19 April 2010

Benedict unscripted

This past Thursday the Holy Father celebrated Mass in the Pauline Chapel with members of the Pontifical Commission at which Pope Benedict XVI delivered an unscripted homily.

Sandro Magister has given us the translation of his homily, with my emphases and comments:
Dear brothers and sisters, I couldn't find the time to prepare a true homily [I know how that goes; I was in the same boat the last two weekends. I was able to put thoughts together in my mind and loosely throw them on paper, but it wasn't possible to write them out as I prefer. I do like the notion that a homily is "true" only if it is prepared]. I would simply like to invite each one to personal meditation, presenting and emphasizing a few of the phrases from today's liturgy, which lend themselves to the prayerful dialogue between ourselves and the Word of God [this is a legitimate option, though not for Sundays and Solemnities]. The word, the phrase that I would like to propose for shared meditation is this great statement by Saint Peter: "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). Saint Peter is standing in front of the supreme religious institution, which normally one must obey, but God is above this institution, and God has given another "order": one must obey God. Obedience to God is freedom, obedience to God gives him the freedom to oppose the institution.

And here the exegetes draw our attention to the fact that Saint Peter's reply to the Sanhedrin is almost identical, word for word, to Socrates' response to his sentence in the tribunal of Athens. The tribunal offers him freedom, liberation, but on the condition that he not continue to seek God. But seeking God, the search for God is for him a superior mandate, it comes from God himself. And a freedom purchased with the renunciation of the journey to God would no longer be freedom. So it is not these judges that he must obey - he must not buy his life by losing himself - but he must obey God. Obedience to God has the primacy.

Here it is important to emphasize that this is a matter of obedience, and that it is precisely obedience that gives freedom. The modern age has spoken of the liberation of man, of his full autonomy, and therefore also of liberation from obedience to God. It is said that obedience should no longer exist, man is free, he is autonomous: nothing else. But this autonomy is a lie: it is an ontological lie, because man does not exist on his own and for himself, and it is also a political and practical lie, because collaboration, the sharing of freedom, is necessary. And if God does not exist, if God is not an imperative accessible to man, what remains as the supreme imperative is only the consensus of the majority. As a result, the consensus of the majority becomes the last word, which we must obey. And this consensus - we know this from the history of the last century - can also be a "consensus in evil."

So we see that so-called autonomy does not truly liberate man. Obedience to God is freedom, because it is the truth, it is the imperative that stands before all human imperatives. In the history of humanity, these words of Peter and of Socrates are the true beacon of liberation for man, who is able to see God and, in the name of God, can and must obey not so much men, but Him, and thus free himself from the positivism of human obedience. The dictatorships have always been against this obedience to God. The Nazi dictatorship, like that of Marxism, cannot accept a God who stands above ideological power; and the freedom of the martyrs, who recognize God precisely in obedience to divine power, is always the act of liberation by which the freedom of Christ comes to us.

Today, thank God, we do not live under dictatorships, but there exist subtle forms of dictatorship: a conformism that becomes obligatory, to think the way everyone else thinks, to act the way everyone else acts, and the subtle forms of aggression against the Church, or even the less subtle ones, demonstrate how this conformism can really be a true dictatorship. What matters to us is this: we must obey God rather than men. But that supposes that we truly know God, and that we truly want to obey Him. God is not a pretext for one's own will, but it is really He who calls and invites us, if it is necessary, even to martyrdom. Therefore, confronted by this word that begins a new history of freedom in the world, let us pray above all to know God, to know God humbly and truly, and, knowing God, to learn the true obedience that is the foundation of human freedom.

Let's take a second passage from the first reading: Saint Peter says that God has raised Christ to his right hand as leader and savior (cf. v. 31). "Leader" is a translation of the Greek term "archegos," which implies a much more dynamic vision: the archegos is the one who shows the way, who goes before, it is a movement, a movement upward. God has raised him to his right hand - therefore speaking of Christ as archegos means that Christ walks before us, precedes us, shows us the way. And being in communion with Christ means being on a journey, ascending with Christ, it is following Christ, it is this upward ascent, it is following the archegos, the one who has already gone before us, who precedes us and shows us the way.

Here, obviously, it is important that we be told where Christ arrives, and where we must also arrive: hypsosen - on high - ascending to the right hand of the Father. Following Christ is not only an imitation of his virtues, it is not only living in this world, as much as we are able, as Christ did, according to his word, but it is a journey that has a destination. And the destination is the right hand of the Father. There is this journey of Jesus, this following of Jesus that ends at the right hand of the Father. It is to the horizon of this following that the entire journey of Jesus belongs, including his arrival at the right hand of the Father.

In this sense, the destination of this journey is eternal life at the right hand of the Father in communion with Christ. Often today we are afraid of talking about eternal life. We talk about things that are useful for the world, we show that Christianity also helps to improve the world, but we do not dare to say that its true destination is eternal life, and that it is from this destination that the criteria of life come. We must again come to understand that Christianity remains a "fragment" if we do not think about this destination, that we want to follow the archegos to the height where God is, to the glory of the Son who makes us sons in the Son, and we must again come to recognize that only in the grand perspective of eternal life does Christianity reveal all of its meaning. We must have the courage, the joy, the great hope that eternal life exists, it is true life and from this true life comes the light that also illuminates this world.

If it can be said that, even apart from eternal life, from the promised Heaven, it is better to live according to Christian criteria, because living according to truth and love, even if it is under many persecutions, is in itself a good and is better than all the rest, it is precisely this will to live according to the truth and according to love that must also open to all the breadth of God's plan for us, to the courage to have already the joy in anticipation of eternal life, of the ascent following our archegos. And Soter is the Savior, who saves us from ignorance about the last things. The Savior saves us from solitude, he saves us from a void that remains in life without eternity, he saves us by giving us love in its fullness. He is the guide. Christ, the archegos, saves us by giving us the light, giving us the truth, giving us the love of God.

Let's look at another verse: Christ, the Savior, has given Israel conversion and forgiveness of sins (v. 31) - in the Greek text the term is metanoia - he has given penance and forgiveness of sins. This for me is a very important observation: penance is a grace. There is a tendency in exegesis that says: Jesus in Galilee had announced a grace without condition, absolutely unconditional, therefore also without penance, grace as such, without human preconditions. But this is a false interpretation of grace. Penance is grace; it is a grace that we recognize our sin, it is a grace that we know we need renewal, change, a transformation of our being. Penance, being able to do penance, is the gift of grace. And I must say that we Christians, even in recent times, have often avoided the word penance, it has seemed too harsh to us. Now, under the attacks of the world that speak to us of our sins, we see that being able to do penance is grace. And we see that it is necessary to do penance, that is, to recognize what is wrong in our life, open ourselves to forgiveness, prepare ourselves for forgiveness, allow ourselves to be transformed. The suffering of penance, of purification, of transformation, this suffering is grace, because it is renewal, it is the work of divine mercy. And so these two things that Saint Peter says - penance and forgiveness - correspond to the beginning of the preaching of Jesus: metanoeite, which means be converted (cf. Mk. 1:15). So this is the fundamental point: metanoia is not a private thing, which would seem to be replaced by grace, but metanoia is the arrival of the grace that transforms us.

And finally a word from the Gospel, where we are told that those who believe will have eternal life (cf. Jn. 3:36). In faith, in this "transformation" that penance gives, in this conversion, in this new way of life, we find life, true life. And here I am reminded of two other texts. In the "Priestly Prayer," the Lord says: this is life, to know you and the one you have consecrated (cf. Jn. 17:3). Knowing the essential, knowing the decisive Person, knowing God and the One he has sent is life, life and knowledge, knowledge of realities that are life. And the other text is the Lord's reply to the Sadducees about the Resurrection, where from the books of Moses the Lord proves the fact of the Resurrection, saying: God is the God of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob (cf. Mt. 22:31-32; Mk. 12:26-27; Lk. 20:37-38). God is not the God of the dead. If God is God of these, they are alive. Those who are written in the name of God participate in the life of God, they live. And so to believe is to be inscribed in the name of God. And so we are alive. Those who belong to the name of God are not dead, they belong to the living God. In this sense we must understand the dynamism of the faith, which is a writing of our name in the name of God, and so an entry into life.

Let us pray to the Lord that this may happen and that, with our life, we may really know God, so that our names may enter into the name of God, and our existence become true life: eternal life, love and truth.

That's not bad at all for an "off-the-cuff" homily. I wish mine were like that.

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