HOMILY OF THE HOLY FATHER
Your Holiness and Fraternal Delegates,
Since the most ancient times the Church of Rome has celebrated the Solemnity of the Great Apostles Peter and Paul as a single Feast on the same day, 29 June. It was through their martyrdom, that they became brothers; together they founded the new Christian Rome. As such they are praised in the hymn for Second Vespers that dates back to Paulinus of Aquileia ([c. 750-]806): "O Roma felix - fortunate Rome, consecrated by the glorious blood of the two Princes of the Apostles; dyed red in their blood, you shine more resplendently than all the glory of the world, not by your merit, but by the merits of the saints that you have killed, drawing blood with the sword". The blood of martyrs does not invoke revenge but reconciliation. It is not presented as an accusation but rather as the "fairer light", in the words of the hymn for First Vespers: it is presented as the force of love that overcomes hatred and violence, thus founding a new city, a new community. Through their martyrdom they - Peter and Paul - now belong to Rome: through their martyrdom, Peter also became a Roman citizen for ever. Through their martyrdom, through their faith and love, both Apostles point to where true hope lies; they are founders of a new sort of city that must be constantly rebuilt in the midst of the old human city that is threatened by the opposing forces of human sin and selfishness.
By virtue of their martyrdom, Peter and Paul are in a reciprocal relationship for ever. A favourite image in Christian iconography shows the embrace of the two Apostles on their way to martyrdom. We can say: their martyrdom itself is the realization of a fraternal embrace in the deepest sense. They died for the one Christ and in their witness for which they gave their lives, they are one. In the New Testament writings we can, so to speak, follow the development of their embrace, this creation of unity in witness and mission. Everything begins when Paul, three years after his conversion, goes to Jerusalem "to visit Cephas" (Galatians 1: 18). Fourteen years later he went up to Jerusalem again to lay "before those who were of repute" the Gospel he was preaching in order to avoid the risk of "running or [having] run in vain" (Galatians 2: 1f.). At the end of this encounter, James, Cephas and John shake hands with him, thus confirming the communion that links them in the one Gospel of Jesus Christ (cf. Galatians 2: 9). I find the fact that the collaborators mentioned at the end of the First Letter of Peter - Silvanus and Mark - were likewise close collaborators of St Paul is a beautiful sign of the growth of this inner embrace which developed despite the diversity of their temperaments and tasks. The communion of the one Church, is clearly demonstrated by the embrace of the great Apostles, in their cooperation.
Peter and Paul met in Jerusalem at least twice; the paths of both were ultimately to converge in Rome. Why? Might this be something more than pure chance? Might this contain a lasting message? Paul arrived in Rome as a prisoner but, at the same time, as a Roman citizen who, precisely as such, after his arrest in Jerusalem had appealed to the Emperor to whose tribunal he was taken. However, in a deeper sense Paul came to Rome of his own free will. Through some of his most important Letters he had already become inwardly close to this city: he had addressed to the Church in Rome the writing that sums up the whole of his proclamation and his faith better than any other. In the initial greeting of this Letter he says that the faith of the Christians of Rome is being talked about in all the world and is, therefore, reputed everywhere to be exemplary (cf. Romans 1: 8). He then writes: "I want you to know, brethren, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented)" (1: 13). At the end of the Letter he returns to this topic now speaking of his project of a journey to Spain. "I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be sped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a little" (15: 24). "And I know that when I come to you I shall come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ" (15: 29). These are two things that become obvious: for Paul, Rome was a stopping place on the way to Spain, in other words - according to his conception of the world - on his way to the extreme edge of the earth. He considers his mission to be the fulfilment of the task assigned to him by Christ, to take the Gospel to the very ends of the world. Rome lay on his route. Whereas Paul usually went to places where the Gospel had not yet been proclaimed, Rome was an exception. He found there a Church whose faith was being talked about across the world. Going to Rome was part of the universality of his mission as an envoy to all peoples. The way that led to Rome, which already prior to his external voyage he had travelled inwardly with his Letter, was an integral part of his duty to take the Gospel to all the peoples - to found the catholic or universal Church. For him, going to Rome was an expression of the catholicity of his mission. Rome had to make the faith visible to the whole world, it had to be the meeting place of the one faith.
But why did Peter go to Rome? The New Testament says nothing about this directly. Yet it gives us some hints. The Gospel according to St Mark, which we may consider a reflection of St Peter's preaching, focuses closely on the moment when the Roman centurion, who, in the light of Jesus Christ's death on the Cross, said: "Truly this man was the Son of God!" (15: 39). By the Cross the mystery of Jesus Christ was revealed. Beneath the Cross the Church of the peoples was born: the centurion of the Roman platoon in charge of his execution recognized Christ as the Son of God.
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate, I would now like to address you who have come to Rome to receive the pallium as a symbol of your dignity and responsibility as Archbishops in the Church of Jesus Christ. The pallium is woven with wool from sheep that the Bishop of Rome blesses every year on the Feast of the Chair of Peter, setting them aside as it were, so that they may become a symbol of the flock of Christ over which you preside. When we place the pallium on our shoulders, our gesture reminds us of the Shepherd who takes upon his shoulders the lost sheep that cannot find its way home alone and brings it back to the fold. The Fathers of the Church saw this little lost lamb as the image of all humanity, of the whole of human nature which strays and can no longer find the way home. The Shepherd who brings it back home can only be the Logos, the eternal Word of God himself. In the Incarnation he took all of us - "human" sheep - on his shoulders. He, the eternal word, the true Shepherd of humanity carries us; in his humanity he carries each one of us on his shoulders. On the way of the Cross he took us home, he takes us home. But he also wants to have men to "carry" it with him. Being a Pastor of Christ's Church means participating in this task which is commemorated by the pallium. When we wear it, he asks us, "Are you too helping me to carry me those who belong to me? Are you bringing them to me, to Jesus Christ?". And then we recall the account of the sending of Peter by the Risen One. The Risen Christ connects the order: "Tend my sheep" inseparably with the question: "Do you love me, do you love me more than these?". Every time we put on the pallium, as a Pastor of Christ's flock we must listen to this question: "Do you love me?", and ourselves be questioned about the extra love that he expects from the Pastor.
Thus the Pallium becomes the symbol of our love for Christ the Good Shepherd and of our loving together with him - it becomes the symbol of the vocation to love people as he does, together with him; those who are seeking, those who have questions, those who are sure of themselves and the humble, the simple and the great; he becomes a symbol of the call to love all of them with the power of Christ and in view of Christ, so that they may find him and in him find themselves. However, the pallium, which you received "from the" tomb of St Peter has another, second meaning, inseparably connected to the first. In order to understand it, some words from the First Letter of St Peter may be a help to us. In his exhortation to priests to tend the flock properly he - St Peter - describes himself as a synpresbyteros - fellow elder (5: 1). This formula contains implicitly an affirmation of the principle of Apostolic Succession: Pastors who succeed one another are Pastors like him, they are together with him, they belong to the common ministry of the Pastors of the Church of Jesus Christ, a ministry that continues in them. But this word "fellow" also has two more meanings. It also expresses the reality we define today with the term "collegiality" of the Bishops. We are all fellow-priests. No one is a Pastor on his own. We are in the succession of the Apostles also thanks to being in communion as a college, which finds its continuity in the college of the Apostles. "Our" communion as Pastors is part of being a Pastor, because the flock is one alone, the one Church of Jesus Christ. And lastly this word "fellow" refers to communion with Peter and his Successor as a guarantee of unity. Thus the pallium speaks to us of the catholicity of the Church, of the universal communion of the Pastor and flock and refers us to apostolicity: to communion with the faith of the Apostles on which the Church is founded. It speaks to us of the ecclesia una, catholica, apostolica and naturally, binding us to Christ, it speaks to us precisely of the fact that the Church is sancta and that our work is a service to her holiness.
Lastly, this brings me back once again to St Paul and his mission. He expressed the essential of his mission as well as the deepest reason for his desire to go to Rome in chapter 15 of the Letter to the Romans in an extraordinarily beautiful sentence. He knows he is called "to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the Gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit" (15: 16). In this verse alone does Paul use the word "hierourgein" - to administer as a priest - together with "leitourgos" - liturgy: he speaks of the cosmic liturgy in which the human world itself must become worship of God, an oblation in the Holy Spirit. When the world in all its parts has become a liturgy of God, when, in its reality, it has become adoration, then it will have reached its goal and will be safe and sound. This is the ultimate goal of St Paul's apostolic mission as well as of our own mission. The Lord calls us to this ministry. Let us pray at this time that he may help us to carry it out properly, to become true liturgists of Jesus Christ.
HOLY MASS FOR THE IMPOSITION OF THE SACRED PALLIUM
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
“Non iam dicam servos, sed amicos” - “I no longer call you servants, but friends” (cf. John 15:15).
Sixty years on from the day of my priestly ordination, I hear once again deep within me these words of Jesus that were addressed to us new priests at the end of the ordination ceremony by the Archbishop, Cardinal Faulhaber, in his slightly frail yet firm voice. According to the liturgical practice of that time, these words conferred on the newly-ordained priests the authority to forgive sins. “No longer servants, but friends”: at that moment I knew deep down that these words were no mere formality, nor were they simply a quotation from Scripture. I knew that, at that moment, the Lord himself was speaking to me in a very personal way. In baptism and confirmation he had already drawn us close to him, he had already received us into God’s family. But what was taking place now was something greater still. He calls me his friend. He welcomes me into the circle of those he had spoken to in the Upper Room, into the circle of those whom he knows in a very special way, and who thereby come to know him in a very special way. He grants me the almost frightening faculty to do what only he, the Son of God, can legitimately say and do: I forgive you your sins. He wants me – with his authority – to be able to speak, in his name (“I” forgive), words that are not merely words, but an action, changing something at the deepest level of being. I know that behind these words lies his suffering for us and on account of us. I know that forgiveness comes at a price: in his Passion he went deep down into the sordid darkness of our sins. He went down into the night of our guilt, for only thus can it be transformed. And by giving me authority to forgive sins, he lets me look down into the abyss of man, into the immensity of his suffering for us men, and this enables me to sense the immensity of his love. He confides in me: “No longer servants, but friends”. He entrusts to me the words of consecration in the Eucharist. He trusts me to proclaim his word, to explain it aright and to bring it to the people of today. He entrusts himself to me. “You are no longer servants, but friends”: these words bring great inner joy, but at the same time, they are so awe-inspiring that one can feel daunted as the decades go by amid so many experiences of one’s own frailty and his inexhaustible goodness.
“No longer servants, but friends”: this saying contains within itself the entire programme of a priestly life. What is friendship? Idem velle, idem nolle – wanting the same things, rejecting the same things: this was how it was expressed in antiquity. Friendship is a communion of thinking and willing. The Lord says the same thing to us most insistently: “I know my own and my own know me” (John 10:14). The Shepherd calls his own by name (cf. John 10:3). He knows me by name. I am not just some nameless being in the infinity of the universe. He knows me personally. Do I know him? The friendship that he bestows upon me can only mean that I too try to know him better; that in the Scriptures, in the Sacraments, in prayer, in the communion of saints, in the people who come to me, sent by him, I try to come to know the Lord himself more and more. Friendship is not just about knowing someone, it is above all a communion of the will. It means that my will grows into ever greater conformity with his will. For his will is not something external and foreign to me, something to which I more or less willingly submit or else refuse to submit. No, in friendship, my will grows together with his will, and his will becomes mine: this is how I become truly myself. Over and above communion of thinking and willing, the Lord mentions a third, new element: he gives his life for us (cf. John 15:13; 10:15). Lord, help me to come to know you more and more. Help me to be ever more at one with your will. Help me to live my life not for myself, but in union with you to live it for others. Help me to become ever more your friend.
Jesus’ words on friendship should be seen in the context of the discourse on the vine. The Lord associates the image of the vine with a commission to the disciples: “I appointed you that you should go out and bear fruit, and that your fruit should abide” (John 15:16). The first commission to the disciples, to his friends, is that of setting out – appointed to go out -, stepping outside oneself and towards others. Here we hear an echo of the words of the risen Lord to his disciples at the end of Matthew’s Gospel: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations ...” (cf. Matthew 28:19f.) The Lord challenges us to move beyond the boundaries of our own world and to bring the Gospel to the world of others, so that it pervades everything and hence the world is opened up for God’s kingdom. We are reminded that even God stepped outside himself, he set his glory aside in order to seek us, in order to bring us his light and his love. We want to follow the God who sets out in this way, we want to move beyond the inertia of self-centredness, so that he himself can enter our world.
After the reference to setting out, Jesus continues: bear fruit, fruit that abides. What fruit does he expect from us? What is this fruit that abides? Now, the fruit of the vine is the grape, and it is from the grape that wine is made. Let us reflect for a moment on this image. For good grapes to ripen, sun is needed, but so too is rain, day and night. For noble wine to mature, the grapes need to be pressed, patience is needed while the juice ferments, watchful care is needed to assist the processes of maturation. Noble wine is marked not only by sweetness, but by rich and subtle flavours, the manifold aroma that develops during the processes of maturation and fermentation. Is this not already an image of human life, and especially of our lives as priests? We need both sun and rain, festivity and adversity, times of purification and testing, as well as times of joyful journeying with the Gospel. In hindsight we can thank God for both: for the challenges and the joys, for the dark times and the glad times. In both, we can recognize the constant presence of his love, which unfailingly supports and sustains us.
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13 July 2014