Monday, September 12, 2022

Reflections on the Twenty-Fifth Sunday of
Ordinary Time by Pope Benedict XVI

Entry 0299: Reflections on the Twenty-Fifth Sunday of Ordinary 

Time by Pope Benedict XVI 

On eight occasions during his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI delivered reflections on the Twenty-Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time, on 18 September 2005, 24 September 2006, 23 September 2007, 21 September 2008, 20 September 2009, 19 September 2010, 18 September 2011, and 23 September 2012. Here are the texts of eight brief reflections prior to the recitation of the Angelus and three homilies delivered on these occasions.



Castel Gandolfo, Sunday, 18 September 2005

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

As the Year of the Eucharist draws to a close, I would like to return to a particularly important subject that was also very dear to my Predecessor, John Paul II: the relationship between holiness, the way and destination of the Church and of every Christian, and the Eucharist.

I am thinking in particular today of priests, in order to emphasize that the secret of their sanctification lies precisely in the Eucharist. By virtue of sacred Orders, the priest receives the gift of and commitment to repeating in the Sacrament the gestures and words with which Jesus instituted the memorial of his Pasch at the Last Supper.

This great miracle of love, which the priest is called ever more faithfully to witness and proclaim (see Apostolic Letter Mane Nobiscum Domine, no. 30), is renewed in his hands. This is the reason why the priest must be first and foremost an adorer who contemplates the Eucharist, starting from the very moment in which he celebrates it.

We are well aware that the validity of the Sacrament does not depend on the holiness of the celebrant, but its effectiveness for him and for others will be all the greater the deeper the faith, the more ardent the love and the more fervent the spirit of prayer with which he lives it.

Throughout the year, the liturgy presents to us as examples holy ministers of the Altar who have drawn strength from the imitation of Christ in daily intimacy with him in the celebration and adoration of the Eucharist.

A few days ago, we commemorated St John Chrysostom, Patriarch of Constantinople at the end of the fourth century. He was described as “golden mouthed” because of his extraordinary eloquence; he was also called “Doctor of the Eucharist” because of the vastness and depth of his teaching on the Most Holy Sacrament. The “Divine liturgy” which is most frequently celebrated in the Eastern Church and which bears his name as well as his motto: “a man full of zeal suffices to transform a people”, shows the effectiveness of Christ’s action through his ministers.

In our own age, the figure of Padre Pio, St Pius of Pietrelcina, whom we will commemorate this Friday [23 September], stands out. When he celebrated Holy Mass he relived the mystery of Calvary with such intensity so as to edify the faith and devotion of all. Moreover, the stigmata, which God gave to him showed how closely he was conformed to the Crucified Jesus.

Thinking of priests in love with the Eucharist, we cannot in addition forget St John Mary Vianney, the humble parish priest of Ars at the time of the French Revolution. With the holiness of his life and his pastoral zeal, he succeeded in making that little village a model Christian community, enlivened by the Word of God and by the sacraments.

Let us now address Mary, praying especially for priests across the world that they may find in this Year of the Eucharist the fruit of renewed love for the Sacrament which they celebrate. Through the intercession of the Virgin Mother of God, may they always live and witness to the mystery that is placed in their hands for the world’s salvation.



Castel Gandolfo, Sunday, 24 September 2006

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In this Sunday’s Gospel, for the second time Jesus proclaims his passion, death and Resurrection to the disciples (see Mk 9: 30-31). The Evangelist Mark highlights the strong contrast between his mindset and that of the Twelve Apostles, who not only do not understand the Teacher’s words and clearly reject the idea that he is doomed to encounter death (see Mk 8: 32), but also discuss which of them is to be considered “the greatest” (Mk 9: 34).

Jesus patiently explains his logic to them, the logic of love that makes itself service to the point of the gift of self: “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mk 9: 35).

This is the logic of Christianity, which responds to the truth about man created in the image of God, but at the same time contrasts with human selfishness, a consequence of original sin. Every human person is attracted by love - which ultimately is God himself - but often errs in the concrete ways of loving; thus, an originally positive tendency but one polluted by sin can give rise to evil intentions and actions.

In today’s Liturgy, this is also recalled in the Letter of St James: “Wherever jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity”. And the Apostle concludes: “The harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (Jas 3: 16-18).

These words call to mind the witness of so many Christians who humbly and silently spend their lives serving others for the sake of the Lord Jesus, behaving in practice as servants of love, and hence, “artisans” of peace.

Sometimes, certain people are asked for the supreme testimony of blood, which also happened a few days ago to the Italian Religious, Sr Leonella Sgorbati, who died a victim of violence. This Sister, who served the poor and the lowly in Somalia for many years, died with the words “I forgive” on her lips: this is the most genuine Christian witness, a peaceful sign of contradiction that demonstrates the victory of love over hatred and evil.

There is no doubt that following Christ is difficult, but, as he says, only those who lose their life for his sake and the Gospel’s will save it (see Mk 8: 35), giving full meaning to their existence. There is no other way of being his disciples, there is no other way of witnessing to his love and striving for Gospel perfection. May Mary, whom we call upon today as Our Lady of Mercy, open our hearts ever wider to the love of God, a mystery of joy and holiness.



Papal Summer Residence, Castel Gandolfo, Sunday, 23 September 2007

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This morning I made a Visit to the Diocese of Velletri of which I had been titular Cardinal for a number of years. It was a friendly meeting that allowed me to relive moments of the past, rich with spiritual and pastoral experiences.

During the solemn Eucharistic celebration, by commenting on the liturgical texts, I was able to pause and reflect on the correct use of earthly goods, a theme the Evangelist Luke reproposes for our attention this Sunday in various ways.

Telling the Parable of the dishonest but very crafty administrator, Christ teaches his disciples the best way to use money and material riches, that is, to share them with the poor, thus acquiring their friendship, with a view to the Kingdom of Heaven. “Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon,” Jesus says, “so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal habitations” (Lk 16: 9).

Money is not “dishonest” in itself, but more than anything else it can close man in a blind egocentrism. It therefore concerns a type of work of “conversion” of economic goods: instead of using them only for self-interest, it is also necessary to think of the needs of the poor, imitating Christ himself, who, as St Paul wrote: “though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (II Cor 8: 9).

It seems paradoxical: Christ has not enriched us with his richness but with his poverty, with his love that brought him to give himself totally to us.

Here one could open up a vast and complex field of reflection on the theme of poverty and riches, also on a world scale, in which two logics of economics oppose each other: the logic of profit and that of the equal distribution of goods, which do not contradict each other if their relationship is well ordered.

Catholic social doctrine has always supported that equitable distribution of goods is a priority. Naturally, profit is legitimate and, in just measure, necessary for economic development.

In his Encyclical Centesimus Annus, John Paul II wrote: “The modern business economy has positive aspects. Its basis is human freedom exercised in many other fields” (no. 32). Yet, he adds that capitalism must not be considered as the only valid model of economic organization (see ibid., no. 35).

Starvation and ecological emergencies stand to denounce, with increasing evidence, that the logic of profit, if it prevails, increases the disproportion between rich and poor and leads to a ruinous exploitation of the planet.

Instead, when the logic of sharing and solidarity prevails, it is possible to correct the course and direct it towards an equitable, sustainable development.

May Mary Most Holy, who in the Magnificat proclaimed: the Lord “has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away” (Lk 1: 53), help Christians to use earthly goods with Gospel wisdom, that is, with generous solidarity, and inspire politicians and economists with farsighted strategies that favour the authentic progress of all peoples.




St Clement’s Square, Sunday, 23 September 2007

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I willingly return among you to preside at this solemn Eucharistic celebration, responding to one of your repeated invitations. I have come back with joy to meet your diocesan community, which for several years has been mine, too, in a special way, and is always dear to me. I greet you all with affection. In the first place, I greet Cardinal Francis Arinze who has succeeded me as titular Cardinal of this Diocese; I greet your Pastor, dear Bishop Vincenzo Apicella, whom I thank for his beautiful words of welcome with which he has desired to greet me in your name. I greet the other Bishops, priests and men and women religious, the pastoral workers, young people and all who are actively involved in parishes, movements, associations and the various diocesan activities. I greet the Commissioner of the Prefecture of Velletri-Segni and the other civil and military Authorities who honour us with their presence. I greet all those who have come from other places, in particular from Bavaria, from Germany, to join us on this festive day. Bonds of friendship bind my native Land to yours, as is testified by the bronze pillar presented to me in Marktl am Inn in September last year on the occasion of my Apostolic Visit to Germany. As has been said, 100 municipalities of Bavaria have recently given me, as it were, a “twin” of that pillar which will be set up here in Velletri as a further sign of my affection and goodwill. It will be the sign of my spiritual presence among you. In this regard, I would like to thank the donors, the sculptor and the mayors whom I see present here with numerous friends. I thank you all!

Dear brothers and sisters, I know that you have prepared for my Visit today with an intense spiritual itinerary, adopting a very important verse of John’s First Letter as your motto: “We know and believe the love God has for us” (4: 16). Deus caritas est, God is love: my first Encyclical begins with these words that concern the core of our faith: the Christian image of God and the consequent image of man and his journey. I rejoice that you have chosen these very words to guide you on the spiritual and pastoral journey of the Diocese: “We know and believe the love God has for us”. We have believed in love: this is the essence of Christianity. Therefore, our liturgical assembly today must focus on this essential truth, on the love of God, capable of impressing an absolutely new orientation and value on human life. Love is the essence of Christianity, which makes the believer and the Christian community a leaven of hope and peace in every environment and especially attentive to the needs of the poor and needy. This is our common mission: to be a leaven of hope and peace because we believe in love. Love makes the Church live, and since it is eternal it makes her live for ever, to the end of time.

Last Sunday, St Luke the Evangelist, who was more concerned than others to show Jesus’ love for the poor, offered us various ideas for reflection on the danger of an excessive attachment to money, to material goods and to all that prevents us from living to the full our vocation to love God and neighbour. Today too, through a parable that inspires in us a certain surprise since it speaks of a dishonest steward who is praised (see Lk 16: 1-13), a close look reveals that here the Lord has reserved a serious and particularly salutary teaching for us. As always, the Lord draws inspiration from the events of daily life: he tells of a steward who is on the point of being dismissed for dishonest management of his master’s affairs and who, to assure a future for himself, cunningly seeks to come to an arrangement with his master’s debtors. He is undoubtedly dishonest but clever: the Gospel does not present him to us as a model to follow in his dishonesty, but rather as an example to be imitated for his farsighted guile. The short parable ends, in fact, with these words: “The master commended the dishonest steward for his prudence” (Lk 16: 8).

But what does Jesus wish to tell us with this parable? And with its surprising conclusion? The Evangelist follows the parable of the dishonest steward with a short series of sayings and recommendations on the relationship we must have with money and the goods of this earth. These short sentences are an invitation to a choice that presupposes a radical decision, a constant inner tension. Life is truly always a choice: between honesty and dishonesty, between fidelity and infidelity, between selfishness and altruism, between good and evil. The conclusion of this Gospel passage is incisive and peremptory: “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other”. Ultimately, Jesus says, “You cannot serve God and mammon” (Lk 16: 13). Mammon is a term of Phoenician origin that calls to mind economic security and success in business; we might say that riches are shown as the idol to which everything is sacrificed in order to attain one’s own material success; hence, this economic success becomes a person’s true god. As a result, it is necessary to make a fundamental decision between God and mammon, it is necessary to choose between the logic of profit as the ultimate criterion for our action, and the logic of sharing and solidarity. If the logic of profit prevails, it widens the gap between the poor and the rich, as well as increasing the ruinous exploitation of the planet. On the other hand, when the logic of sharing and solidarity prevails, it is possible to correct the course and direct it to a fair development for the common good of all. Basically, it is a matter of choosing between selfishness and love, between justice and dishonesty and ultimately, between God and Satan. If loving Christ and one’s brethren is not to be considered as something incidental and superficial but, rather, the true and ultimate purpose of our whole existence, it will be necessary to know how to make basic choices, to be prepared to make radical renouncements, if necessary even to the point of martyrdom. Today, as yesterday, Christian life demands the courage to go against the tide, to love like Jesus, who even went so far as to sacrifice himself on the Cross.

We could then say, paraphrasing one of St Augustine’s thoughts, that through earthly riches we must procure for ourselves those true and eternal riches: indeed, if people exist who are prepared to resort to every type of dishonesty to assure themselves an always unpredictable material well-being, how much more concerned we Christians must be to provide for our eternal happiness with the goods of this earth (see Discourses, 359, 10). Now, the only way of bringing our personal talents and abilities and the riches we possess to fruition for eternity is to share them with our brethren, thereby showing that we are good stewards of what God entrusts to us. Jesus said: “He who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and he who is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much” (Lk 16: 10).

Today, in the First Reading, the Prophet Amos speaks of the same fundamental decision to be made day by day. Using strong words, he stigmatizes a lifestyle typical of those who allow themselves to be absorbed by a selfish quest for profit in every possible form and which is expressed in the thirst for gain, contempt for the poor and their exploitation, to one’s own advantage (see Am 8: 5). The Christian must energetically reject all this, opening his heart on the contrary to sentiments of authentic generosity. It must be generosity which, as the Apostle Paul exhorts in the Second Reading, is expressed in sincere love for all and is manifested in prayer. Actually, praying for others is a great act of charity. The Apostle invites us in the first place to pray for those who have tasks of responsibility in the civil community because, he explains, if they aspire to do good, positive consequences derive from their decisions, assuring peace and “a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way” (I Tm 2: 2). Thus, may our prayer never be lacking, a spiritual contribution to building an Ecclesial Community that is faithful to Christ and to the construction of a society in which there is greater justice and solidarity.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us pray in particular that your diocesan community, which is undergoing a series of transformations due to the transfer of many young families from Rome to the development of the “service sector” and to the settlement of many immigrants in historical centres, may lead to an increasingly organic and shared pastoral action, following the instructions that your Bishop continues to give you with outstanding pastoral sensitivity. His Pastoral Letter of last December proved more timely than ever in this regard, with the invitation to listen with attention and perseverance to God’s Word, to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council and to the Church’s Magisterium. Let us place your every intention and pastoral project in the hands of Our Lady of Grace, whose image is preserved and venerated in your beautiful Cathedral. May Mary’s maternal protection accompany the journey of you who are present here and all those who have been unable to participate in our Eucharistic celebration today. May the Holy Virgin watch over the sick, the elderly, children, everyone who feels lonely or neglected or who is in particular need. May Mary deliver us from the greed for riches and ensure that in raising to Heaven hands that are free and pure, we may glorify God with our whole life (see Collect). Amen!



Papal Summer Residence, Castel Gandolfo, Sunday, 21 September 2008

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

You may remember that when I addressed the crowd in St Peter’s Square on the day of my election it came naturally to me to introduce myself as a labourer in the vineyard of the Lord. Well, in today’s Gospel (see Mt 20: 1-16), Jesus recounted the very same parable of the owner of the vineyard who at different hours of the day hires labourers to work in it. And in the evening he gives them all the same wages, one denarius, provoking protests from those who began work early. That denarius clearly represents eternal life, a gift that God reserves for all. Indeed those who are considered the “last”, if they accept, become the “first”, whereas the “first” can risk becoming the “last”. The first message of this parable is inherent in the very fact that the landowner does not tolerate, as it were, unemployment: he wants everyone to be employed in his vineyard. Actually, being called is already the first reward: to be able to work in the Lord’s vineyard, to put oneself at his service, to collaborate in his work, is in itself a priceless recompense that repays every effort. Yet only those who love the Lord and his Kingdom understand this: those who instead work only for the pay will never realize the value of this inestimable treasure.

It is St Matthew who recounts this parable, an apostle and an evangelist, whose liturgical feast day we are celebrating on this very day. I like to emphasize that Matthew lived this experience in the first person (see Mt 9: 9). Indeed, before Jesus called him he worked as a tax collector and was therefore seen as a public sinner, excluded from “the Lord’s vineyard”. But everything changed when Jesus passed by his table, looked at him and said to him: “Follow me”. Matthew rose and followed him. From a publican he immediately became a disciple of Christ. From being “last” he found himself “first”, thanks to God’s logic, which - for our good fortune! - is different from the logic of the world. “My thoughts are not your thoughts”, the Lord says, speaking through the mouth of Isaiah, “neither are your ways my ways” (Is 55: 8). St Paul, for whom we are celebrating a special Jubilee Year, also experienced the joy of feeling called by the Lord to work in his vineyard. And what a lot of work he accomplished! Yet, as he himself confessed, it was God’s grace which worked in him, that grace which from persecutor of the Church transformed him into an Apostle to the Gentiles, to the point of saying: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” However he immediately added: “If it is to be life in the flesh, that means fruitful labour for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell” (Phil 1: 21-22). Paul clearly understood that working for the Lord is already a reward on this earth.

The Virgin Mary, whom I had the joy of venerating in Lourdes a week ago, is the perfect branch of the Lord’s vine. In her germinated the blessed fruit of divine love: Jesus, our Saviour. May she help us to respond constantly and joyously to the Lord’s call and to find our happiness in toiling for the Kingdom of Heaven.



St Pancratius’ Cathedral, Albano, Sunday, 21 September 2008

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today’s celebration is particularly rich in symbols and the Word of God that has been proclaimed helps us to understand the meaning and value of what we are doing. In the First Reading we heard the account of the purification of the Temple and of the dedication of the new altar of burned offering built by Judas Machabee in 164 B.C., three years after the profanation of the Temple by Antiochus Epiphanes (see 1 Mc 4: 52-59). The Feast of Dedication which lasted eight days was established to commemorate the event. This feast, initially associated with the Temple to which the people would go in procession to offer sacrifices, was observed with manifestations of joy with the illumination of houses and in this form survived the destruction of Jerusalem.

The holy author rightly stresses the joy and gladness characteristic of this event. Yet, dear brothers and sisters, how much greater must be our joy in knowing that on the altar we are preparing to dedicate the sacrifice of Christ that will be offered every day. On this altar he will continue to sacrifice himself in the sacrament of the Eucharist, for our salvation and for that of the whole world.

Jesus makes himself truly present in the Eucharistic Mystery, which is renewed on every altar. His is a dynamic presence that takes hold of us to make us his, to liken us to him. He attracts us with the force of his love, bringing us out of ourselves to be united with him, making us one with him.

The Real Presence of Christ makes each one of us his “house” and all together we form his Church, the spiritual building of which St Peter speaks. “Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God’s sight chosen and precious”; the Apostle writes, “and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pt 2: 4-5). St Augustine remarks, developing, as it were, this beautiful metaphor that through faith people are like the wood and stones collected in the forests and on the mountains for building; then through Baptism, catechesis and preaching they are rough-shaped, squared, and polished; but they become houses of the Lord only when they are put together with love. When believers are interconnected in accordance with a specific order, mutually close and cohesive, when they are joined by love, they truly become a dwelling of God that is in no danger of collapsing (see Serm., 336).

Thus the love of Christ is the love that “never ends” (1 Cor 13: 8), the spiritual energy that unites all who share in the same sacrifice and are nourished by the one Bread, broken for the world’s salvation. Indeed, how is it possible to communicate with the Lord if we do not communicate with one another? How can we present ourselves divided, distant from one another, at God’s altar? May this altar on which the Lord’s sacrifice will shortly be renewed, be a constant invitation to you, dear brothers and sisters, to love; you will always approach it disposed to accept love in your hearts, to spread it and to receive and grant forgiveness.

In this regard the Gospel passage that has just been proclaimed offers us an important lesson for life (see Mt 5: 23-24). It is a brief but pressing and incisive appeal for brotherly reconciliation, a reconciliation that is indispensable if we are to present the offering at the altar with dignity; an appeal that takes up the teaching already clearly present in the preaching of the prophets. Indeed, the prophets also forcefully denounced the uselessness of acts of worship that are not accompanied by a corresponding moral approach, especially in relations with others (Is 1: 10-20; Am 5: 21-27; Mi 6: 6-8). Thus, every time you approach the altar for the Eucharistic Celebration, may your soul be open to forgiveness and fraternal reconciliation, ready to accept the apologies of those who have injured you and ready, in turn, to forgive others.

In the Roman liturgy, when the priest has made the offering of the bread and the wine, he bows to the altar and prays quietly: “Lord God, we ask you to receive us and be pleased with the sacrifice we offer you with humble and contrite hearts”. In this way, together with the whole assembly of the faithful, he prepares to enter into the heart of the Eucharistic Mystery, into the heart of that heavenly liturgy to which the Second Reading from Revelation refers. St John presents an Angel who offers “much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne” of God (see Rv 8: 3). The altar of the sacrifice becomes in a certain way the meeting point between Heaven and earth; the centre, we might say, of the One Church that is heavenly yet at the same time a pilgrim on this earth where, amidst the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God, disciples of the Lord proclaim his Passion and his death until he comes in glory (see Lumen Gentium, no. 8). Indeed, every Eucharistic Celebration already anticipates Christ’s triumph over sin and over the world and in the mystery shows the radiance of the Church, “the spotless spouse of the spotless Lamb. It is she whom Christ loved and for whom he delivered himself up that he might sanctify her’“ (ibid., no. 6).

These reflections generate within us the rite we are preparing to celebrate in this cathedral of yours which today we admire in its renewed beauty, and which you rightly wish to continue to make ever more welcoming and decorous. This is a commitment that involves you all and, in the first place, asks the entire diocesan community to increase in charity and in apostolic and missionary dedication. In practice, it is a question of witnessing with your lives to your faith in Christ and to the total trust that you place in him. It is also a question of fostering ecclesial communion, which is first and foremost a gift, a grace, a fruit of God’s freely given love, something, that is, which is divinely effective, ever present and active in history, over and above anything that might appear to the contrary. Ecclesial communion, however, is also a task entrusted to the responsibility of each person. May the Lord grant that you live an ever more convinced and active communion in collaboration and co-responsibility at every level: among priests, consecrated men and women and lay people, among the different Christian communities in your territory and among the various lay associations.

I now address my cordial greeting to your Pastor, Bishop Marcello Semeraro, whom I thank for his invitation and for the courteous words of welcome with which he received me on behalf of you all. I would also like to express to him my sentiments of fervent good wishes on the 10th anniversary of his episcopal ordination. I address a special thought to Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Dean of the College of Cardinals, titular of your Suburbicarian Diocese, who joins in our joy today. I greet the other Prelates present, the priests, the consecrated people, the young and the elderly, the families, the children and the sick, embracing with affection all the faithful of the diocesan community who are spiritually united here. I also extend a greeting to the Authorities who have honoured us with their presence, and in the first place to the Mayor of Albano, to whom I am also grateful for his courteous words at the beginning of holy Mass. Upon everyone I invoke the heavenly protection of St Pancratius from whom this cathedral takes its name, and of the Apostle Matthew, who is commemorated in today’s liturgy.

In particular, I invoke the maternal intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. On this day, which crowns your efforts, sacrifices and hard work to endow the cathedral with a renewed space for the liturgy by means of the appropriate renovation of the episcopal throne, the ambo and the altar, may Our Lady obtain that you write another page of daily and popular holiness in our time, to add to those that have marked the life of the Church of Albano through the centuries. Of course, as your Pastor recalled, difficulties, challenges and problems are not lacking, but there are also great hopes and opportunities to proclaim and to witness to God’s love. May the Spirit of the Risen Lord, who is the Spirit of Pentecost, open you to his horizons of hope and nourish within you a missionary impetus to the vast horizons of the new evangelization. Let us pray for this as we continue our Eucharistic celebration.



Courtyard of the Papal Summer Residence, Castel Gandolfo, Sunday, 20 September 2009

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today, for the customary Sunday Reflection I am drawing inspiration from the passage of the Letter of James which is offered to us in today’s Liturgy (3: 15-4, 3) and I linger in particular over a phrase whose beauty and timeliness are striking. It is the description of true wisdom, with which the Apostle counters false wisdom. Whereas the latter is “earthly, unspiritual, devilish”, and can be recognized by the fact that it provokes jealousy, disputes, disorder and every vile practice (see 3: 16), on the contrary, “the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity” (3: 17). These seven qualities are listed in accordance with biblical usage; among them stand out the perfection of authentic wisdom and the positive effects it produces. St James mentions “purity” that is, holiness, the transparent reflection, so to speak, of God in the human soul as the first and principal quality, placed almost as a premise of the others. And, like God from whom it comes, wisdom does not need to be forcefully imposed for it possesses the invincible power of truth and love that are assertive in themselves. It is therefore peaceful, gentle and compliant. It has no use for partiality, nor even less does it resort to lies; it is indulgent and generous, it is recognized from the fruits of good which it generates in abundance.

Why not stop and contemplate the beauty of this wisdom every now and then? Why not draw from the uncontaminated source of God’s love that wisdom of heart which purges us from the scum of falsehood and selfishness? This applies to one and all, but in the first place to those who are called to be advocates and “weavers” of peace in religious and civil communities, in social and political affairs and in international relations. In our day, perhaps also because of certain dynamics proper to the mass society, not infrequently we note a lack of respect for the truth and the word given, together with a widespread tendency to aggression, hatred and revenge. “The harvest of righteousness is sown in peace” St James writes, “by those who make peace” (Jas 3: 18). But to do deeds of peace it is necessary to be people of peace, learning from “wisdom... such as comes down from above” in order to assimilate its qualities and produce its effects. If each one in his own environment were to succeed in rejecting falsehood and violence in his intentions, words and actions, taking pains to foster sentiments of respect, understanding and esteem for others, perhaps not all the problems of daily life would be solved but it would be possible to deal with them more serenely and effectively.

Dear friends, once again Sacred Scripture has led us to reflect on the moral aspects of human existence, but on the basis of a reality that precedes morality itself, that is, on the basis of true wisdom. Let us ask God with confidence for wisdom of heart through the intercession of the One who welcomed and conceived in her womb Wisdom incarnate, Jesus Christ Our Lord. Mary, Seat of Wisdom, pray for us!


(SEPTEMBER 16-19, 2010)



Cofton Park of Rednal – Birmingham, Sunday, 19 September 2010

Brothers and Sisters in Jesus Christ,

I am pleased to send my greetings to the people of Seville where, just yesterday, Madre María de la Purísima de la Cruz was beatified. May Blessed María be an inspiration to young women to follow her example of single-minded love of God and neighbour.

When Blessed John Henry Newman came to live in Birmingham, he gave the name “Maryvale” to his first home here. The Oratory that he founded is dedicated to the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin. And the Catholic University of Ireland he placed under the patronage of Mary, Sedes Sapientiae. In so many ways, he lived his priestly ministry in a spirit of filial devotion to the Mother of God. Meditating upon her role in the unfolding of God’s plan for our salvation, he was moved to exclaim: “Who can estimate the holiness and perfection of her, who was chosen to be the Mother of Christ? What must have been her gifts, who was chosen to be the only near earthly relative of the Son of God, the only one whom He was bound by nature to revere and look up to; the one appointed to train and educate Him, to instruct Him day by day, as He grew in wisdom and in stature?” (Parochial and Plain Sermons, ii, 131-2). It is on account of those abundant gifts of grace that we honour her, and it is on account of that intimacy with her divine Son that we naturally seek her intercession for our own needs and the needs of the whole world. In the words of the Angelus, we turn now to our Blessed Mother and commend to her the intentions that we hold in our hearts.


(SEPTEMBER 16-19, 2010)



Cofton Park of Rednal – Birmingham, Sunday, 19 September 2010

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

This day that has brought us together here in Birmingham is a most auspicious one. In the first place, it is the Lord’s day, Sunday, the day when our Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead and changed the course of human history for ever, offering new life and hope to all who live in darkness and in the shadow of death. That is why Christians all over the world come together on this day to give praise and thanks to God for the great marvels he has worked for us. This particular Sunday also marks a significant moment in the life of the British nation, as it is the day chosen to commemorate the seventieth anniversary of the Battle of Britain. For me as one who lived and suffered through the dark days of the Nazi regime in Germany, it is deeply moving to be here with you on this occasion, and to recall how many of your fellow citizens sacrificed their lives, courageously resisting the forces of that evil ideology. My thoughts go in particular to nearby Coventry, which suffered such heavy bombardment and massive loss of life in November 1940. Seventy years later, we recall with shame and horror the dreadful toll of death and destruction that war brings in its wake, and we renew our resolve to work for peace and reconciliation wherever the threat of conflict looms. Yet there is another, more joyful reason why this is an auspicious day for Great Britain, for the Midlands, for Birmingham. It is the day that sees Cardinal John Henry Newman formally raised to the altars and declared Blessed.

I thank Archbishop Bernard Longley for his gracious welcome at the start of Mass this morning. I pay tribute to all who have worked so hard over many years to promote the cause of Cardinal Newman, including the Fathers of the Birmingham Oratory and the members of the Spiritual Family Das Werk. And I greet everyone here from Great Britain, Ireland, and further afield; I thank you for your presence at this celebration, in which we give glory and praise to God for the heroic virtue of a saintly Englishman.

England has a long tradition of martyr saints, whose courageous witness has sustained and inspired the Catholic community here for centuries. Yet it is right and fitting that we should recognize today the holiness of a confessor, a son of this nation who, while not called to shed his blood for the Lord, nevertheless bore eloquent witness to him in the course of a long life devoted to the priestly ministry, and especially to preaching, teaching, and writing. He is worthy to take his place in a long line of saints and scholars from these islands, Saint Bede, Saint Hilda, Saint Aelred, Blessed Duns Scotus, to name but a few. In Blessed John Henry, that tradition of gentle scholarship, deep human wisdom and profound love for the Lord has borne rich fruit, as a sign of the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit deep within the heart of God’s people, bringing forth abundant gifts of holiness.

Cardinal Newman’s motto, Cor ad cor loquitur, or “Heart speaks unto heart”, gives us an insight into his understanding of the Christian life as a call to holiness, experienced as the profound desire of the human heart to enter into intimate communion with the Heart of God. He reminds us that faithfulness to prayer gradually transforms us into the divine likeness. As he wrote in one of his many fine sermons, “a habit of prayer, the practice of turning to God and the unseen world in every season, in every place, in every emergency – prayer, I say, has what may be called a natural effect in spiritualizing and elevating the soul. A man is no longer what he was before; gradually … he has imbibed a new set of ideas, and become imbued with fresh principles” (Parochial and Plain Sermons, iv, 230-231). Today’s Gospel tells us that no one can be the servant of two masters (see Lk 16:13), and Blessed John Henry’s teaching on prayer explains how the faithful Christian is definitively taken into the service of the one true Master, who alone has a claim to our unconditional devotion (see Mt 23:10). Newman helps us to understand what this means for our daily lives: he tells us that our divine Master has assigned a specific task to each one of us, a “definite service”, committed uniquely to every single person: “I have my mission”, he wrote, “I am a link in a chain, a bond of connexion between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do his work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place … if I do but keep his commandments and serve him in my calling” (Meditations and Devotions, 301-2).

The definite service to which Blessed John Henry was called involved applying his keen intellect and his prolific pen to many of the most pressing “subjects of the day”. His insights into the relationship between faith and reason, into the vital place of revealed religion in civilized society, and into the need for a broadly-based and wide-ranging approach to education were not only of profound importance for Victorian England, but continue today to inspire and enlighten many all over the world. I would like to pay particular tribute to his vision for education, which has done so much to shape the ethos that is the driving force behind Catholic schools and colleges today. Firmly opposed to any reductive or utilitarian approach, he sought to achieve an educational environment in which intellectual training, moral discipline and religious commitment would come together. The project to found a Catholic University in Ireland provided him with an opportunity to develop his ideas on the subject, and the collection of discourses that he published as The Idea of a University holds up an ideal from which all those engaged in academic formation can continue to learn. And indeed, what better goal could teachers of religion set themselves than Blessed John Henry’s famous appeal for an intelligent, well-instructed laity: “I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it, who know so much of history that they can defend it” (The Present Position of Catholics in England, ix, 390). On this day when the author of those words is raised to the altars, I pray that, through his intercession and example, all who are engaged in the task of teaching and catechesis will be inspired to greater effort by the vision he so clearly sets before us.

While it is John Henry Newman’s intellectual legacy that has understandably received most attention in the vast literature devoted to his life and work, I prefer on this occasion to conclude with a brief reflection on his life as a priest, a pastor of souls. The warmth and humanity underlying his appreciation of the pastoral ministry is beautifully expressed in another of his famous sermons: “Had Angels been your priests, my brethren, they could not have condoled with you, sympathized with you, have had compassion on you, felt tenderly for you, and made allowances for you, as we can; they could not have been your patterns and guides, and have led you on from your old selves into a new life, as they can who come from the midst of you” (“Men, not Angels: the Priests of the Gospel”, Discourses to Mixed Congregations, 3). He lived out that profoundly human vision of priestly ministry in his devoted care for the people of Birmingham during the years that he spent at the Oratory he founded, visiting the sick and the poor, comforting the bereaved, caring for those in prison. No wonder that on his death so many thousands of people lined the local streets as his body was taken to its place of burial not half a mile from here. One hundred and twenty years later, great crowds have assembled once again to rejoice in the Church’s solemn recognition of the outstanding holiness of this much-loved father of souls. What better way to express the joy of this moment than by turning to our heavenly Father in heartfelt thanksgiving, praying in the words that Blessed John Henry Newman placed on the lips of the choirs of angels in heaven:

Praise to the Holiest in the height
And in the depth be praise;
In all his words most wonderful,
Most sure in all his ways!
(The Dream of Gerontius).



Castel Gandolfo, Sunday, 18 September 2011

Dear brothers and sisters!

In today’s liturgy we have the beginning of St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, that is, to the members of the community that the Apostle himself established at Philippi, an important Roman colony in Macedonia, present day northern Greece. Paul arrived in Philippi during his second missionary journey, sailing from the coast of Anatolia and crossing the Aegean Sea. That was the Gospel’s first entrance into Europe. We are near the year 50, so about 20 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. And yet, in the Letter to the Philippians there is a hymn to Christ that already presents a complete synthesis of his mystery: incarnation, “kenosis,” that is, humiliation unto death on the cross, and glorification.

This mystery itself became one with the life of the Apostle Paul, who wrote this letter while he was in prison, awaiting a sentence of life or death. He writes: “For me to live is Christ and die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). It is a new sense of life, of human existence, that consists in living communion with the living Jesus Christ; not only with a historical person, a master of wisdom, a religious leader, but with a man in whom God dwells personally. His death and resurrection are the Good News that, starting from Jerusalem, is destined to reach all people and nations, and to transform all cultures from within, opening them to the fundamental truth: God is love; he became man in Jesus and with his sacrifice he ransomed humanity from slavery to evil, giving it a trustworthy hope.

St. Paul was a man who brought together three worlds: the Jewish world and the Greek and Roman worlds. It is not by chance that God entrusted to him the mission of bringing the Gospel from Asia Minor to Greece and to Rome, building a bridge that would take Christianity to the very ends of the earth. Today we live in an epoch of new evangelization. Vast horizons open up to the Gospel, while regions of ancient Christian tradition are called to rediscover the beauty of the faith. The protagonists of this mission are the men and women who, like St. Paul, can say: “For me to live is Christ “ -- persons, families, communities, who decide to work in the vineyard of the Lord, according to the image of this Sunday’s Gospel (see Matthew 20:1-16). Humble and generous workers, who do not ask any other recompense than participating in the mission of Jesus and the Church. “If living in the body,” St. Paul continues, “means working and bearing fruit, I do not know which to choose” (Philippians 1:22): full union with Christ beyond death or service to his mystical body on earth.

Dear friends, the Gospel has transformed the world, and it is still transforming it, like a river that waters a great field. Let us turn in prayer to the Virgin Mary that in the whole Church priestly, religious and lay vocations ripen in service to the new evangelization.



Castel Gandolfo, Sunday, 23 September 2012

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

On our way through St Mark’s Gospel last Sunday we entered the second part, that is, the last journey towards Jerusalem and towards the culmination of Jesus’ mission. After Peter, on the disciples’ behalf, had professed his faith in him, recognizing him as the Messiah (see Mk 8:29), Jesus began to speak openly of what was going to happen to him at the end. The Evangelist records three successive predictions of his death and resurrection in chapters 8, 9 and 10. In them Jesus announces ever more clearly the destiny that awaits him and the intrinsic need for it. This Sunday’s passage contains the second of these announcements. Jesus says: “The Son of man” — an expression that designates himself — will be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him; and when he is killed, after three days he will rise” (Mk 9:31). “But” the disciples “did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to ask him” (v. 32).

In fact, on reading this part of Mark’s account the great inner distance that existed between Jesus and his disciples is clearly apparent; they are, so to speak, on two different wavelengths so that the Teacher’s discourses are either not understood, or are only superficially understood. Straight after professing his faith in Jesus, the Apostle Peter takes the liberty of reproaching the Lord because he predicted that he was to be rejected and killed.

After the second prediction of the passion, the disciples began to discuss with one another who was the greatest among them (see Mk 9:34), and after the third, James and John asked Jesus to sit one at his right hand and one at his left when he would come into glory (cf Mk 10:35-40). However, there are various other signs of this gap: for example, the disciples do not succeed in healing an epileptic boy whom Jesus subsequently heals with the power of prayer (see Mk 9:14-29); and when children are brought to Jesus the disciples admonish them; Jesus on the contrary is indignant, has them stay and says that only those who are like them will enter the Kingdom of God (see Mk 10:13-16).

What does all this tell us? it reminds us that, the logic of God is always “different” from ours, just as God himself revealed through the mouth of Isaiah: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, / neither are your ways my ways” (Is 55:8). For this reason following the Lord always demands of human beings — of all of us — a profound con-version, a change in our manner of thinking and living, it demands that the heart be opened to listening, to let ourselves be illuminated and transformed from within.

A key point in which God and man differ is pride: in God there is no pride, for he is wholly fullness and is wholly oriented to loving and giving life instead in we human beings pride is deeply rooted and requires constant vigilance and purification. We, who are small, aspire to appear great, to be among the first, whereas God who is truly great is not afraid of humbling himself and putting himself last. And the Virgin Mary is perfectly “in tune” with God: let us call upon her with trust, so that she may teach us to follow Jesus faithfully on the path of love and humility. 

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