VATICAN CITY, MARCH 29, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the homily Benedict XVI delivered today at a Mass in the Vatican to commemorate the fifth anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s death. The Pontiff died April 2, 2005.
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Venerated Brothers in the Episcopate and the Priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters!
We are gathered around the altar, near the tomb of the Apostle Peter, to offer the Eucharistic sacrifice for the eternal repose of the chosen soul of Venerable John Paul II, on the fifth anniversary of his death. We do so a few days early, because this year April 2 is Good Friday. We are, in any case, in Holy Week — a context that is much more propitious for recollection and prayer, in which the Liturgy makes us relive more intensely the last days of Jesus’ earthly life. I wish to express my gratitude to all of you who are taking part in this Mass. I greet cordially the cardinals — in a special way Archbishop Stanislao Dziwisz — the bishops, priests, men and women religious, as well as the pilgrims gathered purposely from Poland, and so many young people and numerous faithful who did not want to miss this celebration.
In the first biblical reading that was proclaimed, the prophet Isaiah presents the figure of a “servant of God,” who is at the same time his chosen one, in whom he is well pleased. The servant will act with unbreakable firmness, with an energy that does not fail until he has realized the task that was assigned to him. However, he will not have at his disposition those human means that seem indispensable to act on such a grandiose plane. He will present himself with the force of conviction, and it will be the Spirit that God has put in him that will give him the capacity to act with meekness and strength, assuring him of final success.
That which the inspired prophet says of the servant, we can apply to our beloved John Paul II: the Lord called him to his service and, in entrusting to him tasks of ever greater responsibility, also accompanied him with his grace and his continual assistance. During his long Pontificate, he spent himself in proclaiming the law with firmness, without weakness or hesitation, above all when he had to face resistance, hostility and rejection. He knew he was taken by the hand of the Lord, and this enabled him to exercise a very fecund ministry, for which, once again, we give fervid thanks to God.
The Gospel just proclaimed takes us to Bethany, where, as the evangelist notes, Lazarus, Martha and Mary offered a supper to the Master (John 12:1). This banquet in the home of three friends of Jesus is characterized by presentiments of imminent death: the six days before Passover, the suggestion of the traitor Judas, Jesus’ reply that recalls one of the pious acts of burial anticipated by Mary, the hint that they will not always have him with them, the intention to eliminate Lazarus, in which is reflected the will to kill Jesus.
In this evangelical account, there is a gesture to which I wish to draw your attention: Mary of Bethany “took a pound of costly ointment of pure nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair” (12:3). Mary’s gesture is the expression of great faith and love toward the Lord: for her it was not enough to wash the feet of the Master with water, but she spreads them with a great quantity of precious perfume that — as Judas will argue — could have been sold for three hundred denari; she does not, thus, anoint the head, as was the custom, but the feet: Mary offers Jesus all that she has that is most precious and with a gesture of profound devotion. Love does not calculate, does not measure, is not concerned about expenses, puts no barriers, but is able to give with joy, seeks only the other’s good, overcomes stinginess, miserliness, resentment, the narrow-mindedness that man bears at times in his heart.
Mary places herself at Jesus’ feet in a humble attitude of service, as the Master himself will do in the Last Supper, when — the fourth Gospel tells us — he “rose from supper, laid aside his garments, and girded himself with a towel. Then he poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples feet” (John 13:4-5), because, he says, “you also should do as I have done to you” (v. 15): the rule of Jesus’ community is that of love that is able to serve to the point of giving one’s life.
And the perfume spreads: “and the house was filled,” notes the evangelist, “with the fragrance of the ointment” (John 12:3). The meaning of Mary’s gesture, which is a response to the infinite love of God, is diffused among all the guests; every gesture of charity and of genuine devotion to Christ does not remain a personal event, does not concern only the relationship between the individual and the Lord, but concerns the whole body of the Church, it is contagious: It infuses love, joy, light.
“He came to his own home, and his own people received him not” (John 1:11): Contrasted with Mary’s act are the words and attitude of Judas that, under the pretext of the help to be given to the poor, hides egoism and the falsehood of the man shut-in on himself, chained by the greed of possession, who does not let himself be enveloped by the good perfume of divine love. Judas calculates where one cannot calculate, he enters with a mean spirit where the space is one of love, of gift, of total dedication. And Jesus, who up to that moment has been silent, intervenes in favor of Mary’s gesture: “Let her alone, let her keep it for the day of my burial” (John 12:7).
Jesus understands that Mary intuited the love of God and indicates that now his “hour” is drawing close, the “hour” in which Love will find its supreme expression on the wood of the cross: the Son of God gives himself, so that man can have life, he descends into the abyss of death to take man to the heights of God, he is not afraid to humble himself “and become obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). In the sermon in which he comments on this evangelical passage, St. Augustine addresses to each one of us, with pressing words, the invitation to enter into this circuit of love, imitating Mary’s gesture and putting ourselves concretely in the following of Jesus. Augustine writes: “Every soul that wishes to be faithful, unites itself to Mary to anoint with precious perfume the feet of the Lord. […] Anoint the feet of Jesus: Follow the footprints of the Lord by leading a worthy life. Dry his feet with your hair: If there is something superfluous, give it to the poor, and you will have dried the feet of the Lord” (In Ioh. evang., 50, 6).
Dear brothers and sisters! The whole life of the Venerable John Paul II unfolded in the sign of this charity, of this capacity to give himself in a generous way, without reservations, without measure, without calculation. What moved him was love for Christ, to whom he had consecrated his life, a superabundant and unconditional love. It is precisely because he drew ever closer to God in love, that he was able to make himself a fellow wayfarer with the man of today, spreading in the world the perfume of the love of God. Whoever had the joy of knowing and frequenting him, was able to touch with the hand how alive was in him the certainty “of contemplating the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living,” as we heard in the Responsorial Psalm (26/27:13); a certainty that accompanied him in the course of his existence and that, in a particular way, was manifested during the last period of his pilgrimage on this earth: the progressive physical weakness, in fact, never affected his rock-like faith, his luminous hope, his fervent charity. He let himself be consumed by Christ, for the Church, for the whole world: his was a suffering lived to the end for love and with love.
In the homily for the 25th anniversary of his Pontificate, he confided having felt strongly in his heart, at the moment of the election, Jesus’ question to Peter: “Do you love me? Do you love me more than these .
..? ” (John 21:15-16); and he adds: “Every day within my heart the same dialogue takes place between Jesus and Peter. In spirit, I fix my gaze on the benevolent look of the Risen Christ. He, however, aware of my human frailty, encourages me to respond with trust as Peter: “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you” (John 21:17). And then he invites me to assume the responsibility that He himself has entrusted to me” (Oct. 16, 2003). They are words charged with faith and love, love of God, who conquers all.”
[In Polish, he said:]
Finally I wish to greet the Poles here present. Many of you have gathered around the tomb of the Venerable Servant of God with a special sentiment, as daughters and sons of the same land, raised in the same culture and spiritual tradition. The life and work of John Paul II, great Pole, can be a reason for pride for you.
However, it is necessary for you to remember that this is also a great call to be faithful witnesses of the faith, the hope and the love, that he taught us uninterruptedly. Through the intercession of John Paul II, may the Lord’s blessing always sustain you.
[He continued in Italian]
While we continue the Eucharistic celebration, being on the point of living the glorious days of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of the Lord, let us entrust ourselves with confidence — following the example of the Venerable John Paul II — to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, so that she will sustain us in the commitment to be, in every circumstance, tireless apostles of her divine Son and of his merciful Love. Amen!