Benedict XVI's Homily at Episcopal Ordination

«In This Hour Working in God’s Fields Is Especially Urgent»

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 6, 2011 ( Here is the translation of a homily given by Benedict XVI on Saturday during a Mass for the episcopal ordination of five clergy.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters!

I greet with affection these five brother priests who will soon receive episcopal ordination: Monsignor Savio Hon Tai-Fai, Monsignor Marcello Bartolucci, Monsignor Celso Morga Iruzubieta, Monsignor Antonio Guido Filipazzi and Monsignor Edgar Peña Parra. I would like to express to them my gratitude and that of the Church for the service they have given with generosity and dedication and ask everyone to accompany them in prayer in the ministry to which they are called in the Roman Curia and in representing the Pontiff as successors of the Apostles, so that they are always enlightened and guided by the Holy Spirit in the Lord’s harvest.

«The harvest is great but the laborers are few! Pray then to the lord of the harvest to send laborers for his harvest!» (Luke 10:2). These words from the Gospel of today’s Mass touch us in a special way in this moment. It is the time of mission: The Lord sends you, Dear Friends, to his harvest. You must collaborate in that task of which the prophet Isaiah speaks in the first reading: «The Lord has sent me to bring glad tidings to the lowly, to heal the brokenhearted» (Isaiah 61:1). This is the work of the harvest in God’s fields, in the fields of human history: to bring the light of truth to men, to liberate them from being poor in truth, which is man’s real misery and poverty. To bring them the glad tidings that are not only words but an event: God himself has come among us. He takes us by the hand, he takes us up to himself and thus is the broken heart healed. Let us thank the Lord for sending laborers into the harvest of world history. Let us thank the Lord for sending you, for your saying yes and because now you will again say your «yes» to being workers for the Lord and for men.

«The harvest is great:» This is also true today, precisely today. Even if it can seem that large sections of the modern world, of the men of today, turn their back on God and regard faith as something of the past — there nevertheless exists the desire for the establishment of justice, love, peace, the desire that poverty and suffering be overcome, that men find joy. This desire is present in the world of today, the desire for what is great, for what is good. It is the nostalgia for the Redeemer, for God himself, even there where he is denied. Precisely in this hour working in God’s fields is especially urgent and precisely in this hour the truth of Jesus’ words — «The laborers are few» — weighs painfully upon us. At the same time the Lord makes us understand that we cannot send workers to the harvest on our own, that it is not a question of management, of our own organizational capacity. Only God can send workers into his field. But he wants to send us to this work through the doors of our prayers. Thus this moment of thanksgiving for the realization of a sending on mission is, in a special way, also the moment of prayer: Lord, send laborers into your harvest! Open hearts to the one you have sent! Do not allow our supplication to be in vain!

So, today’s liturgy gives us two definitions of your mission as bishops, as priests of Jesus Christ: being workers in the harvest of the history of the world with the task of healing, opening the gates of the world to God’s lordship so that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. And our ministry is also described the cooperation in the mission of Jesus Christ, as participation in the gift of the Holy Spirit, given to him from God as Messiah, anointed Son of God. The Letter to the Hebrews, the second reading, further completes this with the image of the high priest Melchizedek, which is a mysterious reference to Christ, the true High Priest, the King of peace and justice.

But I would also like to say a word about how this great task is undertaken in practice — about what it demands from us concretely. For the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, this year the Christian communities of Jerusalem chose the words from the Acts of the Apostles in which St. Luke wants to illustrate in a normative way what the fundamental elements of Christian existence are in the communion of the Church of Jesus Christ. He expresses himself thus: «They persevered in the teaching of the apostles in communion, in the breaking of the bread and in prayer» (Acts 2:42). In these foundational elements of the Church’s being the essential work of pastors is also described. All four elements are held together through the expression «they persevered» — «errant perseverates:» that is how the Latin Bible translates the Greek expression «proskarterountes:» perseverance, assiduousness, belongs to the essence of being Christian and it is fundamental for the work of pastors, the laborers in the Lord’s harvest. The pastor must not be a reed blown this way and that by the wind, a servant of the spirit of the times. Being intrepid, the courage of opposing oneself to the currents of the moment belongs to the work of the pastor in a special way. He must not be a reed, rather — following the image of the first Psalm — he must be as a tree that has deep roots in which it is firm and well-founded. That has nothing to do with rigidity or inflexibility. Only where there is stability is there also growth. Cardinal Newman, whose journey was marked by three conversions, says that to live is to transform oneself. But his three conversions and the transformations that took place in them are nevertheless a single coherent journey: the journey of obedience to truth, to God; the journey of true continuity that brings about progress in precisely this way.

«Persevering in the teaching of the Apostles» — faith has a concrete content. It is not an indeterminate spirituality, an indefinable feeling of transcendence. God has acted and he himself has spoken. He really did something and he really said something. Certainly faith is, in the first place, a giving of oneself to God, a living relationship with him. But the God to whom we have entrusted ourselves has a face and has given us his Word. We can count on the stability of his word. The ancient Church summed up the essential nucleus of the apostles’ teaching in the so-called «Regula fidei» (Rule of Faith), which, in substance is identical with the professions of faith. This is the reliable foundation on which we Christians can stand even today. It is the secure basis on which we can build the house of our faith, of our life (cf. Matthew 7:24 ff.). And again, the stability and definitiveness of what we believe do not mean rigidity. John of the Cross compared the world of faith to a mine in which we are always discovering new treasures — treasures in which there develops the one faith, which is the profession of God in Christ. As pastors of the Church we live this faith and in this way we announce it as the glad tidings that make us secure in God’s love and in being loved by him.

The second pillar of ecclesial existence St. Luke calls «koinonia» — communio. After the Second Vatican Council, this became a central term in theology and proclamation because in it, in fact, all the dimensions of being Christian and ecclesial life are expressed. We do not know exactly what Luke wishes to express with such a word in this text. We can safely understand it then on the basis of the general context of the New Testament and the apostolic Tradition. A first great definition of communio is given by St. John at the beginning of his first Letter: That which we have seen and have heard, we declare unto you: that you also may have communio with us and our fellowship may be with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (cf. 1 John 1:1-4). God made himself visible and tangible and thus made a real communion with him. We enter into such a communion through believing and living together with those who touched him. With them and through them, we ourselves in a certain way see and touch the God who
has drawn near. In this way the horizontal and the vertical dimensions are inextricably interwoven with each other. Standing in communion with the Apostles, standing in their faith, we too are in contact with the living God. Dear Friends, the office of bishops serves this end: that this bond of communion not be broken. This is the meaning of the apostolic succession: preserving communion with those who encountered the Lord in a visible and tangible way and so keep heaven open, the presence of God in your midst. Only through communion with the successors of the Apostles are we also in contact with God incarnate. But the converse is also true: only by means of communion with God, only by means of communion with Jesus Christ does this chain of witnesses stay united. Bishops are never alone, Vatican II says, but are always only in the college of bishops. This cannot shut itself up in its own generation. The interweaving of all generations, the living Church of all times belongs to collegiality. You, Dear Brothers, have a mission to conserve this Catholic communion. You know that the Lord has charged St. Peter and his successors with being the center of such a communion, the guarantors of being in the totality of the apostolic communion and its faith. Offer your help on behalf of maintaining that joy of the great unity of the Church, on behalf of the communion of all places and times, of the communion of faith that embraces heaven and earth. Live communion, and with your heart live, day by day, in the deepest center of that sacred moment in which the Lord gives himself in Holy Communion.

With this we have already come to that next fundamental element of ecclesial existence mentioned by St. Luke: the breaking of the bread. At this point the gaze of the evangelist turns to the past, to the disciples of Emmaus, who recognized the Lord in the gesture of the breaking of the bread. And from their his gaze goes even further back to the hour of the Last Supper in which Jesus, in breaking the bread, distributed himself, he made himself bread for us and anticipated his death and resurrection. Breaking the bread — the Holy Eucharist is the center of the Church and must be the center of our being Christians and of our priestly life. The Lord gives himself to us. The Risen One enters into me and wants to transform me and make me enter into profound communion with him. In this way he also opens me to all others: we, the many, are one bread and one body, says St. Paul (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:17). Let us try to celebrate the Eucharist with a dedication, with an ever deeper fervor, let us try to shape our days according to its measure, let us try to let ourselves be formed by it. Breaking the bread — this also expresses sharing, transmitting our love to others. The social dimensions, sharing, is not the moral apex of the Eucharist, but it is part of it. That clearly follows from the verse of the Acts of the Apostles that comes after the one we quoted earlier: «All the believers … had everything in common,» Luke says (2:44). We must be careful that the faith always express itself in love and in justice toward each other and that our social practice is inspired by faith: that faith be lived in love.

As the last pillar of ecclesial existence, Luke refers to «prayers.» He speaks in the plural: «prayers.» What does he intend to say with this? He is probably thinking of the participation of the first community of Jerusalem in the prayers in the Temple, to the customary laws for prayer. This highlights something important. Prayer, on the one hand, must be very personal, in my very depths I unite myself with God. It must be my struggle with him, my search for him, my gratitude for him and my joy in him. Nevertheless, it is never simply a private matter of my individual «I» which has nothing to do with others. Praying is essentially always also a praying in the «we» of God’s children. Only in this «we» are we children of our Father, to whom the Lord taught us to pray. Only this «we» gives us access to the Father. On the one hand, our prayer must become more and more personal, touch and penetrate more deeply the core of our «I.» On the other hand, it must always be fed by the communion of those who pray, the unity of the Body of Christ, to be shaped truly by the God’s love. So, ultimately, praying is not one activity among others, a certain corner of my time. Praying is the response to the imperative that is at the beginning of the canon in the Eucharistic celebration: «Sursum corda» — «Lift up your hearts!» It is the ascent of my being to the height of God. St. Gregory the Great has a beautiful comment on this. He points out that John the Baptist called Jesus a «burning and shining lamp» (John 5:35) and continues: «It is ardent for the heavenly desire, resplendent for the word. Thus, so that the veracity of preaching is maintained, life must be lived on the heights» (Hom. in Ez. 1,11,7 CCL 142, 134). The height, the high standard of life, which today is so essential to the witness to Jesus Christ, can only be found if in prayer we let ourselves be continually drawn by him toward his height.

«Duc in altum» (Luke 5:4) — Set out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch. Jesus said this to Peter and his companions when he called them to become «fishers of men.» «Duc in altum» — Pope John Paul II, in his last years, took up these words again in a powerful way and proclaimed them in a loud voice to the Lord’s disciples today. «Duc in altum» — the Lord says to you in this hour, Dear Friends. You are called to posts that are related to the universal Church. You are called to cast the net into the troubled sea of our time to bring men to follow Christ; to draw them out, so to speak, of the salty waters of death and darkness into which the light of heaven does not penetrate. You must bring them to the shore of life, into communion with Jesus Christ.

In a passage in his first book of his work on the Holy Trinity, St. Hilary of Poitiers suddenly breaks into a prayer: For this I pray «that you fill the unfurled sails of our faith and our profession with the breath of your Spirit and you drive me forward in the passage of my proclamation» (I 37 CCL 62, 35s). Yes, for this we pray in this moment for you, dear friends. So, unfurl the sails of your souls, the sails of faith, of hope, of love, so that the Holy Spirit might fill them and grant you a blessed journey as fishers of men in the ocean of our time. Amen.

[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]
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