- “almost” a presentation ... of this blog and thoughts that accompany it
- Ephesians 1,1-14
- Hymn to Love -
- The Year of St. Paul - Pope Benedict: the 20th Catechesis on Saint Paul
- Salve Regina
- Psalm 8
- The Jewish People and their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible
- The Shofar
- Primo Levi : If this a man
July 12, 2019
15TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – YEAR C - THE GOOD SAMARITAN
To love God would not make sense for the ancient Greeks. The gods could love people: they show their preference by giving special gifts and favors. As a sign of gratitude, they expected sacrifices and burnt offerings from the person they have shown favor. A reflection of this mentality is also present in some texts of the Old Testament. Through the mouth of prophet Malachi, the Lord complains of the despicable holocausts that priests offer him: “The servant respects his master … Where is the honor due to me?” (Mal 1:6). Unlike the pagan peoples, Israel loves her God. Here’s what Moses recommends to the people: “What is it that the Lord asks of you if not to love him and serve him with all your heart and with all your soul?” (Dt 10:12). “Love consists in keeping the commandments” (Ex 20:6) and “to follow his ways” (Dt 19:9).
Love of neighbor, above all the poor, orphan, widow, and stranger, is viewed in this frame: This is practiced because it is a work pleasing to God.
The New Testament gives us the full light, one that allows us to understand what it really means to love God. The first letter of John is very explicit: “This is love: not that we loved God but that he first loved us … . Dear friends, if such has been the love of God, we, too, must love one another” (1 Jn 4:10-11).
The logical leap is immediately obvious. We would expect, if God so loved us, we also ought to love him. But God does not ask anything for himself. There is only one way to respond to his love: love your brethren and not “only with words and with our lips, but in truth and in deed” (1 Jn 3:18).
Gospel: Luke 10:25-37
The worst insult that one could direct to a Jew was “dog” or “pagan”; the second was “samaritan,” that amounted to “bastard, renegade, heretic!” (Jn 8:48). At the end of his book, Ben Sira reports an almost sarcastic saying which shows the contempt of the Jews against the Samaritans. He calls them: “the foolish people who live in Shechem” and that does not even deserve to be considered a people (Sir 50:25-26).
Actually, the Jews had their own good reasons for believing that the Samaritans were of the “excommunicated.” For many centuries they were so mixed up with other people that they cannot now be considered descendants of Abraham. They were contaminated with pagan cults, had forgotten the traditions of their fathers and lived impurely (2 K 17). They did not accept the books of the prophets, nor those of wisdom nor the Psalms as sacred. Even Jesus, responding to the Samaritan woman, does not hesitate to tell her: you do not even know which god you worship, for salvation comes from the Jews (Jn 4:22). Two Sundays ago, the Gospel recalled the snub made to the Master and the apostles by the Samaritans (Lk 9:53).
Today’s Gospel begins (vv. 25-29) presenting to us not a Samaritan, but a Jew, not a sinner, but a righteous man, a teacher of the law who asks Jesus: “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Note the fine theology: he does not speak of “merit,” but to inherit eternal life. The inheritance—we know it—is not earned; one receives it completely free of charge.
Adapting himself to the practice of rabbinic disputes, Jesus does not give an immediate answer, but addresses him a counter-question: “What is written in the law?”
The rabbi promptly appeals to two biblical texts. The first is well known because every pious Israelite recites it in the morning and evening prayers: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Dt 6:5); the second, on which he insisted a little less, is taken from the book of Leviticus: “and your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18). Perfect answer!
Is that all then? If God’s judgment is about the knowledge of a doctrine, the lawyer should be given full marks. But Jesus, after the praise—“What a good answer!”—adds, “Do this and you shall live” (v. 28). “Do!” It’s not enough to “know.” It is life that proves if we have assimilated or not the Word of the Lord.
The rabbi—who failed to embarrass Jesus—insists: “And who is my neighbor?” He is also willing to do, but without overdoing it. He wants to establish well the boundaries of love. There was a discussion among the rabbis about who should be considered neighbor. Some—referring to the aforementioned text of Leviticus that parallels the term neighbor with sons of your people—said they had to love only the children of Abraham. Others extended this love also to foreigners who lived long in the land of Israel. But all agreed in saying that the distant peoples and, above all, the enemies were not neighbors. The monks of Qumran adhered to this principle: “love the children of the light and hate the children of darkness” and for the “children of light” they meant the members of their community.
Jesus does not answer the question of the doctor of the law, because he considers it outdated. For him there is no barrier between peoples and the problem is not knowing how far love should reach, but how to demonstrate it by loving God and the brothers and sisters.
It is on this point—the most important, indeed, the only one that matters—that the Jew and the Samaritan are compared. The assessment is not given on the basis of what one knows, says, the faith one professes by mouth, but in what one does.
“There was a man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho” … (v. 30).
These two towns are located 27 km from each other. The road is a sharp descent (a drop of 1000 meters), through the Judean desert along the wadi Quelt. It continues among cliffs, caves, and precipices to the plains of Jericho, the beautiful “City of Palms.” There Herod, the wealthy families of the capital, and many priests of the temple had their villas and winter residences. This road was always traveled in a convoy to avoid being attacked by robbers and bandits.
A man—Jesus says—who knows well the danger of the place—was attacked by robbers who beat him, robbed him and left him half dead along the way.
Who was he? We do not know anything about him: neither age nor profession, nor the tribe to which he belonged, nor the religion he professed. We do not know if he was white or black, good or bad, friend or foe. What did he do in Jerusalem: to pray or to revel? To offer sacrifices in the temple or to steal? He was qualified in the most generic way: he was a man! And this is enough. Even if he were a wicked person, he would not lose his dignity as a man in need of help.
By chance, a priest and a Levite descended on the same route (vv. 31-32).
That ‘by chance’ is nice! We need not go to look for the needy brother. The circumstances and coincidences make us encounter him. How do churchmen behave?
The Levites were the sexton, the temple guards. We are faced with two Jews, respectable people, people who prayed and had clear ideas about God and religion. Why does Jesus introduce these two “men of the church” in his story? He could have avoided the controversy and shown immediately a positive example. Why provoke the “notables,” the “members of the hierarchy?”
The Master had a little “bad habit” of blaming “religious” persons (cf. Lk 7:44 -47, 11:37-53; 17:18; 18:9-14; etc.). The reason is the same for which, before him, the prophets had strongly attacked the worship, rituals, and the solemn ceremonies of the temple: God does not tolerate exterior formalism used as a convenient loophole to avoid being caught up in the problems of people.
Incense, chants, endless prayers with which one tries to replace the concrete commitment in favor of the orphan, the widow, the oppressed are repugnant to God (Is 1:11-17). Jesus mentions several times the phrase of the prophet Hosea: “What I want is mercy, not sacrifice” (Mt 9:13; 12:7).
What are the priest and the Levite doing? They arrive on the site, they see … but they pass on by the other side. Perhaps they themselves are afraid of being attacked, perhaps they are worried of ritual purity (he could be dead and a dead body prevents one to officiate in the temple), perhaps they do not want to get into trouble or get headaches, perhaps they have no time to lose.
They come from Jerusalem where they have some part in the solemn liturgies. They spent a week—this was the duration of their service—with the Lord and from one who unites oneself to God we would expect love and care for the needy. The two “church people” come from the temple, yet they are insensitive, do not feel compassion—the first of God’s feelings (Ex 34:6). This means that the religion they practice is hypocritical and hardened their heart rather than soften it. What will God do with this religion that provides an alibi to escape the problems of people, which helps to avoid problems by passing “across the street?” The man attacked by bandits is for Jesus the symbol of all the victims of physical and psychological violence.
At this point, the listeners expect that after the two “churchmen” the helper will enter the scene. They are certain that he would be a secular Jew. Had Jesus carried on the parable in this way, the people—who even then showed that benevolent anti-clericalism which also animates today’s Christians—would have recognized and applauded. Instead here’s the surprise. The provocation appears to be one of those that says “the candles’ smoke bothers him”—a Samaritan. Mind you: he is not a “good Samaritan”—as many Bibles say—but just a Samaritan. He was traveling and he had his plans.
The description of what he does at the sight of the wounded man is accurate.
Jesus does not neglect any detail because he wants to contrast his conduct to that of the priest and the Levite. “He came upon the man, he was moved with compassion. He went over to him, and cleaned his wounds with oil and wine, and wrapped them in bandages. Then he put him on his own mount and brought him to an inn, where he took care of him” (vv. 33-34).
In the face of a person who is in need, he no longer follows the head, but the heart. He forgets his business commitments, religious norms, fatigue, hunger, and fear. He immediately acts, committing himself to the complete solution of the case. He is not pushed to act by religious reasons, by the desire to please God, by the calculation of merits to gain heaven by helping the poor, but only by compassion, the fact that he feels pity squeezing his heart. He is moved by the feeling that—while not being aware—it is the projection of what God feels.
Like what Nathan did when he told David the parable of the sheep, Jesus does not give his judgment on the incident. He wants the lawyer to be the one to do so. For this, he poses a question that reverses the one that has been given at the beginning. “Who is my neighbor?”—he was asked. Now he asks: “Which of these three, do you think made himself neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” (v. 36). The problem—as we have already mentioned above—is not to determine how far one stretches the boundaries of the term “neighbor,” but: who becomes neighbor, who draws near, who is capable of loving, who shows to have assimilated the merciful conduct of God.
The doctor of the law responds: “The one who had mercy on him” (v. 37). He avoids—for obvious reasons—to say the name “Samaritan,” but is forced to admit that he is the model of one who knows how to make oneself neighbor.
The last words of Jesus to the lawyer summarize the message of the whole parable: “Then go and do the same!” (v. 37). Make yourself a neighbor to the one in need and inherit life.
The parable has an explosive message: who loves his neighbor certainly also loves God (cf. 1 Jn 4:7). He may turn him down in words but in reality, he is not rejecting God; perhaps he only rejects his false image. The “Samaritans” who love the brother and sister in need, perhaps without knowing it, are worshiping the true God.
Italian missionary and biblical scholar
June 28, 2019
13TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - YEAR C
The invitation to delete the past
Gospel reflection – Luke 9: 51-62
The image most used in the Torah to express God’s intervention is the fire: “God is a devouring fire”—says Moses to the people (Dt 4:24); on Sinai “the Lord has come down in the fire” (Ex 19:18); “Fire goes before him” (Ps 97:3); His word “is like fire” (Jer 5:14). “And fire from the Lord came forth” (Nm 16:35). The term “fire” often occurs in the Bible. It denotes the purification brought about by his intervention. Where he arrives a radical transformation takes place, nothing stays the same.
It is what happens to every person when the Lord enters his or her life: the past is deleted. All that is incompatible with the presence and the holiness of God is obliterated: behaviors, lifestyles, beliefs, habits, bonds, difficult situations.
Elisha burns the tools for plowing, symbol of the profession he had done up to that moment, and decides to enter into the new life to which Elijah called him.
The apostles, invited by Jesus to follow him, abandon the nets and Levi leaves everything (Lk 5:27). To whoever wants to be his disciple, the Lord asks to “sell all that he has” and to start a new journey with him (Lk 18:22), and does not admit hesitation, indecision, afterthoughts.
Jesus came to bring fire to the earth (Lk 12:49): it takes a great faith to enable him to introduce himself in the enclosure of our lives. We fear that he may consume much of our securities, realities in which, perhaps for years, we have placed our trust and our hopes, that he may burn all that, until now, has given meaning to our lives.
If a friend asks us to follow him, we immediately ask him: “Where are you going?” Jesus very clearly told his disciples what the goal of the journey is: he goes to Jerusalem to give his life. Today’s passage presents first the departure (v. 51), then the wanting welcome from the Samaritans (vv. 52-56), finally, in quick succession, three episodes of vocation (vv. 57-62).
The facts probably have not taken place in the order they are told (a series of three vocations as those described is rather unlikely). It is Luke who draws these episodes near each other because they serve to introduce the second part of his Gospel: that of the long journey that will take Jesus to Jerusalem.
To understand this text we have to remember that adhesion to Christ is presented in the gospels with the image of the journey in following the Master. To believe means to travel with him the same road. In the Acts of the Apostles, this image will be resumed with the term “way”. Paul persecutes “those who belong to the Way” (Acts 9:2); at Ephesus, some refuse to believe “criticizing the way publicly” (Acts 19:9); about that time the city was “deeply troubled because of the way” (Acts 19:23); Felix, the procurator, “was well-informed about the way” (Acts 24:22).
These incidents serve Luke to respond to the questions raised by the Christians of his community: how should they react against those who are obstructing their “journey”, those who oppose the “way”? To those who ask to join them “along the way” must they immediately and clearly say what the conditions are or is it better to soften, to tone down the demands of Christian life?
Let’s start from the beginning (v. 51). Luke introduces the resolute decision of Jesus to go to Jerusalem, saying that he “sets his face hard.” It is a strong expression, taken from the Old Testament. The prophet Isaiah puts it on the lips of the Servant of the Lord who declares his determination to fulfill his mission: “Like a flint I set my face” (Is 50:7). As this Servant, Jesus is therefore decided to address the fate of suffering, humiliation and death that awaits him. He does not go looking for pain, but he knows that sacrifice is the necessary path to reach the goal: the manifestation, through the cross, of the Father’s love for people (Lk 24:26).
Such a choice is not done lightheartedly. It is necessary to assume a serious countenance. As long as one stops at whims, desires, good intentions, or reduces faith in Christ to fulfillment of some religious practices there is no need to make a serious face. But when one accepts his proposal of life then one ??must have the courage to make bold and radical choices. Who does not have the strength to do violence to oneself will remain an admirer of Jesus, but will not become a disciple.
The journey to Jerusalem starts and here the group meets someone who blocks the way. The opposition of the Samaritans represents the hostility that the Christian communities of every time must face. In the world there is always someone that stands along the way. There are many who prefer to follow principles other than those of the Gospel. What behavior to assume against them? The thoughtless reaction of James and John indicates what should not be done.
They remember that the prophet Elijah has made fire from heaven rain down upon the wicked of his time (2 K 1:10-14). They are convinced that the same must be done against those who oppose the Gospel. The Baptist too threatened with fire (Lk 3:9,17). For this reason they feel that the time has come to resort to hard ways and ask the Master: “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to reduce them to ashes?” Jesus turned and rebuked them severely. They made an insane proposal (vv. 52-56).
The disciple is not called to fight against anybody. He has not received the task of unleashing holy wars, to proclaim crusades against infidels or light fires, but is called to follow the Master. The time of fanaticism—which appears so often in the Old Testament—is over. The only fire that comes down from heaven is the Spirit who transforms the hearts of people. This is the fire that Jesus came to bring upon the earth (Lk 12:49).
Christians cannot respond with aggression, but only with love. If someone attacks them using lies, deception, violence, they can only answer by invoking upon him the blessings of God.
Due to their aggressive attitude, the brothers James and John received from Jesus the little sympathetic nickname of sons of thunder (Mk 3:17). A nickname that today’s fanatic, fundamentalist, intolerant Christians, disrespectful of those who think differently from them, must feel addressed to them.
After this first incident, the journey continues and the Gospel introduces a stranger who approaches Jesus and expresses his desire to follow him everywhere (vv. 57-58).
The Master’s reply seems destined to discourage rather than to convince the would-be disciple. Who wants to go with him—says Jesus—should not dream of a comfortable life: he will be like a traveler who has no fixed abode. He must be willing to spend the night under the stars or be content with the hospitality that is offered, even if it is an arrangement of luck, poor and provisional.
Given this less daunting prospect announced by the Master, it is hard to see how there can be people who embrace faith or agree to perform some community service in order to obtain benefits, privileges, honorary titles.
Along the way Jesus meets another guy and invites him to follow him (vv. 59-60). This one says he is willing, but asks first to bury his parents. Jesus replied: “Let the dead bury their dead; leave them, and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
To a Jew this is the most outrageous, most provocative, most ungodly answer that he can give. In Israel, the most sacred duty for a son is to bury his parents and, to fulfill it—said the rabbis—he was exempt from any precept of the law, even that of the Sabbath. The high priest—who was prohibited to enter a cemetery or even approach a corpse—was required to accompany his parents to the tomb.
It would be foolish to take literally the words of Jesus, but it would be equally so to diminish its provocative charge. What the Master means to say—using an undoubtedly paradoxical image—is that nothing, not even the most sacred sentiments, such as those that bind children to their parents, can be placed in between and obstruct the decision to follow him.
The father, for the Semites, indicates the link with tradition, with the past, with the customs of the ancients, with the cultural environment in which one lives. Luke wants the Christians of his community to realize that the choice to join the Master cannot be delayed, procrastinated while waiting for the moment (that will never come) when the family’s feelings will not be hurt, a friend not dissatisfied, a colleague not irritated, and the habits of a loved one not put into question.
The Spirit demands immediate availability to give up the old and to convert oneself to the new. It is not stagnant water, but living, crystal clear water, “welling up to eternal life” (Jn 4:13-15). It is a rushing wind “that blows where it pleases” (Jn 3:8). Who is animated by this Spirit looks sympathetically to the new because he is the one who “renews the face of the earth” (Ps 104:30). Loyalty to his impulses creates tensions between the disciple and those who remain stubbornly clinging to the past. Among them there can be also family members and friends to whom one is very close. Jesus does not accept vacillation. Any tie that blocks and prevents to follow him is a chain that enslaves and will be broken without fear.
A third man comes to Jesus (vv. 61-62). It is easy to notice the contrast between the present imperative with which the previous invitiation is formulated: “Follow me” (v. 59) and the future used by this would-be disciple: “I will follow you, but….” This man is willing to follow Jesus, but wants to go first to say goodbye to his family, just as Elisha did. Apparently he is not asking too much. Yet Jesus does not allow this either. There cannot be delays, uncertainties, ifs and buts are not permitted, nothing can justify a delay.
Jesus is not surprised that there are those who reject it. Nay more, he demands the utmost respect for those who do not welcome him. However, he does not agree to be put in second place by those who choose to follow him.
Of course, these words of Jesus are not to be taken literally, it would otherwise be in contradiction with what he taught elsewhere. He recommended the observance of the commandment which requires to love and help the parents (Mt 15:3-9). He participated in the great farewell party with family and friends offered by Matthew (Mt 9:9-13). But there are priorities. All affections are secondary when it comes to following the will of the Father. Jesus gave that example when, as adolescent, he responded to his mother: “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Lk 2:49).
The mission given to the disciples is more urgent and more important than that of Elisha.
The whole creation eagerly awaits that the kingdom of God appears and is realized. It is impatient. All moments are precious.
Luke uses also the third example of a vocation to send a message to his communities. They cannot waste time in gossips, useless discussions, debates on trivial matters, while the world is in urgent need of the Gospel’s announcement.
Italian missionary and biblical scholar
June 27, 2019
FEAST OF SAINTS PETER AND PAUL - HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI (2011)
HOLY MASS FOR THE IMPOSITION OF THE SACRED PALLIUM ON METROPOLITAN ARCHBISHOPS
Wednesday, 29 June 2011
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
“Non iam dicam servos, sed amicos” - “I no longer call you servants, but friends” (cf. Jn 15:15).
Sixty years on from the day of my priestly ordination, I hear once again deep within me these words of Jesus that were addressed to us new priests at the end of the ordination ceremony by the Archbishop, Cardinal Faulhaber, in his slightly frail yet firm voice. According to the liturgical practice of that time, these words conferred on the newly-ordained priests the authority to forgive sins. “No longer servants, but friends”: at that moment I knew deep down that these words were no mere formality, nor were they simply a quotation from Scripture. I knew that, at that moment, the Lord himself was speaking to me in a very personal way. In baptism and confirmation he had already drawn us close to him, he had already received us into God’s family. But what was taking place now was something greater still. He calls me his friend. He welcomes me into the circle of those he had spoken to in the Upper Room, into the circle of those whom he knows in a very special way, and who thereby come to know him in a very special way. He grants me the almost frightening faculty to do what only he, the Son of God, can legitimately say and do: I forgive you your sins. He wants me – with his authority – to be able to speak, in his name (“I” forgive), words that are not merely words, but an action, changing something at the deepest level of being. I know that behind these words lies his suffering for us and on account of us. I know that forgiveness comes at a price: in his Passion he went deep down into the sordid darkness of our sins. He went down into the night of our guilt, for only thus can it be transformed. And by giving me authority to forgive sins, he lets me look down into the abyss of man, into the immensity of his suffering for us men, and this enables me to sense the immensity of his love. He confides in me: “No longer servants, but friends”. He entrusts to me the words of consecration in the Eucharist. He trusts me to proclaim his word, to explain it aright and to bring it to the people of today. He entrusts himself to me. “You are no longer servants, but friends”: these words bring great inner joy, but at the same time, they are so awe-inspiring that one can feel daunted as the decades go by amid so many experiences of one’s own frailty and his inexhaustible goodness.
“No longer servants, but friends”: this saying contains within itself the entire programme of a priestly life. What is friendship? Idem velle, idem nolle – wanting the same things, rejecting the same things: this was how it was expressed in antiquity. Friendship is a communion of thinking and willing. The Lord says the same thing to us most insistently: “I know my own and my own know me” (Jn 10:14). The Shepherd calls his own by name (cf. Jn 10:3). He knows me by name. I am not just some nameless being in the infinity of the universe. He knows me personally. Do I know him? The friendship that he bestows upon me can only mean that I too try to know him better; that in the Scriptures, in the Sacraments, in prayer, in the communion of saints, in the people who come to me, sent by him, I try to come to know the Lord himself more and more. Friendship is not just about knowing someone, it is above all a communion of the will. It means that my will grows into ever greater conformity with his will. For his will is not something external and foreign to me, something to which I more or less willingly submit or else refuse to submit. No, in friendship, my will grows together with his will, and his will becomes mine: this is how I become truly myself. Over and above communion of thinking and willing, the Lord mentions a third, new element: he gives his life for us (cf. Jn 15:13; 10:15). Lord, help me to come to know you more and more. Help me to be ever more at one with your will. Help me to live my life not for myself, but in union with you to live it for others. Help me to become ever more your friend.
Jesus’ words on friendship should be seen in the context of the discourse on the vine. The Lord associates the image of the vine with a commission to the disciples: “I appointed you that you should go out and bear fruit, and that your fruit should abide” (Jn 15:16). The first commission to the disciples, to his friends, is that of setting out – appointed to go out -, stepping outside oneself and towards others. Here we hear an echo of the words of the risen Lord to his disciples at the end of Matthew’s Gospel: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations ...” (cf. Mt 28:19f.) The Lord challenges us to move beyond the boundaries of our own world and to bring the Gospel to the world of others, so that it pervades everything and hence the world is opened up for God’s kingdom. We are reminded that even God stepped outside himself, he set his glory aside in order to seek us, in order to bring us his light and his love. We want to follow the God who sets out in this way, we want to move beyond the inertia of self-centredness, so that he himself can enter our world.
After the reference to setting out, Jesus continues: bear fruit, fruit that abides. What fruit does he expect from us? What is this fruit that abides? Now, the fruit of the vine is the grape, and it is from the grape that wine is made. Let us reflect for a moment on this image. For good grapes to ripen, sun is needed, but so too is rain, day and night. For noble wine to mature, the grapes need to be pressed, patience is needed while the juice ferments, watchful care is needed to assist the processes of maturation. Noble wine is marked not only by sweetness, but by rich and subtle flavours, the manifold aroma that develops during the processes of maturation and fermentation. Is this not already an image of human life, and especially of our lives as priests? We need both sun and rain, festivity and adversity, times of purification and testing, as well as times of joyful journeying with the Gospel. In hindsight we can thank God for both: for the challenges and the joys, for the dark times and the glad times. In both, we can recognize the constant presence of his love, which unfailingly supports and sustains us.
Yet now we must ask: what sort of fruit does the Lord expect from us? Wine is an image of love: this is the true fruit that abides, the fruit that God wants from us. But let us not forget that in the Old Testament the wine expected from noble grapes is above all an image of justice, which arises from a life lived in accordance with God’s law. And this is not to be dismissed as an Old Testament view that has been surpassed – no, it still remains true. The true content of the Law, its summa, is love for God and for one’s neighbour. But this twofold love is not simply saccharine. It bears within itself the precious cargo of patience, humility, and growth in the conforming of our will to God’s will, to the will of Jesus Christ, our friend. Only in this way, as the whole of our being takes on the qualities of truth and righteousness, is love also true, only thus is it ripe fruit. Its inner demand – faithfulness to Christ and to his Church – seeks a fulfilment that always includes suffering. This is the way that true joy grows. At a deep level, the essence of love, the essence of genuine fruit, coincides with the idea of setting out, going towards: it means self-abandonment, self-giving, it bears within itself the sign of the cross. Gregory the Great once said in this regard: if you are striving for God, take care not to go to him by yourselves alone – a saying that we priests need to keep before us every day (H Ev 1:6:6 PL 76, 1097f.).
Dear friends, perhaps I have dwelt for too long on my inner recollections of sixty years of priestly ministry. Now it is time to turn our attention to the particular task that is to be performed today.
On the feast of Saints Peter and Paul my most cordial greeting goes first of all to the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomaios I and to the Delegation he has sent, to whom I express sincere thanks for their most welcome visit on the happy occasion of this feast of the holy Apostles who are Rome’s patrons. I also greet the Cardinals, my brother bishops, the ambassadors and civil authorities as well as the priests, the confrères of my first Mass, religious and lay faithful. I thank all of you for your presence and your prayers.
The metropolitan archbishops appointed since the feast of Saints Peter and Paul last year are now going to receive the pallium. What does this mean? It may remind us in the first instance of Christ’s easy yoke that is laid upon us (cf. Mt 11:29f.). Christ’s yoke is identical with his friendship. It is a yoke of friendship and therefore “a sweet yoke”, but as such it is also a demanding yoke, one that forms us. It is the yoke of his will, which is a will of truth and love. For us, then, it is first and foremost the yoke of leading others to friendship with Christ and being available to others, caring for them as shepherds. This brings us to a further meaning of the pallium: it is woven from the wool of lambs blessed on the feast of Saint Agnes. Thus it reminds us of the Shepherd who himself became a lamb, out of love for us. It reminds us of Christ, who set out through the mountains and the deserts, in which his lamb, humanity, had strayed. It reminds us of him who took the lamb – humanity – me – upon his shoulders, in order to carry me home. It thus reminds us that we too, as shepherds in his service, are to carry others with us, taking them as it were upon our shoulders and bringing them to Christ. It reminds us that we are called to be shepherds of his flock, which always remains his and does not become ours. Finally the pallium also means quite concretely the communion of the shepherds of the Church with Peter and with his successors – it means that we must be shepherds for unity and in unity, and that it is only in the unity represented by Peter that we truly lead people to Christ.
Sixty years of priestly ministry – dear friends, perhaps I have spoken for too long about this. But I felt prompted at this moment to look back upon the things that have left their mark on the last six decades. I felt prompted to address to you, to all priests and bishops and to the faithful of the Church, a word of hope and encouragement; a word that has matured in long experience of how good the Lord is. Above all, though, it is a time of thanksgiving: thanks to the Lord for the friendship that he has bestowed upon me and that he wishes to bestow upon us all. Thanks to the people who have formed and accompanied me. And all this includes the prayer that the Lord will one day welcome us in his goodness and invite us to contemplate his joy.
June 25, 2019
SOLEMNITY OF THE SACRED HEART OF JESUS - HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI (19 June 2009)
OPENING OF THE YEAR FOR PRIESTS
ON THE 150th ANNIVERSARY OF THE DEATH
OF SAINT JOHN MARY VIANNEY
Saint Peter’s Basilica
Friday, 19 June 2009
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In a little while we shall sing in the antiphon to the Magnificat: “The Lord has drawn us to his heart—Suscepit nos Dominus in sinum et cor suum”. God’s heart, as the expression of his will, is spoken of twenty-six times in the Old Testament. Before God’s heart men and women stand judged. His heartfelt pain at sins of mankind makes God decide on the flood, but then he is touched by the sight of human weakness and offers his forgiveness. Yet another passage of the Old Testament speaks of God’s heart with absolute clarity: it is in the eleventh chapter of the book of the Prophet Hosea, whose opening lines portray the Lord’s love for Israel at the dawn of its history: “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son” (Hos 11:1). Israel, however, responds to God’s constant offer of love with indifference and even outright ingratitude. “The more I called them”, the Lord is forced to admit, “the more they went from me” (v. 2). Even so, he never abandons Israel to the power of its enemies, because “my heart”—the the Creator of the universe observes—“recoils within me, my compassion grows warm and tender” (v. 8).
The heart of God burns with compassion! On today’s solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus the Church presents us this mystery for our contemplation: the mystery of the heart of a God who feels compassion and who bestows all his love upon humanity. A mysterious love, which in the texts of the New Testament is revealed to us as God’s boundless and passionate love for mankind. God does not lose heart in the face of ingratitude or rejection by the people he has chosen; rather, with infinite mercy he sends his only-begotten Son into the world to take upon himself the fate of a shattered love, so that by defeating the power of evil and death he could restore to human beings enslaved by sin their dignity as sons and daughters. But this took place at great cost—the only-begotten Son of the Father was sacrificed on the Cross: “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (cf. Jn 13:1). The symbol of this love which transcends death is his side, pierced by a spear. The Apostle John, an eyewitness, tells us: “one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water” (cf. Jn 19:34).
Dear brothers and sisters, thank you for responding to my invitation and coming in great numbers to this celebration with which we inaugurate the Year for Priests. I greet the Cardinals and Bishops, in particular the Cardinal Prefect and the Secretary of the Congregation for the Clergy, together with the officials of that Congregation and the Bishop of Ars. I greet the priests and seminarians from the various seminaries and colleges in Rome; the men and women religious and all the lay faithful present. In a special way I greet His Beatitude Ignace Youssef Younan, the Patriarch of Antioch of the Syrians, who has come to Rome to meet me and to recognize publicly the "ecclesiastica communio" which I have granted him.
Together let us pause to contemplate the pierced heart of the Crucified One. Just now we heard once again, in the brief reading from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, that “God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ... raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:4-6). To be “in” Jesus Christ is already to be seated in heaven. The very core of Christianity is expressed in the heart of Jesus; in Christ the revolutionary “newness” of the Gospel is completely revealed and given to us: the Love that saves us and even now makes us live in the eternity of God. As the Evangelist John writes: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (3:16). God’s heart calls to our hearts, inviting us to come out of ourselves, to forsake our human certainties, to trust in him and, by following his example, to make ourselves a gift of unbounded love.
While it is true that Jesus’ invitation to “abide in my love” (cf. Jn 15:9) is addressed to all the baptized, on this feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the day of prayer for the sanctification of priests, this invitation resounds all the more powerfully for us priests. It does so in a special way this evening, at the solemn inauguration of the Year for Priests which I have proclaimed to mark the 150th anniversary of the death of the saintly Curé of Ars. A lovely and touching saying of his, quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, comes immediately to mind: “the priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus” (n. 1589). How can we fail to be moved when we recall that the gift of our priestly ministry flows directly from this heart? How can we forget that we priests were consecrated to serve, humbly yet authoritatively, the common priesthood of the faithful? Ours is an mission which is indispensable for the Church and for the world, a mission which calls for complete fidelity to Christ and constant union with him. To abide in his love entails constantly striving for holiness, as did Saint John Mary Vianney.
In the Letter which I wrote to you for this special Jubilee Year, dear brother priests, I wished to highlight some essential aspects of our ministry by making reference to the example and teaching of the Curé of Ars, the model and protector of all priests, especially parish priests. I hope that my Letter will prove a help and encouragement to you in making this Year a graced opportunity to grow ever closer to Jesus, who counts on us, his ministers, to spread and build up his Kingdom, and to radiate his love and his truth. As I invited you at the conclusion of my Letter: “in the footsteps of the Curé of Ars, let yourselves be enthralled by Christ. In this way you too will be, for the world in our time, heralds of hope, reconciliation and peace!”.
To be completely enthralled by Christ! This was the goal of the entire life of Saint Paul, to whom we looked throughout the Pauline Year now ending; this was the goal of the entire ministry of the Curé of Ars, whom we shall invoke in particular during this Year for Priests; may it also be the primary goal for each and every one of us. Certainly, to be ministers at the service of the Gospel, study and careful, ongoing pastoral and theological formation are useful and necessary, but even more necessary is that “knowledge of love” which can only be learned in a “heart to heart” encounter with Christ. For it is he who calls us to break the bread of his love, to forgive sins and to guide the flock in his name. And for that reason we must never step back from the source of love which is his heart, pierced on the Cross.
Only in this way can we cooperate effectively in the mysterious “plan of the Father” which consists in “making Christ the heart of the world”! This plan is accomplished in history as Jesus gradually becomes the Heart of human hearts, beginning with those called to be closest to him: namely his priests. We are reminded of this constant commitment by the “priestly promises” that we made on the day of our ordination and which we renew yearly on Holy Thursday during the Chrism Mass. Even our shortcomings, our limitations and our weaknesses ought to bring us back to the heart of Jesus. If it is true that by contemplating Christ sinners learn from him the “sorrow for sins” needed to bring them back to the Father, this is even more the case for sacred ministers. How can we forget, in this regard, that nothing causes more suffering for the Church, the Body of Christ, than the sins of her pastors, especially the sins of those who become “thieves and robbers” of the sheep (cf. Jn 10:1 ff.), lead them astray by their own private teachings, or ensnare them in the toils of sin and death? Dear priests, the summons to conversion and to trust in God’s mercy also applies to us; we too must humbly, sincerely and unceasingly implore the heart of Jesus to preserve us from the terrifying risk of endangering the very people we are obliged to save.
A few moments ago, in the Choir Chapel, I was able to venerate the relic of the saintly Curé of Ars: his heart. A heart that blazed with divine love, experienced amazement at the thought of the dignity of the priest, and spoke to the faithful in touching and sublime tones, telling them that “after God, the priest is everything! ... Only in heaven will he fully realize what he is” (cf. Letter for the Year for Priests, p. 3). Dear brothers, let us cultivate this same amazement, in order to carry out our ministry with generosity and dedication, and to maintain the true “fear of God” in our hearts: the fear, that is, that we can deprive of so much good, by our negligence or fault, the souls entrusted to our care, or that—God forbid—we can do them harm. The Church needs holy priests; ministers capable of helping the faithful to experience the Lord’s merciful love, and convinced witnesses of that love. In the Eucharistic Adoration which is to follow our celebration of Vespers, let us ask the Lord to set the heart of every priest afire with that “pastoral charity” which can make him one in heart and mind with Jesus the High Priest, and thus to imitate Jesus in complete self-giving. May the Virgin Mary, whose Immaculate Heart we shall contemplate with lively faith tomorrow, obtain this grace for us. The Curé of Ars had a filial devotion to Mary, a devotion so profound that in 1836, in anticipation of the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, he dedicated his parish to Mary “conceived without sin”. He frequently renewed this offering of the parish to the Blessed Virgin, teaching his parishioners that “to be heard it is enough to speak to her”, for the simple reason that she “desires above all else to see us happy”. May the Blessed Virgin, our Mother, accompany us during the Year for Priests which we begin today, so that we can be wise and steady guides of the flock which the Lord has entrusted to our pastoral care. Amen!
June 21, 2019
FEAST OF CORPUS CHRISTI (C) SOLEMNITY OF THE MOST HOLY BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST – YEAR C
Invited to the Banquet of the Word and the Bread
Gospel reflection – Luke 9:11-17
Jesus did not leave us a statue, a photograph, a relic. He wanted to continue to be present among his disciples as nourishment. The food is not placed on the table to be contemplated but to be consumed. Christians who go to Mass, but not receive Holy Communion, should be aware that they are not participating fully in the Eucharistic celebration.
The food becomes part of ourselves. By eating the body and drinking the blood of Christ we accept his invitation to identify ourselves with him. We say to God and to the community that we intend to form a single body with Christ; we wish to assimilate his gesture of love and we want to give our lives to the brothers and sisters, as he did. We don’t do this challenging choice alone but together with a whole community. The Eucharist is not a food to be consumed in solitude: it is bread broken and shared between brothers and sisters. It is not conceivable that, on the one hand, a gesture is placed that indicates unity, sharing, equality, reciprocal giving and ?n the other the perpetuation of conflicts, hatreds, jealousies, hoarding of goods, overpowering is tolerated. A community that celebrates the rite of the “breaking of bread” in these unworthy conditions eats and drinks—as Paul recalls—his own condemnation (1 Cor 11:28-29). It is a community that turns the sacrament into a lie. It is like a girl who, smiling, accepted from her boyfriend the ring, a symbol of an indissoluble bond of love and, at the same time, betrays him with other lovers.
REPORT THIS AD
There are many ways to explain what the Eucharist is. Paul chooses one: he says—as we have seen—its establishment, during the Last Supper. Luke chooses another one: he takes an episode in the life of Jesus—the multiplication of the loaves—and rereads it in view of the Eucharist. He uses it, that is, to make it clear to the Christians of his community the meaning of the gesture of breaking the bread that they regularly do, every week, on the day of the Lord.
If today’s Gospel passage is read as a faithful chronicle of a fact, we come across a number of difficulties: we do not understand what the five thousand men went for in a lonely place (v. 12), and no one knows even where so many people came from (v. 14). It is strange that even the fish are broken (v. 16) and we would have to explain from where the twelve baskets emerge (v. 17); had the people brought with them empty? Then the day was drawing to a close (v. 12) when the meal begins; how did the disciples arrange so many people and distribute the bread and fish in the dark?
Obviously, we are not faced with a report and it makes no sense to ask how exactly the events took place. On an event in the life of Jesus, the evangelist has built a theological reflection. Rather than piece together what happened, it is important for us to understand what is the message he wants to convey.
The first key of the reading that we insert is that of the Old Testament. The Christian communities of Luke were accustomed to the biblical language and immediately grasped allusions—that may escape us—to fact, texts, expressions, figures of the Old Testament. The account of the distribution of the loaves recalled to them:
– The story of the manna, the food given miraculously by God to his people in the desert (Ex 16; Nm 11). Also, the bread that Jesus gives comes from heaven;
– The prophecy of Moses: “He will raise up for you a prophet like myself” (Dt 18:15). Jesus who repeats one of the signs made by Moses is, therefore, the expected prophet;
– The words of Isaiah: “Why spend money on what is not food, and labor for what does not satisfy? Listen to me, and you will eat well, you will enjoy the richest of fare. The Lord of armies will prepare for all peoples a feast in this mountain” (Is 55:1-2,6);
– Finally, remember the miracle of the loaves made by Elisha (2 K 4:42-44). The miracle done by Jesus seems to be an enlarged photocopy.
These references to the Old Testament are mentioned because Luke intends to allude to them but he refers also to the celebration of the Eucharist, as it takes place in his community.
Let’s start with the first verse (v.11) that in our lectionary, unfortunately, is not quoted in full. We get back also to the part that is missing: “Jesus welcomed the crowds and began speaking about the Kingdom of God … .” Only Luke says that, when the crowds arrive at Bethsaida, Jesus welcomes them and speaks to them about the Kingdom of God. He withdraws apart with his disciples, looking perhaps for a quiet moment; but people, in need of his word and his help, join him and he welcomes them, announces the good news of the Kingdom of God and heals the sick. Welcoming means paying attention, getting involved with the needs of others, showing concern for their spiritual and material needs.
In this first verse, the reference to the celebration of the Eucharist is clear: the liturgy of the Lord’s Day always begins with the gesture of the celebrant who receives the community, welcomes, wishes peace and announces the Kingdom of God.
Like Jesus, he too welcomes all. The good, the sinners, the poor, the sick, the weak, the marginalized, those looking for a word of hope and forgiveness are welcomed; no one is turned away.Even Paul, concluding the chapter on the Eucharist from which today’s Second Reading is taken recommends this reception to the Corinthians: “My brothers, when you come together for a meal, welcome one another” (1 Cor 11:33).
In v. 12 the hour when Jesus distributes his bread is emphasized: “the day was drawing to a close.” I noted above the difficulty of understanding this figure as an information (entirely superfluous, among others). The day was drawing to a close is instead a valuable indication and also touching. We also find in the story of the disciples of Emmaus: “Stay with us —say the two to the travel companion—for night comes quickly. The day is now almost over” (Lk 24:29). This detail tells us the time where, on Saturday night, in the communities of Luke the Lord’s Supper is celebrated.
The deserted place (v. 12) also has a theological significance: remember the journey of the people of Israel who, having left the land of slavery, started the journey to freedom and was fed with manna.
The community that celebrates the Eucharist consists of travelers who are making an exodus. They had the courage to abandon their homes, their villages, friends, the kind of life they led and they set out to listen to the Master and be cared for by him. Like Israel, they entered the wilderness, and they walked to freedom. Others—who have also heard the voice of the Lord—chose to stay where they were; they did not want to take any chances. Unfortunately for them, by doing so, they are deprived of the food that Jesus gives to those who follow him.
Jesus orders the twelve to feed the crowds (vv. 12-14). The first reaction of the twelve is amazement, surprise, the feeling of being called to a tremendous, absurd, impossible undertaking. Thus they advance a proposal that contradicts the reception implemented by the Master. They suggest to send the people home, to push them away, to disperse. Everyone thinks of solving his own problems as best he can.
The disciples do not realize the gift that Jesus is going to deliver in their hands: the bread of the Word and the Eucharistic bread. They do not understand that his blessing will multiply endlessly this food that satisfies every hunger: the hunger for happiness, love, justice, peace, the need to give meaning to life, the anxiety for a new world.
It is about the so urgent uncontrollable needs that at times push people to feed on what does not satisfy, what can actually exacerbate hunger or cause nausea. For this, the Master insists: it is from you that the world is waiting for food, you yourselves give them something to eat.
His Word is a bread that miraculously multiplies: who accepts the Gospel and nourishes one’s life with it, who assimilates the person of Christ feeding on the Eucharistic bread, in turn, feels the need to make the others sharers in his own discovery and joy. He starts to distribute also to them the bread that satisfied his own hunger. An unstoppable process of sharing is triggered and the twelve baskets of leftover remain always filled and ready for redistribution. The more people feed themselves of the bread of the Word of Christ and of the Eucharist the more the bread distributed to the hungry multiplies.
Verse 14 shows a curious detail: Jesus does not want his food consumed in solitude, each on his own, as is done at the self-service. However not even too large groups go well because they do not know each other, no dialogue. They cannot establish relations of friendship, mutual aid, brotherhood.
At the time of Luke fifty was perhaps the ideal number of members of a community. We recall that, in the early centuries, the Eucharist was not celebrated in churches, but in large halls (Acts 2:46), so the number of participants was necessarily limited. Perhaps one of the reasons of laziness, coldness, and the lack of initiative of some of the communities today depends precisely on the high number of participants.
Throughout the New Testament, only Luke uses, for five times, the Greek word (?ata????e??) kataklinein, “lay on the table” (v. 15). It indicates the position that free people took when participating in a solemn feast. The Israelites would lie so during the Passover. It is improper to use this word in a situation like the one described in the Gospel of today, that is, to tell this to people who are in the desert, outdoors and who used to sit on the floor with legs crossed.
If Luke uses this expression, he does it for a theological reason: to allude to another meal, to that of the Christian community sitting around the Eucharistic table, the new Passover dinner, consumed by free people.
The formula that describes the multiplication of bread is known to us: “He took the five loaves and two fish, and raising his eyes to heaven, pronounced a blessing over them; he broke them and gave them” (v. 16). These are the gestures made by the celebrant in the celebration of the Eucharist (cf. Lk 22:19).
It almost seems that Luke is profaning a bit the words of the sacramental act, confounding things of the earth with those of heaven, the material needs with those of the spirit. This “mingling” of matter and spirit is not dangerous for the faith. The opposite is dangerous: unbinding the Eucharist from the lives of people, taking it among the clouds. The Eucharistic celebrations are lies when they do not celebrate the concrete commitment of all the community so that the material bread multiplies, in a way that there is enough for all and there are leftovers.
We often wonder what happened to the fish; all the attention seems focused on bread. In fact, even the fish are, strangely, “broken” and distributed together with the bread (v. 16). In the communities of Luke’s time, the fish had become a symbol of Christ. The letters in the Greek word ichthys (?????) (fish) had already become the acrostic for Jesus Christ, Son of God, and Savior. The fish is then Jesus himself made food in the Eucharist.
Italian missionary and biblical scholar