Dear brothers and sisters, the thought of Christ's presence and his return at the end of time is particularly significant in this Basilica of yours beside the monumental cemetery of Verano where so many of our beloved deceased rest while they await resurrection. How often are funerals celebrated in this temple; how often do the works of the liturgy ring out full of comfort: "In him who rose from the dead, our hope of resurrection dawned. The sadness of death gives way to the bright promise of immortality" (cf. Preface for Christian Death I).
Yet your monumental Basilica, which makes us think back to the primitive Basilica built by the Emperor Constantine and later transformed to acquire its present appearance, speaks above all of the glorious martyrdom of St Lawrence, Archdeacon of Pope St Sixtus II and his reliable steward in the administration of the community's goods. Today I have come to celebrate the Blessed Eucharist to join you in paying homage to him in a most unusual circumstance, on the occasion of the Jubilee Year of Lawrence, established to commemorate the 1,750th anniversary of holy Deacon's birth in Heaven. History confirms to us how glorious is the name of this Saint, by whose sepulchre we have gathered. His concern for the poor, the generous service that he rendered to the Church of Rome in the context of assistance and charity, his fidelity to the Pope which he took to the point of desiring to follow him in the supreme trial of martyrdom and the heroic witness of pouring our his blood, which he suffered only a few days later, are facts well known to all. St Leo the Great, in a beautiful homily, thus comments on the atrocious martyrdom of this "illustrious hero": "The flames of could not overcome Christ's love and the fire that burned outside was less keen than that which blazed within". And he adds: "The Lord desired to spread abroad his glory throughout the world, so that from the East to the West the dazzling brightness of his deacon's light does shine, and Rome is become as famous through Lawrence as Jerusalem was ennobled by Stephen" (Homily 85, 4: PL 54, 486).
The 50th anniversary of the death of the Servant of God Pope Pius XII falls this year and this reminds us of a particularly dramatic event in the centuries-old history of your Basilica. It took place during the Second World War, when, exactly on 19 July 1943, a violent bombardment caused severe damage to the building and to the whole neighbourhood, sowing death and destruction. The generous gesture made by my venerable Predecessor can never be eradicated from the memory of history: he hastened here immediately to help and to comfort the people so badly hit, among the still smouldering ruins. Nor have I forgotten that this same Basilica also contains the urns of two other great people: in the hypogeum in fact, are placed for the veneration of the faithful the mortal remains of Blessed Pius IX, while in the atrium is the tomb of Alcide De Gasperi, who was a wise and balanced guide for Italy during the difficult years of the post-war reconstruction and, at the same time, a distinguished statesman capable of looking to Europe with a broad Christian vision.
While we are gathered here in prayer, I would like to greet you all with affection, starting with the Cardinal Vicar, with Monsignor Vicegerent, who is also Commendatory Abbot of the Basilica, with the Auxiliary Bishop of the Northern Sector of Rome and with your Parish Priest, Fr Bruno Mustacchio, whom I thank for his kind words at the beginning of the liturgical celebration. I greet the Minister General of the Order of Capuchins and the Friars of the Community who carry out their service with zeal and dedication, welcoming the many pilgrims, assisting the poor with charity and witnessing to hope in the Risen Christ to all those who visit the Cemetery of Verano. I would like to assure you of my appreciation, and, above all, of my remembrance in prayer. I also greet the various groups who are involved in the animation of the catechesis, the liturgy, charity, the members of the two polyphonic choirs, the Franciscan Third Order, local and regional. Then I have learned with pleasure that for some years the "diocesan missionary laboratory" has been housed here, to inculcate in the parish communities a missionary awareness, and I willingly join you in expressing the hope that this initiative of our Diocese will help to inspire a courageous missionary pastoral action that will bring the proclamation of God's merciful love to every corner of Rome, involving mainly young people and families. Lastly, I would like to extend my thoughts to the inhabitants of the neighbourhood, especially to the elderly, the sick and people who are lonely and in difficulty. I remember all and each one at this Holy Mass.
Dear brothers and sisters, at the beginning of this Advent what better message can we glean from St Lawrence than that of holiness? He repeats to us that holiness, that is, going to meet Christ who comes ceaselessly to visit us, does not go out of fashion, on the contrary as time passes it shines brightly and expresses the perennial striving for God of humankind. May this Jubilee event therefore be an occasion for your parish community of a renewed adherence to Christ, a further deepening of the sense of belonging to his Mystical Body which is the Church, and a constant commitment of evangelization through charity. May Lawrence, a heroic witness of the Crucified and Risen Christ be for each person an example of docile adherence to the divine will, so that, as we heard the Apostle Paul remind the Corinthians, we too may live in such a way as to be found "guiltless" in the day of Our Lord (cf. 1 Corinthians 1: 7-9).
To prepare ourselves for Christ's coming is also the exhortation we hear in today's Gospel: "Watch", Jesus tells us in Luke's short parable about the master of the house who goes on a journey but the date of whose return is unknown (cf. Mark 13: 33-37). Watching means following the Lord, choosing what Christ chose, loving what he loved, conforming one's own life to his; watching means passing every instant of our time in the sphere of his love without letting oneself be disheartened by the inevitable difficulties and problems of daily life. This is what St Lawrence did, this is what we must do and let us ask the Lord to grant us his grace so that Advent may be an incentive for all to walk in this direction. May Mary, the humble Virgin of Nazareth chosen by God to become Mother of the Redeemer, St Andrew whose feast we are celebrating today, and St Lawrence, an example of fearless Christian faithfulness to the point of martyrdom, guide us and go with us. Amen!
St Peter's Square
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today, with the First Sunday of Advent, we begin a new liturgical year. This season invites us to reflect on the dimension of time, which always exerts great fascination over us. However, after the example of what Jesus loved to do, I wish to start with a very concrete observation: we all say that we do not have enough time, because the pace of daily life has become frenetic for everyone. In this regard too, the Church has "good news" to bring: God gives us his time. We always have little time; especially for the Lord, we do not know how or, sometimes, we do not want to find it. Well, God has time for us! This is the first thing that the beginning of a liturgical year makes us rediscover with ever new amazement. Yes, God gives us his time, because he entered history with his Word and his works of salvation to open it to eternity, to make it become a covenantal history. In this prospective, already in itself time is a fundamental sign of God's love: a gift that man, as with everything else, is able to make the most of or, on the contrary, to waste; to take in its significance or to neglect with obtuse superficiality.
Then there are the three great "points" in time, which delineate the history of salvation: at the beginning, Creation; the Incarnation-Redemption at the centre and at the end the "parousia", the final coming that also includes the Last Judgment. However, these three moments should not be viewed merely in chronological succession. In fact, Creation is at the origin of all things but it also continues and is actuated through the whole span of cosmic becoming, until the end of time. So too, although the Incarnation-Redemption occurred at a specific moment in history the period of Jesus' journey on earth it nevertheless extends its radius of action to all the preceding time and all that is to come. And in their turn, the final coming and the Last Judgment, which were decisively anticipated precisely in the Cross of Christ, exercise their influence on the conduct of the people of every age.
The liturgical season of Advent celebrates the coming of God in its two moments: it first invites us to reawaken our expectation of Christ's glorious return, then, as Christmas approaches, it calls us to welcome the Word made man for our salvation. Yet the Lord comes into our lives continually. How timely then, is Jesus' call, which on this First Sunday is powerfully proposed to us: "Watch!" (Mark 13: 33, 35, 37). It is addressed to the disciples but also to everyone, because each one, at a time known to God alone, will be called to account for his life. This involves a proper detachment from earthly goods, sincere repentance for one's errors, active charity to one's neighbour and above all a humble and confident entrustment to the hands of God, our tender and merciful Father. The icon of Advent is the Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus. Let us invoke her so that she may help us also to become an extension of humanity for the Lord who comes.
After the Angelus:
Dear friends, 30 November, that is, today, is the Feast of the Apostle St Andrew, brother of Simon Peter. At first, they were both among the followers of John the Baptist, and after Jesus' Baptism in the Jordan became his disciples, recognizing in him the Messiah. St Andrew is the Patron of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, thus the Church of Rome feels linked to that of Constantinople by a special bond of brotherhood. Therefore, in accordance with tradition, on this happy occasion a delegation of the Holy See led by Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, went to visit the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I. I wholeheartedly address my greeting and my good wishes to him and to the faithful of the Patriarchate, invoking upon all an abundance of heavenly Blessings.
I would like to ask you to join in prayer for the numerous victims, both of the brutal terrorist attacks of Mumbai, India, and of the fighting that has broken out in Jos, Nigeria, as well as for the injured and all those who have been hurt in any way. The causes and circumstances of these tragic events are various but each share in the horror and deplore the outbreak of so much cruel and senseless violence. Let us ask the Lord to move the hearts of those who delude themselves that this is the way to resolve local or international problems, and let us all feel spurred to set an example of moderation and love, to build a society worthy of God and of man.
I am happy to greet all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present for this Angelus prayer. I offer a special welcome to the participants in the Youth Meeting at the European University of Rome. Today, the First Sunday of Advent, the Church begins a new liturgical year. The Gospel invites us to be prepared as faithful servants for the coming of Christ. May Advent be a time of preparation that leads us to a life centred on our Christian hope. May God bless you all!
Saint Peter's Square
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today, together with the Church, we are beginning the new liturgical year: a new journey of faith to experience together in Christian communities but, as always, also to be taken within world history so as to open it to God's mystery, to the salvation that comes from his love. The liturgical year begins with the Season of Advent. It is a marvellous period in which the expectation of Christ's return and the memory of his first Coming — when he emptied himself of his divine glory to take on our mortal flesh — reawakens in hearts.
"Watch!"¯ This is Jesus' call in today's Gospel. He does not only address it to his disciples but to everyone: "Watch!" (Mark 13:37). It is a salutary reminder to us that life does not only have an earthly dimension but reaches towards a "beyond", like a plantlet that sprouts from the ground and opens towards the sky. A thinking plantlet, man, endowed with freedom and responsibility, which is why each one of us will be called to account for how he/she has lived, how each one has used the talents with which each is endowed: whether one has kept them to oneself or has made them productive for the good of one's brethren too.
Today, Isaiah, too, the prophet of Advent, with a heartfelt entreaty addressed to God on behalf of the people, gives us food for thought. He recognized the shortcomings of his people and said at a certain point: "There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to cling to you; for you have hidden your face from us and have delivered us up to our iniquities" (cf. Isaiah 64:6).
How can we fail to find this description striking? It seems to reflect certain panoramas of the post-modern world: cities where life becomes anonymous and horizontal, where God seems absent and man the only master, as if he were the architect and director of all things: construction, work, the economy, transport, the branches of knowledge, technology, everything seems to depend on man alone. And in this world that appears almost perfect at times disturbing things happen, either in nature or in society, which is why we think that God has, as it were, withdrawn and has, so to speak, left us to ourselves.
In fact, the true "master" of the world is not the human being but God. The Gospel says: "Watch therefore — for you do not know when the master of the house will coming, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning — lest he come suddenly and find you asleep"¯ (Mark 13:35-36).
The Season of Advent returns every year to remind us of this in order that our life may find its proper orientation, turned to the face of God. The face is not that of a "master" but of a Father and a Friend. Let us make the Prophet's words our own, together with the Virgin Mary who guides us on our Advent journey. "O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay and you are our potter: we are all the work of your hand" (Isaiah 64:8).
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27 December 2014