Vespers Concluding Prayer -
Almighty and merciful God, by your will Christ your Son suffered for the salvation of the whole world. Grant that your people may offer themselves as a living sacrifice to you and be filled to overflowing with your love.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God forever and ever. Amen.
Homily of Pope Benedict XVI
Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta in Aosta, Italy
Vespers, July 24, 2009
Dear brothers and sisters,
I wish first of all to say "Thank you," Your Excellency, for the words with which you have introduced me to the great history of this cathedral. You have made me feel that we pray here, not only at this moment, but that I pray with [the faithful of] past centuries in this beautiful church. And thanks to all of you who have come to pray with me and to make visible this network of prayer that links us all and always.
In this brief homily, I wish to say a few words about the prayer with which these Vespers conclude, because I think that in this passage, from the Letter of the Romans, prayer is interpreted and transformed.
The prayer from Romans has two parts: an addresss - a heading, we might say - and then, the prayer itself, made up of two requests.
Let us start with the address, which itself has two parts: it concretizes the "you" with whom we talk in prayer, so we can better knock at the door of God's heart. In the Italian text, we read simply: "Merciful Father" The Latin text is more ample - "Almighty and merciful God."
In my recent encyclical [Caritas in Veritate], I have tried to show the priority of God both in our personal life, as well as in the life of history, of society, of the world. Certainly, choosing God is something profoundly personal, and the person is a being-in-relationship. If the fundamental relationship - the relation with God - is not there, if it is not lived, then all of man's other relationships cannot find their correct form. And this goes likewise for society, for mankind as such.
If God is missing, if one does without God, if God is absent, then there is no compass to show the entirety of all relationships that can make us find the way, the orientation in which one must proceed. God - we must bring back to the world the reality of God, make Him known, and make Him present.
But how are we to know God?
In the ad-limina visits, when I speak with the bishops where traditional relgions still exist - above all in Africa, but also in Asia and Latin America - these religions have many details that are diverse from one another of course, but they also have common elements. All know that there is a God, one God, that "God" is a word in the singular, that the gods are not God, that there is God, the God.
But at the same time, this God seems absent, very distant, who does not seem to come into our daily life - He is hidden, we do not know His face. And so, religions concern themselves mostly with things, powers that are nearer, spirits, ancestors, etc. - since God Himself is too distant, one must deal instead with these powers closer to hand.
The act of evangelization consists precisely in the fact that it brings that "distant" God closer. God is no longer distant but close, so that this "known unknown" can now make Himself known, He reveals Himself, the veil over Him disappears, and He shows His face. And because God is near, we can know Him, He shows us His face, He enters into our daily life. We no longer have to deal with other "powers" because He is the true power. He is the Almighty.
I do not know why they omitted the word "almighty" in the Italian text. The truth is we all feel somewhat threatened by omnipotence - it would seem to limit our freedom, it seems a bit too strong. But we should learn that the omnipotence of God is not arbitrary power, because God is Goodness, He is the Truth. God can do everything, but He cannot act against what is good, He cannot act against the truth, He cannot act against love and against freedom, because He Himself is goodness, He is Love, He is true freedom. So, everything that He does can never be against truth, love and freedom.
On the contrary - He, God, is the custodian of our freedom, of love and of truth. The eye that sees us is not an evil eye that keeps us under surveillance - it is the presence of a love which will never abandon us and which gives us the certainty that it is good that we exist, it is good to live. He is the eye of love who gives us the space to live.
"Almighty and merciful God." This text from the Letter to the Romans is linked with a passage from the Book of Wisdom, which says: "You, God, show us your omnipotence in forgiveness and mercy." The peak of God's power is mercy, it is forgiveness.
In the world concept of power today, we think of someone with large properties, who has something to say about the economy because he can dispose of capital to influence the world through the market. Or we think of someone who has military might, who can threaten. Stalin's question, "How many divisions has the Pope?" still characterizes the average idea of power.
And theirs is power that can be dangerous, that can threaten, that can destroy, that holds so many things of the world in its hands. But Revelation tells us it is not so. True power is the power of grace, the power of mercy. In His mercy, God shows His true power.
Thus, the second part of this prayer's address says, "You have redeemed the world with the Passion, with the suffering of your Son."
God suffered, through His Son, with us. This is the peak of His power - that He is capable of suffering with us. That is how He shows us the true divine power - that He wished to suffer with us, and that He will never leave us alone in our suffering. God, in His Son, had suffered with us and is therefore close to us in our suffering.
Nonetheless, the difficult question remains, one that I cannot now interpret amply: Why was it necessary to suffer in order to save the world?
It was necessary because there exists an ocean of evil in the world, an ocean of injustice, of hatred, of violence. And all the victims of hatred and injustice have the right to justice. God could not ignore the cry of those who suffered and who had been oppressed by injustice.
To forgive is not to ignore but to transform, so God had to enter into this world to oppose this ocean of injustice, much more vast than that of goodness and love. That explains the Cross, and from that moment, against that ocean of evil, there now exists an infinite river that will always be greater than all the injustices of the world, a river of goodness, of truth and of love.
God forgives, transforming the world. He enters our world so that there can be a power against evil in that river of goodness, which is always greater than all the evil that can ever exist.
The address to God is also an address to ourselves: God invites us to place ourselves on His side, to leave that ocean of evil, of hate, of violence, of selfishness, and to identify ourselves with the river of His love, to enter into it.
And this is the request contained in the first part of the prayer: "Grant that your Church may offer itself to you as a living and holy sacrifice."
This appeal, addressed to God, also concerns us. It refers to two passages in the Letter to the Romans. In 12:1, Paul says: "We ourselves should become a living sacrifice."
We ourselves, with all our being, should become adoration, sacrifice. We should restore our world to God and thus transform the world.
And in Chapter 15, Paul describes the apostolate as priesthood. The function of the priesthood is to consecrate the world so that it becomes a living host, it becomes liturgy. That liturgy is not just something alongside the realities of the world, but that the world itself may become a living host, it becomes liturgy. It is the great vision that Teilhard de Chardin later had, that in the end, we would have a true cosmic liturgy, when the world becomes a living host.
Let us pray to the Lord that He may help us to be priests in this sense of helping to transform the world, in the adoration of God, and begin by transforming ourselves. So that our life may speak of God, that our life becomes liturgy, an announcement of God, the gate through which a distant God becomes the God who is near, and that we truly give ourselves to God.
Then comes the second appeal of the prayer: "Grant that your people may always experience the fullness of your love."
In the Latin text it says, "Satiate us with your love." Thus, the text refers to the psalm which we sang, "Open your hand and satiate the hunger of every living being." (144(145):16)
How much hunger there is on earth! Hunger for bread in so many parts of the world - and Your Excellency has spoken of suffering among families here - hunger for justice, hunger for love.
With this prayer, we ask God, "Open your hand and truly satiate the hunger of every living being. Satiate our hunger for the truth, and for your love." So may it be.