Papal Homily at Canonization

«The Ministry of Reconciliation Is a Ministry That Is Relevant»

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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 12, 2008 ( Here is a translation of parts of a pluri-lingual homily Benedict XVI gave today at a Mass he celebrated in St. Peter’s Square. During the Mass he canonized four saints.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today four new saints are being proposed for the veneration of the universal Church: Gaetano Errico, Maria Bernarda Bütler, Alphonsa of the Immaculate Conception and Narcisa de Jesús Martillo Morán. The liturgy presents them with the Gospel image of the guests who participate in the feast dressed in wedding garments. The image of the feast is in the first reading and in various other Bible passages: It is a joyous image because the feast accompanies a wedding celebration, the covenant of love between God and his people. The Old Testament prophets continually directed Israel’s expectations toward this covenant. And in a time marked by trials of every sort, when problems threatened to discourage the people, the reassuring word of the prophet Isaiah comes forth: «On this mountain,» he says, «the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines» (25:6). God will put an end to the sadness and shame of the people, who will finally live happily in communion with him. God will never abandon his people: this is why the prophet invites them to rejoice: «Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us! This is the Lord for whom we looked; let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us» (25:9).

If the first reading exalts in God’s fidelity to his promise, the Gospel, with the parable of the wedding feast, brings us to reflect on the human response. Some of those who were invited first rejected the invitation, because they are drawn by other interests; others scorned the king’s invitation, provoking not only their own chastisement but that of the whole city. The king, however, is not discouraged and he sends his servants to find others to fill up the hall where the feast is taking place. Thus, the rejection of the invitation on the part of those who were first invited has as its effect the extension of the invitation to all, with a special predilection for the poor and the disadvantaged. This is what happened in the Pascal Mystery: The power of evil was defeated by the omnipotence of God’s love. The risen Lord can now invite everyone to the feast of Easter joy, himself furnishing the guests with the wedding garments, the symbol of the gratuitous gift of sanctifying grace.

But man must respond to God’s generosity with free acceptance. This is precisely the generous path that was followed by those whom we are venerating today as saints. In baptism they received the wedding garment of divine grace. They kept it pure or purified it and made it bright in the course of their lives through the sacraments. Now they are joining in the heavenly wedding feast. The feast of the Eucharist, to which the Lord invites us every day and in which we must partake with the wedding garment of his grace, is the anticipation of that crowning feast in heaven. If it happens that this wedding garment is sullied or torn by sin, God’s goodness does not reject us or leave us to our fate, but offers us the possibility, through the sacrament of reconciliation, of restoring the integrity of that wedding garment that is required for the feast.

The ministry of reconciliation, therefore, is a ministry that is relevant. The priest Gaetano Errico, founder of the Congregazione dei Missionari dei Sacri Cuori di Gesù e di Maria, dedicated himself to this sacrament with diligence, assiduity and patience, never refusing it nor counting the cost. He thus entered among the group of other extraordinary priests who tirelessly made the confessional a place to dispense God’s mercy, helping men to rediscover themselves, to fight against sin and make progress in the spiritual life. The street and the confessional were the two particular places of Gaetano Errico’s pastoral work. The street was the place that permitted him to offer his customary invitation: «God loves you, when shall we meet?» and in the confession he made their encounter with the mercy of the heavenly Father possible. How many wounded souls did he heal in this way! How many people did he help to be reconciled with God through the sacrament of forgiveness! In this way St. Gaetano Errico became an expert in the «science» of forgiveness, and concerned himself with teaching it to his missionaries: «God, who does not wish the death of the sinner, is always more merciful than his ministers; so be as merciful as you can and you will find mercy with God!»


Mother María Bernarda, a well loved and well remembered figure especially in Colombia, deeply understood that the banquet the Lord has prepared for all peoples is represented in a very particular way in the Eucharist. There, Christ himself receives us as friends and gives himself for us at the table of the bread and of the word, entering into intimate communion with each one. This was the source and pillar of the spirituality of this new saint, as well as the missionary drive that led her to leave her homeland of Switzerland and open herself to other evangelizing horizons in Ecuador and Colombia. In the midst of the serious adversities that she had to face, including exile, she carried engraved on her heart the exclamation from the Psalm we heard today: «Though I walk through dark valleys, I fear no evil, for thou art with me.» (Psalm 23:4). In this way, docile to the Word of God and following the example of Mary, she did as the servants of the Gospel that we heard: She went in every direction proclaiming that the Lord invites all to his banquet. In this way she brought others to participate in the love of God to which she had dedicated all of her life with fidelity and joy.

«He will swallow up death for ever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces» (Is 25:8). These words of the prophet Isaiah contain the promise which sustained Alphonsa of the Immaculate Conception through a life of extreme physical and spiritual suffering. This exceptional woman, who today is offered to the people of India as their first canonized saint, was convinced that her cross was the very means of reaching the heavenly banquet prepared for her by the Father. By accepting the invitation to the wedding feast, and by adorning herself with the garment of God’s grace through prayer and penance, she conformed her life to Christ’s and now delights in the «rich fare and choice wines» of the heavenly kingdom (cf. Is 25:6).

She wrote, «I consider a day without suffering as a day lost». May we imitate her in shouldering our own crosses so as to join her one day in paradise.

The young Ecuadorian laywoman, Narcisa de Jesús Martillo Morán, offers us a perfect example of a prompt and generous response to the invitation that the Lord makes to us to participate in his love. And from a very young age, upon receiving the sacrament of confirmation, she clearly felt in her heart the call to live a life of sanctity and surrender to God. To assist with docility the action of the Holy Spirit in her soul, she always sought the counsel and guidance of good and expert priests, considering spiritual direction as one of the most effective means to reach sanctity. St. Narcisa de Jesús shows us a path to Christian perfection accessible to all faithful. Despite the abundant and extraordinary graces she received, her life developed in great simplicity, dedicated to her work as a seamstress and her apostolate as a catechist. In her passionate love for Jesus, that brought her to embark on a path of intense prayer and mortification, and to identify herself more and more with the mystery of the cross, she offers us an inviting testimony and a polished example of a life totally dedicated to God and neighbor.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us thank the Lord for the gift of sanctity, that today shines in the Church with singular beauty. Jesus invites us all to follow him, like these sa
ints, on the way of the cross, to inherit the eternal life that he, dying, made a gift to us. May their examples encourage us, their teachings orient and comfort us, their intercession sustain us in our daily toil, so that we too may one day share with them and all the saints the joy of the eternal feast in the heavenly Jerusalem. May Mary, the Queen of the Saints, whom we venerate with particular devotion during this month of October, obtain this grace for us. Amen.

[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic and Kathleen Naab; some paragraphs originally in English]
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