MILAN, June 1, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the homily Benedict XVI gave during Midday Prayer with priests, seminarians and religious at the Cathedral of Milan during the VII World Meeting of Families.
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Dear brothers and sisters!
We are recollected in prayer, responding to the invitation of the Ambrosian hymn for Tierce: “It is the 3rd hour. Reviled, Jesus the Lord ascends the cross.” It is a clear reference of the loving obedience of Jesus to the Father. The paschal mystery ushered in a new time: the death and resurrection of Christ recreates the innocence of humanity and makes joy flow. The hymn continues: “From here the epoch of Christ’s salvation begins – Hinc iam beata tempora coepere Christi gratia.” We are here together in the cathedral basilica, in this duomo, which is truly the heart of Milan. From here our thoughts extend to the vast Ambrosian archdiocese, which over the course of the centuries and in recent times has given to the Church men who radiated holiness in their life and in their ministry, such as St. Ambrose and St. Charles Borromeo, and some pontiffs of uncommon stature, such as Pius XI and the Servant of God Paul VI, and cardinals who have been beatified, namely, Andrea Carlo Ferrari and Alfredo Ildefonso Schuster.
I am very happy to pause for a moment with you! I offer an affectionate greeting to each and everyone in particular, and in a special way to the sick and the elderly. I greet with lively cordiality your Archbishop, Cardinal Angelo Scola, and I thank him for his kind words; I greet the emeritus archbishops, Cardinals Carlo Maria Martini and Dionigi Tettamanzi, along with the other cardinals and archbishops who are present.
In this moment we experience the mystery of the Church in its highest expression, that of liturgical prayer. Our lips, our hearts and our minds, in prayer, are interpreters of the needs and desires of all of humanity. We have supplicated the Lord on behalf of all men in the words of Psalm 118: “Incline my heart toward your teachings … May your grace be bestowed upon me, O Lord.” The daily prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours constitutes an essential task of the ordained ministry of the Church. Priests our united to the Lord Jesus, who is alive and working in history, in a special way also through the Divine Office, which prolongs the central mystery of the Eucharist through the day. The priesthood: what a precious gift! Dear seminarians, who are preparing for the priesthood, learn how to have a taste for it even now and live the precious time in the seminary with commitment! Archbishop Montini, during the ordinations of 1958, said in this cathedral: “The priestly life begins: a poem, a drama, a new mystery … source of perpetual meditation … always an object of discovery and wonder;” the priesthood, he said, “is always something new and beautiful for those who dedicate loving thought to it … it is the recognition of the work of God in us” (Homily for the Ordination of 46 priests on June 21, 1958).
If Christ, to build the Church, places himself in the priest’s hands, the priest must for his part unconditionally entrust himself to Christ: love for the Lord Jesus is the soul and the reason of the ministerial priesthood, as was the premise upon which he assigned Peter the mission of feeding his flock: “Simon … do you love me more than these? Feed my lambs” (John 21:15). Vatican Council II reminded us that Christ “remains always the source and wellspring of the unity of their lives. Priests, then, can achieve this coordination and unity of life by joining themselves with Christ to acknowledge the will of the Father. For them this means a complete gift of themselves to the flock committed to them. Hence, as they fulfill the role of the Good Shepherd, in the very exercise of their pastoral charity they will discover a bond of priestly perfection which draws their life and activity to unity and coordination” (Presbyterorum Ordinis, 14). In this way the Council instructs the priest on how, in his various duties, from moment to moment, to find unity of life, the unity of being a priest precisely from this source of deep friendship with Jesus, of an interior being together with him. And there is no opposition between the good of the person of the priest and his mission; indeed, pastoral charity is the unifying element of life that begins from an increasingly intimate relationship with Christ in the prayer for living the total gift of himself for the flock, the way that the People of God grows in communion with God and is a manifestation of the communion of the Most Holy Trinity. Each one of our actions, in fact, has as its purpose the leading of the faithful to union with the Lord and making ecclesial communion grow in this way for the salvation of the world. These are the 3 things: personal union with God, the good of the Church, the good of humanity in its totality. They are not distinct or opposed, but a symphony of lived faith.
Priestly celibacy and consecrated virginity are a luminous sign of this pastoral charity and undivided heart. In the hymn of St. Ambrose we sang: “If the Son of God is born in you, keep your life faultless.” “Welcoming Christ – Christum suscipere,” is a motif that often returns in the preaching of, St. Ambrose, the holy bishop of Milan; here is a line from his commentary on St. Luke: “Whoever welcomes Christ in the intimacy of his home is satiated by the greatest joys” (Expos. Evangelii sec. Lucam, V, 16). The Lord Jesus was the lure, the principal theme of his reflection and preaching, and above all the goal of a living and confident love. Of course, all Christians are called to love Jesus, but it acquires a special meaning for the celibate priest and for those who have responded to the vocation to the consecrated life: the source and model of repeating the “yes” to God’s will is only and always in Christ. “By what bonds is Christ held fast?” asked St. Ambrose, who with surprising intensity preached and cultivated virginity in the Church, also promoting the dignity of women. To this question he answers: “Not with knots of ropes but with the chains of love and the affection of the soul” (De virginitate, 13, 77). And, indeed, in a celebrated sermon to virgins he said: “Christ is everything for us: if you wish to heal your wounds, he is the physician; if you are parched with the heat of a fever, he is drink; if you find yourself oppressed by guilt, he is justice; if you need help, he is power; if you are afraid of death, he is life; if you desire paradise, he is the way; if you flee from darkness, he is light; if you are in need of food, he is nourishment” (De virginitate, 16, 99).
Dear consecrated brothers and sisters, I thank you for your witness and I encourage you: look to the future with confidence, counting on God’s fidelity, which will never be lacking, and the power of his grace, always able to work new miracles, even in us and with us. The antiphons of the psalmody this Saturday led us to contemplate the mystery of the Virgin Mary. In her, we can in fact, recognize that “type of chaste and detached life, which Christ the Lord chose for Himself and which His Mother also embraced” (Lumen gentium, 46), a life in complete obedience to the will of God.