Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Living Water and Light of God in Our Lives

Homily of Pope Benedict XVI
Mass on the Occasion of His 85th Birthday
(delivered extemporaneously in German)
April 16, 2012
On the day of my birth and Baptism, April 16, the liturgy of the Church had three signposts that showed me where the road would lead and which would help me to find it.

First, there is the commemoration of St. Bernadette Soubirous, the visionary of Lourdes; then, there is one of the more unusual saints in the history of the Church, Benedict Joseph Labre; and above all, this day is always immersed in the Paschal mystery, the mystery of the Cross and the Resurrection - especially so in the year I was born, when it was Holy Saturday, the day of God's silence, of his apparent absence, the death of God, but also the day on which the Resurrection announced itself.

Bernadette Soubirous. The simple girl of the South, of the Pyrenees – we all know and love her. She was born in almost unimaginable poverty in 19th century Enlightenment France. The prison, which was abandoned because it was too unhealthy, became, in the end – after some hesitations -- the family’s dwelling, in which she spent her childhood.

She did not have much schooling, just some catechism to prepare for her First Communion. But this simple girl, who remained pure and innocent at heart, therefore had a seeing heart that made her able to see the Mother of the Lord and, in her, a reflection of the beauty and the goodness of God.

Mary showed herself to her, and through her, could speak to her century, and to the centuries beyond hers. Bernadette could see with her pure and unspoiled heart. So Mary indicated to her the source: she was able to discover this spring with its living water, pure and uncontaminated - water that is life, water which gives purity and health.

And through the centuries, now, this living water is a sign on Mary’s part, a sign that indicates where to find the waters of life, where one can become pure, where we can find what is not contaminated.

In this our time, in which we see the world in so much anxiety, and in which the need of water bursts out, of pure water, this sign is that much greater. From Mary, from the Mother of the Lord, from her pure heart, comes pure water which gives life; water which, in this century and those to come, purifies and heals us.

I think we should also consider this water an image for the truth that comes to us from faith: truth that is not simulated, but is genuine uncontaminated truth. Because, in order to be able to live, and to be pure, we need to yearn for pure living itself, for unfalsified truth, to be untainted by corruption, for a spotless existence.

Therefore on this day, this little saint has always been for me a sign of where the living water comes from, that which we need to purify us and give us life, and therefore a sign of what we must be - in all things, for all our knowledge and abilities, though they are necessary, we need a simple heart. We should not lose the simplicity that makes the heart capable of seeing what is essential, and we must always pray to the Lord so that he may keep in us the humility that allows the heart to be clear-sighted - to see what is simple and essential, the beauty and the goodness of God, and thus find the source, the spring, from which the water comes that gives life and purifies.

Then there is Benedict Joseph Labre, the pious "beggar pilgrim" of the 18th century who, after various vain attempts, finally found his vocation as a beggar - having nothing, no sustenance, never keeping for himself anything of what he received except that of which he had absolute need - pilgrimaging through the whole of Europe, to all the shrines of Europe, from Spain to Poland and from Germany to Sicily: a truly European Saint!

We can say that he was a most unusual saint, who by begging, wandered from shrine to shrine, wanting to do nothing else but to pray and therefore give witness to what really counts in this life: God.

He is certainly not an example to emulate, but rather he is a road sign, a finger that points to the essential. He shows us that God alone is enough, that beyond everything in the world, everything that we need and everything we do, the decisive thing, the essential is to know God. He alone is enough, and this "God alone" he shows us in a dramatic way.

At the same time, this truly European life which embraced the whole European continent, from shrine to shrine, shows that he who is open to God is not alienated from the world and from men. Rather, he finds brothers, because with God, all barriers fall - only God can do away with barriers, and thanks to Him, we are all brothers, we all belong to each other. Unity with God also means the brotherhood and reconciliation of men, bringing down barriers in order to unite and heal us.

And so, he is a saint of peace precisely because he is a saint without any exigency, who demanded nothing and died with nothing, yet was blessed with everything.

And then, finally, the Paschal Mystery. On the same day I was born, thanks to the care of my parents, I was also reborn by water and the Spirit, as we just heard in the Gospel.

In the first place, there is the gift of life that my parents gave me in very difficult times, and for which I owe them my gratitude. However, it is not taken for granted that man’s life is in itself a gift.

Can it really be a good gift? Do we know what is incumbent on man in the dark times he is facing – also in those more luminous ones that might come? Can we foresee what anxieties, what terrible events he might be exposed to? Is it right to simply give life? Is it responsible or is it too uncertain?

It is a questionable gift, if it remains by itself, if left alone. Biological life of itself is a gift, and yet it is surrounded by questions. It becomes a real gift only if, together with it is given a promise that is stronger than every misfortune that can threaten that life, when it is immersed in a power that guarantees that, yes, it is good to be man, that it is good for this person whatever the future may bring.

Thus, birth must come with rebirth - the certainty that, in fact, it is good to exist since the promise is stronger than any threat. This is the meaning of rebirth in water and the Spirit - to be immersed in the promise that only God can give: "It is good that you exist, and you must know this for certain, whatever may happen." From this certainty, I am able to live, reborn by water and the Spirit.

Nicodemus asks the Lord: “Can an old man be born again?” Now, rebirth is given to us in Baptism, but we must grow continually in it, we must always let ourselves me immersed in God’s promise, to be truly reborn in the great new family of God, which is stronger than all the weaknesses and all the negative powers that threaten us. This is why this is a day of great thanksgiving.

The day on which I was baptized, as I said, was Holy Saturday. Then it was usual to anticipate the Easter Vigil in the morning, which would have been followed again by the darkness of Holy Saturday, without the Alleluia.

It seems to me that this singular paradox, this rare anticipation of Light on a dark day, could be almost an image of the history of our days. On one hand, there is still the silence of God and his absence, but in the Resurrection of Christ there is already the anticipation of the “yes” of God. And on the basis of this anticipation we live and, through the silence of God, we hear him speaking, and through the darkness of his absence, we perceive his Light. The anticipation of the Resurrection in the midst of a history that is on-going is a strength which indicates the way to us and that helps us to go forward.

We thank the dear Lord for this light he has given us and we pray that it will always be with us. And on this day I have reason to thank Him and all those who have always allowed me perceive the Lord’s presence, who have accompanied me so that I would not lose the light.

I face the final stretch of my journey in life, and I do not know what awaits me. But I know that God's light is there, that He is risen, that His Light is stronger than any darkness, that God's goodness is stronger than all the evil of this world. And this helps me to go forward with confidence. This helps us to carry on, and in this hour, I give my heartfelt thanks to all those who continually make me perceive the “yes” of God through their faith.

Finally, Cardinal Dean, my cordial gratitude for your words of fraternal friendship, for all the collaboration in all these years. And a big thank you to all the collaborators of the 30 years in which I have been in Rome, who helped me bear the weight of my responsibility. Thank you. Amen.

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