CAPPELLA PAPALE FOR THE CONCLUSION
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
The Word of the Lord, resounding a short while ago in the Gospel, reminded us that the whole divine law is summarized in love. The Evangelist Matthew narrates that after Jesus had answered the Sadducees, silencing them, the Pharisees met to put him to the test (cf. 22: 34-35). One of them, a doctor of law, asked him: "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?" (22: 36). The question makes apparent the concern, present in ancient Jewish tradition, over finding a unifying principle in the various formulations of God's will. This was not an easy question, considering that in the law of Moses, a good 613 precepts and prohibitions are contemplated. How does one discern, among all of these, which is the most important? But Jesus does not hesitate, and readily responds: "You shall love the Lord your God with your all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment" (22: 37-38). Jesus quotes the Shemà in his answer, the prayer the pious Israelite recites several times a day, especially in the morning and in the evening (cf. Deuteronomy 6: 4-9; 11: 13-21; Numbers 15: 37-41): the proclamation of the integral and total love due to God, as the only Lord. Emphasis is placed on the totality of this dedication to God, listing the three faculties that define man in his deep psychological structures: heart, soul and mind. The word mind, diánoia, contains the rational element. God is not only the object of love, commitment, will and sentiment, but also of the intellect, which should not be excluded from this milieu. Then, however, Jesus adds something which, in truth, had not been asked by the doctor of law: "And a second is like it, You must love your neighbour as yourself" (22: 39). The surprising aspect of Jesus' answer consists in the fact that he establishes a similarity between the first and the second commandments, defined this time too with a biblical formula drawn from the Levitical code of holiness (cf. Leviticus 19: 18). And thus by the end of the passage the two commandments become connected in the role of a fundamental union upon which all of biblical Revelation rests: "On these two commandments the whole law is based, and the prophets as well" (Matthew 22: 40).
The Gospel passage on which we are focusing makes clear that being disciples of Christ means practicing his teachings, which can be summarized in the first and greatest commandment of the divine law, the commandment of love. Even the First Reading, taken from the Book of Exodus, insists on the duty of love; a love witnessed concretely in relationships between persons, which must be relationships of respect, collaboration, generous help. The neighbour to be loved is the stranger, the orphan, the widow and the needy, in other words, those citizens who have no "defender". The holy author goes into details, as in the case of the object pawned by one of these poor persons (cf. Exodus 22: 25-26). In this case God himself is the one to vouch for the neighbour's position.
In the Second Reading, we can find a concrete application of the supreme commandment of love in one of the first Christian communities. St Paul writes to the Thessalonians, leading them to understand that, while having known them for such a short time, he appreciates them and holds them dear in his heart. Because of this, he pinpoints them as "a model for all the believers of Macedonia and Achaia" (1 Thessalonians 1: 7). Weaknesses and difficulties are not lacking in this recently founded community, but it is love that surpasses all, renews all, conquers all: the love of those who, knowing their own limits, docilely follow the words of Christ, the divine Teacher, passed down through one of his faithful disciples. "You, in turn, became imitators of us and of the Lord, receiving the word despite great trials, with the joy that comes from the Holy Spirit", the Apostle wrote. He continued: "For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere" (1 Thessalonians 1: 6, 8). The lesson that we can draw from the Thessalonians' experience, an experience that is truly common in every authentic Christian community, is that neighbourly love is born from docile listening to the divine Word. It is a love that will even withstand difficult trials for the truth of the divine Word, and in this way true love grows and truth shines in all its splendour. How important it is to listen to the Word and incarnate it in personal and community life!
In this Eucharistic celebration, which closes the work of the Synod, we sense, in a particular way, the bond that exists between the loving listening to the Word of God and disinterested service of the brethren. How many times, in the past days, we have heard experiences and reflections that highlight today's emerging need for a more intimate listening to God, for a truer knowledge of his Word of salvation; for a more sincere sharing of faith which is constantly nourished at the table of the divine Word! Dear and venerable Brothers, thank you for the contribution each of you has offered in analysing the Synod's theme: "The Word of God in the life and the mission of the Church". I greet you all with great affection. I address a special greeting to the Cardinals, the Delegate Presidents of the Synod and the General Secretary, whom I thank for their constant dedication. I greet you, dear brothers and sisters, who have come from every continent bringing your enriching experience. In returning home, give everyone an affectionate greeting from the Bishop of Rome.
All of us who have taken part in the work of the Synod will carry with us the renewed awareness that the Church's principal task, at the start of this new millennium, is above all to nourish herself on the Word of God, in order to make new evangelization, the proclamation in our day, more effective. What is needed now is that this ecclesial experience reach every community; it is necessary to understand the need to translate the Word we have heard into gestures of love, because this is the only way to make the Gospel proclamation credible, despite the human weaknesses that mark individuals. First of all this requires a more intimate knowledge of Christ and an ever more docile listening to his Word.
In this Pauline year, making the words of the Apostle our own: "Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel" (1 Corinthians 9: 16), I hope with all my heart that this yearning of Paul's will be felt in every community with ever greater conviction as a vocation in the service of the Gospel for the world. At the start of the Synod I recalled Jesus' appeal: "the harvest is rich" (Matthew 9: 37), an appeal we must never tire of responding to, no matter what difficulties we might encounter. So many people are seeking, sometimes unknowingly, to encounter Christ and his Gospel; many need to find in him the meaning of their lives. To give a clear and common witness to a life according to the Word of God, demonstrated by Jesus, is therefore an indispensable criterion to verify the mission of the Church.
The Readings today's liturgy offers for our meditation remind us that the fullness of the law, as all of the divine Scriptures, is love. Therefore anyone who believes they have understood the Scriptures, or at least some part of them, without undertaking to build, by means of their intelligence, the twofold love of God and neighbour, in reality proves to be still a long way from having grasped its deeper meaning. But how can we put this commandment into practice, how can we live the love of God and our brothers without a living and intense contact with the Sacred Scriptures? The Second Vatican Council asserts that "access to sacred Scripture ought to be open wide to the Christian faithful" (Dei Verbum, 22), so that persons, encountering the truth, may grow in authentic love. This is a requisite that is indispensable for evangelization today. And since often the encounter with Scriptures is in danger of being not "a fact" of the Church, but informed by subjectivity and arbitrariness, a robust and credible pastoral promotion of the knowledge of Sacred Scripture to announce, celebrate and live the Word in the Christian community becomes indispensable, dialoguing with the cultures of our time, placing ourselves at the service of truth and not of current ideologies, and increasing the dialogue God wishes to have with all men (cf. ibid, 21). To this end special care should be given to the preparation of pastors, who are then ready to take whatever action is necessary to spread the biblical movement with appropriate means. Ongoing efforts to give life to the biblical movement among lay people should be encouraged, along with the formation of group leaders, with particular attention being paid to the young. We must also support the effort to allow faith to be known through the Word of God to those who are "far away" as well and especially those who are sincerely seeking the meaning of life.
Many other reflections could be added but I will limit myself to underlining that the privileged place where the Word of God resounds, which edifies the Church, as was said many times in the Synod, is undoubtedly the liturgy. This is where it appears that the Bible is a book of the people and for the people: a heritage, a testament consigned to readers so that the salvation history witnessed in the text becomes concrete in their own lives. There is therefore a vital, reciprocal relationship of belonging between the people and the Book: the Bible remains a living Book with the people its subject who read it. The people cannot exist without the Book, because in it they find their reason for being, their vocation and their identity. This mutual belonging between people and Sacred Scripture is celebrated in every liturgical assembly, which, thanks to the Holy Spirit, listens to Christ, since it is he who speaks when the Scripture is read in the Church and welcomes the Covenant that God renews with his people. Scripture and liturgy converge, therefore, with the single aim of bringing the people to dialogue with the Lord and to obedience to the will of the Lord. The Word issued from the mouth of God and witnessed in the Scriptures returns to him in the form of a prayerful response, a response that is lived, a response that wells up from love (cf. Isaiah 55: 10-11).
Dear brothers and sisters, let us pray that from renewed listening to the Word of God, guided by the action of the Holy Spirit, an authentic renewal in the universal Church and in every Christian community may spring forth. We entrust the fruit of this Synodal Assembly to the maternal intercession of the Virgin Mary. I also entrust to her the Second Special Assembly of the Synod for Africa, that will take place in Rome in October of next year. Next March I intend to go to Cameroon to deliver the Instrumentum laboris of that Synodal Assembly to representatives of the Episcopal Conferences of Africa. From there, God willing, I will proceed to Angola to pay homage to one of the most ancient sub-saharan Churches. May Mary Most Holy, who offered her life as the "servant of the Lord" (Luke 1: 38), so that everything would happen according to the divine will and who exhorts us to do whatever Jesus would tell us (cf. John 2: 5), teach us to recognize in our lives the primacy of the Word that alone can grant us salvation. Amen!
St Peter's Square
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
With the Eucharistic celebration in St Peter's Basilica this morning, the 12th General Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on "The Word of God in the life and mission of the Church" came to a conclusion. Every Synodal Assembly is a powerful experience of ecclesial communion, but this one was even more so because it focused on what illumines and guides the Church: the Word of God: Christ in person. And we lived every day in religious listening, conscious of all of the grace and beauty of being his disciples and servants. In accordance with the original meaning of the term "church", we experienced the joy of being gathered together by the Word and, especially in the liturgy, found ourselves on our way within it, as in our promised land, which gives us a foretaste of the Kingdom of Heaven.
One aspect very deeply reflected upon was the relationship between the Word and words, that is, between the Divine Word and the Scriptures that express it. As the Second Vatican Council teaches in the Constitution Dei Verbum (n. 12), a good biblical exegesis demands both the historical-critical and theological methods since Sacred Scripture is the Word of God in human words. This means that every text must be read and interpreted keeping in mind the unity of the whole of Scripture, the living tradition of the Church and the light of the faith. If it is true that the Bible is also a literary work even the great codex of universal culture it is also true that it should not be stripped of the divine element but must be read in the same Spirit in which it was composed. Scientific exegesis and lectio divina are therefore both necessary and complementary in order to seek, through the literal meaning, the spiritual meaning that God wants to communicate to us today.
At the end of the Synodal Assembly, the Patriarchs of the Eastern Churches launched an appeal, which I make my own, in order to call the attention of the international community, religious leaders and all men and women of good will, to the tragedy that is bearing its toll on several Eastern countries where Christians are the victims of intolerance and cruel violence, killed, threatened and forced to abandon their homes and wander in search of refuge. I am thinking at this moment above all of Iraq and India. I am certain that the ancient and noble peoples of those nations have learned, over the course of centuries respectful coexistence, to appreciate the contribution that the small but hardworking and well-qualified Christian minorities make to the growth of the common homeland. They do not ask for privileges but desire only to be able to continue to live in their country with their fellow citizens as they have always lived. I ask the civil and religious Authorities concerned to spare no efforts to ensure that legality and civil coexistence are soon re-established so that honest and loyal citizens may be able to count on the adequate protection of State institutions. I also hope that the civil and religious leaders of all countries, aware of their role as a guide and reference for the population, will make significant and explicit gestures of friendship and consideration to minorities whether they are Christian or belong to other religions and make the defence of their legitimate rights a point of honour.
I am also pleased to inform you who are present here of what I announced a little while ago during Holy Mass: the Second Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for Africa will be held here in Rome in October of next year. Before then, please God, I intend to go to Africa in the month of March, to visit first Cameroon, where I shall present to the Bishops of the Continent the Instrumentum laboris of the Synod, and then Angola, on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the evangelization of that country. Let us entrust the sufferings mentioned above, as well as the hopes that we all carry in our hearts, and in particular the prospects for the Synod of Africa, to the intercession of Mary Most Holy.
After the Angelus:
I greet all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at this Angelus, including neocatechumenal communities from England. As the Synod of Bishops on the Word of God concludes I invite you all to deepen your knowledge of God's Word which vivifies our life and mission as Christians. Today's Gospel reading reminds us of the heart of our faith: love of God and of neighbour. May your time here in Rome inspire you to live ever more fully God's commandment of love, courageously bearing witness to the way of Christ. Upon you and your families, I invoke God's abundant blessings of peace and joy!
16 November 2014