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.
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!
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!
[Translation by ZENIT]
[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.
I welcome all the English-speaking visitors present at today's Audience, especially those from Ireland, Japan, South Korea and the United States. I also greet the pilgrims from Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. With prayerful good wishes for a spiritually fruitful Lent, I cordially invoke upon you and your families God's blessings of joy and peace!
© Copyright 2011 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana
[He concluded in Italian:]
I offer, finally, my greeting to young people, the sick and newlyweds. May the Lenten season, which we begin today, lead each one of you to an ever more profound knowledge of Christ, so that in the various situations in which you find yourselves, you will be able to have his same sentiments and do everything in communion with him.
Pope's Homily on the Baptism of the Lord
"He, Who Is Without Sin, Lets Himself Be Treated as a Sinner"
VATICAN CITY, JAN. 9, 2011 - Here is a translation of the homily given by Benedict XVI today during Mass for the Baptism of the Lord. The Pope celebrated the Mass in the Sistine Chapel, baptizing 21 infants during the celebration.
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Dear brothers and sisters,
I am happy to give you a cordial welcome, especially you parents and godparents of the 21 infants to whom, in a moment, I will have the joy of administering the sacrament of baptism. As has become tradition, this rite takes place again this year during the Holy Eucharist in which we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord. This is the feast that, on the First Sunday after Epiphany, concludes the Christmas season with the manifestation of the Lord at the Jordan.
According to the story of the Evangelist Matthew (3:13-17), Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John; in fact, all of Palestine flocked to hear the preaching of this great prophet, the announcement of the advent of the Kingdom of God, and to receive baptism, that is, to submit themselves to this sign that called to conversion from sin. Although it is called “baptism,” it did not have the sacramental value of the rite that we celebrate today; as you well know, it is in fact by his death and resurrection that Jesus instituted the sacraments and brings about the birth of the Church. [The baptism] administered by John was rather a penitential act, a gesture that invited people to humility before God, for a new beginning: Plunging into the water, the penitent acknowledged having sinned, he implored God to purify him of his sins and he was sent forth to change his erroneous behavior.
So, when the Baptist saw Jesus, in line with sinners, having come to be baptized, he is stunned; recognizing him as the Messiah, the Holy One of God, he who is without sin, John shows his confusion: He himself, the baptizer wanted to be baptized by Jesus. But Jesus tells him not to resist, to agree to carry out this act, to do what is proper to "fulfill all justice." With this expression, Jesus shows that he came into the world to do the will of him who sent him, to do everything that the Father asks him; it is in obedience to the Father that he has agreed to become man. This gesture reveals first of all who Jesus is: He is the Son of God, true God like the Father; it is he who "humbled himself" to become one of us, he who became man and agreed to humble himself to the point of death on the cross (cf. Philippians 2:7).
The baptism of Jesus, which we recall today, fits into this logic of humility: It is the gesture of one who wants to be one of us in everything and gets in line with sinners; he, who is without sin, lets himself be treated as a sinner (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21), to carry on his shoulders the burden of guilt of all humanity. He is the "servant of Yahweh" whom the prophet Isaiah spoke to us about in the first reading (cf. 42:1). His humility is determined by a desire to establish full communion with humanity, by the desire to achieve a true solidarity with man and his condition. Jesus' gesture anticipates the cross, the acceptance of death for man’s sins. This act of abasement, with which Jesus wants to conform totally to the Father's plan of love, manifests the total harmony of will and purpose that exists between persons of the Most Holy Trinity. For this act of love, the Spirit of God manifests himself as a dove and descends upon him, and in that moment a voice from above, which all hear, testifies to the love that unites Jesus to the Father for those present at the baptism. The Father openly reveals to men the profound communion uniting him to the Son: The voice that resounds from above attests that Jesus is obedient to the Father in all things and that this obedience is an expression of love that unites them. This is why the Father delights in Jesus, because he sees in the Son’s action the desire to follow his will in everything: "This is my Son, the beloved, in him I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:17). And this word of the Father also alludes, in anticipation, to the victory of the Resurrection.
Dear parents, baptism, which you ask for your children today, inserts them into this reciprocal exchange of love that exists in God between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; by this gesture that I am going to perform, the love of God is poured out upon them, inundating them with his gifts. By being bathed in the water, your children are inserted into the life itself of Jesus, who died on the cross to free us from sin, and rising, conquered death. So, spiritually immersed in his death and resurrection, [these children] are freed from original sin and in them the life of grace begins, which is the very life of the risen Jesus. "He,” said St. Paul, “gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and form for himself a pure people who belong to him, zealous for good works" (Titus 2:14).
Dear friends, giving us the faith, the Lord gave us that which is most precious in life, that is, the truest and most beautiful reason to live: It is by grace that we believe in God, that we have known his love by which he wants to save us and deliver us from evil. Now you, dear parents and godparents, are asking the Church to accept these children into her bosom, to give them baptism, and you make this request because of the gift of faith that you yourselves have, in turn, received. With the prophet Isaiah, every Christian can repeat: "The Lord has shaped me his servant from the womb of my mother" (cf. 49:5); thus, dear parents, your children are a precious gift of the Lord, whose heart he has reserved for himself, to be able to fill with his love. Today through the sacrament of baptism he consecrates them and calls them to follow Jesus, through the realization of their personal vocation according to the particular design of love that the Father has in mind for each of them; the goal of this earthly pilgrimage will be the full communion with him in eternal happiness.
Receiving baptism, these children are granted an indelible spiritual seal, the "character" that marks forever their belonging to the Lord and makes them living members of his mystical body, which is the Church. While entering to be part of the People of God, for these children there starts today a path of holiness and conformity to Jesus, a reality that is placed in them as the seed of a splendid tree, which must be made to grow. Thus, understanding the magnitude of this gift from the earliest centuries, [the Church] has been concerned to give baptism to newborn children. Certainly, there will also be the need of a free and conscious adherence to this life of faith and love, and that is why it is necessary that after baptism they are educated in faith, instructed according to the wisdom of sacred Scripture and the Church's teachings, so that the seeds of faith that they receive today can grow, and they can reach full Christian maturity. The Church, who welcomes them among her children, is responsible, together with the parents and godparents, for accompanying them on this path of growth. The collaboration between the Christian community and the family is much needed in the current social context in which the institution of the family is threatened from many sides and finds itself faced with many difficulties in its mission to teach the faith. The disappearance of stable cultural references and the rapid transformation that society continually undergoes, make the educational task truly difficult. Therefore, it is necessary that parishes increasingly strive to support families, the little domestic Churches, in their work of passing on the faith.
Dear parents, I thank the Lord with you for the gift of the baptism of these your children; in lifting up our prayer for them, we invoke the abundant gift of the Holy Spirit, who today consecrates them in the image of Christ as priest, prophet and king. Entrusting them to the maternal intercession of Mary Most Holy, we ask for them life and health so that they can grow and mature in the faith, and bear, with their lives, the fruits of holiness and love. Amen!
2010 Dec. 31: Papal Homily at Vespers, Mary Mother of God
"I Feel More Strongly in My Heart the Need to Raise Our 'Thanks' to Him"
VATICAN CITY, JAN. 9, 2011- Here is a translation of the homily given by Benedict XVI on Dec. 31 at vespers for the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.
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Dear brothers and sisters!
At the conclusion of a year, we find ourselves this evening in the Vatican Basilica to celebrate First Vespers of the Solemnity of Mary Most Holy Mother of God and raise a hymn of thanksgiving to God for the many graces that he has granted us, but also and above all for Grace in person, that is, for the living and personal gift of the Father, who is his beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. It is precisely this gratitude for the gifts received from God in the time that is given us to live that helps us to discover a great good that is inscribed in time: marked in its yearly, monthly, weekly and daily rhythms, it is inhabited by the love of God, by his gifts of grace: it is time of salvation. Yes, the eternal God entered into and remains in the time of man. He entered here and remains here in the person of Jesus, the Son of God made man, the Savior of the world. This is what the Apostle Paul pointed out to us in the brief reading that was just proclaimed: "In the fullness of time, God sent forth his Son ... we might receive adoption as sons" (Galatians 4:4-5).
So, the Eternal enters into time and renews it at the root, freeing man from sin and making him a son of God. Already “in the beginning,” that is, with the creation of the world and man in the world, the eternity of God blossomed in time. From it human history flows, from generation to generation. Now, with the coming of Christ and his redemption, we are in “the fullness” of time. As St. Paul reveals, with Jesus time becomes full, it reaches its perfection, acquiring that meaning of salvation and grace for which it was willed by God before the creation of the world. Christmas recalls us to this “fullness” of time, that is, to the renewing salvation brought by Jesus to all men. We are called back to it and, mysteriously, but really, it is always given to us again. Our human experience is so full of evils, of suffering, of dramas of every kind -- from those caused by the wickedness of men to those resulting from unfortunate natural events -- but it now holds in a permanent and indestructible way the joyful and liberating newness of Christ the Savior. Precisely in the Child of Bethlehem, we can contemplate in a particularly luminous and eloquent way the meeting of eternity with time, as the Church's liturgy likes to put it. Christmas brings us God in the humble and weak flesh of a child. Is there not perhaps an invitation here to rediscover God's presence and his love that gives salvation even in the short and strenuous hours of our daily lives? Is it not an invitation to discover that our human time -- even in difficult and burdensome moments -- is incessantly enriched by the Lord’s grace, the Grace that is indeed the Lord Himself?
At the end of this year 2010, before handing over the days and hours to God and to his just and merciful judgment, I feel more strongly in my heart the need to raise our "thanks" to him and to his love for us. In this climate of gratitude, I would like to extend a special greeting to the Cardinal Vicar, the Auxiliary Bishops, to the priests, to the consecrated persons, as also to the many lay faithful gathered here. I greet the lord mayor and the authorities present. A special thought goes out to those who are in trouble and spend these festive days in distress and suffering. To each and everyone I assure my affectionate thoughts, which I accompany with prayer.
Dear brothers and sisters, our Church of Rome is committed to helping all the baptized to live faithfully the vocation they have received and to witness the beauty of faith. To be authentic disciples of Christ, we must have recourse to daily meditation on the Word of God which, as I wrote in my recent apostolic exhortation “Verbum Domini,” "is the basis of every authentic Christian spirituality" (No. 86). Thus, I encourage everyone to cultivate a close relationship with it, especially through “lectio divina,” to have that light that is needed to discern the signs of God in the present time and to proclaim the Gospel effectively. Even in Rome, in fact, there is an increasing need for a renewed proclamation of the Gospel so that the hearts of the inhabitants of our city open to meeting that Child, who was born for us, in Christ, the Redeemer of man. Since, as the Apostle Paul observes, "faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ" (Romans 10:17), a useful aid in this work of evangelization can come -- as was already seen during the City Mission in preparation for the Jubilee Year 2000 -- from "Centers of listening to the Gospel,” which I encourage to be re-established or revitalized not only in apartment buildings, but also in hospitals, workplaces and in those places where new generations are being formed and culture is developed. The Word of God, in fact, was made flesh for all, and his truth is accessible to every man and every culture. I was happy to learn of the subsequent work of the Vicariate in organizing "Dialogues in the Cathedral," which will take place in the Basilica of St. John Lateran: Such significant events express the Church's desire to meet all those who are seeking answers to great questions of human existence.
The privileged place for hearing the Word of God is the celebration of the Eucharist. Last June’s diocesan conference, in which I participated, intended to highlight the centrality of Holy Mass in the life of every Christian community and gave indications about how the beauty of the divine mysteries can shine more in the act of celebration and in the spiritual fruits that derive from them. I encourage pastors and priests to implement what was indicated in the pastoral program: the formation of a liturgical group that animates the celebration, and a catechesis that helps everyone to understand better the Eucharistic mystery from which flows the witness of charity. Nourished by Christ, we too are drawn into the same act of total gift that moved the Lord to give his own life, thereby revealing the immense love of the Father. The witness of charity possesses, therefore, an essential theological dimension and is profoundly united to the proclamation of the Word. In this celebration of thanksgiving to God for the gifts received during the year, I particularly remember the visit I made to the Caritas hostel at the Termini Train Station, where, through the service and selfless dedication of many volunteers, many men and women can touch the love of God with their hands. The present moment still generates concern about the precarious situation into which many families have fallen and prevails upon the entire diocesan community to be close to those living in poverty and hardship. May God, who is infinite love, inflame the heart of each of us with that love that prompted him to give us his only begotten Son.
Dear brothers and sisters, we are invited to look to the future and to look upon it with that hope that is the final word of the “Te Deum”: “In te, Domine, speravi: non confundar in aeternum!” -- “In thee, O Lord, I have hoped. Let me never be confounded!” It is always Mary Most Holy, the Mother of God who gives us Christ, our Hope. As she already did to the shepherds and the magi, her hands, and still more her heart, continue to offer the world Jesus, her Son and our Savior. In him is all our hope, because from him salvation and peace came to every man. Amen!
Jan. 5 Audience: On the Today of the Nativity
"The Liturgical Celebration of Christmas … Is Not Only a Memory But Also a Presence"
VATICAN CITY, JAN. 7, 2011 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave last Wednesday during the general audience in Paul VI Hall, in which he reflected on the liturgical season of Christmas.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters!
I am happy to welcome you to this first general audience of the new year and with all my heart I offer you and your families fervent good wishes. May the Lord of time and history guide our steps on the way of goodness and grant each one an abundance of grace and prosperity.
Still surrounded by the light of holy Christmas that invites us to joy over the coming of the Savior, we are today on the eve of the Epiphany, in which we celebrate the manifestation of the Lord to all peoples. The feast of Christmas still enthralls people today as it always has, more than the Church's other great feasts; it captivates people because everyone in some way intuits that Jesus' birth has something to do with the most profound aspirations and hopes of man. Consumerism can distract from this interior longing, but if in the heart there is a desire to welcome that Child who brings the novelty of God, who came to give us life in fullness, then even the lights of the Christmas decorations can become a reflection of the Light that was lit with the Incarnation of God.
In the liturgical celebrations of these holy days we lived in a mysterious but real way the entrance of the Son of God into the world and we were illumined once again by the light of his brilliance. Each celebration is an actual presence of the mystery of Christ and in it is prolonged the history of salvation. Regarding Christmas, Pope St. Leo the Great affirmed: "Even if the succession of corporal actions is now passed, as was ordained beforehand in the eternal plan ... we still continually adore the same birth-giving of the Virgin that produces our salvation" (Sermon on the Lord's Birth 29, 2), and he specifies: "Because that day is not passed in such a way that the power of the work that was revealed then is also passed" (Sermon on the Epiphany 36, 1). To celebrate the events of the Incarnation of the Son of God is not simply to remember events of the past, but to render present these salvation-bearing mysteries.
In the liturgy, in the celebration of the sacraments, those mysteries are rendered present and become efficacious for us today. Again St. Leo the Great affirms: "All that the Son of God did and taught in order to bring reconciliation to the world, we know not only in the telling of things that happened in the past, but rather, we are under the effect of the dynamism of these present actions" (Sermon 52, 1).
In the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the Second Vatican Council underlines how the work of salvation carried out by Christ continues in the Church through the celebration of the holy mysteries, thanks to the action of the Holy Spirit. Already in the Old Testament, in the journey toward the fullness of faith, we have testimonies of how the presence and the action of God was mediated through signs, for example, that of fire (cf. Exodus 3:2ff; 19:18). But beginning with the Incarnation, something overwhelming happens: The mode of salvific contact with God is radically transformed and flesh becomes the instrument of salvation: "Verbum caro factum est," the Word became flesh, writes the Evangelist John, and a Christian writer of the third century, Tertullian, affirms: "Caro salutis est cardo," the flesh is the foundation of salvation (De carnis resurrectione, 8,3: PL 2,806).
Christmas is already the first fruit of the "sacramentum-mysterium paschale," that is to say, it is the beginning of the central mystery of salvation that culminates in the passion, death and resurrection, because Jesus begins to offer himself out of love from the first instance of his human existence in the womb of the Virgin Mary. The night of Christmas is therefore profoundly linked to the great nocturnal vigil of Easter, when redemption is accomplished in the glorious sacrifice of the Lord dead and risen.
The crib itself, as an image of the Incarnation of the Word, in light of the evangelical account, already alludes to Easter. It is interesting to see how in some icons of the nativity in the Eastern tradition, the Child Jesus is represented wrapped in swaddling clothes and placed in a sepulcher-shaped manger -- an allusion to the moment in which he will be taken down from the cross, wrapped in a cloth and placed in a sepulcher hewn from rock (cf. Luke 2:7; 23, 53). Incarnation and Easter are not next to one another, but are the two inseparable key points of the one faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God incarnated and redeemer. The cross and Resurrection presuppose the Incarnation. Only because truly the Son, and in him, God himself, "descended" and "was made flesh," are the death and resurrection of Jesus events that are contemporary for us and concern us, snatching us from death and opening us to a future in which this "flesh" -- earthly and transitory existence -- will enter into the eternity of God. In this unitary perspective of the mystery of Christ, the visit to the crib orients one to the visit to the Eucharist, where we find present in a real way the crucified and risen Christ, the living Christ.
The liturgical celebration of Christmas, then, is not only a remembrance but is above all a mystery; it is not only a memory but also a presence. To appreciate the meaning of these two indissoluble aspects, one must live intensely the whole Christmas season as the Church presents it. If we consider it in a broad sense, it extends for 40 days, from Dec. 25 to Feb. 2, from the celebration of Christmas Eve to Mary's Maternity, to the Epiphany, to the Baptism of Jesus, to the wedding of Cana, to the Presentation in the Temple, precisely in analogy with Eastertide, which forms a unity of 50 days, until Pentecost. The manifestation of God in the flesh is the event that revealed Truth in history. In fact, the date Dec. 25, linked with the idea of the appearance of the sun -- God who appears as a light that doesn't set on the horizon of history -- reminds us that this is not just an idea: that God is the fullness of light, but rather a reality for us men that is already fulfilled and always present. Today, as then, God reveals himself in the flesh, namely, in the "living body" of the Church journeying in time, and, in the sacraments, he gives us salvation today.
The symbols of the Christmas celebration, recalled in the readings and the prayers, give the liturgy of this season a profound sense of God's "epiphany" in his incarnate Christ-Word, that is, the "manifestation" that also has an eschatological meaning, it orients, that is, to the end times. Already in Advent the two comings -- the historical one and the one at the end of time -- were directly linked; but it is in particular in the Epiphany and in the baptism of Jesus that the Messianic manifestation is celebrated in the perspective of the eschatological expectation: the Messianic consecration of Jesus, incarnate Word, through the effusion of the Holy Spirit in visible form, brings to fulfillment the time of the promises and inaugurates the end times.
It is important to rescue this Christmas time from an overly moralistic and sentimental mask. The celebration of Christmas does not propose to us only examples to imitate, such as the humility and poverty of the Lord, and his benevolence and love for men; but it is rather an invitation to allow oneself to be totally transformed by him who entered into our flesh. St. Leo the Great exclaims: "The Son of God ... joined himself to us and joined us to himself in such a way that the abasement of God to the human condition became a raising of man to the heights of God" (Sermon on the Lord's Birth 27,2). God's manifestation has its purpose in our participation in divine life, in the realization in us of the mystery of his Incarnation. This mystery is the fulfillment of man's vocation. Again St. Leo the Great explains the Christmas mystery's concrete and always present importance for Christian life: "The words of the Gospel and of the Prophets ... inflame our spirit and teach us to understand the Lord's nativity, this mystery of the Word made flesh, not so much as a memory of a past event, but as an event that unfolds before our eyes ... it is as if it was proclaimed again in today's solemnity: 'I give you the announcement of a great joy, which will be for all the people: today, in the city of David, a Savior is born for you who is Christ the Lord'" (Sermon on the Lord's Birth 29,1). And he adds: "Recognize, O Christian, your dignity, and, made participant of the divine nature, be careful not to fall again, with unworthy conduct, from such greatness into primitive baseness" (Sermon 1 on the Lord's Birth, 3).
Dear friends, let us live this Christmastide with intensity: After having adored the Son of God made man and placed in the manger, we are called to pass to the altar of the Sacrifice, where Christ, the living Bread come down from heaven, offers himself to us as true nourishment for eternal life. And what we have seen with our eyes, at the table of the Word and of the Bread of Life, what we contemplated, what our hands have touched, that is the Word made flesh, let us proclaim him with joy to the world and witness to him generously with all our life. I renew to all from my heart, and to your dear ones, my heartfelt best wishes for the New Year and I wish you a happy celebration of Epiphany.
[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In this first Audience of the New Year, on the eve of the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, I offer my prayerful best wishes to you and your families. The Church's celebration of these days of Christmas is not only a remembrance of things past, but a joyful experience of Christ's enduring presence in our lives and in our world. In Jesus, the Word Incarnate, our salvation is accomplished in the flesh. Jesus' humbling of himself, beginning with his conception in the womb of the Virgin Mary, will find its fullest expression in the paschal mystery of his death and resurrection. Our appreciation of the deep bond uniting the Incarnation and the Redemption naturally draws us from the contemplation of the Child Jesus in the Crib to the adoration of the real presence in the sacrament of the Eucharist. The liturgical celebrations of this holy season, from Christmas through the Epiphany to the Baptism of the Lord, challenge us to be completely transformed by the Son of God who became man so that we might attain our ultimate human fulfilment by sharing in his glorious divine life.
I am pleased to greet the students and professors from the University of Helsinki. My warm greetings also go to the seminarians of the Pontifical College Josephinum. Upon all the English-speaking visitors present at today's Audience I invoke God's blessings of joy and peace today and throughout the coming year!
©Copyright 2011 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana
[In Italian, he greeted the youth, sick and newlyweds present:]
Finally I greet young people, the sick and newlyweds. Tomorrow, the solemnity of the Lord's Epiphany, we will recall the journey of the Magi to Christ, guided by the light of the star. May their example, dear young people, nourish in you the desire to encounter Jesus and to transmit to all the joy of his Gospel; may it lead you, dear sick, to offer to the Child of Bethlehem, your pains and sufferings rendered precious by the faith; may it constitute for you, dear newlyweds, a constant stimulus to make your families "domestic churches," welcoming the mysterious signs of God and of the gift of life.
[Translation by ZENIT]
On the Holy Family
"That Every Child Coming Into the World Be Welcomed by the Warmth of a Family"
VATICAN CITY, JAN. 6, 2011 - Here is a Vatican translation of the address Benedict XVI gave Dec. 26 before praying the midday Angelus together with those gathered in St. Peter's Square.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters!
The Gospel according to Luke recounts that when the shepherds of Bethlehem had received the Angel's announcement of the Messiah's birth "they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger" (2:16). The first eyewitnesses of Jesus' birth therefore beheld a family scene: a mother, a father and a newborn son. For this reason the Liturgy has us celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family on the First Sunday after Christmas. This year it occurred the very day after Christmas, and, taking precedence over the Feast of St Stephen, invites us to contemplate this "icon" in which the little Jesus appears at the centre of his parents' affection and care.
In the poor grotto of Bethlehem -- the Fathers of the Church wrote -- shines a very bright light, a reflection of the profound mystery which envelopes that Child, which Mary and Joseph cherish in their hearts and which can be seen in their expression, in their actions, and especially in their silence. Indeed, they preserve in their inmost depths the words of the Angel's Annunciation to Mary: "the Child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God" (Lk 1:35).
Yet every child's birth brings something of this mystery with it! Parents who receive a child as a gift know this well and often speak of it in this way. We have all heard people say to a father and a mother: "this child is a gift, a miracle!". Indeed, human beings do not experience procreation merely as a reproductive act but perceive its richness and intuit that every human creature who is born on earth is the "sign" par excellence of the Creator and Father who is in Heaven.
How important it is, therefore, that every child coming into the world be welcomed by the warmth of a family! External comforts do not matter: Jesus was born in a stable and had a manger as his first cradle, but the love of Mary and of Joseph made him feel the tenderness and beauty of being loved. Children need this: the love of their father and mother. It is this that gives them security and, as they grow, enables them to discover the meaning of life. The Holy Family of Nazareth went through many trials, such as the "massacre of the innocents" -- as recounted in the Gospel according to Matthew -- which obliged Joseph and Mary to flee to Egypt (cf. 2:13-23). Yet, trusting in divine Providence, they found their stability and guaranteed Jesus a serene childhood and a sound upbringing.
Dear friends, the Holy Family is of course unique and unrepeatable, but at the same time it is a "model of life" for every family because Jesus, true man, chose to be born into a human family and thereby blessed and consecrated it. Let us therefore entrust all families to Our Lady and to St Joseph, so that they do not lose heart in the face of trials and difficulties but always cultivate conjugal love and devote themselves with trust to the service of life and education.
[After reciting the Angelus, the Holy Father made the following appeal:]
Over this Christmas period, the desire and calls for the gift of peace have become more intense. Yet our world continues to be marked by violence, especially against the disciples of Christ. I learned with great sadness of the attack on a Catholic church in the Philippines during the celebration of the Christmas liturgy, as well as attacks against Christian churches in Nigeria. The earth has also been stained with blood in other parts of the world, such as Pakistan. I wish to express my heartfelt condolences for the victims of this absurd violence, and I once again reiterate my appeal to abandon the path of hatred in order to find peaceful solutions to conflicts and bring security and tranquillity to those dear people. On this day in which we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family, who underwent the dramatic experience of having to flee into Egypt because of the murderous fury of Herod, let us remember all those, especially families, who are forced to abandon their homes because of war, violence and intolerance. I invite you, therefore, to join me in praying fervently that the Lord may touch people's hearts and bring hope, reconciliation and peace
[The Holy Father then greeted those present in various languages. In English, he said:]
I am pleased to greet all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present for this Angelus prayer on the Feast of the Holy Family. Reflecting on the love of Jesus, Mary and Joseph for one another, we see that Nazareth is a kind of school where we may begin to discover the life of Christ and to understand his Gospel. May the peace of the Holy Family always be in your homes and fill you with gladness. Upon you and your loved ones, I invoke God’s abundant blessings!
© Copyright 2011 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana
On the New Year
"Religious Liberty Is the Privileged Way to Build Peace"
VATICAN CITY, JAN. 7, 2011 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave Jan. 1, the solemnity of Mary Most Holy Mother of God and the 44th World Day of Peace, before praying the midday Angelus together with those gathered in St. Peter's Square.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters!
In this first Angelus of 2011, I address to all my good wishes for peace and goodness entrusting them to the intercession of Mary Most Holy, who today we celebrate as Mother of God. At the beginning of a new year, the Christian People gather spiritually before the cave of Bethlehem, where the Virgin Mary has given birth to Jesus. Let us ask the Mother for a blessing, and she blesses us showing us the Son: in fact, he is the Blessing in person.
Giving us Jesus, God has given us everything: his love, his life, the light of truth, the forgiveness of sins; he has given us peace. Yes, Jesus Christ is our peace (cf. Ephesians 2:14). He brought to the world the seed of love and of peace, stronger than the seed of hatred and violence; stronger because the Name of Jesus is superior to any other name, it contains all the lordship of God, as the prophet Micah announced: "But you, O Bethlehem, ... from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler .... He shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God ... He himself will be peace!" (5:1-4).
Because of this, before the icon of the Virgin Mother, the Church on this day invokes from God, through Jesus Christ, the gift of peace: it is the World Day of Peace, propitious occasion to reflect together on the great challenges that our era poses to humanity. One of these, dramatically urgent in our days, is that of religious liberty; because of this, this year I have wished to dedicate my Message to this topic: "Religious Liberty, Way for Peace."
We are witnessing today two opposed tendencies, two extremes both negative: on one hand laicism that, in an often deceitful way, marginalizes religion to confine it to the private sphere; on the other fundamentalism, which instead would like to impose itself on all with force. In reality, "God calls humanity to himself with a plan of love that, while it involves the whole person in his natural and spiritual dimension, requires that he correspond in terms of liberty and responsibility, with his whole heart and with his whole being, individual and communal" (Message, 8). Wherever religious liberty is recognized effectively, the dignity of the human person is respected at its roots and, through a sincere search for the true and the good, the moral conscience is consolidated and the institutions themselves and civil coexistence are reinforced (cf. Ibid., 5). Because of this, religious liberty is the privileged way to build peace.
Dear friends, let us turn our gaze again to Jesus, in the arms of Mary, his Mother. Looking at Him, who is the "Prince of peace" (Isaiah 9:5), we understand that peace is not attained with arms, or with economic, political, cultural or media power. Peace is the work of consciences that open to truth and to love. May God help us to progress on this way in the new year that He gives us to live.
[After reciting the Angelus, the Holy Father made the following appeal:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In the Message for today's Day of Peace I was able to underline how the great religions can constitute an important factor of unity and peace for the human family, and I reminded, to this end, that in this year of 2011 will be observed the 25th anniversary of the World Day of Prayer for Peace that the Venerable John Paul II convoked in Assisi in 1986. Because of this, in the forthcoming month of October, I will go as a pilgrim to the city of St. Francis, inviting Christian brothers of different confessions, exponents of religious traditions of the world and, ideally, all men of good will, to join in this journey to recall that historic gesture willed by my predecessor and to renew solemnly the commitment of believers of every religion to live their own religious faith as service for the cause of peace. Whoever is journeying towards God cannot but transmit peace, whoever builds peace cannot but be close to God. I invite you to support this initiative from now on with your prayer.
In this context, I wish to greet and encourage all those who, from yesterday evening and during the whole of today, in the whole Church are praying for peace and for religious liberty. In Italy, the traditional march promoted by CEI, Pax Christi and Caritas took place in Ancona, city that will host next September the National Eucharistic Congress. Here in Rome, and in other cities of the world, Sant'Egidio Community has again proposed the initiative "Peace in All Lands": my heartfelt greeting to all those who took part. I also greet the adherents of the Family Love Movement, who this evening watched in St. Peter's Square and in the dioceses of L'Aquila praying for peace in families and in nations.
[The Holy Father then greeted those present in various languages. In English, he said:]
I extend a warm welcome to the English-speaking visitors here today. On the first day of the year the Church pays special honour to the Mother of God, recalling how in humble obedience to the Lord's will she bore in her womb and gave birth to him who is the Light of the World. On this day, too, we pray especially for peace throughout the world, and I invite all of you to join in heartfelt prayer to Christ the Prince of Peace for an end to violence and conflict wherever they are found. Upon all of you, and upon your loved ones at home, I invoke God's abundant blessings for the year that lies ahead. Happy New Year!
© Copyright 2011 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana
Benedict XVI's Homily for Feast of Three Kings
"They Were Men 'in Search' of Something More"
VATICAN CITY, JAN. 6, 2011 - Here is the homily Benedict XVI delivered today, the solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, during the Mass he presided over in St. Peter's Basilica.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters,
During the solemnity of the Epiphany the Church continues to contemplate and to celebrate the mystery of the birth of Jesus the Savior. In particular, today's feast underlines the destiny and universal meaning of this birth. Becoming man in the womb of Mary, the Son of God came not only for the people of Israel, represented by the shepherds of Bethlehem, but also for the whole of humanity, represented by the Magi. And it is precisely on the Magi and on their journey in search of the Messiah (cf. Matthew 2:1-12) that the Church invites us today to meditate and to pray. In the Gospel we heard that they, arriving in Jerusalem from the East, asked: "Where is he who is born, the king of the Jews? We saw his star arise and we have come to adore him" (v. 2). What kind of persons were they and what kind of star was that? They were probably wise men who scrutinized the sky but not to try to "read" the future in the stars, eventually to extract some gain; rather, they were men "in search" of something more, in search of the true light, which would be able to indicate the way to follow in life. They were persons who were certain that in creation there is what we could define as the "signature" of God, a signature that man can and must try to discover and decipher. Perhaps the way to know these Magi better and to take up their desire to let themselves be guided by God's signs is to pause to consider what they found, on their way, in the great city of Jerusalem.
First of all they found king Herod. He certainly was interested in the child of whom the Magi spoke; not, however, for the purpose of adoring him, as he, lying, wished to make understood, but to do away with him. Herod was a man of power, who in the other sees only a rival to combat. At bottom, if we reflect well, even God seems a rival to him, in fact a particularly dangerous rival, who wished to deprive men of the vital space, of their autonomy, of their power; a rival who indicates the way to follow in life and thus impedes one's doing whatever one wishes. Herod hears from his experts in the Sacred Scriptures the words of the prophet Micah (5:1), but his only thought is the throne. Hence God himself must be obfuscated and persons must be reduced to being simple pawns to be moved in the great chess-board of power. Herod is not a likable personality, someone whom we instinctively judge in a negative way because of his brutality. But we must ask ourselves: is there perhaps something of Herod also in us? Perhaps we too at times see God as a sort of rival? Perhaps we too are blind before his signs, deaf to his words, because we think he puts limits on our life and does not allows us to dispose of our existence as we please? Dear bothers and sisters, when we see God in this way we end up by feeling dissatisfied and unhappy, because we do not let ourselves be guided by Him who is the foundation of everything. We must remove from our mind and heart the idea of rivalry, the idea that to give space to God is to limit ourselves; we must open ourselves to the certainty that God is the omnipotent love that does not take anything away, does not threaten, rather, He is the only One capable of giving us the possibility of living in fullness, of experiencing true joy.
The Magi then meet with the scholars, the theologians, the experts that know everything about the Sacred Scriptures, who know the possible interpretations, who are able to recite by heart every passage and hence are a precious help to those who wish to follow the way of God. But, Saint Augustine affirms, they love to be guides for others, showing the way, but they do not walk, they remain immobile. For them the Scriptures become a sort of atlas to read with curiosity, an ensemble of words and concepts to examine and to discuss learnedly. But again we can ask ourselves: is there not also in us the temptation to hold the Sacred Scriptures, this very rich and vital treasure for the faith of the Church, more as an object for study and the discussions of specialists, than as the Book that indicates to us the way to reach life? I think that, as I indicated in the apostolic exhortation "Verbum Domini," the profound disposition must always be reborn in us to see the word of the Bible, read in the living Tradition of the Church (No. 18), as the truth that tells us what man is and how he can realize himself fully, the truth that is the way to follow daily, together with others, if we wish to build our existence on a rock and not on sand.
And thus we come to the star. What type of star was that which the Magi saw and followed? Throughout the centuries this question has been the object of discussions among astronomers. Kepler, for example, held that it was a "nova" or a "supernova," that is, one of those stars that normally emanate a weak light, but which can have unexpectedly a violent internal explosion that produces an exceptional light. Certainly, interesting things, but which do not lead us to what is essential in order to understand that star. We must return to the fact that those men were seeking the traces of God; they were seeking to read his "signature" in creation; they knew that "the heavens tell the glory of God" (Psalm 19:2); they were certain, namely, that God can be perceived in creation. But, from wise men they also knew that it is not with any telescope but with the profound eyes of reason in search of the ultimate meaning of reality and with the desire of God moved by faith, that it is possible to find him, more than that, rendered possible is that God comes close to us. The universe is not the result of chance, as some would have us believe. Contemplating it, we are invited to read in it something profound: the wisdom of the Creator, the inexhaustible imagination of God, his infinite love for us. We must not let our minds be limited by theories which come only to a certain point and that -- if we look well -- are not in fact in concurrence with the faith, but do not succeed in explaining the ultimate meaning of reality. In the beauty of the world, in its mystery, in its grandeur and its rationality we cannot but read the eternal rationality, and we cannot but let ourselves be guided by it to the one God, creator of heaven and earth. If we have this look, we will see that He who has created the world is he who is born in a cave in Bethlehem and continues to dwell in our midst in the Eucharist, it is the same living God who interpellates us, loves us, and wishes to lead us to eternal life.
Herod, the experts of Scripture, the star, but we follow the way of the Magi who arrive in Jerusalem. The star disappears over the great city, it is no longer seen. What does it mean? Also in this case we must read the sign in depth. For those men it was logical to seek the new king in the royal palace, where the wise counselors of the court were found. But, probably to their astonishment, they would have seen that the newborn was not found in the places of power and culture, even if in those places they were given precious information about him. They realized, instead, that, at times, power, including that of learning, bars the way to the encounter with that Child. Hence, the star guided them to Bethlehem, a small city, it guided them among the poor, the humble, to find the King of the world. God's criteria are different from those of men; God does not manifest himself in the power of this world, but in the humility of his love, that love which asks our liberty to be heard to transform us and make us capable of coming to Him who is Love. However even for us things are not as diverse as they were for the Magi. If we were asked our opinion as to how God should have saved the world, perhaps we would have answered that he should have manifested all his power to give the world a more just economic system, in which everyone could have what he wanted. In reality, this would be a sort of violence to man, because it would deprive him of fundamental elements that characterize him. In fact, neither our liberty nor our love would have been called into question. God's power is manifested in an altogether different way: in Bethlehem, where we find the apparent impotence of his love. And it is there that we must go, and it is there that we again find God's star.
Thus a last important element of the event of the Magi appears very clear to us: the language of creation enables us to follow a good portion of the way to God, but it does not give us the definitive light. In the end, for the Magi it was indispensable to hear the voice of the Sacred Scriptures: they alone could indicate the way to them. It is the Word of God that is the true star, that, in the uncertainty of human discourses, offers us the immense splendor of the divine truth. Dear brothers and sisters, let us allow ourselves to be guided by the star, which is the Word of God, let us follow it in our life, walking with the Church, where the Word has pitched its tent. Our way will always be illumined by a light that no other sign can give us. And we too will be able to become stars for others, reflection of that light that Christ made to shine over us. Amen.
Benedict XVI's Christmas Message
"May the Birth of the Savior Open Horizons of Lasting Peace"
VATICAN CITY, DEC. 25, 2010 - Here is a Vatican translation of Benedict XVI's Christmas message, which he gave today at noon from the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica, and before he imparted his traditional blessing "urbi et orbi" (to the city of Rome and the world).
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Verbum caro factum est" – "The Word became flesh" (Jn 1:14).
Dear brothers and sisters listening to me here in Rome and throughout the world, I joyfully proclaim the message of Christmas: God became man; he came to dwell among us. God is not distant: he is "Emmanuel", God-with-us. He is no stranger: he has a face, the face of Jesus.
This message is ever new, ever surprising, for it surpasses even our most daring hope. First of all, because it is not merely a proclamation: it is an event, a happening, which credible witnesses saw, heard and touched in the person of Jesus of Nazareth! Being in his presence, observing his works and hearing his words, they recognized in Jesus the Messiah; and seeing him risen, after his crucifixion, they were certain that he was true man and true God, the only-begotten Son come from the Father, full of grace and truth (cf. Jn 1:14).
"The Word became flesh". Before this revelation we once more wonder: how can this be? The Word and the flesh are mutually opposed realities; how can the eternal and almighty Word become a frail and mortal man? There is only one answer: Love. Those who love desire to share with the beloved, they want to be one with the beloved, and Sacred Scripture shows us the great love story of God for his people which culminated in Jesus Christ.
God in fact does not change: he is faithful to himself. He who created the world is the same one who called Abraham and revealed his name to Moses: "I am who I am … the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob … a God merciful and gracious, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (cf. Ex 3:14-15; 34:6). God does not change; he is Love, ever and always. In himself he is communion, unity in Trinity, and all his words and works are directed to communion. The Incarnation is the culmination of creation. When Jesus, the Son of God incarnate, was formed in the womb of Mary by the will of the Father and the working of the Holy Spirit, creation reached its high point. The ordering principle of the universe, the Logos, began to exist in the world, in a certain time and space.
"The Word became flesh". The light of this truth is revealed to those who receive it in faith, for it is a mystery of love. Only those who are open to love are enveloped in the light of Christmas. So it was on that night in Bethlehem, and so it is today. The Incarnation of the Son of God is an event which occurred within history, while at the same time transcending history. In the night of the world a new light was kindled, one which lets itself be seen by the simple eyes of faith, by the meek and humble hearts of those who await the Saviour. If the truth were a mere mathematical formula, in some sense it would impose itself by its own power. But if Truth is Love, it calls for faith, for the "yes" of our hearts.
And what do our hearts, in effect, seek, if not a Truth which is also Love? Children seek it with their questions, so disarming and stimulating; young people seek it in their eagerness to discover the deepest meaning of their life; adults seek it in order to guide and sustain their commitments in the family and the workplace; the elderly seek it in order to grant completion to their earthly existence.
"The Word became flesh". The proclamation of Christmas is also a light for all peoples, for the collective journey of humanity. "Emmanuel", God-with-us, has come as King of justice and peace. We know that his Kingdom is not of this world, and yet it is more important than all the kingdoms of this world. It is like the leaven of humanity: were it lacking, the energy to work for true development would flag: the impulse to work together for the common good, in the disinterested service of our neighbour, in the peaceful struggle for justice. Belief in the God who desired to share in our history constantly encourages us in our own commitment to that history, for all its contradictions. It is a source of hope for everyone whose dignity is offended and violated, since the one born in Bethlehem came to set every man and woman free from the source of all enslavement.
May the light of Christmas shine forth anew in the Land where Jesus was born, and inspire Israelis and Palestinians to strive for a just and peaceful coexistence. May the comforting message of the coming of Emmanuel ease the pain and bring consolation amid their trials to the beloved Christian communities in Iraq and throughout the Middle East; may it bring them comfort and hope for the future and bring the leaders of nations to show them effective solidarity. May it also be so for those in Haiti who still suffer in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake and the recent cholera epidemic. May the same hold true not only for those in Colombia and Venezuela, but also in Guatemala and Costa Rica, who recently suffered natural disasters.
May the birth of the Savior open horizons of lasting peace and authentic progress for the peoples of Somalia, Darfur and Côte d’Ivoire; may it promote political and social stability in Madagascar; may it bring security and respect for human rights in Afghanistan and in Pakistan; may it encourage dialogue between Nicaragua and Costa Rica; and may it advance reconciliation on the Korean peninsula.
May the birth of the Savior strengthen the spirit of faith, patience and courage of the faithful of the Church in mainland China, that they may not lose heart through the limitations imposed on their freedom of religion and conscience but, persevering in fidelity to Christ and his Church, may keep alive the flame of hope. May the love of "God-with-us" grant perseverance to all those Christian communities enduring discrimination and persecution, and inspire political and religious leaders to be committed to full respect for the religious freedom of all.
Dear brothers and sisters, "the Word became flesh"; he came to dwell among us; he is Emmanuel, the God who became close to us. Together let us contemplate this great mystery of love; let our hearts be filled with the light which shines in the stable of Bethlehem! To everyone, a Merry Christmas!
© Copyright 2010 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana
Benedict XVI's Christmas Eve Homily 2010
"In the Weakness of Infancy, He Is the Mighty God"
VATICAN CITY, DEC. 24, 2010 - Here is a Vatican translation of the homily Benedict XVI gave at tonight's Christmas Eve Mass, celebrated in St. Peter's Basilica.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters!
"You are my son, this day I have begotten you" – with this passage from Psalm 2 the Church begins the liturgy of this holy night. She knows that this passage originally formed part of the coronation rite of the kings of Israel. The king, who in himself is a man like others, becomes the "Son of God" through being called and installed in his office. It is a kind of adoption by God, a decisive act by which he grants a new existence to this man, drawing him into his own being. The reading from the prophet Isaiah that we have just heard presents the same process even more clearly in a situation of hardship and danger for Israel: "To us a child is born, to us a son is given. The government will be upon his shoulder" (Is 9:6). Installation in the office of king is like a second birth. As one newly born through God’s personal choice, as a child born of God, the king embodies hope. On his shoulders the future rests. He is the bearer of the promise of peace. On that night in Bethlehem this prophetic saying came true in a way that would still have been unimaginable at the time of Isaiah. Yes indeed, now it really is a child on whose shoulders government is laid. In him the new kingship appears that God establishes in the world. This child is truly born of God. It is God’s eternal Word that unites humanity with divinity. To this child belong those titles of honour which Isaiah’s coronation song attributes to him: Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Is 9:6). Yes, this king does not need counsellors drawn from the wise of this world. He bears in himself God’s wisdom and God’s counsel. In the weakness of infancy, he is the mighty God and he shows us God’s own might in contrast to the self-asserting powers of this world.
Truly, the words of Israel’s coronation rite were only ever rites of hope which looked ahead to a distant future that God would bestow. None of the kings who were greeted in this way lived up to the sublime content of these words. In all of them, those words about divine sonship, about installation into the heritage of the peoples, about making the ends of the earth their possession (Ps 2:8) were only pointers towards what was to come – as it were signposts of hope indicating a future that at that moment was still beyond comprehension. Thus the fulfilment of the prophecy, which began that night in Bethlehem, is both infinitely greater and in worldly terms smaller than the prophecy itself might lead one to imagine. It is greater in the sense that this child is truly the Son of God, truly "God from God, light from light, begotten not made, of one being with the Father". The infinite distance between God and man is overcome. God has not only bent down, as we read in the Psalms; he has truly "come down", he has come into the world, he has become one of us, in order to draw all of us to himself. This child is truly Emmanuel – God-with-us. His kingdom truly stretches to the ends of the earth. He has truly built islands of peace in the world-encompassing breadth of the holy Eucharist. Wherever it is celebrated, an island of peace arises, of God’s own peace. This child has ignited the light of goodness in men and has given them strength to overcome the tyranny of might. This child builds his kingdom in every generation from within, from the heart. But at the same time it is true that the "rod of his oppressor" is not yet broken, the boots of warriors continue to tramp and the "garment rolled in blood" (Is 9:4f) still remains. So part of this night is simply joy at God’s closeness. We are grateful that God gives himself into our hands as a child, begging as it were for our love, implanting his peace in our hearts. But this joy is also a prayer: Lord, make your promise come fully true. Break the rods of the oppressors. Burn the tramping boots. Let the time of the garments rolled in blood come to an end. Fulfil the prophecy that "of peace there will be no end" (Is 9:7). We thank you for your goodness, but we also ask you to show forth your power. Establish the dominion of your truth and your love in the world – the "kingdom of righteousness, love and peace".
"Mary gave birth to her first-born son" (Lk 2:7). In this sentence Saint Luke recounts quite soberly the great event to which the prophecies from Israel’s history had pointed. Luke calls the child the "first-born". In the language which developed within the sacred Scripture of the Old Covenant, "first-born" does not mean the first of a series of children. The word "first-born" is a title of honour, quite independently of whether other brothers and sisters follow or not. So Israel is designated by God in the Book of Exodus (4:22) as "my first-born Son", and this expresses Israel’s election, its singular dignity, the particular love of God the Father. The early Church knew that in Jesus this saying had acquired a new depth, that the promises made to Israel were summed up in him. Thus the Letter to the Hebrews calls Jesus "the first-born", simply in order to designate him as the Son sent into the world by God (cf. 1:5-7) after the ground had been prepared by Old Testament prophecy. The first-born belongs to God in a special way – and therefore he had to be handed over to God in a special way – as in many religions – and he had to be ransomed through a vicarious sacrifice, as Saint Luke recounts in the episode of the Presentation in the Temple. The first-born belongs to God in a special way, and is as it were destined for sacrifice. In Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross this destiny of the first-born is fulfilled in a unique way. In his person he brings humanity before God and unites man with God in such a way that God becomes all in all. Saint Paul amplified and deepened the idea of Jesus as first-born in the Letters to the Colossians and to the Ephesians: Jesus, we read in these letters, is the first-born of all creation – the true prototype of man, according to which God formed the human creature. Man can be the image of God because Jesus is both God and man, the true image of God and of man. Furthermore, as these letters tell us, he is the first-born from the dead. In the resurrection he has broken down the wall of death for all of us. He has opened up to man the dimension of eternal life in fellowship with God. Finally, it is said to us that he is the first-born of many brothers. Yes indeed, now he really is the first of a series of brothers and sisters: the first, that is, who opens up for us the possibility of communing with God. He creates true brotherhood – not the kind defiled by sin as in the case of Cain and Abel, or Romulus and Remus, but the new brotherhood in which we are God’s own family. This new family of God begins at the moment when Mary wraps her first-born in swaddling clothes and lays him in a manger. Let us pray to him: Lord Jesus, who wanted to be born as the first of many brothers and sisters, grant us the grace of true brotherhood. Help us to become like you. Help us to recognize your face in others who need our assistance, in those who are suffering or forsaken, in all people, and help us to live together with you as brothers and sisters, so as to become one family, your family.
At the end of the Christmas Gospel, we are told that a great heavenly host of angels praised God and said: "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!" (Lk 2:14). The Church has extended this song of praise, which the angels sang in response to the event of the holy night, into a hymn of joy at God’s glory – "we praise you for your glory". We praise you for the beauty, for the greatness, for the goodness of God, which becomes visible to us this night. The appearing of beauty, of the beautiful, makes us happy without our having to ask what use it can serve. God’s glory, from which all beauty derives, causes us to break out in astonishment and joy. Anyone who catches a glimpse of God experiences joy, and on this night we see something of his light. But the angels’ message on that holy night also spoke of men: "Peace among men with whom he is pleased". The Latin translation of the angels’ song that we use in the liturgy, taken from Saint Jerome, is slightly different: "peace to men of good will". The expression "men of good will" has become an important part of the Church’s vocabulary in recent decades. But which is the correct translation? We must read both texts together; only in this way do we truly understand the angels’ song. It would be a false interpretation to see this exclusively as the action of God, as if he had not called man to a free response of love. But it would be equally mistaken to adopt a moralizing interpretation as if man were so to speak able to redeem himself by his good will. Both elements belong together: grace and freedom, God’s prior love for us, without which we could not love him, and the response that he awaits from us, the response that he asks for so palpably through the birth of his son. We cannot divide up into independent entities the interplay of grace and freedom, or the interplay of call and response. The two are inseparably woven together. So this part of the angels’ message is both promise and call at the same time. God has anticipated us with the gift of his Son. God anticipates us again and again in unexpected ways. He does not cease to search for us, to raise us up as often as we might need. He does not abandon the lost sheep in the wilderness into which it had strayed. God does not allow himself to be confounded by our sin. Again and again he begins afresh with us. But he is still waiting for us to join him in love. He loves us, so that we too may become people who love, so that there may be peace on earth.
Saint Luke does not say that the angels sang. He states quite soberly: the heavenly host praised God and said: "Glory to God in the highest" (Lk 2:13f.). But men have always known that the speech of angels is different from human speech, and that above all on this night of joyful proclamation it was in song that they extolled God’s heavenly glory. So this angelic song has been recognized from the earliest days as music proceeding from God, indeed, as an invitation to join in the singing with hearts filled with joy at the fact that we are loved by God. Cantare amantis est, says Saint Augustine: singing belongs to one who loves. Thus, down the centuries, the angels’ song has again and again become a song of love and joy, a song of those who love. At this hour, full of thankfulness, we join in the singing of all the centuries, singing that unites heaven and earth, angels and men. Yes, indeed, we praise you for your glory. We praise you for your love. Grant that we may join with you in love more and more and thus become people of peace. Amen.
Benedict XVI's "Thought for the Day" to Britain
God "Often Surprises Us in the Way He Fulfills" His Promises
LONDON, DEC. 24, 2010 - Here is a transcription provided by BBC of Benedict XVI's "Thought for the Day." The Pope participated today in the Radio 4 program, which broadcasts three-minute reflections of a religious character from various personalities.
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Recalling with great fondness my four-day visit to the United Kingdom last September, I am glad to have the opportunity to greet you once again, and indeed to greet listeners everywhere as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ. Our thoughts turn back to a moment in history when God's chosen people, the children of Israel, were living in intense expectation. They were waiting for the Messiah that God had promised to send, and they pictured him as a great leader who would rescue them from foreign domination and restore their freedom.
“God is always faithful to his promises, but he often surprises us in the way he fulfils them.”
God is always faithful to his promises, but he often surprises us in the way he fulfils them. The child that was born in Bethlehem did indeed bring liberation, but not only for the people of that time and place - he was to be the Saviour of all people throughout the world and throughout history. And it was not a political liberation that he brought, achieved through military means: rather, Christ destroyed death for ever and restored life by means of his shameful death on the Cross. And while he was born in poverty and obscurity, far from the centres of earthly power, he was none other than the Son of God. Out of love for us he took upon himself our human condition, our fragility, our vulnerability, and he opened up for us the path that leads to the fullness of life, to a share in the life of God himself. As we ponder this great mystery in our hearts this Christmas, let us give thanks to God for his goodness to us, and let us joyfully proclaim to those around us the good news that God offers us freedom from whatever weighs us down: he gives us hope, he brings us life.
Dear Friends from Scotland, England, Wales and indeed every part of the English-speaking world, I want you to know that I keep all of you very much in my prayers during this Holy Season. I pray for your families, for your children, for those who are sick, and for those who are going through any form of hardship at this time. I pray especially for the elderly and for those who are approaching the end of their days. I ask Christ, the light of the nations, to dispel whatever darkness there may be in your lives and to grant to every one of you the grace of a peaceful joyful Christmas. May God bless all of you!
Christmas: Where Everything Began
"May the Christ Child Find All of Us Spiritually Prepared"
VATICAN CITY, DEC. 22, 2010 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience in Paul VI Hall.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters,
With this last audience before the Christmas celebrations, tremulous and full of astonishment, we approach the "place" where everything began for us and for our salvation, where everything found its fulfillment, where the hopes of the world and of the human heart met and interlaced with the presence of God.
We can already have a foretaste of the joy awakened by the little light that is perceived, which from the grotto of Bethlehem begins to radiate in the world. In the Advent journey, which the liturgy has invited us to live, we have been prepared to receive readily and gratefully the great event of the coming of the Savior, to contemplate in wonder his entrance in the world.
Joyful hope, characteristic of the days that precede Holy Christmas, is certainly the essential attitude of the Christian who desires to live fruitfully the renewed encounter with him who comes to dwell in our midst: Christ Jesus, the Son of God made man. We find this disposition of the heart again, and make it our own, in those who first welcomed the coming of the Messiah: Zachariah and Elizabeth, the shepherds, the simple folk, and especially Mary and Joseph, who themselves felt the tremor, but above all the joy over the mystery of this birth.
The whole of the Old Testament is one great promise, which would be realized with the coming of a powerful Savior. The book of the Prophet Isaiah is a particular witness of this, as it speaks to us of the sufferings of history and of the whole of creation for a redemption destined to give back new energies and a new orientation to the whole world. Thus, next to the expectation of the personalities of sacred Scripture, our hope also finds space and meaning through the centuries, a hope which we are experiencing these days and which keeps us going during the whole of our life's journey. In fact, the whole of human existence is animated by this profound sentiment, by the desire that what is most true, most beautiful and greatest, which we have perceived and intuited with our mind and heart, can come to meet us and become concrete before our eyes and raise us again.
"Behold, the omnipotent Lord is coming: He will be called Emmanuel, 'God-with-us'" (Entrance Antiphon, Holy Mass of Dec. 21). During these days, we repeat these words often. In the time of the liturgy, which again actualizes the Mystery, he who is coming to save us from sin and death is already at the door, he who, after Adam's and Eve's disobedience, embraces us again and opens to us access to true life.
St. Irenaeus explains it in his treatise "Against the Heresies," when he states: "The Son of God himself descended 'in the likeness of sinful flesh' (Romans 8:3) to condemn sin and, after having condemned it, exclude it completely from the human race. He called man to likeness with himself, he made him imitator of God, he set him on the path indicated by the Father so that he could see God, and give him as gift to the Father himself" (III, 20, 2-3).
We see some of St. Irenaeus' favorite ideas, that God with the Child Jesus calls us to likeness with himself. We see how God is, and are thus reminded that we should be like God. That we must imitate him. God has given himself, God has given himself into our hands. We must imitate God. And finally, the idea that in this way we can see God. A central idea of St. Irenaeus: Man does not see God, he cannot see him, and so he is in darkness about the truth of himself. However man, who cannot see God, can see Jesus, and so he sees God, and begins to see the truth and thus begins to live.
Hence the Savior comes to reduce to impotence the work of evil and all that which can still keep us away from God, to restore to us the ancient splendor and primitive paternity. With his coming among us, he indicates to us and also assigns to us a task: precisely that we be like him and that we tend toward true life, to come to the vision of God in the face of Christ. St. Irenaeus affirms again: "The Word of God made his dwelling among men and made himself Son of man, to accustom man to understand God and to accustom God to dwell in man according to the will of the Father. That is why God gave us as 'sign' of our salvation him who, born of the Virgin, is the Emmanuel" (ibid.). Here also there is a very beautiful central idea of St. Irenaeus: We must accustom ourselves to perceive God. God is generally distant from our lives, from our ideas, from our action. He has come to us and we must accustom ourselves to be with God. And, audaciously, Irenaeus dares to say that God must also accustom himself to be with us and in us. And that God perhaps should accompany us at Christmas, accustom ourselves to God, as God must accustom himself to us, to our poverty and frailty. Hence, the coming of the Lord can have no objective other than to teach us to see and love events, the world, and everything that surrounds us with the very eyes of God. The Word-become-a-child helps us to understand God's way of acting, so that we will be capable of allowing ourselves to be transformed increasingly by his goodness and his infinite mercy.
In the night of the world, we must let ourselves be amazed and illumined by this act of God, which is totally unexpected: God becomes a Child. We must let ourselves be amazed, illumined by the Star that inundated the universe with joy. May the Child Jesus, in coming to us, not find us unprepared, busy only in making the exterior reality more beautiful and attractive. May the care we give to making our streets and homes more resplendent impel us even more to predispose our soul to encounter him who will come to visit us. Let us purify our conscience and our life of what is contrary to this coming: thoughts, words, attitudes and deeds -- impelling us to do good and to contribute to bring about in our world peace and justice for every man and thus walk toward our encounter with the Lord.
A characteristic sign of Christmastide is the nativity scene. Also in St. Peter's Square, in keeping with custom, it is almost ready and appears ideally over Rome and over the whole world, representing the beauty of the Mystery of God who became man and dwelt among us (cf. John 1:14). The crib is an expression of our expectation that God will come close to us, that Jesus will come close to us, but also thanksgiving for him who decided to share our human condition, in poverty and simplicity. I am happy because the tradition of preparing the crib in homes, in workplaces, in meeting places, remains alive and is even being rediscovered. May this genuine witness of Christian faith be able to offer also today for all men of good will an eloquent icon of the infinite love of the Father for us all. May the hearts of children and adults still be able to be amazed before him.
Dear brothers and sisters, may the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph help us to live the Mystery of Christmas with renewed gratitude to the Lord. In the midst of the frenetic activity of our days, may this time give us some calm and joy and enable us to touch with our hand the goodness of our God, who became a Child to save us and to give new encouragement and light on our journey. This is my wish for a holy and happy Christmas: I address it affectionately to all of you here present, to your families, in particular to the sick and the suffering, as well as to your communities and your loved ones.
[Translation by ZENIT]
[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]
In these last days before Christmas, the Church invites us to contemplate the mystery of Christ's Birth and to receive the gift of his presence, which is the fulfillment of humanity's deepest hopes and expectations. We share in the quiet joy which filled the hearts of Mary and Joseph, and all those who first welcomed the promised Savior, who is Emmanuel, God-with-us. By taking our flesh, the Lord saved us from the sin of our first parents; now he bids us to become like him, to see the world through his eyes and to let our hearts be transformed by his infinite goodness and mercy. This Christmas, may the Christ Child find all of us spiritually prepared for his coming. The traditional Christmas crib, which families prepare in these days, is an eloquent sign of our expectation of the Lord who comes. May the wonderment that the crib evokes in children and adults alike bring us closer to the mystery of God's love revealed in the incarnation of his beloved Son. Let us ask the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph to help us contemplate this great mystery with renewed joy and gratitude.
I offer a warm welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today's Audience. To all of you, and especially the children, I offer my heartfelt wishes for a serene and joy-filled Christmas!
© Copyright 2010 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana
[In Italian, he greeted the youth, sick and newlyweds present:]
I wish, then, to greet young people, the sick and newlyweds. Just a few days before the solemnity of Christmas, may the love that God manifests to humanity in the birth of Christ, make grow in you, dear young people, the desire to serve your brothers generously. May it be for you, dear sick, a source of comfort and serenity because the Lord is coming to visit you, bringing consolation and hope. May it inspire you, dear newlyweds, to consolidate your promise of love and mutual fidelity.
Papal Thank You for Vatican Christmas Tree
"Brings a Message of Hope and Love"
ROME, DEC. 17, 2010 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today upon receiving in audience a group of pilgrims from the Diocese of Bolzano-Bressanone, who donated to the Vatican the Christmas trees which will be placed in St. Peter's Square and in various areas of the Vatican.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters!
I am happy to welcome all of you who are giving me your beautiful Christmas tree from Luson. I greet you all from my heart, beginning with Bishop Karl Golser, whom I thank for the affectionate words he addressed to me. Along with him, I greet the priests, religious, parish counselors and all the faithful of the cities, towns and valleys of your beautiful land, which is profoundly molded by the faith. I greet the president of the province that includes South Tyrol and the mayor of the city of Bressanone. I thank them for the beautiful words they addressed to me, which have truly transmitted to me the sensation of being at home in South Tyrol and of being surrounded and supported by their friendship.
I address a greeting also to the representatives of the city of Bressanone and of the municipality of Luson, of the circle of the Schutzen of Bressanone and of the community of the district of Valle Isarco. I address a particular "Grüß Gott" [a German greeting loosely translated as "May God greet you"] to the mayor of Natz-Schabs, who will confer on me honorary citizenship, in memory of my beloved grandmother on my mother's side, who was born in Raas, a fraction of that municipality. I address a cordial "Vergelt's Gott" [German for God bless you] for this lovely sign of your affection! In my greeting I also include all the other representatives of public life in addition to you all, that with your traditional dress, thought-provoking music and regional specialties have come to Rome to make the traditions of your splendid land known.
I know that this particular event has awakened interest and involved the whole population of the region. Above all, as I have learned, the women of Bressanone have worked in the preparation of the straw stars which are typical Christmas decorations of the German-speaking area. I thank all of you for the particular gift of this Norway Spruce, as well as for all the other Christmas trees, which will decorate the Apostolic Palace and the area of the Vatican, and which also make me feel the presence of South Tyrol in my apartment. May this generous initiative exhort all the inhabitants of South Tyrol to give witness in their own environment of the values of life, of love and of peace that, every year, Christmas commends to us.
This year the spruce tree in St. Peter's Square comes from picturesque Luson, not far from the Sass of Putia of the immense Dolomites. The extraordinary beauty of this scenery invites us to recognize the greatness of our Creator, whose love shines incessantly in his wonderful work of nature, also to illuminate man's heart and fill it with peace and joy.
Tonight, at the end of the ceremony of the official giving of the tree, in the presence of Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo, president of the Governorate of Vatican City State, the lights adorning the tree will be lit. The tree, taken from an altitude of almost 1,500 meters [4,921 feet] and cut without causing damage to the life of the forest, will remain next to the Nativity until the end of the Christmas celebrations, and will be admired by the numerous pilgrims and tourists from all parts of the world, as significant symbol of the light of Christ, which he brought to humanity with his birth. He, the Messiah, became man and came into our midst, to dissipate the darkness of error and sin, carrying out "in an unsurpassable way the condescension of God" ("Verbum Domini," No. 11). To have faith in him means to receive in oneself the light that is Christ Jesus.
The Christmas tree enriches the symbolic value of the nativity scene, which is a message of fraternity and friendship; an invitation to unity and peace, an invitation to make room, in our life and in society, for God, who offers us his omnipotent love through the fragile figure of a Child, because he wants us to respond freely to his love with our own love. Therefore, the nativity scene and the tree bring a message of hope and love, and help to create the propitious climate to live, in the correct spiritual and religious dimension, the mystery of the birth of the Redeemer.
Dear friends, I wish from my heart to all those present and to your fellow countrymen a Christmas of recollection and tranquility. I assure you that, next to the nativity scene, I will pray for you, for your families and for all persons in your region, and I impart to all the apostolic blessing.
A Holy Christmas to all!
On the Solemnity of Christ the King
"Jesus, From the Throne of the Cross Receives Every Man With Infinite Mercy"
VATICAN CITY, NOV. 21, 2010 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today before praying the midday Angelus together with those gathered in St. Peter's Square.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters!
There has just concluded in the Vatican basilica the liturgy of Our Lord Jesus Christ King of the Universe, which was also concelebrated by the 24 new cardinals created yesterday in the consistory. The Solemnity of Christ the King was instituted by Pius IX in 1925 and, later, after the Second Vatican Council, it was linked to the end of the liturgical year. The Gospel of St. Luke presents, as in a great painting, the royalty of Jesus in the moment of his crucifixion. The leaders of the people and the soldiers deride "the firstborn of all creation" (Colossians 1:15) and they test him to see if he has the power to save himself from death (cf. Luke 23:35-37). And precisely "on the cross Jesus is exalted to the very 'height' of God, who is love. It is there that he can be 'known.' [...] Jesus gives us 'life' because he gives us God. He can give him to us because he himself is one with God" (Benedict XVI, "Jesus of Nazareth," San Francisco, 2008, pp. 349 ff.). In fact, while the Lord finds himself between two criminals, one of them, aware of his own sins, opens himself to truth, arrives at faith and prays to "the king of the Jews": "Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom" (Luke 23:42). From him who "is before all things and in whom all things exist" (Colossians 1:17) the so-called "good thief" immediately receives forgiveness and the joy of entering into the Kingdom of Heaven. "In truth I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43). With these words, Jesus, from the throne of the cross receives every man with infinite mercy. St. Ambrose comments that this "is a beautiful example of conversion to which one should aspire: forgiveness is quickly offered the thief and the grace is more abundant than the request; the Lord in fact," St. Ambrose says, "always give more than what is asked for [...] Life is being with Christ because where Christ is there is the Kingdom" (Expositio Ev. sec. Lucam X, 121: CCL 14, 379).
Dear Friends, in Christian art we can contemplate the way of love that the Lord reveals to us and that he invites us to follow. In fact, in the earliest times "in the arrangement of Christian sacred buildings [...] it became customary to depict the Lord returning as a king -- the symbol of hope -- at the east end; while the west wall normally portrayed the Last Judgment as a symbol of our responsibility for our lives" ("Spe salvi," 41): hope in the infinite love of God and commitment to order our life according to God's love. When we contemplate the depiction of Jesus inspired by the New Testament -- as an ancient council teaches -- we are led to "understand [...] the sublimity and the humiliation of the Word of God and [...] to recall his life in the flesh, his passion and salvific death, and the redemption that thus came to the world" (Council of Trullo [ca. 691 or 692], canon 82). "Yes, we need it, precisely to [...] become capable of recognizing in the pierced heart of the Crucified the mystery of God" (J. Ratzinger, "Teologia della liturgia: La fondazione sacramentale dell'esistenza cristiana," LEV 2010, p. 69).
To the Virgin Mary, in today's observance of her Presentation in the Temple, we entrust the new members of the College of Cardinals and our earthly pilgrimage toward eternity.
[After the Angelus the Holy Father greeted the pilgrims in various languages. In Italian he said:]
Following the invitation of the bishops, in Italy the ecclesial communities are praying for the Christians who are suffering persecutions and discrimination, especially in Iraq. I join this invocation of the God of life and peace, that in every part of the world religious freedom might be secured. I am near to these brothers and sisters through great witness of faith that they bear to God. In today's memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Temple the Church remembers cloistered men and women with particular affection: it is "Pro Orantibus Day" in which the invitation to concretely support these communities is renewed. To them I impart the apostolic blessing from my heart.
Today is also the "Day of the Victims of the Street." While I assure them a remembrance in prayer, I encourage work in prevention, which is having good results, recalling that prudence and respect for norms are always the first way to protect oneself and others.
[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]
[In English he said:]
I extend a warm welcome to the English-speaking visitors here today. I greet especially those who have traveled to Rome in order to be present for this weekend's Consistory, and to pray for the twenty-four new Cardinals. And I greet the groups of pilgrims from Saint Anne's parish, Orange, California, from Immaculate Conception Church, Los Angeles, California, and Saint Patrick's Parish in London. On this feast of Christ the King, we ask the Lord to guide our efforts to proclaim the good news of his Kingdom to people everywhere. Upon all of you, and upon your families and love ones at home, I invoke God's abundant blessings.
© Copyright 2010 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana
Papal Homily on Feast of Assumption
"Nothing of What Is Precious and Loved Will Be Ruined"
CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, AUG. 16, 2010- Here is a translation of the homily Benedict XVI gave Sunday for the feast of Mary's Assumption, which he celebrated in the parish Church of St. Thomas of Villanueva.
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Eminence, Excellency, Authorities,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today the Church celebrates one of the most important feasts of the liturgical year dedicated to Mary Most Holy: the Assumption. At the end of her earthly life, Mary was taken in soul and body to heaven, that is, to the glory of eternal life, in full and perfect communion with God.
Celebrated this year is the 60th anniversary since the Venerable Pope Pius XII solemnly defined this dogma on Nov. 1, 1950, and I would like to read -- although it is somewhat complicated -- the form of the dogmatization. The Pope says: "Hence the revered Mother of God, from all eternity joined in a hidden way with Jesus Christ in one and the same decree of predestination, immaculate in her conception, a most perfect virgin in her divine motherhood, the noble associate of the divine Redeemer who has won a complete triumph over sin and its consequences, finally obtained, as the supreme culmination of her privileges, that she should be preserved free from the corruption of the tomb and that, like her own Son, having overcome death, she might be taken up body and soul to the glory of heaven where, as Queen, she sits in splendor at the right hand of her Son, the immortal King of the Ages" (Apostolic Constitution "Munificentissimus Deus," 40).
This is, hence, the nucleus of our faith in the Assumption: we believe that Mary, as Christ her Son, has already conquered death and triumphs now in heavenly glory in the totality of her being, "in soul and body."
St. Paul, in today's second reading, helps us to throw some light on this mystery from the central event of human history and from our faith: that is, the event of the resurrection of Christ, who is "the first fruits of those who have died."
Immersed in his Paschal Mystery, we have been made sharers in his victory over sin and death. Herein is the amazing secret and the key reality of the whole of human history. St. Paul tells us that we were all "incorporated" in Adam, the first and old man, we all have the same human inheritance to which he belongs: suffering, death, sin. However to this reality that all of us can see and live every day he adds something new: We are not only in this inheritance of the one human being, begun with Adam, but we are also "incorporated" in the new man, in the Risen Christ, and thus the life of the Resurrection is already present among us.
Hence, this first biological "incorporation" is incorporation in death, incorporation that generates death. The second, the new one that is given to us in baptism, is "incorporation" that gives life. I quote again today's Second Letter; St. Paul says: "For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead came also through a human being. For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life, but each one in proper order: Christ the firstfruits; then, at his coming, those who belong to Christ" (1 Corinthians 15:21-24).
Now, what St. Paul states about all men, the Church, in her infallible teaching, says of Mary, in a precise way and meaning: the Mother of God is inserted to such a degree in the mystery of Christ that she shares in the resurrection of her Son with her whole being already at the end of her earthly life, she lives what we hope for at the end of time when death, "the last enemy," will be destroyed (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:26); she already lives what we proclaim in the Creed "I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come."
Hence, we can ask ourselves: What are the roots of this victory over death anticipated miraculously in Mary? The roots are in the faith of the Virgin of Nazareth, as attested in the passage of the Gospel we heard (Luke 1:39-56): a faith that is obedience to the Word of God and total abandonment to divine initiative and action, according to what the archangel announces to her. Faith, hence, is Mary's greatness, as Elizabeth joyfully proclaims: Mary is "blessed among women," "blessed is the fruit of her womb" because she is "the mother of the Lord," because she believes and lives in a unique way the "first" of the beatitudes, the beatitude of faith. Elizabeth confesses it in her joy and that of the child who leaps in her womb: "And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord" (vs. 45).
Dear friends! Let us not limit ourselves to admire Mary in her glorious destiny, as a person who is far from us: no! We are called to see what the Lord, in his love, also willed for us, for our final destiny: to live through faith in perfect communion of love with him and thus to truly live.
In this connection, I would like to pause on an aspect of the dogmatic affirmation, where it speaks of assumption to heavenly glory. All of us are conscious today that with the term "heaven," we do not refer to some place in the universe, to a star or something similar: no. We refer to something much bigger and more difficult to define with our limited human concepts. With this term "heaven," we mean to affirm that God, the God who has made himself close to us, does not abandon us, not even in death and beyond it, but that he has a place for us and he gives us eternity; we want to affirm that there is a place for us in God. To understand this reality somewhat more, let us look at our own life: We all know that when a person dies he continues to subsist in the memory and the heart of those who knew and loved him. We could say that a part of that person continues to live in them, but it is as a "shadow" because this survival in the heart of his loved ones is also destined to end. God instead never passes and all of us exist because of his love. We exist because he loves us, because he has thought of us and called us to life. We exist in the thoughts and love of God. We exist in all our reality, not only in our "shadow." Our serenity, our hope, our peace are founded precisely on this: on God, on his thought and on his love, it is not only a "shadow" of ourselves that survives, but that in him, in his creative love, we are kept and introduced with our whole life, with our whole being into eternity.
It is his love that conquers death and gives us eternity, and it is this love that we call "heaven": God is so great that he also has a space for us. And the man Jesus, who is at the same time God, is for us the guarantee that being-man and being-God can exist and live eternally in one another. This means that each one of us will not continue existing only in a part that has been, so to speak, wrenched from us, while the rest is ruined; it means rather that God knows and loves the whole man, what we are. And God receives in his eternity what now, in our life, made up of suffering and love, of hope, of joy and sadness, grows and comes to be. The whole man, the whole of his life is taken by God and, purified in him, receives eternity.
Dear friends! I think this is a truth that should fill us with joy. Christianity does not proclaim merely a certain salvation of the soul in some imprecise place beyond, in which everything in this world that was precious and loved by us is erased, but it promises eternal life, "the life of the world to come": Nothing of what is precious and loved will be ruined, but will find its fulfillment in God. All the hairs of our head are numbered, Jesus said one day (cf. Matthew 10:30). The final world will also be the fulfillment of this earth, as St. Paul states: "creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God" (Romans 8:21).
Understood therefore is that Christianity gives strong hope in a luminous future and opens the way to the realization of this future. We are called, precisely as Christians, to build this new world, to work so that it will become one day the "world of God," a world that will surpass everything that we ourselves could build. In Mary assumed into heaven, fully sharing in the resurrection of her Son, we contemplate the realization of the human creature according to the "world of God."
Let us pray to the Lord to make us understand how precious our life is in his eyes; may he reinforce our faith in eternal life; may he make us people of hope, who work to build a world open to God, people full of joy who are able to perceive the beauty of the future world in the midst of the cares of daily life and, with this certainty, live, believe and hope.
Papal Homily for Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul
"The Unity of the Church Is Rooted in Its Union With Christ"
VATICAN CITY, JUNE 30, 2010 - Here is a Vatican translation of the homily Benedict XVI delivered Tuesday at the Mass in St. Peter's Basilica on the solemnity of Sts Peter and Paul. During Mass, he bestowed the pallium on 38 archbishops.
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Dear brothers and sisters!
The biblical texts of this Eucharistic Liturgy of the solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, in their great wealth, highlight a theme that could be summarized thus: God is close to his faithful servants and frees them from all evil, and frees the Church from negative powers. It is the theme of the freedom of the Church, which has a historical aspect and another more deeply spiritual one.
This theme runs through today's Liturgy of the Word. The first and second readings speak, respectively, of St Peter and St Paul, emphasizing precisely the liberating action of God in them. Especially the text from the Acts of the Apostles describes in abundant detail the intervention of the Angel of the Lord, who releases Peter from the chains and leads him outside the prison in Jerusalem, where he had been locked up, under close supervision, by King Herod (cf. at 12.1 to 11). Paul, however, writing to Timothy when he feels close to the end of his earthly life, takes stock which shows that the Lord was always near him and freed him from many dangers and frees him still by introducing him into His eternal Kingdom ( see 2 Tim 4, 6-8.17-18). The theme is reinforced by the Responsorial Psalm (Ps 33), and also finds a particular development in the Gospel of Peter's confession, where Christ promises that the powers of hell shall not prevail against his Church (cf. Mt 16:18).
Observing closely we note a certain progression regarding this issue. In the first reading a specific episode is narrated that shows the Lord's intervention to free Peter from prison. In the second Paul, on the basis of his extraordinary apostolic experience, is convinced that the Lord, who already freed him "from the mouth of the lion "delivers him" from all evil", by opening the doors of Heaven to him. In the Gospel we no longer speak of the individual Apostles, but the Church as a whole and its safekeeping from the forces of evil, in the widest and most profound sense. Thus we see that the promise of Jesus -- "the powers of hell shall not prevail" on the Church -- yes, includes the historical experience of persecution suffered by Peter and Paul and other witnesses of the Gospel, but it goes further, wanting to protect especially against threats of a spiritual order, as Paul himself writes in his Letter to the Ephesians: " For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens"(Eph 6:12).
Indeed, if we think of the two millennia of Church history, we can see that -- as the Lord Jesus had announced (cf. Mt 10.16-33) -- Christians have never been lacking in trials, which in some periods and places have assumed the character of real persecution. These, however, despite the suffering they cause, are not the greatest danger for the Church. In fact it suffers greatest damage from what pollutes the Christian faith and life of its members and its communities, eroding the integrity of the Mystical Body, weakening its ability to prophesy and witness, tarnishing the beauty of its face. This reality is already attested in the Pauline Epistle. The First Epistle to the Corinthians, for example, responds to some problems of divisions, inconsistencies, of infidelity to the Gospel which seriously threaten the Church. But the Second Letter to Timothy -- of which we heard an excerpt - speaks about the dangers of the "last days", identifying them with negative attitudes that belong to the world and can infect the Christian community: selfishness, vanity, pride, love of money, etc. (cf. 3.1 to 5). The Apostle’s conclusion is reassuring: men who do wrong -- he writes -- "will not make further progress, for their foolishness will be plain to all" (3.9). There is therefore a guarantee of freedom promised by God to the Church, it is freedom from the material bonds that seek to prevent or coerce mission, both through spiritual and moral evils, which may affect its authenticity and credibility.
The theme of the freedom of the Church, guaranteed by Christ to Peter, also has a specific relevance to the rite of the imposition of the pallium, which we renew today for thirty-eight metropolitan archbishops, to whom I address my most cordial greeting, extending with it affection to all who have wanted to accompany them on this pilgrimage. Communion with Peter and his successors, in fact, is the guarantee of freedom for the Church's Pastors and the Communities entrusted to them. It is highlighted on both levels in the aforementioned reflections. Historically, union with the Apostolic See, ensures the particular Churches and Episcopal Conferences freedom with respect to local, national or supranational powers, that can sometimes hinder the mission of the ecclesial Church. Furthermore, and most essentially, the Petrine ministry is a guarantee of freedom in the sense of full adherence to truth and authentic tradition, so that the People of God may be preserved from mistakes concerning faith and morals. Hence the fact that each year the new Metropolitans come to Rome to receive the pallium from the hands of the Pope, must be understood in its proper meaning, as a gesture of communion, and the issue of freedom of the Church gives us a particularly important key for interpretation. This is evident in the case of churches marked by persecution, or subject to political interference or other hardships. But this is no less relevant in the case of communities that suffer the influence of misleading doctrines or ideological tendencies and practices contrary to the Gospel. Thus the pallium becomes, in this sense, a pledge of freedom, similar to the "yoke" of Jesus, that He invites us to take up, each on their shoulders (Mt 11:29-30). While demanding, the commandment of Christ is "sweet and light" and instead of weighing down on the bearer, it lifts him up, thus the bond with the Apostolic See – while challenging -- sustains the Pastor and the portion of the Church entrusted to his care, making them freer and stronger.
I would like to draw a final point from the Word of God, in particular from Christ's promise that the powers of hell shall not prevail against his Church. These words may also have a significant ecumenical value, since, as I mentioned earlier, one of the typical effects of the Devil is division within the Church community. The divisions are in fact symptoms of the power of sin, which continues to act in members of the Church even after redemption. But the word of Christ is clear: " Non praevalebunt -- it will not prevail" (Matt. 16:18). The unity of the Church is rooted in its union with Christ, and the cause of full Christian unity -- always to be sought and renewed from generation to generation - is well supported by his prayer and his promise. In the fight against the spirit of evil, God has given us in Jesus the 'Advocate', defender, and after his Easter, "another Paraclete" (Jn 14:16), the Holy Spirit, which remains with us always and leads the Church into the fullness of truth (cf. Jn 14:16; 16:13), which is also the fullness of charity and unity. With these feelings of confident hope, I am pleased to greet the delegation of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, which, in the beautiful custom of reciprocal visits, participates in the celebrations of the patron saints of Rome. Together we thank God for progress in ecumenical relations between Catholics and Orthodox, and we renew our commitment to generously reciprocate to God's grace, which leads us to full communion.
Dear friends, I cordially greet all of you: Cardinals, Brother Bishops, Ambassadors and civil authorities, in particular the Mayor of Rome, priests, religious and lay faithful. Thank you for your presence. May the Saints Peter and Paul help you to grow in love for the holy Church, the Mystical Body of Christ the Lord and messenger of unity and peace for all men. May they also help you to offer the hardships and sufferings endured for fidelity to the Gospel with joy for her holiness and her mission. May the Virgin Mary, Queen of Apostles and Mother of the Church, always watch over you and especially over the Ministry of metropolitan archbishops. With her heavenly help may you always live and act in that freedom that Christ has won for us. Amen.
© Copyright 2010 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana
Pope's Homily at Vespers for Sts. Peter and Paul
"The Church Is an Immense Force of Renewal
in the World"
VATICAN CITY, JUNE 28, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the homily Benedict XVI delivered today during the vigil for the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, held at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters!
With the celebration of the first vespers we enter into the solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul. We have the grace of doing so in the Papal Basilica named after the Apostle to the Gentiles, recollected in prayer near his tomb. Because of this, I would like to focus my brief reflection on the perspective of the missionary vocation of the Church. In this line are the third antiphon of the psalm that we prayed and the biblical reading. The first two antiphons are dedicated to St. Peter, the third to St. Paul and it says: "You are the messenger of God, Holy Apostle Paul: you proclaimed the truth in the whole world."
And in the brief reading, which treats of the initial direction of the Letter to the Romans, Paul introduces himself as "called to be an apostle, set apart for the Gospel of God" (Romans 1:1). Paul's figure, his person and his ministry, his whole existence and his hard work for the Kingdom of God, are completely dedicated to the service of the Gospel. Perceived in these texts is a sense of movement, where the protagonist is not man, but God, the breath of the Holy Spirit, which drives the Apostle onto the roads of the world to take the Good News to all: the promises of the prophets are fulfilled in Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, who died for our sins and rose for our justification. Saul is no longer, Paul is, and what is more, it is Christ who lives in him (cf. Galatians 2:20) and wishes to gather all men. If then the feast of the Holy Patrons of Rome evokes the twofold tension between unity and universality that typifies this Church, the context in which we find ourselves this evening calls us to favor the second, allowing ourselves, so to speak, to be won over by St. Paul and by his extraordinary vocation.
When he was elected Successor of Peter, at the height of the unfolding of the Second Vatican Council, the Servant of God Giovanni Battista Montini chose to bear the name of the Apostle to the Gentiles. Within his program of action of the Council, in 1974 Paul VI convoked and assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the topic of evangelization in the contemporary world, and about a year later he published the apostolic exhortation "Evangelii Nuntiandi," which opens with these words: "There is no doubt that the effort to proclaim the Gospel to the people of today, who are buoyed up by hope but at the same time often oppressed by fear and distress, is a service rendered to the Christian community and also to the whole of humanity" (No. 1). The timeliness of this expression is striking. Perceived in it is all the particular missionary sensibility of Paul VI and, through his voice, the great conciliar yearning to evangelize the contemporary world, a yearning that culminated in the decree "Ad Gentes," but which permeates all the documents of Vatican II and that, even earlier, animated the thought and work of the council fathers, gathered to represent, in a way never before so tangible, the worldwide diffusion reached by the Church.
Words are not adequate to explain how the Venerable John Paul II, in his long pontificate, developed this missionary projection, which -- it is always recalled -- responds to the nature itself of the Church, which with St. Paul can and must always repeat: "For if I preach the Gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel! (1 Corinthians 9:16). Pope John Paul II presented "live" the missionary nature of the Church, with the apostolic journeys and with the insistence of his magisterium on the urgency of a "new evangelization": "new" not in the contents, but in the interior impulse, open to the grace of the Holy Spirit who constitutes the force of the new law of the Gospel and who always renews the Church; "new" in the search of ways that correspond to the force of the Holy Spirit and are adapted to the times and the situations; "new" because necessary also in countries which have already received the proclamation of the Gospel. Evident to all is that my predecessor gave an extraordinary impulse to the mission of the Church, not only -- I repeat -- by the distances covered by him, but above all by the genuine missionary spirit that animated him and that he left in legacy at the dawn of the third millennium.
Taking up this legacy, I have been able to affirm, at the beginning of my Petrine ministry, that the Church is young, and open to the future. And I repeat it today, near the sepulcher of St. Paul: The Church is an immense force of renewal in the world, not because of her strength, but because of the force of the Gospel, in which the Holy Spirit of God breathes, the God Creator and Redeemer of the world. The challenges of the present age are certainly beyond human capacities; they are the historical and social challenges, and with greater reason, the spiritual challenges. At times it seems to us pastors of the Church that we are reliving the experience of the Apostles, when thousands of needy persons followed Jesus, and he asked: What can we do for all these people? They then experienced their impotence. But Jesus had in fact demonstrated to them that with faith in God nothing is impossible, and that a few loaves and a few fish, blessed and shared, could satiate all. But it was not -- and is not -- only hunger for material food: There is a more profound hunger, which only God can satiate.
Man of the third millennium also desires an authentic and full life, he has need of truth, of profound liberty, of gratuitous love. Also in the deserts of the secularized world, man's soul thirsts for God, for the living God. Because of this John Paul II wrote: "The mission of Christ the Redeemer, entrusted to the Church, is still very far from its fulfillment," and he added: "a look on the whole of humanity demonstrates that such a mission is still at the beginning and that we must commit ourselves with all our strength to its service" ("Redemptoris Missio," No. 1). There are regions in the world that still wait for a first evangelization; others that received it but need more profound work; others still in which the Gospel put down roots a long time ago, giving place to a true Christian tradition, but where in the last centuries -- with complex dynamics -- the process of secularization has produced a grave crisis of the sense of the Christian faith and of belonging to the Church.
In this perspective, I have decided to create a new organism, in the form of pontifical council, with the specific task of promoting a renewed evangelization in countries where the first proclamation of the faith already resounded, and where Churches are present of ancient foundation, but which are going through a progressive secularization of society and a sort of "eclipse of the sense of God," which constitutes a challenge to find the appropriate means to propose again the perennial truth of the Gospel of Christ.
Dear brothers and sisters, the universal Church faces the challenge of the new evangelization, which asks us also to continue with commitment the search for the full unity among Christians. An eloquent sign of hope in this connection is the custom of the reciprocal visits between the Church of Rome and that of Constantinople on the occasion of the feasts of their respective patron saints.
Because of this, today we welcome with renewed joy and gratitude the delegation sent by Patriarch Bartholomew I, to whom we address the most cordial greeting. May the intercession of Sts. Peter and Paul obtain for the whole Church ardent faith and apostolic courage, to proclaim to the world the truth of which we all have need, the truth that is God, origin and end of the universe and of history, merciful and faithful Father, hope of eternal life. Amen.
Holy Father's Homily at Corpus Christi Mass
"In What Sense Is Jesus a Priest?"
VATICAN CITY, JUNE 4, 2010 - Here is a translation of the homily Benedict XVI delivered Thursday at the Mass preceding the Eucharistic procession held on the solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.
The Pope presided at the Mass in the courtyard of the Basilica of St. John Lateran, and the procession that followed via Merulana and ended at the Basilica of St. Mary Major.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters!
The priesthood of the New Testament is closely bound to the Eucharist. Because of this, today, on the solemnity of Corpus Domini and almost at the end of the Year for Priests, we are invited to meditate on the relationship between the Eucharist and the priesthood of Christ. Oriented in this direction also are the first reading and the responsorial psalm, which present the figure of Melchizedek.
The brief passage from the Book of Genesis (cf. 14:18-20) states that Melchizedek, king of Salem, was "priest of God Most High," and because of this "offered bread and wine" and "blessed Abram," returning from a victory in battle; Abram himself gave him a tenth of everything. The Psalm, in turn, contains in the last verse a solemn expression, an oath of God himself, who declares to the King Messiah: "You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek" (Psalm 110:4); thus the Messiah is not only proclaimed king, but also priest.
From this passage the author of the Letter to the Hebrews takes the cue for his ample and articulated exposition. And we re-echoed it in the refrain: "You are a priest for ever, Lord Christ": virtually a profession of faith, which acquires a particular meaning in today's feast. It is the joy of the community, the joy of the whole Church that, contemplating and adoring the Most Blessed Sacrament, recognizes in it the real and permanent presence of Jesus as High and Eternal Priest.
The second reading and the Gospel, instead, draw attention to the Eucharistic mystery. The First Letter to the Corinthians (cf. 11:23-26) treats the fundamental passage in which St. Paul recalls to that community the meaning and value of the "Lord's Supper," which the Apostle had transmitted and taught, but which risked being lost. The Gospel is the account of the miracle of the loaves and fishes, according to St. Luke: a sign attested by all the Evangelists, which announces beforehand the gift that Christ will make of himself, to give humanity eternal life.
Both of these texts highlight Christ's prayer, in the act of breaking the bread. Of course there is a clear difference between the two moments: When he multiplies the loaves and fishes for the crowd, Jesus thanks the heavenly Father for his Providence, confident that he will not have food lacking for all those people. In the Last Supper, instead, Jesus transforms the bread and wine into his own Body and Blood, so that the disciples can nourish themselves from him and live in profound and real communion with him.
The first thing that one must remember is that Jesus was not a priest according to the Jewish tradition. His was not a priestly family. He did not belong to the lineage of Aaron, but rather to that of Judah; hence, legally, he was precluded from the way of the priesthood. The person and activity of Jesus of Nazareth were not placed in the line of the ancient priests, but rather in that of the prophets.
And in this line, Jesus distanced himself from a ritual conception of religion, criticizing the approach that valued human precepts linked to ritual purity rather than the observance of God's Commandments, that is, love of God and of one's neighbor, which, as the Gospel says, "is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices" (Mark 12:33). Even inside the Temple of Jerusalem, sacred place par excellence, Jesus carries out an exquisitely prophetic gesture, when he chases the moneychangers and animal vendors, all things that served for the offering of traditional sacrifices. Hence, Jesus was not recognized as a priestly Messiah, but as prophetic and royal. Also his death, which we Christians rightly call "sacrifice," had nothing of the ancient sacrifices; rather, it was completely the opposite: the execution of a death penalty by crucifixion, the most infamous, which took place outside the walls of Jerusalem.
Now, in what sense is Jesus a priest? The Eucharist itself says it. We can begin from those simple words that describe Melchizedek: he "offered bread and wine" (Genesis 14:18). It is what Jesus did in the Last Supper: He offered bread and wine, and in that gesture he summarized all of himself and all of his mission. In that act, in the prayer that preceded it and in the words that accompanied it, is all the sense of the mystery of Christ, as it is expressed in the Letter to the Hebrews in a decisive passage, which it is necessary to quote. "In the days of his flesh," wrote the author referring to Jesus, "Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek" (5:8-10).
In this text, which clearly alludes to the spiritual agony of Gethsemane, Christ's passion is presented as a prayer and an offering. Jesus faces his "hour," which leads him to death on a cross, immersed in a profound prayer, which consists in the union of his own will with that of the Father. This twofold and unique will is a will of love. Lived in this prayer, the tragic trial that Jesus faces is transformed into offering, into living sacrifice.
The Letter to the Hebrews says that Jesus "was heard." In what sense? In the sense that God the Father delivered him from death and resurrected him. He was heard precisely because of his full abandonment to the will of the Father: God's plan of love was able to be fulfilled perfectly in Jesus, who, having obeyed to the extreme point of death on the cross, became "cause of salvation" for all those who obey him. He became, that is, High Priest for having taken on himself all the sin of the world, as "Lamb of God." It is the Father who confers this priesthood on him at the very moment in which Jesus goes through the passage from his death and resurrection. It is not a priesthood according to the order of the Mosaic Law (cf. Leviticus 8-9), but "according to the order of Melchizedek," according to a prophetic order, depending only on his singular relationship with God.
Let us return to the expression of the Letter to the Hebrews that says: "Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered." Christ's priesthood entails suffering. Jesus really suffered, and he did so for us. He was the Son and had no need to learn obedience to God, but we do, we had and always have need. Because of this, the Son assumed our humanity and for us let himself be "educated" in the crucible of suffering, he let himself be transformed by it, as the grain of corn which to bear fruit must die in the earth.
Through this process Jesus was "made perfect," in Greek "teleiotheis." We must reflect on this term because it is very significant. It indicates the fulfillment of a journey, that is, precisely the journey of education and transformation of the Son of God through suffering, through the painful Passion. And thanks to this transformation Jesus Christ became "High Priest" and can save all those who entrust themselves to him.
The term "teleiotheis," translated correctly as "made perfect," belongs to a verbal root that, in the Greek version of the Pentateuch, namely the first five books of the Bible, is always used to indicate the consecration of the ancient priests. This discovery is quite precious, because it tells us that the Passion was for Jesus as a priestly consecration. He was not a priest according to the Law, but he became so essentially in his Passion, Death and Resurrection: He offered himself in expiation and the Father, exalting him above every creature, constituted him universal Mediator of salvation.
We return, in our meditation, to the Eucharist, which in a while will be the center of our liturgical assembly and of the subsequent solemn procession. In it Jesus anticipated his sacrifice, not a ritual sacrifice but a personal one. In the Last Supper he acted moved by that "Eternal Spirit" with which he will offer himself later on the Cross (cf. Hebrews 9:14). Giving thanks and with a blessing, Jesus transformed the bread and wine. It is divine love that transforms: the love with which Jesus accepts in advance to give himself completely for us. This love is none other than the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Father and of the Son, which consecrates the bread and wine and changes their substance into the Body and the Blood of the Lord, rendering present in the Sacrament the same sacrifice that is made later in a bloody manner on the cross.
We can conclude that Christ was a true and effective priest because he was full of the power of the Holy Spirit, he was the culmination of all the fullness of the love of God "on the night he was betrayed," precisely in the "hour of darkness" (cf. Luke 22:53). It is this divine power, the same that brought about the Incarnation of the Word, which transformed the extreme violence and the extreme injustice [of his death] into a supreme act of love and justice.
This is the work of the priesthood of Christ, which the Church has inherited and continues to perpetuate, in the twofold form of ordinary priesthood of the baptized and that of the ordained ministers, to transform the world with the love of God. All, priests and faithful, are nourished by the same Eucharist, all of us prostrate ourselves to adore it, because present in it is our Teacher and Lord, present is the real Body of Jesus, Victim and Priest, salvation of the world. Come, let us exult with hymns of joy. Come, let us adore! Amen.
Benedict XVI's Address at End of May
"Mary's Is an Authentic Missionary Journey"
VATICAN CITY, JUNE 1, 2010 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict