OPENING MASS OF THE 11TH ORDINARY GENERAL ASSEMBLY
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
The reading from the Prophet Isaiah and today's Gospel set before our eyes one of the great images of Sacred Scripture: the image of the vine. In Sacred Scripture, bread represents all that human beings need for their daily life. Water makes the earth fertile: it is the fundamental gift that makes life possible. Wine, on the other hand, expresses the excellence of creation and gives us the feast in which we go beyond the limits of our daily routine: wine, the Psalm says, "gladdens the heart". So it is that wine and with it the vine have also become images of the gift of love in which we can taste the savour of the Divine. Thus, the reading from the Prophet that we have just heard begins like a canticle of love: God created a vineyard for himself - this is an image of the history of love for humanity, of his love for Israel which he chose. This is therefore the first thought in today's readings: God instilled in men and women, created in his image, the capacity for love, hence also the capacity for loving him, their Creator. With the Prophet Isaiah's canticle of love God wants to speak to the hearts of his people - and to each one of us. "I have created you in my image and likeness", he says to us. "I myself am love and you are my image to the extent that the splendour of love shines out in you, to the extent that you respond lovingly to me". God is waiting for us. He wants us to love him: should not our hearts be moved by this appeal? At this very moment when we are celebrating the Eucharist, in which we are opening the Synod on the Eucharist, he comes to meet us, he comes to meet me. Will he find a response? Or will what happened to the vine of which God says in Isaiah: "He waited for it to produce grapes but it yielded wild grapes", also happen to us? Is not our Christian life often far more like vinegar than wine? Self-pity, conflict, indifference?
With this we have automatically come to the second fundamental thought in today's readings.
Thus, we reach a third element of today's readings. In the Old and New Testaments, the Lord proclaims judgment on the unfaithful vineyard. The judgment that Isaiah foresaw is brought about in the great wars and exiles for which the Assyrians and Babylonians were responsible. The judgment announced by the Lord Jesus refers above all to the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70. Yet the threat of judgment also concerns us, the Church in Europe, Europe and the West in general. With this Gospel, the Lord is also crying out to our ears the words that in the Book of Revelation he addresses to the Church of Ephesus: "If you do not repent I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place" (2: 5). Light can also be taken away from us and we do well to let this warning ring out with its full seriousness in our hearts, while crying to the Lord: "Help us to repent! Give all of us the grace of true renewal! Do not allow your light in our midst to blow out! Strengthen our faith, our hope and our love, so that we can bear good fruit!".
At this point, however, we ask ourselves: "But is there no promise, no word of comfort in today's readings and Gospel? Is the threat the last word?". No! There is a promise, and this is the last, the essential word. We hear it in the Alleluia verse from John's Gospel: "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who lives in me and I in him will produce abundantly" (John 15: 5). With these words of the Lord, John illustrates for us the final, true outcome of the history of God's vineyard. God does not fail. In the end he wins, love wins. A veiled allusion to this can already be found in the Parable of the Tenants presented by today's Gospel and in the concluding words. There too, the death of the Son is not the end of history, even if the rest of the story is not directly recounted. But Jesus expresses this death through a new image taken from the Psalm: "The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone..." (cf. Matthew 21: 42; Psalm 118: 22). From the Son's death springs life, a new building is raised, a new vineyard. He, who at Cana changed water into wine, has transformed his Blood into the wine of true love and thus transforms the wine into his Blood. In the Upper Room he anticipated his death and transformed it into the gift of himself in an act of radical love. His Blood is a gift, it is love, and consequently it is the true wine that the Creator was expecting. In this way, Christ himself became the vine, and this vine always bears good fruit: the presence of his love for us which is indestructible.
These parables thus lead at the end to the mystery of the Eucharist, in which the Lord gives us the bread of life and the wine of his love and invites us to the banquet of his eternal love. We celebrate the Eucharist in the awareness that its price was the death of the Son - the sacrifice of his life that remains present in it. Every time we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes, St Paul says (cf. I Corinthians 11: 26). But we also know that from this death springs life, because Jesus transformed it into a sacrificial gesture, an act of love, thereby profoundly changing it: love has overcome death. In the Holy Eucharist, from the Cross, he draws us all to himself (cf. John 12: 32) and makes us branches of the Vine that is Christ himself. If we abide in him, we will also bear fruit, and then from us will no longer come the vinegar of self-sufficiency, of dissatisfaction with God and his creation, but the good wine of joy in God and of love for our neighbour. Let us pray to the Lord to give us his grace, so that in the three weeks of the Synod which we are about to begin, not only will we say beautiful things about the Eucharist but above all, we will live from its power. Let us invoke this gift through Mary, dear Synod Fathers whom I greet with deep affection as well as the various Communities from which you come and which you represent here, so that, docile to the action of the Holy Spirit, we may help the world become in Christ and with Christ the fruitful vine of God. Amen.
St Peter's Square
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Only a little while ago in St Peter's Basilica, we concluded the Eucharistic celebration at which we inaugurated the Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops.
The Synod Fathers, coming from every part of the world with experts and other delegates, will live for the next three weeks, together with the Successor of Peter, a privileged time of prayer, reflecting on the theme: The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church.
Why this theme? Is it not an already taken-for-granted topic that is fully understood?
In reality, the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist, authoritatively defined at the Council of Trent, needs to be received, experienced and transmitted by the Ecclesial Community ever anew and adapted to the times.
The Eucharist can also be considered as a "lens" through which to verify continually the face and the road of the Church, which Christ founded so that every person can know the love of God and find in him fullness of life.
For this reason, the beloved Pope John Paul II wished to dedicate an entire year to the Eucharist, which will close after three weeks with the end of the Synodal Assembly on Sunday, 23 October, when we will celebrate World Mission Sunday.
Such a coincidence helps us to contemplate the Eucharistic mystery from a missionary perspective. The Eucharist, in effect, is the driving force of the Church's entire evangelizing action, a little like the heart in the human body.
Christian communities without the Eucharistic celebration, in which one is nourished at the double table of the Word and the Body of Christ, would lose their authentic nature: only those that are "Eucharistic" can transmit Christ to humanity, and not only ideas or values which are also noble and important.
The Eucharist has shaped famous apostolic missionaries in every state of life: Bishops, priests, Religious, laity, saints in active and in contemplative life.
Let us think, on the one hand, of St Francis Xavier, who was impelled by Christ's love to go out to the Far East in order to proclaim the Gospel; and on the other, of St Teresa of Lisieux, the young Carmelite who we remembered just yesterday. She experienced in the cloister an ardent apostolic spirit, meriting her to be proclaimed together with St Francis Xavier as patron of the Church's missionary activity.
Let us invoke their protection on the Synod Fathers as well as that of the Guardian Angels, whom we remember today.
We confidently pray above all to the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom we will honour on 7 October as Our Lady of the Rosary.
The month of October is dedicated to the Holy Rosary, the unique contemplative prayer through which, guided by the Lord's Heavenly Mother, we fix our gaze on the face of the Redeemer in order to be conformed to his joyful, light-filled, sorrowful and glorious mysteries.
This ancient prayer is having a providential revival, thanks also to the example and teaching of the beloved Pope John Paul II. I invite you to reread his Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae and to put into practice its directions on the personal, family and community levels.
We entrust the work of the Synod to Mary: may she lead the entire Church to an ever clearer knowledge of the proper mission of service to the Redeemer truly present in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
After the Angelus, the Pope said:
I greet all the English-speaking visitors present, and in these days I ask you to pray for the Synod Fathers as they reflect on the Eucharist in the Church's life and mission. May Christ's presence in the Blessed Sacrament inspire you in fidelity to the Gospel and its saving truth. God bless you and your families!
A happy Sunday and a good week to you all! Thank you!
CAPPELLA PAPALE FOR THE OPENING
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
Basilica of St Paul Outside-the-Walls
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
The First Reading, taken from the Book of Isaiah, as well as the passage from the Gospel according to Matthew, have presented to our liturgical assembly an evocative allegorical image of Sacred Scripture: the image of the vineyard which we have heard mentioned on the preceding Sundays. The initial passage of the Gospel account refers to the "canticle of the vineyard" which we find in Isaiah. This is a canticle set in the autumnal context of the grape harvest: a miniature masterpiece of Hebrew poetry which must have been very familiar to those listening to Jesus and from which, as from other references by the prophets (cf. Hosea 10: 1; Jeremiah 2: 21; Ezekiel 17: 3-10; 19: 10-14; Psalm 79: 9-17), it was easy to understand that the vineyard symbolized Israel. God bestowed the same care upon his vineyard, upon the People he had chosen, that a faithful husband lavishes upon his wife (cf. Ezekiel 16: 1-14; Ephesians 5: 25-33).
Therefore the image of the vineyard, together with that of the wedding feast, describes the divine project of salvation and is presented as a moving allegory of God's Covenant with his People. In the Gospel, Jesus takes up the canticle of Isaiah but adapts it to his listeners and to the new period in salvation history. The emphasis is not so much on the vineyard as on the workers in it, from whom the landowner's "servants" ask for rent on his behalf. However, the servants are abused and even murdered. How is it possible not to think of the vicissitudes of the Chosen People and of the destiny reserved for the prophets sent by God? In the end, the owner of the vineyard makes a final attempt: he sends his own son, convinced that at least they will listen to him. Instead the opposite happens: the labourers in the vineyard murder him precisely because he is the landowner's son, that is, his heir, convinced that this will enable them to take possession of the vineyard more easily. We are therefore witnessing a leap in quality with regard to the accusation of the violation of social justice as it emerges from Isaiah's canticle. Here we clearly see that contempt for the master's order becomes contempt for the master: it is not mere disobedience to a divine precept, it is a true and proper rejection of God: the mystery of the Cross appears.
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26 October 2014