27 December 2010

Man of the Year: The Pope?

Sandro Magister suggests Pope Benedict XVI be named Man of the Year, because of his homilies. He also suggests that, like Pope Saint Leo the Great, Benedict XVI will be remembered by history because of his homilies.

His text follows, with my emphases and comments:

The Roman missal for Sundays and feast days is divided into three annual cycles, each centered on the Gospel of Matthew, Mark, or Luke. In publishing the homilies of Benedict XVI year after year, Libri Scheiwiller has kept to this sequence. This third volume concludes the three-year cycle. It collects the papal homilies of the Lucan liturgical year, which began with the first Sunday of Advent of 2009 and spanned the year 2010 [how I wish it were available in English already!].

The homilies for Mass and vespers are a cornerstone of this pontificate, not yet understood by all. Joseph Ratzinger writes them to a large extent by hand, and improvises some of them with the immediacy of the spoken word. But he always thinks them through and prepares them with extreme care, because for him they have unique value, distinct from all his other written or spoken words. The homilies, in fact, are part of the liturgical action, or rather they are themselves liturgy [too many priests forget this great truth], that "cosmic liturgy" which he has called the "ultimate goal" of his apostolic mission, "when the world in its entirety will have become liturgy of God, adoration, and so will be safe and sound." There is a great deal of Augustine in this vision of Ratzinger's, there is the city of God in heaven and on earth, there are time and the eternal. In the Mass, the pope sees "the image and the shadow of the heavenly realities" (Hebrews 8:5). His homilies are intended to life [sic: sift] the veil.

And in effect, in rereading them, they disclose a vision of the world and of history full of new meanings, which are the heart of the Christian good news, because "if Jesus is present, there no longer exists any time devoid of meaning and empty." Advent is "presence," "arrival," "coming," the pope said in the inaugural homily of this liturgical year. "God is here, he has not withdrawn from the world, he has not left us alone," and so time becomes "kairĂ³s," the unique, favorable occasion of eternal salvation, and all creation changes its appearance "if behind it is him and not the mist of an uncertain origin and an uncertain future."

But the time of the "civitas Dei" is not formless. It has a rhythm that is given to it by the Christian mystery that fills it. Every Mass, every homily falls at a precise time, the fundamental cadence of which proceeds from Sunday to Sunday. The "Lord's day" has as its protagonist the one who rose on the first day after the sabbath, become the figure of the "octava dies" of eternal life. The presence of the Risen One in the consecrated bread and and wine is real, most real, the pope preaches incessantly. All it takes to see him and encounter him is that the eyes of faith be opened, as for the disciples at Emmaus, who recognized Jesus precisely in the sacrament of the Eucharist, "in the breaking of the bread."

"The liturgical year is a great journey of faith," the pope recalled before one Angelus, in one of those brief Sunday meditations constructed like little homilies on the Gospel of the day. It is like walking on the road to Emmaus, in the company of the Risen One who inflames hearts by explaining the Scriptures. From Moses to the prophets to Jesus, the Scriptures are history, and with them the walking becomes history and the liturgical year retraces all of it, around Easter which acts as its hub. Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost. Until the second coming of Christ, at the end of time. What makes the Christian liturgy a "unicum," and the pope does not cease to preach it, is that its narration is not only memory. It is living and present reality. At every Mass, there occurs what Jesus proclaimed in the synagogue of Nazareth after rolling up the scroll of the prophet Isaiah: "Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing" (Luke 4:21).

In the homilies, Pope Benedict is also unveiling what the Church is. He does so in obedience to the most ancient profession of faith: "I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins." The "communion of saints" is primarily that of the holy gifts, it is that holy salvific gift given by God in the Eucharist, by welcoming which the Church is generated and grows, in unity over all the earth and with the saints and angels of heaven. The "remission of sins" are baptism and the other sacrament of forgiveness, penance. If this is what the "Credo" professes, then the Church is truly not made up by its hierarchy, not by its organization, much less is it a spontaneous association of like-minded men, but it is a pure gift of God, a creation of his Holy Spirit, which generates its people in history, with the liturgy and the sacraments.

There is an image that recurs frequently in the pope's homilies: "One soldier thrust his lance into his side, and immediately blood and water flowed out" (John 19:34) [This image is also constantly found in his writings when he was a Cardinal]. Here again are the blood and water, the Eucharist and baptism, the Church that is born from the pierced side of the Crucified One, the new Eve from the new Adam. Recourse to images is one of the other distinctive features of the homilies of Benedict XVI. In the cathedral of Westminster, on September 18, 2010, he drew everyone's attention to the great Crucifix that dominates the nave, to the Christ "crushed by suffering, overwhelmed by sorrow, the innocent victim whose death has reconciled us with the Father and given us a share in the very life of God." From his precious blood, from the Eucharist, the Church draws life. But the pope also added, citing Pascal: "In the life of the Church, in her trials and tribulations, Christ continues to be in agony until the end of the world."

In the liturgical preaching of Benedict XVI, the biblical and artistic images have a constant mystagogical function, as guide to the mystery. The wonder of the invisible glimpsed in visible art points to the even greater marvel of the Risen One present in the bread and wine, the principle of the transformation of the world, so that the city of men also "may become a world of resurrection," a city of God.

Most of the homilies collected in this volume were pronounced by the pope during the Mass, after the proclamation of the Gospel. But there are also others given at vespers, before the singing of the "Magnificat." The locations are highly varied, in Italy and abroad, in villages and cities: Rome, naturally, but also Castel Gandolfo, Malta, Turin, Fatima, Porto, Nicosia, Sulmona, Carpineto, Glasgow, London, Birmingham, Palermo. One special case is the homily for the fourth Sunday of Lent, pronounced by the pope during an ecumenical liturgical service in the Lutheran church of Rome.

In an appendix, as in the two previous collections, are presented some of those little gems of minor homiletics, on the readings of the Mass of the day, that Benedict XVI offers to the faithful and to the world at noon on Sundays before the Angelus, or, during the Easter season, before the Regina Caeli.

Between the major and the minor, the homilies collected here come to about eighty, covering almost the entire span of the liturgical year: another proof of the care that Benedict XVI dedicates to this ministry of his. Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco recognized their greatness and proposed them as a model for all the pastors of the Church, when to the bishops of the permanent council of the Italian episcopal conference, on January 21, 2010, he said: "Let us not be afraid to declare our admiration for this art of his, and let us not tire of pointing it out to ourselves and to our priests as a lofty and extraordinary school of preaching." Like Pope Leo the Great, pope Benedict will also go down in history for his homilies.
I quite agree.

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