What the Gospel passage reports challenges our way of thinking and acting. It does not only speak of Christ's "hour", of the mystery of the Cross at that moment, but also of the presence of the Cross in all epochs. It challenges in a special way the people who have received the Gospel proclamation. If we look at history, we are often obliged to register the coldness and rebellion of inconsistent Christians. As a result of this, although God never failed to keep his promise of salvation, he often had to resort to punishment. In this context it comes naturally to think of the first proclamation of the Gospel from which sprang Christian communities that initially flourished but then disappeared and today are remembered only in history books. Might not the same thing happen in our time? Nations once rich in faith and vocations are now losing their identity under the harmful and destructive influence of a certain modern culture. There are some who, having decided that "God is dead", declare themselves to be "god", considering themselves the only architect of their own destiny, the absolute owner of the world. By ridding himself of God and not expecting salvation from him, man believes he can do as he pleases and that he can make himself the sole judge of himself and his actions. However, when man eliminates God from his horizon, declares God "dead", is he really happy? Does he really become freer? When men proclaim themselves the absolute proprietors of themselves and the sole masters of creation, can they truly build a society where freedom, justice and peace prevail? Does it not happen instead - as the daily news amply illustrates - that arbitrary power, selfish interests, injustice and exploitation and violence in all its forms are extended? In the end, man reaches the point of finding himself lonelier and society is more divided and bewildered.
Yet there is a promise in Jesus' words: the vineyard will not be destroyed. While the unfaithful labourers abandon their destiny, the owner of the vineyard does not lose interest in his vineyard and entrusts it to other faithful servants. This means that, although in certain regions faith is dwindling to the point of dying out, there will always be other peoples ready to accept it. For this very reason, while Jesus cites Psalm 118, "The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone" (v. 22), he gives the assurance that his death will not mean God's defeat. After being killed, he will not remain in the tomb, on the contrary, precisely what seems to be a total defeat will mark the beginning of a definitive victory. His painful Passion and death on the Cross will be followed by the glory of his Resurrection. The vineyard, therefore, will continue to produce grapes and will be rented by the owner of the vineyard: "to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons" (Matthew 21: 41).
The image of the vineyard with its moral, doctrinal and spiritual implications was to recur in the discourse at the Last Supper when, taking his leave of the Apostles, the Lord said: "I am the true vine and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes that it may bear more fruit" (John 15: 1-2). Thus, starting from the Paschal event, the history of salvation was to reach a decisive turning point and those "other tenants" were to play the lead as chosen shoots grafted on Christ, the true vine, and yield abundant fruits of eternal life (cf. Collect). We too are among these "tenants", grafted on Christ who desired to become the "true vine" himself. Let us pray the Lord that in the Eucharist he will give us his Blood, himself, that he will help us to "bear fruit" for eternal life and for our time.
The comforting message that we gather from these biblical texts is the certainty that evil and death do not have the last word but that it is Christ who wins in the end. Always! The Church never tires of proclaiming this Good News, as is also happening today, in this Basilica, dedicated to the Apostle to the Gentiles who was the first to spread the Gospel in vast regions of Asia Minor and Europe. We shall meaningfully renew this proclamation at the 12th General Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops whose theme is "The Word of God in the life and mission of the Church". I would like to greet here with cordial affection all of you, venerable Synod Fathers, and all those who are taking part in this meeting as experts, auditors and special guests. I am pleased also to welcome the Fraternal Delegates of other Churches and Ecclesial Communities. I extend to the Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops and his collaborators the expression of gratitude of us all for the hard work they have carried out in the past months, together with my good wishes for the efforts that await them in the coming weeks.
When God speaks, he always asks for a response. His saving action demands human cooperation; his love must be reciprocated. Dear brothers and sisters, may what the biblical text recounts about the vineyard never occur: "[he] looked for it to yield grapes but it yielded wild grapes" (Isaiah 5: 2). The Word of God alone can profoundly change man's heart so it is important that individual believers and communities enter into ever increasing intimacy with his Word. The Synodal Assembly will focus attention on this fundamental truth for the life and mission of the Church. To draw nourishment from the Word of God is her first and fundamental task. In fact, if the Gospel proclamation is her raison d'ętre and mission, it is indispensable that the Church know and live what she proclaims, so that her preaching may be credible despite the weaknesses and poverty of the people of whom she is comprised. We know, furthermore, that the proclamation of the Word, at the school of Christ, has the Kingdom of God as its content (cf. Mark 1: 14-15, but the Kingdom of God is the very person of Jesus who, with his words and actions, offers salvation to people of every epoch. Interesting in this regard is St Jerome's reflection: "Whoever does not know Scripture does not know the power and wisdom of God, then ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ" (Prologue of the commentary on Isaiah: n. 1, CCL 73, 1).
In this Pauline Year we hear the cry of the Apostle to the Gentiles resounding with special urgency: "Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!" (1 Corinthians 9: 16); a cry that becomes for every Christian a pressing invitation to serve Christ. "The harvest is plentiful" (Matthew 9: 37) the Divine Teacher still repeats today: so many still do not know him and are awaiting the first proclamation of his Gospel; others, although they received a Christian formation, have become less enthusiastic and retain only a superficial contact with God's Word; yet others have drifted away from the practice of the faith and need a new evangelization. Then there are plenty of people of right understanding who ask themselves essential questions about the meaning of life and death, questions to which only Christ can give satisfactory answers. It is, therefore, becoming indispensable for Christians on every continent to be ready to reply to those who ask them to account for the hope that is in them (cf. 1 Peter 3: 15), joyfully proclaiming the Word of God and living the Gospel without compromises.
Venerable and dear Brothers, may the Lord help us to question ourselves together, in the coming weeks of the Synod's work, on how to make the Gospel proclamation increasingly effective in our time. We all know how necessary it is to make the Word of God the centre of our lives, to welcome Christ as our one Redeemer, as the Kingdom of God in person, to ensure that his light may enlighten every context of humanity: from the family to the school, to culture, to work, to free time and to the other sectors of society and of our life. In taking part in the Eucharistic celebration we are always aware of the close connection that exists between the proclamation of the Word of God and the Eucharistic sacrifice: it is the Mystery itself that is offered for our contemplation. This is why "the Church", as the Second Vatican Council highlights, "has always venerated the divine Scriptures as she venerated the Body of the Lord, in so far as she never ceases, particularly in the sacred liturgy to partake of the bread of life and to offer it to the faithful from the one table of the Word of God and the Body of Christ" (Dei Verbum, n. 21). The Council rightly concludes: "Just as from constant attendance at the Eucharistic mystery the life of the Church draws increase, so a new impulse of spiritual life may be expected from increased veneration of the Word of God, which "stands for ever'" (Dei Verbum, n. 26).
May the Lord grant that we approach with faith the twofold banquet of the Body and Blood of Christ. May Mary Most Holy, who "kept all these things, pondering them in her heart" (Luke 2: 19) obtain this for us. May she teach us to listen to the Scriptures and meditate upon them in an inner process of maturation that never separates the mind from the heart. May the Saints come to our aid, and in particular the Apostle Paul, whom during this year we are increasingly discovering as an undaunted witness and herald of God's Word. Amen!
St Peter's Square
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
This morning, the 12th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops began with Holy Mass at the Basilica of St Paul Outside-the-Walls. It will be taking place in the Vatican during the next three weeks on the theme: "The Word of God in the life and mission of the Church". You are familiar with the value and function of this particular Assembly of Bishops, who are chosen in such a way as to represent the entire Episcopate and are convoked to bring more effective aid to the Successor of Peter, while at the same time manifesting and consolidating ecclesial communion. The Synod is an important body, established in September of 1965 by my Venerable Predecessor, the Servant of God Paul VI (cf. Apostolic Letter motu proprio data "Apostolica sollicitudo"), in the last phase of the Second Vatican Council, to implement a directive contained in the Decree on the ministry of Bishops (cf. Christus Dominus, 5). These are the purposes of the Synod of Bishops: to promote a closer union and greater collaboration between the Supreme Pontiff and the Bishops worldwide, to provide accurate and direct information concerning the Church's circumstances and problems, to facilitate agreement on matters of doctrine and pastoral action and to address themes of great importance and topicality. These different tasks are coordinated by a permanent Secretary who works in direct and immediate dependence on the Bishop of Rome's authority.
The synodal dimension is constitutive of the Church; it consists of a coming together of every people and culture in order that they become one in Christ and walk together, following him, who said: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life" (John 14: 6). In fact, the Greek work sýnodos, which is composed of the preposition syn, or "with", and odňs, which means "path, road", suggests the idea of "walking on a path together", and this is truly the experience of the People of God within salvation history. For the Ordinary Synodal Assembly that begins today I have chosen, welcoming authoritative advice in doing so, to examine deeply, in a pastoral perspective, the theme of The Word of God in the life and mission of the Church. A considerable number of particular Churches throughout the world took part in the preparatory phase. They sent their contributions to the Secretariat of the Synod which in turn drafted the Instrumentum laboris, a document that will be discussed by the 253 Synod Fathers: 51 from Africa, 62 from America, 41 from Asia, 90 from Europe and 9 from Oceania. In addition, there are the numerous experts and auditors, men and women, as well as fraternal delegates of other Churches and Ecclesial Communities, and some as special guests.
Dear brothers and sisters, I invite you all to sustain the work of the Synod with your prayers, invoking especially the maternal intercession of the Virgin Mary, perfect Disciple of the Divine Word.
After the Angelus:
This evening a special event has been organized by the RAI (Italian television), entitled "Bible, day and night". It is a continuous reading of the entire Bible, broadcast live on television, that will last for seven days and six nights, from today until next Saturday, 11 October. The venue will be the Roman Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem. Some of the approximately 1,200 readers, from 50 different countries, who will succeed one another, were chosen with ecumenical criteria and many others enrolled voluntarily. This event coincides well with the Synod of Bishops on the Word of God and I myself shall begin by reading the first chapter of the Book of Genesis. The event will be broadcast this evening at 7: 00 p.m. on RAI's channel 1. The Word of God will thus be able to enter homes to accompany the lives of families and single persons, a seed which, if it is properly accepted, will not fail to bear abundant fruit.
I am happy to greet all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present for this Sunday Angelus prayer. In today’s Gospel Jesus speaks of his death at the hands of those who did not heed the voice of God and progressively closed their hearts to truth, justice and love. Let us pray with confidence that the Lord will guide our steps and grant us patience and constancy in doing God’s holy will! I wish you all a pleasant stay in Rome, and a blessed Sunday!
Firmly anchored in faith to the cornerstone which is Christ, let us abide in him, like the branch that can bear no fruit unless it remains attached to the vine. The Church, the People of the New Covenant, is built only in him, for him and with him. On this the Servant of God Paul VI wrote: “The first benefit which We trust the Church will reap from a deepened self-awareness, is a renewed discovery of its vital bond of union with Christ. This is something which is perfectly well known, but it is supremely important and absolutely essential. It can never be sufficiently understood, meditated upon and preached” (Encyclical Ecclesiam Suam, 6 August 1964: AAS 56 , 622).
Dear friends, the Lord is ever close and active in humanity’s history and accompanies us with the unique presence of his Angels, whom today the Church venerates as “Guardian Angels”, that is, ministers of the divine care for every human being. From the beginning until the hour of death, human life is surrounded by their constant protection. And the Angels encircle the august Queen of Victories, the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Rosary, who, on the first Sunday of October, at this very moment, receives the fervent supplication from the Shrine of Pompeii and from the whole world that evil may be defeated and God’s goodness revealed in its fullness.
After the Angelus:
Dear brothers and sisters, this afternoon, in Ivrea, Sr Antonia Maria Verna, Foundress of the Institute of the Sisters of Charity of the Immaculate Conception of Ivrea, will be proclaimed Blessed. The Rite will be celebrated by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, my Secretary of State. Let us give thanks to God for the luminous figure of the new Blessed who lived between the 18th and 19th centuries and was an exemplary consecrated woman and teacher.
I greet all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present for this Angelus. In particular, I extend cordial greetings to the participants in the Second International Congress on Divine Mercy in Krakow, and to the students from Iona College, Australia. The Gospel of today’s liturgy spurs us to pray for all who work in the Lord’s vineyard, especially where they face violence and threats because of their faith. May God grant them, and all of us, strength in our service to him and to one another. God bless all of you!
I wish you all a good Sunday and a good week! Thank you.
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.
Saint Peter's Square
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
This Sunday’s Gospel ends with a particularly severe warning from Jesus, addressed to the chief priests and the elders of the people: “The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it” (Matthew 21:43). These are words that call to mind the great responsibility of those in every epoch who are called to work in the Lord’s vineyard, especially in roles of authority, and they press for a renewal of full fidelity to Christ.
He is “the very stone which the builders rejected” (cf. Matthew 21:42), because they judged him to be hostile to the law and a danger to public order; but he himself, rejected and crucified, is risen, to become the “corner stone” on which the foundations of every human life and of the whole world may rest in total safety.
The truth of this is the subject of the Parable of the Unfaithful Tenants to whom a man entrusted his vineyard so that they might cultivate and harvest the produce. The owner of the vineyard symbolizes God himself, while the vineyard symbolizes his people, as well as the life he gives, so that with his grace and our hard work, we may do good. St Augustine comments: “God does also cultivate us... as a field, that he may make us better” (cf. Sermo 87, 1, 2: PL 38, 531). God has a project for his friends, but unfortunately the human response is often oriented to infidelity which is expressed in rejection. Pride and selfishness prevent us from recognizing and welcoming even God’s most precious gift: his Only-Begotten Son.
When, in fact, “he sent his son to them”, the Evangelist Matthew wrote, “[the tenants] took him and cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him” (Matthew 21:37, 39). God puts himself in our hands, agrees to make himself an unfathomable mystery of weakness and manifests his omnipotence in his faithfulness to a plan of love which, in the end, also provides for the proper punishment of the wicked (cf. Matthew 21:41).