Monday, October 24, 2022

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

Entry 0306: Reflections on the Thirty-First Sunday of Ordinary 

Time by Pope Benedict XVI 

On eight occasions during his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI delivered reflections on the Thirty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time, on 30 October 2005, 5 November 2006, 4 November 2007, 2 November 2008, 1 November 2009, 31 October 2010, 30 October 2011, and 4 November 2012. Here are the texts of eight brief reflections prior to the recitation of the Angelus delivered on these occasions.



St Peter’s Square, Sunday, 30 October 2005

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Forty years ago, on 28 October 1965, the Seventh Session of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council was held. Three more followed shortly thereafter, and the last one, on 8 December, marked the end of the Council.

In the last phase of that historic ecclesial event, which began three years earlier, the major part of the Conciliar Documents received approval. Some of them are well known and are frequently cited, while others are not so well known; however, all are worth mention because they retain their value and reveal a reality that, under certain aspects, has actually increased.

Today, I would like to call to mind the five Documents that the Servant of God Pope Paul VI and the Council Fathers signed on 28 October 1965. They are: the Decree Christus Dominus on the pastoral office of Bishop; the Decree Perfectae Caritatis on the renewal of Religious life; the Decree Optatam Totius on the formation of priests; the Declaration Gravissimum Educationis on Christian education; and lastly, the Declaration Nostra Aetate on the relations of the Church to non-Christian religions.

The themes on the formation of priests, consecrated life and the episcopal ministry were the object of three Ordinary Assemblies of the Synod of Bishops in 1990, 1995 and in 2001. They sounded and deepened the teachings of Vatican II extensively, proof of which are the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortations Pastores Dabo Vobis, Vita Consecrata and Pastores Gregis of my beloved Predecessor, the Servant of God John Paul II.

Instead, less known is the Document on Education. The Church has always been dedicated to the education of young people, recognized by the Council as something of “paramount importance” for both the life of men and women and for social progress (see Gravissimum Educationis, Preface).

Today too, in an era of global communication, the Ecclesial Community perceives the importance of an educational system that recognizes the primacy of man as a person, open to truth and to good. Parents are the primary and principal educators and are assisted by civil society in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity (see ibid., no. 3).

The Church, to whom Christ entrusted the duty to proclaim the “way of salvation” (see ibid.), feels she has a special educational responsibility. In different ways, she seeks to fulfil this mission: in families, in the parish, through associations, movements and groups of formation and of evangelical commitment and, in a specific way, in schools, institutes of advanced studies and in universities (see ibid., nos. 5-12).

Even the Declaration Nostra Aetate is very relevant because it regards the attitude of the Ecclesial Community in relation to non-Christian religions. Starting with the principle that “all men and women form but one community” and that the Church has the duty “to foster unity and charity” among individuals (no. 1), the Council “rejects nothing of what is true and holy” in other religions and to everyone proclaims Christ, “the way, the truth and the life”, in whom men and women find the “fullness of their religious life” (no. 2).

With the Declaration Nostra Aetate the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council proposed some fundamental truths: they clearly mentioned the special bond that joins Christians to Jews (no. 4); they confirmed their high regard for the Muslims (no. 3) and the followers of other religions (no. 2); and they confirmed the spirit of universal fraternity that rejects any form of discrimination or religious persecution (no. 5).

Dear brothers and sisters, as I invite you to look at these Documents again, I encourage you, together with me, to pray to the Virgin Mary so that she may help all believers in Christ to keep the spirit of the Second Vatican Council alive, to contribute to the foundation of that universal fraternity in the world which responds to the will of God for men and women, created in his image.



Saint Peter’s Square, Sunday, 5 November 2006

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In these days following the liturgical commemoration of the faithful departed, the Octave of the Dead is celebrated in many parishes. It is a fitting occasion to remember our loved ones in prayer and to meditate on the reality of death, which the so-called “affluent society” often seeks to remove from the consciousness of people, totally taken up by the concerns of daily life.

In fact, death is part of life, and not only at its end but, upon a closer look, at every moment. Yet, despite all the distractions, the loss of a loved one enables us to rediscover the “problem” by making us sense death as a presence radically hostile and contrary to our natural vocation to life and happiness.

Jesus revolutionized the meaning of death. He did so with his teaching, but especially by facing death himself. “By dying he destroyed our death”, the Liturgy of the Easter Season says.

“With the Spirit who could not die”, a Father of the Church wrote, “Christ killed death that was killing man” (Melito of Sardis, On Easter, 66).

The Son of God thus desired to share our human condition to the very end, to reopen it to hope. After all, he was born to be able to die and thereby free us from the slavery of death. The Letter to the Hebrews says: ”so that he might taste death for everyone” (Heb 2: 9).

Since then, death has not been the same: it was deprived, so to speak, of its “venom”. Indeed, God’s love working in Jesus gave new meaning to the whole of human existence, and thus transformed death as well. If, in Christ, human life is a “[departure] from this world to the Father” (Jn 13: 1), the hour of death is the moment when it is concretely brought about once and for all.

Anyone who strives to live as he did, is freed from the fear of death, which no longer shows the sarcastic sneer of an enemy but, as St Francis wrote in his Canticle of the Creature, the friendly face of a “sister” for whom one can also bless the Lord: ”Praised be the Lord for our Sister, bodily Death”.

Faith reminds us that there is no need to be afraid of the death of the body because, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s [Rm 14: 8]. And with St Paul, we know that even if we are separated from our bodies we are with Christ, whose Risen Body, which we receive in the Eucharist, is our eternal and indestructible dwelling place.

True death, on the other hand, which is to be feared, is the death of the soul which the Book of Revelation calls “the second death” (see Rv 20: 14-15; 21: 8). In fact, those who die in mortal sin without repentance, locked into their proud rejection of God’s love, exclude themselves from the Kingdom of life.

Let us invoke from the Lord, through the intercession of Mary Most Holy and of St Joseph, the grace to prepare ourselves serenely to depart this world whenever he may desire to call us, in the hope of being able to dwell for ever with him in the company of the Saints and of our departed loved ones.



St Peter’s Square, Sunday, 4 November 2007

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today, the liturgy presents for our meditation the well-known Gospel episode of Jesus’ meeting with Zacchaeus in the city of Jericho. Who was Zacchaeus? A rich man who was a “publican” by profession, that is, a tax collector for the Roman authorities, hence, viewed as a public sinner. Having heard that Jesus would be passing through Jericho, the man was consumed by a great desire to see him, and because he was small of stature, he climbed up into a tree. Jesus stopped exactly under that tree and addressed him by name: “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today” (Lk 19: 5). What a message this simple sentence contains! “Zacchaeus”: Jesus called by name a man despised by all. “Today”: yes, this very moment was the moment of his salvation. “I must stay”: why “I must”? Because the Father, rich in mercy, wants Jesus “to seek and to save the lost” (Lk 19: 10). The grace of that unexpected meeting was such that it completely changed Zacchaeus’ life: “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold” (Lk 19: 8). Once again, the Gospel tells us that love, born in God’s heart and working through man’s heart, is the power that renews the world.

This truth shines out in a special way in the testimony of the Saint whose Memorial is celebrated today: Charles Borromeo, Archbishop of Milan. His figure stands out in the 16th century as a model of an exemplary Pastor because of his charity, doctrine, apostolic zeal and above all, his prayer. “Souls are won”, he said, “on one’s knees”. Charles Borromeo was consecrated a Bishop when he was only 25 years old. He enforced the teaching of the Council of Trent that obliged Pastors to reside in their respective dioceses, and gave himself heart and soul to the Ambrosian Church. He travelled up and down his Diocese three times; he convoked six provincial and 11 diocesan synods; he founded seminaries to train a new generation of priests; he built hospitals and earmarked his family riches for the service of the poor; he renewed religious life and founded a new congregation of secular priests, the Oblates. In 1576, when the plague was raging in Milan, he visited, comforted and spent all his money on the sick. His motto consisted in one word: “Humilitas”. It was humility that motivated him, like the Lord Jesus, to renounce himself in order to make himself the servant of all.

Recalling my venerable Predecessor John Paul II who bore his name with devotion - today is his name day - let us entrust to St Charles’ intercession all the Bishops of the world, for whom we invoke as always the heavenly protection of Mary Most Holy, Mother of the Church.




St Peter’s Square, Sunday, 2 November 2008

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Yesterday the feast of All Saints brought us to contemplate “your holy city, the heavenly Jerusalem, our mother” (Preface, All Saints). Today, with our heart still turned toward this ultimate reality, we commemorate all of the faithful departed, who have “gone before us marked with the sign of faith and... who sleep in Christ” (Eucharistic Prayer I). It is very important that we Christians live a relationship of the truth of the faith with the deceased and that we view death and the afterlife in the light of Revelation. Already the Apostle Paul, writing to the first communities, exhorted the faithful to “not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since”, he wrote, “we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep” (1 Thes 4: 13-14). Today too, it is necessary to evangelize about the reality of death and eternal life, realities particularly subject to superstitious beliefs and syncretisms, so that the Christian truth does not risk mixing itself with myths of various types.

In my Encyclical on Christian hope, I questioned myself about the mystery of eternal life (see Spe salvi, nos. 10-12). I asked myself: “Is the Christian faith a hope that transforms and sustains the lives of people still today?” (see ibid., no. 10). And more radically: “Do men and women of our time still long for eternal life? Or has earthly existence perhaps become their only horizon?” In reality, as St Augustine had already observed, all of us want a “blessed life”, happiness. We rarely know what it is like or how it will be, but we feel attracted to it. This is a universal hope, common to men and women of all times and all places. The expression “eternal life” aims to give a name to this irrepressible longing; it is not an unending succession of days, but an immersion of oneself in the ocean of infinite love, in which time, before and after, no longer exists. A fullness of life and of joy: it is this that we hope and await from our being with Christ (see ibid, no. 12).

Today we renew the hope in eternal life, truly founded on Christ’s death and Resurrection. “I am risen and I am with you always”, the Lord tells us, and my hand supports you. Wherever you may fall, you will fall into my hands and I will be there even to the gates of death. Where no one can accompany you any longer and where you can take nothing with you, there I will wait for you to transform for you the darkness into light. Christian hope, however, is not solely individual, it is also always a hope for others. Our lives are profoundly linked, one to the other, and the good and the bad that each of us does always effects others too. Hence, the prayer of a pilgrim soul in the world can help another soul that is being purified after death. This is why the Church invites us today to pray for our beloved deceased and to pause at their tombs in the cemeteries. Mary, Star of Hope, renders our faith in eternal life stronger and more authentic, and supports our prayer of suffrage for our deceased brethren.




St Peter’s Square, Sunday, 1 November 2009

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This Sunday coincides with the Solemnity of All Saints, which invites the pilgrim Church on earth to a foretaste of the everlasting feast in the community of Heaven, and to revive our hope in eternal life. This year marks 14 centuries since the Pantheon one of the oldest and most famous of the Roman monuments was dedicated to Christian worship and named after the Virgin Mary and all the Martyrs: Sancta Maria ad Martyres. The temple of all the pagan divinities was thus converted to commemorate all those who, as the Book of Revelation says, “have come out of the great tribulations; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev 7: 14).

Subsequently, the celebration of all the martyrs was extended to all the saints: “a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues” (Rev 7: 9) according to St John. In this Year for Priests, I would like to remember with special veneration all the priest saints those whom the Church has canonized upholding them as examples of spiritual and pastoral virtue, and those much more numerous who are known to the Lord. Each one of us treasures a grateful memory of some of them who have helped us to grow in faith and made us feel the goodness and closeness of God.

Tomorrow, then, is the annual commemoration of All Souls’ Day, of all the faithful departed. I would like to invite you to live this occasion in an authentic Christian spirit, that is, in the light that comes from the Paschal Mystery. Christ died and rose again, and has opened for us the way to the house of the Father, the Kingdom of life and peace. Whoever follows Jesus in this life is welcome where he has preceded us. Therefore, as we visit the cemeteries, let us remember that resting in those tombs are merely the mortal remains of our dear ones who await the final resurrection. Their souls, as Scripture tells us, are already “in the hand of God” (Wis 3: 1). Thus, the most proper and effective way to honour them is to pray for them, offering acts of faith, hope and charity. In union with the Eucharistic Sacrifice, we can intercede for their eternal salvation, and experience the most profound communion in the expectation of being together, enjoying forever the Love which created and redeemed us.

Dear friends, how beautiful and comforting is the communion of Saints! It is a reality that instils a different dimension into our whole life. We are never alone! We are part of a spiritual “company” where profound solidarity reigns: the good of each one is for the benefit of everyone, and vice versa, common happiness shines on every individual. It is a mystery which, in some measure, we can already experience in this world, in the family, in friendship, and especially in the spiritual community of the Church. May Mary Most Holy help us to walk quickly on the way to holiness, and may she be the Mother of mercy for the souls of the departed.



St Peter’s Square, Sunday, 31 October 2010

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

The Evangelist St Luke pays special attention to the theme of Jesus’ mercy. In fact, in his narration we find some episodes that highlight the merciful love of God and of Christ, who said that he had come to call, not the just, but sinners (see Lk 5:32). Among Luke’s typical accounts there is that of the conversion of Zacchaeus, which is read in this Sunday’s Liturgy. Zacchaeus is a publican, indeed, he is the head of the publicans of Jericho, an important city on the River Jordan. The publicans were the tax collectors who collected the tribute that the Jews had to pay to the Roman Emperor, and already for this reason they were considered public sinners. What is more, they often took advantage of their position to extort money from the people. Because of this Zacchaeus was very rich but despised by his fellow citizens. So when Jesus was passing through Jericho and stopped at the house of Zacchaeus, he caused a general scandal. The Lord, however, knew exactly what he was doing. He wanted, so to speak, to gamble, and he won the bet: Zacchaeus, deeply moved by Jesus’ visit, decided to change his life, and promised to restore four times what he had stolen. “Today salvation has come to this house”, Jesus says, and concludes: “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost”.

God excludes no one, neither the poor nor the rich. God does not let himself be conditioned by our human prejudices, but sees in everyone a soul to save and is especially attracted to those who are judged as lost and who think themselves so. Jesus Christ, the Incarnation of God, has demonstrated this immense mercy, which takes nothing away from the gravity of sin, but aims always at saving the sinner, at offering him the possibility of redemption, of starting again from the beginning, of converting. In another passage of the Gospel Jesus states that it is very difficult for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven (see Mt 19:23). In the case of Zacchaeus we see that precisely what seems impossible actually happens: “He”, St Jerome comments, “gave away his wealth and immediately replaced it with the wealth of the Kingdom of Heaven” (Homily on Psalm 83:3). And St Maximus of Turin adds: “Riches, for the foolish, feed dishonesty, but for the wise they are a help to virtue; for the latter they offer a chance of salvation, for the former they procure a stumbling block and perdition” (Sermons, 95).

Dear Friends, Zacchaeus welcomed Jesus and he converted because Jesus first welcomed him! He did not condemn him but he met his desire for salvation. Let us pray to the Virgin Mary, perfect model of communion with Jesus, to be renewed by his love, so that we too may experience the joy of being visited by the Son of God, of being renewed by his love and of transmitting his mercy to others.



Saint Peter’s Square, Sunday, 30 October 2011

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In this Sunday’s Liturgy, the Apostle Paul invites us to draw near to the Gospel “not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God” (1 Thess 2:13). Thus we can accept with faith the warning that Jesus offers to our conscience, in order to conform our way of living to it. In today’s passage he rebukes the scribes and the Pharisees, who were the teachers of the community, because their own conduct was openly in conflict with the teaching they rigorously taught others. Jesus underlines that they “preach, but do not practise” (Mt 23:3); rather “they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger” (Mt 23:4). Good teaching must be received but it risks being contradicted by inconsistent behaviour. Thus Jesus says: “practise and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do” (Mt 23:3). Jesus’ attitude is exactly the opposite: he is the first to practise the commandment of love, which he teaches to everyone, and he can say the burden is light and easy because he helps us carry it (see Mt 11:29-30).

Thinking of teachers who oppress the freedom of others in the name of authority, St Bonaventure points out who the authentic teacher is, affirming that, “No one can teach or practise, or reach knowable truths unless the Son of God is present” (Sermo I de Tempore, Dom. XXII post Pentecosten, Opera omnia, IX, Quaracchi, 1901, 442). “Jesus sits on the cathedra of Moses... as the greater Moses, who broadens the Covenant to include all nations” (see Jesus of Nazareth, Doubleday, New York, 2007, p. 66). He is our true and only Teacher! We are, therefore, called to follow the Son of God, the Word Incarnate, who expresses the truth of his teaching through his faithfulness to the will of the Father, through the gift of himself. Bl. Antonio Rosmini writes: “The first teacher trains all the other teachers, as he also trains the same disciples themselves, because they exist only in virtue of that first tacit, but very powerful Magisterium” (Idea della Sapienza, 82, in: Introduzione alla filosofia, vol. II, Rome, 1934, 143). Jesus also firmly condemns vanity and observes that “deeds to be seen by men” (Mt 23:5), places them at the mercy of human approval, undermining the values that found the authenticity of the person.

Dear friends, the Lord Jesus presented himself to the world as a servant, completely stripping himself and lowering himself to give on the Cross the most eloquent lesson of humility and love. His example gives rise to a proposal of life: “He who is greatest among you shall be your servant” (Mt 23:11). We invoke the intercession of Mary Most Holy and we ask especially for those in Christian communities, who are called to the ministry of teaching, that they may always witness by their works to the truths that they communicate by their words.



Saint Peter’s Square, Sunday, 4 November 2012

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This Sunday’s Gospel (Mk 12:28-34) offers us Jesus’ teaching on the greatest commandment, the commandment of love, which is two-fold: love of God and love of neighbour. The Saints, who we have recently celebrated together in a single solemn Feast are precisely those who, trusting in God’s grace, tried to live according to this fundamental law. In fact, those who live a profound relationship with God, just as a child becomes capable of loving, starting from a good relationship with his mother and father, may put the commandment of love fully into practice. St John of Avila, who I recently proclaimed a Doctor of the Church, writes at the beginning of his Treatise on the Love of God: “the cause”, he says, “that mostly pushes our hearts to love of God is considering deeply the love that He had for us.... This, beyond any benefit, pushes the heart to love; because he who gives something of benefit to another, gives him something he possesses; but he who loves, gives himself with everything he has, until he has nothing left to give” (no. 1). Before being a command — love is not a command — it is a gift, a reality that God allows us to know and experience, so that, like a seed, it can also germinate within us and develop throughout our life.

If the love of God has planted deep roots in a person, then he is able to love even those who do not deserve it, as God does us. Fathers and mothers do not love their children only when they deserve love; they always love them, though of course, they make them understand when they are wrong. We learn from God to seek only what is good and never what is evil. We learn to look at each other not only with our eyes, but with the eyes of God, which is the gaze of Jesus Christ. A gaze that begins in the heart and does not stop at the surface, that goes beyond appearances and manages to capture the deepest aspirations of the other: waiting to be heard, for caring attention, in a word: love. But the opposite is also true: that by opening myself to another, just as he or she is, by reaching out, by making myself available, I am also opening myself to know God, to feel that he is there and is good. Love of God and love of neighbour are inseparable and are mutually related. Jesus did not invent one or the other but revealed that they are essentially a single commandment and did so not only through the Word, but especially with his testimony: the person of Jesus and his whole Mystery embody the unity of love of God and neighbour, like the two arms of the Cross, vertical and horizontal. In the Eucharist he gives us this two-fold love, giving himself, because, nourished by this Bread, we love one another as he has loved us.

Dear friends, through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, we pray that every Christian may know how to show his/her faith in the one true God with a clear witness to love of neighbour. 

© Copyright 2013 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana