Archive for July, 2007
VATICAN CITY, MAY 15, 2007, Zenit.org He delivered it April 22 during his pastoral visit to Pavia, Italy.
PASTORAL VISIT TO VIGEVANO AND PAVIA (ITALY)
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
“Orti Borromaici” Esplanade, Pavia
Third Sunday of Easter, 22 April 2007
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Yesterday afternoon, I met the diocesan Community of Vigevano and the heart of my Pastoral Visit was the Eucharistic concelebration in Piazza Ducale; today, I have the joy of visiting your Diocese and a culminating moment of our encounter is also here at Holy Mass.
I greet with affection my Brothers who are concelebrating with me: Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, Archbishop of Milan, Bishop Giovanni Giudici, Pastor of your Diocese, Bishop emeritus Giovanni Volta, the retired Pastor, and the other Prelates of Lombardy.
I am grateful to the Government Representatives and local Administrations for their presence. I address my cordial greeting to the priests, deacons, Religious, leaders of lay associations, the young people, the sick and all the faithful, and I extend my thoughts to the entire population of this ancient and noble City, and of the Diocese.
During the Easter Season, the Church presents to us, Sunday after Sunday, some passages from the preaching with which, after Easter, the Apostles, particularly Peter, invited Israel to have faith in Jesus Christ, the Risen One, thereby founding the Church.
In today’s reading, the Apostles stand before the Sanhedrin — before that institution which, having sentenced Jesus to death, could not tolerate that this same Jesus was now beginning to be active again through the Apostles’ preaching. They could not tolerate that his saving power was once more making itself felt and that his Name was attracting people who believed in him as the promised Redeemer.
They accused the Apostles. Their accusation is: “You want to make us responsible for that man’s blood”.
Peter, however, reacted to this accusation with a brief catechesis on the essence of Christian faith: “No, we do not want to make you responsible for his blood. The effect of the death and Resurrection of Jesus is quite different. God has exalted him as “‘Head and Saviour’ of all, and of you, too, his People of Israel”. And where will this “Head” lead us? What does this “Saviour” bring?
He leads us, St Peter tells us, to conversion — creates for us the leeway and opportunity to mend our ways and repent, begin again. And he offers us forgiveness for our sins: he introduces us into the proper relationship with God, hence, into the proper relationship of each individual with himself or herself and with others.
Peter’s brief catechesis did not only apply to the Sanhedrin. It speaks to us all, for Jesus, the Risen One, is also alive today. And for all generations, for all men and women, he is the “Head” who shows us the way and the “Saviour” who straightens out our lives.
The two terms: “conversion” and “forgiveness of sins”, which correspond to the titles of Christ “Head”, archegòs in Greek, and “Saviour”, are the key words of Peter’s catechesis, words intended to move our hearts too, here and now. And what do they mean?
The path we must take — the path that Jesus points out to us — is called “conversion”. But what is it? What must we do? In every life conversion has its own form, because every human being is something new and no one is merely a copy of another.
But in the course of history, the Lord has sent us models of conversion to whom we can look to find guidance. We could thus look at Peter himself to whom the Lord said at the Last Supper: “[W]hen you have turned again, strengthen your brethren” (Luke 22: 32).
We could look at Paul as a great convert. The City of Pavia speaks of one of the greatest converts in the history of the Church: St Aurelius Augustine. He died on 28 August in 430 in the port town of Hippo, in Africa, at that time surrounded and besieged by the Vandals.
After the considerable turmoil of a turbulent history, the King of the Longobards acquired Augustine’s remains for the City of Pavia so that today they belong to this City in a special way, and, in it and from it, have something special to say to all of us, to humanity, but to all of us here in particular.
In his book, Confessions, Augustine touchingly described the development of his conversion which achieved its goal with Baptism, administered to him by Bishop Ambrose in the Cathedral of Milan. Readers of his Confessions can share in the journey that Augustine had to make in a long inner struggle to receive at last, at the baptismal font on the night before Easter 387, the Sacrament which marked the great turning point in his life.
A careful examination of the course of St Augustine’s life enables one to perceive that his conversion was not an event of a single moment but, precisely, a journey. And one can see that this journey did not end at the baptismal font.
Just as prior to his baptism Augustine’s life was a journey of conversion, after it too, although differently, his life continued to be a journey of conversion — until his last illness, when he had the penitential Psalms hung on the walls so that he might have them always before his eyes, and when he excluded himself from receiving the Eucharist in order to go back once again over the path of his repentance and receive salvation from Christ’s hands as a gift of God’s mercy.
Thus, we can rightly speak of Augustine’s “conversions”, which actually consisted of one important conversion in his quest for the Face of Christ and then in the journeying on with him.
I would like to mention briefly three important landmarks in this process of conversion, three “conversions”.
The first fundamental conversion was the inner march towards Christianity, towards the “yes” of the faith and of Baptism. What was the essential aspect of this journey?
On the one hand, Augustine was a son of his time, deeply conditioned by the customs and passions prevalent then as well as by all the questions and problems that beset any young man. He lived like all the others, yet with a difference: he continued to be a person constantly seeking. He was never satisfied with life as it presented itself and as so many people lived it.
The question of the truth tormented him ceaselessly. He longed to discover truth. He wanted to succeed in knowing what man is; where we ourselves come from, where we are going and how we can find true life.
He desired to find the life that was right and not merely to live blindly, without meaning or purpose.
Passion for truth is the true key phrase of his life. Passion for the truth truly guided him.
There is a further peculiarity: anything that did not bear Christ’s Name did not suffice for him. Love for this Name, he tells us, he had tasted from his mother’s milk (cf. Confessions, 3, 4, 8). And he always believed — sometimes rather vaguely, at other times, more clearly — that God exists and takes care of us (cf. Confessions, 6, 5, 8).
But to truly know this God and to become really familiar with this Jesus Christ and reach the point of saying “yes” to him with all its consequences — this was the great interior struggle of his youthful years.
St Augustine tells us that through Platonic philosophy he learned and recognized that “in the beginning was the Word” — the Logos, creative reason. But philosophy, which showed him that the beginning of all things was creative reason, did not show him any path on which to reach it; this Logos remained remote and intangible.
Only through faith in the Church did he later find the second essential truth: the Word, the Logos, was made flesh.
Thus, he touches us and we touch him. The humility of God’s Incarnation — this is the important step — must be equalled by the humility of our faith, which lays down its self-important pride and bows upon entering the community of Christ’s Body; which lives with the Church and through her alone can enter into concrete and bodily communion with the living God.
I do not have to say how deeply all this concerns us: to remain seekers; to refuse to be satisfied with what everyone else says and does; to keep our gaze fixed on the eternal God and on Jesus Christ; to learn the humility of faith in the corporeal Church of Jesus Christ, of the Logos Incarnate.
Augustine described his second conversion at the end of the 10th book of his Confessions with the words: “Terrified by my sins and the pile of my misery, I had racked my heart and had meditated, taking flight to live in solitude. But you forbade me and comforted me, saying: “That is why Christ died for all, so that those who live should not live for themselves, but for him who died for them’ (2 Corinthians 5:15)”; Confessions, 10, 43, 70).
What had happened? After his baptism, Augustine had decided to return to Africa and with some of his friends had founded a small monastery there. His life was then to be totally dedicated to conversation with God and reflection on and contemplation of the beauty and truth of his Word.
Thus, he spent three happy years in which he believed he had achieved the goal of his life; in that period, a series of valuable philosophical and theological works came into being.
In 391, four years after his baptism, he went to the port town of Hippo to meet a friend whom he desired to win over for his monastery. But he was recognized at the Sunday liturgy in the cathedral in which he took part.
It was not by chance that the Bishop of the city, a man of Greek origin who was not fluent in Latin and found preaching rather a struggle, said in his homily that he was hoping to find a priest to whom he could entrust the task of preaching.
People instantly grabbed hold of Augustine and forced him forward to be ordained a priest to serve the city.
Immediately after his forced ordination, Augustine wrote to Bishop Valerius: “I was constrained … to accept second place at the helm, when as yet I knew not how to handle an oar. … And from this derived the tears which some of my brethren perceived me shedding in the city at the time of my ordination” (cf. Letter 21, 1ff.).
Augustine’s beautiful dream of a contemplative life had vanished. As a result, his life had fundamentally changed. He could now no longer dedicate himself solely to meditation in solitude. He had to live with Christ for everyone. He had to express his sublime knowledge and thoughts in the thoughts and language of the simple people in his city. The great philosophical work of an entire lifetime, of which he had dreamed, was to remain unwritten.
Instead, however, we have been given something far more precious: the Gospel translated into the language of everyday life and of his sufferings.
These were now part of his daily life, which he described as the following: “reprimanding the undisciplined, comforting the faint-hearted, supporting the weak, refuting opponents … encouraging the negligent, soothing the quarrelsome, helping the needy, liberating the oppressed, expressing approval to the good, tolerating the wicked and loving all” (Sermon 340, 3).
“Continuously preaching, arguing, rebuking, building God’s house, having to manage for everyone — who would not shrink from such a heavy burden?” (Sermon 339, 4).
This was the second conversion which this man, struggling and suffering, was constantly obliged to make: to be available to everyone, time and again, and not for his own perfection; time and again, to lay down his life with Christ so that others might find him, true Life.
Further, there was a third, decisive phase in the journey of conversion of St Augustine. After his Ordination to the priesthood he had requested a vacation period to study the Sacred Scriptures in greater detail.
His first series of homilies, after this pause for reflection, were on the Sermon on the Mount; he explained the way to an upright life, “the perfect life”, pointed out by Christ in a new way. He presented it as a pilgrimage to the holy mountain of the Word of God. In these homilies it is possible to further perceive all the enthusiasm of faith newly discovered and lived; his firm conviction that the baptized, in living totally in accordance with Christ’s message, can precisely be “perfect” in accordance with the Sermon on the Mount.
Approximately 20 years later, Augustine wrote a book called the Retractations, in which he critically reviewed all the works he had thus far written, adding corrections wherever he had in the meantime learned something new.
With regard to the ideal of perfection in his homilies on the Sermon on the Mount, he noted: “In the meantime, I have understood that one alone is truly perfect and that the words of the Sermon on the Mount are totally fulfilled in one alone: Jesus Christ himself.
“The whole Church, on the other hand — all of us, including the Apostles — must pray every day: forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” (cf. Retract. I 19, 1-3).
Augustine had learned a further degree of humility — not only the humility of integrating his great thought into the humble faith of the Church, not only the humility of translating his great knowledge into the simplicity of announcement, but also the humility of recognizing that he himself and the entire pilgrim Church needed and continually need the merciful goodness of a God who forgives every day.
And we, he added, liken ourselves to Christ, the only Perfect One, to the greatest possible extent when we become, like him, people of mercy.
Let us now thank God for the great light that shines out from St Augustine’s wisdom and humility and pray the Lord to give to us all, day after day, the conversion we need, and thus lead us toward true life. Amen.
HOMILY OF THE HOLY FATHER Sunday, 9 April 2000
1. “We wish to see Jesus” (Jn 12: 21).
This is the request made to Philip by some Greeks who went up to Jerusalem for the Passover. Their desire to meet Jesus and to hear his word prompts a solemn response: “The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified” (Jn 12: 23). What is this “hour” to which Jesus refers? The context explains it: it is the mysterious and solemn “hour” of his Death and Resurrection.
To see Jesus! Like that group of Greeks, countless men and women down the centuries have desired to know the Lord. They have seen him with the eyes of faith. They have recognized him as the crucified and risen Messiah. They have let themselves be won over by him and have become his faithful disciples. They are the saints and blesseds whom the Church holds up to us as models to imitate and examples to follow.
In the context of the Holy Year celebrations, today I have the joy of raising several new blesseds to the glory of the altars. They are five confessors of the faith who proclaimed Christ in word and bore witness to him in continual service to their brethren. They are Mariano de Jesús Euse Hoyos, a diocesan parish priest; Francis Xavier Seelos, a professed priest of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer; Anna Rosa Gattorno, a widow, foundress of the Institute of the Daughters of St Anne; Mary Elisabeth Hesselblad, foundress of the Order of the Sisters of the Most Holy Saviour; and Mariam Thresia Chiramel Mankidiyan, foundress of the Congregation of the Holy Family in India.
2. “If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also” (Jn 12: 26), Jesus told us in the Gospel we just heard. A faithful follower of Jesus Christ in the self-sacrificing exercise of the priestly ministry, Fr Mariano de Jesús Euse Hoyos, a Colombian, is raised today to the glory of the altars. From his intimate experience of meeting the Lord, Fr Marianito, as he is familiarly known in his homeland, dedicated himself tirelessly to the evangelization of children and adults, especially farmworkers. He spared no sacrifice or hardship, giving himself for almost 50 years in a modest parish of Angostura, in Antioquia, for the glory of God and the good of the souls entrusted to his care.
May his shining witness of charity, understanding, service, solidarity and forgiveness be an example in Colombia and also an effective help in continuing the work of peace and full reconciliation in this beloved country. If 9 April 52 years ago marked the beginning of violence and conflicts, which unfortunately are still going on, may this day of the Great Jubilee year mark a new phase in which all Colombians will build a new Colombia together, one based on peace, social justice, respect for all human rights and brotherly love among children of the same homeland.
3. “Give me again the joy of your help; with a spirit of fervour sustain me, that I may teach transgressors your ways and sinners may return to you” (Ps 51: 14-15). Faithful to the spirit and charism of the Redemptorist Congregation to which he belonged, Fr Francis Xavier Seelos often meditated upon these words of the Psalmist. Sustained by God’s grace and an intense life of prayer, Fr Seelos left his native Bavaria and committed himself generously and joyfully to the missionary apostolate among immigrant communities in the United States.
In the various places where he worked, Fr Francis Xavier brought his enthusiasm, spirit of sacrifice and apostolic zeal. To the abandoned and the lost he preached the message of Jesus Christ, “the source of eternal salvation” (Heb 5: 9), and in the hours spent in the confessional he convinced many to return to God. Today, Bl. Francis Xavier Seelos invites the members of the Church to deepen their union with Christ in the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist. Through his intercession, may all who work in the vineyard for the salvation of God’s people be encouraged and strengthened in their task.
4. “I, when I am lifted up from the earth”, Jesus promised in the Gospel, “will draw all men to myself” (Jn 12: 32). Indeed, from high on the Cross Jesus will reveal to the world God’s boundless love for humanity in need of salvation. Irresistibly drawn by this love, Anna Rosa Gattorno made a continual sacrifice of her life for the conversion of sinners and the sanctification of all mankind. To be “Jesus’ voice” in order to bring the message of his saving love everywhere: this was her heart’s deepest desire!
With complete trust in Providence and motivated by a courageous impulse of charity, Bl. Anna Rosa Gattorno had one desire: to serve Jesus in the suffering and wounded limbs of her neighbour, with sensitivity and motherly attention to all human misery.
Today the special witness of charity left by the new blessed is still a stirring encouragement for everyone in the Church who is committed more specifically to proclaiming the love of God, who heals the wounds of every heart and offers the fullness of immortal life to all.
5. “When I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all men to myself” (Jn 12: 32). The promise of Jesus is wonderfully fulfilled also in the life of Mary Elisabeth Hesselblad. Like her fellow countrywoman, St Bridget, she too acquired a deep understanding of the wisdom of the Cross through prayer and in the events of her own life. Her early experience of poverty, her contact with the sick who impressed her by their serenity and trust in God’s help, and her perseverance despite many obstacles in founding the Order of the Most Holy Saviour of St Bridget, taught her that the Cross is at the centre of human life and is the ultimate revelation of our heavenly Father’s love. By constantly meditating on God’s word, Sr Elisabeth was confirmed in her resolve to work and pray that all Christians would be one (cf. Jn 17: 21).
She was convinced that by listening to the voice of the crucified Christ they would come together into one flock under one Shepherd (cf. Jn 10: 16), and from the very beginning her foundation, characterized by its Eucharistic and Marian spirituality, committed itself to the cause of Christian unity by means of prayer and evangelical witness. Through the intercession of Bl. Mary Elisabeth Hesselblad, pioneer of ecumenism, may God bless and bring to fruition the Church’s efforts to build ever deeper communion and foster ever more effective cooperation among all Christ’s followers: ut unum sint.
6. “Unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies it yields a rich harvest” (Jn 12: 24). From childhood, Mariam Thresia Mankidiyan knew instinctively that God’s love for her demanded a deep personal purification. Committing herself to a life of prayer and penance, Sr Mariam Thresia’s willingness to embrace the Cross of Christ enabled her to remain steadfast in the face of frequent misunderstandings and severe spiritual trials. The patient discernment of her vocation eventually led to the foundation of the Congregation of the Holy Family, which continues to draw inspiration from her contemplative spirit and love of the poor.
Convinced that “God will give eternal life to those who convert sinners and bring them to the right path” (Letter 4 to her Spiritual Father), Sr Mariam devoted herself to this task by her visits and advice, as well as by her prayers and penitential practice. Through Bl. Mariam Thresia’s intercession, may all consecrated men and women be strengthened in their vocation to pray for sinners and draw others to Christ by their words and example.
7. “I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jer 31: 33). God is our only Lord and we are his people. This indissoluble covenant of love between God and humanity was brought to its fulfilment in Christ’s paschal sacrifice. It is in him that, despite belonging to different lands and cultures, we become one people, one Church, one and the same spiritual building whose bright and solid stones are the saints.
Let us thank the Lord for the splendid witness of these new blesseds. Let us look to them, especially in this Lenten season, in order to be spurred in our preparation for the forthcoming Easter celebrations.
May Mary, Queen of Confessors, help us to follow her divine Son as did the new blesseds. May you, Mariano de Jesús Euse Hoyos, Francis Xavier Seelos, Anna Rosa Gattorno, Mary Elisabeth Hesselblad, Mariam Thresia Chiramel Mankidiyan, intercede for us so that by deeply sharing in Christ’s redemptive Passion we can live the fruitfulness of the seed that dies and be received as his harvest in the kingdom of heaven. Amen!
JOHN PAUL II
Sunday, 2 may 1999
“Sing a new song to the Lord!”.
1. The summons of the entrance antiphon captures well the joy of so many of the faithful who have long awaited the beatification of Padre Pio of Pietrelcina. By his life given wholly to prayer and to listening to his brothers and sisters, this humble Capuchin friar astonished the world.
Countless people came to meet him in the friary of San Giovanni Rotondo and, since his death, the flow of pilgrims has not ceased. When I was a student here in Rome, I myself had the chance to meet him personally, and I thank God for allowing me today to enter Padre Pio’s name in the book of the blessed.
Guided by the texts of this Fifth Sunday of Easter, which provides the context for the beatification, let us this morning trace the main features of his spiritual experience.
2. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God and believe also in me” (Jn 14:1). In the Gospel just proclaimed, we heard these words of Jesus to his disciples who were in need of encouragement. In fact, his allusion to his imminent departure had thrown them into turmoil. They were afraid of being abandoned, of being alone, and the Lord consoled them with a very specific promise: “I am going to prepare a place for you”, and then, “I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (Jn 14:2-3).
Through Thomas, the Apostles reply to this reassurance: “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” (Jn 14:5). The remark is apt, and Jesus does not avoid the question which it implies. The answer he gives will remain for ever a light shining for generations still to come: “I am the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me” (Jn 14:6).
The “place” that Jesus goes to prepare is in “the house of the Father”; there the disciple will be able to be with the Master for all eternity and share in his joy. Yet there is only one path that leads there: Christ, to whom the disciple must be conformed more and more. Holiness consists precisely in this: that it is no longer the Christian who lives, but Christ himself who lives in him (cf. Gal 2:20). An exhilarating goal, accompanied by a promise which is no less consoling: “Whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do, and greater works than I will they do, because I am going to the Father” (Jn 14:12).
3. We hear these words of Christ and think of the humble friar of Gargano. How clearly were they fulfilled in Bl. Pio of Pietrelcina!
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe …”. What was the life of this humble son of St Francis if not a constant act of faith, strengthened by the hope of heaven, where he could be with Christ?
“I am going to prepare a place for you … that where I am you may be also”. What other purpose was there for the demanding ascetical practices which Padre Pio undertook from his early youth, if not gradually to identify himself with the Divine Master, so that he could be “where he was”?
Those who went to San Giovanni Rotondo to attend his Mass, to seek his counsel or to confess to him, saw in him a living image of Christ suffering and risen. The face of Padre Pio reflected the light of the Resurrection. His body, marked by the “stigmata”, showed forth the intimate bond between death and resurrection which characterizes the paschal mystery. Bl. Pio of Pietrelcina shared in the Passion with a special intensity: the unique gifts which were given to him, and the interior and mystical sufferings which accompanied them, allowed him constantly to participate in the Lord’s agonies, never wavering in his sense that “Calvary is the hill of the saints”.
4. No less painful, and perhaps even more distressing from a human point of view, were the trials which he had to endure as a result, it might be said, of his incomparable charisms. It happens at times in the history of holiness that, by God’s special permission, the one chosen is misunderstood. In that case, obedience becomes for him a crucible of purification, a path of gradual assimilation to Christ, a strengthening of true holiness. In this regard, Bl. Pio wrote to one of his superiors: “I strive only to obey you, the good God having made known to me the one thing most acceptable to him and the one way for me to hope for salvation and to sing of victory” (Letter I, p. 807).
When the “storm” broke upon him, he took as his rule of life the exhortation of the First Letter of Peter, that we have just heard: Come to Christ, a living stone (cf. 1 Pt 2:4). He himself thus became a “living stone” for the building of that spiritual house which is the Church. For this we today give thanks to the Lord.
5. “You too are living stones, built into a spiritual house” (1 Pt 2:5). How fitting are these words if we apply them to the extraordinary ecclesial experience which grew up around the new blessed! So many people, meeting him directly or indirectly, rediscovered their faith; inspired by his example, “prayer groups” sprang up in every corner of the world. To all who flocked to him he held up the ideal of holiness, repeating to them: “It seems that Jesus has no interest outside of sanctifying your soul” (Letter II, p. 155).
If God’s Providence willed that he should be active without ever leaving his convent, as though he were “planted” at the foot of the Cross, this is not without significance. One day the Divine Master had to console him, at a moment of particular trial, by telling him that “it is under the Cross that one learns to love” (Letter I, p. 339).
The Cross of Christ is truly the outstanding school of love; indeed, the very “well-spring” of love. Purified by suffering, the love of this faithful disciple drew hearts to Christ and to his demanding Gospel of salvation.
6. At the same time, his charity was poured out like balm on the weaknesses and the sufferings of his brothers and sisters. Padre Pio thus united zeal for souls with a concern for human suffering, working to build at San Giovanni Rotondo a hospital complex which he called the “House for the Relief of Suffering”. He wanted it to be a first-class hospital, but above all he was concerned that the medicine practised there would be truly “human”, treating patients with warm concern and sincere attention. He was quite aware that people who are ill and suffering need not only competent therapeutic care but also, and more importantly, a human and spiritual climate to help them rediscover themselves in an encounter with the love of God and with the kindness of their brothers and sisters.
With the “House for the Relief of Suffering”, he wished to show that God’s “ordinary miracles” take place in and through our charity. We need to be open to compassion and to the generous service of our brothers and sisters, using every resource of medical science and technology at our disposal.
7. The echo stirred by this beatification in Italy and throughout the world shows that the fame of Padre Pio, a son of Italy and of Francis of Assisi, has gone forth to embrace all the continents. And I gladly greet those who have gathered here — in the first place the Italian authorities who have chosen to be present: the President of the Republic, the President of the Senate, the Prime Minister, who leads the official delegation, and the many other ministers and distinguished guests. Italy is represented most worthily! But also the many faithful from other nations have gathered here to pay homage to Padre Pio.
My affectionate greeting goes to all who have come from near and far, with a special thought for the Capuchin Fathers. To everyone I offer heartfelt thanks.
8. Let me conclude with the words of the Gospel of this Mass: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Have faith in God”. There is a reference to this exhortation of Christ in the advice which the new blessed never tired of giving to the faithful: “Abandon yourselves fully to the divine heart of Jesus, like a child in the arms of his mother”. May these words of encouragement fill our hearts too and become a source of peace, serenity and joy. Why should we fear, if Christ for us is the Way, and the Truth and the Life? Why should we not trust in God who is the Father, our Father?
May “Our Lady of Graces”, whom the humble Capuchin of Pietrelcina invoked with constant and tender devotion, help us to keep our gaze fixed on God. May she take us by the hand and lead us to seek wholeheartedly that supernatural charity flowing forth from the wounded side of the Crucified One.
And you, Bl. Padre Pio, look down from heaven upon us assembled in this square and upon all gathered in prayer before the Basilica of St John Lateran and in San Giovanni Rotondo. Intercede for all those who, in every part of the world, are spiritually united with this event and raise their prayers to you. Come to the help of everyone; give peace and consolation to every heart. Amen!
PAVIA, Italy, MAY 6, 2007 (Zenit.org)
PASTORAL VISIT TO VIGEVANO AND PAVIA (ITALY)
CELEBRATION OF VESPERS
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
Basilica of St Pietro in Ciel d’Oro, Pavia
Third Sunday of Easter, 22 April 2007
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
With this final event, my Visit to Pavia acquires the form of a pilgrimage. This is the form in which I had conceived of it from the outset, desiring to come here to venerate the mortal remains of St Augustine, to express both the homage of the whole Catholic Church to one of her greatest “fathers” and my personal devotion and gratitude to the one who played such an important part in my life as a theologian and a Pastor, but, I would say, even more as a man and a priest.
I renew with affection my greeting to Bishop Giovanni Giudici and I offer a special greeting to Fr Robert Francis Prevost, Prior General of the Augustinians, to the Father Provincial and to the entire Augustinian community. I greet you all with joy, dear priests, men and women religious, consecrated lay people and seminarians.
Providence has deigned that my journey acquire the character of a true and proper Pastoral Visit, and therefore, in this pause for prayer here at the tomb of the Doctor gratiae, I would like to identify a significant message for the Church’s progress. This message comes to us from the encounter of the Word of God and the personal experience of the great Bishop of Hippo.
We have listened to the short biblical Reading for Second Vespers of the Third Sunday of Easter (Heb 10:12-14). The Letter to the Hebrews has set us before Christ, the eternal High Priest, exalted to the Father’s glory after offering himself as the one perfect sacrifice of the New Covenant in which the work of Redemption was accomplished.
St Augustine fixed his gaze on this mystery and in it he found the Truth he was so ardently seeking. Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word, the Sacrificed and Risen Lamb, is the Face of God-Love for every human being on his journey along the paths of time towards eternity.
The Apostle John writes in a passage that can be considered parallel to the one just proclaimed in the Letter to the Hebrews: “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins” (I Jn 4:10). Here is the heart of the Gospel, the central nucleus of Christianity. The light of this love opened Augustine’s eyes and led him to encounter the “beauty so old and so new” (Confessions, X, 27) in which alone the human heart finds peace.
Dear brothers and sisters, here, in front of St Augustine’s tomb, I would like in spirit to present anew to the Church and to the world my first Encyclical, which contains precisely this central message of the Gospel: Deus caritas est, God is love (cf. I Jn 4:8,16). This Encyclical, especially Part One, is deeply indebted to the thought of St Augustine, who was in love with the Love of God and sang of it, meditated upon it, preached it in all his writings and above all witnessed to it in his pastoral ministry.
Following in the wake of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council and of my venerable Predecessors John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I and John Paul II, I am convinced that humanity today stands in need of this essential message, incarnate in Jesus Christ: God is love. Everything must start from here and everything must lead to here, every pastoral action, every theological treatise.
As St Paul said, “If I … have not love I gain nothing” (cf. I Cor 13:3). All charisms lose their meaning and value without love, thanks to which instead, all compete to build the Mystical Body of Christ.
Here then is the message that still today St Augustine repeats to the whole Church and in particular, to this diocesan Community which preserves his relics with such veneration. Love is the soul of the Church’s life and of her pastoral action. We heard it this morning in the dialogue between Jesus and Simon Peter: “Do you love me?… Tend my sheep” (cf. Jn 21:5-17).
Only those who live a personal experience of the Lord’s love are able to exercise the task of guiding and accompanying others on the way of following Christ. At the school of St Augustine, I repeat this truth for you as Bishop of Rome, while as a Christian I welcome it with you with ever new joy.
Serving Christ is first of all a question of love. Dear brothers and sisters, your membership in the Church and your apostolate always shine forth through freedom from any individual interest and through adherence without reserve to Christ’s love.
The young, in particular, need to receive the proclamation of freedom and joy whose secret lies in Christ. He is the truest response to the expectations of their hearts, restless because of the many questions they bear within them.
Only in him, the Word spoken for us by the Father, is found that combination of truth and love which contains the full meaning of life. Augustine lived in the first person and explored to their depths the questions that man carries in his heart, and investigated his capacity to open himself to the infinity of God.
In Augustine’s footsteps, may you also be a Church that candidly proclaims the “glad tidings” of Christ, his proposal of life, his message of reconciliation and forgiveness.
I have seen that your first pastoral goal is to lead people to Christian maturity. I appreciate this priority given to personal formation because the Church is not a mere organization of group events or, on the contrary, the sum of individuals who live a private religiosity. The Church is a community of people who believe in the God of Jesus Christ and commit themselves to live in the world the commandment of love that he bequeathed to us.
Thus, she is a community where one is taught to love, and this education happens not despite but through the events of life. This is how it was for Peter, for Augustine and for all the saints. So it is for us.
Personal maturation, enlivened by ecclesial charity, also makes it possible to grow in community discernment, that is, in the ability to read and interpret the present time in the light of the Gospel in order to respond to the Lord’s call. I encourage you to progress in your personal and communal witness to active love.
The service of charity, which you correctly conceive of as always linked to the proclamation of the Word and the celebration of the Sacraments, calls you and at the same time drives you to be attentive to the material and spiritual needs of your brothers and sisters.
I encourage you to pursue the “high standard” of Christian living which finds in charity the bond of perfection and which must also be expressed in a lifestyle inspired by the Gospel, inevitably against the tide by the world’s standards but which must always be witnessed to with humility, respect and cordiality.
Dear brothers and sisters, it was a gift to me, truly a gift, to share with you this time at St Augustine’s tomb. Your presence has given my pilgrimage a more concrete sense of Church. Let us start out from here bearing in our hearts the joy of being disciples of Love.
May the Virgin Mary, to whose motherly protection I entrust each one of you and your loved ones, accompany us always, while with deep affection I impart my Apostolic Blessing to you all.
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As he left the Basilica, the Pope greeted the faithful of Pavia, including a large number of children who were waiting for him outside:
In taking leave of this marvellous City of Pavia, it is a great joy for me to be able to see the children, boys and girls and young people. You are especially close to the Lord. His love is especially for you.
Let us move forward in love for the Lord! Pray for me, and I will pray for you. Good-bye!