Sunday, April 15, 2007

Pope Benedict's Birthday Mass Homily

AP Photo/Angelo Carconi

~from Papa Ratzinger Forum

Dear brothers and sisters,

According to an old tradition, today's Sunday is called White Sunday, Domenica in albis. On this day, the neophytes baptized at the Easter vigil donned once again their white garments, symbol of the light the Lord had given them at Baptism.

They would later take off these garments, but the new light that had been communicated to them they would now have to introduce into their day-to-day routine. The delicate flame of truth and goodness that the Lord had lit in them they would now have to guard diligently in order to bring into the world something of the truth and goodness of God.

The Holy Father John Paul II wished that this Sunday shoud be celebrated as the Feast of Divine Mercy. In the word 'mercy' , he found the entire mystery of Redemption summarized and interpreted anew for our time.

He lived under two dictatorial regimes, and in contact with poverty, need and violebnce, he experienced profoundly the power of darkness, which continues to beset our world today.

But he also experienced, and not less strongly, the presence of God which opposes itself to all these forces of darkness with a power totally different and divine: with the power of mercy. It is mercy which sets a limit to evil. In it is expressed God's unique nature - his sacredness, the power of truth adn love.

Two years ago, after the first Vespers of this Feast, John Paul II's earthly existence came to an end. In dying, he entered into the light of Divine Mercy, from which, beyond death and from his place with God, he speaks to us today in a new way.

Have trust, he tells us, in Divine Mercy. Become day after day men and women who bear God's mercy. Mercy is the garment of light that the Lord has given us in Baptism. We should not let this light go out. On the contrary, it should grow in us day after day and thus bring to the world the happy news of God.

And on these days that are particularly illuminated by the light of Divine Mercy is a coincidence that is significant to me: I can now look back at 80 years of life.

I greet all who are here today to celebrate this occasion with me. I greet above all the Lord Cardinals, with a special thought of gratitude to the dean of the College of Cardinals, His Eminence Angelo Sodano, who has expressed sentiments on behalf of all.

I greet the Archbishops and Bishops, among them the auxiliaries of the Diocese of Rome, my diocese. I greet the priests and other members of the clergy, the religious and all the faithful present.

I address respectful and grateful greetings to the political personalities and members of the Diplomatic Corps who have honored me with their presence.

And I greet with fraternal affection the personal envoy of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, His Eminence Ioannis, Metropolitan of Pergamum, expressing my appreciation for this kind gesture and the wish that the Catholic-Orthodox theological dialog may progress with renewed pace.

We are gathered to reflect on the completion of a not-brief period of my existence. Obviously, the liturgy should not be used to speak of one's own self, but one's life can serve to proclaim the mercy of God.

"Come and listen, all you who fear God, and I will tell you what He has done for me," says a Psalm (63[66],16). I have always considered it a great gift of Divine Mercy that my birth and rebirth were granted to me together,as it were, on the same day, in the sign of the Easter Vigil. And so on the same day, I was born into my own family and into the family of God.

And I thank God because I have experienced what 'family' means. I have experienced what 'fatherhood' means, such that I have been made to understand the word of God the Father internally. Human experience has given me access to the great and benevolent Father who is in heaven.

Before Him, we carry a responsibility, but at the same time, He gives us confidence because in His justice, there is always that mercy and goodness with which He accepts our weaknesses and supports us, so that gradually, we may learn to walk straight.

I thank God because I experienced profoundly what maternal goodness means, being always open to whoever seeks shelter, and as such, able to give me my freedom. I thank God for my sister and brother who, with their help, were faithfully beside me throughout my life.

I thank God for the companions I met along the way, for the advisers and friends that He has given me. I am thankful in particular because from the very first day, I was able to enter and to grow in the great community of believers, among whom the frontiers between life and death, heaven and earth, have been thrown open.

I thank God for having learned so many things dy drawing from the wisdom of this community, which encompasses not only all human experience from the most remote times: Their wisdom is not only human wisdom, but unites itself to God's own wisdom, eternal wisdom.

In the first Reading of this Sunday, we are told that in the early days of the nascent Church, people brought their sick to the public squares, so that when Peter passed by, his shadow could fall on them. To that shadow, they attributed a healing power.

Indeed, the shadow came from the light of Christ and therefore, it carried in it something of the power of Divine goodness. Peter's shadow, through the Catholic church, has fallen across my life from the very beginning, and I learned that it is a good shadow - a healing shadow because, precisely, it ultimately comes from Christ Himself.

Peter was a man with all the weaknesses of a human being, but above all, he was a man full of passionate faith in Christ, full of love for Him. Through his faith and his love, Christ's healing power, his unifying force, has reached all men even through all the weaknesses of Peter. So let us look for Peter's shadow even today, in order that we may be in the light of Christ.

Birth and rebirth. Earthly family and the family of God. This is the great gift of God's many mercies, the foundation on which we depend. But proceeding through life, I received another new but demanding gift: the call to priesthood.

On the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul in 1951 when we - there were 40 others - found ourselves in the Cathedral of Freising prostrate on the ground and on us were invoked all the saints, the consciousness of the poverty of my existence in the face of this new mission weighed on me. So it was a consolation that the protection of God's saints, living and dead, was invoked over us.

I knew I would not be left alone. And what trust was instilled by the words of Jesus, who during the liturgy of Ordination, we could hear from the lips of our Bishop: "I no longer call you servants, but friends"!

And I have been able to experience that profoundly. He, the Lord, is not just the Lord, but also a friend. He has placed His hand on me and He will not leave me. These words were pronounced later at the conferment of power to administer the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and therefore, in the name of Christ, to pardon sins.

It is the same thing we heard today in the Gospel: the Lord breathes on His disciples. He grants them his Spirit - the Holy Spirit: "Their sins will be remitted to whom you give remission..."

The Spirit of Jesus is the power of forgiveness. It is the power of Divine Mercy, which makes it possible to begin again, always anew. The friendship of Jesus is the friendship of Him who makes us forgiving, of Him who forgives even us, who raises us continuously from our weaknesses and that way, teaches us, instills in us the comsciousness of our internal duty to love, the duty to reciprocate His trust with our loyalty.

In today's Gospel, we also heard the story of the encounter between the Apostle Thiomas and the Risen Lord. The Apostle was allowed to touch His wounds and so to recognize Him. And he recognizes Him, beyond the human identity of Jesus of Nazareth, in his true and profound identity: "My Lord and my God!" (Jn 20,28).

The Lord carries His wounds through eternity. He is a wounded God; He allowed Himself to be wounded out of love for us. The wounds are for us the sign that He understands us and that He allowed Himself to be wounded out of love for us. These wounds of His - how much we can touch them in the story of our times!

Indeed, the Lord is always allowing Himself to be wounded for us! What better guarantee of His mercy and what consolation that means for us! And what certainty it gives us about who He is: "My Lord and my God!" These words constitute for us a duty to allow ourselves to be wounded in turn for Him.

God's mercies accompany us every day. It is enough that we have a vigilant heart to perceive it. We are too inclined to take note only of the daily cares that are imposed on us, as sons of Adam. But if we open our hearts, then even immersed in our daily concerns, we can continuously see how God is good with us, how He thinks of us in the small things, thus helping us to deal with larger problems.

And with the growing weight of responsiblity, the Lord also brought new help to my life. Repeatedly I see with grateful joy the ranks of those who sustain me with their prayers; who with their faith and their love help me to carry out my ministry; who are indulgent with my weaknesses, recognizing even in the shadow of Peter the beneficent light of Christ.

For this I give my heartfelt thanks to God and to you all. I ould like to end this homily with a prayer by Saint Pope Leo the Great, that prayer which, 30 years ago, I wrote on the commemorative card of my episcopal ordination: "Pray to our good God, so that in our day, He may reinforce the faith, multiply love and increase the peace. May he make me, His poor servant, adequate for His work and useful for your edification, and grant that I may render service so that, along with the time I am given, my dedication should grow." Amen.

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