Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The important question we ask ourselves today is: how can we talk about God in our time? How can we communicate the Gospel so as to open roads to his saving truth in our contemporaries’ hearts — that are all too often closed — and minds — that are at times distracted by the many dazzling lights of society? Jesus, the Evangelists tell us, asked himself about this as he proclaimed the kingdom of God: “With what can we compare the Kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it?” (Mk 4:30).
How can we talk about God today? The first answer is that we can talk about God because he has talked to us; so the first condition for speaking of God is listening to all that God himself has said. God has spoken to us! God is therefore not a distant hypothesis concerning the world’s origin; he is not a mathematical intelligence far from us. God takes an interest in us, he loves us, he has entered personally into the reality of our history, he has communicated himself, even to the point of taking flesh. Thus God is a reality of our life, he is so great that he has time for us too, he takes an interest in us. In Jesus of Nazareth we encounter the face of God, who came down from his heaven to immerse himself in the human world, in our world, and to teach “the art of living”, the road to happiness; to set us free from sin and make us children of God (Eph 1:5; Rom 8:14). Jesus came to save us and to show us the good life of the Gospel.
Talking about God means first of all expressing clearly what God we must bring to the men and women of our time: not an abstract God, a hypothesis, but a real God, a God who exists, who has entered history and is present in history; the God of Jesus Christ as an answer to the fundamental question of the meaning of life and of how we should live. Consequently speaking of God demands familiarity with Jesus and his Gospel, it implies that we have a real, personal knowledge of God and a strong passion for his plan of salvation without succumbing to the temptation of success, but following God’s own method. God’s method is that of humility — God makes himself one of us — his method is brought about through the Incarnation in the simple house of Nazareth; through the Grotto of Bethlehem; through the Parable of the Mustard Seed.
We must not fear the humility of taking little steps, but trust in the leaven that penetrates the dough and slowly causes it to rise (Mt 13:33). In talking about God, in the work of evangelization, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we must recover simplicity, we must return to the essence of the proclamation: the Good News of a God who is real and effective, a God who is concerned about us, a God-Love who makes himself close to us in Jesus Christ, until the Cross, and who in the Resurrection gives us hope and opens us to a life that has no end, eternal life, true life. St Paul, that exceptional communicator, gives us a lesson that goes straight to the heart of the problem of faith: “how to speak of God” with great simplicity.
It was a splendid day on 11 October 1962 when the Second Vatican Council opened with the solemn procession into St Peter’s Basilica in Rome of more than two thousand Council Fathers. In 1931 Pius XI had dedicated this day to the feast of the Divine Motherhood of Mary, mindful that 1,500 years earlier, in 431, the Council of Ephesus had solemnly recognized this title for Mary in order to express God’s indissoluble union with man in Christ. Pope John XXIII had chosen this day for the beginning of the Council so as to entrust the great ecclesial assembly, which he had convoked, to the motherly goodness of Mary and to anchor the Council’s work firmly in the mystery of Jesus Christ. It was impressive to see in the entrance procession bishops from all over the world, from all peoples and all races: an image of the Church of Jesus Christ which embraces the whole world, in which the peoples of the earth know they are united in his peace.
It was a moment of extraordinary expectation. Great things were about to happen. The previous Councils had almost always been convoked for a precise question to which they were to provide an answer. This time there was no specific problem to resolve. But precisely because of this, a general sense of expectation hovered in the air: Christianity, which had built and formed the Western world, seemed more and more to be losing its power to shape society. It appeared weary and it looked as if the future would be determined by other spiritual forces. The sense of this loss of the present on the part of Christianity, and of the task following on from that, was well summed up in the word “aggiornamento” (updating). Christianity must be in the present if it is to be able to form the future. So that it might once again be a force to shape the future, John XXIII had convoked the Council without indicating to it any specific problems or programs. This was the greatness and at the same time the difficulty of the task that was set before the ecclesial assembly.
The various episcopates undoubtedly approached the great event with different ideas. Some of them arrived rather with an attitude of expectation regarding the program that was to be developed. It was the episcopates of Central Europe – Belgium, France and Germany – that came with the clearest ideas. In matters of detail, they stressed completely different aspects, yet they had common priorities. A fundamental theme was ecclesiology, that needed to be studied in greater depth from a Trinitarian and sacramental viewpoint and in connection with salvation history; then there was a need to amplify the doctrine of primacy from the First Vatican Council by giving greater weight to the episcopal ministry. An important theme for the episcopates of Central Europe was liturgical renewal, which Pius XII had already started to implement. Another central aspect, especially for the German episcopate, was ecumenism: the shared experience of Nazi persecution had brought Protestant and Catholic Christians closer together; this now had to happen at the level of the whole Church, and to be developed further. Then there was also the group of themes: Revelation – Scripture – Tradition – Magisterium. For the French, the subject of the relationship between the Church and the modern world came increasingly to the fore – in other words the work of the so-called “Schema XIII”, from which the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World later emerged.
Dear Brother Bishops, dear brothers and sisters!
Today, fifty years from the opening of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, we begin with great joy the Year of Faith… - this celebration has been enriched by several special signs: the opening procession, intended to recall the memorable one of the Council Fathers when they entered this Basilica; the enthronement of the Book of the Gospels with the same book that was used at the Council; the consignment of the seven final Messages of the Council, and of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which I will do before the final blessing. These signs help us not only to remember, ... They invite us to enter more deeply into the spiritual movement which characterized Vatican II, to make it ours and to develop it according to its true meaning. And its true meaning was and remains faith in Christ, the apostolic faith, animated by the inner desire to communicate Christ to individuals and all people, in the Church’s pilgrimage along the pathways of history.
The Year of Faith which we launch today is linked harmoniously with the Church’s whole path over the last fifty years: from the Council, through the Magisterium of the Servant of God Paul VI, who proclaimed a Year of Faith in 1967, up to the Great Jubilee of the year 2000, with which Blessed John Paul II re-proposed to all humanity Jesus Christ as the one Savior, yesterday, today and forever. Between these two Popes, Paul VI and John Paul II, there was a deep and complete convergence, precisely upon Christ as the center of the cosmos and of history, and upon the apostolic eagerness to announce him to the world. Jesus is the center of the Christian faith. The Christian believes in God whose face was revealed by Jesus Christ. He is the fulfillment of the Scriptures and their definitive interpreter. Jesus Christ is not only the object of the faith but, as it says in the Letter to the Hebrews, he is “the pioneer and the perfecter of our faith” (12:2).
Today’s Gospel tells us that Jesus Christ, consecrated by the Father in the Holy Spirit, is the true and perennial subject of evangelization. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor” (Lk 4:18). This mission of Christ, this movement of his continues in space and time, over centuries and continents. It is a movement which starts with the Father and, in the power of the Spirit, goes forth to bring the good news to the poor, in both a material and a spiritual sense. The Church is the first and necessary instrument of this work of Christ because it is united to him as a body to its head. “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (Jn 20:21), says the Risen One to his disciples, and breathing upon them, adds, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (v.22). Through Christ, God is the principal subject of evangelization in the world; but Christ himself wished to pass on his own mission to the Church; he did so, and continues to do so, until the end of time pouring out his Spirit upon the disciples, the same Spirit who came upon him and remained in him during all his earthly life, giving him the strength “to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed” and “to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Lk 4:18-19).
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
On the contrary, he “stripped” himself, he emptied himself, the Greek text says, taking the “morphe doulos”, the “form of a slave”, human reality marked by suffering, poverty and death; he assumed the likeness of men in all things save sin, so as to behave as a servant totally dedicated to serving others.
In this regard Eusebius of Caesarea said: — in the fourth century — “he took upon himself the labors of the suffering members, and made our sicknesses his and suffered on our account all our woes and labors by the laws of love, in conformity with his great love for humanity” (Demonstratio Evangelica [Proof of the Gospel], 10, 1, 22 ).
St Paul continues, delineating the “historical” background in which Jesus’ humbling of himself took place: “he humbled himself and became obedient unto death” (Phil 2:8). The Son of God truly became man and completed a journey of total obedience and fidelity to the Father’s will, even to the point of making the supreme sacrifice of his life. Furthermore the Apostle specifies: “unto death, even death on a cross.” On the Cross Jesus Christ attained the greatest degree of humiliation, because crucifixion was the penalty kept for slaves and not for free men: “mors turpissima crucis,” Cicero wrote (In Verrem, V, 64, 165).
Through the Cross of Christ man is redeemed and Adam’s experience is reversed. Adam, created in the image and likeness of God, claimed to be like God through his own effort, to put himself in God’s place and in this way lost the original dignity that had been given to him. Jesus, instead, was “in the form of God” but humbled himself, immersed himself in the human condition, in total faithfulness to the Father, in order to redeem the Adam who is in us and restore to man the dignity he had lost. The Fathers emphasize that he made himself obedient, restoring to human nature, through his own humanity and obedience, what had been lost through Adam’s disobedience. In prayer, in the relationship with God, we open our mind, our heart and our will to the action of the Holy Spirit to enter into this dynamic of life, as St Cyril of Alexandria — whose feast we are celebrating today — tells us: “the work of the Spirit seeks to transform us by grace into a perfect copy of his humbling” (Festal Letter, 10, 4).
Human logic, instead, often seeks self-fulfillment in power, in domination, in forceful means. Man still wants to build the Tower of Babel with his own efforts, to reach God’s heights by himself, to be like God. The Incarnation and the Cross remind us that complete fulfillment lies in conforming our human will to the will of the Father, in emptying ourselves of our selfishness, to fill ourselves with God’s love, with his charity, and thereby become capable of truly loving others.
Man does not find himself by remaining closed in on himself, by affirming himself. Man finds himself only by coming out of himself; only if we come out of ourselves do we find ourselves. And if Adam wanted to imitate God, this was not a bad thing in itself but he had the wrong idea of God. God is not someone who only wants greatness. God is love which was already given in the Trinity and was then given in the Creation. And imitating God means coming out of oneself, giving oneself in love.
...6. The renewal of the Church is also achieved through the witness offered by the lives of believers: by their very existence in the world, Christians are called to radiate the word of truth that the Lord Jesus has left us. The Council itself, in the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, said this: While “Christ, ‘holy, innocent and undefiled’ (Heb 7:26) knew nothing of sin (2 Cor 5:21), but came only to expiate the sins of the people (Heb 2:17)... the Church ... clasping sinners to its bosom, at once holy and always in need of purification, follows constantly the path of penance and renewal. The Church, ‘like a stranger in a foreign land, presses forward amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God’, announcing the cross and death of the Lord until he comes (1 Cor 11:26). But by the power of the risen Lord it is given strength to overcome, in patience and in love, its sorrow and its difficulties, both those that are from within and those that are from without, so that it may reveal in the world, faithfully, although with shadows, the mystery of its Lord until, in the end, it shall be manifested in full light.”
The Year of Faith, from this perspective, is a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the one Saviour of the world. In the mystery of his death and resurrection, God has revealed in its fullness the Love that saves and calls us to conversion of life through the forgiveness of sins (Acts 5:31). For Saint Paul, this Love ushers us into a new life: “We were buried ... with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4). Through faith, this new life shapes the whole of human existence according to the radical new reality of the resurrection. To the extent that he freely cooperates, man’s thoughts and affections, mentality and conduct are slowly purified and transformed, on a journey that is never completely finished in this life. “Faith working through love” (Gal 5:6) becomes a new criterion of understanding and action that changes the whole of man’s life (Rom 12:2; Col 3:9-10; Eph 4:20-29; 2 Cor 5:17).
7. “Caritas Christi urget nos” (2 Cor 5:14): it is the love of Christ that fills our hearts and impels us to evangelize. Today as in the past, he sends us through the highways of the world to proclaim his Gospel to all the peoples of the earth (Mt 28:19). Through his love, Jesus Christ attracts to himself the people of every generation: in every age he convokes the Church, entrusting her with the proclamation of the Gospel by a mandate that is ever new. Today too, there is a need for stronger ecclesial commitment to new evangelization in order to rediscover the joy of believing and the enthusiasm for communicating the faith. In rediscovering his love day by day, the missionary commitment of believers attains force and vigour that can never fade away. Faith grows when it is lived as an experience of love received and when it is communicated as an experience of grace and joy. It makes us fruitful, because it expands our hearts in hope and enables us to bear life-giving witness: indeed, it opens the hearts and minds of those who listen to respond to the Lord’s invitation to adhere to his word and become his disciples. Believers, so Saint Augustine tells us, “strengthen themselves by believing”. The saintly Bishop of Hippo had good reason to express himself in this way. As we know, his life was a continual search for the beauty of the faith until such time as his heart would find rest in God. His extensive writings, in which he explains the importance of believing and the truth of the faith, continue even now to form a heritage of incomparable riches, and they still help many people in search of God to find the right path towards the “door of faith”.
Divine Mercy Sunday, 11 April 2010
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
This Sunday concludes the Octave of Easter. It is a unique day "made by the Lord", distinguished by the outstanding event of the Resurrection and the joy of the disciples at seeing Jesus. Since antiquity this Sunday has been called in albis from the Latin name, alba, which was given to the white vestments the neophytes put on for their Baptism on Easter night and took off eight days later, that is, today. Venerable John Paul II entitled this same Sunday "Divine Mercy Sunday" on the occasion of the canonization of Sr Mary Faustina Kowalska on 30 April 2000.
The Gospel passage from St John (20: 19-31) is full of mercy and divine goodness. Is recounts that after the Resurrection Jesus visited his disciples, passing through the closed doors of the Upper Room. St Augustine explains that "the shutting of doors presented no obstacle to the matter of that body, wherein the Godhead resided. He indeed could enter without their being opened, by whose birth the virginity of his mother remained inviolate" (In ev. Jo. 121, 4: CCL 36/7, 667); and St Gregory the Great added that after his Resurrection the Redeemer appeared with a Body by its nature incorruptible and tangible, but in a state of glory (Hom. in Evang. 21, 1: CCL 141, 219). Jesus showed the signs of his Passion even to the point of allowing Doubting Thomas to touch him; but how can a disciple possibly doubt? Actually God's indulgence enables us to profit even from Thomas' disbelief, as well as from the believing disciples. Indeed, in touching the Lord's wounds, the hesitant disciple not only heals his own diffidence but also ours.
The visit of the Risen One is not limited to the space of the Upper Room but goes beyond it, to the point that all can receive the gift of peace and life with the "creative Breath". In fact Jesus said twice to his disciples, ""Peace be with you". And he added, "As the Father has sent me, even so I send you". Having said this he breathed on them, saying "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained". This is the mission of the Church, eternally assisted by the Paraclete: to bear the Good News, the joyful reality of God's merciful love, in order, as St John says, "that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name" (20: 31).
In the light of these words I encourage all, Pastors in particular, to follow the example of the holy Curé d'Ars, who "in his time... was able to transform the hearts and the lives of so many people because he enabled them to experience the Lord's merciful love.
Our own time urgently needs a similar proclamation and witness to the truth of Love" (Letter inaugurating the Year for Priests, 16 June 2009). In this way we shall make increasingly familiar and close the One whom our eyes have not seen but of whose infinite Mercy we are absolutely certain. Let us ask the Virgin Mary, Queen of Apostles, to sustain the Church's mission and invoke her exulting with joy: Regina Caeli....