At his Ascension, the Risen Lord told his disciples: “You will be my witnesses … to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Here, in Australia, let us thank the Lord for the gift of faith, which has come down to us like a treasure passed on from generation to generation in the communion of the Church. Here, in Oceania, let us give thanks in a special way for all those heroic missionaries, dedicated priests and religious, Christian parents and grandparents, teachers and catechists who built up the Church in these lands – witnesses like Blessed Mary MacKillop, Saint Peter Chanel, Blessed Peter To Rot, and so many others! The power of the Spirit, revealed in their lives, is still at work in the good they left behind, in the society which they shaped and which is being handed on to you.
Dear young people, let me now ask you a question. What will you leave to the next generation? Are you building your lives on firm foundations, building something that will endure? Are you living your lives in a way that opens up space for the Spirit in the midst of a world that wants to forget God, or even rejects him in the name of a falsely-conceived freedom? How are you using the gifts you have been given, the “power” which the Holy Spirit is even now prepared to release within you? What legacy will you leave to young people yet to come? What difference will you make?
The power of the Holy Spirit does not only enlighten and console us. It also points us to the future, to the coming of God’s Kingdom. What a magnificent vision of a humanity redeemed and renewed we see in the new age promised by today’s Gospel! Saint Luke tells us that Jesus Christ is the fulfilment of all God’s promises, the Messiah who fully possesses the Holy Spirit in order to bestow that gift upon all mankind. The outpouring of Christ’s Spirit upon humanity is a pledge of hope and deliverance from everything that impoverishes us. It gives the blind new sight; it sets the downtrodden free, and it creates unity in and through diversity (cf. Luke 4:18-19; Is 61:1-2). This power can create a new world: it can “renew the face of the earth” (cf. Psalm 104:30)!
Empowered by the Spirit, and drawing upon faith’s rich vision, a new generation of Christians is being called to help build a world in which God’s gift of life is welcomed, respected and cherished – not rejected, feared as a threat and destroyed. A new age in which love is not greedy or self-seeking, but pure, faithful and genuinely free, open to others, respectful of their dignity, seeking their good, radiating joy and beauty. A new age in which hope liberates us from the shallowness, apathy and self-absorption which deaden our souls and poison our relationships. Dear young friends, the Lord is asking you to be prophets of this new age, messengers of his love, drawing people to the Father and building a future of hope for all humanity.
The world needs this renewal! In so many of our societies, side by side with material prosperity, a spiritual desert is spreading: an interior emptiness, an unnamed fear, a quiet sense of despair. How many of our contemporaries have built broken and empty cisterns (cf. Jeremiah 2:13) in a desperate search for meaning – the ultimate meaning that only love can give? This is the great and liberating gift which the Gospel brings: it reveals our dignity as men and women created in the image and likeness of God. It reveals humanity’s sublime calling, which is to find fulfilment in love. It discloses the truth about man and the truth about life.
The Church also needs this renewal! She needs your faith, your idealism and your generosity, so that she can always be young in the Spirit (cf. Lumen Gentium, 4)! In today’s second reading, the Apostle Paul reminds us that each and every Christian has received a gift meant for building up the Body of Christ. The Church especially needs the gifts of young people, all young people. She needs to grow in the power of the Spirit who even now gives joy to your youth and inspires you to serve the Lord with gladness. Open your hearts to that power! I address this plea in a special way to those of you whom the Lord is calling to the priesthood and the consecrated life. Do not be afraid to say “yes” to Jesus, to find your joy in doing his will, giving yourself completely to the pursuit of holiness, and using all your talents in the service of others!
In a few moments, we will celebrate the sacrament of Confirmation. The Holy Spirit will descend upon the confirmands; they will be “sealed” with the gift of the Spirit and sent forth to be Christ’s witnesses. What does it mean to receive the “seal” of the Holy Spirit? It means being indelibly marked, inalterably changed, a new creation. For those who have received this gift, nothing can ever be the same! Being “baptized” in the one Spirit (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:13) means being set on fire with the love of God. Being “given to drink” of the Spirit means being refreshed by the beauty of the Lord’s plan for us and for the world, and becoming in turn a source of spiritual refreshment for others. Being “sealed with the Spirit” means not being afraid to stand up for Christ, letting the truth of the Gospel permeate the way we see, think and act, as we work for the triumph of the civilization of love.
As we pray for the confirmands, let us ask that the power of the Holy Spirit will revive the grace of our own Confirmation. May he pour out his gifts in abundance on all present, on this city of Sydney, on this land of Australia and on all its people! May each of us be renewed in the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgement and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence, the spirit of wonder and awe in God’s presence!
Through the loving intercession of Mary, Mother of the Church, may this Twenty-third World Youth Day be experienced as a new Upper Room, from which all of us, burning with the fire and love of the Holy Spirit, go forth to proclaim the Risen Christ and to draw every heart to him! Amen.
Dear Young Friends,
In the beautiful prayer that we are about to recite, we reflect on Mary as a young woman, receiving the Lord’s summons to dedicate her life to him in a very particular way, a way that would involve the generous gift of herself, her womanhood, her motherhood. Imagine how she must have felt. She was filled with apprehension, utterly overwhelmed at the prospect that lay before her.
The angel understood her anxiety and immediately sought to reassure her. “Do not be afraid, Mary…. The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:30, 35). It was the Spirit who gave her the strength and courage to respond to the Lord’s call. It was the Spirit who helped her to understand the great mystery that was to be accomplished through her. It was the Spirit who enfolded her with his love and enabled her to conceive the Son of God in her womb.
This scene is perhaps the pivotal moment in the history of God’s relationship with his people. During the Old Testament, God revealed himself partially, gradually, as we all do in our personal relationships. It took time for the chosen people to develop their relationship with God. The Covenant with Israel was like a period of courtship, a long engagement. Then came the definitive moment, the moment of marriage, the establishment of a new and everlasting covenant. As Mary stood before the Lord, she represented the whole of humanity. In the angel’s message, it was as if God made a marriage proposal to the human race. And in our name, Mary said yes.
In fairy tales, the story ends there, and all “live happily ever after”. In real life it is not so simple. For Mary there were many struggles ahead, as she lived out the consequences of the “yes” that she had given to the Lord. Simeon prophesied that a sword would pierce her heart. When Jesus was twelve years old, she experienced every parent’s worst nightmare when, for three days, the child went missing. And after his public ministry, she suffered the agony of witnessing his crucifixion and death. Throughout her trials she remained faithful to her promise, sustained by the Spirit of fortitude. And she was gloriously rewarded.
Dear young people, we too must remain faithful to the “yes” that we have given to the Lord’s offer of friendship. We know that he will never abandon us. We know that he will always sustain us through the gifts of the Spirit. Mary accepted the Lord’s “proposal” in our name. So let us turn to her and ask her to guide us as we struggle to remain faithful to the life-giving relationship that God has established with each one of us. She is our example and our inspiration, she intercedes for us with her Son, and with a mother’s love she shields us from harm.
After the Angelus:
The time has come for me to say good-bye – or rather, to say arrivederci! I thank you all for your participation in World Youth Day 2008, here in Sydney, and I look forward to seeing you again in three years’ time. World Youth Day 2011 will take place in Madrid, Spain. Until then, let us continue to pray for one another, and let us joyfully bear witness to Christ before the world. May God bless you all.
Courtyard of the Papal Summer Residence, Castel Gandolfo
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The Gospel parables are brief accounts that Jesus uses to proclaim the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven. Using imagery from situations of daily life, the Lord “wants to show us the real ground of all things.... He shows us... the God who acts, who intervenes in our lives, and wants to take us by the hand” (Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, English edition, Doubleday, 2007, p. 192).
With this kind of discourse the divine Teacher invites us to recognize first of all the primacy of God the Father: Wherever he is absent, nothing can be good. He is a crucial priority for all things. Kingdom of Heaven means, in fact, lordship of God and this means that his will must be adopted as the guiding criterion of our existence.
The subject of this Sunday's Gospel is, precisely, the Kingdom of Heaven. “Heaven” should not be understood only in the sense that it towers above us, because this infinite space also takes the form of human interiority. Jesus compares the Kingdom of Heaven to a field of wheat to enable us to understand that something small and hidden has been sown within us which, nevertheless, has an irrepressible vital force. In spite of all obstacles, the seed will develop and the fruit will ripen. This fruit will only be good if the terrain of life is cultivated in accordance with the divine will.
For this reason in the Parable of the Weeds [tares] among the good Wheat (Matthew 13:24-30). Jesus warns us that, after the owner had scattered the seed, “while men were sleeping, his enemy” intervened and sowed weeds among the wheat. This means that we must be ready to preserve the grace received from the day of our Baptism, continuing to nourish faith in the Lord that prevents evil from taking root. St Augustine commenting on the parable noted “many are at first tares but then become good grain”, and he added: “if these, when they are wicked, are not endured with patience they would not attain their praiseworthy transformation” (Quaest. septend. in Ev. sec. Matth., 12, 4: PL 35, 1371).
Dear friends, the Book of Wisdom — from which today's First Reading is taken — emphasizes this dimension of the divine Being and states: “Neither is there any god besides you, whose care is for all men.... For your strength is the source of righteousness, and your sovereignty over all causes you to spare all” (Wisdom 12:13, 16). And Psalm 86  confirms it: “You, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call on you” (v. 5).
Hence if we are children of such a great and good Father, let us seek to be like him! This was the aim Jesus set himself with his preaching; indeed, he said to those who were listening to him: “You... must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Let us turn with trust to Mary, whom we invoked yesterday with the title of Our Lady of Mount Carmel so that she may help us to follow Jesus faithfully, and so live as true children of God.
After the Angelus :
I offer a warm welcome to the English-speaking visitors gathered for this Angelus prayer, including the pilgrims from Meath, Ireland, and from Nazareth, the home of Jesus. Today’s Gospel encourages us to let the good seed of God’s word bear fruit in our lives and to trust in his mysterious plan for the growth of the Kingdom. Let us work for an abundant harvest of holiness in the Church and ask to be found among Christ’s righteous ones on the Day of Judgement. Upon all of you I invoke the Lord’s abundant blessings of joy and peace!
I wish you all a good Sunday, thank you. May the Lord bless you.
Appeal of the Holy Father
Dear Friends, to start with: an appeal.
I am following with deep concern the news from the region of the Horn of Africa and, in particular, Somalia, stricken by a very severe drought followed in certain areas by torrential rain which are causing a humanitarian catastrophe. Countless people are fleeing from that terrible famine in search of food and help. I hope that international mobilization will be stepped up so as to send aid without delay to these brothers and sisters of ours already harshly tried, including a great many children. May these suffering peoples not lack our solidarity and the material support of all people of good will.
Acknowledgment: We thank the Vatican Publisher for allowing us to publish the Homilies of Pope Benedict XVI, so that they could be accessed by more people all over the world; as a source of God’s encouragements to all of us.
3 August 2014