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Monday, April 29, 2013

0275: Reflections on the Fifth Sunday of Easter by Pope Benedict XVI



Entry 0275: Reflections on the Fifth Sunday of Easter by Pope Benedict XVI 




On seven occasions during his Pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI delivered reflections on the Fifth Sunday of Easter, on 14 May 2006, 6 May 2007, 20 April 2008, 10 May 2009, 2 May 2010,  22 May 2011, and 6 May 2012. Here are the texts of the six brief addresses before the recitation of the Regina Caeli and three homilies delivered on these occasions.


BENEDICT XVI

REGINA CÆLI

Saint Peter’s Square, Fifth Sunday of Easter, 14 May 2006

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

On this Fifth Sunday of Easter, the liturgy presents us with the Gospel passage of John in which Jesus, speaking to the disciples at the Last Supper, exhorts them to remain united to him like the branches to the vine.

It is a truly meaningful parable as it expresses with great effectiveness that Christian life is a mystery of communion with Jesus: “Whoever remains in me”, says the Lord, “will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing” (Jn 15: 5).

The secret of spiritual fruitfulness is union with God, union that is realized especially in the Eucharist, also rightly called “Communion”. I like to underline this mystery of unity and of love at this time of the year, when numerous parish communities celebrate children’s First Communion.

I would like to address a special greeting to all of the young people who in these weeks will be encountering the Eucharistic Jesus for the first time, hoping that they will become branches of the Vine, which is Jesus, and grow to be his true disciples.

A sure way of remaining united to Christ, as branches to the vine, is to have recourse to the intercession of Mary, whom we venerated yesterday, 13 May, in a particular way, recalling the apparitions at Fatima, where she appeared on several occasions to three shepherd children, Francisco, Jacinta and Lucia, in 1917.

The message that she entrusted to them, in continuity with that of Lourdes, was a strong appeal to prayer and conversion; a truly prophetic message, considering that the 20th century was scourged by unheard-of destruction caused by war and totalitarian regimes, as well as widespread persecution of the Church.

Moreover, on 13 May 1981, 25 years ago, the Servant of God John Paul II felt that he was saved miraculously from death by the intervention of “a maternal hand” - as he himself said - and his entire Pontificate was marked by what the Virgin had foretold at Fatima.

Although there is no lack of anxiety and suffering, and although there are still reasons for apprehension about the future of humanity, what the “Lady in White” promised the shepherd children is consoling: “At the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph”.

With this awareness, we now turn with confidence to Mary Most Holy, thanking her for her constant intercession and asking her to continue to watch over the journey of the Church and of humanity, especially families, mothers and children.


BENEDICT XVI

REGINA CÆLI

Saint Peter’s Square, Fifth Sunday of Easter, 6 May 2007

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

A few days ago the month of May began, which for many Christian communities is the Marian month par excellence. As such, down the centuries it has become one of the best-loved popular devotions and has been increasingly appreciated by Pastors as a favourable occasion for preaching, catechesis and community prayer.

After the Second Vatican Council, which emphasized the role of Mary Most Holy in the Church and in the history of salvation, Marian devotion underwent a profound renewal. And the month of May, coinciding at least in part with the Easter Season, is a most favourable time for explaining the figure of Mary as a Mother who accompanies the community of disciples united in prayer in expectation of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 1: 12-14).

This month can thus be an opportunity to return to the faith of the primitive Church and, in union with Mary, to understand that our mission also today is to proclaim and witness with courage and joy to the Crucified and Risen Christ, the hope of humanity.

I would like to entrust to the Blessed Virgin, Mother of the Church, my upcoming Apostolic Visit to Brazil from 9 to 14 May. As did my venerable Predecessors, Paul VI and John Paul II, I will preside at the opening of the Fifth General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Bishops’ Conferences, which will begin next Sunday at the important national Shrine of Our Lady Aparecida, in the city of this name.

First, however, I will go to the neighbouring metropolis of São Paulo, where I shall meet the young people and Bishops of the Country and have the joy to add Bl. Friar Anthony of St Anne Galvão to the roll of the Saints.

This is my first Pastoral Visit to Latin America and I am preparing myself spiritually for my meeting with the Latin American Sub-Continent, where almost half of the entire world’s Catholics live, many of whom are young. For this reason it has been called the “Continent of Hope”, a hope that concerns not only the Church but all America and the entire world.

Dear brothers and sisters, I ask you to pray to Mary Most Holy for this Apostolic Pilgrimage and in particular for the Fifth General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Bishops’ Conferences, so that all Christians of those regions may see themselves as disciples and missionaries of Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life.

The challenges of our time are many and diverse: for this reason it is important that Christians be formed to be a “leaven” of good and a “light” of holiness in our world.


APOSTOLIC JOURNEY
TO THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
AND VISIT TO THE UNITED NATIONS
ORGANIZATION HEADQUARTERS

CELEBRATION OF THE EUCHARIST
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI

Yankee Stadium, Bronx, New York, Fifth Sunday of Easter, 20 April 2008

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

In the Gospel we have just heard, Jesus tells his Apostles to put their faith in him, for he is “the way, and the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6). Christ is the way that leads to the Father, the truth which gives meaning to human existence, and the source of that life which is eternal joy with all the saints in his heavenly Kingdom. Let us take the Lord at his word! Let us renew our faith in him and put all our hope in his promises!

With this encouragement to persevere in the faith of Peter (see Lk 22:32; Mt 16:17), I greet all of you with great affection. I thank Cardinal Egan for his cordial words of welcome in your name. At this Mass, the Church in the United States celebrates the two hundredth anniversary of the creation of the Sees of New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Louisville from the mother See of Baltimore. The presence around this altar of the Successor of Peter, his brother bishops and priests, and deacons, men and women religious, and lay faithful from throughout the fifty states of the Union, eloquently manifests our communion in the Catholic faith which comes to us from the Apostles.

Our celebration today is also a sign of the impressive growth which God has given to the Church in your country in the past two hundred years. From a small flock like that described in the first reading, the Church in America has been built up in fidelity to the twin commandment of love of God and love of neighbor. In this land of freedom and opportunity, the Church has united a widely diverse flock in the profession of the faith and, through her many educational, charitable and social works, has also contributed significantly to the growth of American society as a whole.

This great accomplishment was not without its challenges. Today’s first reading, taken from the Acts of the Apostles, speaks of linguistic and cultural tensions already present within the earliest Church community. At the same time, it shows the power of the word of God, authoritatively proclaimed by the Apostles and received in faith, to create a unity which transcends the divisions arising from human limitations and weakness. Here we are reminded of a fundamental truth: that the Church’s unity has no other basis than the Word of God, made flesh in Christ Jesus our Lord. All external signs of identity, all structures, associations and programs, valuable or even essential as they may be, ultimately exist only to support and foster the deeper unity which, in Christ, is God’s indefectible gift to his Church.

The first reading also makes clear, as we see from the imposition of hands on the first deacons, that the Church’s unity is “apostolic”. It is a visible unity, grounded in the Apostles whom Christ chose and appointed as witnesses to his resurrection, and it is born of what the Scriptures call “the obedience of faith” (Rom 1:5; see Acts 6:7).

“Authority” … “obedience”. To be frank, these are not easy words to speak nowadays. Words like these represent a “stumbling stone” for many of our contemporaries, especially in a society which rightly places a high value on personal freedom. Yet, in the light of our faith in Jesus Christ – “the way and the truth and the life” – we come to see the fullest meaning, value, and indeed beauty, of those words. The Gospel teaches us that true freedom, the freedom of the children of God, is found only in the self-surrender which is part of the mystery of love. Only by losing ourselves, the Lord tells us, do we truly find ourselves (see Lk 17:33). True freedom blossoms when we turn away from the burden of sin, which clouds our perceptions and weakens our resolve, and find the source of our ultimate happiness in him who is infinite love, infinite freedom, infinite life. “In his will is our peace”.

Real freedom, then, is God’s gracious gift, the fruit of conversion to his truth, the truth which makes us free (see Jn 8:32). And this freedom in truth brings in its wake a new and liberating way of seeing reality. When we put on “the mind of Christ” (see Phil 2:5), new horizons open before us! In the light of faith, within the communion of the Church, we also find the inspiration and strength to become a leaven of the Gospel in the world. We become the light of the world, the salt of the earth (see Mt 5:13-14), entrusted with the “apostolate” of making our own lives, and the world in which we live, conform ever more fully to God’s saving plan.

This magnificent vision of a world being transformed by the liberating truth of the Gospel is reflected in the description of the Church found in today’s second reading. The Apostle tells us that Christ, risen from the dead, is the keystone of a great temple which is even now rising in the Spirit. And we, the members of his body, through Baptism have become “living stones” in that temple, sharing in the life of God by grace, blessed with the freedom of the sons of God, and empowered to offer spiritual sacrifices pleasing to him (see 1 Pet 2:5). And what is this offering which we are called to make, if not to direct our every thought, word and action to the truth of the Gospel and to harness all our energies in the service of God’s Kingdom? Only in this way can we build with God, on the one foundation which is Christ (see 1 Cor 3:11). Only in this way can we build something that will truly endure. Only in this way can our lives find ultimate meaning and bear lasting fruit.

Today we recall the bicentennial of a watershed in the history of the Church in the United States: its first great chapter of growth. In these two hundred years, the face of the Catholic community in your country has changed greatly. We think of the successive waves of immigrants whose traditions have so enriched the Church in America. We think of the strong faith which built up the network of churches, educational, healthcare and social institutions which have long been the hallmark of the Church in this land. We think also of those countless fathers and mothers who passed on the faith to their children, the steady ministry of the many priests who devoted their lives to the care of souls, and the incalculable contribution made by so many men and women religious, who not only taught generations of children how to read and write, but also inspired in them a lifelong desire to know God, to love him and to serve him. How many “spiritual sacrifices pleasing to God” have been offered up in these two centuries! In this land of religious liberty, Catholics found freedom not only to practice their faith, but also to participate fully in civic life, bringing their deepest moral convictions to the public square and cooperating with their neighbors in shaping a vibrant, democratic society. Today’s celebration is more than an occasion of gratitude for graces received. It is also a summons to move forward with firm resolve to use wisely the blessings of freedom, in order to build a future of hope for coming generations.

“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people he claims for his own, to proclaim his glorious works” (1 Pet 2:9). These words of the Apostle Peter do not simply remind us of the dignity which is ours by God’s grace; they also challenge us to an ever greater fidelity to the glorious inheritance which we have received in Christ (see Eph 1:18). They challenge us to examine our consciences, to purify our hearts, to renew our baptismal commitment to reject Satan and all his empty promises. They challenge us to be a people of joy, heralds of the unfailing hope (see Rom 5:5) born of faith in God’s word, and trust in his promises.

Each day, throughout this land, you and so many of your neighbors pray to the Father in the Lord’s own words: “Thy Kingdom come”. This prayer needs to shape the mind and heart of every Christian in this nation. It needs to bear fruit in the way you lead your lives and in the way you build up your families and your communities. It needs to create new “settings of hope” (see Spe Salvi, 32ff.) where God’s Kingdom becomes present in all its saving power.

Praying fervently for the coming of the Kingdom also means being constantly alert for the signs of its presence, and working for its growth in every sector of society. It means facing the challenges of present and future with confidence in Christ’s victory and a commitment to extending his reign. It means not losing heart in the face of resistance, adversity and scandal. It means overcoming every separation between faith and life, and countering false gospels of freedom and happiness. It also means rejecting a false dichotomy between faith and political life, since, as the Second Vatican Council put it, “there is no human activity – even in secular affairs – which can be withdrawn from God’s dominion” (Lumen Gentium, 36). It means working to enrich American society and culture with the beauty and truth of the Gospel, and never losing sight of that great hope which gives meaning and value to all the other hopes which inspire our lives.

And this, dear friends, is the particular challenge which the Successor of Saint Peter sets before you today. As “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation”, follow faithfully in the footsteps of those who have gone before you! Hasten the coming of God’s Kingdom in this land! Past generations have left you an impressive legacy. In our day too, the Catholic community in this nation has been outstanding in its prophetic witness in the defense of life, in the education of the young, in care for the poor, the sick and the stranger in your midst. On these solid foundations, the future of the Church in America must even now begin to rise!

Yesterday, not far from here, I was moved by the joy, the hope and the generous love of Christ which I saw on the faces of the many young people assembled in Dunwoodie. They are the Church’s future, and they deserve all the prayer and support that you can give them. And so I wish to close by adding a special word of encouragement to them. My dear young friends, like the seven men, “filled with the Spirit and wisdom” whom the Apostles charged with care for the young Church, may you step forward and take up the responsibility which your faith in Christ sets before you! May you find the courage to proclaim Christ, “the same, yesterday, and today and for ever” and the unchanging truths which have their foundation in him (see Gaudium et Spes, 10; Heb 13:8). These are the truths that set us free! They are the truths which alone can guarantee respect for the inalienable dignity and rights of each man, woman and child in our world – including the most defenseless of all human beings, the unborn child in the mother’s womb. In a world where, as Pope John Paul II, speaking in this very place, reminded us, Lazarus continues to stand at our door (Homily at Yankee Stadium, October 2, 1979, No. 7), let your faith and love bear rich fruit in outreach to the poor, the needy and those without a voice. Young men and women of America, I urge you: open your hearts to the Lord’s call to follow him in the priesthood and the religious life. Can there be any greater mark of love than this: to follow in the footsteps of Christ, who was willing to lay down his life for his friends (see Jn 15:13)?

In today’s Gospel, the Lord promises his disciples that they will perform works even greater than his (see Jn 14:12). Dear friends, only God in his providence knows what works his grace has yet to bring forth in your lives and in the life of the Church in the United States. Yet Christ’s promise fills us with sure hope. Let us now join our prayers to his, as living stones in that spiritual temple which is his one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. Let us lift our eyes to him, for even now he is preparing for us a place in his Father’s house. And empowered by his Holy Spirit, let us work with renewed zeal for the spread of his Kingdom.

“Happy are you who believe!” (see 1 Pet 2:7). Let us turn to Jesus! He alone is the way that leads to eternal happiness, the truth who satisfies the deepest longings of every heart, and the life who brings ever new joy and hope, to us and to our world. Amen.


PILGRIMAGE
OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
TO THE HOLY LAND
(8-15 MAY 2009)

BENEDICT XVI

REGINA CÆLI

International Stadium – Amman, Fifth Sunday of Easter, 10 May 2009

Dear Friends,

During the Mass I spoke about the prophetic charism of women as bearers of love, teachers of mercy and artisans of peace. The supreme example of womanly virtue is the Blessed Virgin Mary: the Mother of Mercy and Queen of Peace. As we turn to her now, let us seek her maternal intercession for all the families of these lands, that they may truly be schools of prayer and schools of love. Let us ask the Mother of the Church to look down in mercy upon all the Christians of these lands, and with the help of her prayers, may they be truly one in the faith they profess and the witness they bear. Let us ask her who responded so generously to the angel’s call, and accepted her vocation to become the Mother of God, to give courage and strength to all young people today who are discerning their vocations, so that they too may generously dedicate themselves to carrying out the Lord’s will.

In this season of Eastertide, it is with the title Regina Coeli that we call upon the Blessed Virgin. As a fruit of the Redemption won by her Son’s death and resurrection, she too was raised to everlasting glory and crowned Queen of Heaven. With great confidence in the power of her intercession, with joy in our hearts and with love for our glorious ever-Virgin Mother, we turn to her now and ask for her prayers.


PILGRIMAGE
OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
TO THE HOLY LAND
(8-15 MAY 2009)

HOLY MASS
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI

International Stadium - Amman, Fifth Sunday of Easter, 10 May 2009

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I rejoice that we are able to celebrate this Eucharist together at the beginning of my Pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Yesterday, from the heights of Mount Nebo, I stood and looked out upon this great land, the land of Moses, Elijah, and John the Baptist, the land where God’s ancient promises were fulfilled in the coming of the Messiah, Jesus our Lord. This land witnessed his preaching and miracles, his death and resurrection, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Church, the sacrament of a reconciled and renewed humanity. As I pondered the mystery of God’s fidelity, I prayed that the Church in these lands would be confirmed in hope and strengthened in her witness to the Risen Christ, the Savior of mankind. Truly, as Saint Peter tells us in today’s first reading, “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we are to be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Today’s joyful celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice expresses the rich diversity of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land. I greet all of you with affection in the Lord. I thank His Beatitude Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, for his kind words of welcome. My greeting goes also to the many young people from Catholic schools who today bring their enthusiasm to this Eucharistic celebration.

In the Gospel we have just heard, Jesus proclaims: “I am the good shepherd… who lays down his life for the sheep” (Jn 10:11). As the Successor of Saint Peter, to whom the Lord entrusted the care of his flock (see Jn 21:15-17), I have long awaited this opportunity to stand before you as a witness to the Risen Savior, and to encourage you to persevere in faith, hope and love, in fidelity to the ancient traditions and the distinguished history of Christian witness which you trace back to the age of the Apostles. The Catholic community here is deeply touched by the difficulties and uncertainties which affect all the people of the Middle East. May you never forget the great dignity which derives from your Christian heritage, or fail to sense the loving solidarity of all your brothers and sisters in the Church throughout the world!

“I am the good shepherd”, the Lord tells us, “I know my own, and my own know me” (Jn 10:14). Today in Jordan we celebrate the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. As we reflect on the Gospel of the Good Shepherd, let us ask the Lord to open our hearts and minds ever more fully to hear his call. Truly, Jesus “knows us”, even more deeply than we know ourselves, and he has a plan for each one of us. We know, too, that wherever he calls us, we will find happiness and fulfilment; indeed, we will find our very selves (see Mt 10:39). Today I invite the many young people here present to consider how the Lord is calling you to follow him and to build up his Church. Whether it be in the priestly ministry, in consecrated life or in the sacrament of marriage, Jesus needs you to make his voice heard and to work for the growth of his Kingdom.

In today’s second reading, Saint John invites us to “think of the love that the Father has lavished on us” by making us his adopted children in Christ. Hearing these words should make us grateful for the experience of the Father’s love which we have had in our families, from the love of our fathers and mothers, our grandparents, our brothers and sisters. During the celebration of the present Year of the Family, the Church throughout the Holy Land has reflected on the family as a mystery of life-giving love, endowed in God’s plan with its own proper calling and mission: to radiate the divine Love which is the source and the ultimate fulfilment of all the other loves of our lives. May every Christian family grow in fidelity to its lofty vocation to be a true school of prayer, where children learn a sincere love of God, where they mature in self-discipline and concern for the needs of others, and where, shaped by the wisdom born of faith, they contribute to the building of an ever more just and fraternal society. The strong Christian families of these lands are a great legacy handed down from earlier generations. May today’s families be faithful to that impressive heritage, and never lack the material and moral assistance they need to carry out their irreplaceable role in service to society.

An important aspect of your reflection during this Year of the Family has been the particular dignity, vocation and mission of women in God’s plan. How much the Church in these lands owes to the patient, loving and faithful witness of countless Christian mothers, religious Sisters, teachers, doctors and nurses! How much your society owes to all those women who in different and at times courageous ways have devoted their lives to building peace and fostering love! From the very first pages of the Bible, we see how man and woman, created in the image of God, are meant to complement one another as stewards of God’s gifts and partners in communicating his gift of life, both physical and spiritual, to our world. Sadly, this God-given dignity and role of women has not always been sufficiently understood and esteemed. The Church, and society as a whole, has come to realize how urgently we need what the late Pope John Paul II called the “prophetic charism” of women (see Mulieris Dignitatem, 29) as bearers of love, teachers of mercy and artisans of peace, bringing warmth and humanity to a world that all too often judges the value of a person by the cold criteria of usefulness and profit. By its public witness of respect for women, and its defence of the innate dignity of every human person, the Church in the Holy Land can make an important contribution to the advancement of a culture of true humanity and the building of the civilization of love.

Dear friends, let us return to the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel. I believe that they contain a special message for you, his faithful flock in these lands where he once dwelt. “The good shepherd”, he tells us, “lays down his life for his sheep.” At the beginning of this Mass, we asked the Father to “give us new strength from the courage of Christ our shepherd”, who remained steadfast in fidelity to the Father’s will (see Opening Prayer, Mass of the Fourth Sunday of Easter). May the courage of Christ our shepherd inspire and sustain you daily in your efforts to bear witness to the Christian faith and to maintain the Church’s presence in the changing social fabric of these ancient lands.

Fidelity to your Christian roots, fidelity to the Church’s mission in the Holy Land, demands of each of you a particular kind of courage: the courage of conviction, born of personal faith, not mere social convention or family tradition; the courage to engage in dialogue and to work side by side with other Christians in the service of the Gospel and solidarity with the poor, the displaced, and the victims of profound human tragedies; the courage to build new bridges to enable a fruitful encounter of people of different religions and cultures, and thus to enrich the fabric of society. It also means bearing witness to the love which inspires us to “lay down” our lives in the service of others, and thus to counter ways of thinking which justify “taking” innocent lives.

“I am the good shepherd; I know my own, and my own know me” (Jn 10:14). Rejoice that the Lord has made you members of his flock and knows each of you by name! Follow him with joy and let him guide you in all your ways. Jesus knows what challenges you face, what trials you endure, and the good that you do in his name. Trust in him, in his enduring love for all the members of his flock, and persevere in your witness to the triumph of his love. May Saint John the Baptist, the patron of Jordan, and Mary, Virgin and Mother, sustain you by their example and prayers, and lead you to the fullness of joy in the eternal pastures where we will experience for ever the presence of the Good Shepherd and know for ever the depths of his love. Amen.


PASTORAL VISIT TO TURIN

BENEDICT XVI

REGINA CÆLI

St Charles Square, Fifth Sunday of Easter, 2 May 2010

As we are about to conclude this solemn celebration, let us turn in prayer to Mary Most Holy, who is venerated in Turin as the principal Patron Saint, with the title of Our Lady Consolata. To her I entrust this city and all who live in it. O Mary, watch over the families and over the world of work. Watch over those who have lost their faith and hope. Comfort the sick, the prisoners and all the suffering. O Help of Christians, sustain the young, the elderly and people in difficulty. O Mother of the Church, watch over the Pastors and over the entire community of believers so that they may be “salt and light” in society.

The Virgin Mary is the one who, more than any other, contemplated God in the human face of Jesus. She saw him newborn, when she wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger; she saw him just after he died, when, having been taken down from the Cross, he was wrapped in a shroud and carried to the tomb. Impressed within her was the image of her tortured Son, but this image was subsequently transfigured by the light of the Resurrection. Thus, in Mary’s heart the mystery of the Face of Christ was preserved a mystery of death and of glory. From her, we can always learn to look at Jesus with love and faith, and to see in that human face the Face of God.

With gratitude I entrust to the Most Holy Mother all who worked to prepare my Visit and for the Exposition of the Shroud. I pray for them and I pray that these events may promote a profound spiritual renewal.


PASTORAL VISIT TO TURIN

EUCHARISTIC CONCELEBRATION
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI

St Charles Square, Fifth Sunday of Easter, 2 May 2010

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am happy to be with you on this festive day and to celebrate this solemn Eucharist for you.

I greet everyone present and in particular the Pastor of your Archdiocese, Cardinal Severino Poletto, whom I thank for his warm words to me on behalf of all. I also greet the Archbishops and Bishops present, the priests, the men and women religious and the representatives of the Ecclesial Associations and Movements. I address a respectful thought to Hon. Mr Sergio Chiamparino, the Mayor, with gratitude for his kind greeting, to the representatives of the Government and to the civil and military Authorities, with special thanks to those who have generously offered their cooperation for this Pastoral Visit. I extend my thoughts to those who are unable to be present, especially the sick, the lonely and all those in difficulty. I entrust the City of Turin and all its inhabitants to the Lord in this Eucharistic celebration, which, as it does every Sunday, invites us to partake as a community in the twofold banquet of the Word of truth and the Bread of eternal life.

We are in the Easter Season which is the time of Jesus’ glorification. The Gospel we have just heard reminds us that this glorification is brought about in the Passion. In the Paschal Mystery, passion and glorification are closely bound together and form an indissoluble unity. When Judas leaves the Upper Room to carry out his scheme of betrayal that will lead to the Master’s death, Jesus says: “now is the Son of man glorified, and in him God is glorified” (Jn 13: 31): the glorification of Jesus begins at that very moment. The Evangelist John makes it quite clear: he does not in fact say that Jesus was glorified only after his Passion, through his Resurrection; rather he shows that precisely with the Passion his glorification began. In it Jesus manifests his glory, which is the glory of love, which gives itself totally. He loved the Father, doing his will to the very end, with a perfect gift of self; he loved humanity, giving his life for us. Thus he was already glorified in his Passion and God was glorified in him. But the Passion as a very real and profound expression of his love is only a beginning. This is why Jesus says that his glorification is also to come (see ibid., 13: 32). Then, when he announces his departure from this world (see ibid., 13: 33), the Lord gives his disciples a new commandment, as it were a testament, so that they might continue his presence among them in a new way: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (Jn 13: 34). If we love each other, Jesus will continue to be present in our midst, to be glorified in this world.

Jesus speaks of a “new commandment”. But what is new about it? In the Old Testament, God had already given the commandment of love; but this commandment has become new now because Jesus makes a very important addition to it: “As I have loved you, that you also love one another”. What is new is precisely this “loving as Jesus loved”. All our loving is preceded by his love and refers to this love, it fits into this love and is achieved precisely through this love. The Old Testament did not present any model of love; it only formulated the precept of love. Instead, Jesus gave himself to us as a model and source of love a boundless, universal love that could transform all negative circumstances and all obstacles into opportunities to progress in love. And in this City’s Saints we see the fulfilment of this love, always from the source of Jesus’ love.

In past centuries, the Church in Turin had a rich tradition of holiness and generous service to the brethren as both the Cardinal Archbishop and Mr Mayor pointed out thanks to the work of zealous priests and men and women religious of both active and contemplative life and faithful laypeople. Jesus’ words thus acquire a special resonance for this Church of Turin, a generous and active Church, beginning with her priests. In giving us the new commandment, Jesus asks us to live his own love and on his own love, which is the truly credible, eloquent and effective sign for proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom of God to the world. Clearly, with our own strength alone we are weak and limited. In us there is always a resistance to love and in our existence there are very many difficulties that cause division, resentment and ill will. However, the Lord promised us that he would be present in our lives, making us capable of this generous, total love that can overcome all obstacles, even those in our own hearts. If we are united to Christ, we can truly love in this way. Loving others as Jesus loved us is only possible with that power which is communicated to us in the relationship with him, especially in the Eucharist, in which his Sacrifice of love that generates love becomes really present: this is the true newness in the world and the power of a permanent glorification of God who is glorified in the continuity of the love of Jesus in our love.

I would therefore like to say a word of encouragement especially to the Priests and Deacons of this Church, who dedicate themselves generously to pastoral work, as well as to the men and women Religious. Being a labourer in the Lord’s vineyard can sometimes be tiring, duties increase, there are so many demands and problems are not lacking: may you be able to draw daily from this relationship of love with God in prayer the strength to transmit the prophetic announcement of salvation; refocus your existence on what is essential in the Gospel; cultivate a real dimension of communion and brotherhood in the presbyterate, in your communities, in your relations with the People of God; bear witness in your ministry to the power of love that comes from on high, that comes from the Lord present in our midst.

The First Reading we have heard presents to us precisely a special way of glorifying Jesus: the apostolate and its fruits. Paul and Barnabas, at the end of their first apostolic voyage, return to the cities they have already visited and give fresh courage to the disciples, exhorting them to remain firm in the faith for, as they say, “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14: 22). Christian life, dear brothers and sisters, is not easy; I know that difficulties, problems and anxieties abound in Turin: I am thinking in particular of those who currently live in precarious conditions, because of the scarcity of work, uncertainty about the future, physical and moral suffering. I am thinking of families, of young people, of elderly people who often live alone, of the marginalized and of immigrants. Yes, life leads to confrontation with many difficulties, many problems, but it is precisely the certainty that comes from faith, the certainty that we are not alone, that God loves each one without distinction and is close to everyone with his love, that makes it possible to face, live through and surmount the effort of dealing with daily problems. It was the universal love of the Risen Christ that motivated the Apostles to come out of themselves, to disseminate the word of God, to spend themselves without reserve for others, with courage, joy and serenity. The Risen One has a power of love that overcomes every limit, that does not stop in front of any obstacle. And the Christian community, especially in the most pastorally demanding situations, must be a concrete instrument of this love of God.

I urge families to live the Christian dimension of love in simple everyday actions in family relationships, overcoming divisions and misunderstandings; in cultivating the faith, which makes communion even stronger. Nor, in the rich and diverse world of the university and of culture, should there be a lack of the witness to love of which today’s Gospel speaks in the capacity for attentive listening and humble dialogue in the search for Truth, in the certainty that Truth itself will come to us and catch hold of us. I would also like to encourage the frequently difficult endeavours of those called to administer public affairs: collaboration in order to achieve the common good and to make the City ever more human and liveable is a sign that Christian thought on man is never contrary to his freedom but favours a greater fullness that can only find its fulfilment in a “civilization of love”.

I wish to say to all, and especially to the young: never lose hope, the hope that comes from the Risen Christ, from God’s victory over sin, hatred and death.

Today’s Second Reading shows us precisely the final outcome of Jesus’ Resurrection: it is the new Jerusalem, the Holy City that comes down from Heaven, from God, adorned as a bride for her husband (see Rev 21: 2). The One who was crucified, who shared our suffering as the sacred Shroud also eloquently reminds us is the One who is Risen and who wants to reunite us all in his love. It is a marvellous, “strong” and solid hope, because, as Revelation says: “[God] will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away” (21: 4). Does not the Holy Shroud communicate the same message? In it we see, as in a mirror, our suffering in the suffering of Christ: Passio Christi. Passio hominis. For this very reason the Shroud is a sign of hope: Christ faced the Cross to stem evil; to make us see, in his Pasch, the anticipation of that moment when, even for us, every tear will be wiped away, when there will no longer be death, mourning or lamentation.

The passage from Revelation ends with this assertion: “And he who sat upon the throne said: “Behold, I make all things new’“ (21: 5). The first absolutely new thing made by God was Jesus’ Resurrection, his heavenly glorification. This is the beginning of a whole series of “new things” in which we also have a share. “New things” are a world full of joy, in which there is no more suffering and oppression, there is no more rancour or hate, but only the love that comes from God and transforms all things.

Dear Church in Turin, I have come to you to strengthen you in the faith. I would like to urge you, forcefully and with affection, to remain steadfast in that faith which you have received, that gives meaning to life and that gives the strength to love; never to lose the light of hope in the Risen Christ, who can transform reality and make all things new; to live out God’s love in a simple, practical way in the City, in its districts, in communities, in families: “As I have loved you, that you also love one another”.
Amen.


BENEDICT XVI

REGINA CÆLI

Saint Peter’s Square, Fifth Sunday of Easter, 22 May 2011

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Gospel of this Sunday, the Fifth of Easter, proposes a twofold commandment of faith: to believe in God and to believe in Jesus. In fact, the Lord said to his disciples: “Believe in God, believe also in me” (Jn 14:1). They are not two separate acts but one single act of faith, full adherence to salvation wrought by God the Father through his Only-begotten Son.

The New Testament puts an end to the Father’s invisibility. God has shown his face, as Jesus’ answer to the Apostle Philip confirms: “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9). [In Jn 12:45, Jesus also says “And he who sees me, sees him who sent me.”] With his Incarnation, death and Resurrection, the Son of God has freed us from the slavery of sin to give us the freedom of the children of God and he has shown us the face of God, which is love: God can be seen, he is visible in Christ.

St Teresa of Avila wrote: “the last thing we should do is to withdraw from our greatest good and blessing, which is the most sacred humanity of Our Lord Jesus Christ” (see The Interior Castle, 6, ch. 7). Therefore, only by believing in Christ, by remaining united to him, may the disciples, among whom we too are, continue their permanent action in history: “Truly, truly, I say to you,” says the Lord, “he who believes in me will also do the works that I do” (Jn 14:12).

Faith in Jesus entails following him daily, in the simple actions that make up our day. “It is part of the mystery of God that he acts so gently, that he only gradually builds up his history within the great history of mankind; that he becomes man and so can be overlooked by his contemporaries and by the decisive forces within history; that he suffers and dies and that, having risen again, he chooses to come to mankind only through the faith of the disciples to whom he reveals himself; that he continues to knock gently at the doors of our hearts and slowly opens our eyes if we open our doors to him” (Jesus of Nazareth II, 2011, p. 276).

St Augustine says that “it was necessary for Jesus to say: ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life’ (Jn 14:6) because once the way was known, the end remained to be known” (see In Evangelium Iohannis Tractatus, 69, 2: CCL 36, 500), and the end is the Father. For Christians, for each one of us, hence, the way to the Father is to allow ourselves to be guided by Jesus, by his word of truth, and to receive the gift of his life. Let us make St Bonaventure’s invitation our own: “Open, therefore, your eyes, lend your spiritual ear, open your lips and dispose your heart, so that you will be able to see, hear, praise, love, venerate, glorify, honour your God in all creatures” (Itinerarium mentis in Deum, i, 15).

Dear friends, the commitment to proclaim Jesus Christ, “the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6), is the main task of the Church. Let us invoke the Virgin Mary that she may always assist the Pastors and those in the different ministries to proclaim the Good News of salvation, that the Word of God may be spread and the number of disciples multiplied (see Acts 6:7).


BENEDICT XVI

REGINA CÆLI

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Gospel today, the fifth Sunday of Easter time begins with the image of the vine. Jesus said to his disciples, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser” (Jn 15:1). In the Bible Israel is often compared to the fertile vine when it is faithful to God; but if it distances itself from him, it becomes barren, incapable of producing that “wine to gladden the heart of man”, as Psalm 104[103] sings (v. 15). The true vine of God, true life, is Jesus who with his sacrifice of love gives us salvation, opens to us the way to be part of this vine. And as Jesus remains in the love of God the Father, the disciples too, wisely pruned by the word of the Master (see Jn 15:2-4), if they remain profoundly united in him, they become fruitful branches that bear an abundant harvest.

St Francis de Sales wrote: “The vine-sprig, united and joined to the stock, brings forth fruit not by its own power but in virtue of the stock. Now we are united by charity unto our Redeemer as members to their head, and hence it is that... good works, drawing their worth from him, merit life everlasting” (Treatise on the love of God, XI, 6).

On the day of our Baptism the Church grafts us, as branches, on to the Paschal Mystery of Jesus, on to his very Person. From this root we receive the precious sap that enables us to share in the divine life. As disciples, with the help of the Pastors of the Church, we too develop in the Lord’s vineyard, bound by his love. “If the fruit we are to bear is love, its prerequisite is this ‘remaining’, which is profoundly connected with the kind of faith that holds on to the Lord and does not let go” (Jesus of Nazareth, Doubleday, New York 2007, p. 262).

It is indispensable to remain ever united to Jesus, to depend on him, because apart from him we can do nothing (see Jn 15:5). In a letter written to John the Prophet who lived in the desert of Gaza in the fifth century, a faithful asked the following question: how is it possible to combine man’s freedom and the inability to do anything without God? And the monk answered: if man inclines his heart towards goodness and asks God for help, he receives the necessary strength to carry out his work. Therefore man’s freedom and God’s power proceed together. This is possible because goodness comes from the Lord, but it is carried out through his faithful (see Ep. 763, SC, 468, Paris 2002, 206).

True “abiding” in Christ guarantees the effectiveness of prayer, the Cistercian Bl. Guerric of Igny, said: “O Lord Jesus... without you we can do nothing. Indeed you are the true gardener, creator, cultivator and custodian of your garden, which you plan with your word, irrigate with your spirit and cause to grow with your power” (Sermo ad excitandam devotionem in psalmodia, SC, 202, 1973, 522).

Dear friends, each one of us is like a branch that only lives if its union with the Lord grows every day in prayer, in participation in the Sacraments and in charity. And he who loves Jesus, the true vine, produces fruits of faith for an abundant spiritual harvest. Let us pray to the Mother of God that we may remain firmly grafted onto Jesus and that all our actions may have their beginning and end in him. 



© Copyright 2013 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Monday, April 22, 2013

0274: Reflections on the Fourth Sunday of Easter by Pope Benedict XVI



Entry 0274: Reflections on the Fourth Sunday of Easter by Pope Benedict XVI 




On seven occasions during his Pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI delivered reflections on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, on 7 May 2006, 29 April 2007, 13 April 2008, 3 May 2009, 25 April 2010, 15 May 2011, and 29 April 2012. Here are the texts of the seven brief reflections before the recitation of the Regina Caeli and four homilies delivered on these occasions.


BENEDICT XVI

REGINA CÆLI

Saint Peter’s Square, Fourth  Sunday of Easter, 7 May 2006

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

On this Fourth Sunday of Easter, “Good Shepherd” Sunday, on which the World Day of Prayer for Vocations is celebrated, I had the joy of ordaining in St Peter’s Basilica 15 new priests for the Diocese of Rome. We are grateful to the Lord! With them, I am thinking of all those in every part of the world who are receiving priestly ordination in this period.

As we thank the Lord for the gift of these new priests at the service of the Church, let us entrust them all to Mary, at the same time invoking her intercession so that the number of those who accept Christ’s invitation to follow him on the way of the priesthood and the consecrated life will increase.

This year the theme of the World Day of Prayer for Vocations is: Vocation in the mystery of the Church. In the Message that I addressed to the entire Ecclesial Community for this event, I recalled the experience of the first disciples of Jesus, who, after meeting him by the lake and in the villages of Galilee, were won over by his appeal and his love.

The Christian vocation is always a renewal of this personal friendship with Jesus Christ, which gives full meaning to our lives and makes us open to the Kingdom of God.

God continues to call priests

The Church lives on this friendship, nourished by the Word and by the Sacraments, holy realities entrusted especially to the ministry of Bishops, Priests and Deacons, consecrated by the Sacrament of Orders.

For this reason - as I stressed in the same Message - the priest’s mission is irreplaceable, and even if in some regions a scarcity of clergy is being recorded, we must never doubt that God continues to call boys, young men and adults to leave everything to dedicate themselves totally to preaching the Gospel and to the pastoral ministry (see Message for the World Day of Prayer for Vocations 2006, L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 12 April 2006, p. 5).

Another special form of the following of Christ is the vocation to the consecrated life, which is expressed in living a poor, chaste and obedient existence totally dedicated to God in contemplation and in prayer and at the service of others, especially the lowly and poor.

Moreover, let us not forget that Christian marriage is in all respects a vocation to holiness, and that the example of holy parents is the first favourable condition for the flourishing of priestly and religious vocations.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us invoke the intercession of Mary, Mother of the Church, for priests and men and women Religious; let us pray too that the seeds of a vocation that God sows in the hearts of the faithful may reach full maturity and bear fruits of holiness in the Church and in the world.


HOLY MASS FOR THE ORDINATION TO THE PRIESTHOOD OF
15 DEACONS OF THE DIOCESE OF ROME

HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI

Vatican Basilica, Fourth Sunday of Easter, 7 May 2006

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Dear Ordinandi,

At this hour, dear friends, when you are being introduced as shepherds in the service of the Great Shepherd, Jesus Christ, through the Sacrament of Orders, it is the Lord himself who, in the Gospel, speaks of serving God’s flock.

The image of the shepherd comes from remote times. In the Orient of antiquity, kings would designate themselves as the shepherds of their peoples. Moses and David in the Old Testament, before being called to become the leaders and pastors of the People of God, were in fact shepherds with flocks.

In the anguish of the period of the Exile, confronted by the failure of Israel’s shepherds, that is, of its political and religious leaders, Ezekiel sketched the image of God himself as the Shepherd of his people. Through the prophet God says: “As a shepherd seeks out his flock... so will I seek out my sheep; and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness” (Ez 34: 12).

Jesus now proclaims that this time has come: he himself is the Good Shepherd through whom God himself cares for his creature, man, gathering human beings and leading them to the true pasture.

St Peter, whom the Risen Lord charged to tend his sheep, to become a shepherd with him and for him, described Jesus as the “archipoimen” - “Chief Shepherd” (see I Pt 5: 4), and by this he meant that it is only possible to be a shepherd of the flock of Jesus Christ through him and in very close communion with him.

The Sacrament of Ordination expresses this very point: through the Sacrament the priest is totally inserted into Christ, so that by starting from him and acting in his sight he may carry out in communion with him the service of Jesus, the one Shepherd, in whom God, as man, wants to be our Shepherd.

The Gospel we have heard this Sunday is only a part of Jesus’ great discourse on shepherds. In this passage, the Lord tells us three things about the true shepherd: he gives his own life for his sheep; he knows them and they know him; he is at the service of unity.

Before reflecting on these three characteristics essential to shepherds, it might be useful to recall briefly the previous part of the discourse on shepherds in which Jesus, before designating himself as the Shepherd, says, to our surprise: “I am the door” (Jn 10: 7).

It is through him that one must enter the service of shepherd. Jesus highlights very clearly this basic condition by saying: “he who... climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber” (Jn 10: 1). This word “climbs” - anabainei in Greek - conjures up the image of someone climbing over a fence to get somewhere out of bounds to him.

“To climb” - here too we can also see the image of careerism, the attempt to “get ahead”, to gain a position through the Church: to make use of and not to serve. It is the image of a man who wants to make himself important, to become a person of note through the priesthood; the image of someone who has as his aim his own exaltation and not the humble service of Jesus Christ.

But the only legitimate ascent towards the shepherd’s ministry is the Cross. This is the true way to rise; this is the true door. It is not the desire to become “someone” for oneself, but rather to exist for others, for Christ, and thus through him and with him to be there for the people he seeks, whom he wants to lead on the path of life.

One enters the priesthood through the Sacrament, and this means precisely: through the gift of oneself to Christ, so that he can make use of me; so that I may serve him and follow his call, even if it proves contrary to my desire for self-fulfilment and esteem.

Entering by the door which is Christ means knowing and loving him more and more, so that our will may be united with his will, our action become one with his action.

Dear friends, let us pray ever anew for this intention, let us strive precisely for this: in other words, for Christ to grow within us and for our union with him to become ever deeper, so that through us it is Christ himself who tends the flock.

Let us now take a closer look at the three fundamental affirmations of Jesus on the good shepherd. The first one, which very forcefully pervades the whole discourse on shepherds, says: the shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The mystery of the Cross is at the centre of Jesus’ service as a shepherd: it is the great service that he renders to all of us.

He gives himself and not only in a distant past. In the Holy Eucharist he does so every day, he gives himself through our hands, he gives himself to us. For this good reason the Holy Eucharist, in which the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross remains continually present, truly present among us, is rightly at the centre of priestly life.

And with this as our starting point, we also learn what celebrating the Eucharist properly means: it is an encounter with the Lord, who strips himself of his divine glory for our sake, allows himself be humiliated to the point of death on the Cross and thus gives himself to each one of us.

The daily Eucharist is very important for the priest. In it he exposes himself ever anew to this mystery; ever anew he puts himself in God’s hands, experiencing at the same time the joy of knowing that He is present, receives me, ever anew raises and supports me, gives me his hand, himself. The Eucharist must become for us a school of life in which we learn to give our lives.

Free for God

Life is not only given at the moment of death and not only in the manner of martyrdom. We must give it day by day. Day after day it is necessary to learn that I do not possess my life for myself. Day by day I must learn to abandon myself; to keep myself available for whatever he, the Lord, needs of me at a given moment, even if other things seem more appealing and more important to me: it means giving life, not taking it.

It is in this very way that we experience freedom: freedom from ourselves, the vastness of being. In this very way, by being useful, in being a person whom the world needs, our life becomes important and beautiful. Only those who give up their own life find it.

Secondly the Lord tells us: “I know my own [sheep] and my own [sheep] know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father” (Jn 10: 14-15).

Here, two apparently quite different relationships are interwoven in this phrase: the relationship between Jesus and the Father and the relationship between Jesus and the people entrusted to him. Yet both these relationships go together, for in the end people belong to the Father and are in search of the Creator, of God.

When they realize that someone is speaking only in his own name and drawing from himself alone, they guess that he is too small and cannot be what they are seeking; but wherever another’s voice re-echoes in a person, the voice of the Creator, of the Father, the door opens to the relationship for which the person is longing.

Consequently, this is how it must be in our case. First of all, in our hearts we must live the relationship with Christ and, through him, with the Father; only then can we truly understand people, only in the light of God can the depths of man be understood. Then those who are listening to us realize that we are not speaking of ourselves or of some thing, but of the true Shepherd.

Obviously, Jesus’ words also contain the entire practical pastoral task, caring for men and women, going to seek them out, being open to their needs and questions.

Obviously, practical, concrete knowledge of the people entrusted to me is fundamental, and obviously, it is important to understand this way of “knowing” others in the biblical sense: there is no true knowledge without love, without an inner relationship and deep acceptance of the other.

The shepherd cannot be satisfied with knowing names and dates. His way of knowing his sheep must always also be knowing with the heart.

However, it is only possible to do this properly if the Lord has opened our hearts; if our knowing does not bind people to our own small, private self, to our own small heart, but rather makes them aware of the Heart of Jesus, the Heart of the Lord. It must be knowing with the Heart of Jesus, oriented to him, a way of knowing that does not bind the person to me but guides him or her to Jesus, thereby making one free and open. And in this way we too will become close to men and women.

Let us always pray to the Lord anew that we may be granted this way of knowing with the Heart of Jesus, of not binding to me but of binding to the Heart of Jesus and thereby creating a true community.

Lastly, the Lord speaks to us of the service of unity that is entrusted to the shepherd: “I have other sheep that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (Jn 10: 16).

John repeated the same thing after the Sanhedrin had decided to kill Jesus, when Caiaphas said that it would be better for the people that one man die for them rather than the entire nation perish. John recognized these words of Caiaphas as prophetic, adding: “Jesus should die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad” (11: 52).

The relationship between the Cross and unity is revealed: the Cross is the price of unity. Above all, however, it is the universal horizon of Jesus’ action that emerges.

If, in his prophecy about the shepherd, Ezekiel was aiming to restore unity among the dispersed tribes of Israel (see Ez 34: 22-24), here it is a question not only of the unification of a dispersed Israel but of the unification of all the children of God, of humanity - of the Church of Jews and of pagans.

Jesus’ mission concerns all humanity. Therefore, the Church is given responsibility for all humanity, so that it may recognize God, the God who for all of us was made man in Jesus Christ, suffered, died and was raised.

The Church must never be satisfied with the ranks of those whom she has reached at a certain point or say that others are fine as they are: Muslims, Hindus and so forth. The Church can never retreat comfortably to within the limits of her own environment. She is charged with universal solicitude; she must be concerned with and for one and all.

We generally have to “translate” this great task in our respective missions. Obviously, a priest, a pastor of souls, must first and foremost be concerned with those who believe and live with the Church, who seek in her their way of life and on their part, like living stones, build the Church, hence, also build and support the priest.

However, we must also - as the Lord says - go out ever anew “to the highways and hedges” (Lk 14: 23), to deliver God’s invitation to his banquet also to those who have so far heard nothing or have not been stirred within.

This universal service has many forms. One of them is also the commitment to the inner unity of the Church, so that over and above differences and limitations she may be a sign of God’s presence in the world, which alone can create this unity.

Among the sculptures of her time, the ancient Church discovered the figure of a shepherd carrying a sheep across his shoulders. Such images may perhaps be part of the idyllic dream of rural life that fascinated the society of that epoch.

For Christians, however, this figure with all its naturalness became the image of the One who set out to seek his lost sheep: humanity; the image of the One who follows us even into our deserts and confusion; the image of the One who took upon his shoulders the lost sheep, which is humanity, and carried it home.

It has become the image of the true Shepherd, Jesus Christ. Let us entrust ourselves to him. We entrust you to him, dear brothers, especially at this moment, so that he may lead you and carry you all the days of your life; so that he may help you to become, through him and with him, good shepherds of his flock. Amen!


BENEDICT XVI

REGINA CÆLI

Saint Peter’s Square, Fourth Sunday of Easter, 29 April 2007

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today, the Fourth Sunday of Easter and “Good Shepherd Sunday”, is the [44th] World Day of Prayer for Vocations. All the faithful are exhorted to pray especially for vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life. This morning in St Peter’s Basilica I had the joy of ordaining 22 new priests.

As I greet these new priests with affection together with their relatives, I ask you to remember all those whom the Lord continues to call by name, just as he once called the Apostles on the shores of the Sea of Galilee to become “fishers of men”, that is, his closest collaborators in the proclamation of the Gospel and the service of the Kingdom of God in our time.

Let us ask for the gift of perseverance for all priests: may they stay faithful to prayer, celebrate Holy Mass with ever renewed devotion, live listening to the Word of God and day after day assimilate the same sentiments and attitudes as those of Jesus, the Good Shepherd.

Let us then pray for those who are preparing to take on the priestly ministry and for the teachers who form them in the seminaries of Rome, Italy, and the whole world. Let us pray for families, so that the “seed” of the call to the presbyteral ministry may continue to mature and flower.

This year, the theme of the World Day of Prayer for Vocations is: “The vocation to the service of the Church as communion”. In presenting the mystery of the Church in our time, the Second Vatican Council gave priority to the category of “communion”. In this perspective, the rich variety of gifts and ministries acquires great importance for the People of God.

All the baptized are called to contribute to the work of salvation. In the Church, however, there are some vocations which are dedicated especially to the service of communion.

The person primarily responsible for Catholic communion is the Pope, Successor of Peter and Bishop of Rome; with him, the Bishops, successors of the Apostles, are custodians and teachers of unity, assisted by the priests. But consecrated persons and all the faithful are also at the service of communion.

At the heart of Church communion is the Eucharist: the different vocations draw from this supreme Sacrament the spiritual power to build constantly, in charity, the one ecclesial Body.

Let us now turn to Mary, Mother of the Good Shepherd. May she who responded promptly to God’s call, saying: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord” (Lk 1: 38), help all of us to accept with joy and willingness Christ’s invitation to be his disciples, always motivated to be “of one heart and soul” (see Acts 4: 32).


ORDINATION OF NEW PRIESTS FOR THE DIOCESE OF ROME

HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI

St Peter’s Basilica, Fourth Sunday of Easter, 29 April 2007

Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and the Presbyterate,

Dear Ordinandi,

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today, the Fourth Sunday of Easter traditionally known as “Good Shepherd Sunday”, has a special significance for us who are gathered in this Vatican Basilica. It is an absolutely unique day especially for you, dear deacons, upon whom, as Bishop and Pastor of Rome, I am pleased to confer priestly Ordination. In this way you join our “presbyterium”.

Together with the Cardinal Vicar, the Auxiliary Bishops and the priests of the Diocese, I thank the Lord for the gift of your priesthood which enriches our Community with 22 new Pastors.

The theological density of the brief Gospel passage which has just been proclaimed helps us to perceive better the meaning and value of this solemn Celebration.

Jesus speaks of himself as the Good Shepherd who gives eternal life to his sheep (see Jn 10: 28). This image of the shepherd is deeply rooted in the Old Testament and dear to Christian tradition. The Prophets attributed to David the title: “Shepherd of Israel”, which hence possesses an indisputable messianic importance (see Ex 34: 23).

Jesus is the true Shepherd of Israel, since he is the Son of Man who desired to share the condition of human beings to give them new life and lead them to salvation.

Significantly, the Evangelist adds to the term “shepherd” the adjective kalós, good, which he only uses with reference to Jesus and his mission. In the account of the Wedding at Cana, the adjective kalós is also used twice to signify the wine offered by Jesus, and it is easy to see it as a symbol of the good wine of messianic times (see 2: 10).

“I give them (that is, to my sheep) eternal life and they shall never perish” (Jn 10: 28). These are the words of Jesus, who had said a little earlier, “the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep” (see Jn 10: 11).

John uses the verb tithénai - to offer, which he repeats in the following verses (see 15, 17, 18). We find the same verb in the Last Supper narrative when Jesus “laid aside his garments” in order to “take” them back later (see Jn 13: 4, 12).

Thus, it is clear that the intention is to affirm that the Redeemer has absolute freedom to do with his life as he chooses and thereby give it up or take it back freely.

Christ is the true Good Shepherd who gave his life for his sheep, for us, sacrificing himself on the Cross. He knows his sheep and his sheep know him, just as the Father knows him and he knows the Father (see Jn 10: 14-15).

This is not a matter of mere intellectual knowledge but of a profound, personal relationship: a knowledge of the heart, of one who loves and one who is loved; of one who is faithful and one who knows how to be trustworthy.

It is a knowledge of love, by virtue of which the Pastor invites his sheep to follow him and which is fully manifest in the gift of eternal life that he offers to them (see Jn 10: 27-28).

Dear Ordinandi, may the certainty that Christ does not abandon us and that no obstacle can prevent the accomplishment of his universal plan of salvation be a cause of constant consolation - also in difficulties - and steadfast hope for you. The Lord’s goodness is always with you, and it is powerful.

The Sacrament of Orders, which you are about to receive, will make you sharers in the very mission of Christ; you will be called to scatter the seed of his Word, the seed that carries in itself the Kingdom of God; to dispense divine mercy and to nourish the faithful at the table of his Body and Blood.

To be his worthy ministers, you must ceaselessly nourish yourselves with the Eucharist, source and summit of Christian life.

In approaching the altar, your daily school of holiness, of communion with Jesus, of the way of entering into his sentiments in order to renew the sacrifice of the Cross, you will increasingly discover the richness and tenderness of the love of the divine Teacher, who today is calling you to a closer friendship with him.

If you listen docilely to him, if you follow him faithfully, you will learn to express in your life and in your pastoral ministry his love and his passion for the salvation of souls.

With Jesus’ help, dear Ordinandi, each one of you will become a Good Shepherd, ready, if necessary, to lay down your life for him.

Thus it was at the beginning of Christianity with the first disciples, while as we heard in the First Reading the Gospel continued to be disseminated amid consolations and difficulties.

It is worth stressing the last words in the passage from the Acts of the Apostles which we have heard: “The disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit” (13: 52).

Despite the misunderstandings and disagreements, about which we have heard, the apostle of Christ does not lose joy; indeed, he is a witness of that joy which flows from being with the Lord and from love for him and for the brothers and sisters.

On today’s World Day of Prayer for Vocations, whose theme this year is: “The vocation to the service of the Church as communion”, let us pray that all who are chosen to such a lofty mission may be accompanied by the prayerful communion of all the faithful

Let us pray that in every parish and Christian community attention to vocations and to the formation of priests will increase: it begins in the family, continues at the seminary and involves all who have at heart the salvation of souls.

Dear brothers and sisters who are taking part in this evocative celebration, and in the first place you, relatives, family members and friends of these 22 deacons who will shortly be ordained priests!

Let us surround these brothers of ours in the Lord with our spiritual solidarity. Let us pray that they may be faithful to the mission to which the Lord is calling them today and ready to renew their “yes” to God, their “here I am”, every day without reserve.

And let us ask the Lord of the harvest on this Day for Vocations to continue to bring forth many holy priests who are totally dedicated to the service of the Christian people.

At this most solemn and important moment of your life, dear Ordinandi, I once again address you with affection. On this day Jesus repeats to you: “I no longer call you servants, but friends”. Welcome and nurture this divine friendship with “Eucharistic love”!

May Mary, the heavenly Mother of priests, accompany you. May she who beneath the Cross united herself with the Sacrifice of her Son and after the Resurrection accepted together with the other disciples the gift of the Spirit, help you and each one of us, dear brothers in the priesthood, to allow ourselves to be inwardly transformed by God’s grace.

Only in this way is it possible to be faithful images of the Good Shepherd; only in this way can we carry out joyfully the mission of knowing, guiding and loving the flock which Jesus acquired at the price of his blood. Amen.


BENEDICT XVI

REGINA CÆLI

St Peter’s Square, Fourth Sunday of Easter, 13 April 2008

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The World Day of Prayer for Vocations is celebrated on this Fourth Sunday of Easter, on which the Liturgy presents to us Jesus as the Good Shepherd. On every continent Ecclesial Communities with one voice seek from the Lord numerous holy vocations to the priesthood, to the consecrated and missionary life and to Christian marriage as they meditate on the theme: “Vocations at the service of the Church-mission”. This year the World Day of Prayer for Vocations fits into the setting of the Pauline Year which will begin this 28 June to celebrate the bimillennium of the birth of the Apostle Paul, the missionary par excellence.

In the experience of the Apostle to the Gentiles, whom the Lord called to be a “minister of the Gospel”, vocation and mission are inseparable. He therefore represents a model for every Christian, particularly for missionaries ad vitam, in other words, those men and women who dedicate themselves totally to proclaiming Christ to those who still do not know him, a vocation which has retained its full value. This missionary service is carried out in the first place by priests who dispense the Word of God and the sacraments and who manifest the healing presence of Jesus Christ to all, especially the sick, the lowly and the poor through their charitable Apostolate. Let us thank God for these brothers of ours who spend themselves unreservedly in the pastoral ministry, sometimes sealing their fidelity to Christ with the sacrifice of their lives, as happened yesterday to two Religious killed respectively in Guinea and Kenya. Our grateful admiration and prayers of suffrage go to them. Let us pray that the ranks of those who decide to live the Gospel radically with the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience may be ever more numerous. They are men and women who have a primary role in evangelization. Some of them are dedicated to contemplation and prayer, others to a multi-faceted educational and charitable action, but they all have the same goal in common: to witness to God’s primacy over everything and to spread his Kingdom in every social milieu. Many of them, the Servant of God Paul VI wrote, “are enterprising and their apostolate is often marked by an originality, by a genius that demands admiration. They are generous: often they are found at the outposts of the mission, and they take the greatest of risks for their health and their very lives” (Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, no. 69). Finally, it should not be forgotten that the vocation to Christian marriage is a missionary vocation: indeed, the spouses are called to live the Gospel in families, in work contexts, in parish and in civil communities. In some cases they also offer their valuable collaboration to the mission ad gentes.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us invoke Mary’s motherly protection upon the multiple vocations that exist in the Church so that they may develop a strong missionary stamp. I also entrust to her, Mother of the Church and Queen of Peace, the special missionary experience which I shall be living in the next few days with my Apostolic Visit to the United States of America and my Visit to the United Nations Organization, while I ask you all to accompany me with your prayers.


BENEDICT XVI

REGINA CÆLI

St Peter’s Square, Fourth Sunday of Easter, 3 May 2009

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am late, because the Eucharistic Celebration during which I consecrated 19 new Priests for the Diocese of Rome has just ended in the Basilica of St Peter, for which we are very happy. Once again I chose this Sunday, the Fourth of Easter, for this joyful event, because it is characterized by the Gospel of the Good Shepherd (see Jn 10: 1-18) and therefore offers a particularly apt context. For the same reason, we are also celebrating the World Day of Prayer for Vocations today. In my yearly message for this circumstance, I asked for reflection on the theme: Faith in Divine Initiative and the Human Response. In fact, the Lord’s faith, which continuously calls all to sanctity and some in particular to special consecration, expresses itself in prayer. In private as well as in community, we must pray very much for vocations, so that the greatness and the beauty of the love of God may attract many to follow Christ on the path of priesthood and in consecrated life. Equally, we must also pray so that there may be saintly spouses, able to show their children, especially through their example, the lofty horizons to strive for with their freedom. The saints, men and women, that the Church proposes for veneration by all the faithful, testify to the ripened fruit of this interweaving between the Divine calling and the human response. Let us entrust our prayer for vocations to their heavenly intercession.

There is another intention I invite you to pray for today: the journey to the Holy Land that I will undertake, God willing, from next Friday 8 May to Friday the 15th. In the footsteps of my venerable Predecessors Paul VI and John Paul II, I will make a pilgrimage to the main holy places of our faith. With my visit I hope to confirm and encourage the Christians of the Holy Land, who are faced daily with many difficulties. As the Successor of the Apostle Peter, I will make them feel the closeness and the support of the whole Body of the Church. Moreover, I will be a pilgrim of peace, in the name of the one God who is the Father of all. I will bear witness to the commitment of the Catholic Church in favour of those who practice dialogue and reconciliation, to reach a stable and lasting peace in mutual justice and respect. And finally, this journey will have a noteworthy ecumenical and interreligious importance. Jerusalem is, from this point of view, the city-symbol par excellence: there Christ died to reunite all of God’s scattered children (see Jn 11: 52).

Now, turning to the Virgin Mary, we call upon her, as the Mother of the Good Shepherd, to watch over the new Presbyters of the Diocese of Rome, and so that numerous and saintly vocations of special consecration to the Kingdom of God may blossom in the whole world.


HOLY MASS FOR THE ORDINATION TO THE PRIESTHOOD
OF 19 DEACONS OF THE DIOCESE OF ROME

HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI

St Peter’s Basilica, Fourth Sunday of Easter, 3 May 2009

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

According to a beautiful tradition, the Sunday of “the Good Shepherd” is when the Bishop of Rome meets with his clergy for the Ordination of new priests for the Diocese. This is a great gift from God every time; it is his grace! Therefore let a deep feeling of faith and gratitude in living today’s celebration arise in us. With this sentiment I am pleased to greet the Cardinal Vicar Agostino Vallini, the Auxiliary Bishops, the other Brothers in the episcopacy and in the priesthood, and with special affection you, dear Deacon candidates to the priesthood, with your families and friends. The word of God that we have listened to offers many points for meditation: I will choose a few to shed an indelible light on the path of your life and your ministry.

“This [Jesus] is the stone... there is no other name... given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4: 11-12). In the passage of the Acts of the Apostles the first reading the singular “homonymy” between Peter and Jesus strikes us and makes us reflect: Peter, who received his name from Jesus himself, here asserts that he, Jesus, is “the stone”. In fact, the only true rock is Jesus. The only name that saves is his. The apostle, and therefore the priest, receives his “name”, his very identity, from Christ. Everything he does is done in his name. His “I” becomes totally relative to the “I” of Jesus. In the name of Christ, and most certainly not in his own, the apostle may perform acts of healing for the brethren, may help the “crippled” to rise again and take their path (see Acts 4: 9-10). In Peter’s case, the miracle that had just occurred makes this especially evident. And even the reference to what was said in the Psalm is essential: “The stone which the builders rejected has become the corner stone” (Ps 118[117]: 22). Jesus was “rejected”, but the Father favoured him and put him as the foundation of the Temple of the New Covenant. Thus the apostle, like the priest, experiences in turn the Cross, and only through this can he become truly useful to the building of the Church. God loves to build his Church with people who, following Jesus, place their entire trust in God, as the Psalm itself mentions: “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in man. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in princes” (v. 8-9).

The disciple shares the same destiny as the Teacher, which ultimately is the destiny expressed in God the Father’s own will! Jesus confessed at the end of his life, in the great prayer called “priestly”: “O righteous Father, the world has not known you, but I have known you” (Jn 17: 25). Even before he had asserted: “No one knows the Father except the Son” (Mt 11: 27). Jesus himself experienced the rejection of God by the world, the misunderstanding, the indifference, the disfiguration of the Face of God. And Jesus passed the “witness” on to the disciples: “I made known to them your name”, he further confides in the prayer to the Father, “and I will make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (Jn 17: 26). Therefore the disciple and especially the apostle experiences the same joy that Jesus did, in knowing the name and the Face of the Father; and also shares his suffering, seeing that God is not recognized, that his love is not returned. On one hand we joyfully exclaim, like John did with joy in his first Letter: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are!”; and on the other with bitterness we observe: “The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him” (1 Jn 3: 1). It is true, and we priests experience this: the “world” in an acceptance of the Johannine definition of the term does not understand the Christian, does not understand the ministers of the Gospel. Somewhat because it does not know God, and somewhat because it does not want to know him. The world does not want to know God so as not to be disturbed by his will, and therefore it does not want to listen to his ministers; this could cause a crisis.

Here we must pay attention to a de facto reality: that this “world”, interpreted in the evangelical sense, also lures the Church, infecting her members and even ordained ministers. With the word “world”, St John indicates and seeks to define a mentality, a way of thinking and living that can pollute even the Church, that in fact does pollute her, thereby requiring constant vigilance and purification. Until God is fully manifest, even his sons are not yet fully “like Him” (1 Jn 3: 2). We are “in” the world, and we risk being also “of” the world, the world in the sense of this mentality. And in fact at times we are. Because of this, Jesus at the end did not pray for the world in this same sense but for his disciples, so that the Father may keep them from evil that they may be free and different from the world, while living in the world (see Jn 17: 9,15). At that moment, at the end of the Last Supper, Jesus raised to the Father the prayer of consecration for the apostles and for all the priests of all times, when he said: “Sanctify them in the truth” (Jn 17: 17). And he added: “And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they may also be consecrated in truth” (Jn 17: 19). I emphasized these words of Jesus in the Homily of the Chrism Mass, last Holy Thursday. Today I take up this reflection referring to the Gospel of the Good Shepherd, when Jesus declared: “I give my life for the sheep” (see Jn 10: 15,17,18).

To become priests in the Church means to enter into this self-donation of Christ through the Sacrament of Orders and to enter with all of one’s being. Jesus gave his life for all, but in a special way he consecrated himself for those the Father had given to him, that they may be consecrated in truth, that is in him, and could speak and act in his name, represent him, continue his saving actions: breaking the Bread of life and remitting sins. Thus, the Good Shepherd offered his life for all the sheep, but he gave it and gave it in a special way for those that he himself, “with a feeling of favour”, called and calls to follow him on the path of pastoral service. Then, in a singular way, Jesus prayed for Simon Peter, and sacrificed himself for him, because he would say to him one day, on the banks of the Sea of Tiberias: “Feed my sheep” (Jn 21: 16-17). In the same way, every priest is the recipient of Christ’s personal prayer, and only because of this he is able to collaborate with him in feeding the flock, which is completely and only the Lord’s.

Here I would like to touch upon a point that is particularly dear to me: the prayer and its ties with service. We have seen that to be ordained priests means to enter in a sacramental and existential way into Christ’s prayer for “his own”. From this we priests derive a particular vocation to pray in a strongly Christocentric sense: we are called, that is, to “remain” in Christ as the evangelist John likes to repeat (see Jn 1: 35-39; 15: 4-10) and this abiding in Christ is achieved especially through prayer. Our ministry is totally tied to this “abiding” which is equivalent to prayer, and draws from this its efficacy. In this perspective, we must think of the different forms of prayer of a priest, first of all daily Holy Mass. The Eucharistic Celebration is the greatest and highest act of prayer, and constitutes the centre and the source from which even the other forms receive “nourishment”: the Liturgy of the Hours, Eucharistic adoration, Lectio divina, the Holy Rosary, meditation. All these expressions of prayer, which have their centre in the Eucharist, fulfil the words of Jesus in the priest’s day and in all his life: “I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep” (Jn 10: 14-15). In fact, this “knowing” and “being known” in Christ and, through him, in the Most Holy Trinity, is none other than the most true and deep reality of prayer. The priest who prays a lot, and who prays well, is progressively drawn out of himself and evermore united to Jesus the Good Shepherd and the Servant of the Brethren. In conforming to him, even the priest “gives his life” for the sheep entrusted to him. No one takes it from him: he offers it himself, in unity with Christ the Lord, who has the power to give his life and the power to take it back not only for himself, but also for his friends, bound to him in the Sacrament of Orders. Thus the life of Christ, Lamb and Shepherd, is communicated to the whole flock, through the consecrated ministers.

Dear Deacons, may the Holy Spirit impress this divine word which I have briefly commented upon in your hearts, so that it may bear abundant and lasting fruit. We ask this through the intercession of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul and St John Mary Vianney, the Curé d’Ars, to whose protection I have dedicated the next Presbyteral Year. And through the Mother of the Good Shepherd, Mary Most Holy. In every circumstance of your life, look to her, the star of your priesthood. As she said to the servants at the wedding in Cana, Mary repeats to you too: “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2: 5). At the school of the Virgin, always be men of prayer and service, to become, in the faithful practice of your ministry, holy priests after God’s heart.


BENEDICT XVI

REGINA CÆLI

St Peter’s Square, Fourth Sunday of Easter, 25 April 2010

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

On this Fourth Sunday of Easter, known as “Good Shepherd Sunday”, the World Day of Prayer for Vocations is celebrated. This year its theme, “Witness Awakens Vocations”, is “closely linked to the life and mission of priests and of consecrated persons” (Message for the 47th World Day of Vocations, 13 November 2009). The first form of witness that awakens vocation is prayer (see ibid.,), as the example of St Monica shows. By humbly and insistently imploring God she obtained the grace of seeing her son Augustine become a Christian. He wrote: “Without uncertainty, I believe and affirm that through her prayers God granted me the intention of not putting first, not desiring, not thinking and not loving, anything other than the achievement of truth” (De Ordine, II, 20, 52, CCL 29, 136). I therefore invite parents to pray, that the hearts of their children may be open to listening to the Good Shepherd, and that “each tiny seed of a vocation... may... grow into a mature tree, bearing much good fruit for the Church and for all humanity” (Message, cit.). How can we listen to the voice of the Lord and recognize it? In the preaching of the Apostles and of their successors in which Christ’s voice rings out, calling us to communion with God and to the fullness of life. As we read today in the Gospel of St John: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand” (Jn 10: 27-28). The Good Shepherd alone tends his flock with deep tenderness and protects it from evil, and in him alone can the faithful put absolute trust.

On this day of special prayers for vocations, I encourage the ordained ministries in particular, encouraged by the Year for Priests, to feel committed to bearing “a more forceful and incisive witness to the Gospel in today’s world” (The Holy Father’s Letter to priests for the inauguration of the Year for Priests, 16 June 2009). May they remember that the priest “continues the work of redemption on earth”; may they gladly pause “before the tabernacle”; may they seek to remain “completely faithful to [their] own vocation and mission through the practice of an austere asceticism”; may they make themselves available to listening and to forgiving; may they impart a Christian formation to the people entrusted to them; may they take pains to foster a “priestly fraternity” (see ibid.). May they follow the example of wise and zealous Pastors, as did St Gregory of Nazianzus, who wrote to his fraternal friend and Bishop, St Basil: “Teach us your love for the sheep, your solicitude and your capacity for understanding, your watchfulness... severity in gentleness, serenity and meekness in activity... combats in defence of the flock, victories... won in Christ” (Oratio IX, 5, PG 35, 825 ab).

I thank everyone present and all those who sustain my ministry as a Successor of Peter with prayer and affection, and upon each one I invoke the heavenly protection of the Virgin Mary, to whom we now turn in prayer.


BENEDICT XVI

REGINA CÆLI

Saint Peter’s Square, Fourth Sunday of Easter, 15 May 2011

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Liturgy of the Fourth Sunday of Easter presents to us one of the most beautiful images that has portrayed the Lord Jesus since the earliest centuries of the Church: the Good Shepherd. The Gospel of St John, in chapter 10, describes the special features of the relationship between Christ the Good Shepherd and his flock, a relationship so close that no one will ever be able to snatch sheep from his hand. Indeed, the sheep are united to him by a bond of love and of reciprocal knowledge, which guarantees to them the immeasurable gift of eternal life.

At the same time, the flock’s attitude to the Good Shepherd, Christ, is presented by the Evangelist with two specific verbs: “to listen” and “to follow”. These terms suggest the fundamental characteristics of those who live out the following of the Lord.

First of all by listening to his word, from which faith is born and by which it is nurtured. Only those who are attentive to the Lord’s voice can assess in their own conscience the right decisions for acting in accordance with God. Thus the following of Jesus derives from listening: we act as disciples only after hearing and inwardly accepting the Master’s teachings in order to put them into practice every day.

On this Sunday, therefore, it comes naturally to remember to God the pastors of the Church and those who are training to become pastors. I therefore invite you to say a special prayer for the bishops – including the Bishop of Rome! – for the parish priests, for all those who have responsibilities in the guidance of Christ’s flock, so that they may be faithful and wise in carrying out their ministry. In particular, let us pray for vocations to the priesthood on this World Day of Prayer for Vocations, so that effective workers in the Lord’s harvest may never be lacking.

Seventy years ago, Venerable Pius XII established the Pontifical Work for Priestly Vocations. My Predecessor’s felicitous insight was based on the conviction that vocations grow and mature in the particular Churches, facilitated by a healthy family background and fortified by a spirit of faith, charity and devotion.

In the Message I sent for this World Day, I stressed that a vocation is fulfilled when they “leave behind their own narrow agenda and their notions of self-fulfilment in order to immerse themselves in another will, the will of God, and to be guided by it” (dated 15 November 2010).

In these times too, in which the Lord’s voice risks being drowned by so many other voices, every ecclesial community is called to promote and to care for vocations to the priesthood and to the consecrated life. Men and women in fact always need God, also in our technological world, and there will always be a need for Pastors who proclaim his Word and bring them to encounter the Lord in the sacraments.

Dear brothers and sisters, strengthened by the joy of Easter and of faith in the Risen One, let us entrust our resolutions and intentions to the Virgin Mary, Mother of every vocation, so that with her intercession she may bring forth and sustain many holy vocations for the service of the Church and of the world


BENEDICT XVI

REGINA CÆLI

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Eucharistic celebration during which I ordained nine new priests of the Diocese of Rome has just ended. Let us thank God for this gift, a sign of his faithful and provident love for the Church! Let us gather round these new priests in spirit and pray that they may fully receive the grace of the Sacrament which has conformed them to Jesus Christ, Priest and Shepherd. And let us pray that all young people may listen to the voice of God who speaks in the depths of their hearts and calls them to leave everything to serve him.

This is the purpose of today’s World Day of Prayer for Vocations. In fact, the Lord is always calling but all too often we do not listen. We are distracted by many things, by other, more superficial voices; and then we are afraid to listen to the Lord’s voice because we think he might take away our freedom.

In fact, each one of us is the fruit of love: of our parents’ love of course, but more profoundly, of God’s love. The Bible says: even if your own mother does not want you, I want you because I know and love you (see Is 49:15). The moment I realize this my life changes. It becomes a response to this love, greater than any other, and in this way my freedom is completely fulfilled.

The young men whom I ordained priests today are no different from other young men, except that they were deeply moved by the beauty of God’s love and could not but respond with their whole life. How did they find God’s love? They found it in Jesus Christ: in his Gospel, in the Eucharist and in the community of the Church. In the Church we discover that every person’s life is a love story. Sacred Scripture clearly shows us this and the witness borne by the saints confirms it to us.

St Augustine’s words are an example of this. Addressing God, he says in his Confessions: “Too late I loved you, O Beauty of ancient days, yet ever new! Too late I loved you! And behold, you were within and I abroad.... You were with me, but I was not with you... But you called and shouted and burst through my deafness” (X.27.38).

Dear friends, let us pray for the Church, for every local community, that it may be like a watered garden in which all the seeds of vocation that God scatters in abundance sprout and ripen. Let us pray that this garden may be cultivated everywhere, with the joy of feeling that we are all called, in the variety of our gifts.

May families in particular be the first environment in which we “breathe” the love of God that provides us with inner strength in the midst of the difficulties and trials of life. Those who experience God’s love in the family receive a priceless gift which, with time, bears fruit. May the Blessed Virgin Mary — a model of free and obedient acceptance of the divine call and Mother of every vocation in the Church — obtain all this for us.


HOLY MASS ON THE OCCASION OF PRIESTLY ORDINATIONS

HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI

St. Peter’s Basilica, Fourth Sunday of Easter, 29 April 2012

Venerable Brothers,

Dear Ordinands,

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Roman tradition of celebrating priestly ordinations on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday, contains a great wealth of meaning linked to the convergence of the Word of God, the liturgical Rite and the Easter Season in which it is placed. The figure of the shepherd in particular, so important in Sacred Scripture and naturally very relevant to the definition of the priest, acquires its full truth and clarity on the face of Christ, in the light of the Mystery of his death and Resurrection. Dear Ordinands, you too will always be able to draw from these riches every day of your life, and your priesthood will thus be continuously renewed. This year the Gospel passage is the central one from Chapter 10 of John and begins precisely with Jesus’ affirmation: “I am the Good Shepherd”.

This is immediately followed by the first fundamental characteristic: “the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (Jn 10:11). So, we are led straight to the centre, to the summit of the revelation of God as the Shepherd of his people; this centre and summit is Jesus, Jesus himself who dies on the cross and rises from the tomb on the third day, rises with all his humanity and thereby involves us, every man and woman, in his passage from death to life. This event — the Pasch of Christ — in which he completely and definitively fulfills the pastoral work of God, is a sacrificial event. The Good Shepherd and the High Priest therefore coincide in the person of Jesus who laid down his life for us.

But let us also briefly note the first two Readings and the Responsorial Psalm (Ps 118 [117]). The passage from the Acts of the Apostles (4:8-12) presents to us St Peter’s testimony before the rulers of the people and the elders of Jerusalem after the miraculous healing of the cripple. Peter says with great candour: Jesus “is the stone which was rejected by you builders, but which has become the head of the corner”; and he added, “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (vv. 11-12). Then in the light of Christ’s Paschal Mystery, the Apostle interprets Psalm 118[117], in which the person praying gives thanks to God who has answered his cry for help and has saved him. This Psalm says: “the stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes” (Ps 118[117]:22-23). Jesus lived this very experience: being rejected by the leaders of his people and rehabilitated by God, placed as the foundational stone of a new temple, of a new people that was to praise the Lord with the fruits of justice (see Mt 21:42-43) Therefore the First Reading and the Responsorial Psalm, which is the same Psalm 118[117], vividly evoke the paschal context and, with this image of the stone rejected and re-habilitated, draw our gaze to Jesus dead and Risen.

The Second Reading, from the First Letter of John (3:1-2), speaks to us instead of the fruit of Christ’s Pasch: our having become children of God. In John’s words you can still hear his great wonder at this gift; not only are we called children of God but “so we are” (v. 1). Indeed, man’s filial condition is the fruit of the saving work of Jesus. With his Incarnation, with his death and Resurrection and with the gift of the Holy Spirit he has inserted the human being into a new relationship with God, his own relationship with the Father. For this reason the Risen Jesus says: “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (Jn 20:17). It is a relationship that is already totally real but not yet totally revealed: it will be in the end when — if God pleases — we shall see his face without a veil (see v. 7).

Dear Ordinands, this is where the Good Shepherd wishes to lead us! It is here that the priest is called to lead the faithful entrusted to his care: to true life, to life in abundance (see Jn 10:10). Let us therefore return to the Gospel and to the Parable of the Good Shepherd. “The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (Jn 10:11). Jesus insists on this essential trait of the Good Shepherd who is he himself: that of “laying down his life”. He repeats it three times and at the end concludes with the words: “for this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again; this charge I have received from my Father” (Jn 10:17-18).

This is clearly the qualifying feature of the shepherd, just as Jesus interprets it in the first person, in accordance with the will of the Father who sent him. The biblical figure of shepherd-king mainly involves the task of governing, keeping united and guiding the People of God. The whole of this regal role is totally fulfilled in Jesus Christ in the sacrificial dimension, in the offering of life. In a word, it is brought about in the mystery of the Cross, that is, in the supreme act of humility and oblative love. Abbot Theodore the Studite, said: “By the Cross we, the sheep of Christ, have been gathered into one flock, destined for the sheepfolds of heaven” (Discourse on the Precious and Life-Giving Cross of Christ, PG 99, 699).

The formulas of the Rite for the Ordination of Priests that we are celebrating give us this orientation. For example, among the questions that concern the “commitments of the chosen ones”, the later, with a culminating and in a certain way concise character, says : “Are you resolved to consecrate your life to God for the salvation of his people, and to unite yourself more closely every day to Christ the High Priest, who offered himself for us to the Father as a perfect sacrifice?”. The priest is in fact the one who is uniquely inserted into the mystery of Christ’s Sacrifice through a personal union with him, in order to extend his saving mission. This union, which happens in the Sacrament of Orders, seeks to become closer every day through the generous response of the priest himself. This is why, dear Ordinands, in a little while you will answer this question, saying: “I am, with the help of God”.

The celebrant then says in the explanatory Rites, at the moment of the anointing with chrism: “The Father anointed our Lord Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. May Jesus preserve you to sanctify the Christian people and to offer sacrifice to God”. And then in the presentation of the bread and the wine he says: “Accept from the holy people of God the gifts to be offered to him. Know what you are doing, and imitate the mystery you celebrate: model your life on the mystery of the Lord’s cross”. It is very obvious that for the priest celebrating Holy Mass every day does not mean carrying out a ritual function but rather fulfilling a mission that involves his life entirely and profoundly in communion with the Risen Christ who continues to realize the redeeming sacrifice in his Church.

This Eucharistic and sacrificial dimension is inseparable from the pastoral dimension and constitutes the nucleus of truth and of the saving power on which the effectiveness of every activity depends. Of course, we are not speaking of effectiveness solely at the psychological or social level, but rather of the vital fruitfulness of God’s presence at the profound human level. Preaching itself, good works and the actions of various kinds that the Church carries out with her multiple initiatives would lose their salvific fruitfulness were the celebration of Christ’s Sacrifice to be lacking. And this is entrusted to ordained priests. Indeed, the priest is called to live in himself what Jesus experienced personally, that is, to give himself without reserve to preaching and to healing man of every evil of body and of spirit, and then, lastly, to sum up everything in the supreme gesture of “laying down his life”, for human beings, which finds its sacramental expression in the Eucharist, the perpetual memorial of Jesus’ Passover. It is only through this “door” of the Paschal Sacrifice that the men and women of all time can enter eternal life; it is through this “holy way” that they can undertake the exodus that leads them to the “promised land” of true freedom, to the “green pastures” of never ending peace and joy (see Jn 10:7,9; Ps 77[76]:14, 20-21; Ps 23[22]:2).

Dear Ordinands, may this word of God illuminate your entire life. And when the burden of the cross becomes heavier, know that this is the most precious time, for you and for the people entrusted to you: by renewing your “I am, with the help of God”, you will be cooperating with Christ, the High Priest and Good Shepherd, in tending his sheep — even only one stray sheep, but for which there are great festivities in heaven! May the Virgin Mary, Salus Populi Romani, always watch over each one of you and over your journey. Amen. 



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