Collection of Homilies

Homilies collected by Rev. Fr. Jessie G. Somosierra, Jr

Epiphany is a Feast of Light

St Peter’s Basilica, 6th Jan 2012

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

The Epiphany is a feast of light. “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you” (Is 60:1). With these words of the prophet Isaiah, the Church describes the content of the feast. He who is the true light, and by whom we too are made to be light, has indeed come into the world. He gives us the power to become children of God (cf. Jn 1:9,12). The journey of the wise men from the East is, for the liturgy, just the beginning of a great procession that continues throughout history. With the Magi, humanity’s pilgrimage to Jesus Christ begins – to the God who was born in a stable, who died on the Cross and who, having risen from the dead, remains with us always, until the consummation of the world (cf. Mt 28:20). The Church reads this account from Matthew’s Gospel alongside the vision of the prophet Isaiah that we heard in the first reading: the journey of these men is just the beginning. Before them came the shepherds – simple souls, who dwelt closer to the God who became a child, and could more easily “go over” to him (Lk 2:15) and recognize him as Lord. But now the wise of this world are also coming. Great and small, kings and slaves, men of all cultures and all peoples are coming. The men from the East are the first, followed by many more throughout the centuries. After the great vision of Isaiah, the reading from the Letter to the Ephesians expresses the same idea in rather sober and simple terms: the Gentiles share the same heritage (cf. Eph 3:6). Psalm 2 puts it like this: “I shall bequeath you the nations, put the ends of the earth in your possession” (v. 8).

The wise men from the East lead the way. They open up the path of the Gentiles to Christ. During this holy Mass, I will ordain two priests to the episcopate, I will consecrate them as shepherds of God’s people. According to the words of Jesus, part of a shepherd’s task is to go ahead of the flock (cf. Jn 10:4). So, allowing for all the differences in vocation and mission, we may well look to these figures, the first Gentiles to find the pathway to Christ, for indications concerning the task of bishops. What kind of people were they? The experts tell us that they belonged to the great astronomical tradition that had developed in Mesopotamia over the centuries and continued to flourish. But this information of itself is not enough. No doubt there were many astronomers in ancient Babylon, but only these few set off to follow the star that they recognized as the star of the promise, pointing them along the path towards the true King and Saviour. They were, as we might say, men of science, but not simply in the sense that they were searching for a wide range of knowledge: they wanted something more. They wanted to understand what being human is all about. They had doubtless heard of the prophecy of the Gentile prophet Balaam: “A star shall come forth out of Jacob and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel” (Num 24:17). They explored this promise. They were men with restless hearts, not satisfied with the superficial and the ordinary. They were men in search of the promise, in search of God. And they were watchful men, capable of reading God’s signs, his soft and penetrating language. But they were also courageous, yet humble: we can imagine them having to endure a certain amount of mockery for setting off to find the King of the Jews, at the cost of so much effort. For them it mattered little what this or that person, what even influential and clever people thought and said about them. For them it was a question of truth itself, not human opinion. Hence they took upon themselves the sacrifices and the effort of a long and uncertain journey. Their humble courage was what enabled them to bend down before the child of poor people and to recognize in him the promised King, the one they had set out, on both their outward and their inward journey, to seek and to know.

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

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

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

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

We “Have the “Privilege of Standing Today Before This Same Empty Tomb”

JERUSALEM, APRIL 4, 2010 ( Here is the Easter Sunday homily given by the Latrin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Fouad Twal.

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Dear brothers and sisters, the Lord is risen! He is truly risen!

That Sunday morning the two apostles, Peter and John and before them the pious women with the Magdalene, reached this very tomb. Great was their amazement at seeing the stone rolled away form the mouth of the tomb. Even greater was their distress at not finding the Lord’s body there.

Who had dared to remove that huge stone?

Perhaps the Roman soldiers? Surely not! A stunt like that would have certainly cost them their lives. The chief priests? Impossible! It was just these men who had demanded Jesus’ crucifixion. The apostles? No, since they were cowering and hidden! The pious women, then? But how could a few women lacking in physical strength move a rock that only several robust men could have handled?

For a few instants, the two apostles stood facing and wondering at the empty tomb, with its funeral cloth and wrappings. Up to then they had not yet understood the Scriptures. But there they began to remember the words that Our Lord himself had spoken to them when he was still and alive and which the very angels had communicated to the pious women: “He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said” (Mt 28:06). These words were confirmed shortly after by the numerous apparitions of Christ, who desired to show himself alive to his disciples, strengthening them in their faith in Him, who died and rose again: “Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself” (Lk 24:39).

We, bishops, priests and faithful, men and women, young and old from all Churches and from all peoples, have the privilege of standing today before this same empty tomb with a different emotion, with great amazement, surrounded by a cloud of so many witnesses who at that time and throughout history have witnessed to the truth of the Resurrection, giving their very lives for Christ.

Weighing in on the side of the Resurrection there is the witness of the empty tomb, the numerous apparitions of the Rison One to his disciples, and of history itself. Since it is certainly held that credible testimony comes from the dignity of the witness, we cannot but trust the testimony of the apostles and of the women who saw the Lord, who saw him alive after having gone to the tomb and who were then ready to die in order to affirm their testimony.

Science and archeology, of course, have never found the Lord’s body since he is risen! His enemies, not managing to come up with his body, spread the false rumor of it having been stolen. In reality, they were unable to find his remains because He, after having suffered, was alive, had risen.  The apostles shouted out exultantly the announcement of his resurrection and we, with them, do likewise. Were we to choose to be silent, were we to decide to keep quiet, the stones before us would cry out in our place since these very stones are mum and ongoing witnesses to the Resurrection of the Lord, as he himself said.

This year, then, our joy is double. All of us, the pastors and faithful of the diverse Churches, are celebrating the same Easter on the same day in the same place. It is the same voice. The Christians of all the world shout out today in a loud voice: “Christ is Risen!” Together with the Oriental Liturgy we praise Christ who “by his death has trodden death under foot and given life again to those who were in the tombs.” With the words of the Latin Liturgy we sing to the Lord of Life: “Victimae paschali laudes immolent christiani. Agnus redemit oves, Christus innocens Patri reconciliavit peccatores.”

Perhaps someone might be disturbed by the overlapping of prayers and songs that are heard at the same time and in diverse rites. Yet this seeming cacophony, lived in faith becomes instead a symphony that expresses the unity of the faith and of the joyful celebration of the Lord’s victory over evil and death, of the One who arose again on the third day precisely from this tomb. Yes, we are the Church of Cavalry, the Church of the empty Tomb, and of the glorious Resurrection!

Today more than ever we need hope and a special kind of strength in order to conquer the evil that is within us and around us. This year, 2010, has seen two terrible earthquakes, in Haiti and in Chile, with hundreds of thousands of victims. Thanks precisely to the hope that lives in the heart of every man and woman of good will, all of humanity was able to show a great deal of solidarity towards the survivors. Even our own Diocese participated: on the Fourth Sunday of Lent we collected the fruit of our abstinence and our fasting in order to offer succor to our brothers and sisters who were struck by such huge cataclysms, with the very same charity with which the world came to our aid in the suffering and privation that we witnessed not long ago.

This solidarity in our difficulties does much to strengthen the hope that is in us. We have said it and we repeat it: Today more than ever we need a lively hope in the midst of so much violence, in midst of bloody clashes and ethnic and religious divisions. The many wars, numerous conflicts and religious intolerance, besides the direct persecutions of which Christians are often victims, seem to confirm that the Prince of Darkness has conquered forever. But that is not the case! The small flock should not be afraid, as Jesus himself assures us: “Now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself” (Jn 12:31b-32).

From this sacred site that saw the most unexpected and surprising event in human history and that gives witness to the victory of Christ over death and evil, our Mother Church, united with the Church of Rome, turns to all the faithful of the Holy Land, to all the pilgrims, and even to the entire word, in order to greet them and wish them a joyful Easter. We pray for them and ask for their prayers for us so that the grace be given to all our parochial communities of our Diocese, extending over Jordan, Palestine, Israel and Cyprus, to be joyful witnesses of this event, so unique in human history.

We wish not to testify with our lips alone, but with our very lives.  The Lord, himself, in fact, invites us with all the power of the Resurrection, to cast off the old man, who is a slave to sin, cast off death and impotence and to put on the new man created in His image and likeness.  We will be witnesses not only by word, but by our lives, with sanctity and universal love, with our patience and our enduring in the Holy Land beside the Holy Places.

With Your strength, Risen Lord,
We hold out against the evil that is in us and around us.
Our trust does not come from ourselves,
But from You who have overcome the world.

We ask You for victory over our divisions, religious, political and familial;
Strength for our weakness, healing for our illnesses,
freedom for prisoners, return for our refugees,
peace and reconciliation for all people in conflict.

“This is the day that the Lord has made!  Let us rejoice and be glad in it!” (Ps 117,24)

“The Cure for Death Does Exist”

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 4, 2010 ( Here is a Vatican translation of Benedict XVI’s homily at the Easter Vigil.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

An ancient Jewish legend from the apocryphal book “The life of Adam and Eve” recounts that, in his final illness, Adam sent his son Seth together with Eve into the region of Paradise to fetch the oil of mercy, so that he could be anointed with it and healed. The two of them went in search of the tree of life, and after much praying and weeping on their part, the Archangel Michael appeared to them, and told them they would not obtain the oil of the tree of mercy and that Adam would have to die. Subsequently, Christian readers added a word of consolation to the Archangel’s message, to the effect that after 5,500 years the loving King, Christ, would come, the Son of God who would anoint all those who believe in him with the oil of his mercy.

“The oil of mercy from eternity to eternity will be given to those who are reborn of water and the Holy Spirit. Then the Son of God, Christ, abounding in love, will descend into the depths of the earth and will lead your father into Paradise, to the tree of mercy.” This legend lays bare the whole of humanity’s anguish at the destiny of illness, pain and death that has been imposed upon us. Man’s resistance to death becomes evident: somewhere – people have constantly thought – there must be some cure for death. Sooner or later it should be possible to find the remedy not only for this or that illness, but for our ultimate destiny – for death itself. Surely the medicine of immortality must exist. Today too, the search for a source of healing continues. Modern medical science strives, if not exactly to exclude death, at least to eliminate as many as possible of its causes, to postpone it further and further, to prolong life more and more. But let us reflect for a moment: what would it really be like if we were to succeed, perhaps not in excluding death totally, but in postponing it indefinitely, in reaching an age of several hundred years? Would that be a good thing? Humanity would become extraordinarily old, there would be no more room for youth. Capacity for innovation would die, and endless life would be no paradise, if anything a condemnation. The true cure for death must be different. It cannot lead simply to an indefinite prolongation of this current life. It would have to transform our lives from within. It would need to create a new life within us, truly fit for eternity: it would need to transform us in such a way as not to come to an end with death, but only then to begin in fullness. What is new and exciting in the Christian message, in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, was and is that we are told: yes indeed, this cure for death, this true medicine of immortality, does exist. It has been found. It is within our reach. In baptism, this medicine is given to us. A new life begins in us, a life that matures in faith and is not extinguished by the death of the old life, but is only then fully revealed.

To this some, perhaps many, will respond: I certainly hear the message, but I lack faith. And even those who want to believe will ask: but is it really so? How are we to picture it to ourselves? How does this transformation of the old life come about, so as to give birth to the new life that knows no death? Once again, an ancient Jewish text can help us form an idea of the mysterious process that begins in us at baptism. There it is recounted how the patriarch Enoch was taken up to the throne of God. But he was filled with fear in the presence of the glorious angelic powers, and in his human weakness he could not contemplate the face of God. “Then God said to Michael,” to quote from the book of Enoch, “‘Take Enoch and remove his earthly clothing. Anoint him with sweet oil and vest him in the robes of glory!’ And Michael took off my garments, anointed me with sweet oil, and this oil was more than a radiant light … its splendour was like the rays of the sun. When I looked at myself, I saw that I was like one of the glorious beings” (Ph. Rech, Inbild des Kosmos, II 524).

Precisely this – being reclothed in the new garment of God – is what happens in baptism, so the Christian faith tells us. To be sure, this changing of garments is something that continues for the whole of life. What happens in baptism is the beginning of a process that embraces the whole of our life – it makes us fit for eternity, in such a way that, robed in the garment of light of Jesus Christ, we can appear before the face of God and live with him for ever.

In the rite of baptism there are two elements in which this event is expressed and made visible in a way that demands commitment for the rest of our lives. There is first of all the rite of renunciation and the promises. In the early Church, the one to be baptized turned towards the west, the symbol of darkness, sunset, death and hence the dominion of sin. The one to be baptized turned in that direction and pronounced a threefold “no”: to the devil, to his pomp and to sin. The strange word “pomp”, that is to say the devil’s glamour, referred to the splendour of the ancient cult of the gods and of the ancient theatre, in which it was considered entertaining to watch people being torn limb from limb by wild beasts. What was being renounced was a type of culture that ensnared man in the adoration of power, in the world of greed, in lies, in cruelty. It was an act of liberation from the imposition of a form of life that was presented as pleasure and yet hastened the destruction of all that was best in man. This renunciation – albeit in less dramatic form – remains an essential part of baptism today. We remove the “old garments”, which we cannot wear in God’s presence. Or better put: we begin to remove them. This renunciation is actually a promise in which we hold out our hand to Christ, so that he may guide us and reclothe us. What these “garments” are that we take off, what the promise is that we make, becomes clear when we see in the fifth chapter of the Letter to the Galatians what Paul calls “works of the flesh” – a term that refers precisely to the old garments that we remove. Paul designates them thus: “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing and the like” (Gal 5:19ff.). These are the garments that we remove: the garments of death.

Then, in the practice of the early Church, the one to be baptized turned towards the east – the symbol of light, the symbol of the newly rising sun of history, the symbol of Christ. The candidate for baptism determines the new direction of his life: faith in the Trinitarian God to whom he entrusts himself. Thus it is God who clothes us in the garment of light, the garment of life. Paul calls these new “garments” “fruits of the spirit”, and he describes them as follows: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22).

In the early Church, the candidate for baptism was then truly stripped of his garments. He descended into the baptismal font and was immersed three times – a symbol of death that expresses all the radicality of this removal and change of garments. His former death-bound life the candidate consigns to death with Christ, and he lets himself be drawn up by and with Christ into the new life that transforms him for eternity. Then, emerging from the waters of baptism the neophytes were clothed in the white garment, the garment of God’s light, and they received the lighted candle as a sign of the new life in the light that God himself had lit within them. They knew that they had received the medicine of immortality, which was fully realized at the moment of receiving holy communion. In this sacrament we receive the body of the risen Lord and we ourselves are drawn into this body, firmly held by the One who has conquered death and who carries us through death.

In the course of the centuries, the symbols were simplified, but the essential content of baptism has remained the same. It is no mere cleansing, still less is it a somewhat complicated initiation into a new association. It is death and resurrection, rebirth to new life.
Indeed, the cure for death does exist. Christ is the tree of life, once more within our reach. If we remain close to him, then we have life. Hence, during this night of resurrection, with all our hearts we shall sing the alleluia, the song of joy that has no need of words. Hence, Paul can say to the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, rejoice!” (Phil 4:4). Joy cannot be commanded. It can only be given. The risen Lord gives us joy: true life. We are already held for ever in the love of the One to whom all power in heaven and on earth has been given (cf. Mt 28:18). In this way, confident of being heard, we make our own the Church’s Prayer over the Gifts from the liturgy of this night: Accept the prayers and offerings of your people. With your help may this Easter mystery of our redemption bring to perfection the saving work you have begun in us. Amen.

Forgiveness Is Humankind’s Deepest Need

Holy See Aide’s Homily in Vienna

“Forgiveness Is Humankind’s Deepest Need”

VIENNA, Austria, OCT. 4, 2007 ( Here is the Sept. 15 homily preached by Archbishop Dominique Mamberti at a Mass marking the occasion of the annual General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Since 1957, the Holy See’s permanent mission to Vienna has organized a Mass for the ambassadors and delegates accredited to the Vienna-based international organization, and for officials of the agency.

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I, too, would like to extend a warm welcome to all of you participating in the celebration of Mass this afternoon. I greet the officials and representatives of the International Atomic Energy Agency, as well as those of the other International Organizations in Vienna and the OSCE, and to the members of the diplomatic corps accredited to those organizations. My greetings extend to the pastor and people of St. Elisabeth’s Church as well.

For many years now, the Permanent Mission of the Holy See has organized this Mass on the vigil of the General Conference of the IAEA. The Holy See, fully approving the goals of this organization, is a member of it since its founding and continues to support its activity. I will have more to say on this during my formal intervention during the General Conference. This evening, however, I want to share with you some reflections on the Scriptures we have just heard and to suggest some ways in which those Scriptures might come alive in our daily lives.

With good reason, someone has said that humankind’s deepest need and highest achievement is forgiveness. Today’s excerpt from the second book of the Bible, Exodus, speaks of one incident of a provoked God forgiving his people.

Throughout the Exodus from Egypt, God’s people complained. Now, while Moses was on Mount Sinai, they complained that Moses had abandoned them, so they molded the golden calf-idol. God announced that he would destroy the people for this, as so Moses appealed to him to forgive. Because of God’s loving kindness for his people, he forgave. So what began as a story of a people’s sinfulness really became a story of God’s forgiveness.

God’s forgiveness on Mount Sinai foreshadowed what Jesus would do and teach. Today’s portion of St. Luke’s Gospel begins with the Pharisee’s complaint that Jesus was eating with sinners. These people would never make the guest list at formal diplomatic banquets or appear in newspapers’ society pages. To counter the Pharisees, Jesus told three stories about God reaching out about forgiveness.

Because the three stories are of the lost — the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son — some call this section the “Lost and Found Department.” It should more properly be called “God’s Joy in Forgiving Sinners.” Jesus’ three stories have as their essential purpose the revelation that God’s love is broader and deeper than people’s love, and can forgive even when people would refuse to do so.

Allow me to concentrate on the last of these three stories, often called the “Parable of the Prodigal Son.” It might be better called the “Story of the Prodigal Father” — for “prodigal” means spendthrift, and when we think about it we see that it is indeed the father who is spendthrift, lavishing his love, welcome and forgiveness. In fact, the English writer, Charles Dickens, once referred to this parable as the “most beautiful story ever told.”

It’s been said that the ingratitude of a child is more hurtful to a parent than the assassination attempt of a servant. What concerned this father most was that, whether he complied with his young son’s heartless and callous request for his inheritance or not, he was going to lose his child.

Eventually, the son’s misery brought him to his senses. Here he was, in a pigsty, envying the food of an animal that was itself not fit to be food. He had hit rock bottom. He had reached the first stage of seeking forgiveness. He determined, however selfishly, to do what we sang in today’s responsorial psalm: He would arise and go to his father.

The Father’s options with his returning son were many: He could scold him, or demand an apology, or be condescendingly accepting, or disown him. Or he could demand that the son make restitution by working as a hired hand.

But the Father chose forgiveness.

Now there are many ways of forgiving. It’s often done reluctantly, holding back, conveying continuing guilt to the recipient. Sometimes forgiveness is done as a favor. Worse, at times the forgiver, in a form of blackmail, implies that the other’s sin will still in some way be held over him. With this father, though, the forgiveness was total, offering to treat the son’s sins as though they had never happened. And it was joyous.

Whereas the father had interrupted the younger son’s prepared confession out of love, the elder son in turn interrupted the father’s expression of forgiveness because of small-spiritedness. The elder brother showed meanness of speech in referring to his brother as “your son” rather than as “my brother.” He alleged without evidence that the younger brother had swallowed up the father’s property with prostitutes. This is the kind of rash judgment in which the self-righteous often indulge. The father’s answer was heart-rending: “My son, everything I have is yours.”

The story of the Prodigal Son actually has no ending. We don’t know whether the elder brother goes into the house to join in the celebration, or whether he nurses his self-righteousness outside. There’s no ending because it’s not just a story: It’s a challenge to each one of us. What would you do? Would you go in or stay outside?

Remembering that forgiveness is humankind’s deepest need and highest achievement, let’s look into the concealed places where lost people tend to hide, and contribute to the healing forgiveness that we and our world so greatly crave.

We Have Believed in Love: This Is the Essence of Christianity

Papal Homily in Velletri

VATICAN CITY, OCT. 3, 2007 ( Here is a Vatican translation of Benedict XVI’s Sept. 23 homily during his visit to the Diocese of Velletri-Segni.

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St Clement’s Square
Sunday, 23 September 2007

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I willingly return among you to preside at this solemn Eucharistic celebration, responding to one of your repeated invitations. I have come back with joy to meet your diocesan community, which for several years has been mine, too, in a special way, and is always dear to me. I greet you all with affection. In the first place, I greet Cardinal Francis Arinze who has succeeded me as titular Cardinal of this Diocese; I greet your Pastor, dear Bishop Vincenzo Apicella, whom I thank for his beautiful words of welcome with which he has desired to greet me in your name. I greet the other Bishops, priests and men and women religious, the pastoral workers, young people and all who are actively involved in parishes, movements, associations and the various diocesan activities. I greet the Commissioner of the Prefecture of Velletri-Segni and the other civil and military Authorities who honour us with their presence. I greet all those who have come from other places, in particular from Bavaria, from Germany, to join us on this festive day. Bonds of friendship bind my native Land to yours, as is testified by the bronze pillar presented to me in Marktl am Inn in September last year on the occasion of my Apostolic Visit to Germany. As has been said, 100 municipalities of Bavaria have recently given me, as it were, a “twin” of that pillar which will be set up here in Velletri as a further sign of my affection and goodwill. It will be the sign of my spiritual presence among you. In this regard, I would like to thank the donors, the sculptor and the mayors whom I see present here with numerous friends. I thank you all!

Dear brothers and sisters, I know that you have prepared for my Visit today with an intense spiritual itinerary, adopting a very important verse of John’s First Letter as your motto: “We know and believe the love God has for us” (4: 16). Deus caritas est, God is love: my first Encyclical begins with these words that concern the core of our faith: the Christian image of God and the consequent image of man and his journey. I rejoice that you have chosen these very words to guide you on the spiritual and pastoral journey of the Diocese: “We know and believe the love God has for us”. We have believed in love: this is the essence of Christianity. Therefore, our liturgical assembly today must focus on this essential truth, on the love of God, capable of impressing an absolutely new orientation and value on human life. Love is the essence of Christianity, which makes the believer and the Christian community a leaven of hope and peace in every environment and especially attentive to the needs of the poor and needy. This is our common mission: to be a leaven of hope and peace because we believe in love. Love makes the Church live, and since it is eternal it makes her live for ever, to the end of time.

Last Sunday, St Luke the Evangelist, who was more concerned than others to show Jesus’ love for the poor, offered us various ideas for reflection on the danger of an excessive attachment to money, to material goods and to all that prevents us from living to the full our vocation to love God and neighbour. Today too, through a parable that inspires in us a certain surprise since it speaks of a dishonest steward who is praised (cf. Lk 16: 1-13), a close look reveals that here the Lord has reserved a serious and particularly salutary teaching for us. As always, the Lord draws inspiration from the events of daily life: he tells of a steward who is on the point of being dismissed for dishonest management of his master’s affairs and who, to assure a future for himself, cunningly seeks to come to an arrangement with his master’s debtors. He is undoubtedly dishonest but clever: the Gospel does not present him to us as a model to follow in his dishonesty, but rather as an example to be imitated for his farsighted guile. The short parable ends, in fact, with these words: “The master commended the dishonest steward for his prudence” (Lk 16: 8).

But what does Jesus wish to tell us with this parable? And with its surprising conclusion? The Evangelist follows the parable of the dishonest steward with a short series of sayings and recommendations on the relationship we must have with money and the goods of this earth. These short sentences are an invitation to a choice that presupposes a radical decision, a constant inner tension. Life is truly always a choice: between honesty and dishonesty, between fidelity and infidelity, between selfishness and altruism, between good and evil. The conclusion of this Gospel passage is incisive and peremptory: “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other”. Ultimately, Jesus says, “You cannot serve God and mammon” (Lk 16: 13). Mammon is a term of Phoenician origin that calls to mind economic security and success in business; we might say that riches are shown as the idol to which everything is sacrificed in order to attain one’s own material success; hence, this economic success becomes a person’s true god. As a result, it is necessary to make a fundamental decision between God and mammon, it is necessary to choose between the logic of profit as the ultimate criterion for our action, and the logic of sharing and solidarity. If the logic of profit prevails, it widens the gap between the poor and the rich, as well as increasing the ruinous exploitation of the planet. On the other hand, when the logic of sharing and solidarity prevails, it is possible to correct the course and direct it to a fair development for the common good of all. Basically, it is a matter of choosing between selfishness and love, between justice and dishonesty and ultimately, between God and Satan. If loving Christ and one’s brethren is not to be considered as something incidental and superficial but, rather, the true and ultimate purpose of our whole existence, it will be necessary to know how to make basic choices, to be prepared to make radical renouncements, if necessary even to the point of martyrdom. Today, as yesterday, Christian life demands the courage to go against the tide, to love like Jesus, who even went so far as to sacrifice himself on the Cross.

We could then say, paraphrasing one of St Augustine’s thoughts, that through earthly riches we must procure for ourselves those true and eternal riches: indeed, if people exist who are prepared to resort to every type of dishonesty to assure themselves an always unpredictable material well-being, how much more concerned we Christians must be to provide for our eternal happiness with the goods of this earth (cf. Discourses, 359, 10). Now, the only way of bringing our personal talents and abilities and the riches we possess to fruition for eternity is to share them with our brethren, thereby showing that we are good stewards of what God entrusts to us. Jesus said: “He who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and he who is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much” (Lk 16: 10).

Today, in the First Reading, the Prophet Amos speaks of the same fundamental decision to be made day by day. Using strong words, he stigmatizes a lifestyle typical of those who allow themselves to be absorbed by a selfish quest for profit in every possible form and which is expressed in the thirst for gain, contempt for the poor and their exploitation, to one’s own advantage (cf. Am 8: 5). The Christian must energetically reject all this, opening his heart on the contrary to sentiments of authentic generosity. It must be generosity which, as the Apostle Paul exhorts in the Second Reading, is expressed in sincere love for all and is manifested in prayer. Actually, praying for others is a great act of charity. The Apostle invites us in the first place to pray for those who have tasks of responsibility in the civil community because, he explains, if they aspire to do good, positive consequences derive from their decisions, assuring peace and “a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way” (I Tm 2: 2). Thus, may our prayer never be lacking, a spiritual contribution to building an Ecclesial Community that is faithful to Christ and to the construction of a society in which there is greater justice and solidarity.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us pray in particular that your diocesan community, which is undergoing a series of transformations due to the transfer of many young families from Rome to the development of the “service sector” and to the settlement of many immigrants in historical centres, may lead to an increasingly organic and shared pastoral action, following the instructions that your Bishop continues to give you with outstanding pastoral sensitivity. His Pastoral Letter of last December proved more timely than ever in this regard, with the invitation to listen with attention and perseverance to God’s Word, to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council and to the Church’s Magisterium. Let us place your every intention and pastoral project in the hands of Our Lady of Grace, whose image is preserved and venerated in your beautiful Cathedral. May Mary’s maternal protection accompany the journey of you who are present here and all those who have been unable to participate in our Eucharistic celebration today. May the Holy Virgin watch over the sick, the elderly, children, everyone who feels lonely or neglected or who is in particular need. May Mary deliver us from the greed for riches and ensure that in raising to Heaven hands that are free and pure, we may glorify God with our whole life (cf. Collect). Amen!

The American Project: To Live Out the Consequences of Humanism

Homily From Red Mass in Washington

WASHINGTON, D.C., OCT. 1, 2007 ( Here are Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan’s homily notes for the annual Red Mass held Sunday at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in the capital of the United States. Six of the nine Supreme Court justices attended the Mass.

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Red Mass
September 30, 2007

Readings from Scripture: 
Genesis 1:26-31
1 John 4: 11-16
John 14: 23-29

Summer, 2002, and I have the joy of being with over a million young people from around the globe, and with Pope John Paul II, at World Youth Day in Toronto. 

These World Youth Days are glorious events, filled with prayer, song, religious formation, sharing of faith, the Eucharist, the sacrament of penance, a lot of just plain fun … and, of course, the presence of the Pope.

It’s the last full day, and, as other bishops, I gather at a parish church in suburban Toronto with about four hundred young people from English-speaking countries, to give my teaching. We bishops were encouraged to then “open-the-floor” and allow any of our young people to give public testimony about any graces they may have received during the World Youth Days. After a pause, a young woman from the back-corner approaches the microphone. 

“World Youth Day saved my life,” she begins. She sure has our attention. “I am twenty-four years old, and have been living on the streets since I was fifteen. I’ve become an alcoholic, and a heroin addict” — here she rolls up the sleeves of her blouse to reveal bruises and scabs from the needles — “and a prostitute to support my habit. I’m dying, and I was about ready to end it all.

The kids from my parish youth group, who have always been nice to me, took me in and cleaned me up, and invited me to come to Toronto with them for World Youth Day.

And here I’ve met an old man who has changed my life. This old man told me he loved me. Oh, a lot of old men tell me they love me, for fifteen minutes. This old man meant it. He told me God loved me, and that I’m actually God’s work of art. He told me that the God who made all the stars actually knows my name. He told me God enjoys me so much He wants me to spend eternity with Him, and that He sent His Son, Jesus, to help me get there. This old man told me I actually share God’s own life deep inside of me. This old man makes sense. This old man got through to me. I now want to live.” 

The “old man” of course, was the Venerable Servant of God, John Paul the Great.

Ideas have consequences, don’t they? Convictions have corollaries. And God’s Word today, from Genesis and St. John, enchants us with one of the most profound ideas, one of the most noble convictions, of all: that we are made in God’s image and likeness, that God actually abides in us, and we in Him, that deep in our being is the very breath of the divine. 

I suggest that anyone who thinks this grand idea, this conviction, this doctrine, to be of no consequence might get in touch with that young woman from Toronto. 

This stunning belief — that we actually hold in our heart the spark of the divine — while dramatic in Jewish and Christian revelation, is also part of other great world creeds. 

As a matter of fact, this gripping conviction, while explicit in revealed religion, is really evident in the very nature of man. So we have the towering intellects of civilization, philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, Seneca and Cicero, themselves unaware of the God of Abraham, the Father of Jesus, still write convincingly that human beings hold within them the light of eternity, a destiny beyond this life, a supernatural brand-mark, an exalted identity which elevates them qualitatively above the rest of creation. True, they never viewed Michelangelo’s Sistine ceiling, depicting creation, but they would sure nod in agreement at the inspired words of Genesis in this morning’s first Scripture reading,

“God created man in the image of Himself, in the image of God He created man, male and female He created them … and God saw that this was good.”

And they would beam at the chant of the psalmist, 

“What is man that you should spare even a thought for him, 
the son of Man that you should care for him? 
Yet, you have made him little less than a god, 
You have crowned him with glory and splendor.”

This noble tenet — that human nature reflects God’s own nature, that God looks at us and smiles with delight, that a human being shares in God’s own life and is destined for eternity — this soaring conviction which resonates in the human heart, that was made explicit in God’s Word, which animated the thinking of our most normative philosophers, and is a constant of Judeo-Christian humanism, this grand idea has particularly cogent consequences for the Republic we call home, for the country we love. 

We citizens of the United States of America are so gratefully and humbly aware that our country was founded on this very conviction, that part of our birthright, as Ronald Reagan would often quote John Winthrop, is “to be a city set on a hill,” where respect for the pinnacle of God’s creation, the human being, would be the premier characteristic.

Without arrogance, but with more a sense of challenge, John Adams would write, “I always consider the settlement of America with reverence and wonder, as the opening of a grand scene and design in Providence,” or, as he penned on the eve of the revolution, “Let us see delineated before us the true map of man. Let us hear the dignity of his nature, and the noble rank he holds among the works of God.”

Yes, our second president expressed it well: “The true map of man,” a map engraved in human reason and natural law, a map showing the terrain of a person reflecting the divine, hosting the indwelling of God, possessing by his very nature certain rights our Declaration of Independence calls inalienable, a map whose paths can only be walked with a reverence for life, a respect for others, a grasp of virtue, and a responsible civility. It is a cherished part of our American heritage, then, to rejoice in a mutually enriching alliance between religion, morality, and democracy, since, as de Tocqueville observed, “Respect for the laws of God and man is the best way of remaining free, and liberty is the best means of remaining upright and religious.” No wonder the bishops of the Catholic Church of the United States, meeting in council in Baltimore in 1884, could write, “We consider the establishment of our nation, the shaping of its liberties and laws, as a work of special Providence, its framers building better than they knew, the Almighty’s hand guiding them.”

Listen to what Pope John Paul II had to say about this American experiment, establishing a Republic based upon support for the human rights innate in one made in God’s image and likeness: 

The Founding Fathers of the United States asserted their claim to freedom and independence on the basis of certain “self-evident” truths about the human person, truths which could be discerned in human nature built into it by “nature’s God.” Thus they meant to bring into being … a great experiment in what George Washington called “ordered liberty.”

… [T]he continuing success of American democracy depends on the degree to which each new generation … makes it’s own the moral truths on which the Founding Fathers staked the future of your Republic. 

Yes, “ideas have consequences,” and perhaps a way to view our participation in this annual Red Mass in our nation’s capital is as our humble prayer for the red-hot fire of the Holy Spirit, bringing the jurists, legislators, and executives of our government the wisdom to recognize that we are indeed made in God’s image, that deep in our being is the life of God, and then to give them the courage to judge, legislate, and administer based on the consequences of that conviction: the innate dignity and inviolability of every human life, and the cultivation of a society of virtue to support that belief.

As I say to young people being confirmed, think how differently you would treat yourselves — always with dignity and respect — if you believed you were a vessel of the divine, and think how you would treat others if you held that they were, too.

That’s the grand American project: to live out the consequences of such an exalted Judeo-Christian humanism. As Emerson suggested, “Let not man so much guard his dignity, as let his dignity guide him.”

So this soaring idea has consequences, and has throughout our history: in the quest for independence itself, in the formation of a Republic, in abolition and civil rights, in the waging of war and promotion of peace, in care for the other, in the strengthening of marriage and family, and in the promotion of a culture of life.

Maybe we’re here because we realistically acknowledge that, in a world where we’re tempted to act like animals instead of like God’s icon, in a culture where life itself can be treated as a commodity, seen as a means to an end, or as an inconvenience when tiny or infirm, in a society where rights are reduced to whatever we have the urge to do instead of what we ought to do in a civil society, we need all the wisdom and fortitude God can give us, as civic leaders, magistrates, as ordinary citizens, to achieve, as Cardinal James Gibbons exhorted, “liberty without license, authority without despotism.”

Our prayer this morning is then not all that different from the one John Carroll, our first bishop, wrote for Catholic American’s to pray for their civil leaders: 

We pray Thee, O almighty and eternal God! Who through Jesus Christ hast revealed Thy glory to all nations … 

We pray Thee, O God of might, wisdom, and justice! Through Whom authority is rightly administered, laws are enacted, and judgment decreed, assist with Thy holy spirit of counsel and fortitude the President of the United States, that his administration may be conducted in righteousness, and be eminently useful to Thy people over whom he presides; by encouraging due respect for virtue and religion; by a faithful execution of the laws in justice and mercy; and by restraining vice and immorality. Let the light of Thy divine wisdom direct the deliberations of Congress, and shine forth in all the proceedings and laws framed for our rule and government, so that they may tend to the preservation of peace, the promotion of national happiness, the increase of industry, sobriety, and useful knowledge; and may perpetuate to us the blessing of equal liberty. 

We pray for all judges, magistrates, and other officers who are appointed to guard our political welfare, that they maybe enabled, by Thy powerful protection, to discharge the duties of their respective stations with honesty and ability. 

We recommend likewise, to Thy unbounded mercy, all our brethren and fellow citizens throughout the United States, that they may be blessed in the knowledge and sanctified in the observance of Thy most holy law; that they may be preserved in union, and in that peace which the world can not give; and after enjoying the blessings of this life, be admitted to those which are eternal. Through Christ, Our Lord. Amen

A Grand Gesture of Charity Is to Pray for Others

Pope’s Homily in Velletri

VELLETRI, Italy, SEPT. 23, 2007, ( Here is a translation of the homily Benedict XVI gave this morning during a Mass celebrated in the plaza of the Cathedral of San Clement, on the occasion of the Pope’s brief pastoral visit to the suburbicarian Diocese of Velletri-Segni, some 25 miles southeast of Rome.

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Dear brothers and sisters!

I have returned with great pleasure in your midst to preside over this solemn Eucharistic celebration, in response to you repeated invitations. I return with joy to meet your diocesan community, which for many years was also mine in a special way, and which is still very dear to me today. I greet you all with great affection. First of all I would like to greet Cardinal Francis Arinze, who succeeded me as titular cardinal of this diocese; I greet your pastor, Monsignor Vincenzo Apicella, whom I would like to thank for the courteous words of welcome with which he welcomed me in your name.

I greet the other bishops, priests, men and women religious, and pastoral workers, the youth and all those at work in parishes, movements, associations and various diocesan activities. I greet the prefectorial commissioner of Velletri, the mayors of towns of the Diocese of Velletri-Segni and the other civil and military authorities, who honor us with their presence.

I also greet all those who have come from other places, Germany in particular, to unite themselves to us in this day of celebration. Bonds of friendship link my native land to yours: This bronze column from Marktl am Inn, given to me in September last year in honor of my apostolic trip to Germany, is a testimony of that, and I wished it to remain here, as a further sign of my affection and my goodwill.

I know you have prepared for my visit here today with an intense spiritual journey, adopting as the motto a meaningful verse from the First Letter of John: “So we know and believe in the love that God has for us” (4:16). “Deus Caritas East,” God is love: My first encyclical begins with these words, which pertain to the core of our faith –the Christian image of God and the resulting image of man and his journey.

I rejoice in the fact that you have chosen as your guide for the diocese’s spiritual and pastoral journey this very expression: “We have known the love that God has for us and we have believed.” Today’s liturgy cannot but focus on this essential truth, on the love of God, able to impress upon human existence an absolutely new orientation and value. Love is the essence of Christianity, which renders the believer and the Christian community yeast of hope and peace in every situation, especially attentive to the necessities of the poor and needy. Love brings the Church into existence.

For the past few Sundays, St. Luke, the Gospel writer who more than the others is concerned to show the love Jesus has for the poor, he offered different ideas for reflection on the dangers of an excessive attachment to money, to material goods and to all that impedes us from loving the fullness of our vocation to love God and our brethren. Also today, through the parable that provokes a certain wonder in us because it speaks of a dishonest manager who ends up being praised (cf. Luke 16:1-13), and the Lord is offering is a salutary teaching. As he often does, he draws from current events: He speaks about a manager on the verge of being fired for his dishonest management of the affairs of his master and, to guarantee his own future, he tries to slyly come to agreements with his debtors. He is dishonest, but astute: The Gospel does not present him as a model to follow in his dishonesty, but as an example to imitate for his cautious craftiness. In fact, the brief parable ends with these words: “The master praised the unrighteous manager because he had acted shrewdly.”

What does Jesus want to say to us? The Evangelist follows the parable of the unfaithful steward with a brief series of sayings and admonitions about the relationship we should have with money and the goods of this earth. Brief phrases that invite us to a choice that presupposes a radical decision, a constant interior tension. Life is in truth always a choice: between honesty and dishonesty, between faithfulness and unfaithfulness, between egoism and altruism, between good and evil. The conclusion of the Gospel selection is incisive and authoritative: “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Luke 16:13).

Mammon is the original Phoenician term that evokes economic security and success in business; we could say that in wealth is found the idol in which one sacrifices everything to reach personal success. Therefore a fundamental decision is necessary — the choice between the logic of profit as the ultimate criteria of our action and the logic of sharing and solidarity. The logic of profit, if it prevails, increases not only the disproportion between poor and rich, but also the devastating exploitation of the planet.

When, on the other hand, the logic of sharing and solidarity prevails, it is possible to correct the course of action and orient it toward proportional development, for the common good of all. In the end it is a decision between egoism and love, between justice and dishonesty, and a final choice between God and Satan. If loving Christ and our brethren is not considered as something accessorial and superficial, but moreover the true and final scope of our existence, we must know how to make fundamental choices, to be open to radical renunciations, even martyrdom if necessary. Today, like yesterday, the Christian life demands courage to go against the tide, to love as Jesus did, who ended up sacrificing himself on the cross.

We can say therefore, paraphrasing St. Augustine, that through earthly riches we should obtain those that are true and eternal: If in fact there are people who are ready for any kind of dishonest action to ensure material well-being, which isn’t sure, how much more we Christians must try to provide for our eternal happiness with the goods of this earth (cf. “Discourses” 359:10). Now, the only way our personal gifts and abilities will be fruitful along with the wealth we possess is to share them with our brethren, showing ourselves to be good stewards of what God has entrusted to us. Jesus says: “Whoever is faithful in little, is faithful also in much; and he who is dishonest in little will be dishonest also in much” (Luke 16:10-11).

The prophet Amos speaks about this fundamental choice to be performed day after day in today’s first reading. With strong words, he stigmatizes a typical style of life of someone who lets themselves be drawn in by a selfish search for profit in every possible way and is transformed into a thirst for gain, a contempt for the poor and in exploitation of the poor for their own advantage (cf. Amos 4:5). The Christian must energetically reject all of this, opening his heart, on the contrary, to feelings of authentic generosity. A generosity that, as St. Paul tells us in today’s second reading, is expressed in a sincere love for all and is manifested in the first place in prayer. A grand gesture of charity is to pray for others.

The Apostle invites us first of all to pray for those who carry out tasks of responsibility in the civil community, because — he explains — from their decisions, if they tend toward the common good, result in positive consequences, ensuring peace and “a calm and tranquil life with piety and dignity” for all (1 Timothy 2:2). Our prayer is just as valuable, a spiritual support for the edification of an ecclesial community faithful to Christ and to the construction of a more just and supportive society.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us pray, in a special way so that your diocesan community, that is undergoing a series of transformations, because of the transfer of many young families out of Rome, the development of the service industry and the arrival of many immigrants in town centers, may lead to an ever increasingly organic and shared pastoral action, following the indications that your bishop is offering with outstanding pastoral sensitivity.

To this end, his pastoral letter of last December proved to be very opportune with an invitation to attentive and persevering listening to God’s word, to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council and the magisterium of the Church.

We place in the Madonna of Grace’s hands, whose image is kept and venerated in this your beautiful cathedral, all of your intentions and pastoral projects. May the maternal protection of Mary accompany the journey of all of you present here and of those who were unable to participate in today’s Eucharistic celebration. In a special way, may the Holy Virgin watch over the sick, the elderly, the children and anyone who feels alone or abandoned or is in particular need. Free us Mary from the greed of wealth, and make it so that lifting our free and pure hands, we can give glory to God with our life (cf. Offertory Prayer). Amen!