Entry 0343: Homilies delivered during the Celebration of
the Chrism Mass
by Pope Benedict XVI throughout His Pontificate
On seven occasions during his Pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI delivered reflections during the celebration of the Chrism Mass, on 13 April 2006, 5 April 2007, 20 March 2008, 9 April 2009, 1 April 2010, 21 April 2011, and 5 April 2012. Here are the texts of seven homilies delivered on these occasions.
The last keyword that I should like to consider is “zeal for souls”: animarum zelus. It is an old-fashioned expression, not much used these days. In some circles, the word “soul” is virtually banned because – ostensibly – it expresses a body-soul dualism that wrongly compartmentalizes the human being. Of course the human person is a unity, destined for eternity as body and soul. And yet that cannot mean that we no longer have a soul, a constituent principle guaranteeing our unity in this life and beyond earthly death. And as priests, of course, we are concerned for the whole person, including his or her physical needs – we care for the hungry, the sick, the homeless. And yet we are concerned not only with the body, but also with the needs of the soul: with those who suffer from the violation of their rights or from destroyed love, with those unable to perceive the truth, those who suffer for lack of truth and love. We are concerned with the salvation of men and women in body and soul. And as priests of Jesus Christ we carry out our task with enthusiasm. No one should ever have the impression that we work conscientiously when on duty, but before and after hours we belong only to ourselves. A priest never belongs to himself. People must sense our zeal, through which we bear credible witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Let us ask the Lord to fill us with joy in his message, so that we may serve his truth and his love with joyful zeal. Amen!
CHRISM MASS IN SAINT PETER’S BASILICA
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
Holy Thursday, 13 April 2006
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Holy Thursday is the day on which the Lord gave the Twelve the priestly task of celebrating, in the bread and the wine, the Sacrament of his Body and Blood until he comes again. The paschal lamb and all the sacrifices of the Old Covenant are replaced by the gift of his Body and his Blood, the gift of himself.
Thus, the new worship was based on the fact that, in the first place, God makes a gift to us, and, filled with this gift, we become his: creation returns to the Creator.
So it is that the priesthood also became something new: it was no longer a question of lineage but of discovering oneself in the mystery of Jesus Christ. He is always the One who gives, who draws us to himself.
He alone can say: “This is my Body... this is my Blood”. The mystery of the priesthood of the Church lies in the fact that we, miserable human beings, by virtue of the Sacrament, can speak with his “I”: in persona Christi. He wishes to exercise his priesthood through us. On Holy Thursday, we remember in a special way this moving mystery, which moves us anew in every celebration of the Sacrament.
So that daily life will not dull what is great and mysterious, we need this specific commemoration, we need to return to that hour in which he placed his hands upon us and made us share in this mystery.
Let us reflect once again on the signs in which the Sacrament has been given to us. At the centre is the very ancient rite of the imposition of hands, with which he took possession of me, saying to me: “You belong to me”.
However, in saying this he also said: “You are under the protection of my hands. You are under the protection of my heart. You are kept safely in the palm of my hands, and this is precisely how you find yourself in the immensity of my love. Stay in my hands, and give me yours”.
Then let us remember that our hands were anointed with oil, which is the sign of the Holy Spirit and his power. Why one’s hands? The human hand is the instrument of human action, it is the symbol of the human capacity to face the world, precisely to “take it in hand”.
The Lord has laid his hands upon us and he now wants our hands so that they may become his own in the world. He no longer wants them to be instruments for taking things, people or the world for ourselves, to reduce them to being our possession, but instead, by putting ourselves at the service of his love, they can pass on his divine touch.
He wants our hands to be instruments of service, hence, an expression of the mission of the whole person who vouches for him and brings him to men and women. If human hands symbolically represent human faculties and, in general, skill as power to dispose of the world, then anointed hands must be a sign of the human capacity for giving, for creativity in shaping the world with love. It is for this reason, of course, that we are in need of the Holy Spirit.
In the Old Testament, anointing is the sign of being taken into service: the king, the prophet, the priest, each does and gives more than what derives from himself alone. In a certain way, he is emptied of himself, so as to serve by making himself available to One who is greater than he.
If, in today’s Gospel, Jesus presents himself as God’s Anointed One, the Christ, then this itself means that he is acting for the Father’s mission and in unity with the Holy Spirit. He is thereby giving the world a new kingship, a new priesthood, a new way of being a prophet who does not seek himself but lives for the One with a view to whom the world was created.
Today, let us once again put our hands at his disposal and pray to him to take us by the hand, again and again, and lead us.
In the sacramental gesture of the imposition of hands by the Bishop, it was the Lord himself who laid his hands upon us. This sacramental sign sums up an entire existential process.
Once, like the first disciples, we encountered the Lord and heard his words: “Follow me!” Perhaps, to start with, we followed him somewhat hesitantly, looking back and wondering if this really was the road for us. And at some point on the journey, we may have had the same experience as Peter after the miraculous catch; in other words, we may have been frightened by its size, by the size of the task and by the inadequacy of our own poor selves, so that we wanted to turn back. “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Lk 5: 8).
Then, however, with great kindness, he took us by the hand, he drew us to himself and said to us: “Do not fear! I am with you. I will not abandon you, do not leave me!”
And more than just once, the same thing that happened to Peter may have happened to us: while he was walking on the water towards the Lord, he suddenly realized that the water was not holding him up and that he was beginning to sink. And like Peter we cried, “Lord, save me!” (Mt 14: 30). Seeing the elements raging on all sides, how could we get through the roaring, foaming waters of the past century, of the past millennium?
But then we looked towards him... and he grasped us by the hand and gave us a new “specific weight”: the lightness that derives from faith and draws us upwards. Then he stretched out to us the hand that sustains and carries us. He supports us. Let us fix our gaze ever anew on him and reach out to him. Let us allow his hand to take ours, and then we will not sink but will serve the life that is stronger than death and the love that is stronger than hatred.
Faith in Jesus, Son of the living God, is the means through which, time and again, we can take hold of Jesus’ hand and in which he takes our hands and guides us.
One of my favorite prayers is the request that the liturgy puts on our lips before Communion: “...never let me be separated from you”. Let us ask that we never fall away from communion with his Body, with Christ himself, that we do not fall away from the Eucharistic mystery. Let us ask that he will never let go of our hands....
The Lord laid his hand upon us. He expressed the meaning of this gesture in these words: “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (Jn 15: 15).
I no longer call you servants but friends: in these words one could actually perceive the institution of the priesthood. The Lord makes us his friends; he entrusts everything to us; he entrusts himself to us, so that we can speak with he himself - in persona Christi capitis.
What trust! He has truly delivered himself into our hands. The essential signs of priestly ordination are basically all a manifestation of those words: the laying on of hands; the consignment of the book - of his words that he entrusts to us; the consignment of the chalice, with which he transmits to us his most profound and personal mystery.
The power to absolve is part of all this. It also makes us share in his awareness of the misery of sin and of all the darkness in the world, and places in our hands the key to reopen the door to the Father’s house.
I no longer call you servants but friends. This is the profound meaning of being a priest: becoming the friend of Jesus Christ. For this friendship we must daily recommit ourselves.
Friendship means sharing in thought and will. We must put into practice this communion of thought with Jesus, as
tells us in his Letter to the Philippians (see 2: 2-5). And this communion of thought
is not a purely intellectual thing, but a sharing of sentiments and will, hence,
also of actions. This means that we should know Jesus in an increasingly personal
way, listening to him, living together with him, staying with him.
Listening to him - in lectio divina, that is, reading Sacred Scripture in a non-academic but spiritual way; thus, we learn to encounter Jesus present, who speaks to us. We must reason and reflect, before him and with him, on his words and actions. The reading of Sacred Scripture is prayer, it must be prayer - it must emerge from prayer and lead to prayer.
The Evangelists tell us that the Lord frequently withdrew - for entire nights - “to the mountains”, to pray alone. We too need these “mountains”: they are inner peaks that we must scale, the mountain of prayer.
Only in this way does the friendship develop. Only in this way can we carry out our priestly service, only in this way can we take Christ and his Gospel to men and women.
Activism by itself can even be heroic, but in the end external action is fruitless and loses its effectiveness unless it is born from deep inner communion with Christ. The time we spend on this is truly a time of pastoral activity, authentic pastoral activity. The priest must above all be a man of prayer.
The world in its frenetic activism often loses its direction. Its action and capacities become destructive if they lack the power of prayer, from which flow the waters of life that irrigate the arid land.
I no longer call you servants, but friends. The core of the priesthood is being friends of Jesus Christ. Only in this way can we truly speak in persona Christi, even if our inner remoteness from Christ cannot jeopardize the validity of the Sacrament. Being a friend of Jesus, being a priest, means being a man of prayer. In this way we recognize him and emerge from the ignorance of simple servants. We thus learn to live, suffer and act with him and for him.
Being friends with Jesus is par excellence always friendship with his followers. We can be friends of Jesus only in communion with the whole of Christ, with the Head and with the Body; in the vigorous vine of the Church to which the Lord gives life.
Sacred Scripture is a living and actual Word, thanks to the Lord, only in her. Without the living subject of the Church that embraces the ages, more often than not the Bible would have splintered into heterogeneous writings and would thus have become a book of the past. It is eloquent in the present only where the “Presence” is - where Christ remains for ever contemporary with us: in the Body of his Church.
Being a priest means becoming an ever closer friend of Jesus Christ with the whole of our existence. The world needs God - not just any god but the God of Jesus Christ, the God who made himself flesh and blood, who loved us to the point of dying for us, who rose and created within himself room for man. This God must live in us and we in him. This is our priestly call: only in this way can our action as priests bear fruit.
I would like to end this Homily with a word on Andrea Santoro, the priest from the Diocese of Rome who was assassinated in
Trebizond while he was praying.
Cardinal Cé recounted to us during the Spiritual Exercises what Fr Santoro said. It reads: “I am here to dwell among these people and enable Jesus to do so by lending him my flesh.... One becomes capable of salvation only by offering one’s own flesh. The evil in the world must be borne and the pain shared, assimilating it into one’s own flesh as did Jesus”.
Jesus assumed our flesh; let us give him our own. In this way he can come into the world and transform it. Amen!
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
Saint Peter’s Basilica, Holy Thursday, 5 April 2007
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Leo Tolstoi, the Russian writer, tells in a short story of a harsh sovereign who asked his priests and sages to show him God so that he might see him. The wise men were unable to satisfy his desire.
Then a shepherd, who was just coming in from the fields, volunteered to take on the task of the priests and sages. From him the king learned that his eyes were not good enough to see God. Then, however, he wanted to know at least what God does. “To be able to answer your question”, the shepherd said to the king, “we must exchange our clothes”.
Somewhat hesitant but impelled by curiosity about the information he was expecting, the king consented; he gave the shepherd his royal robes and had himself dressed in the simple clothes of the poor man.
Then came the answer: “This is what God does”. Indeed, the Son of God, true God from true God, shed his divine splendor: “he emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men; and being found in human form he humbled himself..., even unto death on a cross” (see Phil 2: 6ff.).
God, as the Fathers say, worked the sacrum commercium, the sacred exchange: he took on what was ours, so that we might receive what was his and become similar to God.
With regard to what happens in Baptism,
explicitly uses the image of clothing: “For as many of you as were baptized into
Christ have put on Christ” (Gal 3: 27). This is what is fulfilled in Baptism:
we put on Christ, he gives us his garments and these are not something external.
It means that we enter into an existential communion with him, that his being and
our being merge, penetrate one another.
“It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me”, is how Paul himself describes the event of his Baptism in his Letter to the Galatians (2: 20). Christ has put on our clothes: the pain and joy of being a man, hunger, thirst, weariness, our hopes and disappointments, our fear of death, all our apprehensions until death. And he has given to us his “garments”.
What in the Letter to the Galatians Paul describes as a simple “fact” of Baptism - the gift of new being - he presents to us in the Letter to the Ephesians as an ongoing task: “Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life... and [you must] put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore, putting away falsehood, let everyone speak the truth with his neighbour, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin...” (Eph 4: 22-26).
This theology of Baptism returns in a new way and with a new insistence in priestly Ordination.
Just as in Baptism an “exchange of clothing” is given, an exchanged destination, a new existential communion with Christ, so also in priesthood there is an exchange: in the administration of the sacraments, the priest now acts and speaks “in persona Christi”. In the sacred mysteries, he does not represent himself and does not speak expressing himself, but speaks for the Other, for Christ.
Thus, in the Sacraments, he dramatically renders visible what being a priest means in general; what we have expressed with our “Adsum - I am ready”, during our consecration to the priesthood: I am here so that you may make use of me. We put ourselves at the disposal of the One who “died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves...” (2 Cor 5: 15). Putting ourselves at Christ’s disposal means that we allow ourselves to be attracted within his “for all”: in being with him we can truly be “for all”.
In persona Christi: at the moment of priestly Ordination, the Church has also made this reality of “new clothes” visible and comprehensible to us externally through being clothed in liturgical vestments.
In this external gesture she wants to make the interior event visible to us, as well as our task which stems from it: putting on Christ; giving ourselves to him as he gave himself to us.
This event, the “putting on of Christ”, is demonstrated again and again at every Holy Mass by the putting on of liturgical vestments. Vesting ourselves in them must be more than an external event: it means entering ever anew into the “yes” of our office - into that “no longer I” of Baptism which Ordination to the priesthood gives to us in a new way and at the same time asks of us.
The fact that we are standing at the altar clad in liturgical vestments must make it clearly visible to those present that we are there “in the person of an Other”. Just as in the course of time priestly vestments developed, they are a profound symbolic expression of what the priesthood means.
I would therefore like to explain to you, dear Confreres, on this Holy Thursday, the essence of the priestly ministry, interpreting the liturgical vestments themselves, which are precisely intended to illustrate what “putting on Christ”, what speaking and acting in persona Christi, mean.
Putting on priestly vestments was once accompanied by prayers that helped us understand better each single element of the priestly ministry.
Let us start with the amice. In the past - and in monastic orders still today - it was first placed on the head as a sort of hood, thus becoming a symbol of the discipline of the senses and of thought necessary for a proper celebration of Holy Mass. My thoughts must not wander here and there due to the anxieties and expectations of my daily life; my senses must not be attracted by what there, inside the church, might accidentally captivate the eyes and ears. My heart must open itself docilely to the Word of God and be recollected in the prayer of the Church, so that my thoughts may receive their orientation from the words of the proclamation and of prayer. And the gaze of my heart must be turned toward the Lord who is in our midst: this is what the ars celebrandi means: the proper way of celebrating.
If I am with the Lord, then, with my listening, speaking and acting, I will also draw people into communion with him.
The texts of the prayer expressed by the alb and the stole both move in the same direction. They call to mind the festive robes which the father gave to the prodigal son who had come home dirty, in rags.
When we approach the liturgy to act in the person of Christ, we all realize how distant we are from him; how much dirt there is in our lives. He alone can give us festive robes, can make us worthy to preside at his table, to be at his service.
Thus, the prayers also recall the words of Revelation, which say that it was not due to their own merit that the robes of the 144,000 elect were worthy of God. The Book of Revelation says that they had washed their robes in the Blood of the Lamb and thus made them white and shining like light (see Rv 7: 14).
When I was little, I used to ask myself about this: when one washes something in blood, it certainly does not become white! The answer is: the “Blood of the Lamb” is the love of the Crucified Christ. It is this love that makes our dirty clothes white, that makes our clouded spirit true and bright; that transforms us, despite all our shadows, into “light in the Lord”.
By putting on the alb we must remind ourselves: he suffered for me, too. And it is only because his love is greater than all my sins that I can represent him and witness to his light.
But with the garment of light which the Lord gave us in Baptism and in a new way in priestly Ordination, we can also think of the wedding apparel which he tells us about in the parable of God’s banquet.
In the homilies of Gregory the Great, I found in this regard a noteworthy reflection. Gregory distinguishes between Luke’s version of the parable and Matthew’s. He is convinced that the Lucan parable speaks of the eschatological marriage feast, whereas - in his opinion - the version handed down by Matthew anticipates this nuptial banquet in the liturgy and life of the Church. In Matthew, in fact, and only in Matthew, the king comes into the crowded room to see his guests. And here in this multitude he also finds a guest who was not wearing wedding clothes, who is then thrown outside into the darkness.
Then Gregory asks himself: “But what kind of clothes ought he to have been wearing? All those who are gathered in the Church have received the new garment of baptism and the faith; otherwise, they would not be in the Church. So what was it that was still lacking? What wedding clothes must there be in addition?”
The Pope responds: “the clothes of love”. And unfortunately, among his guests to whom he had given new clothes, the white clothes of rebirth, the king found some who were not wearing the purple clothes of twofold love, for God and for neighbour.
“In what condition do we want to come to the feast in Heaven, if we are not wearing wedding clothes - that is, love, which alone can make us beautiful?”, the Pope asks. A person without love is dark within. External shadows, of which the Gospel speaks, are only the reflection of the internal blindness of the heart (see Hom. 38, 8-13).
Now that we are preparing for the celebration of Holy Mass, we must ask ourselves whether we are wearing these clothes of love. Let us ask the Lord to keep all hostility away from our hearts, to remove from us every feeling of self-sufficiency and truly to clothe ourselves with the vestment of love, so that we may be luminous persons and not belong to darkness.
Lastly, one additional brief word on the chasuble. The traditional prayer when one puts on the chasuble sees it as representing the yoke of the Lord which is imposed upon us as priests. And it recalls the words of Jesus, who invites us to take his yoke upon us and to learn from him who is “gentle and lowly in heart” (Mt 11: 29).
Taking the Lord’s yoke upon us means first of all: learning from him. It means always being ready to go to his school. From him we must learn gentleness and meekness: the humility of God who shows himself in his being a man.
St Gregory of Nazianzus once asked himself why God wanted to become a man. The most important and for me the most moving part of his answer is: “God wanted to realize what obedience means to us and he wanted to measure everything on the basis of his own suffering, on the invention of his love for us. In this way, he himself can directly know what it is that we feel - what is asked of us, what indulgence we deserve - calculating our weakness on the basis of his suffering” (Orationes 30; Theological Talk IV, 6).
At times we would like to say to Jesus: Lord, your yoke is far from light. Indeed, it is tremendously heavy in this world. But then looking at the One who bore everything - who tried out on himself obedience, weakness, suffering, all the darkness -, then these complaints of ours fade. His yoke is that of loving with him. And the more we love him and with him become loving people, the lighter becomes his seemingly burdensome yoke.
Let us pray to him to help us become with him people who are loving, thereby to increasingly experience how beautiful it is to take up his yoke. Amen.
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
Saint Peter’s Basilica, Holy Thursday, 20 March 2008
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Every year the Chrism Mass exhorts us to enter into that “yes” to God’s call, which we pronounced on the day of our priestly ordination. “Adsum - here I am!”, we have said like Isaiah, when he heard God’s voice asking: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” “Here am I! Send me”, Isaiah responded (Is 6: 8). Then the Lord himself, through the hands of the Bishop, placed his hands on us and we gave ourselves to his mission. Subsequently, we have followed many ways in the range of his call. Can we always affirm what Paul wrote to the Corinthians after years of Gospel service, often marked by fatigue and suffering of every type: “Our zeal has not slackened in this ministry which has been entrusted to us by God’s mercy” (see II Cor 4: 1)? “Our zeal has not slackened”. Let us pray on this day that it may always be kindled anew, that it may be ever nourished by the living flame of the Gospel.
At the same time Holy Thursday is an occasion for us to ask ourselves over and over again: to what did we say our “yes”? What does this “being a priest of Jesus Christ” mean? The Second Canon of our Missal, which was probably compiled in Rome already at the end of the second century, describes the essence of the priestly ministry with the words with which, in the Book of Deuteronomy (18: 5, 7), the essence of the Old Testament priesthood is described: astare coram te et tibi ministrare [“to stand and minister in the name of the Lord”]. There are therefore two duties that define the essence of the priestly ministry: in the first place, “to stand in his [the Lord’s] presence”. In the Book of Deuteronomy this is read in the context of the preceding disposition, according to which priests do not receive any portion of land in the
Holy Land - they live of God and
for God. They did not attend to the usual work necessary to sustain daily life.
Their profession was to “stand in the Lord’s presence” - to look to him, to be there
for him. Hence, ultimately, the word indicated a life in God’s presence, and with
this also a ministry of representing others. As the others cultivated the land,
from which the priest also lived, so he kept the world open to God, he had to live
with his gaze on him. Now if this word is found in the Canon of the Mass immediately
after the consecration of the gifts, after the entrance of the Lord in the assembly
of prayer, then for us this points to being before the Lord present, that is, it
indicates the Eucharist as the centre of priestly life. But here too, the meaning
is deeper. During Lent the hymn that introduces the Office of Readings of the Liturgy
of the Hours - the Office that monks once recited during the night vigil before
God and for humanity - one of the duties of Lent is described with the imperative:
arctius perstemus in custodia - we must be even more intensely alert. In
the tradition of Syrian monasticism, monks were qualified as “those who remained
standing”. This standing was an expression of vigilance. What was considered here
as a duty of the monks, we can rightly see also as an expression of the priestly
mission and as a correct interpretation of the word of Deuteronomy: the priest must
be on the watch. He must be on his guard in the face of the imminent powers of evil.
He must keep the world awake for God. He must be the one who remains standing: upright before the trends of time. Upright in truth. Upright in the commitment for good. Being before the Lord must always also include, at its depths, responsibility for humanity to the Lord, who in his turn takes on the burden of all of us to the Father. And it must be a taking on of him, of Christ, of his word, his truth, his love. The priest must be upright, fearless and prepared to sustain even offences for the Lord, as referred to in the Acts of the Apostles: they were “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (5: 41) of Jesus.
Now let us move on to the second word that the Second Canon repeats from the Old Testament text - “to stand in your presence and serve you”. The priest must be an upright person, vigilant, a person who remains standing. Service is then added to all this. In the Old Testament text this word has an essentially ritualistic meaning: all acts of worship foreseen by the Law are the priests’ duty. But this action, according to the rite, was classified as service, as a duty of service, and thus it explains in what spirit this activity must take place. With the assumption of the word “serve” in the Canon, the liturgical meaning of this term was adopted in a certain way - to conform with the novelty of the Christian cult. What the priest does at that moment, in the Eucharistic celebration, is to serve, to fulfill a service to God and a service to humanity. The cult that Christ rendered to the Father was the giving of himself to the end for humanity. Into this cult, this service, the priest must insert himself. Thus, the word “serve” contains many dimensions. In the first place, part of it is certainly the correct celebration of the liturgy and of the sacraments in general, accomplished through interior participation. We must learn to increasingly understand the sacred liturgy in all its essence, to develop a living familiarity with it, so that it becomes the soul of our daily life. It is then that we celebrate in the correct way; it is then that the ars celebrandi, the art of celebrating, emerges by itself. In this art there must be nothing artificial. If the liturgy is the central duty of the priest, this also means that prayer must be a primary reality, to be learned ever anew and ever more deeply at the
and of the Saints of all the ages. Since the Christian liturgy by its nature is
also always a proclamation, we must be people who are familiar with the Word of
God, love it and live by it: only then can we explain it in an adequate way. “To
serve the Lord” - priestly service precisely also means to learn to know the Lord
in his Word and to make it known to all those he entrusts to us. school of Christ
Lastly, two other aspects are part of service. No one is closer to his master than the servant who has access to the most private dimensions of his life. In this sense “to serve” means closeness, it requires familiarity. This familiarity also bears a danger: when we continually encounter the sacred it risks becoming habitual for us. In this way, reverential fear is extinguished. Conditioned by all our habits we no longer perceive the great, new and surprising fact that he himself is present, speaks to us, gives himself to us. We must ceaselessly struggle against this becoming accustomed to the extraordinary reality, against the indifference of the heart, always recognizing our insufficiency anew and the grace that there is in the fact that he consigned himself into our hands. To serve means to draw near, but above all it also means obedience. The servant is under the word: “not my will, but thine, be done” (Lk 22: 42). With this word Jesus, in the
has resolved the decisive battle against sin, against the rebellion of the sinful
heart. Adam’s sin consisted precisely in the fact that he wanted to accomplish his
own will and not God’s. Humanity’s temptation is always to want to be totally autonomous,
to follow its own will alone and to maintain that only in this way will we be free;
that only thanks to a similarly unlimited freedom would man be completely man. But
this is precisely how we pit ourselves against the truth. Because the truth is that
we must share our freedom with others and we can be free only in communion with
them. This shared freedom can be true freedom only if we enter into what constitutes
the very measure of freedom, if we enter into God’s will. This fundamental obedience
that is part of the human being - a person cannot be merely for and by himself -
becomes still more concrete in the priest: we do not preach ourselves, but him and
his Word, which we could not have invented ourselves. We proclaim the Word of Christ
in the correct way only in communion with his Body. Our obedience is a believing
with the Church, a thinking and speaking with the Church, serving through her. What
Jesus predicted to Peter also always applies: “You will be taken where you do not
want to go”. This letting oneself be guided where one does not want to be led is
an essential dimension of our service, and it is exactly what makes us free. In
this being guided, which can be contrary to our ideas and plans, we experience something
new - the wealth of God’s love. Garden of Olives
“To stand in his presence and serve him”: Jesus Christ as the true High Priest of the world has conferred to these words a previously unimaginable depth. He, who as Son was and is the Lord, has willed to become that Servant of God which the vision of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah had foreseen. He has willed to be the Servant of all. He has portrayed the whole of his high priesthood in the gesture of the washing of the feet. With the gesture of love to the end he washes our dirty feet, with the humility of his service he purifies us from the illness of our pride. Thus, he makes us able to become partakers of God’s banquet. He has descended, and the true ascent of man is now accomplished in our descending with him and toward him. His elevation is the Cross. It is the deepest descent and, as love pushed to the end, it is at the same time the culmination of the ascent, the true “elevation” of humanity. “To stand in his presence and serve him”: this now means to enter into his call to serve God. The Eucharist as the presence of the descent and ascent of Christ thus always recalls, beyond itself, the many ways of service through love of neighbour. Let us ask the Lord on this day for the gift to be able to say again in this sense our “yes” to his call: “Here am I! Send me” (Is 6: 8). Amen.
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
Saint Peter’s Basilica, Holy Thursday, 9 April 2009
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In the Upper Room, on the eve of his Passion, the Lord prayed for his disciples gathered about him. At the same time he looked ahead to the community of disciples of all centuries, “those who believe in me through their word” (Jn 17:20). In his prayer for the disciples of all time, he saw us too, and he prayed for us. Let us listen to what he asks for the Twelve and for us gathered here: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, so that they also may be consecrated in truth” (17:17ff.). The Lord asks for our sanctification, our consecration in truth. And he sends us forth to carry on his own mission. But in this prayer there is one word which draws our attention, and appears difficult to understand. Jesus says: “For their sake I consecrate myself”. What does this mean? Is Jesus not himself “the Holy One of God”, as Peter acknowledged at that decisive moment in Capharnaum (see Jn 6:69)? How can he now consecrate – sanctify – himself?
To understand this, we need first to clarify what the Bible means by the words “holy” and “sanctify – consecrate”. “Holy” – this word describes above all God’s own nature, his completely unique, divine, way of being, one which is his alone. He alone is the true and authentic Holy One, in the original sense of the word. All other holiness derives from him, is a participation in his way of being. He is purest Light, Truth and untainted Good. To consecrate something or someone means, therefore, to give that thing or person to God as his property, to take it out of the context of what is ours and to insert it in his milieu, so that it no longer belongs to our affairs, but is totally of God. Consecration is thus a taking away from the world and a giving over to the living God. The thing or person no longer belongs to us, or even to itself, but is immersed in God. Such a giving up of something in order to give it over to God, we also call a sacrifice: this thing will no longer be my property, but his property. In the Old Testament, the giving over of a person to God, his “sanctification”, is identified with priestly ordination, and this also defines the essence of the priesthood: it is a transfer of ownership, a being taken out of the world and given to God. We can now see the two directions which belong to the process of sanctification-consecration. It is a departure from the milieux of worldly life – a “being set apart” for God. But for this very reason it is not a segregation. Rather, being given over to God means being charged to represent others. The priest is removed from worldly bonds and given over to God, and precisely in this way, starting with God, he must be available for others, for everyone. When Jesus says: “I consecrate myself”, he makes himself both priest and victim. Bultmann was right to translate the phrase: “I consecrate myself” by “I sacrifice myself”. Do we now see what happens when Jesus says: “I consecrate myself for them”? This is the priestly act by which Jesus – the Man Jesus, who is one with the Son of God – gives himself over to the Father for us. It is the expression of the fact that he is both priest and victim. I consecrate myself – I sacrifice myself: this unfathomable word, which gives us a glimpse deep into the heart of Jesus Christ, should be the object of constantly renewed reflection. It contains the whole mystery of our redemption. It also contains the origins of the priesthood in the Church, of our priesthood.
Only now can we fully understand the prayer which the Lord offered the Father for his disciples – for us. “Sanctify them in the truth”: this is the inclusion of the Apostles in the priesthood of Jesus Christ, the institution of his new priesthood for the community of the faithful of all times. “Sanctify them in truth”: this is the true prayer of consecration for the Apostles. The Lord prays that God himself draw them towards him, into his holiness. He prays that God take them away from themselves to make them his own property, so that, starting from him, they can carry out the priestly ministry for the world. This prayer of Jesus appears twice in slightly different forms. Both times we need to listen very carefully, in order to understand, even dimly the sublime reality that is about to be accomplished. “Sanctify them in the truth”. Jesus adds: “Your word is truth”. The disciples are thus drawn deep within God by being immersed in the word of God. The word of God is, so to speak, the bath which purifies them, the creative power which transforms them into God’s own being. So then, how do things stand in our own lives? Are we truly pervaded by the word of God? Is that word truly the nourishment we live by, even more than bread and the things of this world? Do we really know that word? Do we love it? Are we deeply engaged with this word to the point that it really leaves a mark on our lives and shapes our thinking? Or is it rather the case that our thinking is constantly being shaped by all the things that others say and do? Aren’t prevailing opinions the criterion by which we all too often measure ourselves? Do we not perhaps remain, when all is said and done, mired in the superficiality in which people today are generally caught up? Do we allow ourselves truly to be deeply purified by the word of God? Nietzsche scoffed at humility and obedience as the virtues of slaves, a source of repression. He replaced them with pride and man’s absolute freedom. Of course there exist caricatures of a misguided humility and a mistaken submissiveness, which we do not want to imitate. But there also exists a destructive pride and a presumption which tear every community apart and result in violence. Can we learn from Christ the correct humility which corresponds to the truth of our being, and the obedience which submits to truth, to the will of God? “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth”: this word of inclusion in the priesthood lights up our lives and calls us to become ever anew disciples of that truth which is revealed in the word of God.
We can advance another step in the interpretation of these words. Did not Christ say of himself: “I am the truth” (see Jn 14:6)? Is he not himself the living Word of God, to which every other word refers? Sanctify them in the truth – this means, then, in the deepest sense: make them one with me, Christ. Bind them to me. Draw them into me. Indeed, when all is said and done, there is only one priest of the New Covenant, Jesus Christ himself. Consequently, the priesthood of the disciples can only be a participation in the priesthood of Jesus. Our being priests is simply a new and radical way of being united to Christ. In its substance, it has been bestowed on us for ever in the sacrament. But this new seal imprinted upon our being can become for us a condemnation, if our lives do not develop by entering into the truth of the Sacrament. The promises we renew today state in this regard that our will must be directed along this path: “Domino Iesu arctius coniungi et conformari, vobismetipsis abrenuntiantes”. Being united to Christ calls for renunciation. It means not wanting to impose our own way and our own will, not desiring to become someone else, but abandoning ourselves to him, however and wherever he wants to use us. As Saint Paul said: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20). In the words “I do”, spoken at our priestly ordination, we made this fundamental renunciation of our desire to be independent, “self-made”. But day by day this great “yes” has to be lived out in the many little “yeses” and small sacrifices. This “yes” made up of tiny steps which together make up the great “yes”, can be lived out without bitterness and self-pity only if Christ is truly the center of our lives. If we enter into true closeness to him. Then indeed we experience, amid sacrifices which can at first be painful, the growing joy of friendship with him, and all the small and sometimes great signs of his love, which he is constantly showing us. “The one who loses himself, finds himself”. When we dare to lose ourselves for the Lord, we come to experience the truth of these words.
To be immersed in the Truth, in Christ – part of this process is prayer, in which we exercise our friendship with him and also come to know him: his way of being, of thinking, of acting. Praying is a journey in personal communion with Christ, setting before him our daily life, our successes and failures, our struggles and our joys – in a word, it is to stand in front of him. But if this is not to become a form of self-contemplation, it is important that we constantly learn to pray by praying with the Church. Celebrating the Eucharist means praying. We celebrate the Eucharist rightly if with our thoughts and our being we enter into the words which the Church sets before us. There we find the prayer of all generations, which accompany us along the way towards the Lord. As priests, in the Eucharistic celebration we are those who by their prayer blaze a trail for the prayer of today’s Christians. If we are inwardly united to the words of prayer, if we let ourselves be guided and transformed by them, then the faithful will also enter into those words. And then all of us will become truly “one body, one spirit” in Christ.
To be immersed in God’s truth and thus in his holiness – for us this also means to acknowledge that the truth makes demands, to stand up, in matters great and small, to the lie which in so many different ways is present in the world; accepting the struggles associated with the truth, because its inmost joy is present within us. Nor, when we talk about being sanctified in the truth, should we forget that in Jesus Christ truth and love are one. Being immersed in him means being immersed in his goodness, in true love. True love does not come cheap, it can also prove quite costly. It resists evil in order to bring men true good. If we become one with Christ, we learn to recognize him precisely in the suffering, in the poor, in the little ones of this world; then we become people who serve, who recognize our brothers and sisters in him, and in them, we encounter him.
“Sanctify them in truth” – this is the first part of what Jesus says. But then he adds: “I consecrate myself, so that they also may be consecrated in truth” – that is, truly consecrated (Jn 17:19). I think that this second part has a special meaning of its own. In the world’s religions there are many different ritual means of “sanctification”, of the consecration of a human person. Yet all these rites can remain something merely formal. Christ asks for his disciples the true sanctification which transforms their being, their very selves; he asks that it not remain a ritual formality, but that it make them truly the “property” of God himself. We could even say that Christ prayed on behalf of us for that sacrament which touches us in the depths of our being. But he also prayed that this interior transformation might be translated day by day in our lives; that in our everyday routine and our concrete daily lives we might be truly pervaded by the light of God.
On the eve of my priestly ordination, fifty-eight years ago, I opened the Sacred Scripture, because I wanted to receive once more a word from the Lord for that day and for my future journey as a priest. My gaze fell on this passage: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth”. Then I realized: the Lord is speaking about me, and he is speaking to me. This very same thing will be accomplished tomorrow in me. When all is said and done, we are not consecrated by rites, even though rites are necessary. The bath in which the Lord immerses us is himself – the Truth in person. Priestly ordination means: being immersed in him, immersed in the Truth. I belong in a new way to him and thus to others, “that his Kingdom may come”. Dear friends, in this hour of the renewal of promises, we want to pray to the Lord to make us men of truth, men of love, men of God. Let us implore him to draw us ever anew into himself, so that we may become truly priests of the New Covenant. Amen.
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
Saint Peter’s Basilica, Holy Thursday, 1st April 2010
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
At the centre of the Church’s worship is the notion of “sacrament”. This means that it is not primarily we who act, but God comes first to meet us through his action, he looks upon us and he leads us to himself. Another striking feature is this: God touches us through material things, through gifts of creation that he takes up into his service, making them instruments of the encounter between us and himself. There are four elements in creation on which the world of sacraments is built: water, bread, wine and olive oil. Water, as the basic element and fundamental condition of all life, is the essential sign of the act in which, through baptism, we become Christians and are born to new life. While water is the vital element everywhere, and thus represents the shared access of all people to rebirth as Christians, the other three elements belong to the culture of the Mediterranean region. In other words, they point towards the concrete historical environment in which Christianity emerged. God acted in a clearly defined place on the earth, he truly made history with men. On the one hand, these three elements are gifts of creation, and on the other, they also indicate the locality of the history of God with us. They are a synthesis between creation and history: gifts of God that always connect us to those parts of the world where God chose to act with us in historical time, where he chose to become one of us.
Within these three elements there is a further gradation. Bread has to do with everyday life. It is the fundamental gift of life day by day. Wine has to do with feasting, with the fine things of creation, in which, at the same time, the joy of the redeemed finds particular expression. Olive oil has a wide range of meaning. It is nourishment, it is medicine, it gives beauty, it prepares us for battle and it gives strength. Kings and priests are anointed with oil, which is thus a sign of dignity and responsibility, and likewise of the strength that comes from God. Even the name that we bear as “Christians” contains the mystery of the oil. The word “Christians”, in fact, by which Christ’s disciples were known in the earliest days of Gentile Christianity, is derived from the word “Christ” (Acts 11:20-21) – the Greek translation of the word “Messiah”, which means “anointed one”. To be a Christian is to come from Christ, to belong to Christ, to the anointed one of God, to whom God granted kingship and priesthood. It means belonging to him whom God himself anointed – not with material oil, but with the One whom the oil represents: with his Holy Spirit. Olive oil is thus in a very particular way a symbol of the total compenetration of the man Jesus by the Holy Spirit.
In the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday, the holy oils are at the centre of the liturgical action. They are consecrated in the bishop’s cathedral for the whole year. They thus serve also as an expression of the Church’s unity, guaranteed by the episcopate, and they point to Christ, the true “shepherd and guardian” of our souls, as Saint Peter calls him (1 Pet 2:25). At the same time, they hold together the entire liturgical year, anchored in the mystery of Holy Thursday. Finally, they point to the
the scene of Jesus’ inner acceptance of his Passion. Yet the Garden of Olives
is also the place from which he ascended to the Father, and is therefore the place
of redemption: God did not leave Jesus in death. Jesus lives for ever with the Father,
and is therefore omnipresent, with us always. This double mystery of the Garden of Olives Mount of Olives is also always “at work” within the Church’s
sacramental oil. In four sacraments, oil is the sign of God’s goodness reaching
out to touch us: in baptism, in confirmation as the sacrament of the Holy Spirit,
in the different grades of the sacrament of holy orders and finally in the anointing
of the sick, in which oil is offered to us, so to speak, as God’s medicine – as
the medicine which now assures us of his goodness, offering us strength and consolation,
yet at the same time points beyond the moment of the illness towards the definitive
healing, the resurrection (see Jas 5:14). Thus oil, in its different forms, accompanies
us throughout our lives: beginning with the catechumenate and baptism, and continuing
right up to the moment when we prepare to meet God, our Judge and Savior. Moreover,
the Chrism Mass, in which the sacramental sign of oil is presented to us as part
of the language of God’s creation, speaks in particular to us who are priests: it
speaks of Christ, whom God anointed King and Priest – of him who makes us sharers
in his priesthood, in his “anointing”, through our own priestly ordination.
I should like, then, to attempt a brief interpretation of the mystery of this holy sign in its essential reference to the priestly vocation. In popular etymologies a connection was made, even in ancient times, between the Greek word “elaion” – oil – and the word “eleos” – mercy. In fact, in the various sacraments, consecrated oil is always a sign of God’s mercy. So the meaning of priestly anointing always includes the mission to bring God’s mercy to those we serve. In the lamp of our lives, the oil of mercy should never run dry. Let us always obtain it from the Lord in good time – in our encounter with his word, in our reception of the sacraments, in the time we spend with him in prayer.
As a consequence of the story of the dove bearing an olive branch to signal the end of the flood – and thus God’s new peace with the world of men – not only the dove but also the olive branch and oil itself have become symbols of peace. The Christians of antiquity loved to decorate the tombs of their dead with the crown of victory and the olive branch, symbol of peace. They knew that Christ conquered death and that their dead were resting in the peace of Christ. They knew that they themselves were awaited by Christ, that he had promised them the peace which the world cannot give. They remembered that the first words of the Risen Lord to his disciples were: “Peace be with you!” (Jn 20:19). He himself, so to speak, bears the olive branch, he introduces his peace into the world. He announces God’s saving goodness. He is our peace. Christians should therefore be people of peace, people who recognize and live the mystery of the Cross as a mystery of reconciliation. Christ does not conquer through the sword, but through the Cross. He wins by conquering hatred. He wins through the force of his greater love. The Cross of Christ expresses his “no” to violence. And in this way, it is God’s victory sign, which announces Jesus’ new way. The one who suffered was stronger than the ones who exercised power. In his self-giving on the Cross, Christ conquered violence. As priests we are called, in fellowship with Jesus Christ, to be men of peace, we are called to oppose violence and to trust in the greater power of love.
A further aspect of the symbolism of oil is that it strengthens for battle. This does not contradict the theme of peace, but forms part of it. The battle of Christians consisted – and still consists – not in the use of violence, but in the fact that they were – and are – ready to suffer for the good, for God. It consists in the fact that Christians, as good citizens, keep the law and do what is just and good. It consists in the fact that they do not do whatever within the legal system in force is not just but unjust. The battle of the martyrs consists in their concrete “no” to injustice: by taking no part in idolatry, in Emperor worship, they refused to bow down before falsehood, before the adoration of human persons and their power. With their “no” to falsehood and all its consequences, they upheld the power of right and truth. Thus they served true peace. Today too it is important for Christians to follow what is right, which is the foundation of peace. Today too it is important for Christians not to accept a wrong that is enshrined in law – for example the killing of innocent unborn children. In this way we serve peace, in this way we find ourselves following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, of whom Saint Peter says: “When he was reviled he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Pet 2:23f.).
The Fathers of the Church were fascinated by a phrase from Psalm 45 (44) – traditionally held to be Solomon’s wedding psalm – which was reinterpreted by Christians as the psalm for the marriage of the new Solomon, Jesus Christ, to his Church. To the King, Christ, it is said: “Your love is for justice; your hatred for evil. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above other kings” (v. 8). What is this oil of gladness with which the true king, Christ, was anointed? The Fathers had no doubt in this regard: the oil of gladness is the Holy Spirit himself, who was poured out upon Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit is the gladness that comes from God. From Jesus this gladness sweeps over us in his Gospel, in the joyful message that God knows us, that he is good and that his goodness is the power above all powers; that we are wanted and loved by him. Gladness is the fruit of love. The oil of gladness, which was poured out over Christ and comes to us from him, is the Holy Spirit, the gift of Love who makes us glad to be alive. Since we know Christ, and since in him we know the true God, we know that it is good to be a human being. It is good to be alive, because we are loved, because truth itself is good.
In the early Church, the consecrated oil was considered a special sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit, who communicates himself to us as a gift from Christ. He is the oil of gladness. This gladness is different from entertainment and from the outward happiness that modern society seeks for itself. Entertainment, in its proper place, is certainly good and enjoyable. It is good to be able to laugh. But entertainment is not everything. It is only a small part of our lives, and when it tries to be the whole, it becomes a mask behind which despair lurks, or at least doubt over whether life is really good, or whether non-existence might perhaps be better than existence. The gladness that comes to us from Christ is different. It does indeed make us happy, but it can also perfectly well coexist with suffering. It gives us the capacity to suffer and, in suffering, to remain nevertheless profoundly glad. It gives us the capacity to share the suffering of others and thus by placing ourselves at one another’s disposal, to express tangibly the light and the goodness of God. I am always struck by the passage in the Acts of the Apostles which recounts that after the Apostles had been whipped by order of the Sanhedrin, they “rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name of Jesus” (Acts 5:41). Anyone who loves is ready to suffer for the beloved and for the sake of his love, and in this way he experiences a deeper joy. The joy of the martyrs was stronger than the torments inflicted on them. This joy was ultimately victorious and opened the gates of history for Christ. As priests, we are – in
Paul’s words – “co-workers with you for your joy” (2 Cor
1:24). In the fruit of the olive-tree, in the consecrated oil, we are touched by
the goodness of the Creator, the love of the Redeemer. Let us pray that his gladness
may pervade us ever more deeply and that we may be capable of bringing it anew to
a world in such urgent need of the joy that has its source in truth. Amen.
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
Saint Peter’s Basilica, Holy Thursday, 21 April 2011
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
At the heart of this morning’s liturgy is the blessing of the holy oils – the oil for anointing catechumens, the oil for anointing the sick, and the chrism for the great sacraments that confer the Holy Spirit: confirmation, priestly ordination, episcopal ordination. In the sacraments the Lord touches us through the elements of creation. The unity between creation and redemption is made visible. The sacraments are an expression of the physicality of our faith, which embraces the whole person, body and soul. Bread and wine are fruits of the earth and work of human hands. The Lord chose them to be bearers of his presence. Oil is the symbol of the Holy Spirit and at the same time it points us towards Christ: the word “Christ” (Messiah) means “the anointed one”. The humanity of Jesus, by virtue of the Son’s union with the Father, is brought into communion with the Holy Spirit and is thus “anointed” in a unique way, penetrated by the Holy Spirit. What happened symbolically to the kings and priests of the Old Testament when they were instituted into their ministry by the anointing with oil, takes place in Jesus in all its reality: his humanity is penetrated by the power of the Holy Spirit. He opens our humanity for the gift of the Holy Spirit. The more we are united to Christ, the more we are filled with his Spirit, with the Holy Spirit. We are called “Christians”: “anointed ones” – people who belong to Christ and hence have a share in his anointing, being touched by his Spirit. I wish not merely to be called Christian, but also to be Christian, said Saint Ignatius of
Antioch. Let us allow these
holy oils, which are consecrated at this time, to remind us of the task that is
implicit in the word “Christian”, let us pray that, increasingly, we may not only
be called Christian but may actually be such.
In today’s liturgy, three oils are blessed, as I mentioned earlier. They express three essential dimensions of the Christian life on which we may now reflect. First, there is the oil of catechumens. This oil indicates a first way of being touched by Christ and by his Spirit – an inner touch, by which the Lord draws people close to himself. Through this first anointing, which takes place even prior to baptism, our gaze is turned towards people who are journeying towards Christ – people who are searching for faith, searching for God. The oil of catechumens tells us that it is not only we who seek God: God himself is searching for us. The fact that he himself was made man and came down into the depths of human existence, even into the darkness of death, shows us how much God loves his creature, man. Driven by love, God has set out towards us. “Seeking me, you sat down weary ... let such labor not be in vain!”, we pray in the Dies Irae. God is searching for me. Do I want to recognize him? Do I want to be known by him, found by him? God loves us. He comes to meet the unrest of our hearts, the unrest of our questioning and seeking, with the unrest of his own heart, which leads him to accomplish the ultimate for us. That restlessness for God, that journeying towards him, so as to know and love him better, must not be extinguished in us. In this sense we should always remain catechumens. “Constantly seek his face”, says one of the Psalms (105:4).
comments as follows: God is so great as to surpass infinitely all our knowing and
all our being. Knowledge of God is never exhausted. For all eternity, with ever
increasing joy, we can always continue to seek him, so as to know him and love him
more and more. “Our heart is restless until it rests in you”, said Saint Augustine at the beginning
of his Confessions. Yes, man is restless, because whatever is finite is too
little. But are we truly restless for him? Have we perhaps become resigned to his
absence, do we not seek to be self-sufficient? Let us not allow our humanity to
be diminished in this way! Let us remain constantly on a journey towards him, longing
for him, always open to receive new knowledge and love!
Then there is the oil for anointing the sick. Arrayed before us is a host of suffering people: those who hunger and thirst, victims of violence in every continent, the sick with all their sufferings, their hopes and their moments without hope, the persecuted, the downtrodden, the broken-hearted. Regarding the first mission on which Jesus sent the disciples, Saint Luke tells us: “he sent them out to preach the
and to heal” (9:2). Healing is one of
the fundamental tasks entrusted by Jesus to the Church, following the example that
he gave as he traveled throughout the land healing the sick. To be sure, the Church’s
principal task is to proclaim the kingdom of God . But this very proclamation
must be a process of healing: “bind up the broken-hearted”, we heard in today’s
first reading from the prophet Isaiah (61:1). The proclamation of God’s Kingdom,
of God’s unlimited goodness, must first of all bring healing to broken hearts. By
nature, man is a being in relation. But if the fundamental relationship, the relationship
with God, is disturbed, then all the rest is disturbed as well. If our relationship
with God is disturbed, if the fundamental orientation of our being is awry, we cannot
truly be healed in body and soul. For this reason, the first and fundamental healing
takes place in our encounter with Christ who reconciles us to God and mends our
broken hearts. But over and above this central task, the Church’s essential mission
also includes the specific healing of sickness and suffering. The oil for anointing
the sick is the visible sacramental expression of this mission. Since apostolic
times, the healing vocation has matured in the Church, and so too has loving solicitude
for those who are distressed in body and soul. This is also the occasion to say
thank you to those sisters and brothers throughout the world who bring healing and
love to the sick, irrespective of their status or religious affiliation. From Elizabeth
of Hungary, Vincent de Paul, Louise de Marillac, Camillus of Lellis to Mother Teresa
– to recall but a few names – we see, lighting up the world, a radiant procession
of helpers streaming forth from God’s love for the suffering and the sick. For this
we thank the Lord at this moment. For this we thank all those who, by virtue of
their faith and love, place themselves alongside the suffering, thereby bearing
definitive witness to the goodness of God himself. The oil for anointing the sick
is a sign of this oil of the goodness of heart that these people bring – together
with their professional competence – to the suffering. Even without speaking of
Christ, they make him manifest. Kingdom
In third place, finally, is the most noble of the ecclesial oils, the chrism, a mixture of olive oil and aromatic vegetable oils. It is the oil used for anointing priests and kings, in continuity with the great Old Testament traditions of anointing. In the Church this oil serves chiefly for the anointing of confirmation and ordination. Today’s liturgy links this oil with the promise of the prophet Isaiah: “You shall be called the priests of the Lord, men shall speak of you as the ministers of our God” (61:6). The prophet makes reference here to the momentous words of commission and promise that God had addressed to
on Sinai: “You shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex 19:6).
In and for the vast world, which was largely ignorant of God, Israel had to be as it were a shrine
of God for all peoples, exercising a priestly function vis-à-vis the world. It had
to bring the world to God, to open it up to him. In his great baptismal catechesis,
Saint Peter applied this privilege and this commission of Israel to the entire
community of the baptized, proclaiming: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood,
a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him
who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were no people
but now you are God’s people” (1 Pet 2:9f.) Baptism and confirmation are
an initiation into this people of God that spans the world; the anointing that takes
place in baptism and confirmation is an anointing that confers this priestly ministry
towards mankind. Christians are a priestly people for the world. Christians should
make the living God visible to the world, they should bear witness to him and lead
people towards him. When we speak of this task in which we share by virtue of our
baptism, it is no reason to boast. It poses a question to us that makes us both
joyful and anxious: are we truly God’s shrine in and for the world? Do we open up
the pathway to God for others or do we rather conceal it? Have not we – the people
of God – become to a large extent a people of unbelief and distance from God? Is
it perhaps the case that the West, the heartlands of Christianity, are tired of
their faith, bored by their history and culture, and no longer wish to know faith
in Jesus Christ? We have reason to cry out at this time to God: “Do not allow us
to become a ‘non-people’! Make us recognize you again! Truly, you have anointed
us with your love, you have poured out your Holy Spirit upon us. Grant that the
power of your Spirit may become newly effective in us, so that we may bear joyful
witness to your message!
For all the shame we feel over our failings, we must not forget that today too there are radiant examples of faith, people who give hope to the world through their faith and love. When Pope John Paul II is beatified on 1 May, we shall think of him, with hearts full of thankfulness, as a great witness to God and to Jesus Christ in our day, as a man filled with the Holy Spirit. Alongside him, we think of the many people he beatified and canonized, who give us the certainty that even today God’s promise and commission do not fall on deaf ears.
I turn finally to you, dear brothers in the priestly ministry. Holy Thursday is in a special way our day. At the hour of the last Supper, the Lord instituted the New Testament priesthood. “Sanctify them in the truth” (Jn 17:17), he prayed to the Father, for the Apostles and for priests of all times. With great gratitude for the vocation and with humility for all our shortcomings, we renew at this hour our “yes” to the Lord’s call: yes, I want to be intimately united to the Lord Jesus, in self-denial, driven on by the love of Christ. Amen.
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
Saint Peter’s Basilica, Holy Thursday, 5 April 2012
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
At this Holy Mass our thoughts go back to that moment when, through prayer and the laying on of hands, the bishop made us sharers in the priesthood of Jesus Christ, so that we might be “consecrated in truth” (Jn 17:19), as Jesus besought the Father for us in his high-priestly prayer. He himself is the truth. He has consecrated us, that is to say, handed us over to God for ever, so that we can offer men and women a service that comes from God and leads to him. But does our consecration extend to the daily reality of our lives – do we operate as men of God in fellowship with Jesus Christ? This question places the Lord before us and us before him. “Are you resolved to be more united with the Lord Jesus and more closely conformed to him, denying yourselves and confirming those promises about sacred duties towards Christ’s Church which, prompted by love of him, you willingly and joyfully pledged on the day of your priestly ordination?” After this homily, I shall be addressing that question to each of you here and to myself as well. Two things, above all, are asked of us: there is a need for an interior bond, a configuration to Christ, and at the same time there has to be a transcending of ourselves, a renunciation of what is simply our own, of the much-vaunted self-fulfilment. We need, I need, not to claim my life as my own, but to place it at the disposal of another – of Christ. I should be asking not what I stand to gain, but what I can give for him and so for others. Or to put it more specifically, this configuration to Christ, who came not to be served but to serve, who does not take, but rather gives – what form does it take in the often dramatic situation of the Church today? Recently a group of priests from a European country issued a summons to disobedience, and at the same time gave concrete examples of the forms this disobedience might take, even to the point of disregarding definitive decisions of the Church’s Magisterium, such as the question of women’s ordination, for which Blessed Pope John Paul II stated irrevocably that the Church has received no authority from the Lord. Is disobedience a path of renewal for the Church? We would like to believe that the authors of this summons are motivated by concern for the Church, that they are convinced that the slow pace of institutions has to be overcome by drastic measures, in order to open up new paths and to bring the Church up to date. But is disobedience really a way to do this? Do we sense here anything of that configuration to Christ which is the precondition for all true renewal, or do we merely sense a desperate push to do something to change the Church in accordance with one’s own preferences and ideas?
But let us not oversimplify matters. Surely Christ himself corrected human traditions which threatened to stifle the word and the will of God? Indeed he did, so as to rekindle obedience to the true will of God, to his ever enduring word. His concern was for true obedience, as opposed to human caprice. Nor must we forget: he was the Son, possessed of singular authority and responsibility to reveal the authentic will of God, so as to open up the path for God’s word to the world of the nations. And finally: he lived out his task with obedience and humility all the way to the Cross, and so gave credibility to his mission. Not my will, but thine be done: these words reveal to us the Son, in his humility and his divinity, and they show us the true path.
Let us ask again: do not such reflections serve simply to defend inertia, the fossilization of traditions? No. Anyone who considers the history of the post-conciliar era can recognize the process of true renewal, which often took unexpected forms in living movements and made almost tangible the inexhaustible vitality of holy Church, the presence and effectiveness of the Holy Spirit. And if we look at the people from whom these fresh currents of life burst forth and continue to burst forth, then we see that this new fruitfulness requires being filled with the joy of faith, the radicalism of obedience, the dynamic of hope and the power of love.
Dear friends, it is clear that configuration to Christ is the precondition and the basis for all renewal. But perhaps at times the figure of Jesus Christ seems too lofty and too great for us to dare to measure ourselves by him. The Lord knows this. So he has provided “translations” on a scale that is more accessible and closer to us. For this same reason,
did not hesitate to say to his communities: Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.
For his disciples, he was a “translation” of Christ’s manner of life that they could
see and identify with. Ever since Paul’s time, history has furnished a constant
flow of other such “translations” of Jesus’ way into historical figures. We priests
can call to mind a great throng of holy priests who have gone before us and shown
us the way: from Polycarp of Smyrna and Ignatius of Antioch, from the great pastors
Ambrose, Augustine and Gregory the Great, through to Ignatius of Loyola, Charles
Borromeo, John Mary Vianney and the priest-martyrs of the 20th century, and finally
Pope John Paul II, who gave us an example, through his activity and his suffering,
of configuration to Christ as “gift and mystery”. The saints show us how renewal
works and how we can place ourselves at its service. And they help us realize that
God is not concerned so much with great numbers and with outward successes, but
achieves his victories under the humble sign of the mustard seed.
Dear friends, I would like briefly to touch on two more key phrases from the renewal of ordination promises, which should cause us to reflect at this time in the Church’s life and in our own lives. Firstly, the reminder that – as Saint Paul put it – we are “stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor 4:1) and we are charged with the ministry of teaching, the (munus docendi), which forms a part of this stewardship of God’s mysteries, through which he shows us his face and his heart, in order to give us himself. At the meeting of Cardinals on the occasion of the recent Consistory, several of the pastors of the Church spoke, from experience, of the growing religious illiteracy found in the midst of our sophisticated society. The foundations of faith, which at one time every child knew, are now known less and less. But if we are to live and love our faith, if we are to love God and to hear him aright, we need to know what God has said to us – our minds and hearts must be touched by his word. The Year of Faith, commemorating the opening of the Second Vatican Council fifty years ago, should provide us with an occasion to proclaim the message of faith with new enthusiasm and new joy. We find it of course first and foremost in sacred Scripture, which we can never read and ponder enough. Yet at the same time we all experience the need for help in accurately expounding it in the present day, if it is truly to touch our hearts. This help we find first of all in the words of the teaching Church: the texts of the Second Vatican Council and the Catechism of the Catholic Church are essential tools which serve as an authentic guide to what the Church believes on the basis of God’s word. And of course this also includes the whole wealth of documents given to us by Pope John Paul II, still far from being fully explored.
All our preaching must measure itself against the saying of Jesus Christ: “My teaching is not mine” (Jn 7:16). We preach not private theories and opinions, but the faith of the Church, whose servants we are. Naturally this should not be taken to mean that I am not completely supportive of this teaching, or solidly anchored in it. In this regard I am always reminded of the words of
Augustine: what is so much mine as myself? And what is
so little mine as myself? I do not own myself, and I become myself by the very fact
that I transcend myself, and thereby become a part of Christ, a part of his body
the Church. If we do not preach ourselves, and if we are inwardly so completely
one with him who called us to be his ambassadors, that we are shaped by faith and
live it, then our preaching will be credible. I do not seek to win people for myself,
but I give myself. The Curé of Ars was no scholar, no intellectual, we know that.
But his preaching touched people’s hearts because his own heart had been touched.
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