The “little ones”: how different is human logic from the divine! The “little ones”, according to the Gospel, are those who know they are God’s creatures and shun all presumption: they expect everything from the Lord and so are never disappointed. This is the basic attitude of the believer: faith and humility are inseparable. Proof of this is the witness given by the new blesseds: Zefirino Agostini, Antônio de Sant’Anna Galvão, Faustino Míguez and Theodore Guérin. The greater a person’s faith, the “littler” he feels, in the image of Jesus Christ, who, “though he was in the form of God, ... emptied himself” (Philippians 2:6-7) and came among men as their servant.
2. The new blesseds are examples for us to imitate and witnesses to follow. Their lives show that the strength of little ones is prayer, as this Sunday’s word of God emphasizes. The saints and blesseds are first of all men and women of prayer: they bless the Lord at all times, his praise is ever in their mouth; they cry out and the Lord hears them, and from all their distress he rescues them, as the responsorial psalm reminds us (cf. Ps 33 :2, 18). Their prayer pierces the clouds, is ceaseless and untiring, and never rests until the Most High responds (cf. Sir 35:16-18).
The prayerful power of spiritual men and women is always accompanied by a deep sense of their own limitations and unworthiness. It is faith, not presumption, that nurtures the courage and fidelity of Christ’s disciples. Like the Apostle Paul, they know that the Lord has reserved a crown of righteousness for those who await his appearing with eager longing (cf. 2 Timothy 4:8).
3. “The Lord stood by me and gave me strength” (2 Timothy 4:17).
These words of the Apostle to Timothy certainly apply to Fr Zefirino Agostino, who never lost heart despite countless difficulties. He stands before us today as a humble, steadfast witness to the Gospel in the latter half of the 19th century, a fruitful period for the Church in Verona. His faith was steadfast, his charitable work effective, and ardent was the priestly spirit that distinguished him.
The love of the Lord spurred him in his apostolate to the poor, especially in the Christian education of girls, particularly the most needy. He understood well the important role women play in the rehabilitation of society by teaching the values of freedom, honesty and charity.
He advised the Ursulines, his spiritual daughters: “Poor girls: let them be the favourite object of your care and attention. Awaken their minds, teach their hearts virtue and save their souls from malignant contact with the wicked world” (Scritti alle Orsoline, 289). May his example strongly encourage those who honour him today as blessed and invoke him as their protector.
4. “The Lord stood by me and gave me strength to proclaim the word fully” (2 Timothy 4:17).
This message of St Paul to Timothy is well reflected in the life of Friar Antônio de Sant’Anna Galvão, who fulfilled his religious consecration by dedicating himself with love and devotion to the afflicted, the suffering and the slaves of his era in Brazil.
Let us thank God for the continual blessings granted through the powerful evangelizing influence which the Holy Spirit has exercised in so many souls down to our day through Friar Galvão. His authentically Franciscan faith, evangelically lived and apostolically spent in serving his neighbour, will be an encouragement to imitate this “man of peace and charity”. His mission of founding “Recolhimentos” dedicated to Our Lady and to Providence still bears astounding fruit: he was a fervent adorer of the Eucharist, a teacher and defender of Gospel charity, a wise spiritual director for many souls and a defender of the poor. May Mary Immaculate, whose “son and everlasting slave” Friar Galvão considered himself, enlighten the hearts of the faithful and awaken in them a hunger for God and a commitment to serving his kingdom through their own witness of authentic Christian life.
5. “He who humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk 18:14). These words of Jesus which we have heard in the Gospel are fulfilled as the Piarist priest, Faustino Míguez, is raised to the glory of the altars. By renouncing his own ambitions, the new blessed followed Jesus the Teacher and dedicated his life to teaching children and young people in the style of St Joseph Calasanz. As an educator, his goal was the formation of the whole person. As a priest, he continually sought the holiness of souls. As a scientist, he was able to alleviate sickness by freeing humanity from physical suffering. In school and the street, in the confessional and the laboratory, Fr Faustino Míguez was the very image of Christ, who welcomes, pardons and gives life.
A “man of the people and for the people”, everything and everyone were his concern. Thus, he observed the conditions of ignorance and marginalization in which women lived, whom he regarded as the “soul of the family and the most important part of society”. To guide them from their childhood years on the path of human and Christian advancement, he founded the Calasanctian Institute of the Divine Shepherdess for the education of girls in religion and the arts.
His shining example, an interweaving of prayer, study and apostolate, continues today in the witness of his daughters and of the many teachers who courageously and joyfully work to imprint the image of Jesus on the minds and hearts of young people.
6. “The Lord stood by me and gave me strength to proclaim the word fully” (2 Timothy 4:17). In these words to Timothy, St Paul looks back across the years of his apostolic ministry and affirms his hope in the Lord in the face of adversity.
The words of the Apostle were engraved on Mother Theodore Guérin’s heart when she left her native France in 1840 with her five companions to face the uncertainties and dangers of the frontier territory of Indiana. Her life and work were always guided by the sure hand of Providence, in which she had complete confidence. She understood that she must spend herself in God’s service, seeking always his will. Despite initial difficulties and misunderstandings, and subsequent crosses and afflictions, she felt deeply that God had blessed her Congregation of the Sisters of Providence, giving it growth and forging a union of hearts among its members. In the congregation’s schools and orphanages, Mother Theodore’s witness led many young boys and girls to know the loving care of God in their lives.
Today she continues to teach Christians to abandon themselves to the providence of our heavenly Father and to be totally committed to doing what pleases him. The life of Bl. Theodore Guérin is a testimony that everything is possible with God and for God. May her spiritual daughters and all who have experienced her charism live the same spirit today.
7. Dear brothers and sisters who have come from various parts of the world for this festive celebration, I warmly greet you and thank you for your presence!
May the witness offered by the new blesseds encourage us to advance generously on the way of the Gospel. By looking at those who found favour with God because of their humble submission to his will, may our spirit feel moved to follow the Gospel with patient and constant generosity.
“He whose service is pleasing to the Lord will be accepted, and his prayer will reach to the heavens” (Sirach 35:16). Here is the great lesson which our brothers and sister offer us: to honour, love and serve God with our whole life, always knowing that “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14).
May God generously open the treasures of his mercy to all: he who “hears the cry of the oppressed” (Sirach 35:13); who “is close to the broken-hearted” (Ps 33 :19); who rescues the poor “from all their distress” (Ps 33 :18); who gives satisfaction to the just and affirms the right (cf. Sirach 35:18).
May the Virgin Mary, Queen of All Saints, obtain the gift of humility and fidelity for us and for every believer, so that our prayer may always be genuine and pleasing to the Lord.
Acknowledgment: We thank the Vatican Publisher for allowing us to publish the Homily of Blessed Pope John Paul II, so that it could be accessed by more people all over the world; as a source of God’s encouragements to all of us.
PAPAL MASS FOR THE CLOSING
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
Two weeks from the opening Celebration, we are gathered once again on the Lord's day, at the Altar of the Confession in St Peter's Basilica, to conclude the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops. In our hearts is a deep gratitude towards God who has afforded us this truly extraordinary experience, not just for us, but for the good of the Church, for the People of God who live in the lands between the Mediterranean and Mesopotamia. As Bishop of Rome, I would like to express my gratitude to you, Venerable Synod Fathers: Cardinals, Patriarchs, Archbishops, Bishops. I wish to especially thank the Secretary General, the four Presidents Delegate, the Relator General, the Special Secretary and all the collaborators, who have worked tirelessly in these days. This morning we left the Synod Hall and came to “the temple to pray”: in this, we are touched directly by the parable of the pharisee and the publican, told by Jesus and recounted by the Evangelist St Luke (cf. 18:9-14). We too may be tempted, like the pharisee, to tell God of our merits, perhaps thinking of our work during these days. However, to rise up to Heaven, prayer must emanate from a poor, humble heart. And therefore we too, at the conclusion of this ecclesial event, wish to first and foremost give thanks to God, not for our merits, but for the gift that He has given us. We recognize ourselves as small and in need of salvation, of mercy; we recognize all that comes from Him and that only with his Grace we may realize what the Holy Spirit told us. Only in this manner may we “return home” truly enriched, made more just and more able to walk in the path of the Lord.
The First Reading and the responsorial Psalm stress the theme of prayer, emphasizing that it is much more powerful to God's heart when those who pray are in a condition of need and are afflicted. “The prayer of the humble pierces the clouds” affirms Ecclesiasticus (35:21); and the Psalmist adds: “Yahweh is near to the broken-hearted, he helps those whose spirit is crushed” (34:18). Our thoughts go to our numerous brothers and sisters who live in the region of the Middle East and who find themselves in trying situations, at times very burdensome, both for the material poverty and for the discouragement, the state of tension and at times of fear. Today the Word of God also offers us a light of consoling hope, there where He presents prayer, personified, that “until he has eliminated the hordes of the arrogant and broken the sceptres of the wicked, until he has repaid all people as their deeds deserve and human actions as their intentions merit” (Ecclesiasticus 35:21-22). This link too, between prayer and justice makes us think of many situations in the world, particularly in the Middle East. The cry of the poor and oppressed finds an immediate echo in God, who desires to intervene to open up a way out, to restore a future of freedom, a horizon of hope.
This faith in God who is near, who frees his friends, is what the Apostle Paul witnesses to in today's epistle, in the Second Letter to Timothy. Realizing that the end of his earthly life was near, Paul makes an assessment: “I have fought the good fight to the end; I have run the race to the finish; I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). For each one of us, dear brothers in the episcopacy, this is a model to imitate: may Divine Goodness allow us to make a similar judgment of ourselves! St Paul continues, “the Lord stood by me and gave me power, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed for all the gentiles to hear” (2 Timothy 4:17). It is a word which resounds with particular strength on this Sunday in which we celebrate World Mission Day! Communion with Jesus crucified and risen, witness of his love. The Apostle's experience is a model for every Christian, especially for us Shepherds. We have shared a powerful moment of ecclesial communion. We now leave each other so that each may return to his own mission, but we know that we remain united, we remain in his love.
The Synodal Assembly which concludes today has always kept in mind the icon of the first Christian community, described in the Acts of the Apostles: “The whole group of believers was united, heart and soul” (Acts 4:32). It is a reality that we experienced in these past days, in which we have shared the joys and the pains, the concerns and the hopes of Christians in the Middle East. We experienced the unity of the Church in the variety of Churches present in that region. Led by the Holy Spirit, we became “united, heart and soul” in faith, in hope, and in charity, most of all during the Eucharistic celebrations, source and summit of ecclesial communion, and in the Liturgy of the Hours as well, celebrated every morning according to one of the seven Catholic rites of the Middle East. We have thus enhanced the liturgical, spiritual and theological wealth of the Eastern Catholic Churches, as well as of the Latin Church. It involved an exchange of precious gifts, from which all the Synodal Fathers benefited. It is hoped that this positive experience repeats itself in the respective communities of the Middle East, encouraging the participation of the faithful in liturgical celebrations of other Catholic rites, thus opening themselves to the dimensions of the Universal Church.
Common prayer helped us to face the challenges of the Catholic Church in the Middle East as well. One of these is communion within each sui iuris Church, as well as in the relationships between the various Catholic Churches of different traditions. As today's Gospel reminded us (cf. Luke 18:9-14), we need humility, in order to recognize our limitations, our errors and omissions, in order to be able to truly be “united, heart and soul”. A fuller communion within the Catholic Church favours ecumenical dialogue with other Churches and ecclesial communities as well. The Catholic Church reiterated in this Synodal meeting its deep conviction to pursuing such dialogue as well, so that the prayer of the Lord Jesus might be completely fulfilled: “May they all be one” (John 17:21).
The words of the Lord Jesus may be applied to Christians in the Middle East: “There is no need to be afraid, little flock, for it has pleased your Father to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). Indeed, even if they are few, they are bearers of the Good News of the love of God for man, love which revealed itself in the Holy Land in the person of Jesus Christ. This Word of salvation, strengthened with the grace of the Sacraments, resounds with particular potency in the places in which, by Divine Providence, it was written, and it is the only Word which is able to break that vicious circle of vengeance, hate, and violence. From a purified heart, in peace with God and neighbour, may intentions and initiatives for peace at local, national, and international levels be born. In these actions, to whose accomplishment the whole international community is called, Christians as full-fledged citizens can and must do their part with the spirit of the Beatitudes, becoming builders of peace and apostles of reconciliation to the benefit of all society.
Continue next page …
3 November 2013