Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Virtual Tour of the Tomb of St. Peter and the Vatican Necropolis

Here is a fascinating virtual tour of the scavi (excavations) below St. Peter's Basilica, which includes an ancient Roman cemetery, with both pagan Roman and Christian Roman tombs, and which ends at the tomb of St. Peter.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Guardians of Souls, Purified by Obedience to Truth

Homily of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Mass on the Solemnity of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul

June 29, 2009

In the Collect of this solemn day, we ask the Lord "that the Church may always follow the teaching of the Apostles from which she received the first announcement of the faith." The request that we raise to the Lord also poses us questions: Are we following the teaching of the great founding Apostles? Do we really know them?

During the Pauline Year which ended yesterday, we sought to hear him again in a new way - the "teacher of the Gentiles" - and thus to learn anew the alphabet of the faith. We sought to know Christ with Paul and through him, and in so doing, to find the way for correct Christian living.

In the canon of the New Testament, besides the Letters of St. Paul, there are also two Letters under the name of St. Peter. The first of these letters ends explicitly with a greeting from Rome, although it appears under the apocalyptic cover name of Babylon: "The co-elected one at Babylon sends you greeting..." (1 Pet 5:13).

Calling the Church of Rome the "co-elected" places her into the community of all local Churches - the community of all whom God has united so that, in the Babylon of time in this world, they may construct His People and make God enter into history. The first Letter of Peter is a greeting from Rome to all of Christianity of all time. It invites us to listen to "the teaching of the Apostles" which shows us the way to life.

This Letter is a very rich text that comes from the heart and touches the heart. Its center - and how could it be otherwise? - is the figure of Christ, who is described as He who suffers and loves, as the Crucified and Risen One: "When He was insulted, He returned no insult; when He suffered, He did not threaten... By His wounds you have been healed" (1 Pet 2:23ff).

Starting out from the center who is Christ, the Letter also constitutes an introduction to the fundamental Christian sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist, and a discourse addressed to priests, in which Peter describes himself as a co-"presbyter" with them. He speaks to the pastors of all generations as he who was personally named by the Lord to pasture His sheep and therefore, received a priestly mandate in a very special way.

What then does St. Peter tell us - appropriately, in the Year for Priests - about the task of the priest? He calls Christ "pastor and guardian of... souls" (2:25). Where the Italian translation uses the word "guardian," the Greek text uses the word episcopus (bishop). Further on, Christ is described as the supreme pastor: archipoimen (5,4).

It is surprising that Peter calls Christ Himself a bishop - bishop of souls. What did he mean by this?

The Greek word episcopos includes the root for "to see" - that is why it has been translated as "guardian," in the sense of "one who oversees." Certainly, what is meant is not external guarding as one would in the context of a prison. Rather, what is meant is watching over, from on high - from God's elevation. Seeing from the perspective of God is seeing with love that wishes to serve another, who wants to help the other become truly himself.

Christ is the "bishop of souls," Peter tells us. This means: He sees us from the perspective of God. Looking from God's perspective, one has a vision of the whole - one sees the dangers as well as the hopes and possibilities. From the perspective of God, one sees the essence, one sees the man within.

If Christ is the bishop (overseer) of souls, the objective is to prevent man's soul from becoming more impoverished, that man may not lose his essence - the capacity for truth and love - that instead, man may come to know God, that he does not lose his way in dead ends, that he does not end up in isolation but remains open altogether
. Jesus, "the bishop of souls," is the prototype of every episcopal and priestly ministry. To be a bishop, to be a priest, means in this context: to assume the position of Christ. To think, see and act from the vantage point of His elevation. And starting from Him, to be at the disposition of all men so that they may find life.

Thus, the word "bishop" is very close to the word "pastor," or rather, the two concepts become interchangeable. It is the task of the pastor to pasture and watch over the flock and lead it to the right pastures. To pasture the flock means to be attentive that the sheep find the right food, that their hunger be satisfied, and that their thirst be slaked. Beyond metaphor, this means: the Word of God is the nutriment which man needs. Always to make present the Word of God and thus give nutriment to men is the task of the correct pastor. He should also be able to resist his enemies, the wolves. He should lead and precede, show the way, and keep his flock together.

Peter, in his discourse to the priests, highlights another very important point: It is not enough to speak. Pastors should make themselves "models for the flock" (1 Pet 5:3).

The Word of God is brought from the past to the present when it is lived
. It is marvelous to see how, in the saints, the Word of God becomes a word that is addressed to our time. In figures like St. Francis, and more recently Padre Pio and many others, Christ has become truly contemporary to their generation. He has emerged from the past to enter into the present. This is what it means to be a pastor - a model for the flock: live the Word now, in the great community of the holy Church.

Very briefly I would like now to call attention to two other statements in the First Letter of St. Peter which particularly concern us, in our time.

There is, first of all, the sentence, newly rediscovered today, which was the basis upon which the medieval theologians understood their tasks: "Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope" (1 Pet 3:15).

The Christian faith is hope. It opens the way to the future. And it is a hope that is reasonable - a hope whose reason we can and should explain.

Faith comes from eternal Reason which has entered our world and has shown us the true God. It goes far beyond the native capacity of our own reason, just as love sees more than mere intelligence. But faith speaks to reason, and in the dialectical confrontation, it can hold its own against reason. It does not contradict reason, but keeps step with it, while at the same time, leads far beyond reason - to the greater Reason that is God

As Pastors of our time, we have the task to be the first to understand the reason of faith, the task of not leaving faith to be simply a tradition, but to recognize it as the answer to our questions.

Faith demands our rational participation, which is deepened and purified in a sharing of love. It is part of our duty as Pastors to penetrate the faith with our thought in order to be able to show the reason for our hope in the disputes of our time.

Nonetheless, thinking, by itself, is not enough. Just as speaking, by itself, is not enough. In his baptismal and eucharistic catechesis in Chapter 2 of the First letter, Peter refers to the Psalm used by the primitive Church in the context of communion, "Learn to savor how good the LORD is" (Ps 34(33):9).

Only "tasting" (direct experience) leads to seeing. Think of the disciples at Emmaus: it was only during their convivial communion with Jesus, in the breaking of bread, that their eyes were opened. We become capable of seeing only in an authentic experience of communion with the Lord. This goes for all of us: beyond thinking and speaking, we all need the experience of the faith - that vital relationship with Christ.

Faith should not remain a theory: it should be life. If in the Sacraments, we encounter the Lord, if in prayer we talk to Him, if in our day-to-day decisions we adhere to Christ - then we shall always and increasingly "see" how good He is. Then we can experience how good it is to be with Him. From such a lived certainty comes the capacity to communicate the faith to others in a credible way

The Curate of Ars was not a great thinker. But he "tasted" the Lord. He lived with Him in the minutiae of every day as in the great demands of the pastoral ministry. This way he became "one who sees." He had "tasted" and so he knew that the Lord is good.

Let us pray the Lord so that He may give us this capacity to "taste" and that we may become credible witnesses for the hope that is in us.

Finally, I wish to note another small but important statement from St. Peter. Soon after the opening of the Letter, he tells us that the goal of our faith is the salvation of souls (cf. 1 Pet 1:9). In the language and thought of Christianity today, this seems like a strange statement, and for some, even outright scandalous.

The word "soul" has fallen into discredit. It is said that its use would lead to the division of man unto spiritual and physical, soul and body, whereas in fact, he is an indivisible unity. Besides, the "salvation of souls" as a goal of the faith would seem to suggest an individualistic Christianity, a loss of responsibility for the world as a whole, in its corporeality and its materiality.

But none of that is found in the letter of St. Peter. Zeal in bearing witness to hope and responsibility for others characterize the entire text. To understand the statement about the salvation of souls being the goal of the faith, we must begin from another side.

It remains true that lack of attention to souls and the progressive impoverishment of the interior man not only destroy the individual, but threaten the destiny of mankind as a whole. Without healing souls, without healing man from within, there cannot be salvation of mankind. The true illness of souls is what St. Peter calls ignorance, that is, non-knowledge of God. He who does not know God, who does not at least seek Him sincerely, remains outside of true life (cf. 1 Pet 1:14).

Yet another sentence from Peter's Letter can be useful to us in order to better understand the expression "salvation of souls": "Purify yourselves by obedience to the truth" (cf. 1:22).

It is obedience to the truth that makes the soul pure. And it is living with lies that contaminates it. Obedience to the truth starts with the small truths of everyday, which may often be difficult and painful.

This obedience extends up to the obedience without reservations to the Truth itself which is Christ. Such obedience does not merely make us pure, but above all, it makes us free to render service to Christ and therefore to the salvation of the world, which must always start from the obedient purification of one's own soul through the truth. We can show the way to truth only if we ourselves - in obedience and patience - allow ourselves to be purified by the truth

And now let me address myself to you, dear brothers in the Episcopate, who will shortly receive the pallium from my hands. It was woven from the wool of lambs that the Pope blessed on the Feast of St. Agnes. In this way, it recalls Christ's lambs and sheep whom the risen Lord had entrusted to peter with the task of pasturing them (cf. Jn 21:15-16). It recalls the flock of Jesus Christ which you, dear brothers, must pasture in communion with Peter.

We are reminded of this by Christ Himself, who as the Good Shepherd, has taken upon His shoulders the lost sheep, mankind, in order to bring it back home. It reminds us that He, the supreme Pastor, wanted to be the lamb Himself, in order to take charge from within of the destiny of all of us; in order to carry us and heal us from within.

Let us pray the Lord so that He may grant us to follow in His footsteps as just pastors, "not by constraint but willingly, as God would have it...eagerly - examples to the flock" (1 Pet 5:2ff). Amen.

Caritas in Veritate

Today, June 29, 2009, the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, patrons of Rome, Pope Benedict signed his third encyclical, "Charity in Truth." After praying the Angelus, His Holiness announced,

My third encyclical, which is entitled Caritas in Veritate, will be published soon. Taking up the social themese contained in Populorum Progressio, written by the Servant of God Paul VI in 1967, this document - which carries today's date, June 29, solemnity of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul - aims to analyze in depth some aspects of development that are integral to our time, in the light of love in truth.

I entrust to your prayers this additional contribution that the Church offers mankind in its commitment to sustainable progress in full respect of human dignity aand the real demands of everyone.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

St. Paul - Transformative Renewal and Adult Faith
Living the Truth in Love

L'Osservatore Romano is reporting the discovery of the oldest known image of St. Paul in the catacombs of St. Tecla on the via Ostiense, a short distance from the burial place of the Apostle to the Gentiles at Basilica di San Paolo Fuori le Mura.

Archaeologists from the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archeology were using laser technology during restoration of various fourth century frescoes when they discovered "the severe and easily recognizable face of St. Paul." The circular portrait of Paul is accompanied by three other portraits that are thought to depict Saints Peter, John, and James, together with a central fresco of the Good Shepherd.

The announcement of the discovery of St. Paul's fresco portrait was accompanied by an announcement by Pope Benedict at First Vespers that bone fragments from below the main altar of the Basilica have been confirmed to belong to St. Paul. In this homily, Pope Benedict also returns to the theme of having an adult faith, which he discussed prior to the conclave in his "dictatorship of relativism" homily.

Homily of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
First Vespers of the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul

Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls
June 28, 2009

The year commemorating the birth of St. Paul ends tonight. We are gathered at the tomb of the Apostle, whose sarcophagus, preserved under the papal altar, was recently the object of careful scientific studies.

In the sarcophagus, which has never been opened over so many centuries, a very small hole was drilled in order to introduce a special passage which retrieved traces of a precious purple colored fabric with gold sequins, and an azure fabric with linen threads. Also retrieved were grains of red incense and of protein and bone substances, Moreover, tiny bone fragments subjected to carbon-14 dating by experts, who were not told of their provenance, were shown to be those of a person who lived in the first or second century.

This seems to confirm the unanimous and uncontested tradition that has come to us about the mortal remains of the apostle Paul.

All this fills our hearts with profound emotion. Many persons, during these months, have followed the footsteps of the Apostle - his exterior travels, but more than that, the interior ways that he went through during his life: the road to Damascus and his encounter with the risen Christ; the routes of the Mediterranean world which he traversed with the torch of the Gospel, encountering both contradiction and adherence; and finally, his martyrdom, through which he belongs for always to the Church of Rome. Indeed, he addressed to the Romans his greatest and most important letter.

The Pauline Year ends, but to walk together with Paul, with him and thanks to him, to come to know who Jesus is, as he did, to be illuminated and transformed by the Gospel - this will always be part of Christian existence. Always, going beyond the circle of believers, he remained the "teacher of the Gentiles" who brought the message of the Risen One to all men, because Christ knows and loves everyone - He died and resurrected for all of them. And so we wish to listen to him at this time as we solemnly begin the feast of the two Apostles who were united by a tight bond.

It is part of the structure of Paul's Letters that they - always in reference to a place and a particular situation - explained, first of all, the mystery of Christ - that they teach us the faith. The next part consisted in its application to our lives: what are the consequences of such faith? How does it shape our day-to-day existence?

In the Letter to the Romans, this second part starts with Chapter 12, in whose first two verses the Apostle quickly sums up the essential nucleus of Christian existence.

What does St. Paul tell us in that passage? First of all, he affirms, as a fundamental thing, that a new way of venerating God began with Christ - a new worship. And it consists in the living man himself becoming adoration, a "sacrifice" in his own body. It is no longer things that are offered to God. It is our very existence that should become a praise of God.

But how can this take place? The answer is given to us in the second verse: "Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God..." (Rom 12:2) The two decisive words in this verse are "transform" and "renew." We must become new men, transformed to a new mode of existence.

The world is always in search of something new, because, rightly, it is never satisfied with concrete reality. Paul tells us: the world cannot be renewed without new men. Only when there are new men will there also be a new world, a renewed and better world.

At the beginning must be man's renewal. This goes for each individual. Only if we ourselves become new can the world become new. This also means that it is not enough to adapt oneself to the present situation. We will return to this point when we reflect on the second text that I wish to meditate upon with you tonight.

The Apostle's "no" to the present age is clear and even convincing for those who follow the "schema" of our world. How does one renew oneself? Are we really capable of doing so?

With his words about becoming new, Paul alludes to his own conversion: to his encounter with the risen Christ, of which he says in the Second Letter to the Corinthians, "So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come" (2 Cor 5:17). The meeting with Christ was for him so overwhelming that he said about it: "I died..." (Gal 2,19; cf. Rom 6). He had become a new man, another man, because he no longer lived for himself and for himself, but for Christ and in Him.

In the course of years, however, he also saw that this process of renewal and transformation continues for all of one's life. We become new if we allow ourselves to be possessed and formed by the New Man, Jesus Christ. He is the New Man par excellence. In Him, the new human existence became reality, and we can really become new if we deliver ourselves into His hands and allow ourselves to be formed by Him.

Paul makes this process of "re-fusion" even clearer, saying that we become new if we transform our way of thinking. That which we translate here as "way of thinking" is the Greek term nous. it is a complex word. It can be translated as spirit, sentiment, reason, and precisely, even as "way of thinking."

Our very reasoning should become new. This surprises us. We may perhaps have expected that the renewal would apply to an attitude: something in the way we behave that should be changed, a precept of alteration. But no -- renewal must be through and through. Our way of looking at the world, of comprehending reality, all our thinking should change from its very bases.

The thinking of the old "I," the common way of thinking, is usually concerned with possession, well-being, influence, success, fame and the like. But in this way, it has a very limited bearing, and in the ultimate analysis, it is the "I" who is the center of the world.

We should learn to think more profoundly. And what this means, St. Paul tells in the second part of his sentence: one must learn to grasp the will of God so that it shapes our own will. In order that we ourselves can want what God wants, we must acknowledge that God wants what is good and what is beautiful.

It is a question therefore of a turnabout in our basic spiritual orientation. God must enter into the horizon of our thinking - what He wants and the way He conceived the world and myself. We must learn to take part in the thought and will of Jesus Christ. Then we will be new men among whom the new world will emerge.

The same thought of a necessary renewal of our essence as humans was further illustrated by Paul in two passages from the Letter to the Ephesians, on which let us reflect briefly. In the fourth chapter of the letter, the Apostle tells us that with Christ we should reach adulthood, mature manhood. We can no longer "be infants, tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching..." (4:14).

Paul desired that Christians should have a mature faith, "an adult faith."
The term "adult faith" has become a widespread slogan in recent decades. One often hears to describe the attitude of those who no longer listen to the Church and her Pastors, but autonomously choose that which they want to believe or not to believe - therefore a "do-it-yourself" faith. And to express oneself against the Magisterium of the Church is presented as "courage."

In fact, no courage is needed for this, because one can always be sure of getting public applause. Rather, courage is required to adhere to the faith of the Church even if it contradicts the "schema" of the contemporary world. It is this non-conformism of faith which Paul calls an "adult faith."

On the other hand, he calls it infantile to run with the winds and currents of the time. Therefore, it is part of having "adult faith," for instance, to commit oneself to the inviolability of human life from the very first moment, thus opposing radically the principle of violence, in defense of the most helpless of human creatures.

It is part of adult faith to recognize marriage between a man and a woman for their whole life as the order of Creation, freshly re-established by Christ.

Adult faith does not allow itself to be carried along willy-nilly by any current. It goes against the winds of fashion. It knows that such winds are not the breath of the Holy Spirit! It knows that the Spirit of God is expressed and manifested in communion with Jesus Christ.

Nonetheless, even in this, Paul does not stop at saying "no," but leads us to the great "Yes." He describes adult faith, one that is truly adult in a positive way, with the expression: "living the truth in love" (cf. Eph 4:15).

The new way of thinking, given to us by faith, turns first of all to the truth. The power of evil is lies. The power of faith, the power of God, is truth. The truth about the world and about our own selves becomes visible if we look to God. And God is made visible to us in the face of Jesus Christ.

Looking at Christ, we recognize another thing: truth and love are inseparable. In God, both are inseparably one: this is precisely the essence of God. That is why for Christians, truth and love must go together. Love is the test of truth. We must always be measured anew by this criterion in which truth becomes love, and love makes us truthful.

Yet another important thought appears in St. Paul's verses. The Apostle tells us that by living truth in love, we contribute so that everything - the universe - grows towards Christ.

Paul, on the basis of his faith, was not interested only in our personal rectitude nor with the growth of the Church alone. He is interested in the universe: ta pánta. The ultimate goal of the work of Christ is the universe - the transformation of the universe, of the entire human world, of all creation.

Whoever, with Christ, serves truth in love, contributes to true progress in the world
. It is very clear here that Paul knew the idea of progress.

Christ - His life, suffering and resurrection - was the true great leap of progress for mankind, for the world. Now, however, the universe must grow in like measure. There is true progress in the world wherever the presence of Christ increases - because there, man becomes new and therefore the world itself becomes new.

Paul makes the same thing obvious to us from yet another angle. In the third chapter of the Letter to the Ephesians, he speaks of the need to be "strengthened... in the inner self," (3:16). He picks up here a subject that he dealt with, in a situation of tribulation, in his Second Letter to the Corinthians: "...although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day" (3:16).

The interior man should reinforce himself - it is an imperative that is very appropriate for our time, when men often remain interiorly empty and so they must hold on to promises and drugs, which then have the consequence of further increasing their interior sense of emptiness. This interior void - the weakness of the interior man - is one of the great problems of our time.

Interiorness must be reinforced - the perceptiveness of the heart; the capacity to see and understand the world and man from within, with the heart.

We have need of reason illuminated by the heart, in order to learn to act according to truth in love. But this cannot be realized without an intimate relationship with God, without a life of prayer. We have need of an encounter with God, which is given to us in the Sacraments.

But we cannot speak to God in prayer, if we don't allow Him to speak first, if we don't listen to Him in the words that have been given to us.
In this respect, Paul tells us: "That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge" (Eph 3:17ff).

Love sees much farther than mere reason - that is what Paul is telling us with these words. He also tells us that only in communion with all the saints, that is, only in the great community of all believers - not against or without it - can we know the vastness of the mystery of Christ.

This vastness he circumscribes with words that express the dimensions of the cosmos: breadth, length, height and depth. The mystery of Christ has a cosmic vastness. He does not belong only to a specific group. The crucified Christ embraces the entire universe in all its dimensions. He takes the world in His hands and raises it up to God.

Starting with St. Irenaeus of Lyons - thus, by the end of the second century - the Fathers saw in these words of the breadth, length, height and depth of Christ's love a reference to the Cross. The love of Christ embraced, on the Cross, the lowest depths - the night of death - as well as the supreme height - the altitude of God Himself. And He took into His arms the breadth and vastness of mankind and the world in all their distances. He always embraces the universe - all of us.

Let us pray the Lord so that He may help us to appreciate something of the vastness of His love. Let us pray to Him in order that His love and His truth may move our hearts. Let us ask that Christ may live in our hearts and make us new men who behave according to truth in love. Amen.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Nativity of John the Baptist

Today is the Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist, who could be said to be the last and greatest of the Old Testament prophets. He can be said to be an "Old Testament" prophet because he is spoken of in Isaiah and Malachi and elsewhere and because he makes the final preparations for the coming of the New Testament that is Jesus Christ.

In its feast days, the Church normally celebrates the birth of the saint into heaven, that is, the day of his or her death on earth. However, for three persons -- Jesus, Mary, and John the Baptist -- the Church also celebrates their earthly birthdays.

Born into the priestly class, as a descendant of Aaron, whose very birth was announced by God's messenger to his father in the Temple when he was serving as priest, John would have been instructed in priestly duties and would have known the Temple well. However, instead of serving in the Temple, John's ministry was conducted in the desert, where the people of Israel began after being led out of bondage in Egypt and where the Lord appeared to them and made His covenant with them.

There was a reason that John went out into the desert wilderness. In order to see him, the people were required to return to that desert. And there was a reason that John baptized in the Jordan River, the place where the people of Israel had crossed into the promised land, led by Joshua. John's ministry and baptism of repentence was a call for the people to reaffirm their identity, to reaffirm their fidelity to God, by going back into the desert, where they relied totally on God for their very sustenance and survival, so as to symbolically reenter the Promised Land through water, leaving behind sin and death. It was a new Exodus, but instead of bondage in Egypt, they were led out of the bondage of sin and death into new life.

To further manifest his purpose and identity, John wore the same clothing that was worn by the prophet Elijah, a hairy garment with a leather girdle. His food in the desert, locusts and honey, combined the judgment of God on sin (the plague of locusts in Egypt) with His mercy in promising a land of milk and honey. And like Elijah, who was persecuted by the wicked Queen Jezebel and King Ahab, John was persecuted by the wicked Queen Herodias and cowardly King Herod.

The Lord said to the prophet Malachi, "I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me; And suddenly there will come to the temple the LORD whom you seek, And the messenger of the covenant whom you desire. Yes, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. . . . I will send you Elijah, the prophet, Before the day of the LORD comes, the great and terrible day, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with doom."

The people of Israel had waited a long time. It had been hundreds of years since the last of the prophets had revealed to them the word of God. But in John the Baptist, who leapt for joy in the womb when he was filled with the Holy Spirit upon the coming of Jesus, likewise in the womb, "Elijah" had come again. It was the beginning of the new age.

Luke 1:5-17, 57-80
In the time of Herod king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commandments and regulations blamelessly. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years.

Once when Zechariah's division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.

Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: "Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." . . .

When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy.

On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, but his mother spoke up and said, "No! He is to be called John."

They said to her, "There is no one among your relatives who has that name." Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone's astonishment he wrote, "His name is John." Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak, praising God. The neighbors were all filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, "What then is this child going to be?" For the Lord's hand was with him.

Then Zechariah his father, filled with the holy Spirit, prophesied, saying:

"Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
for he has come to his people and brought about their redemption.
He has raised up the sign of salvation
in the house of his servant David,
as he promised through the mouth of the holy ones,
his prophets through the ages:
to rescue us from our enemies
and all who hate us,
to take pity on our fathers,
to remember his holy covenant
and the oath he swore to Abraham our father,
that he would give himself to us,
that we could serve him without fear
– freed from the hands of our enemies –
in uprightness and holiness before him,
for all of our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High:
for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare his path,
to let his people know their salvation,
so that their sins may be forgiven.
Through the bottomless mercy of our God,
one born on high will visit us
to give light to those who walk in darkness,
who live in the shadow of death;
to lead our feet in the path of peace."


Monday, June 22, 2009

Calming the Storm of Suffering

Homily of Pope Benedict XVI
Mass at the Church of San Pio de Pietrelcina

San Giovanni Rotondo
June 21, 2009

. . . We have just heard the Gospel of the calmed storm, which was preceded by a short but incisive text of the Book of Job, where God reveals Himself as the Lord of the sea. Jesus threatened the wind and ordered the sea to calm itself; He addresses it as if it was identified with the diabolical power. Indeed, according to what we hear from the first reading and Psalm 106(107), the sea in the Bible is regarded as a threatening, chaotic, and potentially destructive element, that only God, the Creator, can dominate, govern and silence.

But there is another force -- a positive force -- that moves the world, able to transform and renew creation: the strength of the "love of Christ," ἀγάπη τοῦ Χριστοῦ (2 Cor 5:14 ) -- as St. Paul calls it in the Second Letter to the Corinthians -- not in essence a cosmic force, but divine, transcendent. It acts on the universe but also, in itself, the love of Christ is a power that is "other." And this, His transcendent otherness, the Lord has manifested in His Passover, the "sanctity" of the "way" chosen by Him to liberate us from the domination of evil, as was done by the exodus from Egypt, when He brought the Jews out through the waters of the Red Sea.

"O God," says the Psalmist, "holy is your way ... On the sea your way, / your paths over the great waters" (Psalms 77(76), 14:20). In the paschal mystery, Jesus has passed through the abyss of death, since God so willed to renew the world: through the death and resurrection of His Son "slain for all," so that all may live for Him who has died and risen for them" (2 Cor 5, 16).

The solemn gesture of calming the stormy sea is clearly a sign of the lordship of Christ over the negative powers and leads us to think of His divinity: "Who is this -- the disciples ask stupefied and terrified -- that even the wind and the sea obey Him?" (Mk 4:41). Theirs is not yet a strong faith; it is taking shape; it is a mixture of fear and trust; Jesus' trusting abandonment to the Father is, on the contrary, total and pure. Because of this, He sleeps during the storm, completely safe in the arms of God.

Yet a time will come when even Jesus will taste anxiety and fear: When His hour comes, He will feel upon himself the entire burden of the sins of humanity, like a gigantic wave that is about to crash down upon Him. That will truly be a terrible storm, not cosmic, but spiritual. It will be the last, extreme assault of evil against the Son of God.

But in that hour, Jesus did not doubt the power and presence of God the Father, even if He had to experience the full distance of hatred from love, of lies from truth, of sin from grace. He experienced this tragedy in Himself in a lacerating way, especially in the Garden of Gethsemane, before the arrest, and then during the entire Passion, until His death on the cross. In that hour, Jesus was, on the one hand, one with the Father, fully abandoned to Him, and on the other, in as much as He was in solidarity with sinners, He was as one separated from Him and felt abandoned by Him.

Some saints have lived intensely and personally this experience of Jesus. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina is one of them. A simple man of humble origins, "seized by Christ" (Phil. 3:12) -- as the Apostle Paul writes of himself -- to make of him an instrument chosen by the perennial power of His cross: power of love for souls, of forgiveness and of reconciliation, of spiritual paternity, of effective solidarity with those who suffer. The stigmata, which marked his body, united him closely to the Crucified and Risen One.

A true follower of St. Francis of Assisi, he made his own, like the Poverello, the experience of the Apostle Paul which he describes in his letters: "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me" (Gal 2:20), or: "in us death is at work, but in you life" (2 Cor 5, 12). This does not mean alienation, loss of personality: God never annuls that which is human, but He transforms it with His Spirit and He ordains it to the service of His plan of salvation. Padre Pio kept his natural gifts, and even his own temperament, but he offered everything to God, who has been able to freely use them to extend the work of Christ: to proclaim the Gospel, forgive sins and heal the sick in body and spirit.

As it was for Jesus, the real struggle, the radical combat Padre Pio had to sustain, was not against earthly enemies, but against the spirit of evil (cf. Ephesians 6, 12). The biggest "storms" that threatened him were the assaults of the devil, against which he defended himself with "the armor of God" with "the shield of faith" and "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" (Ephesians 6:11,16,17). Remaining united to Jesus, he always kept in mind the depths of the human drama, and because of this, he offered himself and offered his many sufferings, and he knew how to spend himself in the care and relief of the sick, a privileged sign of God's mercy, of His kingdom which is coming, indeed, which is already in the world, of the victory of love and life over sin and death. Guide souls and relieve suffering: thus we can sum up the mission of St. Pio of Pietrelcina, as the servant of God, Pope Paul VI said about him: "He was a man of prayer and suffering" (To the Capuchin Chapter Fathers, 20 February 1971).

Dear friends, Capuchin Friars Minor, members of prayer groups and all the faithful of San Giovanni Rotondo, you are the heirs of Padre Pio, and the inheritance that he left for you is holiness. In one of his letters he writes: "It seems that Jesus has no need for your hands other than to sanctify your soul" (Epist. II, p. 155). That was always his first concern, his priestly and fatherly concern: that people return to God, that they would experience His mercy, and, inwardly renewed, that they would rediscover the beauty and joy of being a Christian, of living in communion with Jesus, of belonging to His Church and of practicing the Gospel. Padre Pio attracted others to the path of holiness by his own testimony, showing by example the "track" that leads to it: prayer and charity.

First of all prayer. Like all great men of God, Padre Pio had himself become prayer, soul and body. His days were a living rosary, that is, a continuous meditation and assimilation of the mysteries of Christ in spiritual union with the Virgin Mary. This explains the unusual presence within him of supernatural gifts and of human existence. And everything had its climax in the celebration of Holy Mass: there he joined himself fully to the crucified and risen Lord.

From prayer, as from an ever-living source, love flowed. The love that he bore in his heart and transmitted to others was full of tenderness, always attentive to the real situations of individuals and families. Especially towards the sick and suffering, he cultivated the predilection of the Heart of Christ, and precisely from this origin the form of a great work dedicated to the "relief of suffering" took shape. One cannot understand or properly interpret this institution divorced from its inspirational source, which is evangelical charity, which in turn, is inspired by prayer.

All this, my beloved brothers and sisters, Padre Pio today puts before our eyes. The risks of activism and secularization are always present; because of this, my visit has also the purpose of confirming you in your fidelity to the mission you inherited from your beloved father. Many of you, men and women religious and laity, are so taken by the complex duties required by the service to pilgrims, or to the sick in the hospital, that you run the risk of neglecting that which is truly needed: to listen to Christ to do the will of God.

When you see that you are close to running this risk, look to Padre Pio: to his example, to his sufferings; and invoke his intercession, so that he obtain from the Lord the light and strength that you need to continue his mission permeated with love for God and fraternal love. And from heaven may he continue to pursue the exquisite spiritual fatherhood that has distinguished his earthly existence; may he continue to accompany his confreres, his spiritual children and the entire work that he has begun.

Along with St. Francis, and the Blessed Virgin, who he loved so much and made others love in this world, may he watch over you all and protect you always. And then, even in the storms that can suddenly rise up, you can experience the breath of the Holy Spirit that is stronger than any contrary wind and which pushes the boat of the Church and each of us. That is why we must always live in serenity and cultivate joy in our hearts, giving thanks to the Lord. "His love is forever" (Psalm resp.). Amen!

"Those who suffer must live the love of God through the wise acceptance of their pain, through serene meditation on their destiny to Him"

Address of Pope Benedict XVI
Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza

San Giovanni Rotondo
June 21, 2009

. . . Each time one enters a place of care, one's thoughts turn naturally to the mystery of disease and pain, to the hope of healing and to the inestimable value of health, which is often only recognized when it is lost. In hospitals one touches with one's hands the preciousness of our existence, but also its fragility. Following the example of Jesus, who traveled throughout Galilee, "healing every disease and every infirmity among the people" (Mt 4:23), the Church, from its very beginnings, moved by the Holy Spirit, has considered it her duty and privilege to stand beside those who suffer, cultivating a preferential attention for the sick.

Sickness, which manifests itself in many forms and strikes in different ways, raises disturbing questions: Why do we suffer? Can the experience of pain be considered positive? Who can liberate us from suffering and death?

Existential questions that often remain humanly unanswered since suffering is an unfathomable mystery for our human reason. Suffering is part of the very mystery of the human person. As I emphasized in the encyclical letter Spe Salvi, "it follows, on the one hand, from our finitude, and on the other hand, from the mass of guilt that has accumulated throughout history and even at present continues its unstoppable growth." And I added that "certainly we must do everything we can to reduce suffering ... but to eliminate it completely from the world is not in our possibilities simply because ... none of us is able to eliminate the power of evil ... continually the source of suffering" (see n.36).

Only God can remove the power of evil. Precisely due to the fact that Jesus Christ came into the world to reveal the divine plan of our salvation, faith helps us to penetrate the meaning of all things human and therefore also of suffering. There is, therefore, an intimate relationship between the Cross of Jesus -- the supreme symbol of the pain and the price of our freedom -- and our pain, which is transformed and transcended when it is lived in the awareness of the closeness and solidarity of God.

Padre Pio had understood this profound truth and, on the first anniversary of this work, said that in it "those who suffer must live the love of God through the wise acceptance of their pain, through serene meditation on their destiny to Him" (Meeting of May 5, 1957). He noted further that in the Casa Sollievo "the recovering, doctors, priests will be reserves of love, which in as much as it abounds in one, the more it will be communicated to others" (ibid.).

Be "reserves of love": This, dear brothers and sisters, is the mission that this evening our saint refers you to, who each in his own way form the great family of this Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza. May the Lord help you bring to fruition the project initiated by Padre Pio with the support of all: doctors and scientific researchers, health care professionals and the employees of various departments, volunteers and benefactors, the Capuchin friars and other priests. Without forgetting the prayer groups that "attached to the house of relief, are the advanced positions of this citadel of charity, nurseries of faith, outbursts of love" (Padre Pio, Speech, May 5, 1966).

On each and every one I invoke the intercession of Padre Pio and the maternal protection of Mary, Health of the Sick. Thank you again for your welcome and, while I assure you of my prayers for each of you, I cordially bless you all.

Friday, June 12, 2009

"This is my body, this is my blood."

Homily of Benedict XVI, Bishop of Rome
Solemnity of Corpus Christi

Basilica of St. John in the Lateran
June 11, 2009

"This is my body, this is my blood."

Dear brothers and sisters,

These words which Jesus pronounced at the Last Supper are repeated every time that the Eucharistic Sacrifice is renewed.

We heard it just now in the Gospel of Mark and they resound with singular evocative power today, the Solemnity of Corpus Domini. They lead us ideally to the Cenacle - they make us relive the spiritual atmosphere of that night when, celebrating Passover with His own people, the Lord anticipated in the mystery the sacrifice which would be consummated the following day on the Cross.

The institution of the Eucharist thus seems to us like the anticipation and acceptance of His death on the part of Jesus. St. Ephrem the Syrian writes about this: "During the supper, Jesus immolated Himself; on the Cross, He was immolated by others" (cf. Hymn on the Crucifixion 3,1).

"This is my blood."

The reference to the sacrificial language of Israel is clear here. Jesus presents Himself as the true and definitive sacrifice in which is realized the expiation of sins, which in the rites of the Old Testament, was never totally fulfilled.

Above all, Jesus says that His blood is "shed for many," with an understandable reference to the songs of the Servant which are found in the book of Isaiah (cf. Chap. 53).

Dear brothers and sisters - whom I greet with affection, starting with the Cardinal Vicar and the other cardinals and bishops present - like the Chosen People gathered together in Sinai, tonight we, too, wish to reaffirm our fidelity to the Lord. A few days ago, in opening the annual diocesan convention, I recalled the importance of remaining, as a Church, in attentive listening to the Word of God in prayer and reading Scripture, especially with the practice of lectio divina, the meditated and worshipful reading of the Bible.

I know that in this regard, so many initiatives have been promoted in the parishes, in seminaries, in the religious communities, and within confraternities, associations and apostolic movements which enrich our diocesan community. To the members of these multiple ecclesial organisms, I address my fraternal greeting. Your presence in large numbers at this celebration, dear friends, highlights that our community, characterized by a plurality of cultures and different experiences, is formed by God as "His" people, as the one Body of Christ, thanks to our participation in the double meal of the Word and the Eucharist.

Nourished by Christ, we, His disciples, receive the mission of being "the soul" of this city ( cf. Letter to Diogneto, 6: ed. Funk, I, p. 400; see also Lumen Gentium, 38), a ferment for renewal, bread "broken" for all - above all for those who are in situations of need, poverty and physical and spiritual suffering. We become witnesses of His love.

I address myself particularly to you, dear priests, whom Christ has chosen, so that, together with Him, you may live your life as a praiseworthy sacrifice for the salvation of the world.
Only from union with Jesus Christ will you be able to draw that spiritual fruitfulness which generates hope in your pastoral ministry.

St. Leo the Great reminds us that "our participation in the body and blood of Christ does not aim at anything other than to become that whom we receive" (Sermo 12, De Passione 3,7, PL 54). If this is true for every Christian, it is all the more true for us priests

To be, to become the Eucharist! May this be precisely our constant desire and effort, so that our offering of the Body and Blood of the Lord that we make on the altar may be accompanied by the sacrifice of our own existence. Every day, we draw from the Body and Blood of Christ that free and pure love which makes us worthy to be ministers of Christ and witnesses to His joy.

This is what the faithful expect of priests: the example of authentic devotion for the Eucharist. They want to see him spend long moments of silence and adoration before Jesus as did the holy Curate of Ars, whom we will remember particularly during the imminent Year of the Priest.

St. Jean Marie Vianney liked to tell his parishioners: "Come to communion... It is true that you are not worthy, but you have need of it" (Bernard Nodet, Le curé d’Ars. Sa pensée – Son coeur, éd. Xavier Mappus, Paris 1995, p. 119). With the consciousness that we are inadequate because of sin, but needful of nourishing ourselves from the love that the Lord offers us in the Eucharistic sacrament, let us renew our faith tonight in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. We cannot take this faith for granted.

Today, there is the risk of creeping secularization even within the Church, which can translate itself to formal and empty Eucharistic worship, in celebrations devoid of that participation of the heart that is expressed in veneration and respect for the liturgy. The temptation is always strong to reduce prayer to superficial and hurried moments, allowing oneself to be overwhelmed by earthly activities and concerns.

When shortly we shall recite the Our Father, the prayer par excellence, we will say: "Give us today our daily bread," thinking naturally of the everyday bread for us and for all men. But this request contains something more profound.

The Greek term epioúsios, which is translated as "daily," can also refer to the bread that is "supra-substantial," to the bread of "the world to come." Some Fathers of the Church saw in it a reference to the Eucharist, the bread of eternal life, of the new world, which is given to us in the Holy Mass, so that from this moment on, the future world can begin in us.

With the Eucharist, then, heaven comes down to earth, God's tomorrow comes into the present, and it is as though time is embraced by divine eternity.

Dear brothers and sisters, as it is every year, the end of this Holy Mass will lead into the traditional Eucharistic procession, and we will raise, with prayers and songs, a choral imploration to the Lord who is present in the consecrated Host. We will say in the name of the entire city: "Stay with us, Jesus, make us a gift of yourself, and give us the bread that will nourish us for eternal life! Free this world from the poison of evil, of violence and hate which pollutes consciences, purify it with the power of your merciful love. And you, Mary, who were the 'eucharistic' lady all your life, help us to walk united towards the heavenly goal, nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ, bread of eternal life and the elixir of divine immortality."



Monday, June 08, 2009

The Trinity -- One God Who is Love

Address of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Regina Caeli Prayer

Trinity Sunday, June 7, 2009

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

Following Eastertide, which culminates with the feast of Pentecost, the liturgy foresees these three solemnities of the Lord: today, the Most Holy Trinity; on Thursday, that of Corpus Christi, which, in many countries, Italy among them, is celebrated next Sunday; finally, on Friday in two weeks, the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Each one of these liturgical observances manifests a perspective from which the whole mystery of the Christian faith is embraced: respectively, the reality of God one and three, the sacrament of the Eucharist and the divine-human center of the Person of Christ. They are in truth aspects of the one mystery of salvation, which, in a certain sense, summarize the whole path of the revelation of Jesus, from the incarnation to the death and resurrection to the ascension and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Today we contemplate the Most Holy Trinity as it was made know to us by Jesus. He revealed to us that God is love “not in the unity of a single person, but in the Trinity of a single substance” (Preface): the Trinity is Creator and merciful Father; Only Begotten Son, eternal Wisdom incarnate, dead and risen for us; it is finally the Holy Spirit, who moves everything, cosmos and history, toward the final recapitulation.

Three Persons who are one God because the Father is love, the Son is love, the Spirit is love. God is love and only love, most pure, infinite and eternal love. The Trinity does not live in a splendid solitude, but is rather inexhaustible font of life that unceasingly gives itself and communicates itself.

We can in some way intuit this, whether we observe the macro-universe: our earth, the planets, the stars, the galaxies; or the micro-universe: cells, atoms, elementary particles. The “name” of the Most Holy Trinity is in a certain way impressed upon everything that exists, because everything that exists, down to the least particle, is a being in relation, and thus God-relation shines forth, ultimately creative Love shines forth.

All comes from love, tends toward love, and is moved by love, naturally, according to different grades of consciousness and freedom. “O Lord, our Lord, / how wondrous is your name over all the earth!” (Psalm 8:2) -- the Psalmist exclaims.

In speaking of the “name” the Bible indicates God himself, his truest identity; an identity that shines forth in the whole of creation, where every being, by the very fact of existing and by the “fabric” of which it is made, refers to a transcendent Principle, to eternal and infinite Life that gives itself, in a word: to Love.

“In him,” St. Paul says, on the Areopagus in Athens, “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). The strongest proof that we are made in the image of the Trinity is this: only love makes us happy, because we live in relation, and we live to love and be loved. Using an analogy suggested by biology, we could say the human “genome” is profoundly imprinted with the Trinity, of God-Love.

The Virgin Mary, in her docile humility, made herself the handmaid of divine Love: she accepted the will of the Father and conceived the Son by the work of the Holy Spirit. In her omnipotence made a temple worthy of himself, and made her the model and image of the Church, mystery and house of communion for all men. May Mary, mirror of the Most Holy Trinity, help us to grow in the faith of the Trinitarian mystery.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Missionary Children

Remarks of Pope Benedict in Meeting with Children
Special Audience with Pontificia Opera per L'Infanzia Missionaria

(Pontifical Work for Childhood Mission)
May 30, 2009

Question: My name is Anna Filippone, I am 12 and a ministrant from Calabria, diocese of Oppido Mamertina-Palmi. Papa Benedetto, my friend Giovanni has an Italian grandfather and an Ecuadorian grandmother and is very happy. Do you think that the different cultures can live together one day without fighting in the name of Jesus?

Pope Benedict: I think you want to know what we ourselves, as children, did in order to live together, to help each other.

I must say that I lived the years of my elementary schooling in a small town of 400 residents, quite far from the great centers. Therefore, we were a bit naive. And in this town, there were, on the one hand, very rich farmers and some who were not as rich but well-off, and on the other hand, poor employees and artisans. Our family arrived from another town, so we were somewhat strangers to them, and even their dialect was different. In our school, then, many different social aspects were reflected.

Nonetheless, there was a beautiful communion among us. The other children taught me their dialect which I did not know then. We worked together well, and I must say, of course, sometimes, we quarrelled, but afterwards, we made up and forgot what had happened.

I think this is important. Sometimes in human life, it seems inevitable to quarrel. But what remains important is to know how to reconcile with each other, to forgive, to start over and not to leave any bitterness in one's heart.

I recall thankfully how we all worked together - we helped each other and stayed together along the way. We were all Catholics, and this, naturally, was a great help. So we learned together from the Bible, starting with the creation up to the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross and the beginnings of the Church. We learned catechism together, we learned to pray together, we prepared together for our first confession and our first Communion - that was a splendid day! We understood that Jesus Himself comes to us, that He is not a distant God: He enters my own life, into my own soul. And if the same Jesus comes into each of us, we are brothers, sisters, friends - and we should therefore behave as such.

For us, that preparation - for the first confession as a purification of our conscience, of our life, and then for first Communion as a concrete encounter with Jesus who comes to me, who comes to us all - was a factor that contributed to form our community. It helped us to walk together, to learn together and to reconcile with each other when necessary. And we worked together, for instance, to put on small presentations: it is important to be able to work together and look after each other.

In those days, there were no altar girls yet, even if the girls read better than we did. So they read the lectures in the liturgy while we became altar boys. In those days, there was quite a lot of Latin texts to learn, so each of us had quite a bit to do. But as I said, we were not saints - we had our share of quarreling - but nonetheless, it was a beautiful communion with each other, in which the differences between rich and poor, intelligent and less intelligent, counted for nothing.

It was a communion with Jesus along the path of a common faith and common responsibility, whether at play or doing our common work in school. We found the capacity to live together and be friends, and although by 1937, more than 70 years ago, I no longer lived there, we have remained friends.

What we learned was to accept each other, bear each other's burdens. I think this is important: despite our weaknesses, to accept each other, and with Jesus Christ, in the Church, we can find together the path of peace and we learn to live as good persons.

Question: My name is Letizia and I wanted to ask you: Dear Pope Benedict XVI, what did the saying, "Children help each other' mean for you as a child? And did you ever think of becoming Pope?

Pope Benedict: To tell you the truth, I would never have thought of becoming Pope because, as I said earlier, I was a rather naive boy in a small town, in a forgotten province. We were happy to be there and we did not think of other things.

Of course, we knew, venerated and loved the Pope - it was Pius XI then - but for us, he was at an unreachable height, almost in another world - a father to us, but nonetheless, someone much more superior to us.

And I must say that even today, I find it difficult to understand how the Lord could have thought of me and destine me for this ministry. But I accept it from His hands, even if it is a surprising thing that seems very much beyond my powers. But the Lord helps me.

Question: Dear Papa Benedetto, I am Alessandro. I wanted to ask you - you are the first missionary. How can we children help you to announce the Gospel?

Pope Benedict: I would say this: in the first place, to be part of the Pontifical Children's Missionary Work. Thus you are part of a great family which is promoting the Gospel around the world. Thus you belong to a large network, in which we can see how different peoples are reflected in this great family.

You are in this great family - where everyone does his own part, and together, you are missionaries, you are bearers of the Church's missionary work. And you have a beautiful program as your spokesman described it: to listen, to pray, to know, to share, and to bond together. These are the essential elements for being a missionary, to promote the growth of the Church and the presence of the Gospel in the world.

I would like to emphasize some of these points: First of all, prayer.

Prayer is a reality: God listens to us, and when we pray, God enters our life, He becomes present among us, present and "at work." Praying is something very important that can change the world because it makes the power of God present. And it is important that we help each other when praying: we pray together in the liturgy, we pray together in the family.

And I would say it is important to start the day with a little prayer and finish the day with another little prayer - and remember your parents in prayer. Pray before lunch, pray before supper, and in the communal celebration of Sunday Mass. A Sunday without going to Mass - the great communal prayer of the Church - is not a true Sunday: it lacks the very heart of Sunday and thus, the light for the whole week.

And you can help others - particularly those who perhaps do not pray at home, or do not know how to pray - teach others to pray: Pray with them and thus, introduce others to communion with God.

Then, listen. And that means to truly learn what Jesus is telling us. And to get to know Sacred Scripture, the Bible. In the story of Jesus, as the cardinal said, we get to know the face of God, we learn how God is. It is important to know Jesus deeply, personally, so that He enters into our life, He enters the world.

Also, sharing. Not to want things for oneself alone but for everyone. Share with others. If we see someone who perhaps is in need, less blessed with gifts, we should help and thus make God's love present, even without words, in our own small world which is part of the great world.

So we become a family together, where we respect each other, support others in their otherness, accept even those whom we dislike, not allow anyone to be left aside but help them to become part of the community.

All this simply means to live in the great family of the Church, this great missionary family. To live together the essential points - like sharing, knowing Jesus, prayer, listening to each other, and brotherliness - is missionary work because it helps to make the Gospel become real in our world.

More Information --
Pontificia Opera per L'Infanzia Missionaria in Italy
The Holy Childhood Association (POIM in the United States)