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Pope Francis’ Homily on His 80th Birthday

‘This is Christian life: go forward towards the definitive encounter’

On Saturday, on the occasion of his 80th birthday, Pope Francis presided over a Eucharistic Concelebration with cardinals, in the Pauline Chapel of the Apostolic Palace. Here is a ZENIT translation of the Pope’s homily:

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At the moment in which the vigilant expectation becomes more intense in the course of Advent; at this moment in which the Church begins today to pray with great antiphons, an intense moment in which we come close to Christmas, the Liturgy makes us pause a little. It says: “Let us pause,” and it has us read this passage of the Gospel. What does this pause mean at a moment that is progressing in intensity? The Church simply wants us to remember: “Pause and remember. Look back, look at the way.” The memory: a Deuteronomic attitude that gives the spirit so much strength. The memory that Scripture itself stresses as the way to pray, to encounter God. “Remember your leaders,” the author of the Letters to the Hebrews says to us (13:7). ”Recall the former days …” (Hebrews 10:32): the same thing. And then, in the same Letter, that array of witnesses, in chapter 11, who led the way to arrive at the fulness of time: “Remember, look back to be able to go forward better.” This is the meaning of today’s liturgical day: the grace of memory. It is necessary to ask for this grace: not to forget.

It is proper to love not to forget; it is proper to love to have always so much before our eyes, so much good that we have received; it is proper to love to look at history: where we come from, our parents, our forbearers, the path of faith …And this memory does us good, because it renders even more intense this vigilant awaiting of Christmas – a quiet day. The memory that takes from the beginning the choice of the people: “Jesus Christ, Son of David, Son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1). The Chosen People, which walks towards a promise with the strength of the Covenant, of successive Covenants that it goes making. So is the path of the Christian, so is our path, simple. A promise was made to us, we were told: walk in my presence and be irreproachable as our Father is. A promise that will be fulilled, at the end, but which is consolidated with every Covenant we make with the Lord, Covenant of fidelity; and it makes us see that it was not up to us to choose: it makes us understand that we were all chosen. The choice, the promise and the Covenant are like pillars of the Christian memory, this looking back in order to go forward.

This is today’s grace: to remember. And when we hear this passage of the Gospel, there is a history, a history of grace, which is so great; but also a history of sin. On the path we always find grace and sin. Here, in the history of salvation, in this genealogy (cf. Matthew 1:1-17), there are great sinners and there are Saints. And, in our life, we too will find the same: moments of great fidelity to the Lord, of joy in service, and awful moments of infidelity, of sin that make us feel the need of salvation. And this is also our security, because when we are in need of salvation, we confess the faith, we make a confession of faith: “I am a sinner, but You can save me, You lead me forward.” And thus one goes forward in the joy of hope.

We began to follow this path in Advent, awaiting the Lord in vigilant expectation. Today we pause, look back, we see that the journey was good, that the Lord did not disappoint us, that the Lord is faithful. We see also that,whether it is in history or in our life, there were very beautiful moments of fidelity and awful moments of sin. But the Lord is there, with his hand extended to raise one and say: “Go forward!” And this is Christian life: go forward towards the definitive encounter. This is a journey of so much intensity, in vigilant expectation of the Lord’s coming, which does not take away from us the grace of memory, of looking back at all that the Lord has done for us, for the Church, in the history of salvation. And thus we understand why the Church has us read this passage today, which might seem somewhat boring, but here is the history of a God who wished to journey with His people and make Himself, at the end, a man, like every one of us.

May the Lord help us to take up again this grace of memory. “But it is difficult, boring, there are so many problems …” The author of the Letter to the Hebrews has a very beautiful, very beautiful phrase for our complaints: “”In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” (cf. 12:4). <There is> also a bit of humor on the part of that inspired author, to help us go forward. May the Lord give us this grace.

[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]

GREETING AT THE END OF THE MASS

I would like to thank you for this concelebration, for accompanying me on this day: thank you so much! And you, Eminence, Cardinal Dean, for your heartfelt words: thank you so much!

For some days, a word has come to my mind, which seems awful: old age. It frightens, at least, it frightens …Yesterday also, to give me a gift, Monsignor Cavaliere gave me Cicero’s De senectute – one more drop … I remember what I said to you on March 15, [2013] in our first meeting: “Old age is seat of wisdom.” Let’s hope that this is also true for me. Let’s hope that it’s so!

There comes to my mind also — since it came so quickly, it came so quickly — there comes to my mind that poem … I believe of Pliny: “Tacito pede lapsa vetustas” [Ovid]: old age comes upon you with a silent step. It’s a blow! However, when one thinks of it as a stage of life that is to give joy, wisdom, hope, one begins to live again. And another poem comes to mind that I quoted to you that day: “Old age is tranquil and religious” – “Es ist ruhig, das Alter, und fromm” [Holderlin]. Pray that mine will be so: tranquil, religious and fruitful – and also joyful. Thank you.

[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]

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