HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
For various reasons, our Sunday Liturgy today is enriched by thanksgiving and supplication to God. While we are celebrating with the whole Church World Mission Day — an annual event aiming to awaken enthusiasm and commitment to mission — we praise the Lord for the three new Saints: Bishop Guido Maria Conforti, the priest Aloysius [also known as Luigi] Guanella and the religious Bonifacia Rodríguez de Castro. I joyfully greet all those present, in particular the official Delegations and the many pilgrims who have come to celebrate these three exemplary disciples of Christ.
The Word of the Lord, which was proclaimed just a moment ago in the Gospel Reading, reminds us that the whole of the Divine Law can be summed up in love. The Evangelist Matthew recounts that the Pharisees, after Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, met to put him to the test (cf. 22:34-35). One of these interlocutors, a doctor of law, asked him: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” (v. 36). Jesus answered the deliberately tricky question, saying quite simply: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment” (vv. 37-38). In fact, the main requirement for each one of us is that God be present in our lives. He should, as the Scripture says, penetrate all levels of our being and fill them completely. The heart should know him and let itself be touched by him, and thus also the soul, the energies of our will and determination, as well as intelligence and thought. One could say, as St Paul did, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).
Jesus immediately adds something that the doctor of law did not actually ask: “And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). By declaring that the second commandment is similar to the first, Jesus implies that loving your neighbour is as important as loving God. In fact, a visible sign that the Christian can show the world in order to witness to God’s love is love for our brothers and sisters. How providential it is that precisely today the Church holds up to her members three new Saints, who allowed themselves to be transformed by the divine love, that imbued their entire existence. Through various situations and with different charisms, they loved the Lord with all their heart and loved their neighbour as themselves: thus becoming “an example to all the believers” (1 Thessalonians 1:7).
Psalm 17, just read, invites us to abandon ourselves with trust into the hands of the Lord, who is “steadfast... to his anointed” (Psalm 18:51). This interior attitude guided the life and ministry of St Guido Maria Conforti. Since, as a boy, he had had to overcome his father’s opposition to his entering the Seminary. He displayed strong character in following God’s will and by conforming in everything to the caritas Christi, that, in the contemplation of the Crucifix, attracted him to it. He felt strongly the urgency to announce this love to those who had not yet received the news and the motto “Caritas Christi urget nos” (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:14), summed up the Missionary Institute’s programme, to which he, after just turning 30-years-old, brought to life: a religious family completely at the service of evangelization, under the patronage of the great “Patron of the Orient”, St Francis Xavier. St Guido Maria was called to live this apostolic zeal in his episcopal ministry first in Ravenna and then in Parma. With all his strength he dedicated himself to the good of the souls entrusted to him, especially those who had moved away from the Lord’s path. His life was marked by numerous trials, even serious ones. He understood how to accept every situation with docility, welcoming it as an indication of the path traced for him by Divine Providence. In every circumstance, even in debilitating periods of illness, he knew how to recognize God’s plan, which led him to build his Kingdom, above all through self-denial and the daily acceptance of God’s will, ever more complete with a trusting abandonment. He first experienced and testified what he taught his missionaries, namely, that perfection consists in doing the will of God, following the model of the crucified Jesus. St Guido Maria Conforti fixed his interior gaze on the Cross, which sweetly attracted him. In contemplating the Cross he saw the horizon of the entire world open wide to him, he perceived the “urgent” desire, hidden in the heart of every person, to receive and welcome the good news of the only love that saves.
The human and spiritual testimony of St Luigi Guanella is a special gift of grace for the whole Church. During his earthly life he lived with courage and determination the Gospel of Love and the “great commandment”, which today too, the Word of God has recalled. Thanks to the profound and continuing union with Christ, in the contemplation of his love, Don Guanella, led by Divine Providence, became a companion and teacher, comfort and support to the poorest and weakest. The love of God aroused in him the desire for the good of the people who were entrusted to him in the routine of daily life. He paid caring attention to each one and respected the pace of their development. He cultivated the hope in his heart that every human being, created in the image and likeness of God, by tasting the joy of being loved by him — Father of all — can receive and give to others the best of himself. Today, let us praise and thank the Lord, who gave us a prophet and an apostle of love in St Luigi Guanella. In his testimony, so full of humanity and attention to the least, we recognize a bright sign of the presence and charitable action of God, the God — as we heard in the First Reading — who defends the stranger, the widow, the orphan, the poor person obliged to give his garment in pledge... his only covering for the night (cf. Exodus 22:20-26). May this new Saint of love be for everyone, especially for the members of the Congregations founded by him, a model of profound and fruitful synthesis between contemplation and action that he himself lived and put into practice. We can summarize his whole human and spiritual life in his last words on his death-bed: “in caritate Christi”. It is Christ’s love that illumines the life of every person, revealing through the gift of himself to others that nothing is lost but is fully realized for our happiness. May St Luigi Guanella obtain that we may grow in friendship with the Lord to be bearers of the fullness of God’s love in our time, to promote life in all of its forms and conditions, and to ensure that human society increasingly become the family of God’s children.
In Spanish the Pope said: In the Second Reading we heard a passage from the First Letter to the Thessalonians, a text that uses the metaphor of manual labour to describe the work of evangelization and which, in a certain sense, can be applied also to the virtues of St Bonifacia Rodríguez de Castro. When St Paul writes the Letter, he is working to earn his bread and it becomes evident, from the tone and the examples he uses, that in the shop where he preaches he meets his first disciples. This same intuition motivated St Bonifacia who, from the beginning understood how to combine her following of Jesus Christ with painstaking daily work. Work, as she had done since she was a child, was not only a way not to burden people but also implied the freedom to pursue one’s vocation. At the same time it gave her the chance to attract and train other women, who in the workshop could meet God and listen to his loving call, discerning the plan for their life and preparing themselves to carry it out. Thus the Servants of St Joseph came into being in the humility and simplicity of the Gospel, which in the family of Nazareth presents a school of Christian life. The Apostle continues in his Letter that the love he entertains for the community is not without effort and difficulty, since it always means emulating Christ’s self-gift to man, without asking or looking for any reward, except to please God. Mother Bonifacia, who dedicated herself with joy to the apostolate and began to obtain the first fruits of her endeavours, also experienced abandonment and rejection by her disciples, and through it she learned a new dimension of the sequela of Christ: the Cross. She accepted it with the steadiness of hope, offering her own life for the unity of the work born of her hands. The new Saint may be seen as an ideal model in whom the work of God resounds, an echo that invites her daughters, the Servants of St Joseph, and also all of us to welcome her testimony with the joy of the Holy Spirit, fearing no difficulty in spreading the Good News of the Kingdom of Heaven everywhere. We entrust ourselves to her intercession and we ask God for all the workers, especially those engaged in the more modest trades and who at times are not sufficiently esteemed, so that in their daily work, they may discover the friendly hand of God and witness to his love, transforming their own effort into a song of praise to the Creator.
“I love you, Lord, my strength”, we have just proclaimed this, dear brothers and sisters, in the Responsorial Psalm. These three new Saints are an eloquent sign of this passionate love for God. Let us follow their example, let us be guided by their teachings so that our whole life may become a witness of authentic love of God and neighbour. May the Virgin Mary, Queen of Saints, and the intercession of St Guido Maria Conforti, of St Luigi Guanella e St Bonifacia Rodríguez de Castro obtain this grace for us. Amen.
Saint Peter's Square
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Before concluding this solemn celebration, I would like to cordially greet everyone. I turn first to the pilgrims who have come to pay homage to St Guido Maria Conforti and St Luigi Guanella, with a thought of special affection and encouragement for the members of the Institutes founded by them: the Xavieran Missionaries, the Daughters of St Mary of Providence and the Servants of Charity. I greet the Bishops and Civil Authorities and thank each of them for their presence. Once again, Italy has offered the Church and the world exemplary witnesses of the Gospel; let us give glory to God and let us pray that in this nation the faith may never cease to renew itself and bear good fruit.
After the Angelus:
Dear brothers and sisters, I am pleased to greet all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims present, especially those here for today’s canonizations. In this Sunday’s Gospel passage, Jesus urges us to love God above all things and to love our neighbour as ourselves. Let us measure our actions every day by his call to love, and live it with courage and joy. May Almighty God bless all of you!
I cordially greet the Polish pilgrims. Yesterday, together with the Diocese of Rome and with the Church in Poland, we commemorated Blessed John Paul II in the liturgy, and today you have wished to participate in the canonization of three new Saints. I entrust you and your families to their protection. God bless you.
Let us turn in prayer to the Virgin Mary, who guides the disciples of Christ on the path of holiness. To her intercession we entrust the Day of reflection, dialogue and prayer for peace and justice in the world: a pilgrimage to Assisi, 25 years after that convoked by Blessed John Paul II.
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, Good morning,
Today’s Gospel Reading reminds us that the whole of Divine Law can be summed up in our love for God and neighbour. Matthew the Evangelist recounts that several Pharisees colluded to put Jesus to the test (cf. 22: 34-35). One of them, a doctor of the law, asked him this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?” (v. 36). Jesus, quoting the Book of Deuteronomy, answered: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment” (vv. 37-38). And he could have stopped there. Yet, Jesus adds something that was not asked by the doctor of the law. He says, in fact: “And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (v. 39). And in this case too, Jesus does not invent the second commandment, but takes it from the Book of Leviticus. The novelty is in his placing these two commandments together — love for God and love for neighbour — revealing that they are in fact inseparable and complementary, two sides of the same coin. You cannot love God without loving your neighbour and you cannot love your neighbour without loving God. Pope Benedict gave us a beautiful commentary on this topic in his first Encyclical Deus Caritas Est (nn. 16-18).
In effect, the visible sign a Christian can show in order to witness to his love for God to the world and to others, to his family, is the love he bears for his brothers. The Commandment to love God and neighbour is the first, not because it is at the top of the list of Commandments. Jesus does not place it at the pinnacle but at the centre, because it is from the heart that everything must go out and to which everything must return and refer.
In the Old Testament, the requirement to be holy, in the image of God who is holy, included the duty to care for the most vulnerable people, such as the stranger, the orphan and the widow (cf. Exodus 22:20-26). Jesus brings this Covenant law to fulfilment; He who unites in himself, in his flesh, divinity and humanity, a single mystery of love.
Now, in the light of this Word of Jesus, love is the measure of faith, and faith is the soul of love. We can no longer separate a religious life, a pious life, from service to brothers and sisters, to the real brothers and sisters that we encounter. We can no longer divide prayer, the encounter with God in the Sacraments, from listening to the other, closeness to his life, especially to his wounds. Remember this: love is the measure of faith. How much do you love? Each one answer silently. How is your faith? My faith is as I love. And faith is the soul of love.
In the middle of the dense forest of rules and regulations — to the legalisms of past and present — Jesus makes an opening through which one can catch a glimpse of two faces: the face of the Father and the face of the brother. He does not give us two formulas or two precepts: there are no precepts nor formulas. He gives us two faces, actually only one real face, that of God reflected in many faces, because in the face of each brother, especially of the smallest, the most fragile, the defenceless and needy, there is God’s own image. And we must ask ourselves: when we meet one of these brothers, are we able to recognize the face of God in him? Are we able to do this?
In this way, Jesus offers to all the fundamental criteria on which to base one’s life. But, above all, He gave us the Holy Spirit, who allows us to love God and neighbour as He does, with a free and generous heart. With the intercession of Mary, our Mother, let us open ourselves to welcome this gift of love, to walk forever with this two-fold law, which really has only one facet: the law of love.
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16 November 2014