2006 and 2007

Benedict XVI's Easter Message
"Jesus Is Risen, and He Gives Us Peace"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 16, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of Benedict XVI's Easter message delivered today at midday before he imparted his blessing "urbi et orbi" (to the city of Rome and the world).

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Dear Brothers and Sisters!

"Christus resurrexit!" -- Christ is risen!

During last night's great vigil we relived the decisive and ever-present event of the Resurrection, the central mystery of the Christian faith. Innumerable paschal candles were lit in churches, to symbolize the light of Christ which has enlightened and continues to enlighten humanity, conquering the darkness of sin and death for ever.

And today echo powerfully the words which dumbfounded the women on the morning of the first day after the Sabbath, when they came to the tomb where Christ's body, taken down in haste from the cross, had been laid. Sad and disconsolate over the loss of their master, they found the great stone rolled away, and when they entered they saw that his body was no longer there.

As they stood there, uncertain and bewildered, two men in dazzling apparel surprised them, saying: "Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, he is risen" (Luke 24:5-6). "Non est hic, sed resurrexit" (Luke 24:6). Ever since that morning, these words have not ceased to resound throughout the universe as a proclamation of joy which spans the centuries unchanged and, at the same time, charged with infinite and ever new resonances.

"He is not here ... he is risen." The heavenly messengers announce first and foremost that Jesus "is not here": The Son of God did not remain in the tomb, because it was not possible for him to be held prisoner by death (cf. Acts 2:24) and the tomb could not hold on to "the living one" (Revelation 1:18) who is the very source of life.

Like Jonah in the belly of the whale, so too Christ crucified was swallowed up into the heart of the earth (cf. Matthew 12:40) for the length of a Sabbath. Truly, "that Sabbath was a high day," as St. John tells us (John 19:31): the highest in history, because it was then that the "Lord of the Sabbath" (Matthew 12:8) brought to fulfillment the work of creation (cf. Genesis 2:1-4a), raising man and the entire cosmos to the glorious liberty of the children of God (cf. Romans 8:21).

When this extraordinary work had been accomplished, the lifeless body was suffused with the living breath of God and, as the walls of the tomb were shattered, he rose in glory. That is why the angels proclaim "he is not here," he can no longer be found in the tomb. He made his pilgrim way on earth among us, he completed his journey in the tomb as all men do, but he conquered death and, in an absolutely new way, by an act of pure love, he opened the earth, threw it open toward heaven.

His resurrection becomes our resurrection, through baptism which "incorporates" us into him. The prophet Ezekiel had foretold this: "Behold, I will open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you home into the land of Israel" (Ezekial 37:12). These prophetic words take on a singular value on Easter Day, because today the creator's promise is fulfilled; today, even in this modern age marked by anxiety and uncertainty, we relive the event of the Resurrection, which changed the face of our life and changed the history of humanity. From the risen Christ, all those who are still oppressed by chains of suffering and death look for hope, sometimes even without knowing it.

May the Spirit of the risen one, in particular, bring relief and security in Africa to the peoples of Darfur, who are living in a dramatic humanitarian situation that is no longer sustainable; to those of the Great Lakes region, where many wounds have yet to be healed; to the peoples of the Horn of Africa, of Ivory Coast, Uganda, Zimbabwe and other nations which aspire to reconciliation, justice and progress. In Iraq, may peace finally prevail over the tragic violence that continues mercilessly to claim victims.

I also pray sincerely that those caught up in the conflict in the Holy Land may find peace, and I invite all to patient and persevering dialogue, so as to remove both ancient and new obstacles. May the international community, which reaffirms Israel's just right to exist in peace, assist the Palestinian people to overcome the precarious conditions in which they live and to build their future, moving toward the constitution of a state that is truly their own.

May the Spirit of the Risen One enkindle a renewed enthusiastic commitment of the countries of Latin America, so that the living conditions of millions of citizens may be improved, the deplorable scourge of kidnapping may be eradicated and democratic institutions may be consolidated in a spirit of harmony and effective solidarity.

Concerning the international crises linked to nuclear power, may an honorable solution be found for all parties, through serious and honest negotiations, and may the leaders of nations and of international organizations be strengthened in their will to achieve peaceful coexistence among different races, cultures and religions, in order to remove the threat of terrorism.

May the risen Lord grant that the strength of his life, peace and freedom be experienced everywhere. Today the words with which the Angel reassured the frightened hearts of the women on Easter morning are addressed to all: "Do not be afraid! ... He is not here; he is risen" (Matthew 28:5-6). Jesus is risen, and he gives us peace; he himself is peace. For this reason the Church repeats insistently: "Christ is risen -- 'Christóós anéésti.'"

Let the people of the third millennium not be afraid to open their hearts to him. His Gospel totally quenches the thirst for peace and happiness that is found in every human heart. Christ is now alive and he walks with us. What an immense mystery of love! "Christus resurrexit, quia Deus caritas est!" Alleluia!

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Pope's Easter Vigil Homily
"I Live, But I Am No Longer I"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 16, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the homily delivered by Benedict XVI during the Easter Vigil Mass over which he presided in St. Peter's Basilica.

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"You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here" (Mark 16:6). With these words, God's messenger, robed in light, spoke to the women who were looking for the body of Jesus in the tomb. But the Evangelist says the same thing to us on this holy night: Jesus is not a character from the past. He lives, and he walks before us as one who is alive, he calls us to follow him, the living one, and in this way to discover for ourselves too the path of life.

"He has risen, he is not here." When Jesus spoke for the first time to the disciples about the cross and the resurrection, as they were coming down from the Mount of the Transfiguration, they questioned what "rising from the dead" meant (Mark 9:10).

At Easter we rejoice because Christ did not remain in the tomb, his body did not see corruption; he belongs to the world of the living, not to the world of the dead; we rejoice because he is the Alpha and also the Omega, as we proclaim in the rite of the paschal candle; he lives not only yesterday, but today and for eternity (cf. Hebrews 13:8). But somehow the Resurrection is situated so far beyond our horizon, so far outside all our experience that, returning to ourselves, we find ourselves continuing the argument of the disciples: Of what exactly does this "rising" consist? What does it mean for us, for the whole world and the whole of history?

A German theologian once said ironically that the miracle of a corpse returning to life -- if it really happened, which he did not actually believe -- would be ultimately irrelevant precisely because it would not concern us. In fact, if it were simply that somebody was once brought back to life, and no more than that, in what way should this concern us?

But the point is that Christ's resurrection is something more, something different. If we may borrow the language of the theory of evolution, it is the greatest "mutation," absolutely the most crucial leap into a totally new dimension that there has ever been in the long history of life and its development: a leap into a completely new order which does concern us, and concerns the whole of history.

The discussion, which began with the disciples, would therefore include the following questions: What happened there? What does it mean for us, for the whole world and for me personally? Above all: what happened? Jesus is no longer in the tomb. He is in a totally new life. But how could this happen? What forces were in operation? The crucial point is that this man Jesus was not alone, he was not an "I" closed in upon itself. He was one single reality with the living God, so closely united with him as to form one person with him.

He found himself, so to speak, in an embrace with him who is life itself, an embrace not just on the emotional level, but one which included and permeated his being. His own life was not just his own, it was an existential communion with God, a "being taken up" into God, and hence it could not in reality be taken away from him.

Out of love, he could allow himself to be killed, but precisely by doing so he broke the definitiveness of death, because in him the definitiveness of life was present. He was one single reality with indestructible life, in such a way that it burst forth anew through death. Let us express the same thing once again from another angle. His death was an act of love. At the Last Supper he anticipated death and transformed it into self-giving.

His existential communion with God was concretely an existential communion with God's love, and this love is the real power against death, it is stronger than death. The Resurrection was like an explosion of light, an explosion of love which dissolved the hitherto indissoluble compenetration of "dying and becoming." It ushered in a new dimension of being, a new dimension of life in which, in a transformed way, matter too was integrated and through which a new world emerges.

It is clear that this event is not just some miracle from the past, the occurrence of which could be ultimately a matter of indifference to us. It is a qualitative leap in the history of "evolution" and of life in general toward a new future life, toward a new world which, starting from Christ, already continuously permeates this world of ours, transforms it and draws it to itself. But how does this happen? How can this event effectively reach me and draw my life upward toward itself?

The answer, perhaps surprising at first but totally real, is: This event comes to me through faith and baptism. For this reason baptism is part of the Easter Vigil, as we see clearly in our celebration today, when the sacraments of Christian initiation will be conferred on a group of adults from various countries. Baptism means precisely this, that we are not dealing with an event in the past, but that a qualitative leap in world history comes to me, seizing hold of me in order to draw me on. Baptism is something quite different from an act of ecclesial socialization, from a slightly old-fashioned and complicated rite for receiving people into the Church. It is also more than a simple washing, more than a kind of purification and beautification of the soul. It is truly death and resurrection, rebirth, transformation to a new life.

How can we understand this? I think that what happens in baptism can be more easily explained for us if we consider the final part of the short spiritual autobiography that St. Paul gave us in his Letter to the Galatians. Its concluding words contain the heart of this biography: "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Galatians 2:20). I live, but I am no longer I. The "I," the essential identity of man -- of this man, Paul -- has been changed. He still exists, and he no longer exists. He has passed through a "not" and he now finds himself continually in this "not": I, but no longer I. With these words, Paul is not describing some mystical experience which could perhaps have been granted him, and could be of interest to us from a historical point of view, if at all. No, this phrase is an _expression of what happened at baptism.

My "I" is taken away from me and is incorporated into a new and greater subject. This means that my "I" is back again, but now transformed, broken up, opened through incorporation into the other, in whom it acquires its new breadth of existence. Paul explains the same thing to us once again from another angle when, in chapter three of the Letter to the Galatians, he speaks of the "promise," saying that it was given to an individual -- to one person: to Christ. He alone carries within himself the whole "promise." But what then happens with us? Paul answers: You have become one in Christ (cf. Galatians 3:28). Not just one thing, but one, one only, one single new subject.

This liberation of our "I" from its isolation, this finding oneself in a new subject means finding oneself within the vastness of God and being drawn into a life which has now moved out of the context of "dying and becoming." The great explosion of the Resurrection has seized us in baptism so as to draw us on. Thus we are associated with a new dimension of life into which, amid the tribulations of our day, we are already in some way introduced. To live one's own life as a continual entry into this open space: This is the meaning of being baptized, of being Christian. This is the joy of the Easter Vigil.

The Resurrection is not a thing of the past, the Resurrection has reached us and seized us. We grasp hold of it, we grasp hold of the risen Lord, and we know that he holds us firmly even when our hands grow weak. We grasp hold of his hand, and thus we also hold on to one another's hands, and we become one single subject, not just one thing. I, but no longer I: This is the formula of Christian life rooted in baptism, the formula of the Resurrection within time. I, but no longer I: If we live in this way, we transform the world. It is a formula contrary to all ideologies of violence, it is a program opposed to corruption and to the desire for power and possession.

"I live and you will live also," says Jesus in St. John's Gospel (14:19) to his disciples, that is, to us. We will live through our existential communion with him, through being taken up into him who is life itself. Eternal life, blessed immortality, we have not by ourselves or in ourselves, but through a relation -- through existential communion with him who is truth and love and is therefore eternal: God himself. Simple indestructibility of the soul by itself could not give meaning to eternal life, it could not make it a true life. Life comes to us from being loved by him who is life; it comes to us from living-with and loving-with him. I, but no longer I: This is the way of the cross, the way that "crosses over" a life simply closed in on the I, thereby opening up the road towards true and lasting joy.

Thus we can sing full of joy, together with the Church, in the words of the Exsultet: "Sing, choirs of angels ... rejoice, O earth!" The Resurrection is a cosmic event, which includes heaven and earth and links them together. In the words of the Exsultet once again, we can proclaim: "Christ ... who came back from the dead and shed his peaceful light on all mankind, your Son who lives and reigns for ever and ever." Amen!

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Benedict XVI's Address at Way of the Cross
"There Is No Possibility to Be Neutral"

ROME, APRIL 15, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave at the end of the Way of the Cross, held Friday night in Rome's Colosseum.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters:

We have accompanied Jesus on the Way of the Cross. We have accompanied him here, on the street of martyrs, in the Colosseum, where many suffered for Christ, gave their life for the Lord, and in this way, the Lord has suffered again in so many people.

Thus we have understood that the Way of the Cross is not something of the past and of a specific point on earth. The Lord's cross embraces the world, his Way of the Cross goes across continents and time. We cannot just be spectators on the Way of the Cross. We are involved and must find our place: Where are we?

On the Way of the Cross, there is no possibility to be neutral. Pilate, the skeptic intellectual, tried to be neutral, to stay outside, but precisely by so doing he took his position against justice for the conformism of his career. We must find our place.

In the mirror of the cross we have seen all the suffering of humanity today. On the cross of Christ we have seen today the suffering of abandoned and abused children, the threats against the family, the division of the world between the arrogance of the rich, who do not see Lazarus at the door, and the poverty of so many who suffer due to hunger and thirst.

But we have also seen stations of consolation. We have seen the Mother, whose goodness remains faithful unto death and after death. We have seen the courageous woman who appeared before the Lord, and who was not afraid to show solidarity for this suffering person. We have seen Simon of Cyrene, an African, who carries the cross with Jesus. And finally we have seen in these stations of consolation that, just as suffering does not end, so consolations do not end either.

We have seen how on the way of the cross, Paul found the zeal of his faith and lit the light of love; we have seen how St. Augustine found his way, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Vincent of Paul, St. Maximilian Kolbe, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and so we are also invited to find our place, to find together with these great courageous personages, the way with and for Jesus, the way of goodness, truth, courage and love.

Thus, we have understood that the Way of the Cross is not simply a list of what is dark and sad in the world, or a moralism which in the end is ineffective; it is not a cry of protest which changes nothing.

On the contrary, the Way of the Cross is the way of mercy, mercy that puts a limit to evil, as we learned from Pope John Paul II. It is the way of mercy and so the way of salvation. It invites us to undertake the way of mercy and, with Jesus, to put a limit to evil.

Let us pray to the Lord that he help us to be infected with his mercy. Let us pray to Jesus' holy Mother, the Mother of mercy, so that we too will be able to be men and women of mercy and thus contribute to the salvation of the world, to the salvation of the creature-man of God. Amen.

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Papal Homily at Mass of the Lord's Supper
God "Loves to the End"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 15, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the homily Benedict XVI gave during the Mass of the Lord's Supper, on Holy Thursday, which he celebrated in the Basilica of St. John Lateran.

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"Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end" (John 13:1). God loves his creature, man. He also loves him in his fall and does not abandon him to his fate. He loves to the end. With his love he goes to the end, to the extreme: He descends from his divine glory. He strips himself of his divine glory and takes the clothing of a slave. He descends to the lowest of our fall. He kneels before us and offers us the service of a slave. He washes our dirty feet so that we can be presentable at God's table, so that we will be worthy to sit at his table, something that on our own we could never and would never do.

God is not a remote God, too remote and great to be concerned with our trifles. Given that he is great, he can be interested in our trifles. Given that he is great, the soul of man, the same man created by eternal love, is not something small, but great and worthy of his love. God's holiness is not only an incandescent power, before which we must be terrified. He is the power of love and, for this reason; he is a purifying and regenerating power.

God comes down and makes himself a slave, washes our feet so that we may sit at his table. In this is expressed the whole mystery of Christ. In this the meaning of redemption is made visible. The bath in which he cleanses us is his love ready to face death. Only love has that purifying force that removes our filth and raises us to the heights of God. He himself is the bath that purifies us, who gives himself totally to us to the point of touching the depth of his suffering and death. And he is constantly that love that cleanses us in the sacraments of purification -- baptism and penance -- he kneels continually at our feet and offers us the service of a slave, the service of purification; he makes us capable of God. His love is inexhaustible; he really goes to the end.

"You are clean, but not all of you," says the Lord (John 13:10). In this phrase the great gift of purification is revealed that he offers us, as he wants to sit at table together with us, to become our food. "But not all"; there is the dark mystery of rejection, which with what happened to Judas is made present and must make us reflect in fact on this Holy Thursday, the day in which Jesus gives himself to us. The Lord's love knows no limits, but man can put a limit to it.

"You are clean, but not all of you." What makes man filthy? The rejection of love, not wanting to be loved, not loving. Arrogance, which believes it has no need of purification, which closes itself to God's saving goodness.

Arrogance does not want to confess and recognize that we are in need of purification. In Judas, we see the nature of this rejection in an even clearer way. He judges Jesus according to the categories of power and success. For him, only the reality of power and success exist, love does not count at all. And he is avid: Money is more import than communion with Jesus, more important than God and his love. In this way, he becomes also a liar, he plays the game of double jeopardy with truth; he lives in lies and loses the sense of the supreme truth, God. Thus he is hardened, makes himself incapable of conversion, of beginning the confident return of the prodigal son, and throws a destroyed life away.

"You are clean, but not all of you." The Lord warns us today in the face of that self-sufficiency that puts a limit to his unlimited love. He invites us to imitate his humility, to trust in it, to let ourselves be "infected" by it. He invites us to return home no matter how lost we feel and to let his purifying goodness raise us and makes us enter the communion of the table with him, with God himself.

Let us reflect with one more phrase from this inexhaustible Gospel passage: "I have given you an example" (John 13:15), that "you also ought to wash one another's feet" (John 13:14). In what does washing "one another's feet" consist? What does it mean, specifically? Every good work for the other -- especially for one who suffers and one who is little appreciated -- is a service of washing of the feet. The Lord calls us to this: to come down, to learn humility and the courage of goodness, as well as the willingness to accept rejection, trusting however in goodness and persevering in it.

But there is still a more profound dimension. The Lord removes our filth with the purifying force of his goodness. To wash one another's feet means, above all, to forgive one another tirelessly, to always begin again, though it might seem useless. It means to purify one another by enduring each other mutually and accepting that others endure us; to purify one another, giving one another mutually the sanctifying force of the Word of God and introducing ourselves in the sacrament of divine love.

The Lord purifies us and for this reason we dare to sit at his table. Let us pray that he give all of us the grace to be able to be guests one day and forever at the everlasting nuptial banquet. Amen!

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Benedict XVI's Homily at Chrism Mass
"The Lord Makes Us Priests His Friends"  (April 13, 2006)

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 13, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the homily Benedict XVI delivered this morning during the Chrism Mass, over which he presided in St. Peter's Basilica. In the course of the Mass, after the renewal of priestly promises, the oil of the catechumens, and of the sick, and the chrism were blessed.

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Dear Brothers in the episcopate and priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Maundy Thursday is the day in which the Lord gave the Twelve the priestly duty to celebrate, with bread and wine, the sacrament of his Body and Blood until his return. Replacing the paschal lamb and all sacrifices of the Old Covenant with the gift of his Body and Blood, the gift of himself.

Thus the new worship is based on the fact that, above all, God gives us a gift, and we, filled with this gift, become his: Creation turns to the Creator. So the priesthood also became something new: It is no longer a question of descent, but it is an encountering of oneself in the mystery of Jesus Christ. He is always the One who gives and who draws us to himself. Only he can say: "This is my Body -- this is my Blood."

The mystery of the Church's priesthood lies in the fact that we, miserable human beings, in virtue of the sacrament are able to speak with his I: "in persona Christi." He wishes to exercise his priesthood through us. We recall this moving mystery, which touches us again in every celebration of the sacrament, in a very particular way on Maundy Thursday. Because the everyday does not spoil what is great and mysterious, we are in need of a similar specific remembrance, we are in need of a return to that hour in which he placed his hands on us and made us participants of this mystery.

Therefore, let us again reflect on the signs in which the sacrament was given to us. At the center is the very ancient gesture of the imposition of hands, with which he took possession of me saying: "You belong to me." But along with this, he also said: "You are under the protection of my hands. You are under the protection of my heart. You are kept in the palm of my hand and because of this, you find yourself in the vastness of my love. Remain in the space of my hands and give me yours."

Let us remember, then that our hands were anointed with oil which is the sign of the Holy Spirit and of his strength. Why precisely the hands? Man's hand is the instrument of his action, it is the symbol of his capacity to face the world, to the point of "taking it in hand." The Lord has placed his hands on us and he now wants our hands so that they will become his hands in the world. He wants them to no longer be instruments to take things, men, the world for us, to reduce it to our possession, but that, instead, they transmit his divine touch, being at the service of his love.

He wishes them to be instruments of service and therefore _expression of the mission of the whole person that makes himself his guarantor and takes him to men. If man's hands represent symbolically his faculties and, in general, technology as power to dispose of the world, now the anointed hands must be a sign of his capacity to give, of creativity in molding the world with love -- and for this we have need, without a doubt, of the Holy Spirit.

In the Old Testament anointing is the sign of the assumption of service: The king, prophet, priest does and gives more than that which comes from himself. In a certain sense, he is expropriated from himself in the function of a service, in which he places himself at the disposition of someone greater than himself.

If Jesus appears today in the Gospel as the Anointed One of God, the Christ, this means precisely that he acts by the mission of the Father in unity with the Holy Spirit and that, in this way, he gives the world a new royalty, a new priesthood, a new way of being prophet, who does not seek himself, but lives for him, in view of which the world was created. Let us place our hands again today at his disposition and let us ask him to always take us by the hand and guide us again.

In the sacramental gesture of the imposition of hands by the bishop, the Lord himself was imposing his hands on us. This sacramental sign reassume a whole existential course. On one occasion, like the first disciples, we encountered the Lord and heard his word: "Follow me!" Perhaps initially we followed him in a rather uncertain way, drawing back and wondering if it was really our way.

And at some point of the journey perhaps we had Peter's experience after the miraculous catch, we were, that is, struck by his grandeur, the greatness of the task and the insufficiency of our poor person, to the point of wanting to go back: "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!" (Luke 5:8). But then he, with great kindness, took us by the hand, drew us to himself and said: "Fear not! I am with you. I do not leave you, do not you leave me!"

And, more than once, the same thing happened to each of us as happened to Peter when, walking on the water, he encountered the Lord, suddenly he remembered that the water did not support him and that he was about to drown. And, like Peter, we cried out: "Lord, save me!" (Matthew 14:30). Seeing all the raging of the elements, how could we go through the rumbling and foaming waters of the last century and millennium? But then we looked at him ... and he took us by the hand and gave us a new "specific weight": the lightness that comes from faith which attracts us to the on high.

And then he gives us the hand that supports and carries. He holds us up. Let us always fix our gaze on him and extend our hands to him. Let us allow him to take us by the hand, and we will not drown, but will serve life which is stronger than death, and love which is stronger than hatred. Faith in Jesus, Son of the living God, is the means thanks to which he takes us by the hand and guides us. One of my favorite prayers is the prayer that the liturgy places on our lips before Communion: "[N]ever let me be parted from you." Let us pray that we never fall away from communion with his Body, with Christ himself, that we never fall away from the Eucharistic mystery. Let us pray that he will never let go of our hand ...

The Lord has placed his hand on us. He expressed the meaning of such a gesture in the words: "I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father" (John 15:15). I no longer call you servants, but friends: In these words one might even see the institution of the priesthood. The Lord makes us his friends: he entrusts everything to us; he entrusts himself, so that we can speak with his I, "in persona Christi capitis." What trust! He truly delivered himself into our hands.
The essential signs of priestly ordination are all deep down manifestations of that word: the imposition of hands; the handing over of the book -- of his word that he entrusts to us; the handing over of the cup with which he transmits his most profound and personal mystery. Also part of all this is the power to absolve: He also makes us participate in his awareness of the misery of sin and all the darkness of the world and gives us the key in our hands to reopen the door to the Father's House. No longer do I call you servants but friends. This is the profound meaning of being a priest: to become a friend of Jesus Christ. We should commit ourselves again to this friendship every day.

Friendship means to share in thinking and willing. We must exercise ourselves in this communion of thought with Jesus, St. Paul tells us in the Letter to the Philippians (cf. 2:2-5). And this communion of thought is not just something intellectual, but is a sharing of sentiments and will and therefore also of action.

This means that we must know Jesus in an ever more personal way, listening to him, living together with him, spending time with him. To listen to him -- in "lectio divina," that is, in reading Holy Scripture not in an academic but in a spiritual way; thus we learn to encounter Jesus who is present and speaks to us. We should reason and reflect on his words and on his action before him and with him.

The reading of sacred Scripture is prayer, it must be prayer -- it must emerge from prayer and lead to prayer. The evangelists tell us that the Lord repeatedly -- for entire nights -- withdrew to the mountain to pray alone. We also have need of this "mountain": It is the interior height we must scale, the mountain of prayer. Only in this way is friendship developed. Only in this way can we carry out our priestly service, only in this way can we take Christ and his Gospel to men. Simple activism may even be heroic. But external action, in the end, remains without fruit and loses effectiveness, if it is not born from a profound intimate communion with Christ.

The time we dedicate to this is truly time of pastoral activity, of an authentically pastoral activity. A priest must be above all a man of prayer. In its frenetic activism the world often loses its direction. Its action and capacities become destructive, if the strength of prayer fails, from which spring the waters of life capable of making the arid earth fruitful.

No longer do I call you servants, but friends. The essence of the priesthood is to be friend of Jesus Christ. Only in this way can we really speak "in persona Christi," even if our interior withdrawal from Christ cannot compromise the validity of the sacrament. To be a friend of Jesus, to be a priest means to be a man of prayer. So we recognize it and come out of the ignorance of simple servants. So we learn to live, to suffer and to act with him and for him.

Friendship with Jesus is always par excellence friendship with his own. We can be friends of Christ only in communion with the whole Christ, with the head and the body, in the exuberant life of the Church animated by her Lord. Only in her, thanks to the Lord, is sacred Scripture living and timely Word. Without the living subject of the Church that embraces the ages, the Bible breaks up in writings that are often heterogeneous and thus becomes a book of the past. It is eloquent in the present only where the "Presence" is -- where Christ remains permanently contemporaneous to us: in the body of his Church.

To be a priest means to become a friend of Jesus Christ, and this ever more with the whole of our existence. The world has need of God -- not of any god, but of the God of Jesus Christ, of the God who became flesh and blood, who has loved us to the point of dying for us, who rose and has created in himself a space for man. This God must live in us and we in him. This is our priestly call: Only in this way can our action of priests bear fruits.

I would like to end this homily with a word of Andres Santoro, the priest of the Diocese of Rome who was killed in Trebisonda while he was praying; Cardinal Céé communicated it to us during the Spiritual Exercises. The word says: "I am here to dwell in the midst of these people and allow Jesus to do so presenting my flesh. ... One becomes capable of salvation only by offering one's own flesh. The evil of the world is borne and pain is shared, absorbing it in the end in one's own flesh as Jesus did." Jesus assumed our flesh. Let us give him ours, so that in this way he can come into the world and transform it. Amen!

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Wednesday's Audience  (On the Easter Triduum) (April 12, 2006)
"We Will Relive the Passion, Death and Resurrection"

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

Tomorrow the Easter triduum begins, which is the fulcrum of the whole liturgical year. Aided by the sacred rites of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the solemn Easter Vigil, we will relive the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord.

They are propitious days to reawaken in us a more intense desire to be united to Christ and follow him generously, conscious that he has loved us to the point of giving his life for us. The events that the sacred triduum again proposes to us are the sublime manifestation of this love of God for man.

Let us dispose ourselves, therefore, to celebrate the Easter triduum taking up St. Augustine's exhortation: "Consider now attentively the three holy days of the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of the Lord. From these three mysteries we realize in the present life that of which the cross is symbol, while we realize through faith and hope, that of which the burial and resurrection is symbol" (Letter 55,14,24).

The Easter triduum begins tomorrow, Holy Thursday, with the evening Mass "in Cena Domini," though in the morning another significant liturgical celebration is usually held, the Chrism Mass, during which, gathered around the bishop, the whole presbyterate of every diocese renews priestly promises, and takes part in the blessing of the oils of the catechumens, of the sick and of the chrism. This is what we will also do tomorrow here, in St. Peter's.

In addition to the institution of the priesthood, on this holy day will be commemorated Christ's total giving of himself to humanity in the sacrament of the Eucharist. On the very night he was betrayed, he left us, as sacred Scripture recalls, the "new commandment" -- "mandatum novum" -- of fraternal love by carrying out the striking gesture of the washing of the feet, which reminds us of the humble service of slaves. This singular day, evocative of the great mysteries, ends with Eucharistic adoration, in memory of the Lord's agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. Feeling great anguish, recounts the Gospel, Jesus asked his own to watch with him, remaining in prayer: "Remain here, and watch with me." And we see how also today, we, the disciples of today, often remain asleep. This was, for Jesus, the hour of abandonment and solitude, which was followed, in the middle of the night, by the arrest and beginning of the painful way to Calvary.

Good Friday, centered on the Passion, is a day of fast and abstinence, oriented to the contemplation of the cross. Proclaimed in the churches is the account of the Passion, and the words of the prophet Zechariah resound: "They shall look on him whom they have pierced" (John 19:37).

And on Good Friday we also wish to direct our gaze to the pierced heart of the Redeemer in whom, as St. Paul writes, "are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Colossians 2:3), more than that, "in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily" (Colossians 2,9), for this reason, the Apostle can affirm his decision "to know nothing ... except Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2). It is true: The cross reveals "the breadth and length and height and depth" -- the cosmic dimensions, this is the meaning of a love that surpasses all knowledge -- love goes beyond what is known and fills us with "all the fullness of God" (cf. Ephesians 3:18-19).

In the mystery of the Crucified is brought about that "turning of God against himself in order to raise man up and save him. This is love in its most radical form" ("Deus Caritas Est," No. 12). The cross of Christ, wrote Pope St. Leo the Great in the fifth century, "is source of all blessings, and the cause of all blessings" (Discourse 8 on the Passion of the Lord, 6-8; PL 54, 340-342).

On Holy Saturday the Church, united spiritually to Mary, remains in prayer before the sepulcher, where the body of the Son of God lies inert in a state of repose after the creative work of redemption, realized with his death (cf. Hebrews 4:1-13). At night the solemn Easter Vigil will begin, during which the joyous Easter "Gloria" and "Alleluia" will rise from the hearts of the newly baptized and the whole Christian community, joyful because Christ has risen and conquered death.

Dear brothers and sisters, to be able to live a profitable celebration of Easter, the Church asks the faithful to draw near these days to the sacrament of penance, which is a kind of death and resurrection for each one of us. In the early Christian community, on Holy Thursday the rite of the Reconciliation of Penitents was celebrated, over which the bishop presided.

Of course the historical conditions have changed, but to prepare for Easter with a good confession continues to be a duty which must be fully appreciated, as it offers us the possibility to begin our life again and this new beginning is realized in the joy of the Risen One and in the communion of forgiveness that it gives us. Conscious that we are sinners, but trusting in divine mercy, let us allow ourselves to be reconciled by Christ to experience more intensely the joy that he communicates to us in his resurrection.

The forgiveness that Christ gives us in the sacrament of penance is source of interior and exterior peace and makes us apostles of peace in a world in which continue, unfortunately, divisions, sufferings and the tragedies of hatred and violence, of inability to be reconciled to begin again with a sincere pardon.

We know, however, that evil does not have the last word, as he who triumphs is Christ crucified and risen, and his victory is manifested with the force of merciful love. His resurrection gives us this certainty: Despite all the darkness in the world, evil does not have the last word. Supported by this truth, we will be able to commit ourselves with greater courage and enthusiasm to make a more just world come into being.

This is what I wish all of you from my heart, dear brothers and sisters, hoping that you will prepare with faith and devotion for the imminent Easter celebrations. May you be accompanied by Mary Most Holy, who, after having followed her divine Son in the hour of the passion and cross, shared the joy of his resurrection.

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Benedict XVI's Homily on Palm Sunday
"The Cross Is the Authentic Tree of Life"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 10, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of Benedict XVI's homily during the Mass on Palm Sunday, 21st World Day of Youth, whose theme was "Thy Word Is a Lamp to My Feet and a Light to My Path" (Psalm 118[119]:105).

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For 20 years, thanks to Pope John Paul II, Palm Sunday has become in a particular way the Day of Youth, the day that young people around the world go out to meet Christ, wishing to accompany him in their cities and countries so that he will be among us and be able to establish his peace in the world. If we want to go out to encounter Jesus and then walk with him on his way, we must ask: On what path does he wish to guide us? What do we expect from him? What does he expect from us?

To understand what occurred on Palm Sunday and to know what it meant not only for that time but for all times, a detail is important, which became for his disciples the key to understand that event when, after Easter, they recalled those tumultuous days with a new look.

Jesus entered the Holy City riding on a donkey, that is, the animal of simple country people and, moreover, a donkey that did not belong to him, that he had been loaned for this occasion. He did not arrive in a luxurious royal carriage, or on horseback as the world's great, but on a borrowed donkey. John tells us initially that the disciples did not understand this.

Only after Passover did they realize that in this way Jesus was fulfilling the prophets' proclamations; he showed that his action derived from the Word of God and led to its fulfillment. They remembered, says John, that one reads in the prophet Zechariah: "Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold your king is coming, sitting on an ass's colt" (John 12:15; cf. Zechariah 9:9).

To understand the meaning of the prophecy and thus Jesus' action, we must listen to the whole text of Zechariah, who continues saying: "He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth" (9:10).

In this way, the prophet makes three affirmations about the future king.

First, he says he will be a king of the poor, a poor man among the poor and for the poor. Poverty is understood in this case in the sense of the "anawim" of Israel, of those believing and humble souls that we see around Jesus, in the perspective of the first beatitude of the Sermon on the Mount.

One can be materially poor but have a heart full of anxiety for wealth and power, which comes from wealth. The fact that one lives in envy and avarice shows that, in one's heart, one is part of the rich. One wishes to reverse the distribution of goods, but only so that oneself will be in the situation that the rich occupied before. Poverty in Jesus' sense -- in the prophets' sense -- presupposes above all interior freedom from avarice and the will to power.

It is about a much greater reality than a different distribution of goods, which would be limited to the material realm, and which make hearts even harder. Above all, it is about the purification of the heart, thanks to which one recognizes that possession is responsibility before others which, in the sight of God, allows itself to be guided by Jesus who, being rich, became poor for us (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:9).

Interior freedom presupposes the surmounting of corruption and avarice which at this point devastate the world; this freedom may be found only if God becomes our wealth, it may be found only in the patience of daily renunciations, in which it develops as authentic freedom. On Palm Sunday we acclaim Jesus, the king who points out to us the way to this goal, and we ask him to take us with him on his path.

Second, the prophet shows us that this king will be a king of peace: He will make the chariots of battle and war horses disappear, will cut off the bow and command peace. In the figure of Jesus, this is concretized with the sign of the cross. It is the broken bow, in a certain sense the new, authentic rainbow of God, which unites heaven and earth and builds bridges between continents over the abysses. The new weapon Jesus puts in our hands is the cross, sign of reconciliation, of love that is stronger than death. Every time we make the sign of the cross, we must remember not to respond to an injustice with more injustice, to violence with more violence; we must remember that we can only overcome evil with good, without returning evil for evil.

The prophet's third affirmation is the pre-announcement of universality: The kingdom of the king of peace extends "from sea to sea ... to the ends of the earth." The former promise of land is replaced with a new vision: The space of the messianic king is no longer a specific country, which would be separated from others, and which inevitably would take a position against other countries. His country is the earth, the whole world. Surmounting all limitations, in the multiplicity of cultures, he creates unity.

Penetrating with a glance the clouds of history, we see emerge from afar in the prophecy the network of Eucharistic communities that embraces the whole world, a network of communities that constitute Jesus' "Kingdom of peace" from sea to sea to the ends of the earth. He comes to all cultures and to all parts of the world, everywhere, to the miserable huts and poor peoples, as well as to the splendor of cathedrals. Everywhere, he is the same, the Only One, and in this way, all those gathered in prayer, in communion with him, are also united among themselves in one body. Christ rules making himself our bread and giving himself to us. Thus he builds his Kingdom.

This nexus is made totally clear in another phrase of the Old Testament which characterizes and explains what occurred on Palm Sunday. The crowd acclaimed Jesus: "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" (Mark 11:9; Psalm 117 [118]:25f.). This phrase forms part of the rite of the feast of tents, during which the faithful moved in a circle around the altar, holding in their hands branches of palm, myrtle and willow.

Then the people cried out before Jesus, in whom they saw he who comes in the name of the Lord. In fact, the _expression: "He who comes in the name of the Lord," had become the way to designate the Messiah. In Jesus they recognize him who truly comes in the name of the Lord and brings God's presence among them. This cry of hope of Israel, this acclamation to Jesus during his entry into Jerusalem, has with reason become in the Church the acclamation of him, in the Eucharist, who always comes among us in the name of the Lord, uniting the ends of the earth in the peace of God. Given that the Lord is coming, we come out of our exclusivist realities and become part of the great community of all who celebrate this holy sacrament. We enter into his kingdom of peace and acclaim in him, in a certain sense, our brothers and sisters, for whom he comes to create a kingdom of peace in this lacerated world.

The three characteristics proclaimed by the prophet -- poverty, peace, universality -- are summarized in the sign of the cross. Because of this, and rightly so, the cross has become the center of World Youth Day. There was a time -- and it is not totally surmounted -- in which Christianity was rejected precisely because of the cross.

The cross speaks of sacrifice, it was said, the cross is a sign of the negation of life. We, however, want a full life, without restrictions and renunciations. We want to live, we just want to live. We do not let ourselves be limited by precepts and prohibitions -- it was said, and continues to be said -- we want wealth and plentitude. All this seems convincing and attractive; it is the language of the serpent that says to us: "Do not be fearful. Eat calmly from all the trees of the garden!"

Palm Sunday, however, tells us that the authentic great "yes" is, in fact, the cross, that the cross is the authentic tree of life. We do not attain to life by seizing it, but by giving it. Love is the giving of ourselves and, for this reason, is the way of authentic life symbolized by the cross. Today the cross is handed over, which was the center of World Youth Day in Cologne, to a delegation to begin its journey to Sydney, where in the year 2008 the youth of the world want to meet again around Jesus to build with him the kingdom of peace.

From Cologne to Sydney, a journey across continents and cultures, a journey across a world lacerated and tormented by violence! Symbolically, it is like the journey from sea to sea, from the river to the ends of the earth. It is the journey of him who, with the sign of the cross, gives us peace and makes us bearers of his peace. I thank the youths who will take this cross, in which we can almost touch the mystery of Jesus, on the paths of the world. Let us pray that at the same time he will open our hearts so that, following the cross, we become messengers of his love and peace. Amen.

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Ash Wednesday, March 1, 2006

PENITENTIAL PROCESSION PRESIDED BY THE HOLY FATHER IN THE BASILICA OF SANTA SABINA ON THE AVENTINE HILL

Your Eminences,
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood, Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The penitential procession with which we began today's celebration has helped us enter the typical atmosphere of Lent, which is a personal and community pilgrimage of conversion and spiritual renewal.

According to the very ancient Roman tradition of Lenten stations, during this season the faithful, together with the pilgrims, gather every day and make a stop -- statio -- at one of the many "memorials" of the Martyrs on which the Church of Rome is founded.

In the Basilicas where their relics are exposed, Holy Mass is celebrated, preceded by a procession during which the litanies of the Saints are sung. In this way, all those who bore witness to Christ with their blood are commemorated, and calling them to mind then becomes an incentive for each Christian to renew his or her own adherence to the Gospel.

These rites retain their value, despite the passing centuries, because they recall how important it also is in our day to accept Jesus' words without compromises: "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9: 23).

Another symbolic rite, an exclusive gesture proper to the first day of Lent, is the imposition of ashes. What is its most significant meaning?

It is certainly not merely ritualistic, but something very deep that touches our hearts. It makes us understand the timeliness of the Prophet Joel's advice echoed in the First Reading, advice that still retains its salutary value for us: external gestures must always be matched by a sincere heart and consistent behavior.

Indeed, the inspired author wonders, what use is it to tear our garments if our hearts remain distant from the Lord, that is, from goodness and justice? Here is what truly counts: to return to God with a sincerely contrite heart to obtain his mercy (cf. Joel 2: 12-18).

A new heart and a new spirit: We ask for this with the penitential Psalm par excellence, the Miserere, which we sing today with the response, "Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned" (The Sunday Missal).

The true believer, aware of being a sinner, aspires with his whole self -- spirit, heart and body -- to divine forgiveness, as to a new creation that can restore joy and hope to him (cf. Psalm 51[50]: 3, 5, 12, 14).

Another aspect of Lenten spirituality is what we could describe as "combative," as emerges in today's "Collect," where the "weapons" of penance and the "battle" against evil are mentioned.

Every day, but particularly in Lent, Christians must face a struggle, like the one that Christ underwent in the desert of Judea, where for 40 days he was tempted by the devil, and then in Gethsemane, when he rejected the most severe temptation, accepting the Father's will to the very end.

It is a spiritual battle waged against sin and finally, against Satan. It is a struggle that involves the whole of the person and demands attentive and constant watchfulness.

St. Augustine remarks that those who want to walk in the love of God and in his mercy cannot be content with ridding themselves of grave and mortal sins, but "should do the truth, also recognizing sins that are considered less grave..., and come to the light by doing worthy actions. Even less grave sins, if they are ignored, proliferate and produce death" (In Io. evang. 12, 13, 35).

Lent reminds us, therefore, that Christian life is a never-ending combat in which the "weapons" of prayer, fasting and penance are used. Fighting against evil, against every form of selfishness and hate, and dying to oneself to live in God is the ascetic journey that every disciple of Jesus is called to make with humility and patience, with generosity and perseverance.

Following the divine Teacher in docility makes Christians witnesses and apostles of peace. We might say that this inner attitude also helps us to highlight more clearly what response Christians should give to the violence that is threatening peace in the world.

It should certainly not be revenge, nor hatred, nor even flight into a false spiritualism. The response of those who follow Christ is rather to take the path chosen by the One who, in the face of the evils of his time and of all times, embraced the Cross with determination, following the longer but more effective path of love.

Following in his footsteps and united to him, we must all strive to oppose evil with good, falsehood with truth and hatred with love.

In the Encyclical "Deus Caritas Est," I wanted to present this love as the secret of our personal and ecclesial conversion. Referring to Paul's words to the Corinthians, "the love of Christ urges us on" (2 Corinthians 5: 14), I stressed that "the consciousness that, in Christ, God has given himself for us, even unto death, must inspire us to live no longer for ourselves but for him, and, with him, for others" (n. 33).

Furthermore, love, as Jesus says today in the Gospel, must be expressed in practical acts for our neighbor, and especially for the poor and the needy, always subordinating the value of "good works" to the sincerity of the relationship with our "Father who is in Heaven," who "sees in secret" and "will reward" all whose good actions are humble and disinterested (cf. Matthew 6: 1, 4, 6, 18).

The manifestation of love is one of the essential elements in the life of Christians who are encouraged by Jesus to be the light of the world, so that by seeing their "good works," people give glory to God (cf. Matthew 5: 16).

This recommendation to us is particularly appropriate at the beginning of Lent, so that we may understand better and better that "for the Church, charity is not a kind of welfare activity ... but is a part of her nature, an indispensable _expression of her very being" (Deus Caritas Est, n. 25).

True love is expressed in acts that exclude no one, after the example of the Good Samaritan who, with great openness of heart, helped a stranger in difficulty whom he had met "by chance" along the way (cf. Luke 10: 31).

Your Eminences, venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood, dear men and women religious and lay faithful, all of whom I greet with warm cordiality, may we enter the typical atmosphere of this liturgical period with these sentiments, allowing the Word of God to enlighten and guide us.

In Lent we will often hear re-echoing the invitation to convert and to believe in the Gospel, and we will be constantly encouraged to open our spirit to the power of divine grace. Let us cherish the abundance of teachings that the Church will be offering us in these weeks.

Enlivened by a strong commitment to prayer, determined to make a greater effort of penance, fasting and loving attention to our brethren, let us set out towards Easter accompanied by the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church and model of every authentic disciple of Christ.

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On Ash Wednesday

"A Propitious Moment to Be Converted to Love" (March 1, 2006)

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

We begin today, with the liturgy of Ash Wednesday, the 40-day Lenten journey that will lead us to the Easter triduum, memorial of the Lord's passion, death and resurrection, heart of the mystery of our salvation.

It is a propitious time in which the Church invites Christians to be more intensely aware of Christ's redeeming work and to live our baptism more profoundly. In fact, in this liturgical period, from the earliest times the People of God nourished itself abundantly on the Word of God to be reinforced in the faith, going over the whole history of creation and redemption.

With its duration of 40 days, Lent acquires an undoubted evocative force. It tries to recall some of the events that marked the life and history of ancient Israel, also presenting to us again its paradigmatic value: Let us think, for example, of the 40 days of the universal flood, which ended with the covenant established by God with Noah and thus with humanity, and of the 40 days of Moses' stay on Mount Sinai, which were followed by the gift of the tablets of the Law.

Above all, the Lenten season is an invitation to relive with Jesus the 40 days he spent in the desert, praying and fasting, before undertaking his public mission.

Today we also undertake a journey of reflection and prayer with all Christians worldwide to go spiritually to Calvary, meditating on the central mysteries of the faith. In this way, we will prepare ourselves to experience, after the mystery of the Cross, the joy of the Resurrection of Easter.

In all parish communities an austere and symbolic gesture is carried out today: the imposition of ashes. And this rite is accompanied by two formulas full of meaning which constitute an urgent call to acknowledge ourselves sinners and to return to God. The first formula says: "Remember that you art dust and to dust you shall return" (cf. Genesis 3:19). These words, taken from the Book of Genesis, recall the human condition subjected to the sign of corruption and limitation, and are intended to lead us to place our hope in God alone.

The second formula refers to the words pronounced by Jesus at the beginning of his itinerant ministry: "Repent and believe in the Gospel" (Mark 1:15). It is an invitation to make firm and confident adherence to the Gospel the foundation of personal and communal renewal.

The life of a Christian is a life of faith, founded on the Word of God and nourished by it. In the trials of life and in each temptation, the secret of victory consists in listening to the Word of truth and rejecting with determination the lie of evil.

This is the authentic and central program of the Lenten Season: to listen to the Word of truth, to live, speak and do the truth, to reject lies that poison humanity and are the door to all evils. It is urgent, therefore, during these 40 days, to again listen to the Gospel, the Lord's Word, Word of truth, so that in every Christian, in each one of us, the awareness be reinforced of the truth that has been given, that he has given us, to live it and be his witnesses.

Lent stimulates us to let the Word of God penetrate our life and in this way to know the fundamental truth: who we are, where we come from, where we must go, what path we must take in life. Thus, the Lenten season offers us an ascetic and liturgical journey that, helping us to open our eyes in face of our weakness, makes us open our hearts to the merciful love of Christ.

In bringing us closer to God, the Lenten journey allows us to see our brothers and their needs with new eyes. Whoever begins to see God, to contemplate the face of Christ, sees his brother with other eyes, discovers his brother, his good, his evil, his needs.

For this reason, Lent, as a time of listening to the truth, it is a propitious moment to be converted to love, as the profound truth -- the truth of God –– is, at the same time, love. A love that is able to assume the Lord's attitude of compassion and mercy, as I wished to remind in the Lenten Message, which has as its theme the words of the Gospel: "When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion for them" (Matthew 9:36).

Conscious of her mission in the world, the Church does not cease to proclaim the merciful love of Christ, who continues to direct his compassionate gaze to the men and peoples of all times: "In the face of the terrible challenge of poverty afflicting so much of the world's population, indifference and self-centered isolation stand in stark contrast to the 'gaze' of Christ. Fasting and almsgiving, which, together with prayer, the Church proposes in a special way during the Lenten Season, are suitable means for us to become conformed to this 'gaze'" (paragraph 3 [of Lenten Message]), the gaze of Christ, and to see ourselves, humanity, others with his gaze. With this spirit, we enter the austere and prayerful climate of Lent, which is, in fact, a climate of love for one's brother.

May they be days of reflection and intense prayer, in which we let ourselves be guided by the Word of God, which the liturgy proposes to us abundantly. May Lent be, moreover, a time of fasting, penance and vigilance over ourselves, aware that the struggle against sin never ends, as temptation is a daily reality and frailty and illusion are everyone's experience.

Finally, may Lent be, through almsgiving, a time to do good to others; may it be an occasion to share the gifts received with our brothers, to pay attention to the needs of the poorest and the abandoned.

May Mary, Mother of the Redeemer, who is teacher of listening and faithful adherence to God, accompany us on this journey of penance. Purified and renewed in mind and spirit, may the Virgin Mary help us to celebrate the great mystery of Christ's Pasch. With these sentiments I wish all a good and fruitful Lent.

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On the 40 Days of Lent (February 21, 2007)
"God Is Love and His Love Is the Secret of Our Happiness"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 21, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of Benedict XVI's address at today's general audience. The Pope dedicated his address to Ash Wednesday.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters:

Ash Wednesday, which we celebrate today, is for us Christians a particular day, characterized by an intense spirit of recollection and reflection. We begin, in fact, the Lenten journey, time of listening to the word of God, of prayer and of penance. They are 40 days in which the liturgy will help us to relive the important phases of the mystery of salvation.

As we know, man was created to be a friend of God, but the sin of our first parents broke this relationship of trust and love and, as a consequence, humanity is incapable of fulfilling its original vocation.

Thanks, however, to the redeeming sacrifice of Christ, we have been rescued from the power of evil: Christ, in fact, writes the apostle John, has been the victim of expiation of our sins (cf. 1 John 2:2); and St. Peter adds: "Christ also died for sins once for all" (cf. 1 Peter 3:18).

On dying with Christ to sin, the baptized person is also reborn to a new life and is freely re-established in his dignity as son of God. For this reason, in the early Christian community, baptism was considered as the "first resurrection" (cf. Revelation 20:5; Romans 6:1-11; John 5:25-28).

From the beginning, therefore, Lent was lived as the time of immediate preparation for baptism, which is administered solemnly during the paschal vigil. The whole of Lent was a journey toward this great encounter with Christ, toward immersion in Christ and the renewal of life.

We are already baptized, but often baptism is not very effective in our daily life. Therefore, Lent is also for us a renewed "catechumenate" in which we again go out to encounter our baptism and rediscover and relive it in depth, to again be really Christians.

Therefore, Lent is an opportunity to "be" Christians "again," through a constant process of interior change and of progress in knowledge and love of Christ. Conversion never takes place once and for all, but is a process, an interior journey of our whole life. Certainly this journey of evangelical conversion cannot be limited to a particular period of the year: It is a journey of every day which must embrace our whole existence, every day of our lives.

From this point of view, for every Christian and for all ecclesial communities, Lent is the appropriate spiritual season to train with greater tenacity in the search for God, opening the heart to Christ.

St. Augustine said on one occasion that our life is the sole exercise of the desire to come close to God, of being able to let God enter into our being. "The whole life of the fervent Christian," he says, "is a holy desire." If this is so, in Lent we are invited even more to uproot "from our desires the roots of vanity" to educate the heart in the desire, that is, in the love of God. "God," says St. Augustine, "is all that we desire" (cf. "Tract. in Iohn," 4). And we hope that we really begin to desire God, and in this way desire true life, love itself and truth.

Particularly appropriate is Jesus' exhortation, recorded by the Evangelist Mark: "Repent and believe in the Gospel" (Mark 1:15). The sincere desire for God leads us to reject evil and to do good. This conversion of the heart is above all a free gift of God, who created us for himself and has redeemed us in Jesus Christ: Our happiness consists in remaining in him (cf. John 15:3). For this reason, he himself anticipates our desire with his grace and supports our efforts of conversion.

But what does conversion really mean? Conversion means to seek God, to walk with God, to follow docilely the teachings of his Son, Jesus Christ; to be converted is not an effort to fulfill oneself, because the human being is not the architect of his own destiny. We have not made ourselves. Therefore, self-fulfillment is a contradiction and is too little for us. We have a higher destiny.

We could say that conversion consists precisely in not considering ourselves "creators" of ourselves, thus discovering the truth, because we are not authors of ourselves. Conversion consists in accepting freely and with love that we depend totally on God, our true Creator, that we depend on love. This is not dependence but liberty.

To be converted means, therefore, not to pursue personal success, which is something that passes but that, abandoning all human security, we follow the Lord with simplicity and trust, so that Jesus will become for each one, as Teresa of Calcutta liked to say, "my all in all." Whoever lets himself be conquered by him is not afraid of losing his own life, because on the cross he loved us and gave himself for us. And, in fact, by losing our life out of love, we find it again.

I wished to underline the immense love God has for us in the message on the occasion of Lent, published a few days ago, so that Christians of the whole community can pause spiritually during the time of Lent, together with Mary and John, the beloved disciple, before him who on the cross consummated for humanity the sacrifice of his life (cf. John 19:25).

Yes, dear brothers and sisters, the cross is also for us, men and women of our time -- who all too often are distracted by earthly and momentary concerns and interests -- the definitive revelation of divine love and mercy. God is love and his love is the secret of our happiness. However, to enter into this mystery of love there is no other way than that of losing ourselves, of giving ourselves to the way of the cross.

"If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Mark 8:34). For this reason, the Lenten liturgy, on inviting us to reflect and pray, stimulates us to value penance and sacrifice more, to reject sin and evil and to conquer egoism and indifference. Prayer, fasting and penance, works of charity toward brothers, become in this way spiritual paths that we must undertake to return to God in response to the repeated calls to conversion that the liturgy makes today (cf. Galatians 2:12-13; Matthew 6:16-18).

Dear brothers and sisters, may the Lenten period that we undertake today, with the austere and significant rite of the imposition of ashes, be for all a renewed experience of the merciful love of Christ, who on the cross shed his blood for us.

Let us listen to him with docility to learn "to regive" his love to our neighbor, especially those who are suffering and experiencing difficulties. This is the mission of every disciple of Christ, but to carry it out it is necessary to listen to his word and to nourish oneself assiduously on his body and blood. May the Lenten journey, which in the early Church was the journey to Christian initiation, to baptism and the Eucharist, be for us, the baptized, a "Eucharistic" time in which we take part with greater fervor in the sacrifice of the Eucharist.

May the Virgin Mary -- who, after having shared the sorrowful passion of her divine Son, experienced the joy of resurrection -- accompany us during this Lent to the mystery of Easter, supreme revelation of the love of God.

A good Lent to all!

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Papal Homily for Palm Sunday (April 1, 2007)
"With the Cross, Jesus Opens Wide the Door of God"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 1, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the homily Benedict XVI delivered today, Palm Sunday. He did not give the customary Angelus address.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In the Palm Sunday procession we join ourselves to the crowd of disciples who, in festive joy, accompany the Lord in his entrance into Jerusalem. Like them we praise the Lord in a loud voice for all the great deeds we have seen. Yes, we too have seen and continue to see the great deeds of Christ: how he brings men and women to renounce the comforts of life and put themselves completely at the service of the suffering; how he gives courage to men and women to oppose violence and lies, to make a place in the world for truth; how he, in secret, leads men and women to do good for others, to bring about reconciliation where there was hate, to create peace where enmity reigned.

This procession is above all a joyous testimony that we give to Christ, in whom the face of God is made visible to us and thanks to whom the heart of God is open to all of us. In the Gospel of Luke, the account of the beginning of the procession on the outskirts of Jerusalem is composed in part on the model of the rite of coronation with which, according to the First Book of Kings, Solomon was made heir to David's kingship (cf. 1 Kings 1:33-35).

Thus the procession of palms is also a procession of Christ the King: We profess the kingship of Jesus Christ, we recognize Jesus as son of David, the true Solomon -- the King of peace and justice. Recognizing him as King means accepting him as the one who shows us the way, the one to whom we entrust ourselves and whom we follow. It means accepting his word every day as the valid criterion for our life. It means seeing in him the authority to whom we submit ourselves. We submit ourselves to him because his authority is the authority of truth.

The procession of palms is -- as it was then for the disciples -- above all an expression of joy, because we can know Jesus, because he allows us to be his friends, and because he has given us the key of life. This joy, that is at the beginning, is also, however, the expression of our "yes" to Jesus and of our availability to go with him wherever he takes us. The exhortation at the beginning of today's liturgy therefore rightly interprets the procession also as a symbolic representation of that which we call "the following of Christ": "Let us ask for the grace to follow him," we said. The expression "the following of Christ" is a description of the whole Christian existence. In what does it consist? What does "the following of Christ" mean concretely?

At the beginning, with the first disciples, the meaning was very simple and immediate: It meant that these persons had decided to leave their profession, their affairs, their whole life, to go with Jesus. It meant a new profession: that of disciple. The basic content of this profession was to go with the master, to entrust oneself entirely to his guidance. Thus the following was an external thing and at the same time something very internal.

The external aspect was walking behind Jesus in his travels through Palestine; the internal aspect was the new existential orientation, which no longer had its points of reference in matters, in the career that determined one's life previously, in one's personal will; instead one surrendered oneself totally to the will of an Other. Being at his service had by now become the reason for living. The renunciation that this demanded from what one once possessed, the detachment from self, we can see in a very clear way in certain scenes of the Gospel.

But with that, it is also evident what the following means and what its true essence is for us: It has to do with an interior change of life. It demands that I no longer be closed in considering my self-realization as the principal purpose of my life. It demands that I give myself freely to an Other -- for truth, for love, for God who, in Jesus Christ, precedes me and points out the way.

What we are talking about here is the fundamental decision to no longer consider utility and gain, career and success as the ultimate goal of life, but to recognize truth and love instead as the authentic criteria. We are talking about the choice between living for myself and giving myself -- for what is greater. And let us understand that truth and love are not abstract values; in Jesus Christ they have become a person. Following him, I enter into the service of truth and love. Losing myself, I find myself.

Let us return to the liturgy and to the procession of palms. The liturgy provides Psalm 24 for the song; this was also used in Israel as a processional song for the ascent of the temple mount. The psalm interprets the interior ascent of which the external ascent is an image, and explains to us once again what it means to ascend with Christ.

"Who may go up the mountain of the Lord?" the psalm asks, and it indicates two essential conditions. Those who ascend and really want to get to the top, to arrive at the true height, must be persons who ask themselves about God. They must be persons who look about themselves in search of God, in search of his face. My dear young friends, how important this is today: not allowing yourselves to be carried here and there by life; not being satisfied with what everyone thinks, says and does. Be attentive to God, seek God. We must not let the question about God dissolve in our souls. The desire for what is greater. The desire to know him -- his face …

The other very concrete condition for the ascent is this: "He who has innocent hands and a pure heart" can stand in the holy place. Innocent hands -- hands that are not used for acts of violence. They are hands that are not dirtied by corruption, by bribes. A pure heart -- when is the heart pure? That heart is pure that does not pretend and does not sully itself with lies and hypocrisy. A heart that remains transparent like water rises up, for it does not know duplicity. That heart is pure that does not weary itself with the drunkenness of pleasure; a heart whose love is true and not only a passion of the moment. Innocent hands and a pure heart: If we walk with Jesus, we will ascend and find purification that carry us truly to that height for which man is destined: friendship with God himself.

Psalm 24 that speaks of the ascent ends with an entrance liturgy before the temple gate: "Lift up your heads, O gates; rise up, you ancient portals, that the king of glory may enter." In the old liturgy of Palm Sunday, the priest, once he arrived at the church doors, knocked loudly with the staff of the cross at the closed doors, which were then opened. It was a beautiful image of Jesus himself who, with the wood of the cross, with the power of his love which he gives, knocked from the side of the world on God's door; from the side of a world that was unable to find access to God.

With the cross, Jesus opens wide the door of God, the door between God and men. Now it is open. But also from the other side the Lord knocks with his cross: He knocks at the door of the world, at the doors of our hearts, which so often and in such great numbers are closed to God. And he speaks to us more or less in this way: If the proofs that God gives of himself in creation do not succeed in opening you to him; if the word of Scripture and the message of the Church leave you indifferent -- then look at me, your Lord and your God.

It is this call that in this hour we let penetrate our hearts. May the Lord help us to open the door of our heart, the heart of the world, so that he, the living God, might, in his Son, arrive in our time and touch our lives. Amen.

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On the Easter Triduum  (April 4, 2007)
"Today, Too, Christ Overcomes Sin and Death With His Love"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 4, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave at the general audience today in St. Peter's Square. The reflection highlighted key moments of the Easter triduum.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

As the Lenten journey -- begun with Ash Wednesday -- comes to an end, today's liturgy of Holy Wednesday already introduces us into the dramatic atmosphere of the coming days, filled with the remembrance of the passion and death of Christ.

In fact, in today's liturgy, the Evangelist Matthew presents for our meditation the brief dialogue that occurred in the Upper Room between Jesus and Judas. "Surely it is not I, Rabbi?" the traitor says to the Divine Teacher, who had prophesied: "Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me."

The Lord's answer was incisive: "You have said so" (cf. Matthew 26:14-25).

St. John concludes narrating the prophecy of the betrayal with a short, meaningful phrase: "It was night" (John 13:30).

When the traitor exits the Upper Room, darkness penetrates his heart -- it is an internal night -- discouragement grows in the spirits of the other disciples -- they too go toward the night -- while the shadows of abandonment and hate grow darker around the Son of Man, who prepares himself for the consummation of his sacrifice on the cross.

In the coming days, we will commemorate the supreme battle between Light and Darkness, between Life and Death.

We also have to place ourselves within this context -- aware of our own "night," of our sins and responsibilities -- if we want to spiritually benefit again from the paschal mystery, if we want to bring light to our hearts, by way of this mystery, which is the center point of our faith.

The beginning of the Easter triduum is Holy Thursday, tomorrow. During the Chrism Mass, which can be considered a prelude to the triduum, bishops of dioceses and their closest collaborators, the priests, surrounded by the people of God, renew the promises they made on the day of their priestly ordination.

Year after year, it is an intense moment of ecclesial communion, which highlights the gift of the ministerial priesthood which Christ left to his Church on the night before he died on the cross. And for each priest, it is a moving moment in the midst of the vigil of the passion, in which the Lord gave himself to us, gave us the sacrament of the Eucharist, and gave us the priesthood.

It is a day that moves our hearts. Later, the holy oils used for the sacraments are blessed: oil of catechumens, oil of the sick, and holy chrism. In the afternoon, entering into the Easter triduum, the community relives in the Mass "in Cena Domini" all that took place in the Last Supper. In the Upper Room, the Redeemer wanted to anticipate, with the sacrament of blood and wine made his body and his blood, the sacrifice of his life: He anticipated his death, the free gift of his life, offered as the definitive gift of himself to humanity.

With the washing of the feet, the gesture is repeated with which he, having loved his own in this world, loved them to the end (cf. John 13:1), and left his disciples, as a sort of trademark, this act of humility, love unto death.

After the Mass "in Cena Domini," the liturgy invites the faithful to remain in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, reliving Jesus' agony in Gethsemane. And we see how the disciples slept, leaving the Lord alone.

Today as well -- frequently -- we sleep -- we, his disciples. In this holy night of Gethsemane, we want to stay on guard; we do not want to leave the Lord alone in this hour. And in doing this, we can better understand the mystery of Holy Thursday, which encompasses the threefold, most-high gifts of the ministerial priesthood, the Eucharist and the new commandment of love, "agape."

Good Friday, which commemorates the happenings between Christ's condemnation to death and his crucifixion, is a day of penance, of fasting, of prayer, of participation in the passion of the Lord. At the prescribed hour, the Christian assembly retraces, with the help of the Word of God and liturgical actions, the history of human infidelity to the divine plan, which nevertheless is fulfilled precisely in this way. And we listen again to the moving narration of the sorrowful passion of the Lord.

Later, a long "prayer of the faithful" is directed to the heavenly Father, which includes all of the needs of the Church and the world. Then, the community adores the cross, and approaches the Eucharist, consuming the sacred species, reserved since the Mass "in Cena Domini" from the day before.

Commenting on Good Friday, St. John Chrysostom said: "Before, the cross meant disdain, but today it is venerated. Before, it was a symbol of condemnation, today it is the hope of salvation. It has truly been converted into a fount of infinite goods; it has liberated us from error, it has scattered our darkness, it has reconciled us with God. From being enemies of God, it has made us his family, from foreigners it has converted us to his neighbors: This cross is the destruction of enmity, the fount of peace, the coffer of our treasure" ("De cruce et latrone," I, 1, 4).

To live the passion of the Redeemer more intensely, Christian tradition has given rise to numerous manifestations of popular piety, among them, the well-known Good Friday processions, with the evocative rites which are repeated year after year. But there is one expression of piety, the Way of the Cross, that offers us year-round the opportunity to impress in our spirits ever more deeply the mystery of the cross, advancing with Christ along this path and thus, interiorly conforming ourselves to him.

We could say that the Way of the Cross teaches us, using an expression from St. Leo the Great, to "fix the eyes of our heart on Christ crucified and recognize in him our own humanity" (Sermon 15 on the Passion of the Lord). In this consists the true wisdom of Christianity, that we wish to learn with the Way of the Cross on Good Friday in the Colosseum.

Holy Saturday is a day in which the liturgy is hushed, the day of great silence, which invites Christians to foster an interior recollection, often difficult to maintain in our day, so as to prepare us for the Easter Vigil. In many communities, spiritual retreats and Marian prayer meetings are organized on this day, in union with the Mother of the Redeemer, who awaits the resurrection of the crucified Son with anxious confidence.

Finally, in the Easter Vigil, the veil of sadness, which surrounds the Church during the death and burial of the Lord, will be torn in two by the victorious cry: Christ has risen and has overcome death forever! Then we can truly understand the mystery of the cross and, as an ancient author writes: "As God creates wonders even from the impossible, so that we will know that only he can do as he wishes: From his death proceeds our life; from his wounds, our healing; from his fall, our resurrection, from his descent, our rising up" (Anonymous 14th).

Animated by a stronger faith, at the heart of the Easter Vigil, we welcome the newly baptized and renew our own baptismal promises. Thus, we will experience that the Church is always alive, always renewing itself, always beautiful and holy, because its foundation is Christ, who, having risen, will never die again.

Dear brothers and sisters, the paschal mystery, which the holy triduum allows us to relive, is not only a memory of a past reality. It is a current reality: Today, too, Christ overcomes sin and death with his love. Evil, in all of its forms, does not have the final word. The final triumph belongs to Christ, to truth, to love!

If we, with him, are willing to suffer and die, as St. Paul reminds us in the Easter Vigil, his life will become our life (cf. Romans 6:9). Our Christian existence is based on and grows from this certainty.

Invoking the intercession of Holy Mary, who followed Jesus on the path of the passion and the cross, and who embraced him when he was taken down from the cross, I hope that all of you will participate fervently in the Easter triduum, and will experience the joy of Easter with all of your loved ones.

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At the Chrism Mass on the morning of Holy Thursday

Dear brothers and sisters, the Russian author Leo Tolstoy writes in a short story about a strict ruler who asked his priests and wise men to show God to him, so that he might see him. The wise men were unable to satisfy this desire. So a shepherd, who was just coming home from the fields, offered to take upon himself the task of the priests and wise men. The king learned from him that his eyes were not sufficient to see God. But then the king wanted to know at least what it was that God did. "In order to reply to your question," the shepherd said to the ruler, "we must exchange clothing." With hesitation, but driven by curiosity, the ruler consented: he handed over his regal garments to the shepherd, and had himself dressed in the simple clothing of the poor man. Then came the answer: "This is what God does."

In fact, the Son of God – true God from true God – left behind his divine splendor: "he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself [...] even to death on a cross" (cf. Philippians, 2:6ff). As the Fathers say, God has established a "sacrum commercium," a sacred exchange: he took upon himself what was ours, that we might be able to receive what was his, to become like God.

Saint Paul explicitly uses the image of the garment to describe what happens in baptism: "All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ" (Galatians 3:27). This is what is achieved in baptism: we clothe ourselves with Christ, he gives us his garments – and these are not something external. It means that we enter into an existential communion with him, that our beings flow together and compenetrate each other. "It is no longer I who live, but Christ is living in me" – so Paul himself, in the letter to the Galatians (2:2), describes the event of his baptism. Christ has put on our clothing: the pain and the joy of being human, hunger, thirst, weariness, hopes and disappointments, the fear of death, all of our anguish, even death. And he has given us his "clothing." What he presents to us in the letter to the Galatians as a simple "fact" of baptism – the gift of a new mode of being – Paul presents to us in the letter to the Ephesians as a permanent commitment: "You must put away the old self of your former way of life... [You must] put on the new man, created according to God in justice and true holiness. Therefore, putting away falsehood, speak the truth, each one to his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry but do not sin..." (Ephesians 4:22-26).

This theology of baptism returns in a new way and with a new insistence in priestly ordination. As in baptism there takes place an "exchange of garments," an exchange of destiny, a new existential communion with Christ, so also in the priesthood there is an exchange: in the administration of the sacraments, the priest acts and speaks now "in persona Christi." He does not represent himself in the sacred mysteries, and he does not express himself in speaking, but he speaks for the Other – for Christ. Thus the sacraments make visible in a dramatic fashion what being a priest means in general, that which we have expressed with our "Adsum – I am ready" during priestly consecration: I am here so that you may do what you wish with me. We put ourselves at the disposal of him "who died for all, so that they who live may live no longer for themselves..." (2 Corinthians 5:15). Putting ourselves at the disposal of Christ means that we let ourselves be draw into his "for all": by being with Him, we can truly be "for all."

"In persona Christi": at the moment of priestly ordination, the Church made visible and tangible to us this reality of the "new garments," even outwardly, through our being clothed with the liturgical vestments. In this external act, the Church wants to make evident to us the interior event, and the task that we receive from it: to put on Christ; to give ourselves to him as he gave himself to us.

This event, this "putting on Christ," is continually represented to us anew in every Holy Mass, through our clothing ourselves with the liturgical vestments. Putting these on must be for us more than an external fact: it is entering ever afresh into the "yes" of our task – in that "no longer I" of baptism that priestly ordination simultaneously gives to us in a new way and demands from us. The fact that we are at the altar, dressed in liturgical vestments, should make clearly visible to those present and to ourselves that we are there "in the person of Another." The priestly vestments, as they were developed over the course of time, are a profound symbolic expression of what the priesthood means. And so I would like, dear confreres, to explain on this Holy Thursday the essence of the priestly ministry by interpreting the liturgical vestments that, for their part, intend to illustrate what it means to "put on Christ," to speak and act in persona Christi.

Putting on the priestly vestments was once accompanied by prayers that helped us to understand better the individual elements of the priestly ministry. Let’s begin with the amice. In the past – and still in the monastic orders today – this was placed first on the head, like a sort of cap, thus becoming a symbol of the discipline of senses and thought necessary for a proper celebration of the Holy Mass. My thoughts must not wander here and there, behind the worries and expectations of my daily life; my senses must not be drawn by what within the church might chance to captivate my eyes and ears. My heart must docilely open itself to the word of God, and be recollected within the prayer of the Church, so that my thinking may take its direction from the words of proclamation and prayer. And the gaze of my heart must be turned toward the Lord who is in our midst: this is what is meant by "ars celebrandi," the right way of celebrating. If I am with the Lord, then with my listening, speaking, and acting, I will also draw the people into communion with Him.

The prayers that [accompany the vesting with] the alb and the stole both move in the same direction. They evoke the festal garment that the father gave to the prodigal son who had returned home threadbare and filthy. When we approach the liturgy to act in the person of Christ, we all recognize how far we are from him, how much filth there is in our lives. Only he can give us the festal garment, make us worthy of presiding at his table, of being at his service. So the prayers also recall the words of Revelation, according to which the vestments of the 144,000 elect were worthy of God – but not by their own merit. Revelation comments that they had washed their garments in the blood of the Lamb, and so these had become brilliant white (cf. Revelation 7:14). Already as a young boy, I thought to myself: But when something is washed in blood, it certainly does not become white! The answer is: the "blood of the Lamb" is the love of the crucified Christ. It is this love that makes our dirty clothing white, that makes our darkened spirits genuine and illuminated; that, in spite of all of our darkness, transforms us ourselves into "light in the Lord." In putting on the amice, we should remember: he suffered for me also. And it is only because his love is greater than all my sins that I can represent him and be a witness to his light.

But with the garment of light that the Lord has given us in baptism and, in a new way, in priestly ordination, we might also think of the wedding garment of which he speaks in the parable of God’s banquet. In the homilies of Saint Gregory the Great, I have found a reflection worth noting in this regard. Gregory distinguishes between Luke’s version of the parable and that of Matthew. He is convinced that Luke’s version speaks of an eschatological wedding banquet, while – according to him – the version handed down by Matthew deals with the anticipation of this nuptial banquet in the liturgy and in the life of the Church. It is, in fact, only In Matthew that the king visits the crowded hall to see his guests. And in this multitude there is also a guest without a wedding garment, who is then cast out into the darkness. Gregory then asks, “But what sort of garment is it that he lacked? All of those who are gathered together in the Church have received the new garment of baptism and faith; otherwise they would not be in the Church. What is it, then, that is still lacking? What wedding garment must still be added?” The pope responds: “The garment of love.” And unfortunately, among the guests to whom he had given the new garment, the white vestment of rebirth, the king finds some who are not wearing the purple garment of the twofold love toward God and neighbor. The pope asks, “In what condition do we mean to draw near to the heavenly feast, if we do not put on the wedding garment – meaning love, which is alone capable of making us beautiful?” A loveless person is dark inside. The external darkness of which the Gospel speaks is only the reflection of the heart’s inner blindness (cf. Homily 38: 8-13).

Now that we are approaching the celebration of the Holy Mass, we should ask ourselves if we are wearing this garment of love. Let us ask the Lord to take away any hostility within us, to strip us of any sense of self-sufficiency and truly clothe us with the garment of love, that we may be people of light, and not dwell in darkness.

Finally, a brief word on the chasuble. The traditional prayer for the vesting with the chasuble sees in it a representation of the yoke of the Lord that has been placed upon us as priests. And it recalls the word of Jesus, who invites us to bear his yoke and learn from him, who is “gentle and humble of heart” (Matthew 11:29). Bearing the Lord’s yoke means, above all, learning from him. Being always willing to go to school with him. From him we learn meekness and humility – the humility of God that is shown in his becoming a man.

Saint Gregory Nazianzen once asked why God wanted to become a man. The most important and, for me, touching part of his answer is: “God wanted to learn what obedience means for us; he wanted to take stock of everything on the basis of his own suffering, this invention of his love for us. In this way, he can himself bear what it is that we experience - what is asked of us, how much leniency we deserve - calculating our weakness on the basis of his suffering” (Discourse 30; Theological Discourses IV, 6).

Sometimes we would like to say to Jesus: Lord, your yoke is not at all light. It is, rather, tremendously heavy in this world. But in looking upon him who bore it all - who knewin his own person obedience, weakness, pain, all the darkness - then our complaints die off. His yoke is that of loving together with him. And the more we love him, and together with him become persons who love, the more light his seemingly heavy yoke becomes for us.

Let us pray that he help us to become together with him persons who love, that we may experience ever more how good it is to bear his yoke. Amen.

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Benedict XVI's Holy Thursday Homily  (April 6, 2007)
"Jesus Is the New and True Lamb"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 6, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is the homily Benedict XVI delivered Thursday for the Mass of the Lord's Supper, celebrated in the Basilica of St. John Lateran.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

In the reading from the Book of Exodus that we have just heard, the celebration of Israel's Passover is described as it was set out by Mosaic law. In the beginning, there could have been a spring holiday celebrated by nomads. However, for Israel, this had been transformed into a feast of commemoration, thanksgiving and, at the same time, hope.

At the heart of the Passover supper, ordained by the specific liturgical rules, was the lamb, as the symbol of liberation from slavery in Egypt. Thus, the paschal "Haggadah" was an integral part of the lamb dinner: the narrative recollection of the fact that it was God himself who had liberated Israel "with a raised hand."

He, the mysterious and hidden God, had been stronger than the pharaoh with all the power that he had at his disposition. Israel was not to forget that God personally had a hand in the history of his people, and that this history was continuously based on communion with God. Israel was not to forget God.

The words of the memorial service were surrounded by words of praise and thanksgiving taken from the Psalms. Giving thanks and blessing God reached its apex with the "berakha," which in Greek is called "eulogia" or "eucaristia": To bless God becomes a blessing for those who bless. The offering donated to God returns blessed to man.

All this erected a bridge from the past to the present and toward the future: The liberation of Israel had not yet come about. The nation still suffered like a small population in the middle of tensions between great powers. The thankful remembrance of the action of God in the past became at the same time both a plea and a source of hope: Bring to fruition what you have begun! Give us definitive freedom!

This supper, with it multiple meanings, was celebrated by Jesus with his disciples on the eve of his passion. Taking into account this context, we can understand the new Easter, which he gave to us in the holy Eucharist.

In the narrations of the Evangelists, there is an apparent contradiction between the Gospel of John, on one hand, and what, on the other hand, Matthew, Mark and Luke tell us. According to John, Jesus died on the cross precisely at the moment in which, in the temple, the Passover lambs were being sacrificed. His death and the sacrifice of the lambs coincided.

This means that he died on the eve of Passover, and that, therefore, he could not have personally celebrated the paschal supper; at least this is what it would seem.

On the contrary, according to the three Synoptic Evangelists, the last supper of Jesus was a paschal supper, in its traditional form. He introduced the innovation of the gift of his body and blood. This contradiction, until a few years ago, seemed impossible to resolve.

The majority of the exegetes thought that John did not want to communicate to us the true historical date of the death of Jesus, but had opted for a symbolic date to make the deeper truth more evident: Jesus is the new and true lamb that spilled his blood for us all.

The discovery of the manuscripts of Qumran has led us to a convincing possible solution that, while not accepted by all, is highly probable. We can now say that what John referred to is historically correct. Jesus truly spilled his blood on the eve of Passover at the hour of the sacrifice of the lambs.

However, he celebrated Passover with his disciples probably according to the calendar of Qumran, that is to say, at least one day earlier -- he celebrated without a lamb, like the Qumran community who did not recognize the Temple of Herod and was waiting for a new temple.

Therefore, Jesus celebrated Passover without a lamb, no, not without a lamb: Instead of the lamb he gave himself, his body and his blood. In this way he foresaw his death coherently with his announcement: "No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own" (John 10:18). The moment he offered his body and blood to the disciples, he truly fulfilled this statement. He himself offered his life. Only in this way the old Passover obtains its true meaning.

St. John Chrysostom, in his Eucharistic catechesis, once wrote: What are you saying Moses? That the blood of a lamb purifies man? That it saves them from death? How can the blood of an animal purify man? How can it save mankind, have power against death?

In fact, Chrysostom continues, the lamb can only be a symbol, and, therefore, the expression of the expectation and the hope in someone that would be capable of doing all that an animal couldn't do.

Jesus celebrated the Passover without a lamb and without the temple, and nevertheless, he was not lacking a lamb or a temple. He himself was the awaited lamb, the true one, the one that John the Baptist had foretold at the beginning of Jesus' public ministry: "Behold the Lamb of God, that takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29).

And he himself was the true temple, the living temple, the one in which God lives, in which we can find ourselves with God and adore him. His blood, the love of he who is at the same time Son of God and true man, one of us, this blood has the power to save. His love, this love in which he gives himself freely for us, is what saves us. The nostalgic action, in some sense inefficient, of the immolation of the innocent and immaculate lamb, found an answer in the one who became for us both lamb and temple.

In this way, in the center of the new Passover of Christ, we find the cross. The new gift brought by him proceeds from there. And in this way, it always remains in the holy Eucharist, by which we can celebrate with the apostles through the ages the new Passover.

From the cross of Christ proceeds the gift. "No one takes it away from me; I lay it down." Now, he offers it to us. The paschal "Haggadah," the commemoration of the salvific act of God, becomes a recollection of the cross and the resurrection of Christ, a remembrance that doesn't just recall the past, but attracts us toward the presence of the love of Christ. In this way, the "berakha," Israel's prayer of blessing and thanksgiving, becomes our Eucharistic celebration, in which the Lord blesses our gifts, the bread and wine, to give himself.

Let us ask the Lord to help us to understand ever more deeply this marvelous mystery, and to love it more and more. And within it, to love him more and more. Let us ask him to attract us more and more to him with holy Communion. Let us ask him to help us not to keep our lives for ourselves, but to surrender them to him, and in this way, to work with him so that all people find life, the authentic life that can only come from he who is the way, the truth and the life. Amen

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Papal Reflection After Way of the Cross  (April 7, 2007)
"Our God Is Not a Distant God"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 7, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of Benedict XVI's remarks at the conclusion of the Way of the Cross, celebrated at the Colosseum on Good Friday.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Following Jesus along the way of his passion we see not only Jesus' passion but we see all those who are suffering in the world. And this is the profound intention of the prayer of the Way of the Cross, to open our hearts, to help us to see with the heart.

The Fathers of the Church considered the greatest sin of the pagan world to be their insensitivity, their hardness of heart, and they loved the prophesy of the prophet Ezekiel: "I will take away your heart of stone and will give you a heart of flesh" (Ezekiel 36:26).

Converting to Christ, becoming Christian, meant receiving a heart of flesh, a heart sensitive to the passion and the suffering of others. Our God is not a distant God, untouchable in his blessedness. Our God has a heart, indeed a heart of flesh. He became flesh precisely to suffer with us and to be with us in our sufferings. He became man to give us a heart of flesh and to awaken in us a love for those who suffer, for those in need.

Let us pray to the Lord in this hour for all those in the world who are suffering, let us pray to the Lord that he truly give us a heart of flesh, that he make us messengers of his love not only with words but with our entire life. Amen.

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Benedict XVI's Easter Message
"A Renewed Witness to the Resurrection of Christ"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 8, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of Benedict XVI's Easter message delivered today at midday before he imparted his blessing "urbi et orbi" (to the city of Rome and the world).

* * *

Dear brothers and sisters throughout the world,
Men and women of good will!

Christ is risen! Peace to you! Today we celebrate the great mystery, the foundation of Christian faith and hope: Jesus of Nazareth, the Crucified One, has risen from the dead on the third day according to the Scriptures. We listen today with renewed emotion to the announcement proclaimed by the angels on the dawn of the first day after the Sabbath, to Mary of Magdala and to the women at the sepulcher: "Why do you search among the dead for one who is alive? He is not here, he is risen!" (Luke 24:5-6).

It is not difficult to imagine the feelings of these women at that moment: feelings of sadness and dismay at the death of their Lord, feelings of disbelief and amazement before a fact too astonishing to be true. But the tomb was open and empty: the body was no longer there. Peter and John, having been informed of this by the women, ran to the sepulcher and found that they were right. The faith of the Apostles in Jesus, the expected Messiah, had been submitted to a severe trial by the scandal of the cross. At his arrest, his condemnation and death, they were dispersed. Now they are together again, perplexed and bewildered. But the Risen One himself comes in response to their thirst for greater certainty. This encounter was not a dream or an illusion or a subjective imagination; it was a real experience, even if unexpected, and all the more striking for that reason. "Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, 'peace be with you!'" (John 20:19).

At these words their faith, which was almost spent within them, was re-kindled. The Apostles told Thomas who had been absent from that first extraordinary encounter: Yes, the Lord has fulfilled all that he foretold; he is truly risen and we have seen and touched him! Thomas however remained doubtful and perplexed. When Jesus came for a second time, eight days later in the Upper Room, he said to him: "put your finger here and see my hands; and put out your hand and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing!" The Apostle's response is a moving profession of faith: "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:27-28).

"My Lord and my God!" We too renew that profession of faith of Thomas. I have chosen these words for my Easter greetings this year, because humanity today expects from Christians a renewed witness to the resurrection of Christ; it needs to encounter him and to know him as true God and true man. If we can recognize in this Apostle the doubts and uncertainties of so many Christians today, the fears and disappointments of many of our contemporaries, with him we can also rediscover with renewed conviction, faith in Christ dead and risen for us. This faith, handed down through the centuries by the successors of the Apostles, continues on because the Risen Lord dies no more. He lives in the Church and guides it firmly towards the fulfillment of his eternal design of salvation.

We may all be tempted by the disbelief of Thomas. Suffering, evil, injustice, death, especially when it strikes the innocent such as children who are victims of war and terrorism, of sickness and hunger, does not all of this put our faith to the test? Paradoxically the disbelief of Thomas is most valuable to us in these cases because it helps to purify all false concepts of God and leads us to discover his true face: the face of a God who, in Christ, has taken upon himself the wounds of injured humanity. Thomas has received from the Lord, and has in turn transmitted to the Church, the gift of a faith put to the test by the passion and death of Jesus and confirmed by meeting him risen. His faith was almost dead but was born again thanks to his touching the wounds of Christ, those wounds that the Risen One did not hide but showed, and continues to point out to us in the trials and sufferings of every human being.

"By his wounds you have been healed" (1 Peter 2:24). This is the message Peter addressed to the early converts. Those wounds that, in the beginning were an obstacle for Thomas's faith, being a sign of Jesus' apparent failure, those same wounds have become in his encounter with the Risen One, signs of a victorious love. These wounds that Christ has received for love of us help us to understand who God is and to repeat: "My Lord and my God!" Only a God who loves us to the extent of taking upon himself our wounds and our pain, especially innocent suffering, is worthy of faith.

How many wounds, how much suffering there is in the world! Natural calamities and human tragedies that cause innumerable victims and enormous material destruction are not lacking. My thoughts go to recent events in Madagascar, in the Solomon Islands, in Latin America and in other regions of the world. I am thinking of the scourge of hunger, of incurable diseases, of terrorism and kidnapping of people, of the thousand faces of violence which some people attempt to justify in the name of religion, of contempt for life, of the violation of human rights and the exploitation of persons. I look with apprehension at the conditions prevailing in several regions of Africa. In Darfur and in the neighboring countries there is a catastrophic, and sadly to say underestimated, humanitarian situation. In Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo the violence and looting of the past weeks raises fears for the future of the Congolese democratic process and the reconstruction of the country. In Somalia the renewed fighting has driven away the prospect of peace and worsened a regional crisis, especially with regard to the displacement of populations and the traffic of arms. Zimbabwe is in the grip of a grievous crisis and for this reason the bishops of that country in a recent document indicated prayer and a shared commitment for the common good as the only way forward.

Likewise the population of East Timor stands in need of reconciliation and peace as it prepares to hold important elections. Elsewhere too, peace is sorely needed: in Sri Lanka only a negotiated solution can put an end to the conflict that causes so much bloodshed; Afghanistan is marked by growing unrest and instability; In the Middle East, besides some signs of hope in the dialogue between Israel and the Palestinian authority, nothing positive comes from Iraq, torn apart by continual slaughter as the civil population flees. In Lebanon the paralysis of the country's political institutions threatens the role that the country is called to play in the Middle East and puts its future seriously in jeopardy. Finally, I cannot forget the difficulties faced daily by the Christian communities and the exodus of Christians from that blessed land which is the cradle of our faith. I affectionately renew to these populations the expression of my spiritual closeness.

Dear brothers and sisters, through the wounds of the Risen Christ we can see the evils which afflict humanity with the eyes of hope. In fact, by his rising the Lord has not taken away suffering and evil from the world but has vanquished them at their roots by the superabundance of his grace. He has countered the arrogance of evil with the supremacy of his love. He has left us the love that does not fear death, as the way to peace and joy. "Even as I have loved you -- he said to his disciples before his death -- so you must also love one another" (cf. John 13:34).

Brothers and sisters in faith, who are listening to me from every part of the world! Christ is risen and he is alive among us. It is he who is the hope of a better future. As we say with Thomas: "My Lord and my God!", may we hear again in our hearts the beautiful yet demanding words of the Lord: "If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if any one serves me, the Father will honor him" (John 12:26). United to him and ready to offer our lives for our brothers (cf. 1 John 3:16), let us become apostles of peace, messengers of a joy that does not fear pain - the joy of the Resurrection. May Mary, Mother of the Risen Christ, obtain for us this Easter gift. Happy Easter to you all.

[The Holy Father greeted pilgrims in 62 languages. In English, he said:]

May the grace and joy of the Risen Christ be with you all.

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Pope's Easter Vigil Homily
"We Are Free"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 8, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of the homily Benedict XVI delivered Holy Saturday at the Mass of the Easter Vigil, celebrated in St. Peter's Basilica.

* * *

Dear brothers and sisters,

From ancient times the liturgy of Easter day has begun with the words: "Resurrexi et adhuc tecum sum" -- I arose, and am still with you; you have set your hand upon me. The liturgy sees these as the first words spoken by the Son to the Father after his resurrection, after his return from the night of death into the world of the living. The hand of the Father upheld him even on that night, and thus he could rise again.

These words are taken from Psalm 138, where originally they had a different meaning. That Psalm is a song of wonder at God's omnipotence and omnipresence, a hymn of trust in the God who never allows us to fall from his hands. And his hands are good hands. The Psalmist imagines himself journeying to the farthest reaches of the cosmos -- and what happens to him? "If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, 'Let only darkness cover me,' even the darkness is not dark to you; for darkness is as light with you" (Psalm 138[139]:8-12).

On Easter day the Church tells us that Jesus Christ made that journey to the ends of the universe for our sake. In the Letter to the Ephesians we read that he descended to the depths of the earth, and that the one who descended is also the one who has risen far above the heavens, that he might fill all things (cf. 4:9ff.). The vision of the Psalm thus became reality. In the impenetrable gloom of death Christ came like light -- the night became as bright as day and the darkness became as light. And so the Church can rightly consider these words of thanksgiving and trust as words spoken by the Risen Lord to his Father: "Yes, I have journeyed to the uttermost depths of the earth, to the abyss of death, and brought them light; now I have risen and I am upheld for ever by your hands." But these words of the Risen Christ to the Father have also become words which the Lord speaks to us: "I arose and now I am still with you," he says to each of us. My hand upholds you. Wherever you may fall, you will always fall into my hands. I am present even at the door of death. Where no one can accompany you further, and where you can bring nothing, even there I am waiting for you, and for you I will change darkness into light.

These words of the Psalm, read as a dialogue between the Risen Christ and ourselves, also explain what takes place at Baptism. Baptism is more than a bath, a purification. It is more than becoming part of a community. It is a new birth. A new beginning in life. The passage of the Letter to the Romans which we have just read says, in words filled with mystery, that in Baptism we have been "grafted" onto Christ by likeness to his death. In Baptism we give ourselves over to Christ -- he takes us unto himself, so that we no longer live for ourselves, but through him, with him and in him; so that we live with him and thus for others. In Baptism we surrender ourselves, we place our lives in his hands, and so we can say with Saint Paul, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me." If we offer ourselves in this way, if we accept, as it were, the death of our very selves, this means that the frontier between death and life is no longer absolute. On either side of death we are with Christ and so, from that moment forward, death is no longer a real boundary. Paul tells us this very clearly in his Letter to the Philippians: "For me to live is Christ. To be with him (by dying) is gain. Yet if I remain in this life, I can still labor fruitfully. And so I am hard pressed between these two things. To depart -- by being executed -- and to be with Christ; that is far better. But to remain in this life is more necessary on your account" (cf. 1:21ff.). On both sides of the frontier of death, Paul is with Christ -- there is no longer a real difference. Yes, it is true: "Behind and before you besiege me, your hand ever laid upon me" (Psalm 138[139]: 5). To the Romans Paul wrote: "No one lives to himself and no one dies to himself. Whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's" (Romans 14:7ff.).

Dear candidates for Baptism, this is what is new about Baptism: our life now belongs to Christ, and no longer to ourselves. As a result we are never alone, even in death, but are always with the One who lives forever. In Baptism, in the company of Christ, we have already made that cosmic journey to the very abyss of death. At his side and, indeed, drawn up in his love, we are freed from fear. He enfolds us and carries us wherever we may go -- he who is Life itself.

Let us return once more to the night of Holy Saturday. In the Creed we say about Christ's journey that he "descended into hell." What happened then? Since we have no knowledge of the world of death, we can only imagine his triumph over death with the help of images which remain very inadequate. Yet, inadequate as they are, they can help us to understand something of the mystery. The liturgy applies to Jesus' descent into the night of death the words of Psalm 23[24]: "Lift up your heads, O gates; be lifted up, O ancient doors!" The gates of death are closed, no one can return from there. There is no key for those iron doors. But Christ has the key. His Cross opens wide the gates of death, the stern doors. They are barred no longer. His Cross, his radical love, is the key that opens them. The love of the One who, though God, became man in order to die -- this love has the power to open those doors. This love is stronger than death. The Easter icons of the Oriental Church show how Christ enters the world of the dead. He is clothed with light, for God is light. "The night is bright as the day, the darkness is as light" (cf. Psalm 138[139]12). Entering the world of the dead, Jesus bears the stigmata, the signs of his passion: his wounds, his suffering, have become power: they are love that conquers death. He meets Adam and all the men and women waiting in the night of death. As we look at them, we can hear an echo of the prayer of Jonah: "Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice" (John 2:2). In the incarnation, the Son of God became one with human beings -- with Adam. But only at this moment, when he accomplishes the supreme act of love by descending into the night of death, does he bring the journey of the incarnation to its completion. By his death he now clasps the hand of Adam, of every man and woman who awaits him, and brings them to the light.

But we may ask: what is the meaning of all this imagery? What was truly new in what happened on account of Christ? The human soul was created immortal -- what exactly did Christ bring that was new? The soul is indeed immortal, because man in a unique way remains in God's memory and love, even after his fall. But his own powers are insufficient to lift him up to God. We lack the wings needed to carry us to those heights. And yet, nothing else can satisfy man eternally, except being with God. An eternity without this union with God would be a punishment. Man cannot attain those heights on his own, yet he yearns for them. "Out of the depths I cry to you." Only the Risen Christ can bring us to complete union with God, to the place where our own powers are unable to bring us. Truly Christ puts the lost sheep upon his shoulders and carries it home. Clinging to his Body we have life, and in communion with his Body we reach the very heart of God. Only thus is death conquered, we are set free and our life is hope.

This is the joy of the Easter Vigil: we are free. In the resurrection of Jesus, love has been shown to be stronger than death, stronger than evil. Love made Christ descend, and love is also the power by which he ascends. The power by which he brings us with him. In union with his love, borne aloft on the wings of love, as persons of love, let us descend with him into the world's darkness, knowing that in this way we will also rise up with him. On this night, then, let us pray: Lord, show us that love is stronger than hatred, that love is stronger than death. Descend into the darkness and the abyss of our modern age, and take by the hand those who await you. Bring them to the light! In my own dark nights, be with me to bring me forth! Help me, help all of us, to descend with you into the darkness of all those people who are still waiting for you, who out of the depths cry unto you! Help us to bring them your light! Help us to say the "yes" of love, the love that makes us descend with you and, in so doing, also to rise with you. Amen.

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After the Mass on Easter Sunday

Dear brothers and sisters throughout the world, men and women of good will, Christ is risen! Peace to you! Today we celebrate the great mystery, the foundation of Christian faith and hope: Jesus of Nazareth, the Crucified One, has risen from the dead on the third day according to the Scriptures. We listen today with renewed emotion to the announcement proclaimed by the angels on the dawn of the first day after the Sabbath, to Mary of Magdala and to the women at the sepulchre: “Why do you search among the dead for one who is alive? He is not here, he is risen!” (Lk 24:5-6).

It is not difficult to imagine the feelings of these women at that moment: feelings of sadness and dismay at the death of their Lord, feelings of disbelief and amazement before a fact too astonishing to be true.

But the tomb was open and empty: the body was no longer there. Peter and John, having been informed of this by the women, ran to the sepulchre and found that they were right. The faith of the Apostles in Jesus, the expected Messiah, had been submitted to a severe trial by the scandal of the cross. At his arrest, his condemnation and death, they were dispersed. Now they are together again, perplexed and bewildered. But the Risen One himself comes in response to their thirst for greater certainty. This encounter was not a dream or an illusion or a subjective imagination; it was a real experience, even if unexpected, and all the more striking for that reason. “Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘peace be with you!’” (Jn 20:19).

At these words their faith, which was almost spent within them, was re-kindled. The Apostles told Thomas who had been absent from that first extraordinary encounter: Yes, the Lord has fulfilled all that he foretold; he is truly risen and we have seen and touched him! Thomas however remained doubtful and perplexed. When Jesus came for a second time, eight days later in the Upper Room, he said to him: “put your finger here and see my hands; and put out your hand and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing!” The Apostle’s response is a moving profession of faith: “My Lord and my God!” (Jn 20:27-28).

“My Lord and my God!” We too renew that profession of faith of Thomas. I have chosen these words for my Easter greetings this year, because humanity today expects from Christians a renewed witness to the resurrection of Christ; it needs to encounter him and to know him as true God and true man.

If we can recognize in this Apostle the doubts and uncertainties of so many Christians today, the fears and disappointments of many of our contemporaries, with him we can also rediscover with renewed conviction, faith in Christ dead and risen for us. This faith, handed down through the centuries by the successors of the Apostles, continues on because the Risen Lord dies no more. He lives in the Church and guides it firmly towards the fulfilment of his eternal design of salvation.

We may all be tempted by the disbelief of Thomas. Suffering, evil, injustice, death, especially when it strikes the innocent such as children who are victims of war and terrorism, of sickness and hunger, does not all of this put our faith to the test? Paradoxically the disbelief of Thomas is most valuable to us in these cases because it helps to purify all false concepts of God and leads us to discover his true face: the face of a God who, in Christ, has taken upon himself the wounds of injured humanity.

Thomas has received from the Lord, and has in turn transmitted to the Church, the gift of a faith put to the test by the passion and death of Jesus and confirmed by meeting him risen. His faith was almost dead but was born again thanks to his touching the wounds of Christ, those wounds that the Risen One did not hide but showed, and continues to point out to us in the trials and sufferings of every human being.

“By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Pt 2:24). This is the message Peter addressed to the early converts.

Those wounds that, in the beginning were an obstacle for Thomas’s faith, being a sign of Jesus’ apparent failure, those same wounds have become in his encounter with the Risen One, signs of a victorious love.

These wounds that Christ has received for love of us help us to understand who God is and to repeat: “My Lord and my God!” Only a God who loves us to the extent of taking upon himself our wounds and our pain, especially innocent suffering, is worthy of faith.

How many wounds, how much suffering there is in the world! Natural calamities and human tragedies that cause innumerable victims and enormous material destruction are not lacking. My thoughts go to recent events in Madagascar, in the Solomon Islands, in Latin America and in other regions of the world. I am thinking of the scourge of hunger, of incurable diseases, of terrorism and kidnapping of people, of the thousand faces of violence which some people attempt to justify in the name of religion, of contempt for life, of the violation of human rights and the exploitation of persons.

I look with apprehension at the conditions prevailing in several regions of Africa. In Darfur and in the neighbouring countries there is a catastrophic, and sadly to say underestimated, humanitarian situation. In Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo the violence and looting of the past weeks raises fears for the future of the Congolese democratic process and the reconstruction of the country. In Somalia the renewed fighting has driven away the prospect of peace and worsened a regional crisis, especially with regard to the displacement of populations and the traffic of arms. Zimbabwe is in the grip of a grievous crisis and for this reason the Bishops of that country in a recent document indicated prayer and a shared commitment for the common good as the only way forward.

Likewise the population of East Timor stands in need of reconciliation and peace as it prepares to hold important elections. Elsewhere too, peace is sorely needed: in Sri Lanka only a negotiated solution can put an end to the conflict that causes so much bloodshed; Afghanistan is marked by growing unrest and instability; In the Middle East, besides some signs of hope in the dialogue between Israel and the Palestinian authority, nothing positive comes from Iraq, torn apart by continual slaughter as the civil population flees. In Lebanon the paralysis of the country’s political institutions threatens the role that the country is called to play in the Middle East and puts its future seriously in jeopardy. Finally, I cannot forget the difficulties faced daily by the Christian communities and the exodus of Christians from that blessed Land which is the cradle of our faith. I affectionately renew to these populations the expression of my spiritual closeness.

Dear Brothers and sisters, through the wounds of the Risen Christ we can see the evils which afflict humanity with the eyes of hope.

In fact, by his rising the Lord has not taken away suffering and evil from the world but has vanquished them at their roots by the superabundance of his grace. He has countered the arrogance of evil with the supremacy of his love. He has left us the love that does not fear death, as the way to peace and joy. “Even as I have loved you – he said to his disciples before his death – so you must also love one another” (cf. Jn 13:34).

Brothers and sisters in faith, who are listening to me from every part of the world! Christ is risen and he is alive among us. It is he who is the hope of a better future.

As we say with Thomas: “My Lord and my God!”, may we hear again in our hearts the beautiful yet demanding words of the Lord: “If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if any one serves me, the Father will honour him” (Jn 12:26).

United to him and ready to offer our lives for our brothers (cf. 1 Jn 3:16), let us become apostles of peace, messengers of a joy that does not fear pain – the joy of the Resurrection. May Mary, Mother of the Risen Christ, obtain for us this Easter gift. Happy Easter to you all!

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