Papal Homily at Canonization Mass

«Jesus Invites His Disciples to the Total Giving of Their Lives»

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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 11, 2009 ( Here is a Vatican translation of the homily Benedict XVI delivered today at the canonization Mass of the following blessed: Bishop Zygmunt Szsczęsny Felińsk, founder of the Congregation of the Franciscan Sisters of the Family of Mary; Dominican Father Francisco Coll y Guitart, founder of the Congregation of the Dominican Sisters of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary; Father Jozef Damiaan de Veuster of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary and of the Perpetual Adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar; Father Rafael Arnáiz Barón of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance; Sister Marie de la Croix (Jeanne) Jugan, founder of the Congregation of the Little Sisters of the Poor.

Before the Blessing, the Holy Father addressed the faithful and led them in praying the Angelus Domini.

* * *

During the Sacred Rite, after the proclamation of the Gospel, the Holy Father gave the homily.

Dear brothers and sisters!

«What must I do to inherit eternal life?» This is the question that opens the brief dialogue we heard in the Gospel, between a man, identified elsewhere as the rich young man, and Jesus (cf Mk 10:17-30). We do not have very many details about this nameless character: all the same from the little we do have we are able to perceive his sincere desire to attain eternal life by living an honest and virtuous existence on earth. In fact he knows the commandments and has obeyed them since childhood. And yet all of this, while important, is not sufficient — says Jesus — there is one thing missing, but it is an essential thing. Seeing then that he is willing, the Divine Master looks at him with love and proposes the qualitative leap, he calls him to the heroism of sanctity, he asks him to abandon everything and follow him: «Sell what you own and give the money to the poor…then come, follow me!» (V. 21).

«Then come, follow me!» This is the Christian vocation that flows from a proposal of love by the Lord, and that can be realized only thanks to our loving reply. Jesus invites his disciples to the total giving of their lives, without calculation or personal gain, with unfailing trust in God. The saints welcome this demanding invitation and set about following the crucified and risen Christ with humble docility. Their perfection, in the logic of a faith that is humanly incomprehensible at times, consists in no longer placing themselves at the center, but choosing to go against the flow and live according to the Gospel. This is what was done by the five saints who today, with great joy, are being put forward for veneration by the universal Church: Zygmunt Szczęsny Feliński, Francisco Coll y Guitart, Jozef Damiaan de Veuster, Rafael Arnáiz Barón, Marie de la Croix (Jeanne) Jugan. In them we can contemplate the realization of the words of the Apostle Peter: «Look, we have left everything and followed you» (V. 28) and the consoling reassurance of Jesus: «There is no one who has left house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children or land for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times as much…and persecutions too, now in this present time and, in the world to come, eternal life» (VV. 29-30)

Zygmunt Szczęsny Feliński, Archbishop of Warsaw, founder of the Franciscan Sisters of the Family of Mary, was a great witness of faith and pastoral charity in very difficult times for the nation and for the Church in Poland. He dealt zealously with the spiritual growth of the faithful, and in helping the poor and orphans. At the Ecclesial Academy of St Petersburg he oversaw the well-founded formation of priests. As the Archbishop of Warsaw, he encouraged everyone towards an interior renewal. Prior to the insurrection of January 1863 against the Russian annexation, he warned the people against the futile shedding of blood. However, when the uprising occurred and was put down, he courageously defended the oppressed. Under the rule of the Russian Czar he spent 20 years in exile in Jaroslavl in Siberia, without being able to ever return to his diocese. In every situation he stuck steadfastly to his trust in Divine Providence and prayed the following: «O, God, protect us not from tribulations and from the worries of this world… only multiply the love in our hearts so that with the deepest humility we may maintain infinite trust in Your help and in Your mercy…». Today may his dedication to God and to men, full of trust and of love, become a shining example for all the Church.

Saint Paul reminds us in the second reading that «the word of God is living and effective» (Hb 4:12). In it, the Father who is in heaven, lovingly speaks to all his children of all eras (cf. Dei Verbum, 21), allowing them to know his infinite love and, in this way, encouraging them, consoling them and offering to them His plan for salvation of humanity and of each person. Conscious of this, Saint Francis Coll eagerly dedicated himself to its proclamation, faithfully accomplishing his vocation in the Order of Preachers, in which he worked. His passion was preaching, for the most part in an itinerant manner and following the form of «popular missions», with the goal of proclaiming and enlivening the Word of God for the peoples and cities of Catalonia, thus leading the people to the profound encounter with Him. An encounter that elevates the heart to conversion, to receive with joy the divine grace and to maintain constant dialogue with Our Lord through prayer. For this, his evangelizing activity included great devotion to the sacrament of Reconciliation, an outstanding emphasis on the Eucharist and a constant insistence on prayer. Francis Coll reached the hearts of others because he transmitted what he himself lived with passion, that which burned in his heart: the love of Christ, his devotion to Him. For the seed of the Word of God to encounter fertile ground, Francis founded the Congregation of the Dominican Sisters of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, with the goal of providing an integral education to children and youth, so that they could discover the unfathomable wealth that is Christ, this loyal friend who will never abandon us nor tire of being by our side, animating our hope with his Word of life.

Jozef De Veuster, who in the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary received the name of Damiaan, when he was twenty-three years old, in 1863, left his home in Flanders to proclaim the Gospel on the other side of the world, the Hawaiian Islands. His missionary activity, which gave him so much joy, reaches its summit in charity. Not without fear and repugnance, he chose to go to the Island of Molokai to serve the lepers who were there, abandoned by all; thus he exposed himself to the disease they suffered from. He felt at home with them. The Servant of the Word thus became a suffering servant, a leper with lepers, during the last four years of his life.

To follow Christ, Father Damiaan did not only leave his native country, but he also risked his health: therefore he received eternal life, as the Word of Jesus that was proclaimed in the Gospel today says (cfr. Mk 10:30).

On the 20th anniversary of the canonization of another Belgian saint, Brother Mutien-Marie, the Church in Belgium has gathered once again to give thanks to God for one of its sons recognized as an authentic servant of God. We recall, faced with this noble figure, that charity makes unity: it gives birth to it and makes it desirable. In following Saint Paul, Saint Damien leads us to choose the good battle (cf. 1 Tim 1:18), not those that lead to division, but those that gather together. He invites us to open our eyes to the lepers that disfigure the humanity of our brothers and today still calls, more than for our generosity, for the charity of our serving presence.

Turning to today’s Gospel, to the youthful figure who presents his desires to Jesus, wanting to be something more than a reliably obedient to the duties imposed by t
he law, he is in contrast with Brother Rafael, canonized today, who died at the age of twenty seven as an Oblate of the Trappists of Saint Isidore de Duenas. He too was from a well-to-do family, as he said himself, with a «slightly dreamy spirit», whose dreams however, did not vanish in front of the attachment to material possessions and other goals that worldliness insists on at times. He said yes to the proposal to follow Jesus, in an immediate and decisive way, without limits or conditions. Thus he set out on his path, which from the moment in the monastery when he realized that he «did not know how to pray «, led him in just a few years to the summit of spiritual life, where he describes with great simplicity and naturalness in many writings. Brother Rafael, still close to us, continues to offer, through his example and his works, a fascinating journey, especially for young persons who are not satisfied easily, but who aspire to the full truth, the most inexpressible joy, reached for the love of God. «Life is love… This is the only reason to live,» said the new Saint. And he insists: «From the love of God come all things.» May the Lord receive one of the last prayers by Saint Rafael Arnáiz, while he gave his entire life up to Him, pleading: «Take me and give Yourself to the world.» May he be given to reinvigorate the interior life of Christians today. May he be given so that his Brothers in the Trappists and the monastic centers can continue to be a beacon that reveals the intimate yearning for God which He placed in every human heart.

Through her admirable work in the service of the poorest elderly, Saint Marie de la Croix is also like a beacon to guide our societies which must always rediscover the place and unique contribution of this period of life. Born in 1792 in Cancale, Brittany, Jeanne Jugan was concerned with the dignity of her brothers and sister in humanity whom age had made vulnerable, recognizing in them the person of Christ Himself. «Look at the poor with compassion, she would say, and Jesus will look at you with goodness on your last day». This compassionate gaze on the aged, drawn from a profound communion with God, was carried by Jeanne Jugan throughout her joyous and disinterested service, practiced with gentleness and humility of heart, wishing to be herself a poor person among the poor. Jeanne lived the mystery of love by peacefully accepting darkness and divesting herself of all material possessions until her death. Her charism is always relevant, while so many aged persons suffer different types of poverty and solitude, sometimes even abandoned by their families. The spirit of hospitality and fraternal love, founded on limitless trust in Providence, which Jeanne Jugan drew from the Beatitudes, illuminated her whole existence. The evangelical impulse is followed today throughout the world in the Congregation of the Little Sisters of the Poor, which she founded and which bears witness to her following the mercy of God and the compassionate love of the Heart of Jesus for the littlest ones. May Saint Jeanne Jugan be for the elderly a living source of hope and for the persons so generously placing themselves at their service a powerful stimulus to pursue and develop her work!

Dear brothers and sisters, let us give thanks to the Lord for the gift of sanctity that today shines in the Church with a singular beauty. While I salute each of you affectionately – Cardinals, Bishops, civil and military authorities, priests, religious, faithful lay people of different nationalities who are taking part in this solemn Eucharistic celebration – I would like to invite all of you to let yourselves be drawn by the shining example of these Saints, to allow yourselves to be guided by their teachings, so that our whole existence can become a hymn of praise to the love of God. May we gain this grace through their heavenly intercession and, above all, the maternal protection of Mary, Queen of the Saints and Mother of humanity. Amen.

© Copyright 2009 — Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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