VATICAN CITY, DEC. 3, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Here is the translation of the Holy Father’s homily during the celebration of the First Vespers of Advent on Saturday with students from the various Roman universities.
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“He who calls you is faithful” (1 Thessalonians 5:24)
Dear friends and university students,
The words of the Apostle Paul guide us to welcome the true meaning of the liturgical year, which we begin this year together with the recitation of the First Vespers of Advent. The whole journey of the Church year is oriented so as to perceive and live the faithfulness of the God of Jesus Christ, who in the grotto of Bethlehem will present himself to us once again in the face of a child. The whole history of salvation is a path of love, of mercy, of benevolence: from creation to the liberation of the people of Israel from the slavery of Egypt, from the gift of the Law on Sinai to the return from the slavery of Babylon. The God of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob has always been a God who is near, who has never abandoned his people. Many times he has endured their infidelity with sadness and waited for their return with patience, always in the freedom of a love that precedes and sustains the beloved, attentive to their dignity and their deepest longings.
God has not shut himself up in his heaven, but he has entered into man’s affairs: a great mystery that goes beyond every possible expectation. God enters into the time of man in the most unthinkable way: making himself a child and experiencing the stages of human life, so that our whole existence, spirit, soul and body – as St. Paul observes – can maintain itself blamelessly and be elevated to the heights of God. And all of this he does out of his faithful love toward humanity. Love, when it is true, tends by its nature to the good of the other, to the greatest good possible, and it does not limit itself simply to respecting the commitments assumed in friendship, but it goes beyond, without calculations or measure. It is precisely that which the living a true God has accomplished, whose profound mystery is revealed to us in the words of St. John: “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). This God, in Jesus of Nazareth, assumes the whole of humanity, the whole history of humanity, and he gives it a new twist, toward a new way of being a human person, characterized by being generated by God and directed toward him (cf. Benedict XVI, “L’Infanzia di Gesù,” Rizzoli-LEV 2012, p. 19).
Dear young people, illustrious rectors and professors, it is a great joy for me to share these reflections with you who represent the university world of Rome and the pontifical institutions, who for many years have journeyed together, bearing a living witness to a fruitful dialogue and collaboration between theology and the various disciplines. I greet and thank the cardinal prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, the rector of the University of Rome “Foro Italico” and your representative, for the words that you addressed to me on everyone’s behalf. I greet with warm cordiality the cardinal vicar and the minister of teaching, universities, and research, along with all the academic officials present.
With special affection I greet you, dear young people of the Roman universities, who have renewed your profession of faith at the tomb of the Apostle Peter. You are in the midst of the time of preparation for the great decisions of your life and for service in the Church and society. This evening you can see that you are not alone: the professors, university chaplains and college officials are together with you. And the Pope is with you! And, above all, you are inserted in the great Roman academic community, in which it is possible to journey in prayer, in research, in exchange of ideas, in witness to the Gospel. It is a precious gift for your life; seek to see it as a sign of God’s fidelity, who offers you opportunities to conform your existence to Christ’s, to let yourselves be sanctified by him to the point of perfection (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:23). The liturgical year that we begin with these vespers will also be for you the journey in which you will again experience this fidelity of God, upon which you are called to base your life as upon a rock. Celebrating and living this journey of faith with the whole Church, you will understand that Jesus is the only Lord of the cosmos and history. Without him every human undertaking runs the risk of coming to nothing. The liturgy, lived in its true spirit, is always the fundamental school for living the Christian faith, a “theological” faith, which involves you in your whole being – spirit, soul and body – to make you living stones in the building up of the Church and co-workers in the new evangelization. In a special way, in the Eucharist, the living God draws so near to us as to become food that strengthens us on our way, a presence that transforms us with the fire of his love.
Dear friends, we live in a context in which we often meet indifference toward God. But I think that in the depths of those – even your peers – who are distant from God, there is an interior nostalgia for the infinite, for transcendence. In the halls of the universities you have the task of testifying to the God who is near, who manifests himself also in the pursuit of truth, who is the soul of every intellectual project. In this regard I express my pleasure and my encouragement in the university pastoral program entitled “The Father saw him from far away: the today of man, the today of God,” proposed by the pastoral office for universities of the Vicariate of Rome. Faith is the door that God opens in our life to lead us to the encounter with Christ in which the today of man meets the today of God. Christian faith is not the following of a generic or indefinite god but the living God who in Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, has entered into our history and revealed himself as man’s Redeemer. Believing means entrusting our life to the only one who can give it fullness in time and open it to hope beyond time.
I would like to invite the whole academic community of Rome to reflect on faith in this Year of Faith. The continual dialogue between the state or private universities and the pontifical universities allows us to hope for an ever more significant presence of the Church in the sphere not only of Roman culture but Italian and international culture. The cultural weeks and the international symposium for professors, which will take place in June, will be an example of this experience, which I hope will be realized in all university cities where state, private and pontifical athenaeums are present.
Dear friends, “he who calls you is faithful” (1 Thessalonians 5:24); he will make you proclaimers of his presence. In this evening’s prayer let us begin our journey in spirit toward the grotto of Bethlehem to taste the true joy of Christmas: the joy of welcoming at the center of our life – following the example of the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph – that Child who reminds us that God watches over the world and every man (cf. Zechariah 12:4). God watches over us because he is faithful to his love! Only this certainty can lead humanity toward the goal of peace and prosperity in this delicate and complex historical moment. The next World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro will also be an occasion for you university students to manifest the historical fruitfulness of God’s faithfulness, offering your witness and your commitment for the moral and social renewal of the world. The handing over of the icon of Mary “Sedes Sapientiae” to the Brazilian delegation by the university chaplaincy of Rome 3, which this year celebrates its 20th anniversary, is a sign of this common commitment on the part of you young university students of Rome.
To Mary, Seat of Wisdom, I entrust all of you and your loved ones, along with the study, teaching and university life in which you share. I also entrust to her, in a special way, the journey of education and witness of this Year of Faith. May the lamps that you carry in your university faith communities always be lit by your humble faith that is full of adoration so that each one of you be a light of hope and of peace in the university world.
Amen.[Translation by Joseph Trabbic]