CELEBRATION OF PALM SUNDAY OF THE PASSION OF OUR LORD
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
Saint Peter's Square
23rd World Youth Day
Sunday, 16 March 2008
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Year after year the Gospel passage for Palm Sunday recounts Jesus' entry into Jerusalem. Together with his disciples and an increasing multitude of pilgrims he went up from the plain of Galilee to the Holy City. The Evangelists have handed down to us three proclamations of Jesus concerning his Passion, like steps on his ascent, thereby mentioning at the same time the inner ascent that he was making on this pilgrimage. Jesus was going toward the temple - toward the place where God, as Deuter-onomy says, had chosen to "make his name dwell" (cf. 12: 11; 14: 23). God who created heaven and earth gave himself a name, made himself invocable; indeed, he made himself almost tangible to human beings. No place can contain him, yet for this very reason he gave himself a place and a name so that he, the true God, might be personally venerated as God in our midst. We know from the account of the 12-year-old Jesus that he loved the temple as his Father's house, as his paternal home. He now visits this temple once again but his journey extends beyond it: the final destination of his climb is the Cross. It is the ascent described in the Letter to the Hebrews as the ascent towards the tent not pitched by human hands but by the Lord, which leads to God's presence. The final climb to the sight of God passes through the Cross. It is the ascent toward "love to the end" (cf. Jn 13: 1), which is God's true mountain, the definitive place of contact between God and man.
During his entry into Jerusalem, the people paid homage to Jesus as the Son of David with the words of the pilgrims of Psalm 118: "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" (Mt 21: 9). He then arrived at the temple. There, however, in the place that should have been taken up by the encounter between God and man, he found livestock merchants and money-changers who occupied this place of prayer with their commerce. Certainly, the animals on sale were destined to be burned as sacrifices in the temple, and since in the temple it was impossible to use coins that bore the likeness of the Roman emperors, who were in opposition to the true God, they had to be exchanged for coins that did not show the idolatrous image. All this, however, could have taken place elsewhere: the place where this was now occurring should have been, in accordance with its destined purpose, the atrium of pagans. Indeed, the God of Israel was precisely the one God of all peoples. And although pagans did not enter, so to speak, into the Revelation, they could however, in the atrium of faith, join in the prayer to the one God. The God of Israel, the God of all people, had always been awaiting their prayers too, their seeking, their invocations. Instead, commerce was prevailing - dealings legalized by the competent authority which, in its turn, profited from the merchants' earnings. The merchants acted correctly, complying with the law in force, but the law itself was corrupt. "Covetousness... is idolatry", the Letter to the Colossians says (3: 5). This was the idolatry Jesus came up against in the face of which he cites Isaiah: "My house shall be called a house of prayer" (Mt 21: 13; cf. Is 56: 7), and Jeremiah: "But you make it a den of robbers" (Mt 21: 13; cf. Jer 7: 11). Against the wrongly interpreted order, Jesus with his prophetic gesture defends the true order which is found in the Law and the Prophets.
Today, all this must give us, as Christians, food for thought. Is our faith sufficiently pure and open so that starting from it "pagans", the people today who are seeking and who have their questions, can intuit the light of the one God, associate themselves in the atriums of faith with our prayers and, with their questions, perhaps also become worshippers? Does the awareness that greed is idolatry enter our heart too and the praxis of our life? Do we not perhaps in various ways let idols enter even the world of our faith? Are we disposed to let ourselves be ceaselessly purified by the Lord, letting him expel from us and the Church all that is contrary to him?
In the temple's purification, however, it was a matter of more than fighting abuses. A new time in history was foretold. What Jesus had announced to the Samaritan woman concerning her question about true worship is now beginning: "The hour is coming, and now is, when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him" (Jn 4: 23). The time when animals were sacrificed to God was over. Animal sacrifices were only a substitute, a nostalgic gesture for the true way to worship God. The Letter to the Hebrews on the life and work of Jesus uses a sentence from Psalm 40: "Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me" (Heb 10: 5). Christ's body, Christ himself, enters to take the place of bloody sacrifices and food offerings. Only "love to the end", only love for human beings given totally to God is true worship, true sacrifice. Worshipping in spirit and truth means adoring in communion with the One who is Truth; adoring in communion with his Body, in which the Holy Spirit reunites us.
The Evangelists tell us that in Jesus' trial false witnesses were produced who asserted that Jesus had said: "I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days" (Mt 26: 61). In front of Christ hanging on the Cross some people, taunting him, referred to these same words: "You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself!" (Mt 27: 40). The correct version of these words as Jesus spoke them has been passed on to us by John in his account of the purification of the temple. In response to the request for a sign by which Jesus could justify himself for such an action, the Lord replied: "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up" (Jn 2: 18ff.). John adds that, thinking back to this event of the Resurrection, the disciples realized that Jesus had been referring to the Temple of his Body (cf. 2: 21ff.). It is not Jesus who destroys the temple; it is left to destruction by the attitude of those who transformed it from being a place for the encounter of all peoples with God into a "den of robbers", a haven for their dealings. But as always, beginning with Adam's fall, human failure becomes the opportunity for us to be even more committed to love of God. The time of the temple built of stone, the time of animal sacrifices, is now passed: the fact that the Lord now expels the merchants does not only prevent an abuse but points to God's new way of acting. The new Temple is formed: Jesus Christ himself, in whom God's love descends upon human beings. He, by his life, is the new and living Temple. He who passed through the Cross and was raised is the living space of spirit and life in which the correct form of worship is made. Thus, the purification of the temple, as the culmination of Jesus' solemn entry into Jerusalem, is at the same time the sign of the impending ruin of the edifice and the promise of the new Temple; a promise of the kingdom of reconciliation and love which, in communion with Christ, is established beyond any boundary.
St Matthew, whose Gospel we are hearing this year, mentions at the end of the account of Palm Sunday, after the purification of the temple, two further, small events that once again have a prophetic character and once again make clear to us Jesus' true will. Immediately after Jesus' words on the house of prayer for all the people, the Evangelist continues: "And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them". In addition, Matthew tells us that children cried out in the temple the acclamation of the pilgrims at the city gates: "Hosanna to the Son of David" (Mt 21: 14ff.). Jesus counters the animal trade and fiscal affairs with his healing goodness. This is the temple's true purification. He does not come as a destroyer; he does not come with the revolutionary's sword. He comes with the gift of healing. He dedicates himself to those who, because of their ailments, were driven to the end of their life and to the margins of society.
Jesus shows God as the One who loves and his power as the power of love. Thus, he tells us what will always be part of the correct worship of God: healing, serving and the goodness that cures.
And then there are children who pay homage to Jesus as the Son of David and acclaim him the Hosanna. Jesus had said to his disciples that to enter the Kingdom of God it was essential to become once again like children. He himself, who embraces the whole world, made himself little in order to come to our aid, to draw us to God. In order to recognize God, we must give up the pride that dazzles us, that wants to drive us away from God as though God were our rival. To encounter God it is necessary to be able to see with the heart. We must learn to see with a child's heart, with a youthful heart not hampered by prejudices or blinded by interests. Thus, it is in the lowly who have such free and open hearts and recognize Jesus, that the Church sees her own image, the image of believers of all ages.
Dear friends, let us join at this moment the procession of the young people of that time - a procession that winds through the whole of history. Together with young people across the world let us go forth to meet Jesus. Let us allow ourselves to be guided toward God by him, to learn from God himself the right way to be human beings. Let us thank God with him because with Jesus, Son of David, he has given us a space of peace and reconciliation that embraces the world with the Holy Eucharist. Let us pray to him that we too may become, with him and starting from him, messengers of his peace, adorers in spirit and truth, so that his Kingdom may increase in us and around us. Amen.
HOLY WEDNESDAY GENERAL AUDIENCE
Paul VI Audience Hall
Wednesday, 19 March 2008
Dear brothers and sisters
We have reached the eve of the Easter triduum. The next three days are commonly known as 'holy' because they allow us to relive the event central to our Redemption. They lead us to the nucleus of Christian faith: the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. These three days could be considered one single day. They make up the heart and are the key to both the liturgical year and the life of the Church. At the end of Lent we also enter that climate which Christ himself experienced back then in Jerusalem.
We want to rekindle in ourselves the living memory of the suffering which our Lord endured for us and to joyously prepare ourselves for next Sunday “"the true Passover, which the Blood of Christ has covered with glory, the Passover on which the Church celebrates the Feast that is the origin of all feasts” as stated in the preface for Easter in the Ambrosian rite.
Tomorrow, Holy Thursday, the Church remembers the Last Supper during which our Lord, on the eve of his own passion and death, institutes the sacrament of the Eucharist and that of ministerial priesthood. On that same evening, Jesus gave us a new commandment, "mandatum novum," the commandment of brotherly love.
Tomorrow morning, before entering the Easter triduum, but very closely tied to it, the "Messa Crismale" will take place in every diocese during which the bishop and priests of the diocese renew their promises made at ordination.
Also, the oils used to celebrate the sacraments are blessed: the oil for the catechumen, the oil for the sick and the holy chrism. It is one of the most important moments in the life of every Christian diocese, which, gathered around it's pastor, strengthens it's unity and faith in Christ, the supreme and eternal priest.
In the evening during the "Cena Domini" Mass, we remember the Last Supper when Christ gave himself to all of us as the food of salvation, as the drug of immortality and the mystery of the Eucharist -- source and pinnacle of Christian life.
Through this sacrament of salvation the Lord offered and realized for all those who believe in him, the most intimate union possible between our lives and his. With the humble and most expressive gesture of washing someone's feet, we are reminded how much Christ did for his Apostles.
Washing their feet was a concrete way of exclaiming the primacy of his love, a love that serves even to the point of giving oneself, anticipating as well the supreme sacrifice of giving his life, which he was to do the following day on Calvary. According to a beautiful tradition, the faithful close on Holy Thursday for a vigil of prayer and Eucharistic adoration enabling them to relive the agonies that Christ suffered at Gethsemane more vividly.
On Good Friday we remember the passion, crucifixion and death of Christ. On this day the Church does not celebrate mass, but the Christian community gathers to consider the mystery of sin and evil that oppress humanity. They revisit, in the light of the word of God, the sufferings of Christ that atone for this evil.
After they have listened to the retelling of the passion of Christ, the congregation prays for all the necessities of the Church and of the world, they pay homage to the cross and take the consecrated bread and wine kept from the "Cena Domini" mass of the previous day.
By way of further invitation to consider the passion and death of the Redeemer, to express their love and to enable the faithful to participate in the suffering of Christ, Christian tradition has created popular processions and holy representations which aim to impress ever more deeply on the souls of the faithful a sense of having truly participated in the redemptive sacrifice of Christ.
The Via Crucis stands out among these. Over the years it has been enriched with many spiritual and artistic expressions linked to the sensitivities of the various cultures.
In many countries, sanctuaries with the name “Calvary” have been born which are accessible after a steep climb. In recalling the painful climb of the passion, it allows the faithful to participate in Jesus' climb toward the mount of the Cross, the mount of love offered right up to the end.
Holy Saturday is marked by a deep silence. The Churches are left undecorated and there are no particular liturgies set aside for this day. While waiting for the Resurrection, the faithful persevere in the wait with Mary by praying and meditating. A day of silence is necessary to ponder the reality of human life, the forces of evil and the enormous power of good unleashed by the passion and resurrection of Christ.
Great importance is given during this time to participation in the sacrament of reconciliation, indispensable for the purification of the heart and to prepare for the celebration of Easter completely renewed. We need to undertake this inner purification and renewal of ourselves at least once a year.
This Saturday of silence, of meditation, of forgiveness, of reconciliation leads into the Easter Vigil, which introduces the most important Sunday in history, the Sunday that marks the Passover of Christ.
The Church holds vigil next to the newly blessed fire and meditates on the great promise contained in the Old and New Testaments, of the conclusive liberation from the ancient slavery to sin and death. In the darkness of the night, the Easter candle is lit from the new fire as a symbol of Christ who rises again in glory.
Christ, the light of humanity, dispels any shadows in the heart and the spirit and illuminates all men who come into the world. Together with the lighting of the Easter candle, the great Easter announcement reverberates throughout the Church: Christ has truly risen, death no longer has any power over him. With his death he defeats evil forever and makes man a gift of God's own life.
It is tradition that Christ's followers received the sacrament of baptism during the Easter Vigil. This was to underline the participation of Christians in the mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ. The joy, the light and the peace of Christ spread from the shining Easter night to fill the lives of the faithful in every Christian community and reaches into every area of space and time.
Dear brothers and sisters, during these special days let us guide our lives definitively toward a complete and decisive adherence to the designs of our celestial Father; let us renew our “yes” to the divine will as Jesus did with his sacrifice on the cross. The rites suggested for Holy Thursday and Good Friday, the rich silence of prayer of Holy Saturday and the solemn Easter vigil provide us with the opportunity to deepen the feelings and the values of our Christian vocation unleashed by the Paschal mystery and to strengthen it by faithfully following Christ in all circumstances, just as he did, even to the point of giving up our own existence to him.
Remembering the mysteries of Christ also means a willing and complete adherence to the history of today, convinced that when we celebrate, it is reality. Let us include in our prayers the terrible facts and situations that afflict our brothers across the world. We know that hate, division and violence never have the last word in historical events. These holy days reawaken a great hope in us: Christ was crucified, yet he rose again and conquered the world.
Love is stronger than hate, it has triumphed and we should affiliate ourselves with this victory of love. We should therefore start again from Christ and work together with him for a world founded on peace, justice and love.
In this commitment that involves all of us, let us allow ourselves to be guided by Mary, who accompanied her divine son on the road to his passion and cross, and who participated with the strength of her faith in the realization of his plan of salvation.
With these thoughts I send you my best wishes for a happy and holy Easter to you, your loved ones and your communities.
CHRISM MASS HOMILY (HOLY THURSDAY) STILL NOT AVAILABLE!!
MASS OF THE LORD'S SUPPER (HOLY THURSDAY)
Basilica of St John Lateran
Holy Thursday, April 5, 2007
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In the Reading from the Book of Exodus which we have just heard, the celebration of the Passover of Israel is described, just as in Mosaic Law it found its definitive form.
At the outset, it might have been a spring feast for nomads. For Israel, however, it was transformed into a commemorative feast of thanksgiving and, at the same time, hope.
The centre of the Passover meal, regulated by specific liturgical provisions, was the lamb as the symbol of Israel’s redemption from slavery in Egypt.
For this reason the paschal haggada was an integral part of the Passover meal based on lamb: the narrative commemoration of the fact that it had been God himself who set Israel free by “stretching out his hand”.
He, the mysterious and hidden God, had shown himself to be stronger than Pharaoh, in spite of all the power that Pharaoh could muster.
Israel was never to forget that God had personally taken the history of his People in hand and that this history was based permanently on communion with God. Israel must not forget God.
The words of the commemoration were surrounded by words of praise and thanksgiving taken from the Psalms. Thanking and blessing God reached its culmination in the berakah, which in Greek is eulogia or eucaristia: praising God becomes a blessing for those who bless him. The offering given to God comes back blessed to man.
All this built a bridge from the past to the present and toward the future: Israel had not yet been liberated. The nation was still suffering, like a small people, in the sphere of tension between the great powers.
Thus, remembering with gratitude God’s past action became at the same time supplication and hope: Bring to completion what you have begun! Grant us freedom once and for all!
It was on the eve of his Passion that Jesus together with his disciples celebrated this meal with its multiple meanings. This is the context in which we must understand the new Passover which he has given to us in the Blessed Eucharist.
There is an apparent discrepancy in the Evangelists’ accounts, between John’s Gospel on the one hand, and what on the other Mathew, Mark and Luke tell us.
According to John, Jesus died on the Cross at the very moment when the Passover lambs were being sacrificed in the temple. The death of Jesus and the sacrifice of the lambs coincided.
However, this means that he must have died the day before Easter and could not, therefore, have celebrated the Passover meal in person - this, at any rate, is how it appears.
According to the three Synoptic Gospels, the Last Supper of Jesus was instead a Passover meal into whose traditional form he integrated the innovation of the gift of his Body and Blood.
This contradiction seemed unsolvable until a few years ago. The majority of exegetes were of the opinion that John was reluctant to tell us the true historical date of Jesus’ death, but rather chose a symbolic date to highlight the deeper truth: Jesus is the new, true Lamb who poured out his Blood for us all.
In the meantime, the discovery of the [Dead Sea] Scrolls at Qumran has led us to a possible and convincing solution which, although it is not yet accepted by everyone, is a highly plausible hypothesis. We can now say that John’s account is historically precise.
Jesus truly shed his blood on the eve of Easter at the time of the immolation of the lambs.
In all likelihood, however, he celebrated the Passover with his disciples in accordance with the Qumran calendar, hence, at least one day earlier; he celebrated it without a lamb, like the Qumran community which did not recognize Herod’s temple and was waiting for the new temple.
Consequently, Jesus celebrated the Passover without a lamb - no, not without a lamb: instead of the lamb he gave himself, his Body and his Blood. Thus, he anticipated his death in a manner consistent with his words: “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (Jn 10: 18).
At the time when he offered his Body and his Blood to the disciples, he was truly fulfilling this affirmation. He himself offered his own life. Only in this way did the ancient Passover acquire its true meaning.
In his Eucharistic catecheses, St John Chrysostom once wrote: Moses, what are you saying? Does the blood of a lamb purify men and women? Does it save them from death? How can the blood of an animal purify people, save people or have power over death? In fact, Chrysostom continues, the immolation of the lamb could be a merely symbolic act, hence, the expression of expectation and hope in One who could accomplish what the sacrifice of an animal was incapable of accomplishing.
Jesus celebrated the Passover without a lamb and without a temple; yet, not without a lamb and not without a temple. He himself was the awaited Lamb, the true Lamb, just as John the Baptist had foretold at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn 1: 29).
And he himself was the true Temple, the living Temple where God dwells and where we can encounter God and worship him. His Blood, the love of the One who is both Son of God and true man, one of us, is the Blood that can save. His love, that love in which he gave himself freely for us, is what saves us. The nostalgic, in a certain sense, ineffectual gesture which was the sacrifice of an innocent and perfect lamb, found a response in the One who for our sake became at the same time Lamb and Temple.
Thus, the Cross was at the centre of the new Passover of Jesus. From it came the new gift brought by him, and so it lives on for ever in the Blessed Eucharist in which, down the ages, we can celebrate the new Passover with the Apostles.
From Christ’s Cross comes the gift. “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord”. He now offers it to us.
The paschal haggada, the commemoration of God’s saving action, has become a memorial of the Cross and Resurrection of Christ - a memorial that does not simply recall the past but attracts us within the presence of Christ’s love.
Thus, the berakah, Israel’s prayer of blessing and thanksgiving, has become our Eucharistic celebration in which the Lord blesses our gifts - the bread and wine - to give himself in them.
Let us pray to the Lord that he will help us to understand this marvellous mystery ever more profoundly, to love it more and more, and in it, to love the Lord himself ever more.
Let us pray that he will increasingly draw us to himself with Holy Communion. Let us pray that he will help us not to keep our life for ourselves but to give it to him and thus to work with him so that people may find life: the true life which can only come from the One who himself is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
GOOD FRIDAY HOMILY - STILL UNAVAILABLE!!
EASTER VIGIL HOMILY
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
Saint Peter's Basilica
Holy Saturday, 22 March 2008
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In his farewell discourse, Jesus announced his imminent death and resurrection to his disciples with these mysterious words: “I go away, and I will come to you”, he said (Jn 14:28). Dying is a “going away”. Even if the body of the deceased remains behind, he himself has gone away into the unknown, and we cannot follow him (cf. Jn 13:36). Yet in Jesus’s case, there is something utterly new, which changes the world. In the case of our own death, the “going away” is definitive, there is no return. Jesus, on the other hand, says of his death: “I go away, and I will come to you.” It is by going away that he comes. His going ushers in a completely new and greater way of being present. By dying he enters into the love of the Father. His dying is an act of love. Love, however, is immortal. Therefore, his going away is transformed into a new coming, into a form of presence which reaches deeper and does not come to an end. During his earthly life, Jesus, like all of us, was tied to the external conditions of bodily existence: to a determined place and a determined time. Bodiliness places limits on our existence. We cannot be simultaneously in two different places. Our time is destined to come to an end. And between the “I” and the “you” there is a wall of otherness. To be sure, through love we can somehow enter the other’s existence. Nevertheless, the insurmountable barrier of being different remains in place. Yet Jesus, who is now totally transformed through the act of love, is free from such barriers and limits. He is able not only to pass through closed doors in the outside world, as the Gospels recount (cf. Jn 20:19). He can pass through the interior door separating the “I” from the “you”, the closed door between yesterday and today, between the past and the future. On the day of his solemn entry into Jerusalem, when some Greeks asked to see him, Jesus replied with the parable of the grain of wheat which has to pass through death in order to bear much fruit. In this way he foretold his own destiny: these words were not addressed simply to one or two Greeks in the space of a few minutes. Through his Cross, through his going away, through his dying like the grain of wheat, he would truly arrive among the Greeks, in such a way that they could see him and touch him through faith. His going away is transformed into a coming, in the Risen Lord’s universal manner of presence, in which he is there yesterday, today and for ever, in which he embraces all times and all places. Now he can even surmount the wall of otherness that separates the “I” from the “you”. This happened with Paul, who describes the process of his conversion and his Baptism in these words: “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20). Through the coming of the Risen One, Paul obtained a new identity. His closed “I” was opened. Now he lives in communion with Jesus Christ, in the great “I” of believers who have become – as he puts it – “one in Christ” (Gal 3:28).
So, dear friends, it is clear that, through Baptism, the mysterious words spoken by Jesus at the Last Supper become present for you once more. In Baptism, the Lord enters your life through the door of your heart. We no longer stand alongside or in opposition to one another. He passes through all these doors. This is the reality of Baptism: he, the Risen One, comes; he comes to you and joins his life with yours, drawing you into the open fire of his love. You become one, one with him, and thus one among yourselves. At first this can sound rather abstract and unrealistic. But the more you live the life of the baptized, the more you can experience the truth of these words. Believers – the baptized – are never truly cut off from one another. Continents, cultures, social structures or even historical distances may separate us. But when we meet, we know one another on the basis of the same Lord, the same faith, the same hope, the same love, which form us. Then we experience that the foundation of our lives is the same. We experience that in our inmost depths we are anchored in the same identity, on the basis of which all our outward differences, however great they may be, become secondary. Believers are never totally cut off from one another. We are in communion because of our deepest identity: Christ within us. Thus faith is a force for peace and reconciliation in the world: distances between people are overcome, in the Lord we have become close (cf. Eph 2:13).
The Church expresses the inner reality of Baptism as the gift of a new identity through the tangible elements used in the administration of the sacrament. The fundamental element in Baptism is water; next, in second place, is light, which is used to great effect in the Liturgy of the Easter Vigil. Let us take a brief look at these two elements. In the final chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews, there is a statement about Christ which does not speak directly of water, but the Old Testament allusions nevertheless point clearly to the mystery of water and its symbolic meaning. Here we read: “The God of peace … brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant” (13:20). In this sentence, there is an echo of the prophecy of Isaiah, in which Moses is described as the shepherd whom the Lord brought up from the water, from the sea (cf. 63:11). Jesus appears as the new, definitive Shepherd who brings to fulfilment what Moses had done: he leads us out of the deadly waters of the sea, out of the waters of death. In this context we may recall that Moses’ mother placed him in a basket in the Nile. Then, through God’s providence, he was taken out of the water, carried from death to life, and thus – having himself been saved from the waters of death – he was able to lead others through the sea of death. Jesus descended for us into the dark waters of death. But through his blood, so the Letter to the Hebrews tells us, he was brought back from death: his love united itself to the Father’s love, and thus from the abyss of death he was able to rise to life. Now he raises us from death to true life. This is exactly what happens in Baptism: he draws us towards himself, he draws us into true life. He leads us through the often murky sea of history, where we are frequently in danger of sinking amid all the confusion and perils. In Baptism he takes us, as it were, by the hand, he leads us along the path that passes through the Red Sea of this life and introduces us to everlasting life, the true and upright life. Let us grasp his hand firmly! Whatever may happen, whatever may befall us, let us not lose hold of his hand! Let us walk along the path that leads to life.
In the second place, there is the symbol of light and fire. Gregory of Tours recounts a practice that in some places was preserved for a long time, of lighting the new fire for the celebration of the Easter Vigil directly from the sun, using a crystal. Light and fire, so to speak, were received anew from heaven, so that all the lights and fires of the year could be kindled from them. This is a symbol of what we are celebrating in the Easter Vigil. Through his radical love for us, in which the heart of God and the heart of man touched, Jesus Christ truly took light from heaven and brought it to the earth – the light of truth and the fire of love that transform man’s being. He brought the light, and now we know who God is and what God is like. Thus we also know what our own situation is: what we are, and for what purpose we exist. When we are baptized, the fire of this light is brought down deep within ourselves. Thus, in the early Church, Baptism was also called the Sacrament of Illumination: God’s light enters into us; thus we ourselves become children of light. We must not allow this light of truth, that shows us the path, to be extinguished. We must protect it from all the forces that seek to eliminate it so as to cast us back into darkness regarding God and ourselves. Darkness, at times, can seem comfortable. I can hide, and spend my life asleep. Yet we are not called to darkness, but to light. In our baptismal promises, we rekindle this light, so to speak, year by year. Yes, I believe that the world and my life are not the product of chance, but of eternal Reason and eternal Love, they are created by Almighty God. Yes, I believe that in Jesus Christ, in his incarnation, in his Cross and resurrection, the face of God has been revealed; that in him, God is present in our midst, he unites us and leads us towards our goal, towards eternal Love. Yes, I believe that the Holy Spirit gives us the word of truth and enlightens our hearts; I believe that in the communion of the Church we all become one Body with the Lord, and thus we encounter his resurrection and eternal life. The Lord has granted us the light of truth. This light is also fire, a powerful force coming from God, a force that does not destroy, but seeks to transform our hearts, so that we truly become men of God, and so that his peace can become active in this world.
In the early Church there was a custom whereby the Bishop or the priest, after the homily, would cry out to the faithful: “Conversi ad Dominum” – turn now towards the Lord. This meant in the first place that they would turn towards the East, towards the rising sun, the sign of Christ returning, whom we go to meet when we celebrate the Eucharist. Where this was not possible, for some reason, they would at least turn towards the image of Christ in the apse, or towards the Cross, so as to orient themselves inwardly towards the Lord. Fundamentally, this involved an interior event; conversion, the turning of our soul towards Jesus Christ and thus towards the living God, towards the true light. Linked with this, then, was the other exclamation that still today, before the Eucharistic Prayer, is addressed to the community of the faithful: “Sursum corda” – “Lift up your hearts”, high above the tangled web of our concerns, desires, anxieties and thoughtlessness – “Lift up your hearts, your inner selves!” In both exclamations we are summoned, as it were, to a renewal of our Baptism: Conversi ad Dominum – we must distance ourselves ever anew from taking false paths, onto which we stray so often in our thoughts and actions. We must turn ever anew towards him who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. We must be converted ever anew, turning with our whole life towards the Lord. And ever anew we must allow our hearts to be withdrawn from the force of gravity, which pulls them down, and inwardly we must raise them high: in truth and love. At this hour, let us thank the Lord, because through the power of his word and of the holy Sacraments, he points us in the right direction and draws our heart upwards. Let us pray to him in these words: Yes, Lord, make us Easter people, men and women of light, filled with the fire of your love. Amen.
URBI ET ORBI MESSAGE
OF HIS HOLINESS
POPE BENEDICT XVI
Resurrexi, et adhuc tecum sum. Alleluia! - I have risen, I am still with you. Alleluia! Dear brothers and sisters, Jesus, crucified and risen, repeats this joyful proclamation to us today: the Easter proclamation. Let us welcome it with deep wonder and gratitude!
Resurrexi et adhuc tecum sum – I have risen, I am still with you, for ever. These words, taken from an ancient version of Psalm 138 (v. 18b), were sung at the beginning of today’s Mass. In them, at the rising of the Easter sun, the Church recognizes the voice of Jesus himself who, on rising from death, turns to the Father filled with gladness and love, and exclaims: My Father, here I am! I have risen, I am still with you, and so I shall be for ever; your Spirit never abandoned me. In this way we can also come to a new understanding of other passages from the psalm: “If I climb the heavens, you are there; if I descend into the underworld, you are there … Even darkness is not dark for you, and the night is as clear as day; for you, darkness is like light” (Ps 138:8,12). It is true: in the solemn Easter vigil, darkness becomes light, night gives way to the day that knows no sunset. The death and resurrection of the Word of God incarnate is an event of invincible love, it is the victory of that Love which has delivered us from the slavery of sin and death. It has changed the course of history, giving to human life an indestructible and renewed meaning and value.
“I have risen and I am still with you, for ever.” These words invite us to contemplate the risen Christ, letting his voice resound in our heart. With his redeeming sacrifice, Jesus of Nazareth has made us adopted children of God, so that we too can now take our place in the mysterious dialogue between him and the Father. We are reminded of what he once said to those who were listening: “All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Mt 11:27). In this perspective, we note that the words addressed by the risen Jesus to the Father on this day – “I am still with you, for ever” – apply indirectly to us as well, “children of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (cf. Rom 8:17). Through the death and resurrection of Christ, we too rise to new life today, and uniting our voice with his, we proclaim that we wish to remain for ever with God, our infinitely good and merciful Father.
In this way we enter the depths of the Paschal mystery. The astonishing event of the resurrection of Jesus is essentially an event of love: the Father’s love in handing over his Son for the salvation of the world; the Son’s love in abandoning himself to the Father’s will for us all; the Spirit’s love in raising Jesus from the dead in his transfigured body. And there is more: the Father’s love which “newly embraces” the Son, enfolding him in glory; the Son’s love returning to the Father in the power of the Spirit, robed in our transfigured humanity. From today’s solemnity, in which we relive the absolute, once-and-for-all experience of Jesus’s resurrection, we receive an appeal to be converted to Love; we receive an invitation to live by rejecting hatred and selfishness, and to follow with docility in the footsteps of the Lamb that was slain for our salvation, to imitate the Redeemer who is “gentle and lowly in heart”, who is “rest for our souls” (cf. Mt 11:29).
Dear Christian brothers and sisters in every part of the world, dear men and women whose spirit is sincerely open to the truth, let no heart be closed to the omnipotence of this redeeming love! Jesus Christ died and rose for all; he is our hope – true hope for every human being. Today, just as he did with his disciples in Galilee before returning to the Father, the risen Jesus now sends us everywhere as witnesses of his hope, and he reassures us: I am with you always, all days, until the end of the world (cf. Mt 28:20). Fixing the gaze of our spirit on the glorious wounds of his transfigured body, we can understand the meaning and value of suffering, we can tend the many wounds that continue to disfigure humanity in our own day. In his glorious wounds we recognize the indestructible signs of the infinite mercy of the God of whom the prophet says: it is he who heals the wounds of broken hearts, who defends the weak and proclaims the freedom of slaves, who consoles all the afflicted and bestows upon them the oil of gladness instead of a mourning robe, a song of praise instead of a sorrowful heart (cf. Is 61:1,2,3). If with humble trust we draw near to him, we encounter in his gaze the response to the deepest longings of our heart: to know God and to establish with him a living relationship in an authentic communion of love, which can fill our lives, our interpersonal and social relations with that same love. For this reason, humanity needs Christ: in him, our hope, “we have been saved” (cf. Rom 8:24).
How often relations between individuals, between groups and between peoples are marked not by love but by selfishness, injustice, hatred and violence! These are the scourges of humanity, open and festering in every corner of the planet, although they are often ignored and sometimes deliberately concealed; wounds that torture the souls and bodies of countless of our brothers and sisters. They are waiting to be tended and healed by the glorious wounds of our Risen Lord (cf. 1 Pet 2:24-25) and by the solidarity of people who, following in his footsteps, perform deeds of charity in his name, make an active commitment to justice, and spread luminous signs of hope in areas bloodied by conflict and wherever the dignity of the human person continues to be scorned and trampled. It is hoped that these are precisely the places where gestures of moderation and forgiveness will increase!
Dear brothers and sisters! Let us allow the light that streams forth from this solemn day to enlighten us; let us open ourselves in sincere trust to the risen Christ, so that his victory over evil and death may also triumph in each one of us, in our families, in our cities and in our nations. Let it shine forth in every part of the world. In particular, how can we fail to remember certain African regions, such as Dafur and Somalia, the tormented Middle East, especially the Holy Land, Iraq, Lebanon, and finally Tibet, all of whom I encourage to seek solutions that will safeguard peace and the common good! Let us invoke the fullness of his Paschal gifts, through the intercession of Mary who, after sharing the sufferings of the passion and crucifixion of her innocent Son, also experienced the inexpressible joy of his resurrection. Sharing in the glory of Christ, may she be the one to protect us and guide us along the path of fraternal solidarity and peace. These are my Easter greetings, which I address to all who are present here, and to men and women of every nation and continent united with us through radio and television. Happy Easter!