Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Thousands of young people are about to leave or have already set out for Cologne for the 20th World Youth Day, whose theme, as you know, is: "We have come to worship him" (Matthew 2: 2).
One might say that the whole Church has been spiritually mobilized to live this extraordinary event, looking to the Magi as unique models of people seeking Christ, before whom to kneel in adoration. But what does "worship" mean? Might it be an expression of past times, meaningless to our contemporaries? No! A well-known prayer that many recite in the morning and the evening begins precisely with these words: "I adore you, my God, and I love you with all my heart...".
Every day, at sunrise and sunset, believers renew their "adoration" or acknowledgement of the presence of God, Creator and Lord of the Universe. This recognition is full of gratitude that wells up from the depths of their heart and floods their entire being, for it is only by adoring and loving God above all things that human beings can totally fulfil themselves.
The Magi adored the Child of Bethlehem, recognizing him as the promised Messiah, the Only-begotten Son of the Father in whom, as St Paul says, "the fullness of the deity resides in bodily form" (Colossians 2: 9). The disciples Peter, James and John, to whom Jesus revealed his divine glory - as the feast of the Transfiguration celebrated yesterday reminds us -, predicting his definitive victory over death, experienced something similar on Mount Tabor. Subsequently, with Easter, the crucified and Risen Christ was fully to manifest his divinity and offer to all men and women the gift of his redeeming love. Saints are those who accepted this gift and became true worshippers of the living God, loving him without reserve at every moment of their lives. With the forthcoming meeting in Cologne, the Church wants once again to present this holiness, the peak of love, to all the young people of the Third Millennium.
Who can accompany us better on this demanding journey of holiness than Mary? Who can teach us to adore Christ better than she? May she help especially the new generations to recognize the true face of God in Christ and to worship, love and serve him with total dedication.
After the Angelus
Before greeting the pilgrims present, I would like to express my condolences to the relatives of the victims of yesterday's plane crash in Southern Italy. I am praying for the victims and the injured, who come mainly from Bari and the surrounding area. I share in the mourning of the families and of the entire ecclesial and civil community of that city which I visited a short time ago on the occasion of the National Eucharistic Congress. May Christ, who died and rose, imbue comfort and hope in everyone.
I offer a cordial greeting to the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors gathered for this Angelus prayer. With great affection I invoke upon you and your families an abundance of joy and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ.
I wish you all a good Sunday and a good week! Thank you for your affection. Thank you!
Piazza Duomo, Bressanone
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
There is a point in Mark's Gospel where he recounts that after days of stress the Lord said to the disciples: "Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while" (6: 31). And since the Word of Christ is never connected solely to the moment in which it was spoken I have applied this invitation to the disciples also to myself, and I came to this beautiful, tranquil place to rest for a while. I must thank Bishop Egger and all his collaborators, the whole City and Region of Bressanone, for preparing this beautiful quiet place for me in which, during the past two weeks I have been able to relax, to think of God and of humanity, and thus to recover fresh energy. May God reward you!
I ought to thank many individuals but I shall do something simpler: I commend you all to God's Blessing. He knows each one of you by name and his Blessing will touch each of you personally. I ask this with all my heart, and may it be my "thank you" to you all!
This Sunday's Gospel brings us back from this place of rest to daily life. It tells how, after the multiplication of the loaves, the Lord withdraws to the mountain to be alone with the Father. In the meantime, the disciples are on the lake and with their poor little boat are endeavouring in vain to stand up to a contrary wind. To the Evangelist this episode may have seemed an image of the Church of his time: like the small barque which was the Church of that period, he found himself buffeted by the contrary wind of history and it may have seemed that the Lord had forgotten him. We too can see this as an image of the Church of our time which in many parts of the earth finds herself struggling to make headway in spite of the contrary wind, and it seems the Lord is very remote. But the Gospel gives us an answer, consolation and encouragement and at the same time points out a path to us. It tells us, in fact: yes, it is true, the Lord is with the Father but for this very reason he is not distant but sees everyone, for whoever is with God does not go away but is close to his neighbour. And, in fact, the Lord sees them and at the proper time comes towards them. And when Peter, who was going to meet him, risks drowning, the Lord takes him by the hand and brings him to safety on the boat. The Lord is continuously holding out his hand to us too. He does so through the beauty of a Sunday; he does so through the solemn liturgy; he does so in the prayer with which we address him; he does so in the encounter with the Word of God; he does so in many situations of daily life - he holds his hand out to us. And only if we take the Lord's hand, if we let ourselves be guided by him, will the path we take be right and good.
For this reason let us pray to him that we may succeed ever anew in finding his hand. And at the same time, this implies an exhortation: that, in his Name we hold our own hand out to others, to those in need of it, to lead them through the waters of our history.
In these days, dear friends, I have also been thinking over my experience in Sydney, where I encountered the joyful faces of so many young men and women from every part of the world. So it was that a reflection on this event developed in me which I would like to share with you. In the great metropolis of the young Australian nation, those youth were a sign of authentic joy, at times boisterous but always peaceful and positive. Although they were so numerous, they caused neither disorder nor damage of any kind. In order to be happy they did not need to have recourse to vulgar or violent ways, to alcohol or narcotics. In them was the joy of meeting one another and of discovering a new world together. How is it possible not to compare them to their peers who, in search of false escapes, have degrading experiences that all too often result in overwhelming tragedies? This is a typical product of today's so-called "society of well-being", which, to fill inner emptiness and the boredom that goes with it induces people to try new experiences, more exciting, more "extreme". Even holidays risk evaporating into a vain pursuit of mirages of pleasure. Yet in this way the spirit does not rest, the heart does not find joy or peace; on the contrary, it ends even wearier and sadder than it was at the start. I have referred to young people because it is they who thirst most after life and new experiences and are therefore the most at risk. The reflection, however, applies to us all: the human person is truly regenerated only in the relationship with God and God is encountered by learning to listen to his voice in inner stillness and silence (cf. 1 Kings 19: 12).
Let us pray that in a society where everyone is always in a rush, holidays may be days of true relaxation during which it is possible to carve out times for recollection and prayer that are indispensable in order to rediscover in depth both oneself and others. We ask this through the intercession of Mary Most Holy, Virgin of silence and listening.
After the Angelus:
A cause of deep anguish is the ever more dramatic news of the tragic events in Georgia that, starting in the region of South Ossetia, have already taken many innocent victims and forced a large number of civilians to abandon their homes. I earnestly hope that military operations will immediately cease and that, also in the name of the common Christian heritage, people will abstain from further confrontations and violent reprisals that could degenerate into a conflict on a far larger scale. May the way of negotiation and respectful and constructive dialogue be taken instead and thereby spare those beloved peoples further suffering that tears them apart. I likewise ask the International Community and the countries that are most influential in the current situation to make every effort to sustain and promote initiatives that aim to achieve a permanent peaceful solution, in favour of open and respectful coexistence. Together with our Orthodox brethren, let us pray intensely for these intentions which we confidently entrust to the intercession of Mary Most Holy, Mother of Jesus and of all Christians.
Courtyard of the Papal Summer Residence, Castel Gandolfo
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In this Sunday’s Gospel we find Jesus who, after withdrawing to the mountain, prays throughout the night. The Lord, having distanced himself from the people and the disciples, manifests his communion with the Father and the need to pray in solitude, far from the commotion of the world.
This distancing, however, must not be seen as a lack of interest in individuals or trust in the Apostles. On the contrary, Matthew recounts, Jesus made the disciples get into the boat, “and go before him to the other side” (Matthew 14:22), where he would see them again. In the meantime the boat “was many furlongs distant from the land, beaten by the waves; for the wind was against them” (v. 24). And so in the fourth watch of the night [Jesus] came to them, walking on the sea” (v. 25); the disciples were terrified, mistaking him for a ghost and “cried out for fear” (v. 26). They did not recognize him, they did not realize that it was the Lord.
Nonetheless Jesus reassured them: “Take heart, it is I; have no fear” (v. 27). This is an episode from which the Fathers of the Church drew a great wealth of meaning. The sea symbolizes this life and the instability of the visible world; the storm points to every kind of trial or difficulty that oppresses human beings. The boat, instead, represents the Church, built by Christ and steered by the Apostles.
Jesus wanted to teach the disciples to bear life’s adversities courageously, trusting in God, in the One who revealed himself to the Prophet Elijah on Mount Horeb “in a still small voice” [the whispering of a gentle breeze] (1 Kings 19:12).
The passage then continues with the action of the Apostle Peter, who, moved by an impulse of love for the Teacher, asks him to bid him to come to him, walking on the water. “But when he saw the wind [was strong], [Peter] was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’” (Matthew 14:30).
St Augustine, imagining that he was addressing the Apostle, commented: the Lord “leaned down and took you by the hand. With your strength alone you cannot rise. Hold tight to the hand of the One who reaches down to you” (En. in Ps. 95, 7: PL 36, 1233), and he did not say this to Peter alone but also to us.
Peter walks on the water, not by his own effort but rather through divine grace in which he believes. And when he was smitten by doubt, when he no longer fixed his gaze on Jesus but was frightened by the gale, when he failed to put full trust in the Teacher’s words, it means that he was interiorly distancing himself from the Teacher and so risked sinking in the sea of life.
So it is also for us: if we look only at ourselves we become dependent on the winds and can no longer pass through storms on the waters of life. The great thinker Romano Guardini wrote that the Lord “is always close, being at the root of our being. Yet we must experience our relationship with God between the poles of distance and closeness. By closeness we are strengthened, by distance we are put to the test” (Accettare se stessi, Brescia 1992, 71).
Dear friends, the experience of the Prophet Elijah who heard God passing and the troubled faith of the Apostle Peter enable us to understand that even before we seek the Lord or invoke him, it is he himself who comes to meet us, who lowers Heaven to stretch out his hand to us and raise us to his heights; all he expects of us is that we trust totally in him, that we really take hold of his hand.
Let us call on the Virgin Mary, model of total entrustment to God, so that amidst the plethora of anxieties, problems and difficulties which churn up the sea of our life, may our hearts resonate with the reassuring words of Jesus who also says to us “Take heart, it is I; have no fear!”; and may our faith in him grow.
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24 August 2014