Monday, November 18, 2013

Reflections on the Thirty-Third Sunday of
Ordinary Time by Pope Benedict XVI

Entry 0308: Reflections on the Thirty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time 

by Pope Benedict XVI  

On eight occasions during his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI delivered reflections on the Thirty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, on 13 November 2005, 19 November 2006, 18 November 2007, 16 November 2008, 15 November 2009, 14 November 2010, 13 November 2011, and 18 November 2012. Here are the texts of eight brief reflections prior to the recitation of the Angelus that were delivered on these occasions.



St Peter’s Square, Sunday, 13 November 2005

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Servants of God Charles de Foucauld, a priest; Maria Pia Mastena, Foundress of the Institute of the Sisters of  the  Holy  Face; and  Maria  Crocifissa Curcio, Foundress of the Congregation of Carmelite Missionary Sisters of St Thérèse of the Child Jesus, were beatified this morning in St Peter’s Basilica.

They are being added to the multitude of Blesseds who were held up for the veneration of the Ecclesial Communities in which they lived during the Pontificate of John Paul II, in the awareness of what the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council strongly emphasized, that all baptized persons are called to the perfection of Christian life:  priests, Religious and lay people, each in accordance with his or her own charism and specific vocation.

In fact, the Council paid great attention to the role of the lay faithful. It dedicated to them an entire chapter - the fourth - of Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, defining their vocation and mission, which is rooted in Baptism and Confirmation and whose purpose is to “seek the Kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God’s will” (no. 31).

On 18 November 1965 the Fathers approved a specific Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People, Apostolicam Actuositatem. It stressed first of all that “the fruitfulness of the apostolate of lay people depends on their living union with Christ” (no. 4), that is, on a vigorous spirituality nourished by active participation in the Liturgy and expressed in the style of the Gospel Beatitudes.

For lay people, moreover, professional competence, a sense of family, a civic sense and the social virtues are of great importance. Although it is true that they are called individually to bear their personal witness, particularly precious wherever the freedom of the Church encounters obstacles, the Council nonetheless insisted on the importance of the organized apostolate, essential if an effect is to be made on the general mindset, social conditions and institutions (see ibid., no. 18).

In this regard, the Fathers encouraged the numerous associations of lay people and insisted on their formation in the apostolate. Beloved Pope John Paul II chose to dedicate the Synod Assembly in 1987 to the topic of the vocation and mission of lay people, which was followed by the publication of the Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici.

To conclude, I would like to recall that last Sunday, in the Cathedral of Vicenza, the mother of a family was beatified; she was known as “Mamma Rosa” and was a model of Christian life in the lay state.

Let us entrust the entire People of God to all those who are now in the heavenly homeland, to all our Saints, and in the first place to Mary Most Holy and her Husband, Joseph, so that the awareness of being called to work with commitment and productivity in the Lord’s vineyard may increase in every baptized person.



Saint Peter’s Square, Sunday, 19 November 2006

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The day after tomorrow, 21 November, on the occasion of the liturgical Memorial of the Presentation of Mary, we will be celebrating Pro Orantibus Day, dedicated to remembering cloistered religious communities. It is an especially appropriate opportunity to thank the Lord for the gift of the numerous people in monasteries and hermitages who are totally dedicated to God in prayer, silence and concealment.

Some may wonder what meaning and value their presence could have in our time, when there are so many situations of poverty and neediness with which to cope.

Why “enclose oneself” for ever between the walls of a monastery and thereby deprive others of the contribution of one’s own skills and experience? How effective can the prayer of these cloistered Religious be for the solution of all the practical problems that continue to afflict humanity?  Yet even today, often to the surprise of their friends and acquaintances, many people in fact frequently give up promising professional careers to embrace the austere rule of a cloistered monastery. What impels them to take such a demanding step other than the realization, as the Gospel teaches, that the Kingdom of heaven is “a treasure” for which it is truly worth giving up everything (see Mt 13: 44)?

Indeed, these brothers and sisters of ours bear a silent witness to the fact that in the midst of the sometimes frenetic pace of daily events, the one support that never topples is God, the indestructible rock of faithfulness and love. “Everything passes, God never changes”, the great spiritual master Teresa of Avila wrote in one of her famous texts.

And in the face of the widespread need to get away from the daily routine of sprawling urban areas in search of places conducive to silence and meditation, monasteries of contemplative life offer themselves as “oases” in which human beings, pilgrims on earth, can draw more easily from the wellsprings of the Spirit and quench their thirst along the way.

Thus, these apparently useless places are on the contrary indispensable, like the green “lungs” of a city:  they do everyone good, even those who do not visit them and may not even know of their existence.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us thank the Lord, who in his Providence has desired male and female cloistered communities. May they have our spiritual and also our material support, so that they can carry out their mission to keep alive in the Church the ardent expectation of Christ’s Second Coming.

For this, let us invoke the intercession of Mary, whom we contemplate on the Memorial of her Presentation in the Temple as Mother and model of the Church, who welcomes in herself both vocations:  to virginity and to marriage, to contemplative life and to active life.



St Peter’s Square, Sunday, 18 November 2007

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In today’s Gospel passage, St Luke reproposes the Biblical view of history for our reflection and refers to Jesus’ words that invite the disciples not to fear, but to face difficulties, misunderstandings and even persecutions with trust, persevering through faith in him. The Lord says: “When you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified; for this must first take place, but the end will not be at once” (Lk 21: 9). Keeping this admonition in mind, from the beginning the Church lives in prayerful waiting for her Lord, scrutinizing the signs of the times and putting the faithful on guard against recurring messiahs, who from time to time announce the world’s end as imminent. In reality, history must run its course, which brings with it also human dramas and natural calamities. In it a design of salvation is developed that Christ has already brought to fulfilment in his Incarnation, death and Resurrection. The Church continues to proclaim this mystery and to announce and accomplish it with her preaching, celebration of the sacraments and witness of charity.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us welcome Christ’s invitation to face daily events by trusting in his providential love. Let us not fear the future, even when it can appear with bleak colours, because the God of Jesus Christ, who entered history to open it to its transcendent fulfilment, is the alpha and the omega, the first and the last (see Rv 1: 8). He guarantees that in every little but genuine act of love there is the entire sense of the universe, and that the one who does not hesitate to lose his own life for him finds it again in fullness (see Mt 16: 25).

With remarkable effectiveness, consecrated persons, who have placed their lives completely at the service of the Kingdom of God, invite us to keep this perspective alive. Among these I would like to particularly recall those called to contemplation in cloistered monasteries. The Church dedicates a special day to them this Wednesday, 21 November, Memorial of the Presentation in the Temple of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We owe much to these people who live on what Providence provides them through the generosity of the faithful. “As a spiritual oasis, a monastery reminds today’s world of the most important, and indeed, in the end, the only decisive thing: that there is an ultimate reason why life is worth living: God and his unfathomable love” (Pope Benedict XVI, Heiligenkreuz, Austria, 9 September 2007). Faith, which is active in charity, is the true antidote against a nihilistic mentality that is spreading its influence in the world even more in our time.

May Mary, Mother of the Incarnate Word, accompany us on our earthly pilgrimage. We ask her to sustain the witness of all Christians, so that it is always based on a solid and persevering faith.



St Peter’s Square, Sunday, 16 November 2008

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Word of God this Sunday the second to the last Sunday of the liturgical year invites us to be vigilant and hardworking, in the expectation of the Lord’s return at the end of time. The Gospel passage recounts the famous Parable of the Talents, related by St Matthew (25: 14-30). The “talent” was an ancient Roman coin, of great value, and precisely because of this parable’s popularity it became synonymous with personal gifts, which everyone is called to develop. In fact, the text speaks of “a man going on a journey [who] called his servants and entrusted to them his property” (Mt 25: 14). The man in the parable represents Christ himself, the servants are the disciples and the talents are the gifts that Jesus entrusts to them. These gifts, in addition to their natural qualities, thus represent the riches that the Lord Jesus has bequeathed to us as a legacy, so that we may make them productive: his Word, deposited in the Holy Gospel; Baptism, which renews us in the Holy Spirit; prayer the “Our Father” that we raise to God as his children, united in the Son; his forgiveness, which he commanded be offered to all; the Sacrament of his Body sacrificed and his Blood poured out; in a word: the Kingdom of God, which is God himself, present and alive in our midst.

This is the treasure that Jesus entrusted to his friends at the end of his brief life on earth. Today’s parable stresses the inner disposition necessary to accept and develop this gift. Fear is the wrong attitude: the servant who is afraid of his master and fears his return hides the coin in the earth and it does not produce any fruit. This happens, for example, to those who after receiving Baptism, Communion and Confirmation subsequently bury these gifts beneath a blanket of prejudice, beneath a false image of God that paralyzes faith and good works, thus betraying the Lord’s expectations. However, the parable places a greater emphasis on the good fruits brought by the disciples who, happy with the gift they received, did not keep it hidden with fear and jealousy but made it profitable by sharing it and partaking in it. Yes, what Christ has given us is multiplied in its giving! It is a treasure made to be spent, invested and shared with all, as we are taught by the Apostle Paul, that great administrator of Jesus’ talents. The Gospel teaching that the liturgy offers us today has also had a strong effect at the historical and social level, encouraging an active and entrepreneurial spirit in the Christian people.

The central message, however, concerns the spirit of responsibility with which to receive God’s Kingdom: a responsibility to God and to humanity. This attitude of the heart is embodied perfectly in the Virgin Mary who, on receiving the most precious gift of all, Jesus himself, offered him to the world with immense love. Let us ask her to help us to be “good and faithful servants” so that we may one day enter “into the joy of our Lord”.



Saint Peter’s Square, Sunday, 15 November 2009

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We have reached the last two weeks of the liturgical year. Let us thank the Lord who has once again granted us to make this journey of faith old and ever new in the great spiritual family of the Church! It is a precious gift, which enables us to live the mystery of Christ in history, receiving in the furrows of our personal and community existence the seed of the word of God, a seed of eternity that transforms this world from within and opens it to the Kingdom of Heaven. This year, we have been accompanied along our itinerary through the Sunday biblical Readings by St Mark’s Gospel, which today presents to us part of Jesus’ discourse on the end of times. In this discourse is a phrase whose terse clarity is striking: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Mk 13: 31). Let us pause a moment to reflect on this prophecy of Christ.

The expression “Heaven and earth” recurs frequently in the Bible in reference to the whole universe, the entire cosmos. Jesus declares that all this is destined to “pass away”; not only the earth but also Heaven, which here is meant in a purely cosmic sense and not as synonymous with God. Sacred Scripture knows no ambiguity: all Creation is marked by finitude, including the elements divinized by ancient mythologies; there is no confusion between Creation and the Creator but rather a decided difference. With this clear distinction Jesus says that his words “will not pass away”, that is to say they are part of God and therefore eternal. Even if they were spoken in the concreteness of his earthly existence, they are prophetic words par excellence, as Jesus affirms elsewhere, addressing the heavenly Father: “I have given them the words which you gave me, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me” (Jn 17: 8). In a well-known parable Christ compares himself to the sower and explains that the seed is the word (see Mk 4: 14); those who hear it, accept it and bear fruit (see Mk 4: 20) take part in the Kingdom of God, that is, they live under his lordship. They remain in the world, but are no longer of the world. They bear within them a seed of eternity a principle of transformation that is already manifest now in a good life, enlivened by charity, and that in the end will produce the resurrection of the flesh. This is the power of Christ’s word.

Dear friends, the Virgin Mary is the living sign of this truth. Her heart was “good soil” that received with complete willingness the Word of God, so that her whole life, transformed according to the image of the Son, was introduced into eternity, body and soul, in anticipation of the eternal vocation of every human being. Let us now make our own in prayer her response to the Angel: “Let it be to me according to your word” (Lk 1: 38), so that in following Christ on the way of the Cross we too may be able to attain the glory of the Resurrection.



St Peter’s Square, Sunday, 14 November 2010

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In the Second Reading of today’s Liturgy, the Apostle Paul underlines the importance of work for the life of man. We are reminded of this idea on “Thanksgiving Day”, that is traditionally celebrated in Italy on this second Sunday in November, as the offering of thanks to God at the end of the harvest season. Although in other geographical areas farming periods naturally differ, today I would like to draw inspiration from St Paul’s words to reflect on agricultural work in particular.

The full gravity of the current economic crisis, discussed these past few days at the “G20 Summit”, should be understood. This crisis has numerous causes and is a strong reminder of the need for a profound revision of the model of global economic development (see Encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, no. 21).

It is an acute symptom which has been added to a long list of many far more serious and well-known problems, such as the lasting imbalance between wealth and poverty, the scandal of world hunger, the ecological emergency and the now widespread problem of unemployment.

In this context, a strategic revitalization of agriculture is crucial. Indeed, the process of industrialization has often overshadowed the agricultural sector, which although benefiting in its turn from modern technology has nevertheless lost importance with notable consequences, even at the cultural level. It seems to me that it is time to re-evaluate agriculture, not in a nostalgic sense but as an indispensable resource for the future.

In the present economic situation, the dynamic economies are tempted to pursue advantageous alliances, which nevertheless may have detrimental results for other poorer States, situations of extreme poverty among the masses and the depletion of the natural resources of the earth that God has entrusted to man, as it says in Genesis, so that he may till it and keep it (see 2: 15). And in spite of the crisis it can still be seen that in the old industrialized countries, lifestyles marked by unsustainable consumerism are encouraged. These also prove damaging for the environment and for the poor. Then a really concerted aim for a new balance between farming, industry and services is necessary so that development may be sustainable, so that no one will lack bread and work, air and water, and that the other fundamental resources may be preserved as universal rights (see Encyclical Caritas in Veritate, no. 27). Thus it is essential to cultivate and spread a clear ethical awareness that is equal to facing the most complicated challenges of our time. Everyone should be taught to consume in a wiser and more responsible way. We should promote personal responsibility along with a social dimension of rural activities based on the undying values of hospitality, solidarity and sharing the toil of labour. Many young people have already chosen this path and many professionals are also returning to agricultural enterprises, feeling that in this way they are not only responding to personal and family needs but also to a sign of the times, to a concrete sensibility for the common good.

Let us pray to the Virgin Mary that these reflections may serve as an incentive to the international community, as we thank God for the fruits of the earth and the work of mankind.



St. Peter’s Square, Sunday, 13 November 2011

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The word of God of this Sunday — the second to last Sunday of the liturgical year — warns us of the transience of our earthly existence and invites us to live it as a pilgrimage, keeping our gaze fixed on the destination for which God has created us. Moreover, since he made us for himself (see St Augustine, Confessions 1, 1), he is our ultimate destination and the meaning of our existence.

Death, followed by the Last Judgement, is an obligatory stage to pass through in order to reach this definitive reality. The Apostle Paul says: “the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (1 Thess 5:2), that is, without warning. May knowledge of the glorious return of the Lord Jesus spur us to live in an attitude of watchfulness, waiting for his manifestation and in constant remembrance of his first Coming.

In the well known Parable of the Talents — recounted by the Evangelist Matthew (see 25: 14-30) — Jesus tells the story of three servants to whom their master entrusted his property, before setting out on a long journey. Two of them behaved impeccably, doubling the value of what they had received. On the contrary, the third buried the money he had received in a hole. On his return, the master asked his servants to account for what he had entrusted to them and while he was pleased with the first two he was disappointed with the third.

Indeed, the servant who had hidden his talent and failed to make it increase in worth, had calculated badly. He behaved as if his master were never to return, as if there would never be a day on which he would be asked to account for his actions. With this parable Jesus wanted to teach his disciples to make good use of his gifts: God calls every person and offers talents to all, at the same time entrusting each one with a mission to carry out. It would be foolish to presume that these gifts are an entitlement, just as failing to use them would mean failing to achieve our purpose in life.

In commenting on this Gospel passage St Gregory the Great noted that the Lord does not let anyone lack the gift of his charity, of his love. He wrote: “brothers, it is necessary that you pay the utmost attention to preserving love in everything you must do” (Homilies on the Gospel, 9, 6). After explaining that true charity consists in loving enemies as well as friends, he added: “if someone lacks this virtue, he loses every good he possesses, he is deprived of the talent he received and is cast out into the darkness” (ibid.).

Dear brothers and sisters, let us accept the invitation to be watchful, of which the Scriptures frequently remind us! This is the attitude of those who know that the Lord will return and that he will wish to see the fruits of his love in us. Charity is the fundamental good that no one can fail to bring to fruition and without which every other good is worthless (see 1 Cor 13:3). If Jesus loved us to the point of giving his life for us (see 1 Jn 3:16), how can we not love God with the whole of ourselves and love one another with real warmth? (see 1 Jn 4:11). It is only by practising charity that we too will be able to share in the joy of Our Lord. May the Virgin Mary teach us active and joyful watchfulness on our journey towards the encounter with God.



Saint Peter’s Square, Sunday, 18 November 2012

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

St Mark’s version of a part of Jesus’ discourse on the end times is proclaimed on this penultimate Sunday of the liturgical year (see Mk 13:24-32). This discourse is also found in Matthew and Luke, with some variations, and is probably the most difficult Gospel text. This difficulty stems from both its content and its language: in fact, it speaks of a future that exceeds our own categories and for this reason Jesus uses images and words taken from the Old Testament; but above all he introduces a new centre, which is he himself, the mystery of his Person and of his death and Resurrection.

Today’s passage also opens with certain cosmic images that are apocalyptic in character: “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken” (vv. 24-25); but this element is relativized by what follows: “then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory” (v. 26). The “Son of man” is Jesus himself who links the present and the future; the ancient words of the prophets have finally found a centre in the Person of the Nazarene Messiah: he is the True Event which remains the firm and enduring point in the midst of the world’s upheavals.

Other words in today’s Gospel confirm this. Jesus says: “heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (v. 31) Indeed we know that in the Bible the word of God is at the origin of the Creation: all the creatures, starting with the cosmic elements — sun, moon, the firmament — obey the word of God, they exist since they have been “called into being” by it. This creative force of the divine word is concentrated in Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, and also passes through his human words, which are the true “firmament” that directs the thought and journey of man on earth.

For this reason Jesus does not describe the end of the world and when he uses apocalyptic images, he does not act as a “seer”. On the contrary, he wishes to prevent his disciples in every epoch from being curious about dates and predictions; he wants instead to provide them with a key to a profound, essential interpretation and, above all, to point out to them the right way on which to walk, today and in the future, to enter eternal life.

Everything passes away, the Lord reminds us, but the word of God does not change and before it each one of us is responsible for his or her own behaviour. We are judged on this basis.

Dear friends, in our day too there is no lack of natural disasters nor, unfortunately, of war and violence. Today too we need a permanent foundation for our life and our hope, especially because of the relativism in which we are immersed. May the Virgin Mary help us to accept this centre in the Person of Christ and in his word. 

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