Collection of Homilies

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

Archive for Christ

Epiphany is a Feast of Light

EPIPHANY OF THE LORD
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
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 (Zenit.org).- Here is the Easter Sunday homily given by the Latrin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Fouad Twal.

* * *

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 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of Benedict XVI’s homily at the Easter Vigil.
* * *
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.

“Jesus Has a Fondness for Young People”

“Jesus Has a Fondness for Young People”

VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 18, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of Benedict XVI’s Sept. 2 homily at the Mass celebrated with youth in Loreto, Italy.

* * * 

PASTORAL VISIT OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI TO LORETO ON THE OCCASION OF THE AGORÀ OF ITALIAN YOUTH 
EUCHARISTIC CONCELEBRATION 
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI 

Plain of Montorso
Sunday, 2 September 2007 

After last night’s Vigil, our Meeting in Loreto is now coming to an end around the altar with the solemn Eucharistic celebration. Once again, my most cordial greeting to you all. I extend a special greeting to the Bishops and I thank Archbishop Angelo Bagnasco who has expressed your common sentiments. I greet the Archbishop of Loreto who has welcomed us with affection and kindness. I greet the priests, the men and women religious and all those who have carefully prepared this important event of faith. I offer a respectful greeting to the Civil and Military Authorities present, with a particular remembrance for Hon. Mr Francesco Rutelli, Vice-President of the Council of Ministers. 

This is truly a day of grace! The Readings we have just heard help us to understand the marvellous work the Lord has done in bringing so many of us here to Loreto, to meet in a joyful atmosphere of prayer and festivity. In a certain sense, our gathering at the Virgin’s Shrine fulfils the words of the Letter to the Hebrews: “You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God”. Celebrating the Eucharist in the shadow of the Holy House, we too come to the “festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven”. Thus, we can experience the joy of having come “to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect”. With Mary, Mother of the Redeemer and our Mother, let us above all go to meet “the Mediator of a New Covenant”, Our Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Heb 12:22-24). The Heavenly Father, who in many and various ways spoke to our fathers (cf. Heb 1:1), offering his Covenant and often encountering resistance and rejection, desired in the fullness of time to make a new, definitive and irrevocable agreement with human beings, sealing it with the Blood of his Only-Begotten Son, who died and rose for the salvation of all humanity. Jesus Christ, God made man, took on our own flesh in Mary, participated in our life and chose to share in our history. To realize his Covenant God sought a young heart and he found it in Mary, “a young woman”. 

God also seeks young people today. He seeks young people with great hearts who can make room for him in their lives to be protagonists of the New Covenant. To accept a proposal as fascinating as the one Jesus offers us, to make the covenant with him, it is necessary to be youthful within, to be capable of letting oneself be called into question by his newness, to set out with him on new roads. Jesus has a fondness for young people, as the conversation with the rich young man clearly shows (cf. Mt 19:16-22; Mk 10:17-22); he respects their freedom but never tires of proposing loftier goals for life to them: the newness of the Gospel and the beauty of holy behaviour. Following her Lord’s example, the Church continues to show the same attention. This is why, dear young people, she looks at you with immense affection, she is close to you in moments of joy and festivity, in trials and in loss. She sustains you with the gifts of sacramental grace and accompanies you in the discernment of your vocation. Dear young people, let yourselves be involved in the new life that flows from the encounter with Christ and you will be able to be apostles of his peace in your families, among your friends, within your Ecclesial Communities and in the various milieus in which you live and work. 

But what is it that makes people “young” in the Gospel sense? Our Meeting, which is taking place in the shadow of a Marian Shrine, invites us to look to Our Lady. Let us therefore ask ourselves: How did Mary spend her youth? Why was it that in her the impossible became possible? She herself reveals it to us in the Canticle of the Magnificat. God “regarded the low estate of his handmaiden” (Lk 1:48a). It was Mary’s humility that God appreciated more than anything else in her. And it is precisely of humility that the other two Readings of today’s liturgy speak to us. Is it not a happy coincidence that this message is addressed to us exactly here in Loreto? Here, we think spontaneously of the Holy House of Nazareth, which is the Shrine of humility: the humility of God who took flesh, who made himself small, and the humility of Mary who welcomed him into her womb; the humility of the Creator and the humility of the creature. Jesus, Son of God and Son of man, was born from this encounter of humility. “The greater you are, the more you humble yourself, so you will find favour in the sight of the Lord. For great is the might of the Lord” (3:18-20) says the passage in Sirach; and in the Gospel, after the Parable of the Wedding Feast, Jesus concludes: “Every one who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk 14:11). Today, this perspective mentioned in the Scriptures appears especially provocative to the culture and sensitivity of contemporary man. The humble person is perceived as someone who gives up, someone defeated, someone who has nothing to say to the world. Instead, this is the principal way, and not only because humility is a great human virtue but because, in the first place, it represents God’s own way of acting. It was the way chosen by Christ, the Mediator of the New Covenant, who “being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8). 

Dear young people, I seem to perceive in these words of God about humility an important message which is especially current for you who want to follow Christ and belong to his Church. This is the message: do not follow the way of pride but rather that of humility. Go against the tide: do not listen to the interested and persuasive voices that today are peddling on many sides models of life marked by arrogance and violence, by oppression and success at any cost, by appearances and by having at the expense of being. How many messages, which reach you especially through the mass media, are targeting you! Be alert! Be critical! Do not follow the wave produced by this powerful, persuasive action. Do not be afraid, dear friends, to prefer the “alternative” routes pointed out by true love: a modest and sound lifestyle; sincere and pure emotional relationships; honest commitment in studies and work; deep concern for the common good. Do not be afraid of seeming different and being criticized for what might seem to be losing or out of fashion; your peers but adults too, especially those who seem more distant from the mindset and values of the Gospel, are crying out to see someone who dares to live according to the fullness of humanity revealed by Jesus Christ. 

Therefore, dear friends, the way of humility is not the way of renunciation but that of courage. It is not the result of a defeat but the result of a victory of love over selfishness and of grace over sin. In following Christ and imitating Mary, we must have the courage of humility; we must entrust ourselves humbly to the Lord, because only in this way will we be able to become docile instruments in his hands and allow him to do great things in us. The Lord worked great miracles in Mary and in the Saints! I am thinking, for example, of Francis of Assisi and Catherine of Siena, Patrons of Italy. I am thinking also of splendid young people like St Gemma Galgani, St Gabriel of the Sorrowful Virgin, St Louis Gonzaga, St Dominic Savio, St Maria Goretti, born not far from here, and the Blesseds, Piergiorgio Frassati and Alberto Marvelli. And I am also thinking of numerous young men and women who belong to the ranks of the “anonymous” Saints, but who are not anonymous to God. For him, every individual person is unique, with his or her own name and face. All, and you know it, are called to be Saints! 

As you see, dear young people, the humility the Lord has taught us and to which the Saints have borne witness, each according to the originality of his or her own vocation, is quite different from a renunciatory way of life. Let us look above all at Mary. At her school, we too, like her, can experience that “yes” of God to humanity from which flow all the “yeses” of our life. It is true, the challenges you must face are many and important. The first however, is always that of following Christ to the very end without reservations and compromises. And following Christ means feeling oneself a living part of his body which is the Church. One cannot call oneself a disciple of Jesus if one does not love and obey his Church. The Church is our family in which love for the Lord and for our brothers and sisters, especially through participation in the Eucharist, enables us to experience the joy of already having a foretaste, now, of the future life that will be totally illuminated by Love. May our daily commitment be to live here below as though we were already in Heaven above.

Thus, feeling oneself as Church is a vocation to holiness for all; it is a daily commitment to build communion and unity, overcoming all resistance and rising above every incomprehension. In the Church we learn to love, teaching ourselves to accept our neighbour freely, to show caring attention to those in difficulty, to the poor and to the lowliest. The fundamental motivation that unites believers in Christ is not success but goodness, a goodness that is all the more authentic the more it is shared, and which does not primarily consist in having or in being powerful, but in being. In this way one builds the city of God with human beings, a city which at the same time grows on earth and comes down from Heaven because it develops in the encounter and collaboration between people and God (cf. Rv 21:2-3). 

Following Christ, dear young people, also entails the constant effort to make one’s own contribution to building a society that is more just and sober and in which all may enjoy the goods of the earth.
I know that many of you are generously dedicated to witnessing to your faith in the various social environments, active as volunteers and working to promote the common good, peace and justice in every community. There is no doubt that one of the fields in which it seems urgent to take action is that of safeguarding creation. The future of the planet is entrusted to the new generations, in which there are evident signs of a development that has not always been able to protect the delicate balances of nature. Before it is too late, it is necessary to make courageous decisions that can recreate a strong alliance between humankind and the earth. A decisive “yes” is needed to protect creation and also a strong commitment to invert those trends which risk leading to irreversibly degrading situations. I therefore appreciated the Italian Church’s initiative to encourage sensitivity to the problems of safeguarding creation by establishing a National Day, which occurs precisely on 1 September. This year attention is focused above all on water, a very precious good which, if it is not shared fairly and peacefully, will unfortunately become a cause of harsh tensions and bitter conflicts. 

Dear young friends, after listening to your reflections yesterday evening and last night, letting myself be guided by God’s Word, I now want to entrust to you my considerations which are intended as a paternal encouragement to follow Christ in order to be witnesses of his hope and love. For my part, I will continue to be beside you with my prayers and affection, so that you may persevere enthusiastically on the journey of the Agora, this unique triennial journey of listening, dialogue and mission. Today, concluding the first year with this wonderful Meeting, I cannot fail to invite you to look ahead already to the great event of World Youth Day that will be held in July next year in Sydney. I ask you to prepare yourselves for this important manifestation of youthful faith by meditating on the Message which examines in depth the theme of the Holy Spirit, to live together a new springtime of the Spirit. Therefore, I am expecting many of you even in Australia, at the end of your second year of the Agora. Lastly, let us turn our gaze, our eyes, once again to Mary, model of humility and courage. Virgin of Nazareth, help us to be docile to the work of the Holy Spirit, as you were; help us to become ever more holy, disciples in love with your Son Jesus; sustain and guide these young people so that they may be joyful and tireless missionaries of the Gospel among their peers in every corner of Italy. Amen!