Vatican City (AsiaNews) – “The liturgy should not be used to speak about oneself, however ones life may be used to announce God’s Divine mercy”: thus Benedict XVI introduced his reflections on his life, during mass to celebrate his 80 years in St Peter’s square. With moving reserve yet at the same time determination, the Pontiff retraced the milestones of his life, its familial beginnings, his priestly ordination, his nomination as bishop and his election to the papacy, in the light of Divine Mercy Sunday, the feast instituted by John Paul II. The warm, sunny spring climate favoured a presence of over 35 thousand pilgrims and visitors. At least 60 cardinals, bishops and members of the roman curia and diocese participated in the liturgy as well as representatives of the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See.
The Pope greeted and thanked card. Angelo Sodano for his opening words, but above all he expressed his appreciation for the presence of metropolitan bishop of Pergamum, Ioannis (Zizioulas), Patriarch Bartholomew Ist’ special envoy to the celebration. The voiced his “appreciation for the kind gesture and his hope that the Catholic – Orthodox theological dialogue may continue with renewed vigour”.
Benedict XVI began his homily by remembering the meaning of today’s celebration (Sunday “in Albis”): “On this day, those newly baptised during the Easter vigil once again donned their white vestments, symbolic of the Lord’s light gifted to them in the sacrament of Christian initiation. They would later put away these robes away, but the new light that had been communicated to them, they were then meant to introduce to their daily lives; the delicate flame of truth and good that the Lord had lit in them, their were to diligently care for, in order to bring God’s light and love to the world as a whole”. The annotation is important, because Benedict XVI was born into the world on Holy Saturday in 1927 (April 16th) and baptised with water blessed in the Easter liturgy. “I have always considered it a great gift of Divine Mercy – observed the Pope – that birth and rebirth were conceded me, in a certain sense at the same time, on the same day in a sign of the beginning of Easter. Thus on the very same day I was born into my family and into the great family of God”.
For some years now Sunday in Albis is called “Divine Mercy Sunday”. The feast was instituted by John Paul II who proposed the revelations of Saint Faustina Kowalska, to the entire church.
The Polish Pope believed that mercy was “the summary and modern interpretation of the mystery of Redemption”. While the assembly applauded the name of John Paul II, Benedict XVI recalled the value of Divine Mercy in the personal experiences of the late Pope and in the events of contemporary history. “He lived under two dictatorial regimes, and in contact with poverty, need and violence, he experienced the depths of the power of darkness, which still permeates today’s world. But he also experienced, to no lesser a degree, God’s presence which opposes these forces with a totally different and divine power: the power of mercy. Mercy places a limit on evil. Mercy expresses the peculiar nature of God – its holiness, its powerful truth and love. Two years ago, following first vespers of the feast, John Paul II passed on from his earthly existence. In dying he entered the light of Divine Mercy. Beyond death and with God, he now speaks to us of it in a totally new way. He tells us “trust in Divine Mercy! Day after Day become men and women of God’s Mercy! Mercy is the robe of light that the Lord gifts us in Baptism. We cannot allow this light to fade; on the contrary it must grow each day so we may bring the Lord’s Good News to the world!”
In the present Pope’s life the light of mercy manifested itself above all in his birth into family life and into the life of God’s family, the Church: “Birth and rebirth: earthly family and the great Family of God – this is the great gift and multiple mercy of God, the foundation on which we base ourselves”.
“Yes – said Benedict XVI – I thank God because I was able to know what “family” really means; I have been able to experience the meaning of paternity, through the word of God the Father which made itself known within me; through human experience I was given access to the great and benevolent heavenly Father. We are responsible before Him, but at the same time he gifts us His trust, because in the midst of His justice there is always the mercy and goodness with which He excepts our weakness and by doing so, sustains us so we can, step by step, learn to walk tall. I thank God because I have experienced the meaning of maternal goodness, always open to those who seek refuge and thus able to grant me freedom. I thank my sister and my brother, who have remained faithfully close to me throughout life. I thank God for the friends and companions encountered on my journey, for the advisors He gave to me. I give particular thanks, because from the very beginning I was able to enter and grow within the community of believers, in which the boundaries between life and death, heaven and earth have been eroded; I am thankful because I have been able to learn great things by dipping into the unfathomable knowledge of this community, in which not only the history of humanity is treasured; the knowledge of this community is not only human knowledge, but it reaches out to the knowledge of God himself – Eternal knowledge”.
Referring to today’s reading (Acts 5,12-16), which narrates the healing which came about through Peter’s shadow, the Pope adds “Peter’s shadow, through the community of the Catholic Church, has covered my life from its very beginning, and I have learned that it is a good shadow – a healing shadow, because it comes from and is defined by Christ himself. Peter was a man of human weaknesses, but above all of passionate faith for Christ, full of love for Him. Through his faith and love the healing strength of Christ has reached mankind, though they are marked by the weaknesses of Peter. Even today, let us search for Peter’s shadow so we may find the Light Christ!”
The Pontiff sees his own weaknesses in the weakness of Peter, strengthened by God’s Mercy, accompanied by Christ. He says this with great clarity in recalling his priestly ordination: “On the feast day of Saints Peter and Paul in 1951, when we – there were over forty of us companions – found ourselves in Friezing Cathedral prostrated on the pavement and the saints were evoked upon us, the knowledge of the poverty of my one small existence in the face of all of this weighed heavily upon me. Yes, it was consoling that the protection of all God’s saints, of the dead and the living, was being invoked upon us. I knew I would never be alone. And the trust which Christ’s words evoked in our hearts as they were pronounced by the lips of the old Bishop, the words from the liturgy of Ordination: ‘I will no longer call you servants, but friends’. He had placed his hands on me and will never leave me. These words were pronounced at the time of the conferral of the faculty to administer the Sacraments of reconciliation and thus, in the name of Christ, to forgive sins. It is the same thing which we have heard today in the Gospel: the Lord breaths upon his disciples. He gives them his spirit – the Holy Spirit: “whose sins you forgive are forgiven them…’ The spirit of Christ is the power of forgiveness. It is the power of Divine Mercy. Friendship with Christ is friendship with He who makes of us people who forgive, with He who forgives us; he lifts from us our weaknesses and educates us, instilling in us awareness of the duty of love, the duty to reply to his trust in us with faithfulness”.
The pontiff then recalled the gospel story read today, which recounts the meeting between the apostle Thomas and the Risen Lord. “The apostle – explains the Pope – is allowed to touch His wounds and thus he recognises Him – he recognises Him beyond his human identity of Jesus of Nazareth, in his truer and more profound: ‘My Lord and My God!’ (Jn 20,28)”.
Thus the pope in his careful search “for the face of Christ” – as it seems from the pages of his book “Jesus of Nazareth”, published for the occasion of his 80th birthday – does not miss the opportunity to reveal the face of the merciful God as “a wounded God”. “The Lord – he said – brought his wounds with Him into eternity. He is a wounded God; he let Himself be wounded by His love for us. His wounds tell us that He understands us and that he allows Himself to be wounded by His love for us. These wounds – how we can touch them in the history of our times! Indeed He continues to be wounded for the love of us. These wounds console us with the certainty of His love for us! What they assure us of what He is: ‘My Lord and My God!’ These wounds make it our duty to allows ourselves be wounded in turn for Him!”
His concluding considerations show how “God’s mercy accompanies us day in day out”, even in the strain of the papacy. “We are often too inclined – said the Pope – to only feel the strains of daily life imposed on us as sons and daughters of Adam. Yeti f we open our hearts, then we may be able to see, through the fatigue to how good God is to us; how he thinks of us above all in the small things, to help us achieve great things. With the increased weight of responsibility, the Lord also brought new sources of help to my life”.
As a sign of “God’s daily mercy” Benedict XVI cited all of the collaborators and the hidden people who pray for him and his ministry: “With great joy, I recognise that a great host of people sustain me with their prayer; with their love and with their faith they help me carry out my ministry; they are forgiving of my weaknesses, recognising the beneficial Light of Christ in peter’s Shadow. This is why I would like to give my heartfelt thanks to each one of you
At the end of the homily, he recalled a prayer of Pope Saint Leo Magnus, which he used 30 years ago to mark his consecration as bishop: "We pray Thee God, that our faith be strengthened, love multiplied and peace augmented. He made me, his miserable servant, sufficient for his task and useful for your edification and conceded that I should carry out my service so that, together with the time gifted to me, my dedication may grow. Amen”.