Vatican City (AsiaNews) - We publish the text of the homily Benedict XVI gave on April 15 in a celebration with members of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, available only today in full. Commenting on the readings of the Mass, the pope makes a reference to "grace" which is being able “to do penance" while "under the attacks of the world that speak to us of our sins," perhaps a reference to sex scandals that have emerged in recent months and the campaign against the Pope and the Church. Along with repentance and sorrow for sin, Benedict XVI stresses the "lie” that is man’s claim to an autonomy that rejects God, the root of all dictatorships, including that of contemporary, “conformity."
Dear brothers and sisters, I have not found the time to prepare a proper homily. Instead, I would like to invite everyone to personal meditation, offering and emphasizing certain passages of today's liturgy, which lend themselves to the prayerful dialogue between us and the Word of God. The word, the phrase, that I would like to propose for our common meditation is the great affirmation of St. Peter "We must obey God rather than men", (Acts 5, 29). St. Peter stands before the supreme religious institution, which normally one should obey, but God is above this institution and God gave him another "law": he must obey God. Obedience to God is freedom, obedience to God gives you the freedom to oppose the institution.
And here exegetes draw our attention to the fact that the response of Peter to the Sanhedrin is almost "ad verbum" identical to the answer of Socrates to the judgement of the court in Athens. The court offered him freedom, liberation, provided, however, that he would not continue to seek God. But seeking God, finding God is for him a greater mandate, it comes from God himself. And a freedom bought by renouncing the path to God is no longer freedom. Therefore he must not obey these judges – he must not buy his life by loosing himself – rather he must obey God. Obedience to God has primacy.
Here it is important to stress that we are dealing with obedience and that it is obedience that gives freedom. The modern age has spoken of the liberation of man, his full autonomy, and also his liberation from obedience. There should no longer be obedience to God, man is free, he is autonomous: nothing else. But this autonomy is a lie, it is an ontological lie, because man does not exist by himself and for himself, and it is also a political and practical lie, because cooperation and sharing of freedom is necessary. And if God does not exist, if God is not an instance accessible to man, then the supreme instance remains the consent of the majority. Consequently, the consent of the majority becomes the final arbiter which we must obey. And this consensus – as the history of the last century tells us - can also be a "consensus in evil."
Thus we see that this so-called autonomy does not really free man. Obedience to God is freedom, because the truth is the question that confronts all human issues. Throughout human history these words of Peter and Socrates are the beacon of true liberation of man, who can see God and in the name of God, can and must obey not so much men, but God and thus free himself from the positivism of human obedience. Dictatorships have always been against this obedience to God. The Nazi dictatorship, as well as the Marxist dictatorship, can not accept a God who is above ideological power. It is the freedom of the martyrs, who acknowledge God, in obedience to divine power; it is always in the act of liberation that leads us to the freedom of Christ.
Today, thank God, we do not live under dictatorships, but there are subtle forms of dictatorship, a conformity which becomes mandatory, think as everyone else thinks, act as everyone else acts, and the subtle, and not so subtle, attacks against the Church, show hoe this conformism may actually be a real dictatorship. For us this is true: we must obey God rather than men. But this supposes that we really know God and truly want to obey Him. God is not an excuse for our own will, but it is really He who calls us and invites us, if necessary, even to martyrdom. Therefore, faced with these words that begin a new history of freedom in the world, we pray especially to know God, to humbly and truly know God and in knowing God, to learn true obedience, which is the foundation of human freedom.
Let us choose a second word from the first reading: St. Peter says that God raised Christ to his right hand as Leader and Saviour (cf. v. 31). Head is a translation of the Greek word "archegòs" which implies a much more dynamic vision: "archegòs" means one who shows the way, who proceeds, it is a movement, a movement upwards. God exalted him to his right – so in speaking of Christ as "archegòs" it means that Christ walks before us, before us, he precedes us, he shows us the path. And being in communion with Christ is to be on a journey, to move upwards with Christ, to be a follower of Christ, it is this climb to on high, you follow the 'archegòs" who has already passed, who precedes us and shows us the path.
Here, evidently, it is important that we be told where Christ arrives and where we too must arrive; "hypsosen" – on high - right up to the Father. Following Christ is not merely an imitation of his virtues, it is not only living in this world, as much as possible, according to Christ’s word, it is a journey that has a destination. And the goal is the Father's right hand. The path of Jesus, this following of Jesus ends at the right hand of God. Arriving at the right hand of the Father is the goal of Jesus’ entire journey.
In this sense, the goal of this journey is eternal life at the right hand of the Father in communion with Christ. Today we are often a bit afraid to speak of eternal life. We speak of things that are useful for the world, we show that Christianity is also helping to improve the world but dare not say that its goal is eternal life and that this goal is then the criteria of life. We need to regain the understanding that Christianity remains a "fragment" if we do not think of this goal, that we want to follow the 'archegòs "to God on high, to the glory of the Son who makes us children in the Son and we must again recognize that only the great perspective of eternal life does Christianity reveal its full sense. We must have the courage, joy, great hope that life is eternal, it is the real life and from this real life comes the light that illuminates this world.
If you can say that, even apart from the eternal life promised by Heaven, it is better to live according to Christian criteria, because living in truth and love, even if in the midst of persecutions, is in itself good and better than all the rest, then it is this very desire to live in truth and in love that must also open up to the entire width of God's plan with us, to the courage to already feel the joy of waiting for eternal life, following the ascent of our "archegòs. He is "Soter", he is the Saviour who saves us from ignorance, who looks for the least of things. The Saviour saves us from loneliness, He saves us from a void that remains in life without eternity, He saves us by giving us love in its fullness. He is our guide. Christ, the 'archegòs" saves us by giving us the light, giving us the truth, giving us the love of God
Let us pause once again on a verse: Christ, the Saviour, gave Israel conversion and forgiveness of sins (see 31) - in the Greek text the word is "metanoia" – he has given repentance and forgiveness of sins. This observation is very important for me: repentance is a grace. There is a tendency in exegesis that says; Jesus in Galilee would announce a grace without conditions, absolutely unconditional, therefore also without repentance, grace as such, without human preconditions. But this is a false interpretation of grace. Repentance is grace, it is a grace that we recognize our sin, it is a grace that we know we need renewal, change, we need 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 seemed too hard. Now, under the attacks of the world, which speak to us of our sins, we see that to be able to do penance is a grace – and we see how necessary it is to do penance, that is, to recognize what is wrong in our lives: to recognize one’s sin, to open oneself to forgiveness, to prepare for pardon, to allow oneself to be transformed. The pain of penance, the pain of purification and transformation – this pain is grace, because it is renewal – it is the work of the Divine Mercy. And so these two things, says St Peter - repentance and forgiveness – correspond to the beginning of Jesus' preaching: “metanoeite" that is repent (see Mark 1, 15). So this is the key point: "metanoeite" is not a private thing, which seems replaced by grace, but the "metanoeite” is the arrival of the grace that transforms us.
And finally a word from the Gospel, where we are told that whoever believes has eternal life (cf. John 3, 36). In faith, in this "transformation" that penance gifts, in this conversion, in this new way of living, we come to life, true life. And here I can think of two other texts. In the "Priestly Prayer" the Lord says; Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent (cf. John 17, 3). Knowing the essential, knowing the Decisive Person, knowing God and his Messenger is life, life and knowledge, knowledge of reality that is life. The other text is the Lord's answer to the Sadducees about the resurrection, where from the books of Moses, the Lord proved the fact of the resurrection by saying: God is the God of Abraham, of Isaac and Jacob (see Matthew 22, 31-32, Mark 12, 26-27, Luke 20, 37-38). God is not God of the dead. If God is God of these, they are alive. Who is written in the name of God participates in the life of God. Therefore to believe means to be inscribed in the name of God. And so we are alive. He who belongs to the name of God is not dead, he belongs to the living God. This is how we must understand the dynamism of faith; it is the inscribing of our name in the name of God and thus we enter into life.
We pray to the Lord for this to happen and really, with our lives, know God, so our name may enter the name of God and our lives become real life: eternal life, love and truth.