Pope's Homily at Vigil in Preparation for Assisi

«It Is Not the Sword of the Conqueror That Builds Peace, But the Sword of the Sufferer»

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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 26, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the homily Benedict XVI gave today at a liturgy in preparation for Thursday’s day of reflection, dialogue and prayer for peace in Assisi.

The liturgy replaced the customary general audience held on Wednesdays.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

Today our customary meeting for the General Audience takes on a special character, for it is the vigil of the Day of Reflection, Dialogue and Prayer for Peace and Justice in the World, which will be held tomorrow in Assisi — 25 years after the historic first meeting called by Pope John Paul II. I wanted to give this day the title «Pilgrims of Truth, Pilgrims of Peace» in order to signify the commitment we solemnly wish to renew — together with members of different religions and also with those who are non-believers but who sincerely seek the truth — to the advancement of the true good of humanity and for the building up of peace. As I have already had occasion to recall, «He who is on the journey towards God cannot help but transmit peace; those who build peace cannot help but draw close to God.» 

As Christians, we are convinced that the most precious contribution we can make to the cause of peace is that of prayer. For this reason, we find ourselves gathered here today, as the Church of Rome together with pilgrims who are present in the city, in order to listen to God’s Word, and to invoke the gift of peace in faith. The Lord can enlighten our minds and hearts and guide us to be builders of justice and of reconciliation in our everyday lives and in the world.

In the passage we just heard from the Prophet Zechariah, an announcement resounds full of peace and light (cf. Zechariah 9:10). God promises salvation; He issues an invitation to «rejoice greatly,» for this salvation is about to be realized. A king is spoken of: «Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious» (Verse 9), but the one who is announced is not a king who presents himself in human power with the strength of armies; nor is he a king who dominates through political and military force; he is a gentle king, who reigns with humility and meekness before God and men, a king who is different than the great rulers of the world: «humble and riding on an ass, on a colt the foal of an ass,» says the prophet (ibid.). He comes riding the animal of the common people — of the poor — in contrast with the war chariots of the armies of the great powers of the world. Indeed, he is a king who will cause these chariots to vanish; he will cut off the battle bow; he will announce peace to the nations (cf. Verse 10).

But who is this king of whom the Prophet Zechariah speaks? Let us go for a moment to Bethlehem and listen to what the Angel says to the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night. The Angel announces a great joy which will come to all the people, and which is tied to a sign of poverty: a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger (cf. Luke 2:8-12). And a multitude of the heavenly host sings «Glory to God in the highest and on the earth peace among men, whom He loves» (Verse 14), to men of goodwill. The birth of that child, who is Jesus, carries with it an announcement of peace to the whole world. 

But let us also go to the final moments of Christ’s life, when He enters Jerusalem welcomed by a jubilant crowd. The Prophet Zechariah’s announcement of the coming of a meek and humble king returned to the minds of Jesus’ disciples in a particular way after the events of the Passion, Death and Resurrection — of the Paschal Mystery — when they reconsidered with the eyes of faith the Master’s joyous entrance into the Holy City. He rides upon an ass, which was borrowed (cf. Matthew 21:2-7): He does not ride in a stately carriage or on horseback like the great ones. He does not enter Jerusalem accompanied by a powerful army of chariots and charioteers. He is a poor king, the king of God’s poor. In the Greek text, the word praeîs appears, which means gentle, meek; Jesus is the king of the anawim, of those whose hearts are free of the lust for power and material riches, free of the will and the search for dominion over others. Jesus is the king of all those who possess that interior freedom that enables them to overcome the greed and egoism of the world, and who know that God is their only wealth. 

Jesus is the poor king among the poor, meek among those who desire to be meek. In this way, He is the king of peace, thanks to the power of God, which is the power of good, the power of love. He is a king who causes the chariots and charioteers of battle to disappear, who will shatter the bows of war; He is a king who will bring peace to fulfillment on the Cross by joining heaven and earth, and by throwing a bridge of brotherhood between all peoples. The Cross is the new bow of peace, the sign and instrument of reconciliation, of forgiveness, of understanding, a sign of the love that is stronger than all violence and oppression, stronger than death: Evil is conquered with good, with love.

This is the new kingdom of peace whose king is Christ; and it is a kingdom that extends over all the earth. The Prophet Zechariah announces that this humble, peaceful king will have dominion «from sea to sea, from the River to the ends of the earth» (Zechariah 9:10). The reign inaugurated by Christ has universal dimensions. The horizons of this poor and gentle king are neither a territory nor a state, but rather the very ends of the earth; transcending every barrier of race, language and culture, He creates communion; He creates unity. 

And where do we see this announcement fulfilled today? The prophecy of Zechariah shines with splendor in the great net of Eucharistic communities that extends over all the earth. These form a great mosaic of communities in which this gentle and peaceful king’s sacrifice of love is made present; they form a multitude of «islands of peace» that radiate peace. Everywhere, in every circumstance and reality, in every culture, from the great cities with their palaces to tiny villages with their humble abodes, from towering cathedrals to little chapels, He comes, He makes Himself present; and in entering into communion with Him, men are also united with one another in one body, overcoming division, rivalries, and resentment. The Lord comes in the Eucharist to take us away from our individualism, our particularities that exclude others, to form of us one body, one kingdom of peace in a divided world.

But how may we build this kingdom of peace, of which Christ is king? The command that He leaves to His Apostles, and through them, to us all is: «Go therefore and make disciples of all nations … and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age» (Matthew 28:19). Like Jesus, the messengers of peace in His kingdom must take to the road, they must respond to His invitation. They must go, but not with the power of war, nor with the force of power. In the Gospel passage we heard, Jesus sends 72 disciples into the great harvest that is the world, and He invites them to pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest (cf. Luke 10:1-3); He does not send them with powerful means, but rather «as lambs in the midst of wolves» (Verse 3), without purse, or bag or sandals (cf. Verse 4). St. John Chrysostom, in one of his Homilies, comments: «As long as we are lambs we will conquer; even if we are surrounded by many wolves, we will succeed in overcoming them. But if we become wolves, we will be defeated, because we will be deprived of the help of the Shepherd» (Homily 33, 1: PG 57,389). 

Christians must never yield to the temptation to become wolves in the midst of wolves; it is not with power, with force or with violence that Christ’s kingdom of peace is extended, but with the gift of self, with love taken to the extreme, even toward our enemies. Jesus does not conquer the world with the strength of armies, but with the strength of the Cross, which i
s victory’s true guarantee. Consequently, for the one who desires to be the Lord’s disciple — His messenger — this means being ready for suffering and martyrdom, being ready to lose one’s life for Him, so that good, love and peace may triumph in the world. This is the condition for being able to say, upon entering into any circumstance: «Peace be to this house!» (Luke 10:5).

In front of St. Peter’s Basilica there stand two great statues of Sts. Peter and Paul, which are easily identifiable: St. Peter holds keys in his hands, and Paul instead holds a sword. One who is unfamiliar with the story of the latter might think he is a great captain who commanded powerful armies and subjected peoples and nations with the sword, procuring for himself fame and riches by others’ blood. Instead it is exactly the opposite: The sword he holds is the instrument with which Paul was put to death, with which he underwent martyrdom and shed his own blood. His battle was not one of violence and of war but of martyrdom for Christ. His only weapon was the proclamation of «Jesus Christ and Him Crucified» (1 Corinthians 2:2). His preaching was not based «on plausible words and wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and power» (Verse 4). He dedicated his life to spreading the Gospel’s message of reconciliation and peace, spending all his energy in order that it might resound to the very ends of the earth. 

And this was his strength: He did not seek a tranquil, comfortable life, far from difficulties and contradictions; rather, he wore himself out for the sake of the Gospel, he gave himself entirely and without reserve, and in this way he became the great messenger of Christ’s peace and reconciliation. 

The sword that St. Paul holds also recalls the power of truth, which can often wound, can hurt: the Apostle remained faithful to this truth to the end; he served it; he suffered for it; he gave over his life for it. This same logic holds true also for us if we want to be bearers of the kingdom and peace announced by the Prophet Zechariah and fulfilled by Christ: We must be willing to pay personally, to suffer in the first person misunderstanding, rejection, persecution. It is not the sword of the conqueror that builds peace, but the sword of the sufferer, of he who knows how to give his very life.

Dear brothers and sisters, as Christians we want to invoke from God the gift of peace; we want to ask Him to make us instruments of His peace in a world torn by hatred, division, egoism and war; we want to ask Him that tomorrow’s meeting in Assisi foster dialogue between people of different religious affiliations and that it carry with it a ray of light capable of enlightening the minds and hearts of all people, so that resentment may give way to forgiveness, division to reconciliation, hatred to love, violence to meekness, and that peace may reign in the world. Amen.

[Translated by Diane Montagna]

Appeal of the Holy Father for the Peoples of Turkey

Dear brothers and sisters, before greeting you in various languages, I begin with an appeal. In this moment, my thoughts go to the peoples of Turkey who have been harshly hit by the earthquake that has caused grave losses of human life, numerous missing persons and extensive damage. I invite you to unite yourselves with me in prayer for those who have lost their lives, and to be spiritually close to the many persons so harshly tried. May the Almighty give support to all those who are committed to the work of providing aid. Now I greet you in various languages.

[Translation by Diane Montagna] [The Holy Father greeted the people in several languages. In English, he said:]

I am pleased to receive you in Saint Peter’s Basilica and to extend a warm welcome to all of you who could not be accommodated in the Audience Hall. Always stay faithfully united to Christ and bear joyful witness to the Gospel. To all of you I cordially impart my Blessing.

* * *

I am happy to welcome all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors here today. I ask you to accompany me in prayer as I journey tomorrow to Assisi for the celebration of the Day of Reflection, Dialogue and Prayer for Peace and Justice in the World, together with representatives of different religions. I extend special greetings to the pilgrims from the Diocese of Niigata in Japan celebrating their centenary. I also welcome those present from England, Denmark, Indonesia, the Philippines, South Korea, Vietnam and the United States. May Almighty God bless all of you!

© Copyright 2011 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana

[He added in Italian:]

Lastly, I greet young people, the sick and newlyweds. May the example of St. Francis of Assisi, at whose tomb I will pray tomorrow, support you, dear young people, in the commitment of daily fidelity to Christ; may he encourage you, dear sick, to always follow Jesus along the path of trial and suffering; may he help you, dear newlyweds, to make your family life a place of constant encounter with the love of God and neighbor. Thank you to you all. Good day.

[Translation by Diane Montagna]
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