In the opening mass of the Synod of the Eucharist, Benedict XVI put the Church in the west on guard against its possible disappearance. And he reminded the world that where God is marginalized, there is only violence and injustice.
Vatican City (AsiaNews) The XI General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops opened today with Mass presided over by Benedict XVI in St Peter's Basilica. The theme, which had been chosen by John Paul II, is: "The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church".
This is Pope Ratzinger's first summit, gathering 256 participants from 188 countries around the world. Among them are 55 cardinals, eight patriarchs, 82 archbishops, 123 bishops, 36 presidents of Episcopal conferences and 12 religious.
Innovations introduced by Benedict XVI include: reducing the time for deliberations (which go on until 23 October) by a week to keep the bishops away from the life of their dioceses for as brief a time as possible; doubling the number of ecumenical representatives (Orthodox, Anglican, Protestants), which have increased from six to 12, and introducing an hour of debate per day.
Mass was celebrated in Latin, while the readings and prayers of the faithful were read in different languages. The Fathers of the Synod and collaborators concelebrated with the Pope.
In the homily, Benedict XVI, taking his queue from the readings (of the XXVII Sunday "per annum" A) made an exhortation and an appeal that "in the three weeks of the Synod which we are starting, we will not only say nice things about the Eucharist, but above all, we will draw life from its power".
The pontiff's reflection expanded to touch upon the current problems of atheism, of rejection of God in daily life, of relativism passed off as tolerance: "God is an encumbrance for us. We either pay devoted lip service to Him or deny Him completely; He is banished from public life, losing all meaning. A tolerance which acknowledges God, as it were, as a private opinion, but which refuses him any public domain, the reality of the world and of our life, is not tolerance but hypocrisy."
Eliminating God from public life leads to the domination of the "arbiter of power", "[self] interests", and "injustice."
The lack of a faith-based response from Christians, especially Christians in Western Europe, prevails in this situation: "The threat of judgement regards us too, the Church in Europe, Europe and the West in general. With this Gospel, the Lord is crying in our ears the same words he told the Church of Ephesus in the Apocalypse: 'Unless you repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place' (2:5). The light may be taken away from us too, and we would do well to allow this warning in all its gravity to resound in our soul, at the same time crying to the Lord: 'Help us to convert! Give us all the grace of a true renewal! Do not allow your light among us to be extinguished! Reinforce our faith, our hope and our love, so we may bear good fruit!'"
The pope closed his homily by recalling that the Eucharist is the mystery which changes Christians, making them truly fruitful for the world: "In the holy Eucharist, He draws all to himself from the cross (Jn 12:32) and he turns us into shoots of the grapevine which is Himself. If we remain united in Him, then we will also bear fruit and no longer will the vinegar of self-sufficiency, of discontent with God and his creation flow from us; rather there will be good wine of rejoicing in God and of love towards our neighbour."
Below we reproduce the full text of the homily given by Benedict XVI:
"The reading taken from the prophet Isaiah and today's Gospel bring before our eyes one of the great images of Holy Scripture: the images of life. In the Holy Scripture, the bread represents all that man needs for his daily life. Water makes the earth fertile: it is the fundamental gift, which makes life possible. Wine, meanwhile, expresses the exquisiteness of creation and gives us the feast in which we go beyond everyday limits: wine "gladdens the heart". Thus wine and together with it, the grapevine, have become images also of the gift of love, in which we can somehow experience and savour the Divine. And thus the reading of the prophet, which we have just heard, starts as a canticle of love: God created a vineyard an image, this, of his love story with mankind, of his love for Israel, which He chose. The first concept of the readings of today is this: in man, created in his image, God instilled the ability of loving and hence the capacity of loving also Himself, his Creator. With the canticle of love of the prophet Isaiah, God wants to talk to the heart of his people and also to each one of us. "I created you in my image and likeness," he tells us. "I myself am love, and you are my image to the extent that the splendour of love shines in you, to the extent that you respond to me with love". God is waiting for us. He wants to be loved by us: should not such an appeal touch our heart? Right in this hour in which we celebrate the Eucharist, in which we launch the Synod of the Eucharist, He comes to meet us, comes to meet me. Will he find a response? Or will the same happen to us as with the vine, of which God told Isaiah: "He expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes"? Isn't our Christian life often more vinegar than wine? Self-pity, conflict, indifference?
With this, we have automatically reached the second fundamental reflection of today's readings. They talk above all about the goodness of God's creation and about the great extent of the determination with which He searches for and loves me. But then they talk also of the history which unfolded later of the failure of man. God had planted choice grapevines and all the same, wild grapes grew. What does this wild grape consist of? The good grape which God expected says the prophet would have consisted of justice and rectitude. The wild grape, on the other hand, would be violence, bloodshed and oppression, which cause men to groan under the yoke of injustice. In the Gospel, the image changes: the grapevines produce good grapes but the tenants keep them for themselves. They are not prepared to deliver them to the owner. They beat and kill his messengers and kill his Son. Their motivation is simple: they want to make themselves owners; they take over what does not belong to them. In the Old Testament, there is the charge of violation of social justice, of man's scorn of man, in the forefront. In the background, however, it appears that when the Torah, the right given by God, is scorned, it is God himself who is scorned; one wants only to enjoy his power. This aspect is fully brought out in the parable of Jesus: the tenants do not want a master and these tenants serve as a mirror for us too. We men to whom has been entrusted, so to speak, the running of creation, usurp it. We want to be masters in the first place and by ourselves. We want to possess the world and our own lives in an unlimited way. God is an encumbrance for us. We either pay devoted lip service to Him or deny Him completely; He is banished from public life, losing all meaning. A tolerance which acknowledges God, as it were, as a private opinion, but which refuses him any public domain, the reality of the world and of our life, is not tolerance but hypocrisy. Where man makes himself the only master of the world and master of himself, justice cannot exist. There only the arbiter of power and of interests can dominate. Certainly, the Son can be chased out of the vineyard and killed, so one can selfishly savour all the fruits of the earth alone. But soon the vineyard will turn into uncultivated terrain trampled by wild boars, as the Responsorial Psalm tells us (cf. Ps 79:14).
Thus we reach the third element in today's reading. The Lord, in the Old and New Testament alike, pronounces judgement upon the unfaithful vineyard. The judgement that Isaiah foresees comes about in great wars and exile at the hands of the Assyrians and the Babylonians. The judgement announced by the Lord Jesus refers above all to the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70. But the threat of judgement regards us too, the Church in Europe, Europe and the West in general. With this Gospel, the Lord is shouting into our ears the same words he told the Church of Ephesus in the Apocalypse: "Unless you repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place." (2,5). The light may be taken away from us too, and we would do well to allow this warning in all its gravity to resound in our soul, at the same time crying to the Lord: "Help us to convert! Give us all the grace of a true renewal! Do not allow your light among us to be extinguished! Reinforce our faith, our hope and our love, so we may bear good fruit!"
At this point, however, the question arises within us: "But is there no promise, no word of comfort in today's reading and Gospel pages? Is a threat the last word?" No! The promise is there, and it is the final, essential word. We hear it in the versette of the Alleluia, taken from the Gospel of John: "I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit." (Jn 15:5). With these words of the Lord, John shows us the final and true outcome of the story of God's vineyard. God does not fail. At the end, He wins, love wins. A veiled allusion to this is found already in the words of the parable of the vineyard in today's Gospel and in its concluding words. Even there, the death of the Son is not the end of the story, even if it is not directly recounted. Jesus conveys this death through a new image taken from the Psalm: "The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone " (Mt 21:42; Ps 117:22). Life sprang from the Son's death, a new construction, a new vineyard is formed. He, who at Cana changed water into wine, changed his blood into wine of true love and in doing so he transformed wine into his blood. In the cenacle, he anticipated his death and transformed it into a gift of self in an act of radical love. His blood is a gift, it is love and for this it is the true wine which the Creator was waiting for. In this way, Christ himself becomes the grapevine, and this grapevine always bears good fruit: the presence of his love for us, which is indestructible.
Thus, these parables ultimately flow into the mystery of the Eucharist in which the Lord gives us the bread of life and the wine of his love and invites us to the feast of eternal love. We celebrate the Eucharist in the knowledge that its price was death of the Son the sacrifice of his life which remains present therein. Each time we eat of this bread and drink of this chalice, we announce the death of the Lord until He comes, says St Paul (cf. 1 Cor 11:26). But we know too that from this death flows life, because Jesus transformed it in a gesture of offering, in an act of love, thus changing it profoundly: love has won over death. In the holy Eucharist, He draws all to himself from the cross (Jn 12:32) and he makes us become shoots of the grapevine which is Himself. If we remain united in Him, then we will also bear fruit and no longer will the vinegar of self-sufficiency, of discontent with God and his creation flow from us; rather there will be good wine of rejoicing in God and of love towards our neighbour. We pray that the Lord gives us his grace, so that in the three weeks of the Synod which we are starting, we will not only say nice things about the Eucharist, but above all we will draw life from its power. We invoke this gift through Mary, dear Fathers of the Synod, who I greet with much affection, together with the many Communities from which you come and which you represent, so that obedient to the movements of the Holy Spirit, we can help the world to become, in Christ and with Christ, the fertile grapevine of God. Amen.