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 (63,16). 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.Incidentally, the same is true of me, though not on Holy Saturday. I was born and baptized - confirmed, too - on Easter Sunday.
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 by 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.Remember, then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger prayed, "Lord, don't do this to me."
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 Thomas 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 would 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:I just might have to "borrow" that prayer...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.