that comes from the Lord and human capacities; and in this scene between Jesus and Simon Peter we see anticipated in some sense the drama of the history of the papacy itself, characterized by the joint presence of these two elements: on the one hand, because of the light and the strength that come from on high, the papacy constitutes the foundation of the Church during its pilgrimage through history; on the other hand, across the centuries, human weakness is also evident, which can only be transformed through openness to God’s action.

And in today’s Gospel there emerges powerfully the clear promise made by Jesus: "the gates of the underworld", that is, the forces of evil, will not prevail, "non praevalebunt". One is reminded of the account of the call of the prophet Jeremiah, to whom the Lord said, when entrusting him with his mission: "Behold, I make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its princes, its priests, and the people of the land. They will fight against you; but they shall not prevail against you - non praevalebunt -, for I am with you, says the Lord, to deliver you!" (Jer 1:18-19). In truth, the promise that Jesus makes to Peter is even greater than those made to the prophets of old: they, indeed, were threatened only by human enemies, whereas Peter will have to be defended from the "gates of the underworld", from the destructive power of evil. Jeremiah receives a promise that affects him as a person and his prophetic ministry; Peter receives assurances concerning the future of the Church, the new community founded by Jesus Christ, which extends to all of history, far beyond the personal existence of Peter himself.

Let us move on now to the symbol of the keys, which we heard about in the Gospel. It echoes the oracle of the prophet Isaiah concerning the steward Eliakim, of whom it was said: "And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open" (Is 22:22). The key represents authority over the house of David. And in the Gospel there is another saying of Jesus addressed to the scribes and the Pharisees, whom the Lord reproaches for shutting off the kingdom of heaven from people (cf. Mt 23:13). This saying also helps us to understand the promise made to Peter: to him, inasmuch as he is the faithful steward of Christ’s message, it belongs to open the gate of the Kingdom of Heaven, and to judge whether to admit or to refuse (cf. Rev 3:7). Hence the two images – that of the keys and that of binding and loosing – express similar meanings which reinforce one another. The expression "binding and loosing" forms part of rabbinical language and refers on the one hand to doctrinal decisions, and on the other hand to disciplinary power, that is, the faculty to impose and to lift excommunication. The parallelism "on earth ... in the heavens" guarantees that Peter’s decisions in the exercise of this ecclesial function are valid in the eyes of God.

In Chapter 18 of Matthew’s Gospel, dedicated to the life of the ecclesial community, we find another saying of Jesus addressed to the disciples: "Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Mt 18:18). Saint John, in his account of the appearance of the risen Christ in the midst of the Apostles on Easter evening, recounts these words of the Lord: "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven: if you retain the sins of any, they are retained" (Jn 20:22-23). In the light of these parallels, it appears clearly that the authority of loosing and binding consists in the power to remit sins. And this grace, which defuses the powers of chaos and evil, is at the heart of the Church’s mystery and ministry. The Church is not a community of the perfect, but a community of sinners, obliged to recognize their need for God’s love, their need to be purified through the Cross of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ sayings concerning the authority of Peter and the Apostles make it clear that God’s power is love, the love that shines forth from Calvary. Hence we can also understand why, in the Gospel account, Peter’s confession of faith is immediately followed by the first prediction of the Passion: through his death, Jesus conquered the powers of the underworld, with his blood he poured out over the world an immense flood of mercy, which cleanses the whole of humanity in its healing waters.

Dear brothers and sisters, as I mentioned at the beginning, the iconographic tradition represents Saint Paul with a sword, and we know that this was the instrument with which he was killed. Yet as we read the writings of the Apostle of the Gentiles, we discover that the image of the sword refers to his entire mission of evangelization. For example, when he felt death approaching, he wrote to Timothy: "I have fought the good fight" (2 Tim 4:7). This was certainly not the battle of a military commander but that of a herald of the Word of God, faithful to Christ and to his Church, to which he gave himself completely. And that is why the Lord gave him the crown of glory and placed him, together with Peter, as a pillar in the spiritual edifice of the Church.

Dear Metropolitan Archbishops, the Pallium that I have conferred on you will always remind you that you have been constituted in and for the great mystery of communion that is the Church, the spiritual edifice built upon Christ as the cornerstone, while in its earthly and historical dimension, it is built on the rock of Peter. Inspired by this conviction, we know that together we are all cooperators of the truth, which as we know is one and "symphonic", and requires from each of us and from our communities a constant commitment to conversion to the one Lord in the grace of the one Spirit. May the Holy Mother of God guide and accompany us always along the path of faith and charity. Queen of Apostles, pray for us! Amen.

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Pope's Corpus Christi Homily
"It is a mistake to oppose celebration and adoration, as if they were in competition"

ROME, JUNE 7, 2012 - This evening in Rome, Benedict XVI celebrated Mass for the feast of Corpus Christi at the Basilica of St. John Lateran. He then led the traditional procession to the Basilica of Saint Mary Major.

Here is a translation of the Pope's homily.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters!

This evening I would like to meditate with you on two interconnected aspects of the Eucharistic Mystery: the worship of the Eucharist and its sacredness. It is important to take it up again to preserve it from incomplete visions of the Mystery itself, such as those which were proposed in the recent past.

First of all, a reflection on the value of Eucharistic worship, in particular adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament. It is the experience that we will also live after the Mass, before the procession, during its development and at its end. A unilateral interpretation of Vatican Council II has penalized this dimension, restricting the Eucharist in practice to the celebratory moment. In fact, it was very important to recognize the centrality of the celebration, in which the Lord convokes his people, gathers them around the twofold table of the Word and the Bread of life, nourishes them and unites them to Himself in the offering of the Sacrifice. This assessment of the liturgical assembly, in which the Lord works and realizes his mystery of communion, remains of course valid, but it must be placed in the right balance. In fact – as often happens – the stressing of one aspect ends up by sacrificing another. In this case, the accentuation placed on the celebration of the Eucharist has been to the detriment of adoration, as act of faith and prayer addressed to the Lord Jesus, really present in the Sacrament of the altar. This imbalance has also had repercussions on the spiritual life of the faithful. In fact, concentrating the whole relationship with the Eucharistic Jesus only at the moment of Holy Mass risks removing his presence from the rest of time and the existential space. And thus, perceived less is the sense of the constant presence of Jesus in our midst and with us, a concrete, close presence among our homes, as “beating Heart” of the city, of the country, of the territory with its various expressions and activities. The Sacrament of the Charity of Christ must permeate the whole of daily life.

In reality, it is a mistake to oppose celebration and adoration, as if they were in competition with one another. It is precisely the contrary: the worship of the Most Blessed Sacrament is as the spiritual “environment” in which the community can celebrate the Eucharist well and in truth. Only if it is preceded, accompanied and followed by this interior attitude of faith and adoration, can the liturgical action express its full meaning and value. The encounter with Jesus in the Holy Mass is truly and fully acted when the community is able to recognize that, in the Sacrament, He dwells in his house, waits for us, invites us to his table, then, after the assembly is dismissed, stays with us, with his discreet and silent presence, and accompanies us with his intercession, continuing to gather our spiritual sacrifices and offering them to the Father.

In this connection, I am pleased to stress the experience we will also live together this evening. At the moment of adoration, we are all on the same plane, kneeling before the Sacrament of Love. The common and ministerial priesthoods are united in Eucharistic worship. It is a very beautiful and significant experience, which we have experienced several times in Saint Peter’s Basilica, and also in the unforgettable vigils with young people – I recall, for example, those of Cologne, London, Zagreb, Madrid. It is evident to all that these moments of Eucharistic vigil prepare the celebration of the Holy Mass, prepare hearts for the encounter, so that it is more fruitful. To be all together in prolonged silence before the Lord present in his Sacrament, is one of the most genuine experiences of our being Church, which is accompanied in a complementary way with the celebration of the Eucharist, listening to the Word of God, singing, approaching together the table of the Bread of life. Communion and contemplation cannot be separated, they go together. To really communicate with another person I must know him, I must be able to be in silence close to him, to hear him and to look at him with love. True love and true friendship always live of the reciprocity of looks, of intense, eloquent silences full of respect and veneration, so that the encounter is lived profoundly, in a personal not a superficial way. And, unfortunately, if this dimension is lacking, even sacramental communion itself can become, on our part, a superficial gesture. Instead, in true communion, prepared by the colloquy of prayer and of life, we can say to the Lord words of confidence as those that resounded a short while ago in the Responsorial Psalm: “O Lord, I am thy servant; I am thy servant, the son of thy handmaid. / Thou hast loosed my bonds./ I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving /and call on the name of the Lord” (Psalm 115:16-17).

Now I would like to pass briefly to the second aspect: the sacredness of the Eucharist. Also here we heard in the recent past of a certain misunderstanding of the authentic message of Sacred Scripture. The Christian novelty in regard to worship was influenced by a certain secularist mentality of the 60s and 70s of the past century. It is true, and it remains always valid, that the center of worship is now no longer in the rites and ancient sacrifices, but in Christ himself, in his person, in his life, in his paschal mystery. And yet, from this fundamental novelty it must not be concluded that the sacred no longer exists, but that it has found its fulfillment in Jesus Christ, incarnate divine Love. The Letter to the Hebrews, which we heard this evening in the Second Reading, speaks to us precisely of the novelty of the priesthood of Christ, “high priest of the good things that have come” (Hebrews 9:11), but it does not say that the priesthood is finished. Christ “is the mediator of a new covenant” (Hebrews 9:15), established in his blood, which purifies our “conscience from dead works” (Hebrews 9:14). He did not abolish the sacred, but brought it to fulfillment, inaugurating a new worship, which is, yes, fully spiritual but which however, so long as we are journeying in time, makes use again of signs and rites, of which there will be no need only at the end, in the heavenly Jerusalem, where there will no longer be a temple (cf. Revelation 21:22). Thanks to Christ, the sacred is more true, more intense and, as happens with the Commandments, also more exacting! Ritual observance is not enough, but what is required is the purification of the heart and the involvement of life.

I am also pleased to stress that the sacred has an educational function, and its disappearance inevitably impoverishes the culture, in particular, the formation of the new generations. If, for example, in the name of a secularized faith, no longer in need of sacred signs, this citizens' processions of the Corpus Domini were abolished, the spiritual profile of Rome would be “leveled,” and our personal and community conscience would be weakened. Or let us think of a mother or a father that, in the name of a de-sacralized faith, deprived their children of all religious rituals: in reality they would end up by leaving a free field to so many surrogates present in the consumer society, to other rites and other signs, which could more easily become idols. God, our Father, has not acted thus with humanity: he has sent his Son into the world not to abolish, but to give fulfillment also to the sacred. At the height of this mission, in the Last Supper, Jesus instituted the Sacrament of his Body and his Blood, the Memorial of his Paschal Sacrifice. By so doing, he put himself in the place of the ancient sacrifices, but he did so within a rite, which he commanded the Apostles to perpetuate, as the supreme sign of the true sacred, which is Himself. With this faith, dear brothers and sisters, we celebrate today and every day the Eucharistic Mystery and we adore it as the center of our life and heart of the world. Amen.

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On the Feast of Pentecost
"The Spirit of the risen Lord continues to make his voice heard"

VATICAN CITY, MAY 21, 2012 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave on Pentecost Sunday before and after praying the midday Regina Caeli with those gathered in St. Peter's Square.

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Dear brothers and sisters!

Today we celebrate the great feast of Pentecost, which concludes the Easter Season, 50 days after the Sunday of the Resurrection. By this solemnity we are reminded and we relive the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and the other disciples, gathered together in prayer with the Virgin Mary in the cenacle (cf. Acts 2:1-11). Jesus, risen and ascended into heaven, sends his Spirit to the Church, that every Christian might participate in his own divine life and become his true witnesses in the world. The Holy Spirit, breaking into history, overcomes its dryness, opens up hearts to hope, stimulates and fosters in us interior growth in our relationship with God and neighbor.

The Spirit, who “spoke through the prophets,” with the gifts of wisdom and knowledge, continues to inspire women and men who commit themselves to the pursuit of truth, proposing original paths to known and understand the mystery of God, man and the world. In this context I am happy to announce that on October 7, at the beginning of the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, I will proclaim St. John of Avila and St. Hildegard of Bingen doctors of the universal Church. These 2 great witnesses of the faith lived in very different historical periods and cultural environments. Hildegard was a Benedictine nun in the heart of the German Middle Ages, an authentic teacher of theology and a profound student of the natural sciences and music. John, a diocesan priest during the years of the Spanish Renaissance, participated in the travail of the cultural and religious renewal of the Church and of the social order at the dawn of modernity. But the holiness of their lives and the profundity of their doctrine makes them perennial relevant: the grace of the Holy Spirit, in fact, cast them into that experience of the penetrating understanding of divine revelation and intelligent dialogue with the world that constitute the permanent horizon of the life and action of the Church. Above all in the light of the project of a new evangelization, to which the just-mentioned Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will be dedicated, and on the eve of the Year of Faith, these 2 figures of saints and doctors appear to have a relevant importance and actuality. Even in our days, through their teaching, the Spirit of the risen Lord continues to make his voice heard and to illumine the path that leads to that Truth that alone can set us free and give complete meaning to our life.

Praying now together the Regina Caeli, we invoke the intercession of the Virgin Mary, that she obtain for the Church to be powerfully animated by the Holy Spirit, to bear witness to Christ with evangelical boldness and to open herself more and more to the fullness of the truth.

[Following the Regina Caeli, the Holy Father addressed those present in various languages. In Italian he said:]

Dear brothers and sisters!

This morning in Vannes, France, Mère Saint-Louise, who was born Élisabeth Molé, was beatified. She was the foundress of the Sisters of Charity of St. Louis and lived between the 18th and 19th centuries. We thank God for this exemplary witness to love for God and neighbor.

I also note that next Friday, June 1, I will travel to Milan, where the 7th World Meeting of Families will take place. I invite everyone to follow this event and to pray for its success.

[In English he said:]

I offer a warm welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at this Regina Caeli on the Solemnity of Pentecost. Next Friday, I will go to Milan to be with families from all over the world celebrating the 7th World Meeting of Families. I ask you to join me in praying for the success of this important event, and that families may be filled with the Holy Spirit, rediscover the joy of their vocation in the Church and the world, and bear loving witness to the faith. Upon all of you, I invoke God’s abundant blessings!

[Concluding in Italian, he said:]

I wish everyone a happy feast day and a good Sunday. Happy feast day!

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Benedict XVI's Pentecost Homily
"Only With the Gift of God's Spirit can There be Unity"

VATICAN CITY, JUNE 12, 2011 - Here is a translation of the homily Benedict XVI gave today when he celebrated a Mass for the feast of Pentecost in St. Peter's Basilica.

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Dear brothers and sisters!

On this Solemnity of Pentecost I am happy to celebrate with you this Holy Mass, animated today by the Choir and Youth Orchestra of the Academy of Santa Cecilia, whom I thank. This mystery constitutes the baptism of the Church; it is an event that gave her, so to say, her initial form and the zeal for her mission. And this “form” and this “zeal” are always valid, always relevant, and they are renewed in a special way through liturgical actions. This morning I would like to reflect upon an essential aspect of the mystery of Pentecost, which maintains its importance in our days. Pentecost is the feast of unity, of understanding and of human communion. We can all recognize how in our world, even if we are ever nearer to each other with the development means of communication, and geographical distances seem to disappear, understanding and communion among persons is often superficial and difficult. Inequalities continue that do not infrequently lead to conflicts; dialogue between generations is hard sometimes opposition prevails; we see daily events which appear to suggest that people are becoming more aggressive and more unsociable; it seems to be too demanding to try to understand each other and we prefer to be closed up in our own “I,” in our own interests. In this situation can we truly find that unity that we need and live it?

The account of Pentecost in the Acts of the Apostles, which we heard in the first reading (cf. Acts 2:1-11), has in its background one of the last great frescos that we find at the beginning of the Old Testament: the ancient story of the construction of the Tower of Babel (cf. Genesis 11:1-9). But what is Babel? It is the description of a kingdom in which men have concentrated so much power that they think that they no longer need a distant God and they believe that they are strong enough to build a way to heaven by themselves and open its gates to put themselves in God’s place. But precisely in this situation something strange and unique occurs. While the men were working to build the tower, suddenly they realized that they were working against each other. While they tried to be like God, they ran the risk of no longer even being men, because they lost a fundamental element of being human persons: the capacity to agree, to understand and to work together.

This biblical account contains a perennial truth; we can see it throughout history, but in our world too. With the progress of science and technology we have developed the power to dominate forces of nature, to manipulate the elements, to manufacture living beings, almost attaining the ability to make human beings. In this context, praying to God seems like something obsolete, useless, because we can build and realize anything we want. But we do not grasp that we are reliving the very experience of Babel. Indeed, we have multiplied the possibilities of communicating, of having information, of transmitting news, but can we say that the capacity to understand each other has grown or is it perhaps the case that, paradoxically, we understand each other less and less? Have not a sense of diffidence, of suspicion, of mutual fear worked themselves into our lives to the point that we have become dangerous to each other? Let us return, then, to the initial question. Can unity, concord really exist? How can they exist?

We find the answer in Sacred Scripture: only with the gift of God’s Spirit can there be unity. This Spirit will give us a new heart and a new tongue, a new capacity to communicate. And this is what happened on Pentecost. On that morning, 50 days after Easter, a tempestuous wind blew upon Jerusalem and the flame of the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples, who were gathered together, settling on each and lighting divine fire in them, a fire of love with the power to transform. The fear dissipated, the heart felt a new force, tongues were loosened and began to speak with boldness, in such a way that all could understand the proclamation of Jesus Christ dead and risen. At Pentecost, where there was division and estrangement, unity and understanding were born.

But let us look at today’s Gospel in which Jesus says: “When he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth” (John 16:13). Here Jesus, speaking of the Holy Spirit, explains to us what the Church is and how she must live to be herself, to be the place of unity and of communion in the Truth; he tells us that acting like Christians means not being shut up in our own “I,” but relating ourselves to the whole; it means welcoming the whole Church into us or, better, letting ourselves be interiorly taken up into her. So, when I speak, think, act as a Christian, I do not do this closing myself in my “I,” I always do it within the whole and from the whole: thus the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of unity and truth, can continue to resound in our hearts and in the minds of men and move them to engage with and welcome each other. The Spirit, precisely because he acts in this way, leads us to the whole truth, which is Jesus himself, brings us to fathom and understand it: we do not grow in knowledge closing ourselves up in our “I,” but only in becoming capable of listening and sharing in the “we” of the Church, with an attitude of profound interior humility. And thus it becomes clear why Babel is Babel and Pentecost is Pentecost. Where men want to make themselves God, they can only oppose each other. Where they place themselves in the Lord’s truth instead, they open up to the action of the Spirit, who sustains and unites them.

The opposition between Babel and Pentecost echoes in the second reading too, where the Apostle says: “Walk according to the Spirit and do not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16). St. Paul explains to us that our personal life is marked by an interior conflict, by division, between impulses that come from the flesh and those that come from the Spirit; and we cannot follow all of them. We cannot, in fact, be simultaneously egoistic and generous, giving in to the temptation to dominate others and experience the joy of disinterested service. We must choose which impulse to follow and we can do it authentically only with the help of the Spirit of Christ. St. Paul lists – as we have heard – the works of the flesh, they are the sins of egoism and violence, such as strife, discord, jealousy, dissension; there are thoughts and deeds that to not allow us to live in a truly human and Christian way, in love. The latter is a direction that leads to the losing of one’s own life. The Holy Spirit leads us toward the heights of God, that we might already live on this earth from the seed of divine life that is in us. St. Paul, in fact, states: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace” (Galatians 5:22). And let us note that the Apostle uses the plural to describe the works of the flesh, which divide and scatter us, while he uses the singular to define the Spirit’s action – he speaks of “fruit” – just as the scattering of Babel is opposed to the unity of Pentecost.

Dear friends, we must live according to the Spirit of unity and of truth, and for this we must pray that the Spirit enlighten us and lead us to overcome the fascination with following our own truths and instead the truth of Christ transmitted in the Church. The Lucan account of Pentecost tells us that Jesus, before ascending into heaven, asks the Apostles to remain together to prepare themselves to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. And they gather in prayer with Mary in the cenacle in expectation of the promised event (cf. Acts 1:14). Today the Church – recollected as she was at her birth with Mary – prays: “Veni Sancte Spiritus!” –“Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and enkindle in them the fire of your love!” Amen.

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On the Ascension
"In his humanity, he brought humanity with him into the depths of the Father"

VATICAN CITY, MAY 21, 2012 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave Sunday before and after praying the midday Regina Caeli with those gathered in St. Peter's Square.

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Dear brothers and sisters!

According to the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, 40 days after the Resurrection Jesus ascended into heaven, that is, he returned to the Father, by whom he had been sent into the world. In many countries this mystery is not celebrated on Thursday but today, the Sunday that follows. The Ascension of the Lord marks the completion of the salvation that began with the Incarnation. After having instructed his disciples, Jesus ascended into heaven (cf. Mark 16:19). However, he “did not separate himself from our condition” (cf. Preface); in fact, in his humanity, he brought humanity with him into the depths of the Father and thus revealed the final destination of our earthly pilgrimage. Just as he descended from heaven for us, and suffered and died for us on the cross, so too he rose from the dead and ascended to God for us. And so God is no longer distant but is “our God,” “our Father,” (cf. John 20:17).

The ascension is the last act of our liberation from sin; as St. Paul writes: “he ascended on high and took prisoners captive” (Ephesians 4:8). St. Leo the Great Explains that with this mystery “not only is there proclaimed the immortality of the soul, but also that of the flesh. Today, in fact, we are not only confirmed as possessors of paradise, but we have with Christ penetrated the heights of heaven” (De Ascensione Domini, Tractatus 73, 2.4: CCL 138 A, 451.453). This is why, when the disciples saw the Master lifted up from the earth and carried on high, they were not seized by discouragement, indeed, they experienced a great joy and felt driven to proclaim Christ’s victory over death (cf. Mark 16:20). And the risen Lord worked with them, distributing to each a particular charism, so that the whole Christian community might reflect the harmonious richness of the heavens. St. Paul continues: “he gave gifts to men ... he gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers ... for building up the body of Christ .... to the extent of the full stature of Christ” (Ephesians 4:8, 11-13).

Dear friends, the Ascension tells us that in Christ our humanity is raised to the heights of God; thus every time we pray, earth joins heaven. And like the smoke of burning incense lifts high its sweet odor, when we then raise up to the Lord our fervent and confident prayer in Christ, it passes through the heavens and reaches the Throne of God it is heard and answered by God. In the celebrated work by St. John of the Cross, “The Ascent of Mount Carmel,” we read that “to see the desires of our heart realized, there is no better way than to direct the energy of our prayer to the thing that most pleases God. For then not only will he give that which we ask of Him, which is salvation, but also that which he sees to be fitting and good for us, although we pray not for it” (Book III, ch. 4, 2).

We supplicate the Virgin Mary, that she help us to contemplate the heavenly goods that the Lord has promised us and to become ever more credible witnesses of the divine life.

[Following the Regina Caeli the Holy Father addressed those present in St. Peter’s Square in various languages. In Italian he said:]

Dear brothers and sisters,

Today we observe the World Day of Social Communications, whose theme this year is “Silence and Word: Path of Evangelization.” I invite all to pray that communication, in all of its forms, always serve to establish authentic dialogue with our neighbor based on mutual respect, listening and sharing. Silence is an integral part of communication, it is a privileged place for the encounter with the Word of God and our brothers and sisters.

Thursday, May 24 is a day dedicated to the liturgical memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary Help of Christians, venerated with great devotion at the shrine of Sheshan in Shanghai. Let us join in prayer with all of the Catholics of China that they might proclaim Christ dead and risen with humility and joy, that they be faithful to his Church and to the Successor of Peter and live their everyday lives in a way that is consistent with the faith that they profess. May Mary, faithful Virgin, sustain Chinese Catholics on their journey, make their prayer ever more intense and precious in the eyes of the Lord, and make the universal Church’s affection for the Church in China grow along with her participation in her path.

I address a cordial greeting to the thousands of members of the Italian Movement for Life, who are gathered in Paul VI Hall. Dear friends, your movement has always been engaged in defending human life in accordance with the teachings of the Church. Along these lines you have announced a new initiative called “One of Us,” to support the dignity and rights of every human being from the moment of conception. I encourage and exhort you always to be witnesses and builders of the culture of life.

[In English he said:]

I greet all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors here today. Jesus tells us in the Gospel that he has come so that his joy may be fulfilled in us. Let us ask the Virgin Mary to obtain for us a deeper faith in her Son, so that we may live to the full the spiritual joy which he wills for us. Upon all of you I invoke God’s abundant blessings.

[In Italian he said:]

I greet the various school groups, and unfortunately today I must recall the young people of the school in Brindisi who were affected by yesterday’s vile attack. Let us pray together for those who were injured, some gravely, and especially for the young woman Melissa, the innocent victim of a brutal act of violence, and for her family, who are grieving. My affectionate thoughts also go out to the dear people of Emilia Romagna who were struck a few hours ago by an earthquake. I am spiritually near to the persons who have been tried in these calamities: let us implore God for mercy on those who have died and relief from suffering from those who were injured.

I wish everyone a good Sunday.

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On Palm Sunday
"May we be moved again by Christ's passion and death, (and) put our sins behind us"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 2, 2012 - Immediately after concluding the Holy Mass for Palm Sunday, Benedict XVI recited the Angelus with those present in St. Peter’s Square. Here is a translation of his remarks prior to the Angelus.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

At the conclusion of this celebration I would like to address a greeting to all of those present: to the lord cardinals, to my brother bishops, to the priests, to the religious and to all of the faithful. I address a special greeting to the organizing committee of the last Word Youth Day in Madrid and to the committee that is organizing the next one in Rio de Janeiro; and to the delegates to the international meeting on World Youth Days sponsored by the Pontifical Council for the Laity, here represented by its president, Cardinale Ri?ko, and by its secretary Monsignor Clemens.

[Following these opening remarks in Italian, the Holy Father greeted those present in various languages. In English he said:]

Dear brothers and sisters, today is Palm Sunday: as we remember Our Lord’s welcome into Jerusalem, I am pleased to greet all of you, especially the many young people who have come here to pray with me. This Holy Week, may we be moved again by Christ’s passion and death, put our sins behind us and, with God’s grace, choose a life of love and service to our brethren. God’s blessings upon you!

[He finished his pre-Angelus remarks in Italian saying:]

Dear friends, I pray that the true joy inhabit your hearts, that joy that comes from love and that does not disappear in the hour of sacrifice. I wish everyone a good Holy Week and a good Easter! Thank you.

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Pope's Message to Prisoners for Way of the Cross
"3 times Jesus got back up and continued on the way to Calvary"

ROME, APRIL 2, 2012 - Here is a translation of the message Benedict XVI sent to prisoners detained in Rome's Rebibbia prison for the Way of the Cross they celebrated there last Friday, led by Cardinal Agostino Vallini, vicar general for the Diocese of Rome.

Some 300 prisoners, the chaplain, Caritas volunteers, seminarians who offer daily service inside the prison and numerous faithful from various parishes attended the Way of the Cross. The Pope made a pastoral visit to the jail last Dec. 18.

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Dear brothers!

I was happy to hear that, in preparation for Easter, you will be conducting a Via Crucis at the prison of Rebibbia that will be presided over by my Vicar for Rome, Cardinal Agostino Vallini, with the participation of the prisoners, the prison workers and the faithful from various parishes of the city. I feel particularly close to this event because there is always alive in my soul the memory of the visit I made to the prison of Rebibbia shortly before last Christmas; I remember the faces that I met and the words that I listened to, and they left a deep mark in me. So, I join spiritually in your prayer, and thus I can give continuity to my presence with you and for this I thank your chaplains in particular.

I know that this Via Crucis also intends to be a sign of reconciliation. In effect, as one of the prisoners said during our meeting, prison serves to pick oneself up after having fallen, to be reconciled with oneself, with others and with God. One can then enter again into society. When, in the Via Crucis, we see Jesus who falls to the ground – 1, 2, 3 times – we understand that he shared our human condition, the weight of our sins made him fall; but 3 times Jesus got back up and continued on the way to Calvary; and so, with his help, we too can get back up from our falls, and maybe help another, a brother, to get back to his feet.

But what gave Jesus the strength to go forward? It was the certainty that the Father was with him. Even if in his heart that was all the bitterness of abandonment, Jesus knew that the Father loved him, and precisely this immense love, this infinite mercy of the heavenly Father and was greater than the violence and the injuries that he endured. Even if everyone despised him and no longer treated him as a man, Jesus, in his heart, had the firm certainty of always being a son, the Son loved by God the Father.

This, dear friends, is the great gift that Jesus bestowed upon us in his Via Crucis: he revealed to us that God is infinite love, he is mercy, and he bore completely the weight of our sins so that we might get up again and reconcile and rediscover peace. Therefore we too are not afraid to walk our “via crucis,” to carry our cross together with Jesus. He is with us. And Mary is with us too, his and our mother. She remains faithful, at the foot of our own cross also, and she prays for our resurrection, that we might firmly believe that, even in the blackest night, the light of God’s love is the last word.

With this hope, based on faith, my wish for all of you is that you live Easter in the peace and in the joy that Christ has obtained for us with his blood, and with great affection I impart to you the apostolic benediction, extending it from my heart to your families and your loved ones.

From the Vatican, March 22, 2012

BENEDICTUS PP. XVI

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Benedict XVI's Palm Sunday Homily
"The look that the believer receives from Christ is a look of blessing"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 2, 2012 - Here is a Vatican translation of Benedict XVI's homily from Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter's Square.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Palm Sunday is the great doorway leading into Holy Week, the week when the Lord Jesus makes his way towards the culmination of his earthly existence. He goes up to Jerusalem in order to fulfil the Scriptures and to be nailed to the wood of the Cross, the throne from which he will reign for ever, drawing to himself humanity of every age and offering to all the gift of redemption. We know from the Gospels that Jesus had set out towards Jerusalem in company with the Twelve, and that little by little a growing crowd of pilgrims had joined them. Saint Mark tells us that as they were leaving Jericho, there was a "great multitude" following Jesus (cf. 10:46).

On the final stage of the journey, a particular event stands out, one which heightens the sense of expectation of what is about to unfold and focuses attention even more sharply upon Jesus. Along the way, as they were leaving Jericho, a blind man was sitting begging, Bartimaeus by name. As soon as he heard that Jesus of Nazareth was passing, he began to cry out: "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" (Mk 10:47). People tried to silence him, but to no avail; until Jesus had them call him over and invited him to approach. "What do you want me to do for you?", he asked. And the reply: "Master, let me receive my sight" (v. 51). Jesus said: "Go your way, your faith has made you well." Bartimaeus regained his sight and began to follow Jesus along the way (cf. v. 52). And so it was that, after this miraculous sign, accompanied by the cry "Son of David", a tremor of Messianic hope spread through the crowd, causing many of them to ask: this Jesus, going ahead of us towards Jerusalem, could he be the Messiah, the new David? And as he was about to enter the Holy City, had the moment come when God would finally restore the Davidic kingdom?

The preparations made by Jesus, with the help of his disciples, serve to increase this hope. As we heard in today’s Gospel (cf. Mk 11:1-10), Jesus arrives in Jerusalem from Bethphage and the Mount of Olives, that is, the route by which the Messiah was supposed to come. From there, he sent two disciples ahead of him, telling them to bring him a young donkey that they would find along the way. They did indeed find the donkey, they untied it and brought it to Jesus. At this point, the spirits of the disciples and of the other pilgrims were swept up with excitement: they took their coats and placed them on the colt; others spread them out on the street in Jesus’ path as he approached, riding on the donkey. Then they cut branches from the trees and began to shout phrases from Psalm 118, ancient pilgrim blessings, which in that setting took on the character of messianic proclamation: "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is coming! Hosanna in the highest!" (v. 9-10). This festive acclamation, reported by all four evangelists, is a cry of blessing, a hymn of exultation: it expresses the unanimous conviction that, in Jesus, God has visited his people and the longed-for Messiah has finally come. And everyone is there, growing in expectation of the work that Christ will accomplish once he has entered the city.

But what is the content, the inner resonance of this cry of jubilation? The answer is found throughout the Scripture, which reminds us that the Messiah fulfils the promise of God’s blessing, God’s original promise to Abraham, father of all believers: "I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you ... and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves" (Gen 12:2-3). It is the promise that Israel had always kept alive in prayer, especially the prayer of the Psalms. Hence he whom the crowd acclaims as the blessed one is also he in whom the whole of humanity will be blessed. Thus, in the light of Christ, humanity sees itself profoundly united and, as it were, enfolded within the cloak of divine blessing, a blessing that permeates, sustains, redeems and sanctifies all things.

Here we find the first great message that today’s feast brings us: the invitation to adopt a proper outlook upon all humanity, on the peoples who make up the world, on its different cultures and civilizations. The look that the believer receives from Christ is a look of blessing: a wise and loving look, capable of grasping the world’s beauty and having compassion on its fragility. Shining through this look is God’s own look upon those he loves and upon Creation, the work of his hands. We read in the Book of Wisdom: "But thou art merciful to all, for thou canst do all things, and thou dost overlook men’s sins, that they may repent. For thou lovest all things that exist and hast loathing for none of the things which thou hast made ... thou sparest all things, for they are thine, O Lord who lovest the living" (11:23-24, 26).

Let us return to today’s Gospel passage and ask ourselves: what is really happening in the hearts of those who acclaim Christ as King of Israel? Clearly, they had their own idea of the Messiah, an idea of how the long-awaited King promised by the prophets should act. Not by chance, a few days later, instead of acclaiming Jesus, the Jerusalem crowd will cry out to Pilate: "Crucify him!", while the disciples, together with others who had seen him and listened to him, will be struck dumb and will disperse. The majority, in fact, was disappointed by the way Jesus chose to present himself as Messiah and King of Israel. This is the heart of today’s feast, for us too. Who is Jesus of Nazareth for us? What idea do we have of the Messiah, what idea do we have of God? It is a crucial question, one we cannot avoid, not least because during this very week we are called to follow our King who chooses the Cross as his throne. We are called to follow a Messiah who promises us, not a facile earthly happiness, but the happiness of heaven, divine beatitude. So we must ask ourselves: what are our true expectations? What are our deepest desires, with which we have come here today to celebrate Palm Sunday and to begin our celebration of Holy Week?

Dear young people, present here today, this, in a particular way, is your Day, wherever the Church is present throughout the world. So I greet you with great affection! May Palm Sunday be a day of decision for you, the decision to say yes to the Lord and to follow him all the way, the decision to make his Passover, his death and resurrection, the very focus of your Christian lives. It is the decision that leads to true joy, as I reminded you in this year’s World Youth Day Message – "Rejoice in the Lord always" (Phil 4:4). So it was for Saint Clare of Assisi when, on Palm Sunday 800 years ago, inspired by the example of Saint Francis and his first companions, she left her father’s house to consecrate herself totally to the Lord. She was eighteen years old and she had the courage of faith and love to decide for Christ, finding in him true joy and peace.

Dear brothers and sisters, may these days call forth two sentiments in particular: praise, after the example of those who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem with their "Hosanna!", and thanksgiving, because in this Holy Week the Lord Jesus will renew the greatest gift we could possibly imagine: he will give us his life, his body and his blood, his love. But we must respond worthily to so great a gift, that is to say, with the gift of ourselves, our time, our prayer, our entering into a profound communion of love with Christ who suffered, died and rose for us. The early Church Fathers saw a symbol of all this in the gesture of the people who followed Jesus on his entry into Jerusalem, the gesture of spreading out their coats before the Lord. Before Christ – the Fathers said – we must spread out our lives, ourselves, in an attitude of gratitude and adoration. As we conclude, let us listen once again to the words of one of these early Fathers, Saint Andrew, Bishop of Crete: "So it is ourselves that we must spread under Christ’s feet, not coats or lifeless branches or shoots of trees, matter which wastes away and delights the eye only for a few brief hours. But we have clothed ourselves with Christ’s grace, or with the whole Christ ... so let us spread ourselves like coats under his feet ... let us offer not palm branches but the prizes of victory to the conqueror of death. Today let us too give voice with the children to that sacred chant, as we wave the spiritual branches of our soul: ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel’" (PG 97, 994). Amen!

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Papal Message for Palm Sunday World Youth Day 2012
"Joy is at the heart of Christian experience"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 27, 2012 Here is the text of Benedict XVI's message for the diocesan-level World Youth Day, traditionally celebrated each Palm Sunday, and thus to be held this Sunday. The Vatican released the message today.

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MESSAGE OF HIS HOLINESS
POPE BENEDICT XVI
FOR THE TWENTY-SEVENTH WORLD YOUTH DAY
2012

“Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil 4:4)

Dear young friends,

I am happy to address you once more on the occasion of the 27th World Youth Day. The memory of our meeting in Madrid last August remains close to my heart. It was a time of extraordinary grace when God showered his blessings on the young people gathered from all over the world. I give thanks to God for all the fruits which that event bore, fruits which will surely multiply for young people and their communities in the future. Now we are looking forward to our next meeting in Rio de Janeiro in 2013, whose theme will be: “Go and make disciples of all nations!” (cf. Mt 28:19).

This year’s World Youth Day theme comes from Saint Paul’s exhortation in his Letter to the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always” (4:4). Joy is at the heart of Christian experience. At each World Youth Day we experience immense joy, the joy of communion, the joy of being Christian, the joy of faith. This is one of the marks of these gatherings. We can see the great attraction that joy exercises. In a world of sorrow and anxiety, joy is an important witness to the beauty and reliability of the Christian faith.

The Church’s vocation is to bring joy to the world, a joy that is authentic and enduring, the joy proclaimed by the angels to the shepherds on the night Jesus was born (cf. Lk 2:10). Not only did God speak, not only did he accomplish great signs throughout the history of humankind, but he drew so near to us that he became one of us and lived our life completely. In these difficult times, so many young people all around you need to hear that the Christian message is a message of joy and hope! I would like to reflect with you on this joy and on how to find it, so that you can experience it more deeply and bring it to everyone you meet.

1. Our hearts are made for joy

A yearning for joy lurks within the heart of every man and woman. Far more than immediate and fleeting feelings of satisfaction, our hearts seek a perfect, full and lasting joy capable of giving “flavour” to our existence. This is particularly true for you, because youth is a time of continuous discovery of life, of the world, of others and of ourselves. It is a time of openness to the future and of great longing for happiness, friendship, sharing and truth, a time when we are moved by high ideals and make great plans.

Each day is filled with countless simple joys which are the Lord’s gift: the joy of living, the joy of seeing nature’s beauty, the joy of a job well done, the joy of helping others, the joy of sincere and pure love. If we look carefully, we can see many other reasons to rejoice. There are the happy times in family life, shared friendship, the discovery of our talents, our successes, the compliments we receive from others, the ability to express ourselves and to know that we are understood, and the feeling of being of help to others. There is also the excitement of learning new things, seeing new and broader horizons open up through our travels and encounters, and realizing the possibilities we have for charting our future. We might also mention the experience of reading a great work of literature, of admiring a masterpiece of art, of listening to or playing music, or of watching a film. All these things can bring us real joy.

Yet each day we also face any number of difficulties. Deep down we also worry about the future; we begin to wonder if the full and lasting joy for which we long might be an illusion and an escape from reality. Many young people ask themselves: is perfect joy really possible? The quest for joy can follow various paths, and some of these turn out to be mistaken, if not dangerous. How can we distinguish things that give real and lasting joy from immediate and illusory pleasures? How can we find true joy in life, a joy that endures and does not forsake us at moments of difficulty?

2. God is the source of true joy

Whatever brings us true joy, whether the small joys of each day or the greatest joys in life, has its source in God, even if this does not seem immediately obvious. This is because God is a communion of eternal love, he is infinite joy that does not remain closed in on itself, but expands to embrace all whom God loves and who love him. God created us in his image out of love, in order to shower his love upon us and to fill us with his presence and grace. God wants us to share in his own divine and eternal joy, and he helps us to see that the deepest meaning and value of our lives lie in being accepted, welcomed and loved by him. Whereas we sometimes find it hard to accept others, God offers us an unconditional acceptance which enables us to say: “I am loved; I have a place in the world and in history; I am personally loved by God. If God accepts me and loves me and I am sure of this, then I know clearly and with certainty that it is a good thing that I am alive”.

God’s infinite love for each of us is fully seen in Jesus Christ. The joy we are searching for is to be found in him. We see in the Gospel how the events at the beginning of Jesus’ life are marked by joy. When the Archangel Gabriel tells the Virgin Mary that she is to be the mother of the Saviour, his first word is “Rejoice!” (Lk 1:28). When Jesus is born, the angel of the Lord says to the shepherds: “Behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a Saviour has been born for you, who is Messiah and Lord” (Lk 2:10-11). When the Magi came in search of the child, “they were overjoyed at seeing the star” (Mt 2:10). The cause of all this joy is the closeness of God who became one of us. This is what Saint Paul means when he writes to the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near” (Phil 4:4-5). Our first reason for joy is the closeness of the Lord, who welcomes me and loves me.

An encounter with Jesus always gives rise to immense inner joy. We can see this in many of the Gospel stories. We recall when Jesus visited Zacchaeus, a dishonest tax collector and public sinner, he said to him: “Today I must stay at your house”. Then, Saint Luke tells us, Zacchaeus “received him with joy” (Lk 19:5-6). This is the joy of meeting the Lord. It is the joy of feeling God’s love, a love that can transform our whole life and bring salvation. Zacchaeus decides to change his life and to give half of his possessions to the poor.

At the hour of Jesus’ passion, this love can be seen in all its power. At the end of his earthly life, while at supper with his friends, Jesus said: “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love... I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete” (Jn 15:9,11). Jesus wants to lead his disciples and each one of us into the fullness of joy that he shares with the Father, so that the Father’s love for him might abide in us (cf. Jn17:26). Christian joy consists in being open to God’s love and belonging to him.

The Gospels recount that Mary Magdalene and other women went to visit the tomb where Jesus had been laid after his death. An angel told them the astonishing news of Jesus’ resurrection. Then, the Evangelist tells us, they ran from the sepulchre, “fearful yet overjoyed” to share the good news with the disciples. Jesus met them on the way and said: “Peace!” (Mt28:8-9). They were being offered the joy of salvation. Christ is the One who lives and who overcame evil, sin and death. He is present among us as the Risen One and he will remain with us until the end of the world (cf. Mt 28:20). Evil does not have the last word in our lives; rather, faith in Christ the Saviour tells us that God’s love is victorious.

This deep joy is the fruit of the Holy Spirit who makes us God’s sons and daughters, capable of experiencing and savouring his goodness, and calling him “Abba”, Father (cf. Rm 8:15). Joy is the sign of God’s presence and action within us.

3. Preserving Christian joy in our hearts

At this point we wonder: “How do we receive and maintain this gift of deep, spiritual joy?”

One of the Psalms tells us: “Find your delight in the Lord who will give you your heart's desire” (Ps 37:4). Jesus told us that “the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Mt 13:44). The discovery and preservation of spiritual joy is the fruit of an encounter with the Lord. Jesus asks us to follow him and to stake our whole life on him. Dear young people, do not be afraid to risk your lives by making space for Jesus Christ and his Gospel. This is the way to find inner peace and true happiness. It is the way to live fully as children of God, created in his image and likeness.

Seek joy in the Lord: for joy is the fruit of faith. It is being aware of his presence and friendship every day: “the Lord is near!” (Phil 4:5). It is putting our trust in God, and growing in his knowledge and love. Shortly we shall begin the “Year of Faith”, and this will help and encourage us. Dear friends, learn to see how God is working in your lives and discover him hidden within the events of daily life. Believe that he is always faithful to the covenant which he made with you on the day of your Baptism. Know that God will never abandon you. Turn your eyes to him often. He gave his life for you on the cross because he loves you. Contemplation of this great love brings a hope and joy to our hearts that nothing can destroy. Christians can never be sad, for they have met Christ, who gave his life for them.

To seek the Lord and find him in our lives also means accepting his word, which is joy for our hearts. The Prophet Jeremiah wrote: “When I found your words, I devoured them; they became my joy and the happiness of my heart” (Jer 15:16). Learn to read and meditate on the sacred Scriptures. There you will find an answer to your deepest questions about truth. God’s word reveals the wonders that he has accomplished throughout human history, it fills us with joy, and it leads us to praise and adoration: “Come, let us sing joyfully to the Lord; let us kneel before the Lord who made us” (Ps 95:1,6).

The liturgy is a special place where the Church expresses the joy which she receives from the Lord and transmits it to the world. Each Sunday at Mass the Christian community celebrates the central mystery of salvation, which is the death and resurrection of Christ. This is a very important moment for all the Lord’s disciples because his sacrifice of love is made present. Sunday is the day when we meet the risen Christ, listen to his word, and are nourished by his body and blood. As we hear in one of the Psalms: “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice in it and be glad” (Ps 118:24). At the Easter Vigil, the Church sings the Exultet, a hymn of joy for the victory of Jesus Christ over sin and death: “Sing, choirs of angels! ... Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendour ... Let this place resound with joy, echoing the mighty song of all God’s people!” Christian joy is born of this awareness of being loved by God who became man, gave his life for us and overcame evil and death. It means living a life of love for him. As Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, a young Carmelite, wrote: “Jesus, my joy is loving you” (P 45, 21 January 1897).

4. The joy of love

Dear friends, joy is intimately linked to love. They are inseparable gifts of the Holy Spirit (cf.Gal 5:23). Love gives rise to joy, and joy is a form of love. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta drew on Jesus’ words: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35) when she said: “Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls; God loves a cheerful giver. Whoever gives with joy gives more”. As the Servant of God Paul VI wrote: “In God himself, all is joy because all is giving” (Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete in Domino, 9 May 1975).

In every area of your life, you should know that to love means to be steadfast, reliable and faithful to commitments. This applies most of all to friendship. Our friends expect us to be sincere, loyal and faithful because true love perseveres even in times of difficulty. The same thing can be said about your work and studies and the services you carry out. Fidelity and perseverance in doing good brings joy, even if not always immediately.

If we are to experience the joy of love, we must also be generous. We cannot be content to give the minimum. We need to be fully committed in life and to pay particular attention to those in need. The world needs men and women who are competent and generous, willing to be at the service of the common good. Make every effort to study conscientiously, to develop your talents and to put them at the service of others even now. Find ways to help make society more just and humane wherever you happen to be. May your entire life be guided by a spirit of service and not by the pursuit of power, material success and money.

Speaking of generosity, I would like to mention one particular joy. It is the joy we feel when we respond to the vocation to give our whole life to the Lord. Dear young people, do not be afraid if Christ is calling you to the religious, monastic or missionary life or to the priesthood. Be assured that he fills with joy all those who respond to his invitation to leave everything to be with him and to devote themselves with undivided heart to the service of others. In the same way, God gives great joy to men and women who give themselves totally to one another in marriage in order to build a family and to be signs of Christ’s love for the Church.

Let me remind you of a third element that will lead you to the joy of love. It is allowing fraternal love to grow in your lives and in those of your communities. There is a close bond between communion and joy. It is not by chance that Saint Paul’s exhortation: “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil 4:4) is written in the plural, addressing the community as a whole, rather than its individual members. Only when we are together in the communion of fellowship do we experience this joy. In the Acts of the Apostles, the first Christian community is described in these words: “Breaking bread in their homes, they ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart” (Acts 2:46). I ask you to make every effort to help our Christian communities to be special places of sharing, attention and concern for one another.

5. The joy of conversion

Dear friends, experiencing real joy also means recognizing the temptations that lead us away from it. Our present-day culture often pressures us to seek immediate goals, achievements and pleasures. It fosters fickleness more than perseverance, hard work and fidelity to commitments. The messages it sends push a consumerist mentality and promise false happiness. Experience teaches us that possessions do not ensure happiness. How many people are surrounded by material possessions yet their lives are filled with despair, sadness and emptiness! To have lasting joy we need to live in love and truth. We need to live in God.

God wants us to be happy. That is why he gave us specific directions for the journey of life: the commandments. If we observe them, we will find the path to life and happiness. At first glance, they might seem to be a list of prohibitions and an obstacle to our freedom. But if we study them more closely, we see in the light of Christ’s message that the commandments are a set of essential and valuable rules leading to a happy life in accordance with God’s plan. How often, on the other hand, do we see that choosing to build our lives apart from God and his will brings disappointment, sadness and a sense of failure. The experience of sin, which is the refusal to follow God and an affront to his friendship, brings gloom into our hearts.

At times the path of the Christian life is not easy, and being faithful to the Lord’s love presents obstacles; occasionally we fall. Yet God in his mercy never abandons us; he always offers us the possibility of returning to him, being reconciled with him and experiencing the joy of his love which forgives and welcomes us back.

Dear young people, have frequent recourse to the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation! It is the sacrament of joy rediscovered. Ask the Holy Spirit for the light needed to acknowledge your sinfulness and to ask for God’s forgiveness. Celebrate this sacrament regularly, with serenity and trust. The Lord will always open his arms to you. He will purify you and bring you into his joy: for there is joy in heaven even for one sinner who repents (cf. Lk 15:7).

6. Joy at times of trial

In the end, though, we might still wonder in our hearts whether it is really possible to live joyfully amid all life’s trials, especially those which are most tragic and mysterious. We wonder whether following the Lord and putting our trust in him will always bring happiness.

We can find an answer in some of the experiences of young people like yourselves who have found in Christ the light that can give strength and hope even in difficult situations. Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati (1901-1925) experienced many trials during his short life, including a romantic experience that left him deeply hurt. In the midst of this situation he wrote to his sister: “You ask me if I am happy. How could I not be? As long as faith gives me strength, I am happy. A Catholic could not be other than happy... The goal for which we were created involves a path which has its thorns, but it is not a sad path. It is joy, even when it involves pain” (Letter to his sister Luciana, Turin, 14 February 1925). When Blessed John Paul IIpresented Blessed Pier Giorgio as a model for young people, he described him as “a young person with infectious joy, the joy that overcame many difficulties in his life” (Address to Young People, Turin, 13 April 1980).

Closer to us in time is Chiara Badano (1971-1990), who was recently beatified. She experienced how pain could be transfigured by love and mysteriously steeped in joy. At the age of eighteen, while suffering greatly from cancer, Chiara prayed to the Holy Spirit and interceded for the young people of the movement to which she belonged. As well as praying for her own cure, she asked God to enlighten all those young people by his Spirit and to give them wisdom and light. “It was really a moment of God’s presence. I was suffering physically, but my soul was singing” (Letter to Chiara Lubich, Sassello, 20 December 1989). The key to her peace and joy was her complete trust in the Lord and the acceptance of her illness as a mysterious expression of his will for her sake and that of everyone. She often said: “Jesus, if you desire it, then I desire it too”.

These are just two testimonies taken from any number of others which show that authentic Christians are never despairing or sad, not even when faced with difficult trials. They show that Christian joy is not a flight from reality, but a supernatural power that helps us to deal with the challenges of daily life. We know that the crucified and risen Christ is here with us and that he is a faithful friend always. When we share in his sufferings, we also share in his glory. With him and in him, suffering is transformed into love. And there we find joy (cf. Col 1:24).

7. Witnesses of joy

Dear friends, to conclude I would encourage you to be missionaries of joy. We cannot be happy if others are not. Joy has to be shared. Go and tell other young people about your joy at finding the precious treasure which is Jesus himself. We cannot keep the joy of faith to ourselves. If we are to keep it, we must give it away. Saint John said: “What we have seen and heard we proclaim now to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; we are writing this so that our joy may be complete” (1 Jn 1:3-4).

Christianity is sometimes depicted as a way of life that stifles our freedom and goes against our desires for happiness and joy. But this is far from the truth. Christians are men and women who are truly happy because they know that they are not alone. They know that God is always holding them in his hands. It is up to you, young followers of Christ, to show the world that faith brings happiness and a joy which is true, full and enduring. If the way Christians live at times appears dull and boring, you should be the first to show the joyful and happy side of faith. The Gospel is the “good news” that God loves us and that each of us is important to him. Show the world that this is true!

Be enthusiastic witnesses of the new evangelization! Go to those who are suffering and those who are searching, and give them the joy that Jesus wants to bestow. Bring it to your families, your schools and universities, and your workplaces and your friends, wherever you live. You will see how it is contagious. You will receive a hundredfold: the joy of salvation for yourselves, and the joy of seeing God’s mercy at work in the hearts of others. And when you go to meet the Lord on that last day, you will hear him say: “Well done, my good and faithful servant... Come, share your master’s joy” (Mt 25:21).

May the Blessed Virgin Mary accompany you on this journey. She welcomed the Lord within herself and proclaimed this in a song of praise and joy, the Magnificat: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour” (Lk 1:46-47). Mary responded fully to God’s love by devoting her life to him in humble and complete service. She is invoked as “Cause of our Joy” because she gave us Jesus. May she lead you to that joy which no one will ever be able to take away from you!

From the Vatican, 15 March 2012

BENEDICTUS PP. XVI

© Copyright 2012 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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Benedict XVI's Last Supper Homily
"Jesus struggles with the Father. He struggles with himself. And he struggles for us"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 6, 2012 .- Here is a Vatican translation of Benedict XVI's homily at the Mass of the Lord's Supper, held in St. John Lateran on Thursday evening.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters!

Holy Thursday is not only the day of the institution of the Most Holy Eucharist, whose splendour bathes all else and in some ways draws it to itself. To Holy Thursday also belongs the dark night of the Mount of Olives, to which Jesus goes with his disciples; the solitude and abandonment of Jesus, who in prayer goes forth to encounter the darkness of death; the betrayal of Judas, Jesus’ arrest and his denial by Peter; his indictment before the Sanhedrin and his being handed over to the Gentiles, to Pilate. Let us try at this hour to understand more deeply something of these events, for in them the mystery of our redemption takes place.

Jesus goes forth into the night. Night signifies lack of communication, a situation where people do not see one another. It is a symbol of incomprehension, of the obscuring of truth. It is the place where evil, which has to hide before the light, can grow. Jesus himself is light and truth, communication, purity and goodness. He enters into the night. Night is ultimately a symbol of death, the definitive loss of fellowship and life. Jesus enters into the night in order to overcome it and to inaugurate the new Day of God in the history of humanity.

On the way, he sang with his apostles Israel’s psalms of liberation and redemption, which evoked the first Passover in Egypt, the night of liberation. Now he goes, as was his custom, to pray in solitude and, as Son, to speak with the Father. But, unusually, he wants to have close to him three disciples: Peter, James and John. These are the three who had experienced his Transfiguration – when the light of God’s glory shone through his human figure – and had seen him standing between the Law and the Prophets, between Moses and Elijah. They had heard him speaking to both of them about his "exodus" to Jerusalem. Jesus’ exodus to Jerusalem – how mysterious are these words! Israel’s exodus from Egypt had been the event of escape and liberation for God’s People. What would be the form taken by the exodus of Jesus, in whom the meaning of that historic drama was to be definitively fulfilled? The disciples were now witnessing the first stage of that exodus – the utter abasement which was nonetheless the essential step of the going forth to the freedom and new life which was the goal of the exodus. The disciples, whom Jesus wanted to have close to him as an element of human support in that hour of extreme distress, quickly fell asleep. Yet they heard some fragments of the words of Jesus’ prayer and they witnessed his way of acting. Both were deeply impressed on their hearts and they transmitted them to Christians for all time. Jesus called God "Abba". The word means – as they add – "Father". Yet it is not the usual form of the word "father", but rather a children’s word – an affectionate name which one would not have dared to use in speaking to God. It is the language of the one who is truly a "child", the Son of the Father, the one who is conscious of being in communion with God, in deepest union with him.

If we ask ourselves what is most characteristic of the figure of Jesus in the Gospels, we have to say that it is his relationship with God. He is constantly in communion with God. Being with the Father is the core of his personality. Through Christ we know God truly. "No one has ever seen God", says Saint John. The one "who is close to the Father’s heart … has made him known" (1:18). Now we know God as he truly is. He is Father, and this in an absolute goodness to which we can entrust ourselves. The evangelist Mark, who has preserved the memories of Saint Peter, relates that Jesus, after calling God "Abba", went on to say: "Everything is possible for you. You can do all things" (cf. 14:36). The one who is Goodness is at the same time Power; he is all-powerful. Power is goodness and goodness is power. We can learn this trust from Jesus’ prayer on the Mount of Olives.

Before reflecting on the content of Jesus’ petition, we must still consider what the evangelists tell us about Jesus’ posture during his prayer. Matthew and Mark tell us that he "threw himself on the ground" (Mt 26:39; cf. Mk14:35), thus assuming a posture of complete submission, as is preserved in the Roman liturgy of Good Friday. Luke, on the other hand, tells us that Jesus prayed on his knees. In the Acts of the Apostles, he speaks of the saints praying on their knees: Stephen during his stoning, Peter at the raising of someone who had died, Paul on his way to martyrdom. In this way Luke has sketched a brief history of prayer on one’s knees in the early Church. Christians, in kneeling, enter into Jesus’ prayer on the Mount of Olives. When menaced by the power of evil, as they kneel, they are upright before the world, while as sons and daughters, they kneel before the Father. Before God’s glory we Christians kneel and acknowledge his divinity; by that posture we also express our confidence that he will prevail.

Jesus struggles with the Father. He struggles with himself. And he struggles for us. He experiences anguish before the power of death. First and foremost this is simply the dread natural to every living creature in the face of death. In Jesus, however, something more is at work. His gaze peers deeper, into the nights of evil. He sees the filthy flood of all the lies and all the disgrace which he will encounter in that chalice from which he must drink. His is the dread of one who is completely pure and holy as he sees the entire flood of this world’s evil bursting upon him. He also sees me, and he prays for me. This moment of Jesus’ mortal anguish is thus an essential part of the process of redemption. Consequently, the Letter to the Hebrews describes the struggle of Jesus on the Mount of Olives as a priestly event. In this prayer of Jesus, pervaded by mortal anguish, the Lord performs the office of a priest: he takes upon himself the sins of humanity, of us all, and he brings us before the Father.

Lastly, we must also pay attention to the content of Jesus’ prayer on the Mount of Olives. Jesus says: "Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet not what I want, but what you want" (Mk 14:36). The natural will of the man Jesus recoils in fear before the enormity of the matter. He asks to be spared. Yet as the Son, he places this human will into the Father’s will: not I, but you. In this way he transformed the stance of Adam, the primordial human sin, and thus heals humanity. The stance of Adam was: not what you, O God, have desired; rather, I myself want to be a god. This pride is the real essence of sin. We think we are free and truly ourselves only if we follow our own will. God appears as the opposite of our freedom. We need to be free of him – so we think – and only then will we be free. This is the fundamental rebellion present throughout history and the fundamental lie which perverts life. When human beings set themselves against God, they set themselves against the truth of their own being and consequently do not become free, but alienated from themselves. We are free only if we stand in the truth of our being, if we are united to God. Then we become truly "like God" – not by resisting God, eliminating him, or denying him. In his anguished prayer on the Mount of Olives, Jesus resolved the false opposition between obedience and freedom, and opened the path to freedom. Let us ask the Lord to draw us into this "yes" to God’s will, and in this way to make us truly free. Amen.

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Pontiff's Address at End of Via Crucis
"At times of trouble, when our families have to face pain and adversity, let us look to Christs cross"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 6, 2012 - Here is a Vatican translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today at the end of the Way of the Cross in the Colosseum. The meditations this year were written by a married couple and focused on the family.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Once more in meditation, prayer and song, we have recalled Jesus’s journey along the way of the cross: a journey seemingly hopeless, yet one that changed human life and history, and opened the way to “new heavens and a new earth” (cf. Rev 21:1). Especially today, Good Friday, the Church commemorates with deep spiritual union the death of the Son of God on the cross; in his cross she sees the tree of life, which blossoms in new hope.

The experience of suffering and of the cross touches all mankind; it touches the family too. How often does the journey become wearisome and difficult! Misunderstandings, conflicts, worry for the future of our children, sickness and problems of every kind. These days too, the situation of many families is made worse by the threat of unemployment and other negative effects of the economic crisis. The Way of the Cross which we have spiritually retraced this evening invites all of us, and families in particular, to contemplate Christ crucified in order to have the force to overcome difficulties. The cross of Christ is the supreme sign of God’s love for every man and woman, the superabundant response to every person’s need for love. At times of trouble, when our families have to face pain and adversity, let us look to Christ’s cross. There we can find the courage and strength to press on; there we can repeat with firm hope the words of Saint Paul: “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? ... No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Rom 8:35,37).

In times of trial and tribulation, we are not alone; the family is not alone. Jesus is present with his love, he sustains them by his grace and grants the strength needed to carry on, to make sacrifices and to overcome every obstacle. And it is to this love of Christ that we must turn when human turmoil and difficulties threaten the unity of our lives and our families. The mystery of Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection inspires us to go on in hope: times of trouble and testing, when endured with Christ, with faith in him, already contain the light of the resurrection, the new life of a world reborn, the passover of all those who believe in his word.

In that crucified Man who is the Son of God, even death itself takes on new meaning and purpose: it is redeemed and overcome, it becomes a passage to new life. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it produces much fruit” (Jn 12:24). Let us entrust ourselves to the Mother of Christ. May Mary, who accompanied her Son along his way of sorrows, who stood beneath the cross at the hour of his death, and who inspired the Church at its birth to live in God’s presence, lead our hearts and the hearts of every family through the vast mysterium passionis towards the mysterium paschale, towards that light which breaks forth from Christ’s resurrection and reveals the definitive victory of love, joy and life over evil, suffering and death. Amen.

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On the 40 Days of Lent
"Time Spent in the Desert Can Be Transformed Into a Time of Grace"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 22, 2012 - Here is a translation of the Italian-language catechesis Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience held in the Paul VI Hall. Today the Pope reflected on the liturgical season of Lent.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

In this Catechesis, I would like to reflect briefly upon the season of Lent, which begins today with the Liturgy of Ash Wednesday. It is a journey of 40 days that will lead us to the Easter Triduum -- the memorial of the Lord’s Passion, Death and Resurrection, the heart of the mystery of our salvation. In the first centuries of the Church’s life, this was the time when those who had heard and received the announcement of Christ began, step by step, their journey of faith and conversion on the way to receiving the sacrament of Baptism. It was a time of drawing near to the living God and an initiation into the faith, which was gradually to be accomplished through an inner transformation on the part of the catechumens; that is, on the part of those who desired to become Christians and to be incorporated into Christ and the Church.

Later on, also penitents and then all the faithful were invited to live out this journey of spiritual renewal and to increasingly conform their own lives to Christ’s. The participation of the entire community in the various stages of the Lenten journey underlines an important dimension of Christian spirituality: It is the redemption not of some, but of all, made possible thanks to the death and resurrection of Christ. For this reason, both those who were making the journey of faith as catechumens in order to receive Baptism, as well as those who had distanced themselves from God and from the community of faith and who were seeking reconciliation, and also those who were living the faith in full communion with the Church -- everyone together knew that the time preceding Easter was a time of metanoia; that is, of a change of heart, of penance. It is the season that identifies our human life and all of history as a process of conversion set in motion now so as to meet the Lord at the end of time.

Using an expression that has become customary in the Liturgy, the Church calls the season we have entered today “Lent”; that is, the season of 40 days; and with a clear reference to Sacred Scripture, she thereby introduces us into a precise spiritual context. Forty, in fact, is the symbolic number that the Old and New Testaments use to represent the salient moments in the life and faith of Israel. It is a number that expresses the time of waiting, of purification, of return to the Lord, of knowledge that God is faithful to His promises. This number does not represent an exact chronological period of time, marked by the sum of its days. Rather, it indicates a patient perseverance, a long trial, a sufficient length of time to witness the works of God and a time when it is necessary to decide to accept one’s responsibilities without further delay. It is a time for mature decisions.

The number 40 first appears in the story of Noah. This just man, on account of the flood, spends 40 days and 40 nights in the ark, together with his family and the animals that God had told him to take with him. And he waits another 40 days, after the flood, before touching down upon dry land, saved from destruction (cf. Genesis 7:4,12; 8:6). Then, the next stage: Moses remains on Mount Sinai, in the presence of the Lord, for 40 days and 40 nights, to receive the Law. He fasts the entire time (cf. Exodus 24:18). For 40 years, the Hebrew people journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, a fitting time to experience the faithfulness of God. “And you shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness … your clothing did not wear out upon you, and your foot did not swell, these forty years,” Moses says in Deuteronomy at the end of the 40 years of migration (Deuteronomy 8:2,4). The years of peace Israel enjoys under the Judges are 40 (cf. Judges 3:11,30); but once this time has passed, they begin to forget God’s gifts and to return to sin. The prophet Elijah takes 40 days to reach Horeb, the mountain where he encounters God (cf. 1 Kings 19:8). For 40 days, the inhabitants of Ninevah do penance in order to obtain God’s pardon (cf. Genesis 3:4). Forty is also the number of years of the reign of Saul (cf. Acts 13:21), of David (cf. 2 Samuel 5:4-5) and of Solomon (cf. 1 Kings 11:41), the first three kings of Israel.

The Psalms also reflect the biblical significance of the 40 years; for example, Psalm 95, the passage we just heard: “O that today you would hearken to His voice! Harden not your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers tested me, and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work. For forty years I loathed that generation and said, ‘They are a people who err in heart, and they do not regard my ways’” (verses. 7c-10).

In the New Testament, before beginning His public ministry, Jesus retires into the desert for 40 days, neither eating nor drinking (cf. Matthew 4:2); His nourishment is the Word of God, which He uses as a weapon to conquer the devil. The temptations of Jesus recall those which the Jewish people faced in the desert, but which they were unable to overcome. For 40 days, the Risen Jesus instructs His disciples before ascending into Heaven and sending the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 1:3).

With the recurring number of 40, a spiritual atmosphere is described which remains relevant and valid. And the Church, precisely through these days of Lent, intends to preserve their enduring value and to make their efficacy present for us. The Christian Liturgy during Lent seeks to promote a path of spiritual renewal in light of this long biblical experience, above all for the sake of learning to imitate Jesus, who during the 40 days He spent in the desert, taught us to conquer temptation with the Word of God.

The 40 years of Israel’s wandering in the desert presents ambivalent attitudes and situations. On the one hand, it is the season of first love with God, and between God and His people, when He speaks to their hearts, pointing out to them the path to follow. God, as it were, had taken up His abode with Israel; He went before them in a cloud and a column of fire; each day, He provided for their nourishment by making manna descend from the heavens and by making water gush forth from the rock. Therefore, the years Israel passed in the desert can be seen as the time of their being especially chosen by God and of their clinging to Him: the time of first love.

On the other hand, the Bible also portrays another image of Israel’s wandering in the desert: It is also the time of the greatest temptation and peril, when Israel murmurs against her God and wishes to return to paganism and to build her own idols, out of the need she feels to worship a God who is closer and more tangible. It is also the time of rebellion against the great and invisible God.

This ambivalence, a time of special closeness to God -- the time of first love -- as well as a time of temptation -- the temptation to return to paganism -- we surprisingly rediscover in Jesus’ earthy sojourn; naturally, however, without any compromise with sin. After His baptism of penance in the Jordan -- when He takes upon Himself the destiny of God’s Servant, who renounces himself and lives for others and takes his place among sinners in order to take upon himself the sin of the world -- Jesus goes into the desert and remains there for 40 days in profound union with the Father, thus repeating the history of Israel, all the rhythms of the 40 days or years I mentioned. This dynamic is a constant during the earthly life of Jesus, who always seeks moments of solitude in order to pray to His Father and to remain in intimate communion, in intimate solitude with Him, in exclusive communion with Him, then to return among the people. But in this time of “desert” and of special encounter with the Father, Jesus is exposed to danger and is assailed by temptation and the seduction of the Evil One, who proposes another Messianic way, one distant from God’s design, for it passes by way of power, success, and domination and not by way of the total gift of the Cross. These are the alternatives: a Messianism of power, of success, or a Messianism of love, of self-gift.

This situation of ambivalence also characterizes the condition of the Church as she journeys in the “desert” of the world and of history. In this “desert,” we who believe certainly have the opportunity to have a profound experience of God, who strengthens the spirit, confirms faith, nourishes hope and inspires charity. It is an experience that makes us sharers in Christ’s victory over sin and death through His Sacrifice of love on the Cross. But the “desert” is also a negative aspect of the reality that surrounds us: aridity; the poverty of words of life and values; secularism and cultural materialism, which enclose people within the worldly horizons of an existence bereft of all reference to the transcendent. This is also the environment in which even heaven above us is obscured, for it is covered by the clouds of egoism, misunderstanding and deception. Despite this, also for the Church today, time spent in the desert can be transformed into a time of grace, for we have the certainty that God can make the living water that quenches thirst and brings refreshment gush forth even from the hardest rock.

Dear brothers and sisters, we can find in these 40 days that lead us to the Easter of Resurrection the renewed hope that enables us to accept every difficulty, affliction and trial with patience and with faith, in the knowledge that out of the darkness the Lord will make a new day to dawn. And if we have been faithful to Jesus by following Him along the way of the Cross, the radiant world of God, the world of light, of truth and of joy will be restored to us: It will be the new dawn created by God Himself. I wish a blessed journey of Lent to you all!

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today the Church celebrates Ash Wednesday, the beginning of her Lenten journey towards Easter. The entire Christian community is invited to live this period of forty days as a pilgrimage of repentance, conversion and renewal. In the Bible, the number forty is rich in symbolism. It recalls Israel’s journey in the desert, a time of expectation, purification and closeness to the Lord, but also a time of temptation and testing. It also evokes Jesus’ own sojourn in the desert at the beginning of his public ministry, a time of profound closeness to the Father in prayer, but also of confrontation with the mystery of evil. The Church’s Lenten discipline is meant to help deepen our life of faith and our imitation of Christ in his paschal mystery. In these forty days may we draw nearer to the Lord by meditating on his word and example, and conquer the desert of our spiritual aridity, selfishness and materialism. For the whole Church may this Lent be a time of grace in which God leads us, in union with the crucified and risen Lord, through the experience of the desert to the joy and hope brought by Easter.

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Pope's Homily for Feast of Jesus' Baptism
"Prayer Is the First Condition for Educating"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 9, 2012 - Here is a translation of Benedict XVI's homily Sunday, celebrated in Rome as the feast of the baptism of Our Lord.

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Dear brothers and sisters!

It is always a joy to celebrate this Holy Mass with the baptism of children on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. I greet all of you with affection, dear parents, godfathers and godmothers, and all of you relatives and friends! You have come -- you have said this aloud -- so that these newborns might have the gift of the grace of God, the seed of eternal life. You parents wished for this. You thought about baptism before your little boy or little girl was born. Your responsibility as Christian parents made you think immediately of the sacrament that marks the entrance into divine life, in the community of the Church. We can say that this was your first educative decision for your children as witnesses of faith: the fundamental decision!

The task of parents, helped by the godmother and the godfather, is that of educating your son or daughter. Educating is very demanding, sometimes it is quite hard on our always limited human capacities. But educating becomes a marvelous mission if it is done in collaboration with God, who is the first and true educator of every man.

In the first reading that we heard, taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, God addresses his people precisely as an educator. He warns them against the danger of quenching their thirst and satiating their hunger with what will not do so: "Why," he asks, "do you spend your money on what is not bread, your earnings on what does not satisfy?" (Isaiah 55:2). God wants to give us good things to drink and eat, things that will be good for us; while we sometimes use our resources badly, we use them for what is useless, indeed, for what is harmful. God wants to give us above all himself and his Word: he knows that distancing ourselves from him we will soon find ourselves in difficulty, like the prodigal son of the parable, and most importantly we will lose our human dignity. And for this reason he assures us that he is infinite mercy, that his thoughts and his ways are not as ours -- how fortunate for us! -- and that we can always return to him, to the house of the Father. Moreover, he assures us that if we welcome his Word, it will bear good fruit in our life, like the rain that waters the earth (cf. Isaiah 55:10-11).

To this word that the Lord has addressed to us through the Prophet Isaiah, we have answered with the refrain of the Psalm: "With joy we will draw water joyfully from the springs of salvation." As adult persons we have a duty to draw from good sources, for our own good and for that of those entrusted to our responsibility, especially you, dear parents, godfathers and godmothers, for the good of these children. And what are "the springs of salvation?" They are the Word of God and the sacraments. Adults are the first ones who need to nourish themselves from these sources so that they can guide the younger people in their growth. The parents have to give much but to be able to give they also for their part have to receive, otherwise they will be emptied, they will run out. The parents are not the springs, as we priests are not the springs either: we are rather like channels through which the lifeblood of God's love must past. If we stop receiving from the ultimate source, we too will first of all feel the negative effects and we will no longer be able to educate others. Because of this we have committed ourselves, saying: "With joy we will draw water joyfully from the springs of salvation."

And we now come to the second reading and the Gospel. They tell us that the first and principal education comes through witness. The Gospel speaks to us of John the Baptist. John was a great educator of his disciples, because he lead them to Jesus, to whom he bore witness. He did not exalt himself, he did not want to hold onto the disciples for himself. And yet John was a great prophet, his fame was quite widespread. When Jesus came on the scene John stood back and pointed to Jesus: "One mightier than I is coming after me ... I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the holy Spirit" (Mark 1:7-8). The true educator does not bind people to himself, he is not possessive. He wants the child, or the disciple, to learn to know the truth and establish a personal relationship with it. The educator does his duty to the end, he does not withdraw his attentive and faithful presence; but his objective is that the learner hears the voice of the truth speak to his heart and follows it on a personal journey.

Let us return again to the theme of witnessing. In the second reading the Apostle John writes: "It is the Spirit who bears witness" (1 John 5:6). He is referring to the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, who bears witness to Jesus, testifying that he is the Christ, the Son of God. This is also seen in the scene of the baptism in the Jordan River: the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus like a dove, revealing that he is the Only Begotten Son of the Eternal Father (cf. Mark 1:10). John underscores this aspect as well in his Gospel when Jesus says to his disciples: "When the Paraclete comes, whom I will send from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me; and you too will bear witness to me, because you have been with me from the beginning" (John 15:26-27). This is a great comfort to us in educating others in the faith because we know that we are not alone and that our witness is supported by the Holy Spirit.

It is very important for you parents and also for you godfathers and godmothers to believe strongly in the presence and the action of the Holy Spirit, to call upon him and welcome him in you through prayer and the sacraments. He is the one in fact who enlightens the mind, who makes the heart of the educator burn so that he or she knows how to transmit the knowledge of the love of Christ. Prayer is the first condition for educating, because in praying we create the disposition in ourselves of letting God have the initiative, of entrusting our children to him, who knows them before we do and better than us, and knows perfectly what their true good is. And, at the same time, when we pray we open ourselves to the inspirations of God to do our part better, which in any case is our duty and we must accomplish. The sacraments, especially Eucharist and Penance, permit us to perform the educative action in union with Christ, in communion with him and continually renewed by his forgiveness. Prayer and the sacraments obtain that light for us that allows us to be both tender and strong, kind and firm, to be silent and to speak when the time is right, to rebuke and correct justly.

Dear friends, let us therefore together call upon the Holy Spirit, that he might descend abundantly upon these children, consecrate them in the image of Jesus Christ, and accompany them on the journey of their life. We entrust them to the maternal guidance of Mary Most Holy, that they might grow in age, wisdom and grace and become true Christians, faithful and joyful witnesses of God's love. Amen.

[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]

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On Christmas and Epiphany
"Christmas Is Joy Because We See -- and at Last We Are Sure -- That God Is Man's Good"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 6, 2012 - Here is a translation of the Italian-language catechesis Benedict XVI gave last Wednesday during the general audience held in Paul VI Audience Hall. The Pope reflected on the feasts of Christmas and the Epiphany.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

I am pleased to welcome you in this first General Audience of the new year, and with all my heart I offer you and your families my affectionate good wishes: May God, who in the birth of Christ His Son filled the whole world with joy, dispose your endeavors and days in His peace.

We are in the liturgical season of Christmas, which begins on the evening of December 24thwith the vigil and concludes with the celebration of the Lord’s Baptism. It is a brief span of days, but it is dense in celebrations and in mysteries and centers around the two great solemnities of the Lord: Christmas and Epiphany. The very name of these two feasts points to their respective features. Christmas celebrates the historical fact of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. The Epiphany, which originated as a feast in the East, points to an event but above all to an aspect of the Mystery: God reveals Himself in Christ’s human nature; and this is the meaning of the Greek word epiphaino -- to become visible.

Within this perspective, the Epiphany recalls a plurality of events whose object is the manifestation of the Lord: particularly the adoration of the Magi, who recognize in Jesus the awaited Messiah, but also the Baptism in the river Jordan with its theophany -- the voice of God from heaven -- and the miracle at the Wedding Feast of Cana, as the first “sign” wrought by Christ.

A most beautiful antiphon from the Liturgy of the Hours unites these three events around the theme of the marriage between Christ and the Church: “Today the Church hath been joined to her heavenly Spouse, for Christ hath washed away her sins in the Jordan; the Magi hasten with gifts to the royal nuptials, and the guests are gladdened with wine made from water,” (Antiphon from Lauds). We could almost say that, in the feast of Christmas, it is the hiddenness of God in the humility of the human condition, in the Child of Bethlehem, which is underscored. The Epiphany, instead, emphasizes His Self-manifestation, God’s appearing by means of this same humanity.

In this Catechesis, I would like briefly to recall a number of themes proper to the celebration of the Lord’s Birth, so that each one of us may drink from the inexhaustible fount of this mystery and bear life-giving fruit.

First of all, we ask ourselves: what is the first reaction to the extraordinary action of God, who becomes a babe, who becomes man? I think that the first reaction can be none other than joy. “Let us all rejoice in the Lord, for our Savior has been born in the world”: thus begins the Mass during the Night of Christmas; and we just heard the words of the angel to the shepherds: “Behold, I bring you good news of a great joy” (Luke 2:10). [Joy] is the theme that opens the Gospel, and it is the theme that concludes it, since the Risen Jesus will reproach the Apostles precisely for being sad (cf. Luke 24:17) -- something incompatible with the fact that He remains Man forever.

But let us go one step further: where does this joy come from? I would say that it is born of the heart’s wonder in seeing how close God is to us, how God thinks of us, how God acts in history; it is a joy, then, that comes from contemplating the face of that humble Child, because we know that it is the Face of God present to humanity forever -- for us and with us. Christmas is joy because we see -- and at last we are sure -- that God is man’s good, his life and his truth; and He lowers Himself to man in order that He might raise man to Himself: God becomes close enough to see and touch.

The Church contemplates this ineffable mystery, and the liturgical texts for this season are imbued with wonder and joy; it is this joy that all the songs of Christmas express. Christmas is the point where heaven and earth unite, and the various expressions we hear throughout these days emphasize the grandeur of what has occurred: what was far off -- God seems so very far away -- has drawn near; “He who was inaccessible willed to be accessible: abiding before all time He began to be in time: the Lord of the universe, He veiled His immeasurable majesty and took on the form of a servant," exclaims St. Leo the Great (Sermon 2 on Christmas, 2.1). In that Child, needy in every way as infants are, what God is: eternity, power, holiness, life, joy, is joined to what we are: weakness, sin, suffering and death.

The theology and spirituality of Christmas use a particular expression to describe this event. They speak of an admirabile commercium; that is, a wondrous exchange between divinity and humanity. St. Athanasius of Alexandria affirms: “The Son of God became man so that we might become God” (De Incarnatione, 54,3:PG 25,192), but it is above all with St. Leo the Great and his celebrated Homilies on Christmas that this reality becomes the object of a profound meditation. The holy Pontiff affirms in fact: “If we have recourse to that unutterable condescension of the Divine Mercy, whereby the Creator of men deigned to become man, by it we shall be raised to the nature of Him whom we adore in ours” (Sermon 8 on Christmas: CCL 138,139).

The first act of this wondrous exchange is wrought in Christ’s own humanity. The Word assumed our humanity and, in exchange, human nature was raised to the divine dignity. The second act of the exchange consists in our real and intimate participation in the divine nature of the Word. St. Paul says: “When the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5).

Christmas, then, is the feast in which God becomes so close to man that He shares in the very act of being born, in order to reveal to man his most profound dignity: that of being a child of God. And thus, man’s dream beginning in [the Garden of] Paradise -- we want to be like God -- is realized in an unexpected way -- not through the greatness of man, who cannot make himself like God, but by the humility of God who comes down, and in His humility enters into us and raises us to the true greatness of His being. The Second Vatican Council said in this regard: “The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light” (Gaudium et Spes, 22); otherwise, he remains an enigma: what is the meaning of this creature who is man? We can only see the light regarding our own being, be happy to be men and live with confidence and joy, by seeing that God is with us.

And where is this marvelous exchange made present in a real way, so that it might be at work in our lives and make them the lives of the true children of God? It becomes very concrete in the Eucharist. When we participate in the Holy Mass, we present to God what is ours: bread and wine, the fruit of the earth, so that He might receive and transform them, giving us His very self and making Himself our food in order that, by receiving His Body and His Blood, we might participate in His divine life.

Lastly, I would like to consider one other aspect of Christmas. When the angel of the Lord appears to the shepherds on the night of Jesus’ Birth, the Evangelist Luke notes that “the glory of the Lord shone around them” (2:9); and the Prologue of John’s Gospel speaks of the Word made flesh as the true light coming into the world, the light that enlightens every man (cf. John 1:9). The Christmas liturgy is pervaded by light. The coming of Christ dispels the world’s darkness; it fills the holy Night with a heavenly radiance and sheds forth upon the faces of men the splendor of God the Father. Even today. Enveloped by the light of Christ, we are earnestly invited by the Christmas liturgy to allow our minds and hearts to be enlightened by the God who has shown us the splendor of His Face. The first Preface of Christmas proclaims: “In the mystery of the Word made flesh a new light of your glory has shone upon the eyes of our mind, so that, as we recognize in him God made visible, we may be caught up through him in love of things invisible”. In the mystery of the Incarnation, God, after having spoken and intervened in history through messengers and signs, “appeared”; He went forth from His own inaccessible light to enlighten the world.

On the Solemnity of the Epiphany, January 6, which we will celebrate in just a few days, the Church sets forth for us a very meaningful passage from the prophet Isaiah: “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And the nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising” (60:1-3).

It is an invitation addressed to the Church -- the Community of Christ -- but also to each one of us, to become even more keenly aware of the mission and responsibility of witnessing and carrying the new light of the Gospel to the world. At the beginning of the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution Lumen Gentium we find the following words: “Christ is the Light of nations. Because this is so, this Sacred Synod gathered together in the Holy Spirit eagerly desires, by proclaiming the Gospel to every creature, to bring the light of Christ to all men, a light brightly visible on the countenance of the Church” (n. 1).

The Gospel is the light that should not be hidden, that should be placed upon a lamp stand. The Church is not the light; rather, she receives the light of Christ; she welcomes it, that she may be enlightened by it and spread it abroad in all its splendor. And this must also happen in our personal lives. Once more, I quote St. Leo the Great who said on the Holy Night: “Recognize, O Christian, your dignity and, now that you share in God’s own nature, do not return to your former base condition by sinning. Remember who is your head and of whose body you are a member. Never forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of the Kingdom of God” (Sermon 1 on Christmas, 3,2: CCL 138,88).

Dear brothers and sisters, Christmas is to stop and to contemplate that Child, [to contemplate] the mystery of God who becomes man in humility and poverty; but above all, it is to welcome again that Child, who is Christ the Lord, into our very selves, so that we might live by His very life, so that His sentiments, His thoughts, His actions might be our sentiments, our thoughts, our actions. To celebrate Christmas, then, is to manifest the joy, the newness and the light that this Birth brings to the whole of our existence, such that we too become heralds of the joy, the true newness and the light of God to others. Once more, I wish you all a Christmas season blessed by the presence of God!

[Translation by Diane Montagna]

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[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In this Christmas season, the Church celebrates the mystery of the incarnation of the Son of God and his revelation as the Saviour of the world. From the witness of Scripture and the Church’s tradition, we see that our first reaction to the birth of Jesus should be one of joy, in the knowledge that God has assumed our humanity in order to make us sharers in his own divine life. The contemplation of this “wondrous exchange”, which we experience most powerfully in the Eucharist, invites us to recognize our lofty dignity as God’s adopted sons and daughters. The liturgy teaches us that Christmas is a feast of light, for Christ, the light of the world and the radiance of the Father’s glory, has brought us from darkness into his Kingdom of light and called us to bring the light of the Gospel to every creature. During this Christmas season, may we welcome the Newborn Saviour into our hearts and may our lives be transformed by his gifts of joy, newness and light.

* * *

I am pleased to greet all the English-speaking visitors present, including the pilgrimage groups from Wales, Australia and the United States. I offer a special greeting to the priests and seminarians of the Pontifical College Josephinum. My welcome also goes to the La Salette Brothers taking part in a programme of spiritual renewal. I thank the choirs for their praise of God in song. Upon all of you and your families I invoke the Lord’s blessings of joy, peace and prosperity for the year which has just begun. Happy New Year!

© Copyright 2012 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

[In Italian he said:]

Lastly, my thoughts go to young people, to the sick and to newlyweds. Dear young people, may you know how to look upon each day as God’s gift to be welcomed with gratitude and to be lived aright. Dear sick, may the new year bring you consolation in body and spirit. And may you, dear newlyweds, make every effort to imitate the Holy Family of Nazareth, by living out an authentic communion of love and of life.

[Translation by Diane Montagna]

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Jan. 1: On Peace
"We Begin the New Year 2012 by Fixing Our Gaze on the Face of God"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 6, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of the address Benedict XVI gave on Jan. 1 before and after praying the midday Angelus with those gathered in St. Peter's Square.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The triple biblical blessing rings out in the liturgy on this first day of the year. “The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; The Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace” (Num 6:24-26). We can contemplate the Face of God he himself made visible, he revealed himself in Jesus; he is the visible image of the invisible God. And this is also thanks to the Virgin Mary, whose greatest title we celebrate today; the title with which she plays a unique role in the history of salvation, as Mother of God. In her womb the Son of the Most High took our flesh and we can contemplate his glory (cf. Jn 1:14), and feel his presence as God-with-us.

Thus we begin the New Year 2012 by fixing our gaze on the Face of God, who is revealed in the Child of Bethlehem, and on his Mother Mary who accepted the divine plan with humble abandonment. Thanks to her generous “yes”, the true light that enlightens every man appeared in the world (cf. Jn 1:9) and the way of peace was reopened to us.

Dear brothers and sisters, today, by now a felicitous custom, we are celebrating the 45th World Day of Peace. In the Message I addressed to Heads of State, Representatives of Nations and to all people of good will whose theme is “Educating Young People in Justice and Peace”, I wished to recall the need to offer the future generations suitable educational curricula for an integral formation of the person which includes the moral and spiritual dimension (cf. n. 3).

I wished to underline in particular the importance of teaching the values of justice and peace. Young people today look to the future with a certain apprehension, drawing attention to certain aspects of their life that need to be addressed, for example: “they want to receive an education which prepares them more fully to deal with the real world, they see how difficult it is to form a family and to find stable employment; they wonder if they can really contribute to political, cultural and economic life in order to build a society with a more human and fraternal face” (n. 1).

I ask you all to have the patience and perseverance to seek justice and peace, to cultivate the taste for what is just and true (cf. n. 5). Peace is never a good fully achieved, but a goal for which we must all strive and for which we must all work.

Let us therefore pray, despite the difficulties that sometimes make our way arduous, that this profound aspiration may be expressed in concrete gestures of reconciliation, justice and peace. Let us also pray that the leaders of nations may renew their readiness and commitment to accept and encourage this irrepressible longing of humanity. Let us entrust these wishes to the intercession of the Mother of the “King of Peace”, so that the year which is beginning may be a time of hope and of peaceful coexistence for the whole world.

After the Angelus:

Dear Brothers and Sisters, I have received many greetings in these days: I thank everyone with affection, especially for the gift of prayer. I would like to address a respectful greeting to H.E. the President of the Italian Republic, while I offer to the entire Italian people all my best wishes for peace and prosperity in the year that has just begun.

I express my appreciation of the numerous initiatives of prayer for peace and of reflection on the theme I proposed in my Message for today’s World Day. I recall in particular the [Italian] National March that took place in Brescia yesterday evening, as well as those promoted by the Community of Sant’Egidio in Rome this morning and in other cities of the world. I also greet the young people of theOpera Don Orione and the families of the Movimento dell’Amore Familiare who spent this past night at a prayer vigil in St Peter’s Square.

I offer a warm welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present for the Angelus, as we cross the threshold of a new year. As today marks the World Day of Peace, I invite all of you to join me in praying earnestly for peace throughout the world, for reconciliation and forgiveness in areas of conflict, and for a more just and equitable distribution of the world’s resources. May the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom we honour today as Mother of God, always guide and protect us, helping us to grow in love for her Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. May God bless all of you!

A Happy New Year to everyone!

© Copyright 2012 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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On the Light of the Gospel
"The Church, Thanks to the Word of God, Sees Through the Fog"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 6, 2012 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today before and after praying the midday Angelus on the feast of the Epiphany. He also announced the names of 22 new cardinals.

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Dear brothers and sisters!

Today, on the solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, I ordained two new bishops in St. Peter's Basilica. So, please forgive me for being late. This feast of Epiphany is a very ancient feast, which has its origin in the Christian East and underscores the mystery of Jesus Christ's manifestation to all peoples, who are represented by the Magi who came to worship the King of the Jews newly born in Bethlehem, as we are told by the Gospel of St. Matthew (cf. 2:1-12). That "new light" that shone forth on Christmas night (cf. Preface for Christmas I), today begins to cast its rays upon the world, as the image of the star suggests, a celestial sign that drew the attention of the Magi and guided them on their journey to Judea.

The whole period of Christmas and Epiphany is characterized by the theme of light, linked also to the fact that, in the northern hemisphere, after the winter solstice the days begin to get longer and the nights shorter. But Christ's word holds true for all peoples, regardless of geographical location: "I am the light of the world; whoever follows me does not walk in darkness but will have the light of life" (John 8:12). Jesus is the sun that has risen upon the horizon of humanity to illuminate everyone's personal existence to lead us all together to the goal of our pilgrimage, to the land of freedom and peace where we will live in full communion with God and each other forever.

The proclamation of this mystery of salvation was entrusted to Christ and his Church. As St. Paul writes: "It was revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Holy Spirit that the nations are called in Christ Jesus to share in the same inheritance, to form the same body and to be participants in the same promise through the Gospel" (Ephesians 3:5-6). Isaiah's invitation to the holy city of Jerusalem can be applied to the Church: "Arise, clothe yourself in light for your light is coming, the glory of the Lord shines upon you. Behold, darkness covers the earth, thick clouds envelop the nations; but the Lord shines upon you, his glory will be upon you" (Isaiah 60:1-2). And it is thus, as the prophet says, that the world with all of its resources is unable to give humanity the light to guide it on its journey. We see this in our own day too: Western civilization seems to have lost its orientation, it gropes about blindly. But the Church, thanks to the Word of God, sees through the fog. She does not have technological solutions, but keeps her gaze fixed on the goal and offers the light of the Gospel to all men of good will, of all nations and cultures.

This is the also the mission of the pontifical representatives to international organizations. This morning, in fact, as I said, I had the joy of conferring episcopal ordination on two new apostolic nuncios. Let us entrust their service and work of evangelization to the Virgin Mary.

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Announcement of the Consistory for the Creation of New Cardinals

And now with great joy, I announce that on Feb. 18, I will hold a consistory in which I create 22 new members of the College of Cardinals.

As is well known, the cardinals have the task of helping the Successor of Peter in carrying out his ministry of confirming our brothers in the faith and in being the principle and foundation of the unity of the communion of the Church.

Here are the names of the new cardinals:

1. Monsignor Fernando Filoni, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples;

2. Monsignor Manuel Monteiro de Castro, major penitentiary;

3. Monsignor Santos Abril y Castelló, archpriest of the Papal Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore;

4. Monsignor Antonio Maria Vegliò, president of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People;

5. Monsignor Giuseppe Bertello, president of the Pontifical Commission for the Vatican City State and President of the its Government;

6. Monsignor Franceso Coccopalmerio, president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts;

7. Monsignor João Bráz de Aviz, prefect of the Congregation for Religious

8. Monsignor Edwin Frederick O'Brien, grand master of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre

9. Monsignor Domenico Calcagno, president of the Apostolic Patrimony of the Holy See

10. Monsignor Giuseppe Versaldi, president of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See

11. His Beatitude George Alencherry, Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church (India)

12. Monsignor Thomas Collins, Archbishop of Toronto (Canada);

13. Monsignor Dominik Duka, Archbishop of Prague (Czech Republic);

14. Wim Eijk, Archbishop of Utrecht (Holland);

15. Monsignor Giuseppe Betori, Archbishop of Florence (Italy);

16. Monsignor Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York (United States);

17. Thomas Woelki, Archbishop of Berlin (Federal Republic of Germany);

18. Monsignor John Tong Hon, Bishop of Hong Kong (People's Republic of China);

Furthermore, I decided to elevate to the dignity of the cardinalate a venerable prelate, who is the shepherd and father of a Church, and three meritorious ecclesiastics, who are distinguished by their service to the Church.

They are:

1. His Beatitude Lucian Mures,an, Major Archbishop of Fa(ga(ras, and Alba Iulia (Romania);

2. Monsignor Julien Ries, priest of the Diocese of Namur (Belgium) and emeritus professor of the history of religions at the Catholic University of Louvain;

3. Father Prosper Grech, O.S.A., emeritus professor at various Roman universities and consultor of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith;

4. Father Karl Becker, S.J., emeritus professor of the Pontifical Gregorian University, consultor of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The new cardinals come from various parts of the world, as you have heard, and they carry out different ministries in service of the Holy See or in direct contact with the faithful as fathers or shepherds of particular Churches.

I would like to invite everyone to pray for these men who have been newly nominated to the College of Cardinals, imploring the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, that they might know how to bear witness with courage and dedication to their love for Christ and for his Church.

[Following the Angelus the Holy Father greeted the faithful in various languages. In Italian he said:]

Dear brothers and sisters,

I am happy to direct the most cordial greetings to the Eastern Churches who, following the Julian calendar, celebrate the holy feast of Christmas tomorrow. May every family and every community be filled with light and peace of Christ the Savior!

I also note that Epiphany is the Missionary Day of Children too, promoted by the Pontifical Work of Holy Childhood. Children throughout the world, gathered in groups, form themselves in a missionary attitude and support many projects of solidarity for other children their age. Dear children and young people! May your heart be open to the world, like the heart of Jesus, but also be attentive to those who live near you, always ready to lend a hand.

[In English he said:]

I am happy to greet all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present for this Angelus. Today we celebrate the Epiphany, in which the Lord is made known to the nations. Let us give thanks for the gift of faith and support the world-wide mission of the Church by bearing generous witness, in word and deed, to Jesus our Saviour. I wish you a pleasant stay in Rome. God bless all of you!

[Concluding in Italian he said:]

I wish everyone a happy feast of the Epiphany! Happy feast day to all of you!

[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]

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Benedict XVI's Message for World Day of the Sick
"He Who Believes Is Never Alone"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 6, 2012 - Here is a Vatican translation of Benedict XVI's message for the World Day of the Sick, celebrated each Feb. 11, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. The Vatican released the text Tuesday; it is dated last Nov. 20.

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"Stand up and go; your faith has saved you" (Lk 17:19)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

On the occasion of the World Day of the Sick, which we will celebrate on 11 February 2012, the Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes, I wish to renew my spiritual closeness to all sick people who are in places of care or are looked after in their families, expressing to each one of them the solicitude and the affection of the whole Church. In the generous and loving welcoming of every human life, above all of weak and sick life, a Christian expresses an important aspect of his or her Gospel witness, following the example of Christ, who bent down before the material and spiritual sufferings of man in order to heal them.

1. This year, which involves the immediate preparations for the Solemn World Day of the Sick that will be celebrated in Germany on 11 February 2013 and will focus on the emblematic Gospel figure of the Good Samaritan (cf. Lk 10:29-37), I would like to place emphasis upon the "sacraments of healing", that is to say upon the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation and that of the Anointing of the Sick, which have their natural completion in Eucharistic Communion.

The encounter of Jesus with the ten lepers, narrated by the Gospel of Saint Luke (cf. Lk 17:11-19), and in particular the words that the Lord addresses to one of them, "Stand up and go; your faith has saved you" (v. 19), help us to become aware of the importance of faith for those who, burdened by suffering and illness, draw near to the Lord. In their encounter with him they can truly experience that he who believes is never alone! God, indeed, in his Son, does not abandon us to our anguish and sufferings, but is close to us, helps us to bear them, and wishes to heal us in the depths of our hearts (cf. Mk 2:1-12).

The faith of the lone leper who, on seeing that he was healed, full of amazement and joy, and unlike the others, immediately went back to Jesus to express his gratitude, enables us to perceive that reacquired health is a sign of something more precious than mere physical healing, it is a sign of the salvation that God gives us through Christ; it finds expression in the words of Jesus: your faith has saved you. He who in suffering and illness prays to the Lord is certain that God’s love will never abandon him, and also that the love of the Church, the extension in time of the Lord’s saving work, will never fail. Physical healing, an outward expression of the deepest salvation, thus reveals the importance that man – in his entirety of soul and body – has for the Lord. Each sacrament, for that matter, expresses and actuates the closeness of God himself, who, in an absolutely freely-given way, "touches us through material things … that he takes up into his service, making them instruments of the encounter between us and himself" (Homily, Chrism Mass, 1 April 2010). "The unity between creation and redemption is made visible. The sacraments are an expression of the physicality of our faith, which embraces the whole person, body and soul" (Homily, Chrism Mass, 21 April 2011).

The principal task of the Church is certainly proclaiming the Kingdom of God, "But this very proclamation must be a process of healing: ‘bind up the broken-hearted’ (Is 61:1)" (ibid.), according to the charge entrusted by Jesus to his disciples (cf. Lk 9:1-2; Mt 10:1,5-14; Mk 6:7-13). The tandem of physical health and renewal after lacerations of the soul thus helps us to understand better the "sacraments of healing".

2. The sacrament of Penance has often been at the centre of the reflection of the Church’s Pastors, specifically because of its great importance in the journey of Christian life, given that "The whole power of the sacrament of Penance consists in restoring us to God’s grace, and joining with him in an intimate friendship" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1468). The Church, in continuing to proclaim Jesus’ message of forgiveness and reconciliation, never ceases to invite the whole of humanity to convert and to believe in the Gospel. She makes her own the call of the Apostle Paul: "So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God" (2 Cor 5:20). Jesus, during his life, proclaimed and made present the mercy of the Father. He came not to condemn but to forgive and to save, to give hope in the deepest darkness of suffering and sin, and to give eternal life; thus in the sacrament of Penance, in the "medicine of confession", the experience of sin does not degenerate into despair but encounters the Love that forgives and transforms (cf. John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 31).

God, "rich in mercy" (Eph 2:4), like the father in the Gospel parable (cf. Lk 15:11-32), does not close his heart to any of his children, but waits for them, looks for them, reaches them where their rejection of communion imprisons them in isolation and division, and calls them to gather around his table, in the joy of the feast of forgiveness and reconciliation. A time of suffering, in which one could be tempted to abandon oneself to discouragement and hopelessness, can thus be transformed into a time of grace so as to return to oneself, and like the prodigal son of the parable, to think anew about one’s life, recognizing its errors and failures, longing for the embrace of the Father, and following the pathway to his home. He, in his great love, always and everywhere watches over our lives and awaits us so as to offer to every child that returns to him the gift of full reconciliation and joy.

3. From a reading of the Gospels it emerges clearly that Jesus always showed special concern for sick people. He not only sent out his disciples to tend their wounds (cf. Mt 10:8; Lk 9:2; 10:9) but also instituted for them a specific sacrament: the Anointing of the Sick. The Letter of James attests to the presence of this sacramental act already in the first Christian community (cf. 5:14-16): by the Anointing of the Sick, accompanied by the prayer of the elders, the whole of the Church commends the sick to the suffering and glorified Lord so that he may alleviate their sufferings and save them; indeed she exhorts them to unite themselves spiritually to the passion and death of Christ so as to contribute thereby to the good of the People of God.

This sacrament leads us to contemplate the double mystery of the Mount of Olives, where Jesus found himself dramatically confronted by the path indicated to him by the Father, that of his Passion, the supreme act of love; and he accepted it. In that hour of tribulation, he is the mediator, "bearing in himself, taking upon himself the sufferings and passion of the world, transforming it into a cry to God, bringing it before the eyes and into the hands of God and thus truly bringing it to the moment of redemption" (Lectio Divina, Meeting with the Parish Priests of Rome, 18 February 2010). But "the Garden of Olives is also the place from which he ascended to the Father, and is therefore the place of redemption … This double mystery of the Mount of Olives is also always ‘at work’ within the Church’s sacramental oil … the sign of God’s goodness reaching out to touch us" (Homily, Chrism Mass, 1 April 2010). In the Anointing of the Sick, the sacramental matter of the oil is offered to us, so to speak, "as God’s medicine … which now assures us of his goodness, offering us strength and consolation, yet at the same time points beyond the moment of the illness towards the definitive healing, the resurrection (cf. Jas 5:14)" (ibid.).

This sacrament deserves greater consideration today both in theological reflection and in pastoral ministry among the sick. Through a proper appreciation of the content of the liturgical prayers that are adapted to the various human situations connected with illness, and not only when a person is at the end of his or her life (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1514), the Anointing of the Sick should not be held to be almost "a minor sacrament" when compared to the others. Attention to and pastoral care for sick people, while, on the one hand, a sign of God’s tenderness towards those who are suffering, on the other brings spiritual advantage to priests and the whole Christian community as well, in the awareness that what is done to the least, is done to Jesus himself (cf. Mt 25:40).

4. As regards the "sacraments of healing", Saint Augustine affirms: "God heals all your infirmities. Do not be afraid, therefore, all your infirmities will be healed … You must only allow him to cure you and you must not reject his hands" (Exposition on Psalm 102, 5; PL 36, 1319-1320). These are precious instruments of God’s grace which help a sick person to conform himself or herself ever more fully to the mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ. Together with these two sacraments, I would also like to emphasize the importance of the Eucharist. Received at a time of illness, it contributes in a singular way to working this transformation, associating the person who partakes of the Body and Blood of Christ to the offering that he made of himself to the Father for the salvation of all. The whole ecclesial community, and parish communities in particular, should pay attention to guaranteeing the possibility of frequently receiving Holy Communion, to those people who, for reasons of health or age, cannot go to a place of worship. In this way, these brothers and sisters are offered the possibility of strengthening their relationship with Christ, crucified and risen, participating, through their lives offered up for love of Christ, in the very mission of the Church. From this point of view, it is important that priests who offer their discreet work in hospitals, in nursing homes and in the homes of sick people, feel they are truly "’ministers of the sick’, signs and instruments of Christ's compassion who must reach out to every person marked by suffering" (Message for the XVIII World Day of the Sick, 22 November 2009).

Becoming conformed to the Paschal Mystery of Christ, which can also be achieved through the practice of spiritual Communion, takes on a very particular meaning when the Eucharist is administered and received as Viaticum. At that stage in life, these words of the Lord are even more telling: "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day" (Jn 6:54). The Eucharist, especially as Viaticum, is – according to the definition of Saint Ignatius of Antioch – "medicine of immortality, the antidote for death" (Letter to the Ephesians, 20: PG 5, 661); the sacrament of the passage from death to life, from this world to the Father, who awaits everyone in the celestial Jerusalem.

5. The theme of this Message for the Twentieth World Day of the Sick, "Stand up and go; your faith has saved you", also looks forward to the forthcoming Year of Faith which will begin on 11 October 2012, a propitious and valuable occasion to rediscover the strength and beauty of faith, to examine its contents, and to bear witness to it in daily life (cf. Apostolic Letter Porta Fidei, 11 October 2011). I wish to encourage sick people and the suffering always to find a safe anchor in faith, nourished by listening to the Word of God, by personal prayer and by the sacraments, while I invite pastors to be increasingly ready to celebrate them for the sick. Following the example of the Good Shepherd and as guides of the flocks entrusted to them, priests should be full of joy, attentive to the weakest, the simple and sinners, expressing the infinite mercy of God with reassuring words of hope (cf. Saint Augustine, Letter 95, 1: PL 33, 351-352).

To all those who work in the field of health, and to the families who see in their relatives the suffering face of the Lord Jesus, I renew my thanks and that of the Church, because, in their professional expertise and in silence, often without even mentioning the name of Christ, they manifest him in a concrete way (cf. Homily, Chrism Mass, 21 April 2011).

To Mary, Mother of Mercy and Health of the Sick, we raise our trusting gaze and our prayer; may her maternal compassion, manifested as she stood beside her dying Son on the Cross, accompany and sustain the faith and the hope of every sick and suffering person on the journey of healing for the wounds of body and spirit!

I assure you all of a remembrance in my prayers, and I bestow upon each one of you a special Apostolic Blessing.

From the Vatican, 20 November 2011, Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, Universal King.

BENEDICTUS PP XVI

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Pope's Homily at Mass for Feast of Epiphany
"Not Only Are We Restless for God: God's Heart Is Restless for Us"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 6, 2012 .- Here is a Vatican translation of the homily Benedict XVI gave today at Mass for the feast of the Epiphany. During the Mass, he conferred episcopal ordination on Monsignor Charles John Brown, apostolic nuncio to Ireland, and Monsignor Marek Solczynski, apostolic nuncio to Georgia and Armenia.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters!

The Epiphany is a feast of light. "Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you" (Is 60:1). With these words of the prophet Isaiah, the Church describes the content of the feast. He who is the true light, and by whom we too are made to be light, has indeed come into the world. He gives us the power to become children of God (cf. Jn 1:9,12). The journey of the wise men from the East is, for the liturgy, just the beginning of a great procession that continues throughout history. With the Magi, humanity’s pilgrimage to Jesus Christ begins – to the God who was born in a stable, who died on the Cross and who, having risen from the dead, remains with us always, until the consummation of the world (cf. Mt 28:20). The Church reads this account from Matthew’s Gospel alongside the vision of the prophet Isaiah that we heard in the first reading: the journey of these men is just the beginning. Before them came the shepherds – simple souls, who dwelt closer to the God who became a child, and could more easily "go over" to him (Lk 2:15) and recognize him as Lord. But now the wise of this world are also coming. Great and small, kings and slaves, men of all cultures and all peoples are coming. The men from the East are the first, followed by many more throughout the centuries. After the great vision of Isaiah, the reading from the Letter to the Ephesians expresses the same idea in sober and simple terms: the Gentiles share the same heritage (cf. Eph3:6). Psalm 2 puts it like this: "I shall bequeath you the nations, put the ends of the earth in your possession" (v. 8).

The wise men from the East lead the way. They open up the path of the Gentiles to Christ. During this holy Mass, I will ordain two priests to the episcopate, I will consecrate them as shepherds of God’s people. According to the words of Jesus, part of a shepherd’s task is to go ahead of the flock (cf. Jn 10:4). So, allowing for all the differences in vocation and mission, we may well look to these figures, the first Gentiles to find the pathway to Christ, for indications concerning the task of bishops. What kind of people were they? The experts tell us that they belonged to the great astronomical tradition that had developed in Mesopotamia over the centuries and continued to flourish. But this information of itself is not enough. No doubt there were many astronomers in ancient Babylon, but only these few set off to follow the star that they recognized as the star of the promise, pointing them along the path towards the true King and Saviour. They were, as we might say, men of science, but not simply in the sense that they were searching for a wide range of knowledge: they wanted something more. They wanted to understand what being human is all about. They had doubtless heard of the prophecy of the Gentile prophet Balaam: "A star shall come forth out of Jacob and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel" (Num24:17). They explored this promise. They were men with restless hearts, not satisfied with the superficial and the ordinary. They were men in search of the promise, in search of God. And they were watchful men, capable of reading God’s signs, his soft and penetrating language. But they were also courageous, yet humble: we can imagine them having to endure a certain amount of mockery for setting off to find the King of the Jews, at the cost of so much effort. For them it mattered little what this or that person, what even influential and clever people thought and said about them. For them it was a question of truth itself, not human opinion. Hence they took upon themselves the sacrifices and the effort of a long and uncertain journey. Their humble courage was what enabled them to bend down before the child of poor people and to recognize in him the promised King, the one they had set out, on both their outward and their inward journey, to seek and to know.

Dear friends, how can we fail to recognize in all this certain essential elements of episcopal ministry? The bishop too must be a man of restless heart, not satisfied with the ordinary things of this world, but inwardly driven by his heart’s unrest to draw ever closer to God, to seek his face, to recognize him more and more, to be able to love him more and more. The bishop too must be a man of watchful heart, who recognizes the gentle language of God and understands how to distinguish truth from mere appearance. The bishop too must be filled with the courage of humility, not asking what prevailing opinion says about him, but following the criterion of God’s truth and taking his stand accordingly – "opportune – importune". He must be able to go ahead and mark out the path. He must go ahead, in the footsteps of him who went ahead of us all because he is the true shepherd, the true star of the promise: Jesus Christ. And he must have the humility to bend down before the God who made himself so tangible and so simple that he contradicts our foolish pride in its reluctance to see God so close and so small. He must devote his life to adoration of the incarnate Son of God, which constantly points him towards the path.

The liturgy of episcopal ordination interprets the essential features of this ministry in eight questions addressed to the candidates, each beginning with the word "Vultis? – Do you want?" These questions direct the will and mark out the path to be followed. Here I shall briefly cite just a few of the most important words of this presentation, where we find explicit mention of the elements we have just considered in connection with the wise men of today’s feast. The bishops’ task is praedicare Evangelium Christi, it is custodire et dirigere, it is pauperibus se misericordes praebere, it is indesinenter orare. Preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, going ahead and leading, guarding the sacred heritage of our faith, showing mercy and charity to the needy and the poor, thus mirroring God’s merciful love for us, and finally, praying without ceasing: these are the fundamental features of the episcopal ministry. Praying without ceasing means: never losing contact with God, letting ourselves be constantly touched by him in the depths of our hearts and, in this way, being penetrated by his light. Only someone who actually knows God can lead others to God. Only someone who leads people to God leads them along the path of life.

The restless heart of which we spoke earlier, echoing Saint Augustine, is the heart that is ultimately satisfied with nothing less than God, and in this way becomes a loving heart. Our heart is restless for God and remains so, even if every effort is made today, by means of most effective anaesthetizing methods, to deliver people from this unrest. But not only are we restless for God: God’s heart is restless for us. God is waiting for us. He is looking for us. He knows no rest either, until he finds us. God’s heart is restless, and that is why he set out on the path towards us – to Bethlehem, to Calvary, from Jerusalem to Galilee and on to the very ends of the earth. God is restless for us, he looks out for people willing to "catch" his unrest, his passion for us, people who carry within them the searching of their own hearts and at the same time open themselves to be touched by God’s search for us. Dear friends, this was the task of the Apostles: to receive God’s unrest for man and then to bring God himself to man. And this is your task as successors of the Apostles: let yourselves be touched by God’s unrest, so that God’s longing for man may be fulfilled.

The wise men followed the star. Through the language of creation, they discovered the God of history. To be sure – the language of creation alone is not enough. Only God’s word, which we encounter in sacred Scripture, was able to mark out their path definitively. Creation and Scripture, reason and faith, must come together, so as to lead us forward to the living God. There has been much discussion over what kind of star it was that the wise men were following. Some suggest a planetary constellation, or a supernova, that is to say one of those stars that is initially quite weak, in which an inner explosion releases a brilliant light for a certain time, or a comet, etc. This debate we may leave to the experts. The great star, the true supernova that leads us on, is Christ himself. He is as it were the explosion of God’s love, which causes the great white light of his heart to shine upon the world. And we may add: the wise men from the East, who feature in today’s Gospel, like all the saints, have themselves gradually become constellations of God that mark out the path. In all these people, being touched by God’s word has, as it were, released an explosion of light, through which God’s radiance shines upon our world and shows us the path. The saints are stars of God, by whom we let ourselves be led to him for whom our whole being longs. Dear friends: you followed the star Jesus Christ when you said "yes" to the priesthood and to the episcopacy. And no doubt smaller stars have enlightened and helped you not to lose your way. In the litany of saints we call upon all these stars of God, that they may continue to shine upon you and show you the path. As you are ordained bishops, you too are called to be stars of God for men, leading them along the path towards the true light, towards Christ. So let us pray to all the saints at this hour, asking them that you may always live up to this mission you have received, to show God’s light to mankind.

© Copyright 2011 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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Dec. 28: On the Holy Family's Prayer
"Learn More and More to Say With Your Whole Existence: 'Father'"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 1, 2012 - Here is a translation of the Italian-language catechesis Benedict XVI gave Dec. 28 during the general audience held in Paul VI Hall. The Pope continued with his series of catecheses on prayer, reflecting on prayer in the life of the Holy Family of Nazareth.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

Today's meeting takes place within the Christmas atmosphere, imbued with intimate joy in the Savior's birth. We have just celebrated this mystery, and its echo resounds in the liturgies throughout these days. It is a mystery of light that men of every age may relive in faith and prayer. It is precisely through prayer that we are enabled to draw near to God with intimacy and depth. For this reason, bearing in mind the theme of prayer that I am developing at this time in the catecheses, today I would like to invite you to reflect on the place of prayer in the life of the Holy Family of Nazareth. The home of Nazareth, in fact, is a school of prayer where we learn to listen, to ponder and to penetrate the profound meaning of the manifestation of the Son of God, drawing our example from Mary, Joseph and Jesus.

The address of the Servant of God Paul VI during his visit to Nazareth remains memorable [in this regard]. The Pope said that, in the school of the Holy Family, "we come to understand the need for a spiritual discipline, if we wish to follow the teaching of the Gospel and become disciples of Christ." And he added: "First, it teaches us silence. Oh! That there would be reborn in us the esteem for silence, that wonderful and indispensable atmosphere of the spirit: while we are deafened by so many noises, sounds and clamorous voices in the frantic and tumultuous times of modern life. Oh! Silence of Nazareth, teach us to be resolute in good thoughts, intent upon the interior life, ready to listen well to the secret inspirations of God and the exhortations of the true masters" (Address at Nazareth, Jan. 5, 1964).

We can glean several insights on the Holy Family's prayer and relationship with God from the Gospel accounts of Jesus' childhood. We may begin with the Presentation of Jesus in the temple. St. Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph, "when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, brought the child up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord" (2:22). Like every observant Jewish family, Jesus' parents go up to the temple to consecrate the firstborn son to God and to offer sacrifice. Moved by fidelity to the law's prescriptions, they set off from Bethlehem and go up to Jerusalem with Jesus, who is now forty days old. Instead of a one-year-old lamb, they present the offering of simple families; that is, two young pigeons. The Holy Family's pilgrimage is one of faith, of the offering of gifts, a symbol of prayer, and of encounter with the Lord, whom Mary and Joseph already see in the son Jesus.

The contemplation of Christ has in Mary its matchless model. The face of the Son belongs to her in a special way, since it was in her womb that He was formed, taking from her also a human resemblance. No one has dedicated himself to the contemplation of Jesus as devotedly as did Mary. Her heart's gaze focuses upon Him already at the moment of the Annunciation, when she conceived Him through the power of the Holy Spirit; in the months that follow, little by little she feels His presence, until the day of His birth, when her eyes are able to gaze with maternal tenderness upon the face of her Son, while she wraps Him in swaddling clothes and lays Him in the manger.

The memories of Jesus -- fixed in her mind and in her heart -- marked every moment of Mary's life. She lives with her eyes on Christ and she treasures His every word. St. Luke says: "For her part [Mary] kept all these things, pondering them in her heart" (2:19) and in this way he describes Mary's attitude before the Mystery of the Incarnation, an attitude that will extend throughout her entire life: to keep all these things, pondering them in her heart. Luke is the evangelist who makes Mary's heart known to us, her faith (cf. 1:45), her hope and obedience (cf. 1:38), above all her interiority and prayer (cf. 1:46-56) and her free adherence to Christ (cf. 1:55). And all this proceeds from the gift of the Holy Spirit who descends upon her (cf. 1:35) as He will descend upon the Apostles according to Christ's promise (cf. Acts 1:8).

The image of Mary given us by St. Luke presents Our Lady as a model for every believer who keeps and confronts Jesus' words and actions, a confrontation that always involves a growth in the knowledge of Jesus. In the wake of Blessed Pope John Paul II (cf. Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae) we may say that the prayer of the rosary draws its model from Mary, since it consists in contemplating Christ's Mysteries in spiritual union with the Mother of the Lord.

Mary's ability to live by the gaze of God is, as it were, contagious. The first to experience this was St. Joseph. His humble and sincere love for his betrothed, and the decision to unite his life to Mary's, also attracted and introduced him who was already a "just man" (Matthew 1:19) into unique intimacy with God. In fact, with Mary -- and above all, with Jesus -- he enters into a new way of relating to God, of welcoming Him into his own life, of entering into His plan of salvation, by fulfilling His will. After having trustingly followed the Angel's instructions -- "do not fear to take Mary your wife" (Matthew 1:20) -- he took Mary to himself and shared his life with her; he truly gave himself totally to Mary and to Jesus, and this led him toward the perfect response to the vocation he had received.

The Gospel, as we know, has not preserved any of Joseph's words: His is a silent but faithful, constant and active presence. We may imagine that he also, like his spouse, and in intimate harmony with her, lived the years of Jesus' childhood and adolescence savoring, as it were, His presence in their family. Joseph completely fulfilled his paternal role in every respect. Certainly, he educated Jesus in prayer, together with Mary. He, in a particular way, would have taken [Jesus] with him to the synagogue for the Sabbath rituals, as well as to Jerusalem, for the great feasts of the people of Israel. Joseph -- according to Hebrew tradition -- would have guided family prayer both in daily life -- in the morning, in the evening, at meals -- as well as in the major religious celebrations. Thus, in the rhythm of the days spent in Nazareth, between their simple dwelling and Joseph's workshop, Jesus learned to alternate prayer and work, and also to offer to God the struggle of earning the bread the family needed.

And lastly, another episode that sees the Holy Family of Nazareth gathered together in prayer: Jesus, we heard -- at the age of 12 -- went with his parents to the temple in Jerusalem. As St. Luke emphasizes, this episode occurs within the context of the pilgrimage: "His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom" (2:41-42).

The pilgrimage is a religious expression that is at once nourished by prayer, and [in turn] nourishes it. Here we are speaking of the Passover pilgrimage, and the Evangelist has us observe that Jesus' family takes part in it each year so that they might participate in the rituals in the Holy City. The Hebrew family, like the Christian family, prays in the intimacy of the home, but also prays together with the community -- seeing themselves as part of the pilgrim people of God -- and the pilgrimage expresses precisely the People of God being on a journey. The Passover is the center and summit of it all, and involves the family dimension as well as that of the liturgical and public cult.

In the episode of the 12-year-old Jesus, Jesus' first words are also recorded: "How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" (2:49). After searching for three days, His parents find him in the temple sitting in the midst of the teachers while he listens to them and asks them questions (cf. 2:46). When asked why He did this to His father and mother, He responds that He only did what a Son should do: that is, be near the Father. In this way, He indicates who the true Father is, what the true home is, that He did nothing strange or disobedient. He remained where the Son had to be, that is, close to the Father, and He emphasizes who His Father is.

The word "Father" dominates the focus of this response and the whole Christological mystery appears. This word, therefore, opens the mystery; it is the key to the mystery of Christ, who is the Son, and it also opens the key to our mystery as Christians -- we who are sons in the Son. At the same time, Jesus teaches us how to be sons -- precisely by being with the Father in prayer. The Christological mystery, the mystery of Christian existence, is intimately bound to, and founded upon prayer. Jesus will one day teach His disciples to pray, telling them: when you pray, say "Father." And, naturally, do not say it only with a word, say it with your lives, learn more and more to say with your whole existence: "Father" -- thus will you be true sons in the Son, true Christians.

Here, when Jesus is still fully a part of the life of the Family of Nazareth, it is important to note the resonance that hearing the word "Father" from Jesus' mouth would have had in the hearts of Mary and Joseph, [to hear Him] reveal and emphasize who the Father is, and to hear this word spoken from His mouth in the awareness of the Only Begotten Son, who on this account willed to remain for three days in the temple, which is the "Father's house."

From then on, we may imagine, life in the Holy Family was filled even more with prayer, since from the heart of the Child Jesus -- and then from the adolescent and young man -- this profound sense of relationship with God the Father unceasingly poured forth and was reflected in the hearts of Mary and Joseph. This episode shows us the true situation, the atmosphere of being with the Father. Thus, the Family of Nazareth is the first model of the Church, in which -- gathered around the presence of Jesus and thanks to His mediation -- everyone lives the filial relation with God the Father, which also transforms human interpersonal relationships.

Dear friends, on account of the various aspects I have briefly traced out in the light of the Gospel, the Holy Family is the icon of the domestic Church, which is called to pray together. The family is the domestic Church and must be the first school of prayer. In the family, children -- from the most tender age -- can learn to perceive the sense of God, thanks to their parents' teaching and example: to live in an atmosphere marked by the presence of God. An authentically Christian education cannot prescind from the experience of prayer. If we do not learn how to pray within the family, it will be difficult to fill this void. And for this reason, I would like to address to you the invitation to rediscover the beauty of praying together as a family in the school of the Holy Family of Nazareth. In this way, will you truly become but one heart and mind, a true family. Thank you.

[Translation by Diane Montagna]

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In English, he said:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Our continuing catechesis on prayer leads us, during this Christmas season, to reflect on the place of prayer in the life of the Holy Family of Nazareth. In the home of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, we learn to contemplate the mystery of God's presence and to grow as faithful disciples of Christ. The Gospels present Mary as the supreme model of prayerful medition on the mysteries of Christ's life; in praying the Rosary, in fact, we unite ourselves to her contemplation of those mysteries in faith and hope. Saint Joseph fulfilled his vocation as the father of the Holy Family by teaching Jesus the importance of quiet fidelity to work, prayer and observance of the precepts of the Law. Jesus' unique relationship with his heavenly Father was reflected in the prayer life of the Holy Family and stands at the heart of all Christian prayer. May the example of the Holy Family inspire all Christian families to be schools of prayer, where parents and children alike come to know that closeness to God which we joyfully celebrate in these days of Christmas.

* * *

I offer a warm welcome to the students and teachers from the Oak International Academies. Upon all the English-speaking visitors present, including the pilgrimage groups from Ireland, and the United States, I cordially invoke an abundance of joy and peace in Christ our Newborn Saviour!

© Copyright 2011 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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In Italian he said:

Lastly, I address an affectionate thought to young people, to the sick and to newlyweds. The feast of the Holy Family, which we will soon celebrate, is a propitious occasion to rethink our relationships and our affections. Dear young people, look to the Holy Family and imitate them, by allowing yourselves to be formed by God's love, the model of human love. Dear sick, with Mary's help entrust yourselves always to the Lord, who knows your sufferings and who, uniting them with His own, offers them for the salvation of the world. And you, dear newlyweds, who wish to build your homes on the rock of God's Word, make your homes, in imitation of the home of Nazareth, a welcoming place, full of love, understanding and forgiveness.

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Dec. 26: On the Feast of St. Stephen
"The True Imitation of Christ Is Love"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 1, 2012 - Here is a Vatican translation of the address Benedict XVI gave Dec. 26, the feast of St. Stephen, before and after praying the midday Angelus with those gathered in St. Peter's Square.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today, the day after the solemn liturgy of the Lord’s Birth, we are celebrating the Feast of St Stephen, a deacon and the Church’s first martyr. The historian Eusebius of Caesarea describes him as the “perfect martyr” (Die Kirchengeschichte v. 2,5: GCS II, I, Lipsia 1903, 430), because in the Acts of the Apostles it is written that “Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people” (6:8). St Gregory of Nyssa commented: “he was a good man and full of the Holy Spirit. He was sustained by the goodness of his will to serve the poor and curbed enemies by the Spirit's power of the truth” (Sermo in Sanctum Stephanum II: GNO X, 1, Leiden 1990, 98). A man of prayer and of evangelization, Stephen, whose name means “crown”, received from God the gift of martyrdom. Indeed, “full of the Holy Spirit ... he saw the glory of God” (Acts 7:55) and while he was being stoned he prayed: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59). Then, he fell to his knees and prayed for forgiveness for those who accused him: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60).

This is why the Eastern Church sings in her hymns: “The stones became steps for you and ladders for the ascent to heaven... and you joyfully drew close to the festive gathering of the angels” (MHNAIA t. II, Rome 1889, 694, 695).

After the generation of the Apostles, martyrs acquired an important place in the esteem of the Christian community. At the height of their persecution, their hymns of praise fortified the faithful on their difficult journey and encouraged those in search of the truth to convert to the Lord. Therefore, by divine disposition, the Church venerates the relics of martyrs and honours them with epithets such as: “teachers of life”, “living witnesses”, “breathing trophies” and “silent exhortations” (Gregory of Nazianzus, Oratio 43, 5: PG 36, 500 C).

Dear friends, the true imitation of Christ is love, which some Christian writers have called the “secret martyrdom”. Concerning this St Clement of Alexandria wrote: “those who perform the commandments of the Lord, in every action ‘testify’, by doing what he wishes, and consistently naming the Lord’s name; (Stromatum IV, 7,43,4: SC 463, Paris 2001, 130). Today too, as in antiquity, sincere adherence to the Gospel can require the sacrifice of life and many Christians in various parts of the world are exposed to persecution and sometimes martyrdom. However, the Lord reminds us: “he who endures to the end will be saved” (Mt 10:22).

To Mary Most Holy, Queen of Martyrs, let us address our supplication to preserve the desire for good in its wholeness, especially the good of those who oppose us. Today let us entrust the Church’s deacons in particular to divine mercy so that, illuminated by St Stephen’s example, they may collaborate, in accordance with their mission, in the task of evangelization (cf. Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini, n. 94).

After the Angelus:

I am happy to greet all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present for this Angelus prayer. Today we celebrate St Stephen, the first Christian martyr. May his example inspire us to be courageous in living our faith in Christ our Saviour and ready to forgive those who harm us. I pray that your stay in Rome may renew your love of Christ and his Church and I wish you all a blessed Christmas Season!

I wish you all happy celebrations. Many thanks!

Appeal asking for an end to violence in the world:

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Holy Christmas awakens within us even more forcefully the prayer to God that the hands of the violent who sow death may be prevented, and that justice and peace may prevail throughout the world. Yet our earth continues to be bathed in innocent blood. I learned with deep sorrow the news of the attacks which this year too have brought mourning and grief to several Churches in Nigeria on the Day of Jesus’ Birth. I would like to express my sincere and affectionate closeness to the Christian community and to all who are affected by this absurd act, and I ask you to pray the Lord for the many victims. I appeal for the restoration of safety and serenity, with the joint efforts of the various members of society. At this time I wish to say forcefully once again: violence is a way that leads only to suffering, destruction and death; respect, reconciliation and love are the only way to achieve peace.

© Copyright 2011 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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Pope's Homily on Feast of Mary, Mother of God
"In Order to be Blessed, We Have to Stand in God's Presence"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 1, 2012 - Here is a Vatican translation of the homily Benedict XVI gave this morning at Mass for the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters!

On the first day of the year, the liturgy resounds in the Church throughout the world with the ancient priestly blessing that we heard during today's first reading: "The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace" (Num 6:24-26). This blessing was entrusted by God, through Moses, to Aaron and his sons, that is, to the priests of the people of Israel. It is a triple blessing filled with light, radiating from the repetition of the name of God, the Lord, and from the image of his face. In fact, in order to be blessed, we have to stand in God's presence, take his Name upon us and remain in the cone of light that issues from his Face, in a space lit up by his gaze, diffusing grace and peace.

This was the very experience that the shepherds of Bethlehem had, who reappear in today's Gospel. They had the experience of standing in God's presence, they received his blessing not in the hall of a majestic palace, in the presence of a great sovereign, but in a stable, before a "babe lying in a manger" (Lk 2:16). From this child, a new light issues forth, shining in the darkness of the night, as we can see in so many paintings depicting Christ's Nativity. Henceforth, it is from him that blessing comes, from his name – Jesus, meaning "God saves" – and from his human face, in which God, the almighty Lord of heaven and earth, chose to become incarnate, concealing his glory under the veil of our flesh, so as to reveal fully to us his goodness (cf. Tit 3:4).

The first to be swept up by this blessing was Mary the virgin, the spouse of Joseph, chosen by God from the first moment of her existence to be the mother of his incarnate Son. She is the "blessed among women" (Lk 1:42) – in the words of Saint Elizabeth's greeting. Her whole life was spent in the light of the Lord, within the radius of his name and of the face of God incarnate in Jesus, the "blessed fruit of her womb". This is how Luke's Gospel presents her to us: fully intent upon guarding and meditating in her heart upon everything concerning her son Jesus (cf. Lk 2:19, 51). The mystery of her divine motherhood that we celebrate today contains in superabundant measure the gift of grace that all human motherhood bears within it, so much so that the fruitfulness of the womb has always been associated with God's blessing. The Mother of God is the first of the blessed, and it is she who bears the blessing; she is the woman who received Jesus into herself and brought him forth for the whole human family. In the words of the liturgy: "without losing the glory of virginity, [she] brought forth into the world the eternal light, Jesus Christ our Lord" (Preface I of the Blessed Virgin Mary).

Mary is the mother and model of the Church, who receives the divine Word in faith and offers herself to God as the "good soil" in which he can continue to accomplish his mystery of salvation. The Church also participates in the mystery of divine motherhood, through preaching, which sows the seed of the Gospel throughout the world, and through the sacraments, which communicate grace and divine life to men. The Church exercises her motherhood especially in the sacrament of Baptism, when she generates God's children from water and the Holy Spirit, who cries out in each of them: "Abba, Father!" (Gal 4:6). Like Mary, the Church is the mediator of God's blessing for the world: she receives it in receiving Jesus and she transmits it in bearing Jesus. He is the mercy and the peace that the world, of itself, cannot give, and which it needs always, at least as much as bread.

Dear friends, peace, in the fullest and highest sense, is the sum and synthesis of all blessings. So when two friends meet, they greet one another, wishing each other peace. The Church too, on the first day of the year, invokes this supreme good in a special way; she does so, like the Virgin Mary, by revealing Jesus to all, for as Saint Paul says, "He is our peace" (Eph 2:14), and at the same time the "way" by which individuals and peoples can reach this goal to which we all aspire. With this deep desire in my heart, I am glad to welcome and greet all of you who have come to Saint Peter's Basilica on this 45th World Day of Peace: Cardinals, Ambassadors from so many friendly countries, who more than ever on this happy occasion share with me and with the Holy See the desire for renewed commitment to the promotion of peace in the world; the President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, who with the Secretary and the officials of the Dicastery work in a particular way towards this goal; the other Bishops and Authorities present; the representatives of ecclesial Associations and Movements and all of you, brothers and sisters, especially those among you who work in the field of educating the young. Indeed – as you know – the role of education is what I highlighted in my Message for this year.

"Educating Young People in Justice and Peace" is a task for every generation, and thanks be to God, after the tragedies of the two great world wars, the human family has shown increasing awareness of it, as we can witness, on the one hand, from international statements and initiatives, and on the other, from the emergence among young people themselves, in recent decades, of many different forms of social commitment in this field. For the ecclesial community, educating men and women in peace is part of the mission received from Christ, it is an integral part of evangelization, because the Gospel of Christ is also the Gospel of justice and peace. But the Church, in recent times, has articulated a demand that affects everyone with a sensitive and responsible conscience regarding humanity's future; the demand to respond to a decisive challenge that consists precisely in education. Why is this a "challenge"? For at least two reasons: in the first place, because in the present age, so strongly marked by a technological mentality, the desire to educate and not merely to instruct cannot be taken for granted, it is a choice; in the second place, because the culture of relativism raises a radical question: does it still make sense to educate? And then, to educate for what?

Naturally now is not the time to address these fundamental questions, which I have tried to answer on other occasions. Instead I would like to underline the fact that, in the face of the shadows that obscure the horizon of today's world, to assume responsibility for educating young people in knowledge of the truth, in fundamental values and virtues, is to look to the future with hope. And in this commitment to a holistic education, formation in justice and peace has a place. Boys and girls today are growing up in a world that has, so to speak, become smaller, where contacts between different cultures and traditions, even if not always direct, are constant. For them, now more than ever, it is indispensable to learn the importance and the art of peaceful coexistence, mutual respect, dialogue and understanding. Young people by their nature are open to these attitudes, but the social reality in which they grow up can lead them to think and act in the opposite way, even to be intolerant and violent. Only a solid education of their consciences can protect them from these risks and make them capable of carrying on the fight, depending always and solely on the power of truth and good. This education begins in the family and is developed at school and in other formative experiences. It is essentially about helping infants, children and adolescents to develop a personality that combines a profound sense of justice with respect for their neighbour, with a capacity to address conflicts without arrogance, with the inner strength to bear witness to good, even when it involves sacrifice, with forgiveness and reconciliation. Thus they will be able to become people of peace and builders of peace.

In this task of educating young generations, a particular responsibility lies with religious communities. Every pathway of authentic religious formation guides the person, from the most tender age, to know God, to love him and to do his will. God is love, he is just and peaceable, and anyone wishing to honour him must first of all act like a child following his father's example. One of the Psalms says: "The Lord does deeds of justice, gives judgment for all who are oppressed ... The Lord is compassion and love, slow to anger and rich in mercy" (Ps 102:6,8). In God, justice and mercy come together perfectly, as Jesus showed us through the testimony of his life. In Jesus, "love and truth" have met, "justice and peace" have embraced (cf. Ps 84:11). In these days, the Church is celebrating the great mystery of the Incarnation: God's truth has sprung from the earth and justice looks down from heaven, the earth has yielded its fruit (cf. Ps 84:12,13). God has spoken to us in his Son Jesus. Let us hear what God has to say: "a voice that speaks of peace" (Ps 84:9). Jesus is a way that can be travelled, open to everyone. He is the path of peace. Today the Virgin Mary points him out to us, she shows us the Way: let us walk in it! And you, Holy Mother of God, accompany us with your protection. Amen.

© Copyright 2011 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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Pope's Vespers Homily at Threshold of New Year
"There Is No More Room for Anxiety ... Now There Is Room for Unlimited Trust in God"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 1, 2012.- Here is a Vatican translation of the homily Benedict XVI gave Saturday evening at Vespers for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.

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Dear Cardinals,

Brother Bishops and Priests,

Distinguished Authorities,

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

We have come together in the Vatican Basilica to celebrate First Vespers of the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, and to give thanks to the Lord at the end of the year by singing the Te Deum together. I thank all of you for choosing to join me for this occasion that is always so poignant and significant. In the first place I greet the Cardinals, my brother Bishops and Priests, men and women religious, consecrated persons and members of the lay faithful representing the entire ecclesial community of Rome. In a particular way I greet the Authorities present, beginning with the Mayor of Rome, and I thank him for the gift of a chalice, a gift that is renewed every year, in accordance with a fine tradition. I hope and pray that all will remain committed to making this City ever more in tune with the values of faith, culture and civilization that form an integral part of its vocation and its thousands of years of history.

Another year is drawing to a close, as we await the start of a new one: with some trepidation, with our perennial desires and expectations. Reflecting on our life experience, we are continually astonished by how ultimately short and ephemeral life is. So we often find ourselves asking: what meaning can we give to our days? What meaning, in particular, can we give to the days of toil and grief? This is a question that permeates history, indeed it runs through the heart of every generation and every individual. But there is an answer: it is written on the face of a Child who was born in Bethlehem two thousand years ago, and is today the Living One, risen for ever from the dead. From within the fabric of humanity, rent asunder by so much injustice, wickedness and violence, there bursts forth in an unforeseen way the joyful and liberating novelty of Christ our Saviour, who leads us to contemplate the goodness and tenderness of God through the mystery of his Incarnation and Birth. The everlasting God has entered our history and he remains present in a unique way in the person of Jesus, his incarnate Son, our Saviour, who came down to earth to renew humanity radically and to free us from sin and death, to raise us to the dignity of God's children. Christmas not only recalls the historical fulfilment of this truth that concerns us directly, but in a mysterious and real way, gives it to us afresh.

How evocative it is, at this close of a year, to listen again to the joyful message addressed by Saint Paul to the Christians of Galatia: "when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons" (Gal 4:4-5). These words penetrate the heart of the history of us all and illumine it, or rather, they save it, because since the Day of the Lord's Nativity, the fullness of time has reached us. So there is no more room for anxiety in the face of time that passes, never to return; now there is room for unlimited trust in God, by whom we know we are loved, for whom we live and to whom our life is directed as we await his definitive return. Since the Saviour came down from heaven, man has ceased to be the slave of time that passes to no avail, marked by toil, sadness and pain. Man is son of a God who has entered time so as to redeem it from meaninglessness and negativity, a God who has redeemed all humanity, giving it everlasting love as a new perspective of life.

The Church lives and professes this truth and intends to proclaim it today with fresh spiritual vigour. In tonight's celebration we have special reasons to praise God for his mystery of salvation, active in the world through the ministry of the Church. We have so many reasons to thank the Lord for what our ecclesial community, at the heart of the universal Church, is accomplishing in the service of the Gospel in this City. In that regard, together with the Vicar General, Cardinal Agostino Vallini, the Auxiliary Bishops, parish priests and the whole diocesan presbyterate, I would like to thank the Lord especially for the promising communal project aimed at tayloring day-to-day pastoral work to the demands of our time, through the programme "Belonging to the Church and Pastoral Co-responsibility". The aim is give first priority to evangelization, so as to make the participation of the faithful in the sacraments more responsible and more fruitful, so that every person can speak of God to modern man and proclaim the Gospel incisively to those who have never known it or have forgotten it.

In the Diocese of Rome, as elsewhere, the most urgent pastoral challenge facing us is the quaestio fidei. Christ's disciples are called to reawaken in themselves and in others the longing for God and the joy of living him and bearing witness to him, on the basis of what is always a deeply personal question: why do I believe? We must give primacy to truth, seeing the combination of faith and reason as two wings with which the human spirit can rise to the contemplation of the Truth (cf. Fides et Ratio, Prologue); we must ensure that the dialogue between Christianity and modern culture bears fruit; we must see to it that the beauty and contemporary relevance of the faith is rediscovered, not as an isolated event, affecting some particular moment in our lives, but as a constant orientation, affecting even the simplest choices, establishing a profound unity within the person, so that he becomes just, hard-working, generous and good. What is needed is to give new life to a faith that can serve as a basis for a new humanism, one that is able to generate culture and social commitment.

Within this framework, at the Diocesan Conference held last June, the Diocese of Rome launched a programme which sets out to explore more deeply the meaning of Christian initiation and the joy of bringing new Christians into the faith. To proclaim faith in the Word made flesh is, after all, at the heart of the Church's mission, and the entire ecclesial community needs to rediscover this indispensable task with renewed missionary zeal. Young generations have an especially keen sense of the present disorientation, magnified by the crisis in economic affairs which is also a crisis of values, and so they in particular need to recognize in Jesus Christ "the key, the centre and the purpose of the whole of human history" (Gaudium et Spes, 10).

Parents are the first educators in faith of their children, starting from a most tender age, and families must therefore be supported in their educational mission by appropriate initiatives. At the same time it is desirable that the baptismal journey, the first stage along the formative path of Christian initiation, in addition to fostering conscious and worthy preparation for the celebration of the Sacrament, should devote adequate attention to the years following Baptism, with appropriate programmes that take account of the life conditions that families must address. I therefore encourage parish communities and other ecclesial groupings to engage in continuing reflection on ways to promote a better understanding and reception of the sacraments, by which man comes to share in the very life of God. May the Church of Rome have no shortage of lay faithful who are ready to make their own contribution to building living communities that allow the Word of God to burst forth in the hearts of those who have not yet known the Lord or have moved away from him. At the same time, it is appropriate to create opportunities to encounter the City, giving rise to fruitful dialogue with those who are searching for Truth.

Dear friends, ever since God sent his only-begotten Son, so that we might obtain adoptive sonship (cf. Gal 4:5), we can have no greater task than to be totally at the service of God's plan. And so I would like to encourage and thank all the faithful from the Diocese of Rome who feel a responsibility to restore our society's soul. Thank you, Roman families, the first and fundamental cells of society! Thank you, members of the many Communities, Associations and Movements that are committed to animating the Christian life of our City.

Te Deum laudamus! We praise you, O God! The Church suggests that we should not end the year without expressing our thanks to the Lord for all his benefits. It is in God that our last hour must come to a close, the last hour of time and history. To overlook this goal of our lives would be to fall into the void, to live without meaning. Hence the Church places on our lips the ancient hymn Te Deum. It is a hymn filled with the wisdom of many Christian generations, who feel the need to address on high their heart's desires, knowing that all of us are in the Lord's merciful hands.

Te Deum laudamus! This is also the song of the Church in Rome, for the wonders that God has worked and continues to work in her. With hearts full of thanksgiving, let us prepare to cross the threshold of 2012, remembering that the Lord is watching over us and guarding us. To him this evening we wish to entrust the whole world. Let us place in his hands the tragedies of this world and let us also offer him our hopes for a brighter future. And let us place these prayers in the hands of Mary, Mother of God, Salus Populi Romani.

© Copyright 2011 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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Pope's Urbi et Orbi Address
"Only the God Who Is Love, and the Love Which Is God, Could Choose to Save Us in This Way"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 25, 2011 - Here is a Vatican translation of the address Benedict XVI gave at the traditional blessing "urbi et orbi" (to the city [of Rome] and the world).

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Dear Brothers and Sisters in Rome and throughout the world!

Christ is born for us! Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth to the men and women whom he loves. May all people hear an echo of the message of Bethlehem which the Catholic Church repeats in every continent, beyond the confines of every nation, language and culture. The Son of the Virgin Mary is born for everyone; he is the Saviour of all.

This is how Christ is invoked in an ancient liturgical antiphon: "O Emmanuel, our king and lawgiver, hope and salvation of the peoples: come to save us, O Lord our God". Veni ad salvandum nos! Come to save us! This is the cry raised by men and women in every age, who sense that by themselves they cannot prevail over difficulties and dangers. They need to put their hands in a greater and stronger hand, a hand which reaches out to them from on high. Dear brothers and sisters, this hand is Jesus, born in Bethlehem of the Virgin Mary. He is the hand that God extends to humanity, to draw us out of the mire of sin and to set us firmly on rock, the secure rock of his Truth and his Love (cf. Ps 40:2).

This is the meaning of the Child's name, the name which, by God's will, Mary and Joseph gave him: he is named Jesus, which means "Saviour" (cf. Mt 1:21; Lk 1:31). He was sent by God the Father to save us above all from the evil deeply rooted in man and in history: the evil of separation from God, the prideful presumption of being self-sufficient, of trying to compete with God and to take his place, to decide what is good and evil, to be the master of life and death (cf. Gen 3:1-7). This is the great evil, the great sin, from which we human beings cannot save ourselves unless we rely on God's help, unless we cry out to him: "Veni ad salvandum nos! – Come to save us!"

The very fact that we cry to heaven in this way already sets us aright; it makes us true to ourselves: we are in fact those who cried out to God and were saved (cf. Esth [LXX] 10:3ff.). God is the Saviour; we are those who are in peril. He is the physician; we are the infirm. To realize this is the first step towards salvation, towards emerging from the maze in which we have been locked by our pride. To lift our eyes to heaven, to stretch out our hands and call for help is our means of escape, provided that there is Someone who hears us and can come to our assistance.

Jesus Christ is the proof that God has heard our cry. And not only this! God's love for us is so strong that he cannot remain aloof; he comes out of himself to enter into our midst and to share fully in our human condition (cf. Ex 3:7-12). The answer to our cry which God gave in Jesus infinitely transcends our expectations, achieving a solidarity which cannot be human alone, but divine. Only the God who is love, and the love which is God, could choose to save us in this way, which is certainly the lengthiest way, yet the way which respects the truth about him and about us: the way of reconciliation, dialogue and cooperation.

Dear brothers and sisters in Rome and throughout the world, on this Christmas 2011, let us then turn to the Child of Bethlehem, to the Son of the Virgin Mary, and say: "Come to save us!" Let us repeat these words in spiritual union with the many people who experience particularly difficult situations; let us speak out for those who have no voice.

Together let us ask God's help for the peoples of the Horn of Africa, who suffer from hunger and food shortages, aggravated at times by a persistent state of insecurity. May the international community not fail to offer assistance to the many displaced persons coming from that region and whose dignity has been sorely tried.

May the Lord grant comfort to the peoples of South-East Asia, particularly Thailand and the Philippines, who are still enduring grave hardships as a result of the recent floods.

May the Lord come to the aid of our world torn by so many conflicts which even today stain the earth with blood. May the Prince of Peace grant peace and stability to that Land where he chose to come into the world, and encourage the resumption of dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians. May he bring an end to the violence in Syria, where so much blood has already been shed. May he foster full reconciliation and stability in Iraq and Afghanistan. May he grant renewed vigour to all elements of society in the countries of North Africa and the Middle East as they strive to advance the common good.

May the birth of the Saviour support the prospects of dialogue and cooperation in Myanmar, in the pursuit of shared solutions. May the Nativity of the Redeemer ensure political stability to the countries of the Great Lakes Region of Africa, and assist the people of South Sudan in their commitment to safeguarding the rights of all citizens.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, let us turn our gaze anew to the grotto of Bethlehem. The Child whom we contemplate is our salvation! He has brought to the world a universal message of reconciliation and peace. Let us open our hearts to him; let us receive him into our lives. Once more let us say to him, with joy and confidence: "Veni ad salvandum nos!"

© Copyright 2011 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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Pope's Christmas Eve Homily
"A Child, in All Its Weakness, Is Mighty God"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 24, 2011 - Here is a Vatican translation of Benedict XVI's homily tonight at Christmas Eve Mass.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters!

The reading from Saint Paul’s Letter to Titus that we have just heard begins solemnly with the word "apparuit", which then comes back again in the reading at the Dawn Mass: apparuit – "there has appeared". This is a programmatic word, by which the Church seeks to express synthetically the essence of Christmas. Formerly, people had spoken of God and formed human images of him in all sorts of different ways. God himself had spoken in many and various ways to mankind (cf. Heb 1:1 – Mass during the Day). But now something new has happened: he has appeared. He has revealed himself. He has emerged from the inaccessible light in which he dwells. He himself has come into our midst. This was the great joy of Christmas for the early Church: God has appeared. No longer is he merely an idea, no longer do we have to form a picture of him on the basis of mere words. He has "appeared". But now we ask: how has he appeared? Who is he in reality? The reading at the Dawn Mass goes on to say: "the kindness and love of God our Saviour for mankind were revealed" (Tit 3:4). For the people of pre-Christian times, whose response to the terrors and contradictions of the world was to fear that God himself might not be good either, that he too might well be cruel and arbitrary, this was a real "epiphany", the great light that has appeared to us: God is pure goodness. Today too, people who are no longer able to recognize God through faith are asking whether the ultimate power that underpins and sustains the world is truly good, or whether evil is just as powerful and primordial as the good and the beautiful which we encounter in radiant moments in our world. "The kindness and love of God our Saviour for mankind were revealed": this is the new, consoling certainty that is granted to us at Christmas.

In all three Christmas Masses, the liturgy quotes a passage from the Prophet Isaiah, which describes the epiphany that took place at Christmas in greater detail: "A child is born for us, a son given to us and dominion is laid on his shoulders; and this is the name they give him: Wonder-Counsellor, Mighty-God, Eternal-Father, Prince-of-Peace. Wide is his dominion in a peace that has no end" (Is 9:5f.). Whether the prophet had a particular child in mind, born during his own period of history, we do not know. But it seems impossible. This is the only text in the Old Testament in which it is said of a child, of a human being: his name will be Mighty-God, Eternal-Father. We are presented with a vision that extends far beyond the historical moment into the mysterious, into the future. A child, in all its weakness, is Mighty God. A child, in all its neediness and dependence, is Eternal Father. And his peace "has no end". The prophet had previously described the child as "a great light" and had said of the peace he would usher in that the rod of the oppressor, the footgear of battle, every cloak rolled in blood would be burned (Is 9:1, 3-4).

God has appeared – as a child. It is in this guise that he pits himself against all violence and brings a message that is peace. At this hour, when the world is continually threatened by violence in so many places and in so many different ways, when over and over again there are oppressors’ rods and bloodstained cloaks, we cry out to the Lord: O mighty God, you have appeared as a child and you have revealed yourself to us as the One who loves us, the One through whom love will triumph. And you have shown us that we must be peacemakers with you. We love your childish estate, your powerlessness, but we suffer from the continuing presence of violence in the world, and so we also ask you: manifest your power, O God. In this time of ours, in this world of ours, cause the oppressors’ rods, the cloaks rolled in blood and the footgear of battle to be burned, so that your peace may triumph in this world of ours.

Christmas is an epiphany – the appearing of God and of his great light in a child that is born for us. Born in a stable in Bethlehem, not in the palaces of kings. In 1223, when Saint Francis of Assisi celebrated Christmas in Greccio with an ox and an ass and a manger full of hay, a new dimension of the mystery of Christmas came to light. Saint Francis of Assisi called Christmas "the feast of feasts" – above all other feasts – and he celebrated it with "unutterable devotion" (2 Celano 199; Fonti Francescane, 787). He kissed images of the Christ-child with great devotion and he stammered tender words such as children say, so Thomas of Celano tells us (ibid.). For the early Church, the feast of feasts was Easter: in the Resurrection Christ had flung open the doors of death and in so doing had radically changed the world: he had made a place for man in God himself. Now, Francis neither changed nor intended to change this objective order of precedence among the feasts, the inner structure of the faith centred on the Paschal Mystery. And yet through him and the character of his faith, something new took place: Francis discovered Jesus’ humanity in an entirely new depth. This human existence of God became most visible to him at the moment when God’s Son, born of the Virgin Mary, was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. The Resurrection presupposes the Incarnation. For God’s Son to take the form of a child, a truly human child, made a profound impression on the heart of the Saint of Assisi, transforming faith into love. "The kindness and love of God our Saviour for mankind were revealed" – this phrase of Saint Paul now acquired an entirely new depth. In the child born in the stable at Bethlehem, we can as it were touch and caress God. And so the liturgical year acquired a second focus in a feast that is above all a feast of the heart.

This has nothing to do with sentimentality. It is right here, in this new experience of the reality of Jesus’ humanity that the great mystery of faith is revealed. Francis loved the child Jesus, because for him it was in this childish estate that God’s humility shone forth. God became poor. His Son was born in the poverty of the stable. In the child Jesus, God made himself dependent, in need of human love, he put himself in the position of asking for human love – our love. Today Christmas has become a commercial celebration, whose bright lights hide the mystery of God’s humility, which in turn calls us to humility and simplicity. Let us ask the Lord to help us see through the superficial glitter of this season, and to discover behind it the child in the stable in Bethlehem, so as to find true joy and true light.

Francis arranged for Mass to be celebrated on the manger that stood between the ox and the ass (cf. 1 Celano 85; Fonti 469). Later, an altar was built over this manger, so that where animals had once fed on hay, men could now receive the flesh of the spotless lamb Jesus Christ, for the salvation of soul and body, as Thomas of Celano tells us (cf. 1 Celano 87; Fonti 471). Francis himself, as a deacon, had sung the Christmas Gospel on the holy night in Greccio with resounding voice. Through the friars’ radiant Christmas singing, the whole celebration seemed to be a great outburst of joy (1 Celano 85.86; Fonti 469, 470). It was the encounter with God’s humility that caused this joy – his goodness creates the true feast.

Today, anyone wishing to enter the Church of Jesus’ Nativity in Bethlehem will find that the doorway five and a half metres high, through which emperors and caliphs used to enter the building, is now largely walled up. Only a low opening of one and a half metres has remained. The intention was probably to provide the church with better protection from attack, but above all to prevent people from entering God’s house on horseback. Anyone wishing to enter the place of Jesus’ birth has to bend down. It seems to me that a deeper truth is revealed here, which should touch our hearts on this holy night: if we want to find the God who appeared as a child, then we must dismount from the high horse of our "enlightened" reason. We must set aside our false certainties, our intellectual pride, which prevents us from recognizing God’s closeness. We must follow the interior path of Saint Francis – the path leading to that ultimate outward and inward simplicity which enables the heart to see. We must bend down, spiritually we must as it were go on foot, in order to pass through the portal of faith and encounter the God who is so different from our prejudices and opinions – the God who conceals himself in the humility of a newborn baby. In this spirit let us celebrate the liturgy of the holy night, let us strip away our fixation on what is material, on what can be measured and grasped. Let us allow ourselves to be made simple by the God who reveals himself to the simple of heart. And let us also pray especially at this hour for all who have to celebrate Christmas in poverty, in suffering, as migrants, that a ray of God’s kindness may shine upon them, that they – and we – may be touched by the kindness that God chose to bring into the world through the birth of his Son in a stable. Amen.

© Copyright 2011 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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On Christmas
The "Love Story Between God and Man Passes by Way of the Manger of Bethlehem"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 21, 2011 - Here is a translation of the Italian-language catechesis Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience held in Paul VI Hall. The Pope reflected on the approaching feast of Christmas.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

I am pleased to receive you in this general audience, just days before the celebration of the Lord's birth. During these days, the greeting on everyone's lips is "Merry Christmas! Season's Greetings!" Let us ensure that, even in today's society, the exchange of greetings not lose its deep religious significance, and that the exterior aspects that play upon our heartstrings not absorb the feast. Certainly, external signs are beautiful and important, so long as they do not distract us, but rather help us to experience Christmas in its truest sense -- the sacred and Christian sense -- and cause our joy to be not superficial, but deep.

With the Christmas liturgy, the Church introduces us to the great Mystery of the Incarnation. Christmas, in fact, is not a mere anniversary of Jesus' birth -- it is also this, but it is more -- it is the celebration of a mystery that has marked and continues to mark mankind's history -- God Himself came to dwell among us (cf. John 1:14), He made Himself one of us; a mystery that concerns our faith and our very lives; a mystery that we experience concretely in the liturgical celebrations, especially in the Holy Mass.

Someone might ask himself: How can I live out now an event that took place so long ago? How can I participate fruitfully in the birth of the Son of God, which took place over 2,000 years ago? During the Holy Mass on Christmas Night, we will repeat as a refrain to the responsorial psalm, these words: "Today a Savior is born for us." This adverb of time "Today," which is used repeatedly throughout the Christmas celebrations, refers to the event of Jesus' birth and to the salvation that the incarnation of the Son of God comes to bring.

In the liturgy, this event reaches beyond the limits of space and time and becomes actual, present; its effect continues, even amidst the passing of days, years and centuries. In indicating that Jesus is born "today," the liturgy does not use a meaningless phrase, but underscores that this birth affects and permeates the whole of history -- even today, it remains a reality to which we may attain, precisely in the liturgy. For believers, the celebration of Christmas renews our certainty that God is really present with us, still "flesh" and not only far away: though also with the Father, He is close to us. In that Child born in Bethlehem, God drew near to man: we can encounter Him now -- in a "today" whose sun knows no setting.

I would like to stress this point, because modern man -- a man of "the sensible," of the empirically verifiable -- finds it increasingly more difficult to open his horizons and enter the world of God. The Redemption of mankind certainly took place at a precise and identifiable moment in history: in the event of Jesus of Nazareth. But Jesus is the Son of God -- He is God Himself, who not only spoke to man, showed him wondrous signs and guided him throughout the history of salvation -- but became man and remains man. The Eternal entered into the limits of time and space, in order to make possible an encounter with Him "today."

The liturgical texts of Christmas help us to understand that the events of salvation wrought by Christ are always actual -- the interest of every man and of all mankind. When, within liturgical celebrations, we hear or proclaim this "Today a Savior is born for us," we are not employing an empty, conventional expression; rather, we mean that God offers us "today", now, to me, to each one of us, the possibility of acknowledging and receiving Him like the shepherds in Bethlehem, so that He might be born in our lives and renew them, illumine them, transform them by His grace, by His Presence.

Christmas, then, while commemorating Jesus' birth in the flesh of the Virgin Mary -- and numerous liturgical texts put before our eyes this or that event -- is an efficacious event for us. Pope St. Leo the Great, in presenting the profound meaning of Christmas, issued an invitation to the faithful with these words: "Let us be glad in the Lord, dearly-beloved, and rejoice with purest joy that there has dawned for us the day of ever-new redemption, of ancient preparation, of eternal bliss. For as the year rolls round, there recurs for us the commemoration of our salvation, which promised from the beginning and accomplished in the fullness of time, will endure for ever" (Sermon 22, In Nativitate Domini, 2,1; PL 54,193).

And again, in another Christmas homily St. Leo the Great affirms: "Today the Maker of the world was born of a Virgin's womb, and He, who made all natures, became the Son of her, whom He created. Today the Word of God appeared clothed in flesh, and That which had never been visible to human eyes began to be tangible to our hands as well. Today the shepherds learned from angels' voices that the Savior was born in the substance of our flesh and soul (Sermon 26, In Nativitate Domini, 6,1; PL 54,213).

There is a second aspect that I would like to touch upon briefly. The event of Bethlehem should be considered in the light of the Paschal Mystery: The one and the other are part of the one redemptive work of Christ. Jesus' incarnation and birth invite us to direct our gaze to His death and resurrection: Christmas and Easter are both feasts of the Redemption. Easter celebrates it as the victory over sin and death: It signals the final moment, when the glory of the Man-God shines forth as the light of day; Christmas celebrates it as God's entrance into history, His becoming man in order to restore man to God: It marks, so to speak, the initial moment when we begin to see the first light of dawn.

But just as dawn precedes and already heralds the day's light, so Christmas already announces the cross and the glory of the resurrection. Even the two times of year when we mark the two great feasts -- at least in some parts of the world -- can help us to understand this aspect. In fact, while Easter falls at the beginning of spring, when the sun breaks through the thick, chilly mists and renews the face of the earth, Christmas falls right at the beginning of winter, when the sun's light and warmth seek in vain to awaken nature enwrapped by the cold. Under this blanket, however, life throbs and the victory of the sun and warmth begins again.

The Fathers of the Church always interpreted Christ's birth in the light of the whole work of Redemption, which finds its summit in the Paschal Mystery. The incarnation of God's Son appears not only as the commencement and condition for salvation, but as the very presence of the mystery of our salvation: God becomes man; He is born a babe like us; He takes on our flesh to conquer death and sin.

Two important texts of St. Basil illustrate this well. St. Basil tells the faithful: "God assumes flesh to destroy death within it hidden. Just as antidotes to poison, when ingested, eliminate the poison's effects, and as the shadows within a house clear with the light of the sun; so death, which had dominated human nature, was destroyed by the presence of God. And as ice remains solid in water as long as night endures and shadows reign, but melts at once by the sun's heat, so death -- which had reigned until the coming of Christ -- as soon as the grace of God our Savior appeared, and the Sun of Justice arose, 'was swallowed up in victory' (1 Corinthians 15:54), for it cannot coexist with Life" (Homily on the Birth of Christ, 2: PG 31,1461).

And again, in another text St. Basil issues this invitation: "Let us celebrate the world's salvation and mankind's birth. Today Adam's guilt has been remitted. Now we need no longer say: 'you are dust and to dust you shall return' (Genesis 3:19), but rather: united to Him who descended from heaven, you shall be admitted into heaven (Homily on the Birth of Christ, 6: PG 31,1473).

At Christmas we encounter the tenderness and love of God, who stoops down to our limitations, to our weakness, to our sins -- and He lowers Himself to us. St. Paul affirms that Jesus Christ "though He was in the form of God ... emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men" (Philippians 2:6-7). Let us look upon the cave of Bethlehem: God lowers Himself to the point of being laid in a manger -- which is already a prelude of His self-abasement in the hour of His Passion. The climax of the love story between God and man passes by way of the manger of Bethlehem and the sepulcher of Jerusalem.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us joyously live the feast of Christmas, which now draws near. Let us live this wondrous event: The Son of God again is born "today"; God is truly close to each one of us, and He wants to meet us -- He wants to bring us to Himself. He is the true light, which dispels and dissolves the darkness enveloping our lives and mankind. Let us live the Lord's birth by contemplating the path of God's immense love, which raised us to Himself through the mystery of the incarnation, passion, death and resurrection of His Son, for -- as St. Augustine affirms -- "In [Christ] the divinity of the Only Begotten was made a partaker of our mortality, so that we might be made partakers of His immortality" (Letter 187,6,20: PL 33: 839-840). Above all, let us contemplate and live this Mystery in the celebration of the Eucharist, the heart of Christmas; there, Jesus makes Himself really present -- as the true Bead come down from heaven, as the true Lamb sacrificed for our salvation.

To you and to your families I wish a truly Christian celebration of Christmas, such that even your exchange of greetings on that day will be expressions of the joy of knowing that God is near and wants to accompany us along life's journey. Thank you.

[Translation by Diane Montagna]

[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

As Christmas approaches, I offer prayerful good wishes to you and your families for a spiritually fruitful celebration of the Lord's birth. At Midnight Mass, we sing: "Today a Saviour is born for us". This "Today" evokes an eternal present, for the mystery of Christ's coming transcends time and permeates all history. "Today" – every day - we are invited to discover the presence of God's saving love in our midst. In the birth of Jesus, God comes to us and asks us to receive him, so that he can be born in our lives and transform them, and our world, by the power of his love. The Christmas liturgy also invites us to contemplate Christ's birth against the backdrop of his paschal mystery. Christmas points beyond itself, to the redemption won for us on the Cross and the glory of the Resurrection. May this Christmas fill you with joy in the knowledge that God has drawn near to us and is with us at every moment of our lives.

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© Copyright 2011 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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Pope's Address for Feast of Immaculate Conception
"Mary, in Fact, Is Wholly Associated With the Victory of Jesus Christ"

ROME, DEC. 8, 2011 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today in honor of the feast of the Immaculate Conception.

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Dear brothers and sisters!

The great feast of Mary Immaculate invites us every year to gather here, in one of Rome’s most beautiful piazzas, to offer homage to her, to the Mother of Christ and our Mother. With affection I greet all of you who are present here and those who are joining us via radio and television. And I thank you for your choral participation in my act of prayer.

At the top of the column that we crown Mary is represented by a statue that in part recalls the passage from the Book of Revelation that was just proclaimed: “A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed in the sun, with the moon under her feet and, upon her head, a crown of twelve stars” (Revelation 12:1). What is the meaning of this image? It represents both Our Lady and the Church.

First of all the “woman” of the Book of Revelation is Mary herself. She appears “clothed in the sun,” that is, clothed in God: the Virgin Mary is in fact surrounded by the light of God and lives in God. This symbol of the luminous garments expresses a condition that regards the whole of Mary’s being: she is the one who is “full of grace,” filled with the love of God. And “God is light” as St. John says (1 John 1:5). This is why she who is “full of grace,” the “Immaculate” reflects with her whole person the light of the “sun” that is God.

This woman has the moon beneath her feet, the symbol of death and mortality. Mary, in fact, is wholly associated with the victory of Jesus Christ, her Son, over sin and death; she is free from every shadow of death and is completely filled with life. As death no longer has any power over the risen Jesus (cf. Romans 6:9), thus, by a grace and a singular privilege of almighty God, Mary has left death behind, she has overcome it. And this is manifested in the two great mysteries of her life: at the beginning, being conceived without original sin, which is the mystery that we celebrate today; and, at the end, being assumed in soul and body into heaven, into God’s glory. But also her whole life on earth was a victory over death, because it was spent entirely in the service of God, in the complete offering of herself to God and neighbor. Because of this Mary is in herself a him to life: she is the creature in whom the word of Christ is already realized: “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it in abundance” (John 10:10).

In the vision of the Book of Revelation there is another detail: upon the head of the woman clothed in the sun there is “a crown of twelve stars.” This sign represents the 12 tribes of Israel and means that the Virgin Mary is at the center of the People of God, of the whole communion of saints. And thus this image of the crown of twelve stars introduces us to the second great interpretation of the celestial sign of the “woman clothed in the sun”: besides representing our Lady, this sign personifies the Church, the Christian community of all times. She is pregnant, in the sense that she carries Christ in her womb and must bear him for the world: this is the suffering of the pilgrim Church on earth, who in the midst of God’s consolations and the world’s persecution must bring Jesus to men.

It is precisely for this, because she brings Jesus, that the Church meets the opposition of a ferocious adversary, represented in the Book of Revelation by the “great red dragon” (Revelation 12:3). This dragon sought in vain to devour Jesus – the “male child destined to govern all the nations” (12:5). The dragon tries in vain because Jesus, through his death and resurrection, has ascended to God and he has taken his seat upon his throne. This is why the dragon, defeated once and for all in heaven, turns his attacks toward to the woman – the Church – in the wilderness of the world. But in every age the Church is sustained by the light and by the power of God, which nourishes her in the wilderness with the bread of his Word and the Holy Eucharist. And so in every tribulation, through all of the trials that she meets in the course time and in different parts of the world, the Church suffers persecution but is always victorious in the end. And precisely in this way the Christian community is the presence, the guarantee of God’s love against every ideology of hatred and egoism.

The only threat the Church can and must fear is the sin of her members. While, in fact, Mary is the Immaculate, free from every stain of sin, the Church is holy, but at the same time she is stained by our sins. This is why the People of God, in pilgrimage through time, turns to its heavenly Mother and implores her help; it asks this so that she might accompany us on the journey of faith, that she might encourage the undertaking of a Christian life and support our hope. We need her above all in this very difficult moment for Italy, for Europe, for various parts of the world. Mary helps us to see that there is a light beyond the dark clouds that seems to envelop reality. For this reason we too, especially on this occasion, do not cease ask for her help with filial confidence: “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” Ora pro nobis, intercede pro nobis ad Dominum Iesum Christum!

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Pope's Homily at Mass for Deceased Prelates
"Christ's Death Is the Font of Life, for Into It God Poured All of His Love"

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 3, 2011 - Here is a translation of the homily Benedict XVI gave today when he celebrated Mass for the cardinals and bishops who have died this year.

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Venerable Brothers,

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 on behalf of 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, S.J., Michele Giordano, Varkey Vithayathil, C.SS.R., Giovanni Saldarini, Agustín García-Gasco Vicente, Georg Maximilian Sterzinsky, Kazimierz S'wia;tek, Virgilio Noè, Aloysius Matthew Ambrozic, Andrzej Maria Deskur. Together with them we present to the throne of the Most High the souls of their brothers in the episcopate whom we also mourn. For each and every one we offer our prayer, animated by faith in eternal life and the mystery of the communion of saints; a faith full of hope, enlightened also by the Word of God that we have heard.

The passage taken from the prophet Hosea turns our thoughts immediately to the resurrection of Jesus, to the mystery of his death and his rising to unending life. This text of Hosea -- the first half of Chapter 6 -- was deeply impressed upon the heart and mind of Jesus. In fact, more than once in the Gospels he repeats Verse 6: "I want love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God more than holocausts." Jesus does not cite Verse 2 but he makes it his own and he realizes it 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 into the passion, he decisively embarked upon the road to the cross; he spoke openly to his disciples of what must happen to him in Jerusalem, and the words of the Prophet Hosea echoed in his own words: "The Son of man will be given over into the hands of men and they will kill him; but, once he is killed, after three days, he will rise again" (Mark 9:31).

The evangelist observes that the disciples "did not understand these words and they were afraid to question him" (9:32). We too, in the face of death, cannot fail to experience the sentiments and thoughts characteristic of our human condition. And we are always surprised and overcome by a God who draws so close to us that he does not even stop before the abyss of death, who rather passes through it, remaining for two days in the tomb. But exactly here the mystery of the "third day" occurs. Christ takes on our mortal flesh completely that it might 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 (Luke 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" -- never ceases to strike us, such is the concision with which he summarizes the dizzying mystery. Christ's death is the font of life, for into it God poured all of his love, as in a great cataract, which makes us think of the image of Psalm 41: "Abyss calls to abyss, in the roar of your torrents; all your billows and waves have passed over me" (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. Romans 8:9), nor over them who, by faith and baptism, are associated with him: "If we have died with Christ," says St. Paul, "we believe that we will also live with him" (Romans 8:8). This "living with Jesus" is the fulfillment of the hope prophesied by Hosea: "… and we will live in his presence" (6:2).

In truth, it is only in Christ that such a hope finds its real foundation. Before [Christ] it ran the risk of becoming an illusion, a symbol taken from the rhythm of the seasons: "like the autumn rain, like the spring rain" (Hosea 6:3). At the time of the Prophet Hosea the faith of the Israelites was in danger of being contaminated with the naturalistic religions of the land of Canaan, but this faith is not able to save anyone from death. But God's intervention in the drama of human history 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 of the sun of God. Without the cross of Christ all the energy of nature remains impotent before the negative force of sin. A beneficent force greater than that which moves the cycles of nature, a Good greater than that of creation itself: a love that proceeds from the "heart" itself of God and that, while it reveals the ultimate meaning of creation, renews it and directs it toward its original and final goal.

All of this happens in the "three days," when the "grain of wheat" falls to the earth; it remained there 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 first born of many brothers (cf. John 12:24; Romans 8:29). Now, thanks to Christ, thanks to the work accomplished in him by the Most Holy Trinity, the images drawn from nature are no longer only symbols, illusory myths, but they speak to us of a reality. At the foundation of the hope is the will of the Father and the Son, which we heard about in the Gospel for this liturgy: "Father, I want those whom you have given me to be with me where I am" (John 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. John 12:25-26), opening their life to heaven, to eternity. Let us thank God for this inestimable 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.

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On Death and Life
"Man Needs Eternity -- and Every Other Hope, for Him, Is All Too Brief"

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 2, 2011 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today at the general audience.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

After celebrating the Solemnity of All Saints, the Church today invites us to commemorate all the faithful departed, to turn our gaze to so many faces that have gone before us and that have completed their earthly journey. In today's Audience, then, I would like to offer a few simple thoughts on the reality of death, which for us as Christians is illumined by Christ's resurrection, in order to renew our faith in eternal life.

As I said at yesterday's Angelus, during these days we visit the cemetery to pray for our dear departed ones; we go to visit them, as it were, in order to express our affection for them once more, to feel them still close to us; and in so doing, we also remember an article of the Creed: In the communion of saints there is a close bond between us who still journey on this earth and so many brothers and sisters who have already reached eternity.

Man has always been concerned for his loved ones who have died, and he has sought to give them a kind of second life through his attention, care and affection. In a certain way, we want to hold on to their experience of life; and paradoxically, we discover how they lived, what they loved, what they feared, what they hoped in and what they hated precisely at their graves, which we crowd with mementos. They are, as it were, a mirror of their world.

Why is this? Because -- although death is often treated as an almost prohibited subject of discussion in our society, and there is a continual attempt to remove the mere thought of death from our minds -- it regards us all, it regards men of every time and in every place. And before this mystery we all, even unconsciously, seek something that invites us to hope, a sign that brings us consolation, that opens a horizon before us, that offers us a future. The road of death, in reality, is a way of hope -- and to visit our cemeteries, and to read the inscriptions on graves, is to make a journey marked by hope in eternity.

But we ask ourselves: Why do we experience fear in the face of death? Why has humanity, to a large extent, never resigned itself to believing that beyond death there is only nothingness? I would say that there are a variety of reasons: We fear death because we fear emptiness; we fear departing for something unfamiliar to us, for something unknown to us. And then, there is in us a sense of refusal, for we cannot accept that all the beauty and greatness realized during a lifetime is suddenly blotted out, that it is cast into the abyss of nothingness. Above all, we feel that love requires and asks for eternity -- and it is impossible to accept that love is destroyed by death in a single moment.

Again, we fear death because -- when we find ourselves approaching the end of life -- we perceive that there will be a judgment of our actions, of how we led our lives, especially of those shadowy points that we often skillfully know how to remove -- or attempt to remove -- from our consciences. I would say that the question of judgment is what often underlies the care men of all times have for the departed, and the attention a man gives to persons who were significant to him and who are no longer beside him on the journey of earthly life. In a certain sense, the acts of affection and love that surround the departed loved one are a way of protecting him -- in the belief that these acts are not without effect on judgment. We can see this in the majority of cultures, which make up human history.

Today the world has become, at least apparently, much more rational -- or better, there is a widespread tendency to think that every reality has to be confronted with the criteria of experimental science, and that we must respond even to the great question of death not so much with faith, but by departing from experiential, empirical knowledge. We do not sufficiently realize, however, that this way ends in falling into forms of spiritism in the attempt to have some contact with the world beyond death, imagining as it were that there exists a reality that in the end is a copy of the present one.

Dear friends, the Solemnity of All Saints and the Commemoration of the faithful departed tell us that only he who is able to recognize a great hope in death is able also to live a life that springs from hope. If we reduce man exclusively to his horizontal dimension, to what can be perceived empirically, life itself loses its profound meaning. Man needs eternity -- and every other hope, for him, is all too brief, is all too limited. Man is explainable only if there is a Love that overcomes all isolation -- even that of death -- in a totality that transcends even space and time. Man is explainable -- he finds his deepest meaning -- only if God is. And we know that God has gone forth from the distance and has made Himself close; He has entered into our lives and He tells us: "I am the Resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die" (John 11:25-26).

Let us think for a moment of the scene at Calvary and let us listen once again to the words that Jesus addressed on the Cross to the robber crucified at his right: "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43). Let us think of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, when -- after having travelled a stretch of road with the Risen Jesus -- they recognize Him and quickly set out toward Jerusalem to announce the Lord's resurrection (cf. Luke 24:13-35). The Master's words come to mind with renewed clarity: "Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?" (John 14:1-2).

God has truly appeared; He has become accessible; He has so loved the world "that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16), and in the supreme act of love -- in the Cross -- plunging into the abyss of death, He conquered it, He rose and He opened the doors of eternity also to us. Christ sustains us through the night of death, which He himself traversed: He is the Good Shepherd, in whose guidance we can trust without any fear, since He knows well the road, even in obscurity.

Each Sunday, in reciting the Creed, we reaffirm this truth. And in visiting cemeteries to pray with affection and love for our dear departed ones, we are invited once again to renew with courage and with strength our faith in eternal life; indeed, we are invited to live out this great hope and to give witness to it in the world: Nothingness is not behind this present moment. And it is precisely faith in eternal life that gives the Christian the courage to love our world even more intensely, and to work to build a future for it, to give it a true and lasting hope. Thank you.

[Translation by Diane Montagna]

[The Holy Father then greeted the people in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today, the day after the Solemnity of All Saints, the Church invites us to pray for the faithful departed. This yearly commemoration, often marked by visits to the cemetery, is an occasion to ponder the mystery of death and to renew our faith in the promise of eternal life held out to us by Christ's resurrection. As human beings, we have a natural fear of death and we rebel against its apparent finality. Faith teaches us that the fear of death is lightened by a great hope, the hope of eternity, which gives our lives their fullest meaning. The God who is love offers us the promise of eternal life through the death and resurrection of his Son. In Christ, death no longer appears as an abyss of emptiness, but rather a path to life which will never end. Christ is the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in him will never die. Each Sunday, in reciting the Creed, we reaffirm our faith in this mystery. As we remember our dear departed ones, united with them in the communion of the saints, may our faith inspire us to follow Christ more closely and to work in this world to build a future of hope.

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On the Assumption
"Mary Was the 1st to Take Into Her Arms the Son of God ... Now She Is the 1st to Be Next to Him"

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, AUG. 16, 2011 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave Monday before and after praying the midday Angelus on the feast of the Assumption.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

At the heart of the month of August, Christians of the East and West celebrate jointly the Feast of the Assumption to Heaven of Mary Most Holy. In the Catholic Church, the dogma of the Assumption -- as was noted -- was proclaimed during the Holy Year of 1950 by my venerable predecessor the Servant of God Pope Pius XII. This memorial, however, sinks its roots in the faith of the early centuries of the Church.

In the East, the feast is still called today the "Dormition of the Virgin." In an ancient mosaic of the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome, which is inspired precisely in the Eastern icon of the"Dormition," the Apostles are pictured. Alerted by the angels of the earthly end of the Mother of Jesus, they gather around the Virgin's bed. At the center is Jesus who holds a little girl in his arms: It is Mary, become "little" for the Kingdom, and led by the Lord to Heaven.

In the passage of St. Luke's Gospel for today's liturgy, we read that "in those days Mary rose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah" (Luke 1:39). In those days Mary went in haste from Galilee to a small city near Jerusalem, to go and meet her cousin Elizabeth. Today we contemplate her going up to the mountain of God and entering into the heavenly Jerusalem, "clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars" (Revelation 12:1).

The biblical passage of Revelation, which we read in the liturgy of this solemnity, speaks of a fight between the woman and the dragon, between good and evil. St. John seems to propose to us the very first pages of the Book of Genesis, which narrate the dark and dramatic event of Adam's and Eve's sin. Our forefathers were defeated by the Evil One; in the fullness of time, Jesus, the new Adam, and Mary, the new Eve, defeated the enemy definitively, and this is the joy of this day! With Jesus' victory over evil, interior and physical death was also defeated. Mary was the first to take into her arms the Son of God, Jesus, who became a child; now she is the first to be next to him in the glory of Heaven.

That which we celebrate today is a great mystery, and above all a mystery of hope and of joy for all of us: In Mary we see the end toward which all those who know how to link their lives to that of Jesus are journeying, those who know how to follow him as Mary did. This feast, then, speaks of our future, it tells us that we also will be next to Jesus in the joy of God and it invites us to have courage, to believe that the power of the Resurrection of Christ can operate also in us and make us men and women who every day seek to live as risen ones, taking the light of goodness to the darkness of evil that is in the world.

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Pope's Homily for Feast of Assumption
"The Things of God Merit Haste"

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, AUG. 16, 2011 - Here is a translation of the homily Benedict XVI gave Monday when he celebrated Mass for the feast of the Assumption in the parish of St. Thomas of Villanova in Castel Gandolfo.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We are gathered once again to celebrate one of the oldest and most loved feasts dedicated to Mary Most Holy: the feast of her Assumption to the glory of heaven in soul and body, namely, in her whole human being, in the integrity of her person. Thus we are given the grace to renew our love for Mary, to admire and praise her for the "great things" that the Almighty did for her and wrought in her.

On contemplating the Virgin Mary we are given another grace: that of also being able to see our lives in depth. Yes, because also our daily existence, with its problems and its hopes, receives light from the Mother of God, from her spiritual journey, from her destiny of glory: a journey and an end that can and must become, in some way, our own journey and our own end. We allow ourselves to be guided by passages of sacred Scripture that the liturgy proposes to us today. I would like to pause, in particular, on the image that we see in the first reading, treated by Revelation, which Luke's Gospel echoes, namely, that of the ark.

In the first reading, we heard: "then God's temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of the covenant was seen within the temple" (Revelation 11:19). What is the significance of the ark? What does it appear to be? For the Old Testament, it is the symbol of the presence of God in the midst of his people. But now the symbol has given way to reality. Thus the New Testament tells us that the true ark of the covenant is a living and concrete person: it is the Virgin Mary. God does not dwell in a piece of furniture, God dwells in a person, in a heart: Mary, she who bore in her womb the Eternal Son of God made man, Jesus Our Lord and Savior. In the ark -- as we know -- the two tablets of the law of Moses were kept, which manifested the will of God to maintain the covenant with his people, indicating to them the conditions to be faithful to God's pact, to conform themselves to the will of God and thus also to our most profound truth. Mary is the ark of the covenant, because she received Jesus in herself; she received the living Word in her self, the whole content of the will of God, of the truth of God; she received in herself him who is the new and eternal covenant, culminating with the offering of his body and his blood: body and blood received from Mary. Christian piety is right, therefore, in the litanies in honor of Our Lady, to turn to her and to invoke her as Foederis Arca, that is "ark of the covenant," ark of the presence of God, ark of the covenant of love that God willed to fix definitively with the whole of humanity in Christ.

The passage of Revelation indicates another important aspect of the reality of Mary. She, living ark of the covenant, has a destiny of extraordinary glory, because she is so closely united to the Son whom she received in faith and generated in the flesh, to share fully the glory of heaven. This is what the words we heard suggest to us: "And a great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; she was with child ... she brought forth a male child, one who is to rule all the nations" (12:1-2; 5). The greatness of Mary, Mother of God, full of grace, fully docile to the action of the Holy Spirit, now lives in God's heaven with her whole self, soul and body. Referring to this mystery in a famous homily, St. John Damascene states: "Today the holy and unique Virgin is led to the heavenly temple ... Today the sacred ark animated by the living God, [the ark] that bore in the womb the Architect himself, rests in the Lord's temple, not built by the hand of man" (Homily on the Dormition, 2, PG 96, 723). And he continues: "It was necessary that she who had housed in her womb the divine Logos, was transformed into the tabernacle of her Son. ... It was necessary that the Bride that the Father chose, dwell in the nuptial room of heaven" (Ibid., 14, PG 96. 742).

Today the Church sings the immense love of God for this, his creature: He chose her as true "ark of the covenant," as she who continues to generate and to give Christ the Savior to humanity, as she who in heaven shares the fullness of glory and enjoys the very happiness of God and, at the same time, invites us also to become, in our modest way, an "ark" in which the Word of God is present, which is transformed and vivified by his presence, a place of God's presence, so that men may be able to see in their neighbor the closeness of God and thus live in communion with God and know the reality of heaven.

Luke's Gospel that we just heard (cf. Luke 1:39-56) shows us this living ark, which is Mary, in movement: Having left her Nazareth home, Mary journeys to the mountains to reach in haste a city of Judah and to go to the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth. I think it is important to stress the expression "in haste": The things of God merit haste. Indeed the only things of the world that merit haste are in fact those of God, which have real urgency for our life. Then Mary entered this home of Zechariah and Elizabeth, but she did not go in alone. She entered bearing in her womb her Son, who is God himself made man. Certainly she and her help were awaited in that home, but the Evangelist leads us to understand that this awaiting refers to another, more profound. Zechariah, Elizabeth and the small John the Baptist are, in fact, the symbol of all the righteous of Israel, whose heart, rich in hope, awaits the coming of the Messiah Savior. And it is the Holy Spirit who opens Elizabeth's eyes and makes her recognize in Mary the true ark of the covenant, the Mother of God, who comes to visit her. And thus the elderly cousin receives her exclaiming with "a loud cry": "Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" (Luke 1:42-43). And it is the Holy Spirit himself that before her who carries the God made man, opens the heart of John the Baptist in Elizabeth's womb. Elizabeth exclaims: "For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy" (verse 44). Here the Evangelist Luke uses the term "skirtan," namely "leap," the same term that we find in one of the ancient Greek translations of the Old Testament to describe the dance of King David before the holy ark that finally returned to the homeland (2 Samuel 6:16). John the Baptist dances in his mother's womb before the ark of the covenant, like David and thus recognizes that Mary is the new ark of the covenant, before whom the heart exults with joy, the Mother of God present in the world, who does not keep to herself this divine presence, but offers it sharing the grace of God. And thus -- as the prayer states -- Mary is really "cause of our joy," the "ark" in which the Savior is really present among us.

Dear brothers! We are speaking of Mary, but in a certain sense, we are speaking also of ourselves, of each one of us: We are also recipients of that immense love that God has reserved -- certainly, in an absolutely unique and unrepeatable way -- for Mary. In this solemnity of the Assumption we look at Mary: She opens us to hope, to a future full of joy and teaches us the way to reach it: to receive her Son in faith; never to lose our friendship with him, but to allow ourselves to be illumined and guided by his word; to follow him every day, even in the moments in which we feel that our crosses are heavy. Mary, the ark of the covenant that is in the sanctuary of heaven, points out to us with luminous clarity that we are on the way to our true Home, to communion of joy and peace with God. Amen!

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Benedict XVI's Homily on Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul
"It Is Only in the Unity Represented by Peter That We Truly Lead People to Christ"

VATICAN CITY, JUNE 29, 2011 - Here is a Vatican translation of the homily Benedict XVI delivered today at a Mass for the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, which he presided over in St. Peter's Basilica.

At the Mass, the Pope conferred the pallium upon 41 new archbishops, and recalled his 60th anniversary of priestly ordination.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

"Non iam dicam servos, sed amicos" -- "I no longer call you servants, but friends" (cf. Jn 15:15).

Sixty years on from the day of my priestly ordination, I hear once again deep within me these words of Jesus that were addressed to us new priests at the end of the ordination ceremony by the Archbishop, Cardinal Faulhaber, in his slightly frail yet firm voice.

According to the liturgical practice of that time, these words conferred on the newly-ordained priests the authority to forgive sins. "No longer servants, but friends": at that moment I knew deep down that these words were no mere formality, nor were they simply a quotation from Scripture. I knew that, at that moment, the Lord himself was speaking to me in a very personal way. In baptism and confirmation he had already drawn us close to him, he had already received us into God’s family. But what was taking place now was something greater still. He calls me his friend. He welcomes me into the circle of those he had spoken to in the Upper Room, into the circle of those whom he knows in a very special way, and who thereby come to know him in a very special way. He grants me the almost frightening faculty to do what only he, the Son of God, can legitimately say and do: I forgive you your sins. He wants me -- with his authority -- to be able to speak, in his name ("I" forgive), words that are not merely words, but an action, changing something at the deepest level of being. I know that behind these words lies his suffering for us and on account of us. I know that forgiveness comes at a price: in his Passion he went deep down into the sordid darkness of our sins. He went down into the night of our guilt, for only thus can it be transformed. And by giving me authority to forgive sins, he lets me look down into the abyss of man, into the immensity of his suffering for us men, and this enables me to sense the immensity of his love. He confides in me: "No longer servants, but friends". He entrusts to me the words of consecration in the Eucharist. He trusts me to proclaim his word, to explain it aright and to bring it to the people of today. He entrusts himself to me. "You are no longer servants, but friends": these words bring great inner joy, but at the same time, they are so awe-inspiring that one can feel daunted as the decades go by amid so many experiences of one’s own frailty and his inexhaustible goodness.

"No longer servants, but friends": this saying contains within itself the entire programme of a priestly life. What is friendship? Idem velle, idem nolle -- wanting the same things, rejecting the same things: this was how it was expressed in antiquity. Friendship is a communion of thinking and willing. The Lord says the same thing to us most insistently: "I know my own and my own know me" (Jn 10:14). The Shepherd calls his own by name (cf. Jn 10:3). He knows me by name. I am not just some nameless being in the infinity of the universe. He knows me personally. Do I know him? The friendship that he bestows upon me can only mean that I too try to know him better; that in the Scriptures, in the Sacraments, in prayer, in the communion of saints, in the people who come to me, sent by him, I try to come to know the Lord himself more and more. Friendship is not just about knowing someone, it is above all a communion of the will. It means that my will grows into ever greater conformity with his will. For his will is not something external and foreign to me, something to which I more or less willingly submit or else refuse to submit. No, in friendship, my will grows together with his will, and his will becomes mine: this is how I become truly myself. Over and above communion of thinking and willing, the Lord mentions a third, new element: he gives his life for us (cf. Jn 15:13; 10:15). Lord, help me to come to know you more and more. Help me to be ever more at one with your will. Help me to live my life not for myself, but in union with you to live it for others. Help me to become ever more your friend.

Jesus’ words on friendship should be seen in the context of the discourse on the vine. The Lord associates the image of the vine with a commission to the disciples: "I appointed you that you should go out and bear fruit, and that your fruit should abide" (Jn 15:16). The first commission to the disciples, to his friends, is that of setting out -- appointed to go out -- stepping outside oneself and towards others. Here we hear an echo of the words of the risen Lord to his disciples at the end of Matthew’s Gospel: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations" (cf. Mt 28:19f.). The Lord challenges us to move beyond the boundaries of our own world and to bring the Gospel to the world of others, so that it pervades everything and hence the world is opened up for God’s kingdom. We are reminded that even God stepped outside himself, he set his glory aside in order to seek us, in order to bring us his light and his love. We want to follow the God who sets out in this way, we want to move beyond the inertia of self-centredness, so that he himself can enter our world.

After the reference to setting out, Jesus continues: bear fruit, fruit that abides. What fruit does he expect from us? What is this fruit that abides? Now, the fruit of the vine is the grape, and it is from the grape that wine is made. Let us reflect for a moment on this image. For good grapes to ripen, sun is needed, but so too is rain, by day and by night. For noble wine to mature, the grapes need to be pressed, patience is needed while the juice ferments, watchful care is needed to assist the processes of maturation. Noble wine is marked not only by sweetness, but by rich and subtle flavours, the manifold aroma that develops during the processes of maturation and fermentation. Is this not already an image of human life, and especially of our lives as priests? We need both sun and rain, festivity and adversity, times of purification and testing, as well as times of joyful journeying with the Gospel. In hindsight we can thank God for both: for the challenges and the joys, for the dark times and the glad times. In both, we can recognize the constant presence of his love, which unfailingly supports and sustains us.

Yet now we must ask: what sort of fruit does the Lord expect from us? Wine is an image of love: this is the true fruit that abides, the fruit that God wants from us. But let us not forget that in the Old Testament the wine expected from noble grapes is above all an image of justice, which arises from a life lived in accordance with God’s law. And this is not to be dismissed as an Old Testament view that has been surpassed -- no, it still remains true. The true content of the Law, its summa, is love for God and for one’s neighbour. But this twofold love is not simply saccharine. It bears within itself the precious cargo of patience, humility, and growth in the conforming of our will to God’s will, to the will of Jesus Christ, our friend. Only in this way, as the whole of our being takes on the qualities of truth and righteousness, is love also true, only thus is it ripe fruit. Its inner demand -- faithfulness to Christ and to his Church -- seeks a fulfillment that always includes suffering. This is the way that true joy grows. At a deep level, the essence of love, the essence of genuine fruit, coincides with the idea of setting out, going towards: it means self-abandonment, self-giving, it bears within itself the sign of the cross. Gregory the Great once said in this regard: if you are striving for God, take care not to go to him by yourselves alone -- a saying that we priests need to keep before us every day (H Ev 1:6:6 PL 76, 1097f.).

Dear friends, perhaps I have dwelt for too long on my inner recollections of sixty years of priestly ministry. Now it is time to turn our attention to the particular task that is to be performed today.

On the feast of Saints Peter and Paul my most cordial greeting goes first of all to the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomaios I and to the Delegation he has sent, to whom I express sincere thanks for their most welcome visit on the happy occasion of this feast of the holy Apostles who are Rome’s patrons. I also greet the Cardinals, my brother bishops, the ambassadors and civil authorities as well as the priests, the confrères of my first Mass, religious and lay faithful. I thank all of you for your presence and your prayers.

The metropolitan archbishops appointed since the feast of Saints Peter and Paul last year are now going to receive the pallium. What does this mean? It may remind us in the first instance of Christ’s easy yoke that is laid upon us (cf. Mt 11:29f.). Christ’s yoke is identical with his friendship. It is a yoke of friendship and therefore "a sweet yoke", but as such it is also a demanding yoke, one that forms us. It is the yoke of his will, which is a will of truth and love. For us, then, it is first and foremost the yoke of leading others to friendship with Christ and being available to others, caring for them as shepherds. This brings us to a further meaning of the pallium: it is woven from the wool of lambs blessed on the feast of Saint Agnes. Thus it reminds us of the Shepherd who himself became a lamb, out of love for us. It reminds us of Christ, who set out through the mountains and the deserts, in which his lamb, humanity, had strayed. It reminds us of him who took the lamb -- humanity -- me -- upon his shoulders, in order to carry me home. It thus reminds us that we too, as shepherds in his service, are to carry others with us, taking them as it were upon our shoulders and bringing them to Christ. It reminds us that we are called to be shepherds of his flock, which always remains his and does not become ours. Finally the pallium also means quite concretely the communion of the shepherds of the Church with Peter and with his successors -- it means that we must be shepherds for unity and in unity, and that it is only in the unity represented by Peter that we truly lead people to Christ.

Sixty years of priestly ministry -- dear friends, perhaps I have spoken for too long about this. But I felt prompted at this moment to look back upon the things that have left their mark on the last six decades. I felt prompted to address to you, to all priests and bishops and to the faithful of the Church, a word of hope and encouragement; a word that has matured in long experience of how good the Lord is. Above all, though, it is a time of thanksgiving: thanks to the Lord for the friendship that he has bestowed upon me and that he wishes to bestow upon us all. Thanks to the people who have formed and accompanied me. And all this includes the prayer that the Lord will one day welcome us in his goodness and invite us to contemplate his joy. Amen.

© Copyright 2011 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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Benedict XVI's Corpus Christi Homily
"Thank You, Lord Jesus! Thank You for Your Fidelity"

ROME, JUNE 24, 2011 - Here is an unofficial Vatican Radio translation of Benedict XVI's homily for the feast of Corpus Christi, celebrated Thursday in Rome.

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Dear brothers and sisters!

The feast of Corpus Domini is inseparable from the Holy Thursday Mass of Caena Domini, in which the institution of the Eucharist is also celebrated. While on the evening of Holy Thursday we relive the mystery of Christ who offers himself to us in the bread broken and wine poured out, today, in celebration of Corpus Domini, this same mystery is proposed for the adoration and meditation of God's people, and the Blessed Sacrament is carried in procession through the streets of towns and villages, to show that the risen Christ walks among us and guides us toward the kingdom of heaven. Today we openly manifest what Jesus has given us in the intimacy of the Last Supper, because the love of Christ is not confined to the few, but is intended for all. This year during the Mass of Our Lord's Last Supper on Holy Thursday, I pointed out that the Eucharist is the transformation of the gifts of this land -- the bread and wine -- intended to transform our lives and usher in the transformation of the world. Tonight I would like to return to this point of view.

Everything starts, you might say, from the heart of Christ, who at the Last Supper on the eve of his passion, thanked and praised God and, in doing so, with the power of his love transformed the meaning of death, which he was about to encounter. The fact that the sacrament of the altar has taken on the name "Eucharist," "thanksgiving," expresses this: that the change in the substance of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ is the fruit of the gift that Christ made of himself, a gift of a love stronger than death, divine love that brought him to rise from the dead. That is why the Eucharist is the food of eternal life, the Bread of life. From the heart of Christ, from his "Eucharistic Prayer" on the eve of his passion, flows the dynamism that transforms reality in its cosmic, human and historical dimensions. All proceeds from God, from the omnipotence of his love One and Triune, incarnate in Jesus. The heart of Christ is immersed in this love; because of this he knows how to thank and praise God even in the face of betrayal and violence, and thus changes things, people and the world.

This transformation is possible thanks to a communion stronger than division, the communion of God himself. The word "communion," which we use to designate the Eucharist, sums up the vertical and horizontal dimension of the gift of Christ. The beautiful and eloquent expression "receive communion" refers to the act of eating the bread of the Eucharist. In fact, when we carry out this act, we enter into communion with the very life of Jesus, in the dynamism of this life that is given to us and for us. From God, through Jesus, to us: a unique communion is transmitted in the Holy Eucharist. We have heard as much, in the second reading, from the words of the Apostle Paul to the Christians of Corinth: "The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ"(1 Corinthians 10:16-17).

St. Augustine helps us to understand the dynamics of holy Communion when referring to a kind of vision he had, in which Jesus said to him: "I am the food of the mature: grow, then, and you shall eat me. You will not change me into yourself like bodily food; but you will be changed into me"(Confessions, VII, 10, 18). Therefore, while the bodily food is assimilated by the body and contributes to sustain it, the Eucharist is a different bread: We do not assimilate it, but it assimilates us to itself, so that we become conformed to Jesus Christ and members of his body, one with him. This is a decisive passage. Indeed, precisely because it is Christ who, in Eucharistic communion, transforms us into him, our individuality, in this encounter, is opened up, freed from its self-centeredness and placed in the Person of Jesus, who in turn is immersed in the Trinitarian communion. Thus, while the Eucharist unites us to Christ, we open ourselves to others making us members one of another: We are no longer divided, but one thing in him. Eucharistic communion unites me to the person next to me, and to the one with whom perhaps I might not even have a good relationship, but also to my brothers and sisters who are far away, in every corner of the world. Thus the deep sense of social presence of the Church is derived from the Eucharist, as evidenced by the great social saints, who have always been great Eucharistic souls. Those who recognize Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, recognize their brother who suffers, who is hungry and thirsty, who is a stranger, naked, sick, imprisoned, and they are attentive to every person, committing themselves, in a concrete way, to those who are in need.

So from the gift of Christ's love comes our special responsibility as Christians in building a cohesive, just and fraternal society. Especially in our time when globalization makes us increasingly dependent upon each other, Christianity can and must ensure that this unity will not be built without God, without true Love. This would give way to confusion and individualism, the oppression of some against others. The Gospel has always aimed at the unity of the human family, a unity not imposed from above, or by ideological or economic interests, but from a sense of responsibility toward each other, because we identify ourselves as members of the same body, the body of Christ, because we have learned and continually learn from the Sacrament of the Altar that communion, love is the path of true justice.

Let us return to Jesus' act in the Last Supper. What happened at that moment? When he said: This is my body which is given to you, this is my blood shed for you and for the multitude, what happened? Jesus in that gesture anticipates the event of Calvary. He accepts his passion out of love, with its trial and its violence, even to death on the cross; by accepting it in this way he transforms it into an act of giving. This is the transformation that the world needs most, because he redeems it from within, he opens it up to the kingdom of heaven. But God always wants to accomplish this renewal of the world through the same path followed by Christ, indeed, the path that is himself. There is nothing magic in Christianity. There are no shortcuts, but everything passes through the patient and humble logic of the grain of wheat that is broken to give life, the logic of faith that moves mountains with the gentle power of God. This is why God wants to continue to renew humanity, history and the cosmos through this chain of transformations, of which the Eucharist is the sacrament. Through the consecrated bread and wine, in which his Body and Blood is truly present, Christ transforms us, assimilating us in him: He involves us in his redeeming work, enabling us, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, to live according to his same logic of gift, like grains of wheat united with him and in him. Thus unity and peace, which are the goal for which we strive, are sown and mature in the furrows of history, according to God's plan.

Without illusions, without ideological utopias, we walk the streets of the world, bringing within us the Body of the Lord, like the Virgin Mary in the mystery of the Visitation. With the humble awareness that we are simple grains of wheat, we cherish the firm conviction that the love of God, incarnate in Christ, is stronger than evil, violence and death. We know that God is preparing for all people new heavens and new earth where peace and justice prevail -- and by faith we glimpse the new world, that is our true home. Also this evening as the sun sets on our beloved city of Rome, we set out again on this path: With us is Jesus in the Eucharist, the Risen One, who said, "I am with you always, until the end of world "(Mt 28:20). Thank you, Lord Jesus! Thank you for your fidelity, which sustains our hope. Stay with us, because the evening comes. "Jesus, good shepherd and true bread, have mercy on us; feed us and guard us. Grant that we find happiness in the land of the living." Amen.

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The Church's Baptism Day
"The Breath of the Holy Spirit Fills the Universe"

VATICAN CITY, JUNE 12, 2011 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today before and after praying the Regina Caeli with those gathered in St. Peter's Square.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters!

The Solemnity of Pentecost that we are celebrating today concludes the liturgical season of Easter. In effect, the paschal mystery -- the passion, death and resurrection of Christ and his ascension into heaven -- finds its fulfillment in the powerful effusion of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles gathered together with Mary, the Mother of the Lord, and the other disciples. It was the "baptism of the Church," a baptism in the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 1:5).

As recounted by the Acts of the Apostles, on the morning of Pentecost, a roaring, as of wind, rolled through the cenacle and upon each of the disciples a tongue like fire descended (cf. Acts 2:2-3). St. Gregory the Great comments: "Today the Holy Spirit has descended with a sudden sound upon the disciples and within his love has transformed the minds of beings of flesh, and while tongues of fire appeared without, hearts became enflamed within so that, receiving God in the vision of fire, they were ardent with love" (Hom. in Evang. XXX, 1: CCL 141, 256).

God's voice divinized the human language of the Apostles, who became able to proclaim the one divine Word polyphonically. The breath of the Holy Spirit fills the universe, generates faith, brings truth, preparing unity among the nations. "At that sound the crowd came together and was disturbed, for each one heard in his own language" of the "great deeds of God" (Acts 2: 6, 11).

Blessed Antonio Rosmini explains that "on the day of Christian Pentecost God promulgated … his law of love, writing with the Holy Spirit, not on tablets of stone but in the hearts of the Apostles, and through the Apostles communicated it then to the whole Church" ("Catechismo disposto secondo l'ordine delle idée," no. 737, Torino, 1863). The Holy Spirit, "who is the Lord and giver life" -- as we recite in the Creed -- is joined to the Father through the Son and completes the revelation of the Most Holy Trinity. He comes from God as the breath of his mouth and has the power to sanctify, to abolish divisions, to resolve the confusion wrought by sin. He, incorporeal and immaterial, bestows the divine goods, assisting living beings, so they act in conformity with the good. As intelligible Light he gives meaning to prayer, he gives vigor to the evangelizing mission, he makes the hearts of those who hear the glad tidings burn, he inspires Christian art and liturgical melody.

Dear friends, the Holy Spirit, who creates faith in us in the moment of our baptism, allows us to live as children of God, conscious and obliging, according to the image of the Only Begotten Son. The power to remit sins is a gift of the Holy Spirit too; in fact, appearing to the Apostles on Easter night, Jesus breathes upon them and says: "Receive the Holy Spirit. Those whose sins you forgive shall be forgiven" (John 20:23).

To the Virgin Mary, temple of the Holy Spirit, we entrust the Church, that she might always live according to Jesus Christ, his Word, and his commandments, and that through the perennial action of the Spirit Paraclete she might proclaim to all that "Jesus is Lord" (1 Corinthians 12:3).

[After praying the Regina Caeli, the Holy Father addressed the pilgrims in various languages. In Italian he said:]

Dear brothers and sisters, I am happy to recall that tomorrow in Dresden, Germany, Alois Andritzki, priest and martyr, who was killed by the National Socialists in 1943 at the age of 28, will be proclaimed blessed. Let us praise the Lord for this heroic witness of the faith, who joins the ranks of those who gave their lives in the name of Christ in the concentration camps.

This day of Pentecost I would like to entrust to your intercession the cause of peace in the world. May the Holy Spirit inspire courageous proposals for peace and support the effort to advance it, that dialogue might prevail over arms and respect for man's dignity overcome party interests. May the Spirit, who is the bond of communion, rectify hearts twisted by egoism and help the human family to rediscover and carefully safeguard its fundamental unity.

The day after tomorrow, June 14, is World Blood Donor Day -- millions of persons who in a silent way contribute to the help of brothers in difficulties. To all blood donors I address a cordial greeting and invite young people to follow their example.

[In English he said:]

I offer a warm welcome to the English-speaking visitors gathered for this Regina Caeli prayer. My particular greeting goes to the group of ringers from the United States. On this Pentecost Sunday we celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Church. Let us pray that we may be confirmed in the grace of our Baptism and share ever more actively in the Church's mission of proclaiming the Good News of our salvation in Jesus Christ. Upon you and your families I cordially invoke the Holy Spirit's gifts of wisdom, joy and peace.

© Copyright 2011 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

[Concluding in Italian, he said:]

I wish everyone a good Sunday.

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Benedict XVI's Pentecost Homily
"God Is Reason, God Is Will, God Is Love, God Is Beauty"

VATICAN CITY, JUNE 12, 2011 - Here is a translation of the homily Benedict XVI gave today when he celebrated a Mass for the feast of Pentecost in St. Peter's Basilica.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters!

Today we celebrate the great solemnity of Pentecost. If, in a certain sense, all of the Church's liturgical celebrations are great, this one of Pentecost is so in a singular manner, because, arriving at the 50th day, it marks the fulfillment of the Easter event, of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, through the gift of the Risen Lord's Spirit. The Church has prepared us in recent days for Pentecost with her prayers, with the repeated and intense plea to God for a renewed outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon us. The Church re-lived in this way the events of her origins, when the Apostles, gathered in the cenacle in Jerusalem "were perseverant and united in prayer together with some women and Mary, the mother of Jesus, and his brothers" (Acts 1:14). They were gathered in humble and confident expectation that the Father's promise communicated to them by Jesus would be fulfilled: "Before long you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit … you will receive the power of the Holy Spirit, who will descend upon you" (Acts 1:5, 8).

In the Pentecost liturgy, corresponding to the narrative of the Acts of the Apostles of the birth of the Church (cf. Acts 2:1-11), is Psalm 103, which we heard: a praise that goes up from all creation, exalting the Creator Spirit, who did everything with wisdom: "How many are your deeds, O Lord! You have done them with wisdom; the earth is filled with your creatures … may it always be the glory of the Lord; may the Lord rejoice in his works" (Psalm 103:24, 31). What the Church wishes to tell us is this: The creator Spirit of all things, and the Holy Spirit whom Christ had sent from the Father to the community of disciples, are one and the same: creation and redemption belong reciprocally to each other and they constitute, in their depths, a single mystery of love and salvation. The Holy Spirit is first of all the Creator Spirit and so Pentecost is the feast of creation. For us Christians the world is the fruit of an act of the love of God, who made all things and who rejoices in them because they are "good," "very good," as the account of creation states (cf. Genesis 1:1-31).

Thus God is not totally Other, unnamable and obscure. God reveals himself, he has a face, God is reason, God is will, God is love, God is beauty. The faith in the Creator Spirit is the faith in the Spirit whom the risen Christ bestowed upon the Apostles and bestows on each one of us; they are therefore inseparably joined.

Today's second reading and Gospel show us this connection. The Holy Spirit is he who helps us recognize the Lord, and he makes us pronounce the Church's profession of faith: "Jesus is Lord" (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:3b). "Lord" is the title given to God in the Old Testament, a title that in the reading of the Bible took the place of his unspeakable name. The Church's Creed is nothing more than the development of what is said with this simple affirmation: "Jesus is Lord." St. Paul tells us of this profession of faith that it is from the word and work of the Holy Spirit. If we want to be in the Spirit, we must adhere to this Creed. Making it our own, accepting it as our word, we acquiesce to the work of the Holy Spirit.

The expression "Jesus is Lord" can be read in two senses. It means: Jesus is God, and at the same time: God is Jesus. The Holy Spirit illuminates this reciprocity: Jesus has divine dignity, and God has the human face of Jesus. God shows himself in Jesus and with this conveys to us the truth about ourselves. The event of Pentecost is letting ourselves be deeply enlightened by this word. Reciting the Creed we enter into the mystery of the first Pentecost: There occurs a radical transformation in the chaos of Babel, in those voices that vie against each other: the multiplicity becomes a multiform unity; from the unifying power of Truth comes growth in understanding. In the Creed that brings us together from the four corners of the earth, which, through the Holy Spirit, does this in a way that permits understanding even in the midst of the diversity of languages, through faith, hope and love, is formed the new community of the Church of God.

The Gospel passage offers us a marvelous image to clarify the connection between Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the Father: the Holy Spirit is represented as the breath of the risen Jesus Christ (cf. John 20:22). The Evangelist John borrows an image here from the account of creation, where it says that God breathed into man's nostrils a breath of life (cf. Genesis 2:7). The breath of God is life. Now the Lord breathes into our soul the new breath of life, the Holy Spirit, his most intimate essence, and in this way we are welcomed into the family of God. With baptism and confirmation we are given this gift in a specific way, and with the sacraments of the Eucharist and penance it is continually repeated: the Lord breathes a breath of life into our soul. All of the sacraments, each in its proper way, communicate the divine life to man thanks to the Holy Spirit who works in them.

In today's liturgy we see another connection. The Holy Spirit is both Creator and the Spirit of Jesus Christ, in a way however that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one single God. And in light of the first reading we can add: The Holy Spirit animates the Church. She does not derive from the human will, from reflection, from man's ability and from his capacity to organize, because if this were the case, she would have already been extinct for some time, just as every human thing passes. She is rather the Body of Christ animated by the Holy Spirit. The images of wind and fire, used by St. Luke to represent the coming of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 2:2-3), recall Sinai, where God was revealed to the people of Israel and he granted them his covenant; "Mount Sinai was covered in smoke," we read in the Book of Exodus, "because the Lord had descended upon it in fire" (19:18). In fact Israel celebrated the 50th day after Passover, after the commemoration of the flight out of Egypt, as the feast of Sinai, the feast of the Covenant. When St. Luke speaks of tongues of fire to represent the Holy Spirit, the ancient covenant, established on the basis of the Law received by Israel on Sinai, is recalled. Thus, the event of Pentecost is represented as a new Sinai, as the gift of a new covenant in which the alliance with Israel is extended to all the peoples of the earth, in which all of the barriers of the old Law crumble and its holiest and immutable core appears, which is love, that precisely the Holy Spirit communicates and spreads, the love that embraces all things. At the same time the Law expands, it opens while remaining more basic: It is the New Covenant that the Holy Spirit "writes" in the hearts of those who believe in Christ. The extension of the Covenant to all the nations of the earth is represented by St. Luke through the considerable list of peoples of that time (cf. Acts 2:9-11).

With this we are told something very important: that the Church is catholic from the very first moment, that her university is not the fruit of the subsequent inclusion of diverse communities. From the first instant, in fact, the Holy Spirit created her as the Church of all peoples; she embraces the whole world, she transcends all frontiers of race, class, nation; she razes all the bastions and unites men in the profession of God one and triune. From the very beginning the Church is one, catholic and apostolic: This is her true nature and as such she must be recognized. She is holy, not due to the capacity of her members, but because God himself, with his Spirit, always creates her, purifies her and sanctifies her.

Finally, today's Gospel gives us this beautiful expression: "The disciples rejoiced in seeing the Lord" (John 20:20). These words are profoundly human. The lost Friend is present again, and those who were frightened before now rejoice. But it says more than this. Because the lost Friend does not come from just anywhere but from the night of death -- and he passed through it! -- he is not just anyone but both the Friend and he who is the Truth that gives men life; and what he gives is not just any joy, but joy itself, the gift of the Holy Spirit. Yes, it is beautiful to live because I am loved, and it is the Truth who loves me. The disciples rejoice, seeing the Lord. Today on Pentecost this expression is also intended for us, because we can see him in faith; in faith he comes among us and he also shows to us his hands and side, and we rejoice in this. So, we wish to pray: Lord, show yourself! Give us the gift of your presence, and we will have the best gift: your joy. Amen!

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On the Heart of the Christian Mystery
"Be Luminous Witnesses of This New Life That Easter Has Brought"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 29, 2011 - Here is a translation of the Italian-language catechesis that Benedict XVI gave on Wednesday during the general audience held in St. Peter's Square. The Pope, who arrived by helicopter from the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo, focused his meditation on the meaning of Christ's resurrection.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In these first days of Eastertide, which is prolonged until Pentecost, we are still full of the freshness and new joy that the liturgical celebrations brought to our hearts. Therefore, today I would like to reflect briefly with you on Easter, heart of the Christian mystery. Everything, in fact, begins from here: Christ risen from the dead is the foundation of our faith. Radiating from Easter, as from a luminous, incandescent center, is all the liturgy of the Church, bringing with it content and meaning. The liturgical celebration of the death and resurrection of Christ is not a simple commemoration of this event, but the actualization of the mystery, for the life of every Christian and every ecclesial community, for our life. In fact, faith in the Risen Christ transforms our existence, effecting in us a continuous resurrection, as St. Paul wrote to the first believers: "For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth" (Ephesians 5:8-9).

How can we then make Easter become "life"? How can our whole interior and exterior existence assume a paschal "form"? We must begin from a genuine understanding of Jesus' resurrection: Such an event is not a simple return to the preceding life, as it was for Lazarus, for Jarius' daughter or for the young man of Nain, but rather it is something completely new and different. Christ's resurrection is the door that leads to a life no longer subject to the transience of time, a life immersed in the eternity of God. Initiated with the resurrection of Jesus is a new condition of being a person, which illumines and transforms our everyday path and opens a qualitatively different and new future for the whole of humanity. Because of this, St. Paul not only links in an inseparable way the resurrection of Christians to that of Jesus (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:16.20), but he also indicates how the paschal mystery must be lived in our daily life.

In the Letter to the Colossians, he says: "If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth" (3:1-2). At first sight, reading this text, it might seem that the Apostle intends to foster contempt for earthly reality, inviting, that is, to forget this world of sufferings, injustices, sins, to live in advance in a heavenly paradise. The thought of "heaven" would be in this case a sort of alienation. However, to understand the true meaning of these Pauline affirmations, suffice it not to separate them from the context. The Apostle specifies very well what he intends by "the things that are above," which the Christian must seek, and "the things of the earth" of which he must beware. Here are first of all "the things of the earth" that one must avoid: "Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry" (3:5-6). To put to death in us the insatiable desire for material goods, egoism, root of every sin. Hence, when the Apostle invites Christians to detach themselves with determination from the "things of the earth," he clearly wishes to make it understood that it belongs to the "old man" of whom the Christian must strip himself, to be clothed in Christ.

As he was clear in saying what the things are on which one must not fix one's heart, with like clarity St. Paul points out to us what the "things" are that are "above," which the Christian, instead, must seek and enjoy. They regard what belongs to the "new man," who is clothed in Christ once and for all in baptism, but who always has need of renewing himself "in the image of him who created him" (Colossians 3:10). Look how the Apostle of the Gentiles describes these "things from above": "Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another. ... And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection" (Colossians 3:12-14). Hence St. Paul is very far from inviting Christians, each one of us, to evade the world in which God has put us. It is true that we are citizens of another "city," where are true homeland is, but we must follow the path to this goal daily on this earth. Participating henceforth in the life of the Risen Christ, we must live as new men in this world, in the heart of the earthly city.

And this is the way not only to transform ourselves, but to transform the world, to give the earthly city a new face that fosters the development of man and of society according to the logic of solidarity, of goodness, in profound respect of the dignity of each one. The Apostle reminds us what the virtues are that must support Christian life; at the top is charity, to which all the others are correlated as to their source and matrix. It summarizes and abstracts "the things of heaven": charity, which with faith and hope, represents the great rule of the Christian's life and defines his profound nature.

Easter, therefore, bears the novelty of a profound and total passage from a life subject to the slavery of sin to a life of liberty, animated by love, the force that brings down every barrier and constructs a new harmony in one's heart and in one's relationship with others and with things. Every Christian, just as every community, if he lives the experience of this passage of Resurrection, cannot but be the ferment of a new world, giving himself without reservations for the most urgent and just causes, as the testimonies of saints demonstrate in every age and place.

The expectations of our times are so many: We Christians, believing firmly that Christ's resurrection has renewed man without taking him out of the world in which he builds his history, must be luminous witnesses of this new life that Easter has brought. Hence, Easter is a gift to receive ever more profoundly in faith, to be able to act in every situation, with the grace of Christ, according to the logic of God, the logic of love. The light of Christ's Resurrection must penetrate this world of ours, it must reach -- as a message of truth and life -- all men through our daily witness.

Dear friends, Yes, Christ is truly risen! We cannot keep only for ourselves the life and joy that he has given us in his Easter, but we must give it to all those we approach. It is our task and our mission: to arouse in our neighbor hope where there is despair, joy where there is sadness, life where there is death. To witness every day the joy of the Risen Lord means to live always in a "paschal way" and to make resound the happy proclamation that Christ is not an idea or a memory of the past, but a Person who lives with us, for us and in us, and with him, by and in him, we can make all things new (cf. Revelation 21:5).

Copyright 2011 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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On Easter Monday
"The Lord’s Resurrection Marks the Renewal of Our Human Condition"

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, APRIL 29, 2010 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave Easter Monday, April 25, before praying the Regina Caeli in Castel Gandolfo.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Surrexit Dominus vere! Alleluja! The Lord’s Resurrection marks the renewal of our human condition. Christ triumphed over death, caused by our sin, and restores us to immortal life. This event gave rise to the whole of the Church’s life and to the very existence of Christians.

On this day, Easter Monday, we read in the first missionary discourse of the nascent Church: "This Jesus", the Apostle Peter proclaimed, "God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this which you see and hear" (Acts 2:32-33).

One of the characteristic signs of faith in the Resurrection is the greeting among Christians during Eastertide, inspired by the ancient liturgical hymn: "Christ is risen! / He is truly risen!". It is a profession of faith and a commitment of life, as it was for the women described in Matthew’s Gospel: "And behold, Jesus met them and said: ‘Hail!’. And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see me’" (28: 9-10).

"The whole Church", the Servant of God Paul VI wrote, "receives the mission to evangelize, and the work of each individual member is important for the whole…. She remains as a sign -- simultaneously obscure and luminous -- of a new presence of Jesus, of his departure and of his permanent presence. She prolongs and continues him" (Apostolic Exhortation "Evangelii Nuntiandi, 8 December 1975, n. 15.

How can we encounter the Lord and increasingly become his authentic witnesses? St Maximus of Turin stated: "Anyone who wishes to reach the Saviour must first, in his own faith, seat him at the right hand of the Divinity, and place him with heartfelt conviction in Heaven" (Sermon 39 a, 3: CCL 23, 157), in other words one must learn to focus the gaze of one’s mind and heart constantly on the heights of God, where the Risen Christ is. In this way God encounters man in prayer and adoration.

The theologian Romano Guardini noted that "adoration is not something additional, something secondary… it is a matter of the utmost importance, of feeling and of being. In adoration man recognizes what is valid in the pure, simple and holy sense" (cf. La Pasqua, Meditazioni, Brescia 1995, 62). Only if we are able to turn to God, to pray him, do we discover the deepest meaning of our life and the daily routine is illumined by the light of the Risen One.

Dear friends, today the Church in both the East and the West is celebrating St. Mark the Evangelist, a wise herald of the Word and a writer of Christ’s teaching -- as he was described in ancient times. He is also Patron of the city of Venice, where, please God, I shall make a Pastoral Visit on 7 and 8 of May. Let us now invoke the Virgin Mary, so that she may help us faithfully and joyfully carry out the mission which the Risen Lord entrusts to each one.

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"Urbi et Orbi" Message
"In Our Hearts There Is Joy and Sorrow, on Our Faces There Are Smiles and Tears" -  Benedict XVI

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 24, 2010 - Here is a Vatican translation of Benedict XVI's Easter message delivered today at midday before he imparted his blessing "urbi et orbi" (to the city of Rome and the world).

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"In resurrectione tua, Christe, coeli et terra laetentur! In your resurrection, O Christ, let heaven and earth rejoice!" (Liturgy of the Hours).

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Rome and across the world,

Easter morning brings us news that is ancient yet ever new: Christ is risen! The echo of this event, which issued forth from Jerusalem twenty centuries ago, continues to resound in the Church, deep in whose heart lives the vibrant faith of Mary, Mother of Jesus, the faith of Mary Magdalene and the other women who first discovered the empty tomb, and the faith of Peter and the other Apostles.

Right down to our own time – even in these days of advanced communications technology – the faith of Christians is based on that same news, on the testimony of those sisters and brothers who saw firstly the stone that had been rolled away from the empty tomb and then the mysterious messengers who testified that Jesus, the Crucified, was risen. And then Jesus himself, the Lord and Master, living and tangible, appeared to Mary Magdalene, to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and finally to all eleven, gathered in the Upper Room (cf. Mk 16:9-14).

The resurrection of Christ is not the fruit of speculation or mystical experience: it is an event which, while it surpasses history, nevertheless happens at a precise moment in history and leaves an indelible mark upon it. The light which dazzled the guards keeping watch over Jesus’ tomb has traversed time and space. It is a different kind of light, a divine light, that has rent asunder the darkness of death and has brought to the world the splendour of God, the splendour of Truth and Goodness.

Just as the sun’s rays in springtime cause the buds on the branches of the trees to sprout and open up, so the radiance that streams forth from Christ’s resurrection gives strength and meaning to every human hope, to every expectation, wish and plan. Hence the entire cosmos is rejoicing today, caught up in the springtime of humanity, which gives voice to creation’s silent hymn of praise. The Easter Alleluia, resounding in the Church as she makes her pilgrim way through the world, expresses the silent exultation of the universe and above all the longing of every human soul that is sincerely open to God, giving thanks to him for his infinite goodness, beauty and truth.

"In your resurrection, O Christ, let heaven and earth rejoice." To this summons to praise, which arises today from the heart of the Church, the "heavens" respond fully: the hosts of angels, saints and blessed souls join with one voice in our exultant song. In heaven all is peace and gladness. But alas, it is not so on earth! Here, in this world of ours, the Easter alleluia still contrasts with the cries and laments that arise from so many painful situations: deprivation, hunger, disease, war, violence. Yet it was for this that Christ died and rose again! He died on account of sin, including ours today, he rose for the redemption of history, including our own. So my message today is intended for everyone, and, as a prophetic proclamation, it is intended especially for peoples and communities who are undergoing a time of suffering, that the Risen Christ may open up for them the path of freedom, justice and peace.

May the Land which was the first to be flooded by the light of the Risen One rejoice. May the splendour of Christ reach the peoples of the Middle East, so that the light of peace and of human dignity may overcome the darkness of division, hate and violence. In the current conflict in Libya, may diplomacy and dialogue take the place of arms and may those who suffer as a result of the conflict be given access to humanitarian aid. In the countries of northern Africa and the Middle East, may all citizens, especially young people, work to promote the common good and to build a society where poverty is defeated and every political choice is inspired by respect for the human person.

May help come from all sides to those fleeing conflict and to refugees from various African countries who have been obliged to leave all that is dear to them; may people of good will open their hearts to welcome them, so that the pressing needs of so many brothers and sisters will be met with a concerted response in a spirit of solidarity; and may our words of comfort and appreciation reach all those who make such generous efforts and offer an exemplary witness in this regard.

May peaceful coexistence be restored among the peoples of Ivory Coast, where there is an urgent need to tread the path of reconciliation and pardon, in order to heal the deep wounds caused by the recent violence. May Japan find consolation and hope as it faces the dramatic consequences of the recent earthquake, along with other countries that in recent months have been tested by natural disasters which have sown pain and anguish.

May heaven and earth rejoice at the witness of those who suffer opposition and even persecution for their faith in Jesus Christ. May the proclamation of his victorious resurrection deepen their courage and trust.

Dear brothers and sisters! The risen Christ is journeying ahead of us towards the new heavens and the new earth (cf. Rev 21:1), in which we shall all finally live as one family, as sons of the same Father. He is with us until the end of time. Let us walk behind him, in this wounded world, singing Alleluia. In our hearts there is joy and sorrow, on our faces there are smiles and tears. Such is our earthly reality. But Christ is risen, he is alive and he walks with us. For this reason we sing and we walk, faithfully carrying out our task in this world with our gaze fixed on heaven.

Happy Easter to all of you!

© Copyright 2011 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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Faith in God Begins With Creation, Says Pope
Delivers Homily at Easter Vigil in St. Peter's

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 23, 2011 - Faith in God and in the events of salvation history must necessarily begin with a belief in God's role as Creator, says Benedict XVI.

In his homily at the Easter Vigil, held tonight in St. Peter's Basilica, the Pope asked, "Is it really important to speak also of creation during the Easter Vigil? Could we not begin with the events in which God calls man, forms a people for himself and creates his history with men upon the earth?"

"The answer has to be no," he stated. "To omit the creation would be to misunderstand the very history of God with men, to diminish it, to lose sight of its true order of greatness."

"The sweep of history established by God reaches back to the origins, back to creation," the Pontiff explained. "Our profession of faith begins with the words: 'We believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.' If we omit the beginning of the Credo, the whole history of salvation becomes too limited and too small."

According to the Holy Father, the central message of the creation account in Scripture was summed up best by St. John in the opening words of his Gospel: "In the beginning was the Word."

"The world is a product of the Word," Benedict XVI stated, "of the Logos, as St. John expresses it. [...] 'Logos' means 'reason,' 'sense,' 'word.' It is not reason pure and simple, but creative Reason, that speaks and communicates itself. It is Reason that both is and creates sense."

"The creation account tells us, then, that the world is a product of creative Reason," he continued. "Hence it tells us that, far from there being an absence of reason and freedom at the origin of all things, the source of everything is creative Reason, love, and freedom."

As a result, the Holy Father explained that the creation account of Scripture and St. John's Gospel affirm "that in the beginning is reason," and that mankind was not the product of random evolution "in the expanding universe, at a late stage, in some tiny corner of the cosmos."

"If man were merely a random product of evolution in some place on the margins of the universe, then his life would make no sense or might even be a chance of nature," he said. "But no, Reason is there at the beginning: creative, divine Reason."

The Pontiff urged the faithful to "place ourselves on the side of reason, freedom and love – on the side of God who loves us so much that he suffered for us, that from his death there might emerge a new, definitive and healed life."

The Easter revolution

Benedict XVI said that the events of Easter fundamentally changed the orientation of the week for early Church. In the Jewish tradition, the week culminates on the seventh day, which is the Sabbath, the day of encounter with God, and a day of rest.

For Christians in the early Church, however, the first day of the week, Sunday, became the day to commemorate the Resurrection, the day that Christ showed himself to his disciples, and the day of the Eucharist.

"The structure of the week is overturned," the Pope noted. "No longer does it point toward the seventh day, as the time to participate in God's rest. It sets out from the first day as the day of encounter with the Risen Lord."

"This change is utterly extraordinary, considering that the Sabbath, the seventh day seen as the day of encounter with God, is so profoundly rooted in the Old Testament," the Pontiff added. "If we also bear in mind how much the movement from work towards the rest-day corresponds to a natural rhythm, the dramatic nature of this change is even more striking."

He stated that the "revolutionary development" of the early Church "can be explained only by the fact that something utterly new happened that day."

On Easter, Benedict XVI said, "the world had changed": "This man who had died was now living with a life that was no longer threatened by any death. A new form of life had been inaugurated, a new dimension of creation."

"The first day, according to the Genesis account, is the day on which creation begins," he said. "Now it was the day of creation in a new way, it had become the day of the new creation."

"We celebrate the first day," the Holy Father said. "And in so doing we celebrate God the Creator and his creation. Yes, we believe in God, the Creator of heaven and earth. And we celebrate the God who was made man, who suffered, died, was buried and rose again.

"We celebrate the definitive victory of the Creator and of his creation. We celebrate this day as the origin and the goal of our existence. We celebrate it because now, thanks to the risen Lord, it is definitively established that reason is stronger than unreason, truth stronger than lies, love stronger than death."

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Benedict XVI's Holy Saturday Homily
"The Church ... Brings Man Into Contact With God"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 23, 2011 - Here is a Vatican translation of Benedict XVI's homily at the Easter Vigil, held tonight in St. Peter's Basilica.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The liturgical celebration of the Easter Vigil makes use of two eloquent signs. First there is the fire that becomes light. As the procession makes its way through the church, shrouded in the darkness of the night, the light of the Paschal Candle becomes a wave of lights, and it speaks to us of Christ as the true morning star that never sets – the Risen Lord in whom light has conquered darkness. The second sign is water. On the one hand, it recalls the waters of the Red Sea, decline and death, the mystery of the Cross. But now it is presented to us as spring water, a life-giving element amid the dryness. Thus it becomes the image of the sacrament of baptism, through which we become sharers in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Yet these great signs of creation, light and water, are not the only constituent elements of the liturgy of the Easter Vigil. Another essential feature is the ample encounter with the words of sacred Scripture that it provides. Before the liturgical reform there were twelve Old Testament readings and two from the New Testament. The New Testament readings have been retained. The number of Old Testament readings has been fixed at seven, but depending upon the local situation, they may be reduced to three. The Church wishes to offer us a panoramic view of whole trajectory of salvation history, starting with creation, passing through the election and the liberation of Israel to the testimony of the prophets by which this entire history is directed ever more clearly towards Jesus Christ. In the liturgical tradition all these readings were called prophecies. Even when they are not directly foretelling future events, they have a prophetic character, they show us the inner foundation and orientation of history. They cause creation and history to become transparent to what is essential. In this way they take us by the hand and lead us towards Christ, they show us the true Light.

At the Easter Vigil, the journey along the paths of sacred Scripture begins with the account of creation. This is the liturgy’s way of telling us that the creation story is itself a prophecy. It is not information about the external processes by which the cosmos and man himself came into being. The Fathers of the Church were well aware of this. They did not interpret the story as an account of the process of the origins of things, but rather as a pointer towards the essential, towards the true beginning and end of our being. Now, one might ask: is it really important to speak also of creation during the Easter Vigil? Could we not begin with the events in which God calls man, forms a people for himself and creates his history with men upon the earth? The answer has to be: no. To omit the creation would be to misunderstand the very history of God with men, to diminish it, to lose sight of its true order of greatness. The sweep of history established by God reaches back to the origins, back to creation. Our profession of faith begins with the words: "We believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth". If we omit the beginning of the Credo, the whole history of salvation becomes too limited and too small. The Church is not some kind of association that concerns itself with man’s religious needs but is limited to that objective. No, she brings man into contact with God and thus with the source of all things.

Therefore we relate to God as Creator, and so we have a responsibility for creation. Our responsibility extends as far as creation because it comes from the Creator. Only because God created everything can he give us life and direct our lives. Life in the Church’s faith involves more than a set of feelings and sentiments and perhaps moral obligations. It embraces man in his entirety, from his origins to his eternal destiny. Only because creation belongs to God can we place ourselves completely in his hands. And only because he is the Creator can he give us life for ever. Joy over creation, thanksgiving for creation and responsibility for it all belong together.

The central message of the creation account can be defined more precisely still. In the opening words of his Gospel, Saint John sums up the essential meaning of that account in this single statement: "In the beginning was the Word". In effect, the creation account that we listened to earlier is characterized by the regularly recurring phrase: "And God said ..." The world is a product of the Word, of the Logos, as Saint John expresses it, using a key term from the Greek language. "Logos" means "reason", "sense", "word". It is not reason pure and simple, but creative Reason, that speaks and communicates itself. It is Reason that both is and creates sense. The creation account tells us, then, that the world is a product of creative Reason. Hence it tells us that, far from there being an absence of reason and freedom at the origin of all things, the source of everything is creative Reason, love, and freedom. Here we are faced with the ultimate alternative that is at stake in the dispute between faith and unbelief: are irrationality, lack of freedom and pure chance the origin of everything, or are reason, freedom and love at the origin of being? Does the primacy belong to unreason or to reason? This is what everything hinges upon in the final analysis.

As believers we answer, with the creation account and with John, that in the beginning is reason. In the beginning is freedom. Hence it is good to be a human person. It is not the case that in the expanding universe, at a late stage, in some tiny corner of the cosmos, there evolved randomly some species of living being capable of reasoning and of trying to find rationality within creation, or to bring rationality into it. If man were merely a random product of evolution in some place on the margins of the universe, then his life would make no sense or might even be a chance of nature. But no, Reason is there at the beginning: creative, divine Reason. And because it is Reason, it also created freedom; and because freedom can be abused, there also exist forces harmful to creation. Hence a thick black line, so to speak, has been drawn across the structure of the universe and across the nature of man. But despite this contradiction, creation itself remains good, life remains good, because at the beginning is good Reason, God’s creative love. Hence the world can be saved. Hence we can and must place ourselves on the side of reason, freedom and love – on the side of God who loves us so much that he suffered for us, that from his death there might emerge a new, definitive and healed life.

The Old Testament account of creation that we listened to clearly indicates this order of realities. But it leads us a further step forward. It has structured the process of creation within the framework of a week leading up to the Sabbath, in which it finds its completion. For Israel, the Sabbath was the day on which all could participate in God’s rest, in which man and animal, master and slave, great and small were united in God’s freedom. Thus the Sabbath was an expression of the Covenant between God and man and creation. In this way, communion between God and man does not appear as something extra, something added later to a world already fully created. The Covenant, communion between God and man, is inbuilt at the deepest level of creation. Yes, the Covenant is the inner ground of creation, just as creation is the external presupposition of the Covenant. God made the world so that there could be a space where he might communicate his love, and from which the response of love might come back to him. From God’s perspective, the heart of the man who responds to him is greater and more important than the whole immense material cosmos, for all that the latter allows us to glimpse something of God’s grandeur.

Easter and the paschal experience of Christians, however, now require us to take a further step. The Sabbath is the seventh day of the week. After six days in which man in some sense participates in God’s work of creation, the Sabbath is the day of rest. But something quite unprecedented happened in the nascent Church: the place of the Sabbath, the seventh day, was taken by the first day. As the day of the liturgical assembly, it is the day for encounter with God through Jesus Christ who as the Risen Lord encountered his followers on the first day, Sunday, after they had found the tomb empty. The structure of the week is overturned. No longer does it point towards the seventh day, as the time to participate in God’s rest. It sets out from the first day as the day of encounter with the Risen Lord. This encounter happens afresh at every celebration of the Eucharist, when the Lord enters anew into the midst of his disciples and gives himself to them, allows himself, so to speak, to be touched by them, sits down at table with them. This change is utterly extraordinary, considering that the Sabbath, the seventh day seen as the day of encounter with God, is so profoundly rooted in the Old Testament. If we also bear in mind how much the movement from work towards the rest-day corresponds to a natural rhythm, the dramatic nature of this change is even more striking. This revolutionary development that occurred at the very the beginning of the Church’s history can be explained only by the fact that something utterly new happened that day. The first day of the week was the third day after Jesus’ death. It was the day when he showed himself to his disciples as the Risen Lord. In truth, this encounter had something unsettling about it. The world had changed. This man who had died was now living with a life that was no longer threatened by any death. A new form of life had been inaugurated, a new dimension of creation. The first day, according to the Genesis account, is the day on which creation begins. Now it was the day of creation in a new way, it had become the day of the new creation.

We celebrate the first day. And in so doing we celebrate God the Creator and his creation. Yes, we believe in God, the Creator of heaven and earth. And we celebrate the God who was made man, who suffered, died, was buried and rose again. We celebrate the definitive victory of the Creator and of his creation. We celebrate this day as the origin and the goal of our existence. We celebrate it because now, thanks to the risen Lord, it is definitively established that reason is stronger than unreason, truth stronger than lies, love stronger than death. We celebrate the first day because we know that the black line drawn across creation does not last forever. We celebrate it because we know that those words from the end of the creation account have now been definitively fulfilled: "God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good" (Gen 1:31). Amen.

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Pope's Words At Conclusion of Good Friday Via Crucis
"Tonight We Have Relived, Deep Within Our Hearts, the Drama of Jesus"

ROME, APRIL 22, 2011 - Here is a Vatican translation of the address delivered today by Benedict XVI after the Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This evening, in faith, we have accompanied Jesus as he takes the final steps of his earthly journey, the most painful steps, the steps that lead to Calvary. We have heard the cries of the crowd, the words of condemnation, the insults of the soldiers, the lamentation of the Virgin Mary and of the women. Now we are immersed in the silence of this night, in the silence of the cross, the silence of death. It is a silence pregnant with the burden of pain borne by a man rejected, oppressed, downtrodden, the burden of sin that mars his face, the burden of evil. Tonight we have relived, deep within our hearts, the drama of Jesus, weighed down by pain, by evil, by human sin.

What remains now before our eyes? It is a crucified man, a cross raised on Golgotha, a cross which seems a sign of the final defeat of the One who brought light to those immersed in darkness, the One who spoke of the power of forgiveness and of mercy, the One who asked us to believe in God’s infinite love for each human person. Despised and rejected by men, there stands before us "a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity, one from whom others hide their faces" (Is 53:3).

But let us look more closely at that man crucified between earth and heaven. Let us contemplate him more intently, and we will realize that the cross is not the banner of the victory of death, sin and evil, but rather the luminous sign of love, of God's immense love, of something that we could never have asked, imagined or expected: God bent down over us, he lowered himself, even to the darkest corner of our lives, in order to stretch out his hand and draw us to himself, to bring us all the way to himself. The cross speaks to us of the supreme love of God and invites, today, to renew our faith in the power of that love, and to believe that in every situation of our lives, our history and our world, God is able to vanquish death, sin and evil, and to give us new, risen life. In the Son of God’s death on the cross, we find the seed of new hope for life, like the seed which dies within the earth.

This night full of silence, full of hope, echoes God’s call to us as found in the words of Saint Augustine: “Have faith! You will come to me and you will taste the good things of my table, even as I did not disdain to taste the evil things of your table... I have promised you my own life. As a pledge of this, I have given you my death, as if to say: Look! I am inviting you to share in my life. It is a life where no one dies, a life which is truly blessed, which offers an incorruptible food, the food which refreshes and never fails. The goal to which I invite you … is friendship with the Father and the Holy Spirit, it is the eternal supper, it is communion with me … It is a share in my own life (cf. Sermon 231, 5).

Let us gaze on the crucified Jesus, and let us ask in prayer: Enlighten our hearts, Lord, that we may follow you along the way of the cross. Put to death in us the "old man" bound by selfishness, evil and sin. Make us "new men", men and women of holiness, transformed and enlivened by your love.

© Copyright 2011 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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Benedict XVI's Chrism Mass Homily
"It Is Not Only We Who Seek God: God Himself Is Searching for Us"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 21, 2011 - Here is a Vatican translation of the homily Benedict XVI delivered today at the Chrism Mass held at St. Peter's Basilica.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

At the heart of this morning’s liturgy is the blessing of the holy oils – the oil for anointing catechumens, the oil for anointing the sick, and the chrism for the great sacraments that confer the Holy Spirit: confirmation, priestly ordination, episcopal ordination. In the sacraments the Lord touches us through the elements of creation. The unity between creation and redemption is made visible. The sacraments are an expression of the physicality of our faith, which embraces the whole person, body and soul. Bread and wine are fruits of the earth and work of human hands. The Lord chose them to be bearers of his presence. Oil is the symbol of the Holy Spirit and at the same time it points us towards Christ: the word "Christ" (Messiah) means "the anointed one".

The humanity of Jesus, by virtue of the Son’s union with the Father, is brought into communion with the Holy Spirit and is thus "anointed" in a unique way, penetrated by the Holy Spirit. What happened symbolically to the kings and priests of the Old Testament when they were instituted into their ministry by the anointing with oil, takes place in Jesus in all its reality: his humanity is penetrated by the power of the Holy Spirit. He opens our humanity for the gift of the Holy Spirit. The more we are united to Christ, the more we are filled with his Spirit, with the Holy Spirit. We are called "Christians": "anointed ones" – people who belong to Christ and hence have a share in his anointing, being touched by his Spirit. I wish not merely to be called Christian, but also to be Christian, said Saint Ignatius of Antioch. Let us allow these holy oils, which are consecrated at this time, to remind us of the task that is implicit in the word "Christian", let us pray that, increasingly, we may not only be called Christian but may actually be such.

In today’s liturgy, three oils are blessed, as I mentioned earlier. They express three essential dimensions of the Christian life on which we may now reflect. First, there is the oil of catechumens. This oil indicates a first way of being touched by Christ and by his Spirit – an inner touch, by which the Lord draws people close to himself. Through this first anointing, which takes place even prior to baptism, our gaze is turned towards people who are journeying towards Christ – people who are searching for faith, searching for God. The oil of catechumens tells us that it is not only we who seek God: God himself is searching for us. The fact that he himself was made man and came down into the depths of human existence, even into the darkness of death, shows us how much God loves his creature, man. Driven by love, God has set out towards us. "Seeking me, you sat down weary ... let such labour not be in vain!", we pray in the Dies Irae. God is searching for me. Do I want to recognize him? Do I want to be known by him, found by him? God loves us. He comes to meet the unrest of our hearts, the unrest of our questioning and seeking, with the unrest of his own heart, which leads him to accomplish the ultimate for us. That restlessness for God, that journeying towards him, so as to know and love him better, must not be extinguished in us. In this sense we should always remain catechumens. "Constantly seek his face", says one of the Psalms (105:4). Saint Augustine comments as follows: God is so great as to surpass infinitely all our knowing and all our being. Knowledge of God is never exhausted. For all eternity, with ever increasing joy, we can always continue to seek him, so as to know him and love him more and more. "Our heart is restless until it rests in you", said Saint Augustine at the beginning of his Confessions. Yes, man is restless, because whatever is finite is too little. But are we truly restless for him? Have we perhaps become resigned to his absence, do we not seek to be self-sufficient? Let us not allow our humanity to be diminished in this way! Let us remain constantly on a journey towards him, longing for him, always open to receive new knowledge and love!

Then there is the oil for anointing the sick. Arrayed before us is a host of suffering people: those who hunger and thirst, victims of violence in every continent, the sick with all their sufferings, their hopes and their moments without hope, the persecuted, the downtrodden, the broken-hearted. Regarding the first mission on which Jesus sent the disciples, Saint Luke tells us: "he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal" (9:2). Healing is one of the fundamental tasks entrusted by Jesus to the Church, following the example that he gave as he travelled throughout the land healing the sick. To be sure, the Church’s principal task is to proclaim the Kingdom of God. But this very proclamation must be a process of healing: "bind up the broken-hearted", we heard in today’s first reading from the prophet Isaiah (61:1). The proclamation of God’s Kingdom, of God’s unlimited goodness, must first of all bring healing to broken hearts.

By nature, man is a being in relation. But if the fundamental relationship, the relationship with God, is disturbed, then all the rest is disturbed as well. If our relationship with God is disturbed, if the fundamental orientation of our being is awry, we cannot truly be healed in body and soul. For this reason, the first and fundamental healing takes place in our encounter with Christ who reconciles us to God and mends our broken hearts. But over and above this central task, the Church’s essential mission also includes the specific healing of sickness and suffering. The oil for anointing the sick is the visible sacramental expression of this mission. Since apostolic times, the healing vocation has matured in the Church, and so too has loving solicitude for those who are distressed in body and soul. This is also the occasion to say thank you to those sisters and brothers throughout the world who bring healing and love to the sick, irrespective of their status or religious affiliation. From Elizabeth of Hungary, Vincent de Paul, Louise de Marillac, Camillus of Lellis to Mother Teresa – to recall but a few names – we see, lighting up the world, a radiant procession of helpers streaming forth from God’s love for the suffering and the sick. For this we thank the Lord at this moment. For this we thank all those who, by virtue of their faith and love, place themselves alongside the suffering, thereby bearing definitive witness to the goodness of God himself. The oil for anointing the sick is a sign of this oil of the goodness of heart that these people bring – together with their professional competence – to the suffering. Even without speaking of Christ, they make him manifest.

In third place, finally, is the most noble of the ecclesial oils, the chrism, a mixture of olive oil and aromatic vegetable oils. It is the oil used for anointing priests and kings, in continuity with the great Old Testament traditions of anointing. In the Church this oil serves chiefly for the anointing of confirmation and ordination. Today’s liturgy links this oil with the promise of the prophet Isaiah: "You shall be called the priests of the Lord, men shall speak of you as the ministers of our God" (61:6). The prophet makes reference here to the momentous words of commission and promise that God had addressed to Israel on Sinai: "You shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Ex 19:6). In and for the vast world, which was largely ignorant of God, Israel had to be as it were a shrine of God for all peoples, exercising a priestly function vis-à-vis the world. It had to bring the world to God, to open it up to him. In his great baptismal catechesis, Saint Peter applied this privilege and this commission of Israel to the entire community of the baptized, proclaiming: "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. Once you were no people but now you are God’s people" (1 Pet 2:9f.) Baptism and confirmation are an initiation into this people of God that spans the world; the anointing that takes place in baptism and confirmation is an anointing that confers this priestly ministry towards mankind. Christians are a priestly people for the world. Christians should make the living God visible to the world, they should bear witness to him and lead people towards him. When we speak of this task in which we share by virtue of our baptism, it is no reason to boast. It poses a question to us that makes us both joyful and anxious: are we truly God’s shrine in and for the world? Do we open up the pathway to God for others or do we rather conceal it? Have not we – the people of God – become to a large extent a people of unbelief and distance from God? Is it perhaps the case that the West, the heartlands of Christianity, are tired of their faith, bored by their history and culture, and no longer wish to know faith in Jesus Christ? We have reason to cry out at this time to God: "Do not allow us to become a ‘non-people’! Make us recognize you again! Truly, you have anointed us with your love, you have poured out your Holy Spirit upon us. Grant that the power of your Spirit may become newly effective in us, so that we may bear joyful witness to your message!

For all the shame we feel over our failings, we must not forget that today too there are radiant examples of faith, people who give hope to the world through their faith and love. When Pope John Paul II is beatified on 1 May, we shall think of him, with hearts full of thankfulness, as a great witness to God and to Jesus Christ in our day, as a man filled with the Holy Spirit. Alongside him, we think of the many people he beatified and canonized, who give us the certainty that even today God’s promise and commission do not fall on deaf ears.

I turn finally to you, dear brothers in the priestly ministry. Holy Thursday is in a special way our day. At the hour of the last Supper, the Lord instituted the new Testament priesthood. "Sanctify them in the truth" (Jn 17:17), he prayed to the Father, for the Apostles and for priests of all times. With great gratitude for the vocation and with humility for all our shortcomings, we renew at this hour our "yes" to the Lord’s call: yes, I want to be intimately united to the Lord Jesus, in self-denial, driven on by the love of Christ. Amen.

© Copyright 2011 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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Papal Homily at Last Supper Mass
"At His Final Meal, More Than Anything Else, Jesus Prayed"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 21, 2011 - Here is a Vatican translation of Benedict XVI's homily at the Mass of the Lord's Supper, held today at the Basilica of St. John Lateran.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

“I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Lk 22:15). With these words Jesus began the celebration of his final meal and the institution of the Holy Eucharist. Jesus approached that hour with eager desire. In his heart he awaited the moment when he would give himself to his own under the appearance of bread and wine. He awaited that moment which would in some sense be the true messianic wedding feast: when he would transform the gifts of this world and become one with his own, so as to transform them and thus inaugurate the transformation of the world. In this eager desire of Jesus we can recognize the desire of God himself – his expectant love for mankind, for his creation. A love which awaits the moment of union, a love which wants to draw mankind to itself and thereby fulfil the desire of all creation, for creation eagerly awaits the revelation of the children of God (cf.Rom 8:19). Jesus desires us, he awaits us. But what about ourselves? Do we really desire him? Are we anxious to meet him? Do we desire to encounter him, to become one with him, to receive the gifts he offers us in the Holy Eucharist? Or are we indifferent, distracted, busy about other things?

From Jesus’ banquet parables we realize that he knows all about empty places at table, invitations refused, lack of interest in him and his closeness. For us, the empty places at the table of the Lord’s wedding feast, whether excusable or not, are no longer a parable but a reality, in those very countries to which he had revealed his closeness in a special way. Jesus also knew about guests who come to the banquet without being robed in the wedding garment – they come not to rejoice in his presence but merely out of habit, since their hearts are elsewhere. In one of his homilies Saint Gregory the Great asks: Who are these people who enter without the wedding garment? What is this garment and how does one acquire it? He replies that those who are invited and enter do in some way have faith. It is faith which opens the door to them. But they lack the wedding garment of love. Those who do not live their faith as love are not ready for the banquet and are cast out. Eucharistic communion requires faith, but faith requires love; otherwise, even as faith, it is dead.

From all four Gospels we know that Jesus’ final meal before his passion was also a teaching moment. Once again, Jesus urgently set forth the heart of his message. Word and sacrament, message and gift are inseparably linked. Yet at his final meal, more than anything else, Jesus prayed. Matthew, Mark and Luke use two words in describing Jesus’ prayer at the culmination of the meal: “eucharístesas” and “eulógesas” – the verbs “to give thanks” and “to bless”. The upward movement of thanking and the downward movement of blessing go together. The words of transubstantiation are part of this prayer of Jesus. They are themselves words of prayer. Jesus turns his suffering into prayer, into an offering to the Father for the sake of mankind. This transformation of his suffering into love has the power to transform the gifts in which he now gives himself. He gives those gifts to us, so that we, and our world, may be transformed. The ultimate purpose of Eucharistic transformation is our own transformation in communion with Christ. The Eucharist is directed to the new man, the new world, which can only come about from God, through the ministry of God’s Servant.

From Luke, and especially from John, we know that Jesus, during the Last Supper, also prayed to the Father – prayers which also contain a plea to his disciples of that time and of all times. Here I would simply like to take one of these which, as John tells us, Jesus repeated four times in his Priestly Prayer. How deeply it must have concerned him! It remains his constant prayer to the Father on our behalf: the prayer for unity. Jesus explicitly states that this prayer is not meant simply for the disciples then present, but for all who would believe in him (cf. Jn 17:20). He prays that all may be one “as you, Father, are in me and I am in you, so that the world may believe” (Jn 17:21). Christian unity can exist only if Christians are deeply united to him, to Jesus. Faith and love for Jesus, faith in his being one with the Father and openness to becoming one with him, are essential. This unity, then, is not something purely interior or mystical. It must become visible, so visible as to prove before the world that Jesus was sent by the Father. Consequently, Jesus’ prayer has an underlying Eucharistic meaning which Paul clearly brings out in the First Letter to the Corinthians: “The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor 10:16ff.).

With the Eucharist, the Church is born. All of us eat the one bread and receive the one body of the Lord; this means that he opens each of us up to something above and beyond us. He makes all of us one. The Eucharist is the mystery of the profound closeness and communion of each individual with the Lord and, at the same time, of visible union between all. The Eucharist is the sacrament of unity. It reaches the very mystery of the Trinity and thus creates visible unity. Let me say it again: it is an extremely personal encounter with the Lord and yet never simply an act of individual piety. Of necessity, we celebrate it together. In each community the Lord is totally present. Yet in all the communities he is but one. Hence the words “una cum Papa nostro et cum episcopo nostro” are a requisite part of the Church’s Eucharistic Prayer. These words are not an addendum of sorts, but a necessary expression of what the Eucharist really is. Furthermore, we mention the Pope and the Bishop by name: unity is something utterly concrete, it has names. In this way unity becomes visible; it becomes a sign for the world and a concrete criterion for ourselves.

Saint Luke has preserved for us one concrete element of Jesus’ prayer for unity: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren” (Lk 22:31). Today we are once more painfully aware that Satan has been permitted to sift the disciples before the whole world. And we know that Jesus prays for the faith of Peter and his successors. We know that Peter, who walks towards the Lord upon the stormy waters of history and is in danger of sinking, is sustained ever anew by the Lord’s hand and guided over the waves. But Jesus continues with a prediction and a mandate. “When you have turned again…”. Every human being, save Mary, has constant need of conversion. Jesus tells Peter beforehand of his coming betrayal and conversion.

But what did Peter need to be converted from? When first called, terrified by the Lord’s divine power and his own weakness, Peter had said: “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (Lk 5:8). In the light of the Lord, he recognizes his own inadequacy. Precisely in this way, in the humility of one who knows that he is a sinner, is he called. He must discover this humility ever anew. At Caesarea Philippi Peter could not accept that Jesus would have to suffer and be crucified: it did not fit his image of God and the Messiah. In the Upper Room he did not want Jesus to wash his feet: it did not fit his image of the dignity of the Master. In the Garden of Olives he wielded his sword. He wanted to show his courage. Yet before the servant girl he declared that he did not know Jesus. At the time he considered it a little lie which would let him stay close to Jesus. All his heroism collapsed in a shabby bid to be at the centre of things. We too, all of us, need to learn again to accept God and Jesus Christ as he is, and not the way we want him to be. We too find it hard to accept that he bound himself to the limitations of his Church and her ministers. We too do not want to accept that he is powerless in this world. We too find excuses when being his disciples starts becoming too costly, too dangerous. All of us need the conversion which enables us to accept Jesus in his reality as God and man. We need the humility of the disciple who follows the will of his Master. Tonight we want to ask Jesus to look to us, as with kindly eyes he looked to Peter when the time was right, and to convert us.

After Peter was converted, he was called to strengthen his brethren. It is not irrelevant that this task was entrusted to him in the Upper Room. The ministry of unity has its visible place in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. Dear friends, it is a great consolation for the Pope to know that at each Eucharistic celebration everyone prays for him, and that our prayer is joined to the Lord’s prayer for Peter. Only by the prayer of the Lord and of the Church can the Pope fulfil his task of strengthening his brethren – of feeding the flock of Christ and of becoming the guarantor of that unity which becomes a visible witness to the mission which Jesus received from the Father.

“I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you”. Lord, you desire us, you desire me. You eagerly desire to share yourself with us in the Holy Eucharist, to be one with us. Lord, awaken in us the desire for you. Strengthen us in unity with you and with one another. Grant unity to your Church, so that the world may believe. Amen.

© Copyright 2011 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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On the Triduum
"I Invite You to Seek in These Days Recollection and Prayer"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 20, 2011 - Here is a translation of the Italian-language catechesis Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience held in St. Peter's Square. The Pope focused his address on the meaning of the Easter Triduum, the culmination of the Lenten journey.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We have already arrived at the heart of Holy Week, the fulfillment of the Lenten journey. Tomorrow we will enter the Easter Triduum, the three holy days in which the Church commemorates the mystery of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. After being made man in obedience to the Father, the Son of God, being in everything like us except for sin (cf. Hebrews 4:15), accepted fulfilling his will to the end, to face for love of us his Passion and Cross, to make us sharers in his Resurrection, so that in him and through him we can live forever, in consolation and peace. Hence, I exhort you to receive this mystery of salvation, to take part intensely in the Easter Triduum, the culmination of the whole liturgical year and a moment of particular grace for every Christian. I invite you to seek in these days recollection and prayer, to be able to accede more profoundly to this source of grace. In connection with this, given the imminent festivities, every Christian is invited to celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation, a moment of special adherence to the death and resurrection of Christ, to be able to participate with greater fruitfulness in Holy Easter.

Maundy Thursday is the day in which we recall the institution of the Eucharist and the ministerial priesthood. In the morning, each diocesan community, gathered in the cathedral church around the bishop, will celebrate the Chrism Mass in which the sacred chrism, the oil of the catechumens, and the oil of the sick are blessed. Beginning with the Easter Triduum and during the whole liturgical year, these oils will be used for the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and priestly and episcopal ordination and the anointing of the sick; in this is manifested how salvation, transmitted by the sacramental signs, springs precisely from the paschal mystery of Christ. In fact, we are redeemed by his death and resurrection and, through the sacraments, we go to that same salvific source. During the Chrism Mass tomorrow, the renewal of priestly promises takes place. Throughout the world, every priest renews the commitments he assumed on the day of ordination, to be totally consecrated to Christ in the exercise of the sacred ministry at the service of his brothers. Let us support our priests with our prayer.

On the afternoon of Maundy Thursday the Easter Triduum effectively begins, with the remembrance of the Last Supper, in which Jesus instituted the Memorial of his Pasch, fulfilling the Jewish paschal rite. According to tradition, every Jewish family, gathered at table on the feast of Passover eats the roasted lamb, recalling the Israelites' deliverance from the slavery of Egypt; thus in the Cenacle, conscious of his imminent death, Jesus, the true paschal Lamb, offered himself for our salvation (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:7). Pronouncing the blessing over the bread and wine, he anticipated the sacrifice of the cross and manifested the intention of perpetuating his presence amid the disciples: Under the species of bread and wine he makes himself present in a real way with his body given and his blood shed. During the Last Supper, the apostles were constituted ministers of this sacrament of salvation. Jesus washed their feet (cf. John 13:1-25), inviting them to love one another as he loved them, giving his life for them. Repeating this gesture in the liturgy, we are also called to give witness with the deeds of our Redeemer.

Maundy Thursday, finally, is closed with Eucharistic Adoration, in memory of the Lord's agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. Leaving the Cenacle, he withdrew to pray, alone, in the presence of his Father. At that moment of profound communion, the Gospels recount that Jesus experienced great anguish, such suffering that he sweat blood (cf. Matthew 26:38). Conscious of his imminent death on the cross, he felt great anguish and the closeness of death. In this situation an element is seen that is of great importance also for the whole Church. Jesus said to his own: Stay here and watch; and this call to vigilance refers in a precise way to this moment of anguish, of menace, in which the betrayer arrives, but it concerns the whole history of the Church. It is a permanent message for all times, because the somnolence of the disciples was not only the problem of that moment, but is the problem of the whole of history.

The question is what this somnolence consists of, and what is the vigilance to which the Lord invites us. I would say that the disciples' somnolence in the course of history is a certain insensitivity of soul to the power of evil, an insensitivity to all the evil of the world. We do not want to let ourselves be too disturbed by these things, we want to forget them: We think that perhaps it is not so grave, and we forget. And it is not only insensitivity to evil; instead, we should be watching to do good, to struggle for the force of good. It is insensitivity to God -- this is our real somnolence: this insensitivity to the presence of God that makes us insensitive also to evil. We do not listen to God -- it would bother us -- and so we do not listen, of course, to the force of evil either, and we stay on the path of our comfort.

The nocturnal adoration on Maundy Thursday, our being vigilant with the Lord, should be precisely the moment to make us reflect on the somnolence of the disciples, of Jesus' defenders, of the apostles, of ourselves, who do not see, we do not want to see all the force of evil, and we do not want to enter into his passion for the good, for the presence of God in the world, for the love of neighbor and of God.

Then the Lord began to pray. The three apostles -- Peter, James and John -- slept, but then they woke up and heard the phrase of this prayer of the Lord: "Not my will but thine be done." What is this will of mine, what is this will of yours, of which the Lord speaks? My will is that I "should not die," that he be spared this chalice of suffering: It is the human will, of human nature, and Christ feels, with all the consciousness of his being, life, the abyss of death, the terror of nothingness, this menace of suffering.

And he more than us, who have this natural aversion to death, this natural fear of death, even more than us, he felt the abyss of evil. He also felt, with death, all the suffering of humanity. He felt that all this was the chalice he must drink, that he must make himself drink, accept the evil of the world, everything that is terrible, the aversion to God, the whole of sin. And we can understand that Jesus, with his human soul, was terrified before this reality, which he perceived in all its cruelty: My will would be not to drink the chalice, but my will is subordinated to your will, to the will of God, to the will of the Father, which is also the real will of the Son. And thus Jesus transformed, in this prayer, the natural aversion, the aversion to the chalice, to his mission to die for us. He transformed this natural will of his into the will of God, in a "yes" to the will of God.

On his own man is tempted to oppose the will of God, to have the intention to follow his own will, to feel free only if he is autonomous; he opposes his own autonomy against the heteronomy of following the will of God. This is the whole drama of humanity. But in truth this autonomy is erroneous and this entering into God's will is not an opposition to oneself, it is not a slavery that violates my will, but it is to enter into truth and love, into the good. And Jesus attracts our will, which is opposed to the will of God, which seeks its autonomy. He attracts this will of ours on high, to the will of God. This is the drama of our redemption, that Jesus attracts our will on high, all our aversion to the will of God and our aversion to death and sin, and unites it to the will of the Father: "Not my will but thine be done." In this transformation of the "no" into "yes," in this insertion of the will of the creature in the will of the Father, he transforms humanity and redeems us. And he invites us to enter into this movement of his: To come out of our "no" and enter into the "yes" of the Son. My will exists, but the decisive will is the will of the Father, because the will of the Father is truth and love.

A further element of this prayer seems important to me. The three witnesses have kept -- as it appears in sacred Scripture -- the Hebrew or Aramaic word with which the Lord spoke to the Father, he called him: "Abba," father. But this formula, "Abba," is a familiar form of the term father, a form that is used only in the family, which has never been used toward God. Here we see in the intimacy of Jesus how he speaks in the family, he speaks truly as Son with his Father. We see the Trinitarian mystery: The Son who speaks with the Father and redeems humanity.

One more observation. The Letter to the Hebrews gives us a profound interpretation of this prayer of the Lord, of this drama of Gethsemane. It says: these tears of Jesus, this prayer, these cries of Jesus, this anguish -- is not all this simply a concession to the weakness of the flesh, as could be said. But precisely in this way he realizes the task of High Priest, because the High Priest must lead the human being, with all his problems and sufferings, to the height of God. And the Letter to the Hebrews says: with all these cries, tears, sufferings, prayers, the Lord took our reality to God (cf. Hebrews 5:7ff). And it uses this Greek word "prosferein," which is the technical term for what the High Priest must do to offer, to raise his hand on high. Precisely in this drama of Gethsemane, where it seems that God's strength is no longer present, Jesus realizes the function of High Priest. And it says, moreover, that in this act of obedience, namely, of conformity of the natural human will to the will of God, he is perfected as priest. And it uses again the technical word to ordain a priest. Precisely in this way he becomes the High Priest of humanity and thus opens heaven and the door to resurrection.

If we reflect on this drama of Gethsemane, we can also see the great contrast between Jesus, with his anguish, with his suffering, in comparison with the great philosopher Socrates, who remains peaceful, imperturbable in the face of death. And this seems to be the ideal. We can admire this philosopher, but Jesus' mission is another. His mission was not this total indifference and liberty; his mission was to bear in himself all the suffering, all the human drama. And because of this, precisely this humiliation of Gethsemane is essential for the mission of the Man-God. He bears in himself our suffering, our poverty and transforms them according to the will of God. And thus opens the doors of heaven, he opens heaven: This curtain of the Most Holy, which up to now man closed against God, is opened by his suffering and obedience. These are some observations for Maundy Thursday, for our celebration of the night of Maundy Thursday.

On Good Friday we will recall the passion and death of the Lord; we will adore Christ Crucified, we will share in his sufferings with penance and fasting. Looking "on him whom they have pierced" (cf. John 19:37), we will be able to drink from his broken heart that gushes blood and water as a fountain; of that heart from which springs the love of God for every man, we receive his Spirit. Hence, on Good Friday we will also accompany Jesus as he goes up to Calvary; let us be guided by him to the cross, let us receive the offering of his immaculate body.

Finally, on the night of Holy Saturday, we will celebrate the Easter Vigil, in which the resurrection of Christ will be proclaimed to us, his definitive victory over death which calls us to be, in him, new men. Participating in this holy vigil, the central night of the whole liturgical year, we will recall our baptism, in which we were buried with Christ, to be able to resurrect with him and take part in the banquet of heaven (cf. Revelation 19:7-9).

Dear friends, we have tried to understand the state of spirit with which Jesus lived the moment of extreme trial, to understand what guided his action. The criterion that guided all of Jesus' choices during his whole life was the firm will to love the Father, to be one with the Father, and to be faithful to him. This decision to correspond to his love impelled him to embrace the Father's plan in every circumstance, to make his own the design of love that was entrusted to him to recapitulate everything in him, to lead everything back to him.

On reliving the Holy Triduum, let us dispose ourselves to receive also in our lives the will of God, conscious that in the will of God, though it seems hard, in contrast to our intentions, is found our true good, the path of life.

May the Virgin Mother guide us on this journey and obtain for us from her divine Son the grace to be able to use our life for love of Jesus at the service of brothers. Thank you.


[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Tomorrow marks the beginning of the Easter Triduum, the three days in which the Church commemorates the mystery of the Lord's passion, death and resurrection. The liturgies of these days invite us to ponder the loving obedience of Christ who, having become like us in all things but sin, resisted temptation and freely surrendered himself to the Father's will. Tomorrow, at the Chrism Mass, priests renew their ordination promises, the sacred oils are blessed, and we celebrate the grace of the crucified and risen Lord which comes to us through the Church's sacramental life. On the evening of Holy Thursday, the Mass of the Lord's Supper begins the actual Triduum and recalls the institution of the sacraments of the Eucharist and Holy Orders. The Liturgy of Good Friday invites us to share in Christ's sufferings through penance and fasting, and to receive the gift of God's love flowing from the Lord's pierced Heart. The Easter Vigil joyfully proclaims Christ's resurrection from the dead and the new life received in Baptism. By our prayers and our sharing in these liturgies, let us resolve to imitate Christ's loving obedience to the Father's saving plan, which is the source of authentic freedom and the path of eternal life.

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On Christ's Triumphant Entry Into Jerusalem
Mary's "Heart, Like That of the Son, Was Ready for Sacrifice"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 17, 2011 - After celebrating Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter's Square today, Benedict XVI greeted the crowds in several languages before praying the traditional midday Angelus.

In English, he said:

I welcome all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors here in Rome this Palm Sunday, as the whole Church sings "Hosanna" to the Son of David, commemorating Our Lord’s solemn entry into Jerusalem in the days leading up to his passion and death. In a special way I greet all the young people present and I look forward to celebrating World Youth Day in Madrid this summer with many thousands of others from around the world.

Concluding his greetings in Italian, he said:

And now we turn in prayer to Mary, asking her to help us to Holy Week with intense faith. Understanding the prophecies, Mary too exulted in the spirit when Jesus entered Jerusalem in royal procession; but her heart, like that of the Son, was ready for sacrifice. Let us learn from her, the faithful Virgin, to follow the Lord even when his way leads to the cross.

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Pope's Palm Sunday Homily
To the "Heights of God" He "Wanted to Lift Every Human Being"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 17, 2011 - Here is a Vatican translation of the homily Benedict XVI gave today when he celebrated Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter's Square.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Dear young people!

It is a moving experience each year on Palm Sunday as we go up the mountain with Jesus, towards the Temple, accompanying him on his ascent. On this day, throughout the world and across the centuries, young people and people of every age acclaim him, crying out: "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"

But what are we really doing when we join this procession as part of the throng which went up with Jesus to Jerusalem and hailed him as King of Israel? Is this anything more than a ritual, a quaint custom? Does it have anything to do with the reality of our life and our world? To answer this, we must first be clear about what Jesus himself wished to do and actually did. After Peter's confession of faith in Caesarea Philippi, in the northernmost part of the Holy Land, Jesus set out as a pilgrim towards Jerusalem for the feast of Passover. He was journeying towards the Temple in the Holy City, towards that place which for Israel ensured in a particular way God's closeness to his people. He was making his way towards the common feast of Passover, the memorial of Israel's liberation from Egypt and the sign of its hope of definitive liberation. He knew that what awaited him was a new Passover and that he himself would take the place of the sacrificial lambs by offering himself on the cross. He knew that in the mysterious gifts of bread and wine he would give himself for ever to his own, and that he would open to them the door to a new path of liberation, to fellowship with the living God. He was making his way to the heights of the Cross, to the moment of self-giving love. The ultimate goal of his pilgrimage was the heights of God himself; to those heights he wanted to lift every human being.

Our procession today is meant, then, to be an image of something deeper, to reflect the fact that, together with Jesus, we are setting out on pilgrimage along the high road that leads to the living God. This is the ascent that matters. This is the journey which Jesus invites us to make. But how can we keep pace with this ascent? Isn't it beyond our ability? Certainly, it is beyond our own possibilities. From the beginning men and women have been filled - and this is as true today as ever - with a desire to "be like God", to attain the heights of God by their own powers. All the inventions of the human spirit are ultimately an effort to gain wings so as to rise to the heights of Being and to become independent, completely free, as God is free. Mankind has managed to accomplish so many things: we can fly! We can see, hear and speak to one another from the farthest ends of the earth. And yet the force of gravity which draws us down is powerful. With the increase of our abilities there has been an increase not only of good. Our possibilities for evil have increased and appear like menacing storms above history. Our limitations have also remained: we need but think of the disasters which have caused so much suffering for humanity in recent months.

The Fathers of the Church maintained that human beings stand at the point of intersection between two gravitational fields. First, there is the force of gravity which pulls us down - towards selfishness, falsehood and evil; the gravity which diminishes us and distances us from the heights of God. On the other hand there is the gravitational force of God's love: the fact that we are loved by God and respond in love attracts us upwards. Man finds himself betwixt this twofold gravitational force; everything depends on our escaping the gravitational field of evil and becoming free to be attracted completely by the gravitational force of God, which makes us authentic, elevates us and grants us true freedom.

Following the Liturgy of the Word, at the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer where the Lord comes into our midst, the Church invites us to lift up our hearts: "Sursum corda!" In the language of the Bible and the thinking of the Fathers, the heart is the centre of man, where understanding, will and feeling, body and soul, all come together. The centre where spirit becomes body and body becomes spirit, where will, feeling and understanding become one in the knowledge and love of God. This is the "heart" which must be lifted up. But to repeat: of ourselves, we are too weak to lift up our hearts to the heights of God. We cannot do it. The very pride of thinking that we are able to do it on our own drags us down and estranges us from God. God himself must draw us up, and this is what Christ began to do on the cross. He descended to the depths of our human existence in order to draw us up to himself, to the living God. He humbled himself, as today's second reading says. Only in this way could our pride be vanquished: God's humility is the extreme form of his love, and this humble love draws us upwards.

Psalm 24, which the Church proposes as the "song of ascent" to accompany our procession in today's liturgy, indicates some concrete elements which are part of our ascent and without which we cannot be lifted upwards: clean hands, a pure heart, the rejection of falsehood, the quest for God's face. The great achievements of technology are liberating and contribute to the progress of mankind only if they are joined to these attitudes - if our hands become clean and our hearts pure, if we seek truth, if we seek God and let ourselves be touched and challenged by his love. All these means of "ascent" are effective only if we humbly acknowledge that we need to be lifted up; if we abandon the pride of wanting to become God. We need God: he draws us upwards; letting ourselves be upheld by his hands - by faith, in other words - sets us aright and gives us the inner strength that raises us on high. We need the humility of a faith which seeks the face of God and trusts in the truth of his love.

The question of how man can attain the heights, becoming completely himself and completely like God, has always engaged mankind. It was passionately disputed by the Platonic philosophers of the third and fourth centuries. For them, the central issue was finding the means of purification which could free man from the heavy load weighing him down and thus enable him to ascend to the heights of his true being, to the heights of divinity. Saint Augustine, in his search for the right path, long sought guidance from those philosophies. But in the end he had to acknowledge that their answers were insufficient, their methods would not truly lead him to God. To those philosophers he said: recognize that human power and all these purifications are not enough to bring man in truth to the heights of the divine, to his own heights. And he added that he should have despaired of himself and human existence had he not found the One who accomplishes what we of ourselves cannot accomplish; the One who raises us up to the heights of God in spite of our wretchedness: Jesus Christ who from God came down to us and, in his crucified love, takes us by the hand and lifts us on high.

We are on pilgrimage with the Lord to the heights. We are striving for pure hearts and clean hands, we are seeking truth, we are seeking the face of God. Let us show the Lord that we desire to be righteous, and let us ask him: Draw us upwards! Make us pure! Grant that the words which we sang in the processional psalm may also hold true for us; grant that we may be part of the generation which seeks God, "which seeks your face, O God of Jacob" (cf. Ps 24:6). Amen.

© Copyright 2011 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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Pope's Homily During Ash Wednesday Mass
"Let Us Begin This Lenten Itinerary Confident and Joyful"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 10, 2011 - Here is a translation of the homily Benedict XVI delivered Ash Wednesday, during a Mass he presided over in the Roman Basilica of St. Sabina.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We begin today the liturgical season of Lent with the thought-provoking rite of the imposition of ashes, through which we wish to take on the commitment to convert our hearts to the horizons of grace. In general, in common opinion, this time runs the risk of being marked by sadness, by the darkness of life. Instead, it is a precious gift of God; it is an intense time full of meanings in the journey of the Church; it is the itinerary to the Lord's Easter. The biblical readings of today's celebration give us indications to live this spiritual experience fully.

"Return to me with all your heart" (Joel 2:12). In the first reading taken from the Book of the prophet Joel, we have heard these words with which God invited the Jewish people to sincere, not apparent, repentance. It is not about a superficial and transitory conversion but, rather, a spiritual itinerary which has much to do with the attitudes of the conscience and which implies a sincere resolution to repent. The prophet begins with the plague of the invasion of locusts, which fell on the people destroying their crops, to invite them to interior penance, to rend their hearts and not their garments (cf. 2:13).

Hence, it is about putting into practice an attitude of genuine conversion to God -- of return to him -- recognizing his holiness, his power, his majesty. And this conversion is possible because God is rich in mercy and great in love. His is a regenerating mercy, which creates a pure heart in us, renews our interior in a firm spirit, restoring to us the joy of salvation (cf.Psalm 50:14). God, in fact, does not will the death of the sinner, but that he be converted and live (cf. Ezekiel 33:11). So the prophet Joel orders, in the name of the Lord, that an appropriate penitential environment be created: It is necessary to blow the trumpet, convoke the meeting, awaken consciences.

The Lenten period proposes to us this liturgical and penitential ambit: a journey of forty days where we can experience in an effective way the merciful love of God. Today the call resounds for us: "Return to me with all your heart"; today we are the ones called to convert our hearts to God, conscious that we cannot carry out our conversion by ourselves, with our own efforts, because it is God who converts us. He offers us once again his forgiveness, inviting us to return to Him to give us a new heart, purified from the evil that oppresses it, to have us take part in his joy. Our world needs to be converted to God; it needs his forgiveness, his love; it needs a new heart.

"Be reconciled to God" (2 Corinthians 5:20). In the second reading, Saint Paul offers us another element on the path to conversion. The Apostle invites to look away from him and to direct our attention instead to the One who has sent him and to the content of the message he brings: "[s]o we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you, on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God" (Ibid.). An ambassador repeats what he has heard his Lord say and he speaks with the authority and within the limits he has received. He who carries out the office of ambassador must not attract attention to himself, but must place himself at the service of the message he must transmit and of the one who sent him. Saint Paul acts thus when carrying out his ministry of preaching the Word of God and of Apostle of Jesus Christ. He does not shrink in face of the task received, but carries it out with total dedication, inviting us to open ourselves to grace, to allow God to convert us. "Working together with him, then, we entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain" (2 Corinthians 6:1).

"Now then, Christ's call to conversion," the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us, "continues to resound in the lives of Christians. [...] is an uninterrupted task for the whole Church who 'clasping sinners to her bosom, [is]at once holy and always in need of purification, [and] follows constantly the path of penance and renewal' (LG 8). This endeavor of conversion is not just a human work. It is the movement of a 'contrite heart' (Psalm 51:19), drawn and moved by grace (cf. John 6:44; 12:32) to respond to the merciful love of God who loved us first (cf. 1 John 4:10)" (No. 1428).

St. Paul speaks to the Christians of Corinth, but through them he intends to address all men. All in fact are in need of the grace of God, to illumine their minds and hearts. And the Apostle adds: "now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation" (2 Corinthians6:2). We can all open ourselves to God's action, to his love; with our evangelical witness, we Christians must be a living message, in fact, in many cases we are the only Gospel that the men of today still read. This is our responsibility, following the steps of Saint Paul, here is another reason to live Lent well: to give witness of a lived faith to a world in difficulty that needs to return to God, which is in need of conversion.

"Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them" (Matthew 6:1). In today's Gospel, Jesus repeats the three essential works of piety established in the Mosaic Law. Almsgiving, prayer and fasting characterized the Jews who observed the law. With the passing of time, these prescriptions were stained by the rust of exterior formalism, or they have even been transformed into a sign of superiority.

In these three works of piety Jesus makes evident a common temptation. When something good is done, almost instinctively the desire arises to be esteemed and admired for the good action, to have some satisfaction. And this, on one hand, shuts us in on ourselves, and on the other it takes us out of ourselves, because we live projected to what others think of us and admire in us. In proposing these prescriptions again, the Lord Jesus does not ask for formal respect to a law foreign to man, imposed by a severe lawmaker as a heavy burden, but he invites us to rediscover these three works of piety by living them more profoundly, not for love of self but for love of God, as means on the path of conversion to Him.

Almsgiving, prayer and fasting is the course of the divine pedagogy that supports us, not only in Lent, toward the encounter with the Risen Lord; a path to follow without ostentation, in the certainty that the heavenly Father is able to read and also to see in the secrecy of our hearts.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us begin this Lenten itinerary confident and joyful. Forty days separate us from Easter; this "intense" time of the liturgical year is a propitious time to attend, with greater commitment, to our conversion, to intensify listening to the Word of God, prayer and penance, opening our hearts to the docile acceptance of the divine will, for a more generous practice of mortification, thanks to which we will go more readily to help our needy neighbor: a spiritual itinerary which prepares us to receive the Paschal Mystery.

May Mary, our guide on our Lenten path, lead us to an ever more profound knowledge of Christ, dead and resurrected, may she help us in the spiritual battle against sin, may she sustain us on invoking forcefully: Convert us, "Deus salutaris noster" -- Convert us to You, O God, our salvation." Amen!

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On the Itinerary of Lent
"We Must Encounter, Receive and Follow" Christ

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 9, 2011 - Here is a translation of the catechesis Benedict XVI gave today, Ash Wednesday, during the general audience held in Paul VI Hall.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

Today, marked by the austere symbol of ashes, we enter the Lenten season, beginning a spiritual journey that prepares us to celebrate worthily the Paschal Mysteries. The blessed ashes placed on our heads are a sign that reminds us of our condition as creatures; they invite us to penance and to intensify our commitment to conversion to follow the Lord ever more.

Lent is a journey; it is to accompany Jesus who goes up to Jerusalem, the place of the fulfillment of the mystery of his passion, death and resurrection; it reminds us that the Christian life is a "journey" to undertake, which consists not so much in a law to be observed but in the very person of Christ, who we must encounter, receive and follow. Jesus, in fact, says to us: "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:23). That is, he tells us that to arrive with him to the light and the joy of resurrection, to the victory of life, of love, of the good, we must also take up our cross every day, as a beautiful page of the "Imitation of Christ" exhorts us: "take up your cross and follow Jesus; in this way you will go to eternal life. He went before, carrying his cross, and died for you on the cross so that you would carry your cross and be willing to die on it. Because if you die with him, you will also live with him. And if you are his partner in sorrow, you will also be so in triumph" (L. 2, c. 12, n. 2).

In the holy Mass of the First Sunday of Lent we will pray: "O God our Father, with the celebration of this Lent, sacramental sign of our conversion, grant your faithful to grow in the knowledge of the mystery of Christ and to give witness of him with a fitting conduct of life" (Collect). It is an invocation that we address to God because we know that only he can convert our heart. And it is above all in the liturgy, in participation in the holy mysteries, where we are led to undertake this journey with the Lord; it is putting ourselves in Jesus' school, reflecting on the events that brought us salvation, but not as a simple commemoration, a memory of past events. In the liturgical actions, where Christ makes himself present through the power of the Holy Spirit, those salvific events become actual. There is a key word to which recourse is often taken in the liturgy to indicate this: the word "today"; and it must be understood in its original, not metaphorical sense. Today God reveals his law and lets us choose today between good and evil, between life and death (cf. Deuteronomy 30:19); today "the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the Gospel" (Mark 1:15); today Christ died on Calvary and has resurrected from the dead; he has ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father; today we are given the Holy Spirit; today is the favorable time. To participate in the liturgy means, therefore, to submerge one's life in the mystery of Christ, in his permanent presence, to undertake a journey in which we enter into his death and resurrection to have life.

In the Sundays of Lent, in a very particular way in this liturgical year of Cycle A, we are introduced into living a baptismal itinerary, virtually following the journey of the catechumens, those who are preparing to receive baptism, to revive this gift in us, so that our life will recover the demands and commitments of this sacrament, which is at the base of our Christian life. In the message I sent for this Lent, I wished to recall the particular nexus that links the Lenten season to baptism. The Church has always associated the Easter Vigil with the celebration of baptism, step by step: a great mystery is realized in it, by which man, dead to sin, is made a participant in new life in Christ Risen and receives the Spirit of God that resurrected Jesus from the dead (cf. Romans 8:11). The readings we will hear in the forthcoming Sundays and to which I invite you to pay special attention, are taken precisely from the ancient tradition, which accompanied the catechumen in the discovery of baptism: They are the great proclamation of what God does in this sacrament, a wonderful baptismal catechesis addressed to each one of us.

The First Sunday, called Sunday of the Temptation because it presents the temptations of Jesus in the desert, invites us to renew our definitive decision for God and to face with courage the struggle that awaits us to remain faithful to him. The need for this decision, to resist evil, to follow Jesus, is always anew. On this Sunday, the Church, after having heard the testimony of godparents and catechists, celebrates the election of those who are admitted to the Easter sacraments.

The Second Sunday is called that of Abraham and the Transfiguration. Baptism is the sacrament of faith and divine filiation; like Abraham, father of believers, we are also invited to leave our land, to leave the securities we have built for ourselves, to again put our trust in God; the goal is presented in the transfiguration of Christ, the beloved Son, in which we also become "children of God."

In the following Sundays, baptism is presented in the images of water, light and life. The Third Sunday has us meet the Samaritan woman (cf. John 4:5-42). Like Israel in Exodus, we have also received in baptism the saving water; as he says to the Samaritan woman, Jesus has the water of life, which slakes all thirst, and this water is his own Spirit. On this Sunday, the Church celebrates the first examination of the catechumens and during the week gives them the Symbol: the Profession of Faith, the Creed.

The Fourth Sunday has us reflect on the experience of the "blind man from birth" (cf. John 9:1-41). In baptism we are liberated from the darkness of evil and we receive the light of Christ to live as children of the light. We must also learn to see the presence of God in the face of Christ, and thus the light. The second examination is celebrated in the journey of the catechumens.

Finally, the Fifth Sunday presents to us the resurrection of Lazarus (cf. John 11:1-45). In baptism we passed from death to life and we are made able to please God, to make the old man die, to live from the Spirit of the Risen One. The third examination is held for the catechumens and during the week they are given the Lord's Prayer, the Our Father.

This Lenten itinerary that we are invited to follow is characterized, in the tradition of the Church, by some practices: fasting, almsgiving and prayer. Fasting means abstinence from food but it includes other forms of privation for the sake of a more sober life. [But] all of this does not yet constitute the full reality of fasting: It is the external sign of an interior reality, of our commitment, with God's help, to abstain from evil and to live the Gospel. He does not really fast who does not know how to nourish himself on the Word of God.

Fasting, in the Christian tradition, is closely linked to almsgiving. In one of his addresses on Lent, St. Leo the Great taught: "Whatever a Christian does always, he must now do with greater dedication and devotion, to fulfill the apostolic norm of Lenten fasting consisting in abstinence not only from food, but above all abstinence from sins. To this obligatory and holy fast, no more useful deed can be added than almsgiving, which under the unique name of 'mercy' includes many good works. Immense is the field of works of mercy. Not only the rich and wealthy can benefit others with alms, so can those of modest and poor condition. In this way, though unequal in goods, all can be equal in their sentiments of mercy of the soul" (Address 6 on Lent, 2: PL 54, 286). In his Pastoral Rule, St. Gregory the Great reminded that fasting is holy because of the virtues that accompany it, above all charity, for each gesture of generosity that gives to the poor and needy the fruit of our privation (cf. 19, 10-11).

Lent, moreover, is a privileged time for prayer. St. Augustine says that fasting and almsgiving are "the two wings of prayer," which gives them greater impulse to reach God. He states: "In this way our prayer, made with humility and charity, in fasting and almsgiving, in temperance and the forgiveness of offenses, giving good things and not returning bad things, removing ourselves from evil and doing good, seeks peace and obtains it. With the wings of these virtues our prayer flies safely and is taken with greater certainty to heaven, where Christ, our peace, has preceded us" (Sermon 206, 3 on Lent: PL 38, 1042).

The Church knows that, because of our weakness, it is very difficult to be silent and to place oneself before God, and to become aware of our condition as creatures who depend on him and sinners in need of his love. This is why Lent invites us to a more faithful and intense prayer and to a prolonged meditation on the Word of God. St. John Chrysostom exhorts us: "Embellish your house with modesty and humility through the practice of prayer. Make your house splendid with the light of justice; adorn its walls with good works as if they were a patina of pure gold and instead of walls and precious stones place faith and supernatural magnanimity, placing over all things, high on a pediment, prayer as decoration of the whole complex. In this way you will prepare a worthy dwelling for the Lord; in this way you will receive him in a splendid palace. He will enable you to transform your soul into a temple of his presence" (Homily 6 on Prayer: PG 64, 466).

Dear friends, on this Lenten journey let us be careful to accept Christ's invitation to follow him in a more determined and coherent way, renewing the grace and commitments of our baptism, to abandon the old man that is in us and to clothe ourselves with Christ, so that renewed, we will reach Easter and be able to say with St. Paul, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Galatians 2:20). A good Lenten journey to you all! Thank you!


[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today the Church celebrates Ash Wednesday, the beginning of her Lenten journey towards Easter. The Christian life is itself a constant journey of conversion and renewal in the company of the Lord, as we follow him along the path that leads through the Cross to the joy of the Resurrection. The primary way by which we follow Christ is by the liturgy, in which his person and his saving power become present and effective in our lives. In the Lenten liturgy, as we accompany the catechumens preparing for Baptism, we open our hearts anew to the grace of our rebirth in Christ. This spiritual journey is traditionally marked by the practice of fasting, almsgiving and prayer. The Fathers of the Church teach that these three pious exercises are closely related: indeed, Saint Augustine calls fasting and almsgiving the "wings of prayer", since they prepare our hearts to take flight and seek the things of heaven, where Christ has prepared a place for us. As this Lent begins, let us accept Christ's invitation to follow him more closely, renew our commitment to conversion and prayer, and look forward to celebrating the Resurrection in joy and newness of life.

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April 11 Audience: On Easter's Spiritual Joy
"Sadness and the wounds themselves become sources of joy"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 16, 2012 - Here is a translation of the Italian-language catechesis Benedict XVI gave during the general audience held in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday, April 11.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

After the solemn celebrations of Easter, our meeting today is pervaded by spiritual joy; even if the skies above are grey, in our hearts we carry the joy of Easter and the certainty of the Resurrection of Christ, who has definitively triumphed over death. First, I wish to renew my cordial Easter greetings to each one of you: in every home and heart, may the joyous announcement of Christ’s Resurrection resound, bringing new hope.

In this catechesis, I would like to show the transformation that Easter brought about in Jesus’ disciples. Let us begin with the evening of the day of the Resurrection. The disciples are locked in the house where they are staying for fear of the Jews (cf. John 20:19). Fear grips their hearts and prevents them from going out to encounter others, to encounter life. The Master is gone. The memory of His Passion fuels their uncertainty. However, Jesus has at heart those who are His own, and He is about to fulfill the promise He had made during the Last Supper: “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18); and He says this also to us, even when times are grey: “I will not leave you orphans”.

The disciple’s anxious situation changes radically with Jesus’ arrival. He enters in through closed doors, He stands in their midst and He gives them the peace that puts them at ease: “Peace be with you” (John 20:19b). It is a common greeting, yet now it acquires a new meaning, for it effects an interior transformation; it is the Easter greeting, which overcomes all of the disciples’ fears. The peace that Jesus brings is the gift of salvation, which He had promised during His farewell discourse: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). On this day of Resurrection, He gives it in full, and for the community it becomes a source of joy, certainty of victory and security in relying on God. “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27b), He says also to us.

After this greeting, Jesus shows His disciples the wounds in His hands and His side (John 20:20), the signs of what had gone before and what shall never be erased: His glorious humanity will be forever “wounded”. This act is intended to confirm the new reality of Christ’s Resurrection: the Christ who now stands in the midst of His disciples is a real person, the same Jesus who just three days prior was nailed to the Cross. Thus it is that, in the brilliant light of the Resurrection, in the encounter with the Risen One, the disciples grasp the salvific meaning of His passion and death. Then do they pass from sadness and fear to the fullness of joy. Sadness and the wounds themselves become sources of joy. The joy born in their hearts comes from “seeing the Lord” (John 20:20). He again says to them: “Peace be with you” (verse 21).

At this point, it is evident that it is not only a greeting. It is a gift, the gift that the Risen One wills to make to His friends, and at the same time it is a handing on: this peace, which Christ obtained by His blood, is for them but it is also for everyone, and the disciples will have to carry it throughout the world. In fact, He adds: “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (ibid.).

The Risen Jesus returned among His disciples in order to send them out. He completed His work in the world; now it is their turn to sow faith in hearts, so that the Father -- known and loved -- may gather together all of His scattered children. However, Jesus knows that His followers are still very much afraid, always. Therefore, He breathes on them and regenerates them in His Spirit (cf. John 20:22); this act is the sign of the new creation. Indeed, a new world begins by the gift of the Holy Spirit, which comes from the Risen Christ. With the sending out of the disciples on mission, the journey of the people of the new covenant is inaugurated, the people who believe in Him and in His work of salvation, the people who bear witness to the truth of His Resurrection. This newness of a life that never dies -- which Easter brings -- is intended to be spread everywhere, so that the thorns of sin that wound man’s heart may give way to the buds of Grace, to the presence of God and of His love, which conquers sin and death.

Dear friends, today too the Risen One enters into our homes and into our hearts, even though at times the doors are shut. He enters, bestowing joy and peace, life and hope, gifts that we need for our human and spiritual rebirth. Only He can roll back those sepulchral stones that we often place over our sentiments, our relationships and our behavior; stones that sanction death: divisions, hatred, resentments, jealousies, mistrust and indifference. He alone, the Living One, can give life meaning and enable the one who is weary and sad, discouraged and deprived of hope, to continue on the journey.

This is what the two disciples experienced, who were making their way on Easter day from Jerusalem to Emmaus (cf. Luke 24:13-35). They talk about Jesus, but their “saddened faces” (cf. Verse 17) express disappointed hopes, uncertainty and melancholy. They had left their native land to follow Jesus with His friends, and they had discovered a new reality, where forgiveness and love were no longer merely words but concretely touched their lives. Jesus of Nazareth had made all things new; He had transformed their lives. But now He was dead and everything seemed to have come to and end.

Suddenly, however, there were no longer two but rather three persons walking. Jesus draws near to the two disciples and walks with them, but they are unable to recognize Him. Certainly, they had heard rumors of His Resurrection; in fact, they refer to it: “Some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find His body; and they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said He was alive” (verses 22-23). And yet, this had not been enough to convince them, since “Him they did not see” (verse 24). Then Jesus, patiently, “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (verse 27). The Risen One explains Sacred Scripture to the disciples, offering the fundamental key to their reading; namely, He himself and His paschal mystery: to Him do the scriptures testify (cf. John 5:39-47). The meaning of everything -- of the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms -- suddenly is opened and made clear before their eyes. Jesus opened their minds to understand the Scriptures (cf. Luke 24:45).

In the meantime, they reached the village, probably the home one of the two. The wayfaring stranger “appeared to be going further” (verse 28), but then he stopped, for they ardently asked him, “Stay with us” (verse 29). We too, again and again, should ardently ask the Lord: “Stay with us”.

“When He was at table with them, He took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them” (verse 30). The reference to the actions performed by Jesus at the Last Supper is evident: “And their eyes were opened and they recognized him” (verse 31). The presence of Jesus -- first by His words, then by the act of the breaking of the bread -- enables the disciples to recognize Him, and they are able to hear in a new way all that they had already experienced on their walk with Him: “Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked to us on the road, while He opened to us the scriptures?” (verse 32). This episode indicates to us two privileged “places” where we can encounter the Risen One, who transforms our lives: the hearing of the Word in communion with Christ, and the breaking of the Bread; two “places” that are profoundly united since “Word and Eucharist are so deeply bound together that we cannot understand one without the other: the Word of God sacramentally takes flesh in the event of the Eucharist” (Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini, 54-55).

Following this encounter, the two disciples “rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven gathered together and those who were with them, who said: ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!’” (verses 33-34). In Jerusalem they hear the news of Jesus’ Resurrection, and in turn they recount their own experience, inflamed by love for the Risen One, who opened their hearts to an uncontainable joy. They were -- as St. Peter says -- “born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). Indeed, enthusiasm for the faith, love for the community and the need to announce the good news were reborn in them. The Master is risen, and with Him all of life flourishes; to bear witness to this event becomes for them an insuppressible need.

Dear friends, may the Easter season be for us all the propitious occasion to joyously and enthusiastically rediscover the sources of faith, the presence of the Risen One among us. It means following the same path along which Jesus had the two disciples of Emmaus walk, through the rediscovery of the Word of God and the Eucharist; in other words, it means walking with the Lord and allowing Him to open our eyes to the true meaning of the Scripture and to His presence in the breaking of the bread. The summit of this journey, today as it was then, is Eucharistic Communion: in Holy Communion, Jesus feeds us with His Body and His Blood in order to be present in our lives, to make us new, enlivened by the power of the Holy Spirit.

In conclusion, the experience of the disciples invites us to reflect on Easter’s meaning for us. Let us allow ourselves to be encountered by the Risen Jesus! He, living and true, is always present among us; He walks with us in order to guide our lives and to open our eyes. Let us trust in the Risen One, who has the power to give life, and to give us rebirth as children of God, capable of believing and of loving. Faith in Him transforms our lives; it frees them from fear, gives them sure hope and enlivens them by what gives full meaning to life, God’s love. Thank you.

[Translation by Diane Montagna]

[The Holy Father then greeted the people in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Our General Audience today is marked by the spiritual joy of Easter, born of the Christ’s victory over sin and death. When the risen Lord appeared to the disciples in the Upper Room and showed them his saving wounds, their lives were changed. With the gift of the Holy Spirit, Christ gave them the peace which the world cannot give (cf. Jn 14:27) and sent them forth to bring that peace to the world. The mission of the disciples inaugurates the journey of the Church, the People of the New Covenant, called to bear witness in every age to the truth of the resurrection and the new life which it brings. Today too, the Lord enters our hearts and our homes with his gifts of joy and peace, life and hope. Like the disciples on the way to Emmaus, may we recognize his presence among us in his word and in the breaking of the bread. During this Easter season, let us resolve to walk in the company of the risen Christ and allow our lives to be transformed by faith in him and by the power of his resurrection.

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I offer a warm welcome to the newly-ordained deacons from the Pontifical Irish College, together with their families and friends. Dear young deacons, may you conform your lives ever more fully to the Lord and work generously for the building up of the Church in your country. I also welcome the distinguished delegation from the NATO Defense College, with prayerful good wishes for their service to the cause of peace. Upon all the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, especially those from England, Ireland, Sweden, Australia, Canada and the United States, I invoke the joy and peace of the Risen Lord. Happy Easter!

© Copyright 2012 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

[In Italian, he said:]

Lastly, my thoughts go to young people, to the sick and to newlyweds. Dear young people, especially you who have come from the diocese of Cremona, may you be increasingly more aware that only the Lord Jesus can respond completely to your desire for happiness and to your search for what is truly good for your lives; dear sick, especially you who belong to UNITALSI of Teano-Calvi, there is greater comfort in your suffering than the Resurrection of Christ; and you, dear newlyweds, may you live your marriage in concrete adherence to Christ and to the teachings of the Gospel.

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