VATICAN CITY, APRIL 19, 2010 (http://www.zenit.org“>Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the complete text of Benedict XVI’s homily at the Mass for the members of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, at which he presided on Thursday morning in the Pauline Chapel in the Vatican.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I did not find the time to prepare a real homily. I would just like to invite everyone to personal meditation, proposing and highlighting some lines from today’s liturgy that offer themselves to the prayerful dialogue between us and the Word of God. The word, the phrase that I would like to propose for our meditation is this magnificent statement by St. Peter: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). St. Peter is standing before the supreme religious institution, whom he must ordinarily obey, but God is above this institution and God has given him a different “order”: he must obey God. Obeying God is freedom, obeying God gives him the freedom to oppose the institution.
And here the exegetes draw our attention to the fact that St. Peter’s answer to the Sanhedrin is, almost to the letter, the answer that Socrates gives to the judgment of the tribunal of Athens at his trial. The tribunal offers him freedom, liberation, on the condition, however, that he does not continue to seek God. But seeking God, the search for God is a higher mandate for him, it comes from God himself. And a freedom that is bought with the renunciation of the path toward God would no longer be freedom. So he must not obey these judges — he must not buy his life losing himself — but he must obey God. Obedience to God has the primacy.
Here it is important to underscore that the obedience that we are dealing with is precisely the obedience that gives freedom. Modernity has spoken about man’s liberation, of his complete autonomy, thus also liberation from obedience to God. There is no need for freedom anymore, man is free, he is autonomous: there is nothing more. But this autonomy is a lie: it is an ontological lie, because man does not exist from himself nor for himself, and it is also a political and practical lie, because collaboration, the sharing of freedom is necessary. And if God does not exist, if God is not accessible to man, only the consensus of the majority is supreme. Consequently, the consensus of the majority becomes the last word, which we must obey. And this consensus — we know from the history of the last century — can also be a “consensus in evil.”
So we see that so-called autonomy does not truly liberate man. Obedience to God is freedom, because it is the truth, it confronts all that is human. In the history of humanity these words of Peter and Socrates are the true beacon of man’s liberation, which knows how to see God and, in the name of God, can and must obey not men but God and therefore be freed from the positivism of human obedience. Dictatorships have always been against this obedience to God. The Nazi dictatorship, like the Marxist dictatorship, cannot accept a God who is above ideological power; and the freedom of martyrs, who recognize God, precisely in obedience to the divine power, always perform that act of liberation in which the freedom of Christ comes to us.
Today, thanks be to God, we do not live under dictatorships but there are subtle forms of dictatorship: a conformism that becomes obligatory, think like everyone thinks, act like everyone acts, and the subtle aggression against the Church, or even the less subtle, demonstrates how this conformism can really be a true dictatorship. For us this is true: one must obey God rather than men. But that means that we truly know God and truly want to obey him. God is not a pretext for one’s own will, but it is really he who calls and invites us, even — if it is necessary — to martyrdom. This is why, faced with this word that begins a new history of freedom in the world, we pray above all to know God, to humbly and truly know him and, knowing God, to learn the true obedience that is the foundation of human freedom.
Let us choose another line from the first reading: St. Peter says that God raises up Christ to his right hand as head and Savior (cf. 5:31). “Head” is a translation of the Greek term “archegos,” which implies a much more dynamic vision: “archegos” is he who points out the road, who precedes, who is moving, a movement toward what is above. God raised him up to his right hand — so speaking of Christ as “archegos” means to say that Christ walks before us, he precedes us, he shows us the road. And being in communion with Christ is being on a journey, ascending with Christ, it is the following of Christ, it is this ascent upward, it is this following of the “archegos,” he who is already gone ahead, who precedes us and shows us the road.
Here, obviously, it is important to say where Christ goes and where we too must go: “hypsosen” — above — ascent to the right hand of the Father. The following of Christ is not only the imitation of his virtues, it is not only living like Christ in this world, as far as possible, according to his word; but it is a journey that has a goal. And the goal is the right hand of the Father. There is this journey of Jesus, this following of Jesus that ends at the Father’s right hand. Jesus’ whole journey and his arriving at the Father’s right hand are the horizon of such a following.
In this sense the goal of this journey is eternal life at the right hand of the Father in communion with Christ. Today we often have a little fear of speaking about eternal life. We talk about the things that are useful to this world, we show that Christianity also helps to improve the world, but we do not dare say that its goal is eternal life and that from such a goal come the criteria for life. We must once again understand that Christianity remains a “fragment” if we do not think of this goal, that we want to follow the “archegos” to the heights of God, to the glory of the Son that makes us sons in the Son and we must again recognize that only in the vast perspective of eternal life does Christianity reveal its whole meaning. We must have the courage, the joy, the great hope that there is eternal life, that it is the true life and that from this true life comes the light that also enlightens this world.
If one can say that, even prescinding from eternal life, from the promise of Heaven, it is better to live according to Christian criteria, because living according to the truth and love, even in persecutions, is good in itself and better than all the rest, it is precisely this will to live according to the truth and according to love that must also open to the whole breadth of God’s plan for us, to the courage to have already the joy in expectation of eternal life, of ascending, following our “archegos.” And “Soter” is the Savior who saves us from ignorance about the last things. The Savior saves us from solitude, from an emptiness that remains in life without eternity; he saves us giving us life in its fullness. He is the leader. Christ, the “archegos,” giving us light, giving us truth, giving us God’s love.
Let us pause over another line: Christ the Savior gave Israel conversion and forgiveness of sin (5:31) — in the Greek text the term is “metanoia” — he has given us penance and forgiveness of sins. For me this is a very important observation: penance is a grace. There is a tendency in exegesis that says: In Galilee Jesus announced a grace without conditions, absolutely unconditional, so also without penance, pure grace, without human preconditions. But this is a false interpretation of grace. Penance is grace; it is a grace that we recognize our sin, it is a grace to know that we need renewal, change, of a transformation of our being. Penance, to be able to do penance, is a gift of grace. And I must say that we Christians, even in recent times, we have often avoided the word penance, it seemed too harsh to us. Now, under the attacks of the world that speaks to us of our sins, we see that being able to do penance is a grace. And we see that it is necessary to do penance, that is, recognize what is wrong in our life, to open up to purification, to transformation, this pain is grace, because it is renewal, it is the work of divine mercy. And thus these 2 things that St. Peter says — penitence and forgiveness — correspond to the beginning of Jesus’ preaching: “metanoeite,” that is, convert (cf. Mark 1:15). This is the fundamental point, then: “metanoia” is not a private thing, that could be substituted by grace; “metanoia” is rather the arrival of the grace that transforms us.
It is finally a word of the Gospel, where we are told that he who believes will have eternal life (cf. John 3:36). In faith, in this “transformation of self” that penance gives, in this conversion, along this new road of living, we reach life, true life. And here to other texts come to my mind. In the “priestly prayer” the Lord says: this is life, knowing you and your consecrated one (cf. John 17:3). Knowing the essential, knowing the decisive Person, knowing God and the one he has sent is life, life and knowledge, knowledge of realities that are life. And the other text is Jesus’ reply to the Sadducees about the Resurrection, where, from the books of Moses, the Lord proves the fact of the Resurrection, saying: God is the God of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob (cf. Matthew 22:31-32; Mark 12:26-27; Luke 20:37-38). God is not the God of the dead. If God is their God, then they are alive. Those who are inscribed in God’s name participate in God’s life, live. And thus believing is being inscribed in God’s name. And in this way we are alive. Those who belong to God’s name are not dead, they belong to the living God. It is in this sense that we must understand the dynamism of faith, which is an inscribing of our name in God’s name and thus an entering into eternal life.
Let us pray to the Lord that this truly happens with our life, that we know God, that our name enters into God’s name and our existence becomes true life: eternal life, love and truth.[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]