ROME, DEC. 1, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the homily Benedict XVI delivered Sunday at the Basilica of St. Lawrence Outside the Walls, at the closing liturgy of the jubilee year convoked to commemorate the 1750th anniversary of the deacon.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters:
Today with the first Sunday of Advent, we begin that four-week period with which the new liturgical year begins and which prepares immediately for the celebration of Christmas, memorial of the incarnation of Christ in history. The spiritual message of Advent is, however, much more profound and points us already to the Lord’s glorious coming at the end of history.
Adventus is a Latin word, which could be translated as “arrival,” “coming,” “presence.” In the language of the ancient world it was a technical term that indicated the arrival of a functionary, in particular the visit of a king or of the emperors of provinces, but it could also be used for the apparition of a divinity, who came out of his hidden dwelling and thus manifested his divine power: his presence was celebrated solemnly in worship.
By adopting the term Advent, Christians wished to express the special relationship that united them to the crucified and risen Christ. He is the king who, entering the poor province called earth, has made us the gift of his visit and, after his resurrection and ascension to heaven, has willed to remain among us; we perceive his mysterious presence in the liturgical assembly.
Celebrating the Eucharist, we proclaim in fact that he has not withdrawn from the world and has not left us alone and, though we cannot see or touch him, as is the case with material and sensible realities, he is with all of us and among us; what is more, he is in us, because in this way he can attract to himself and communicate his life to every believer who opens his heart to him.
Advent, therefore, means to recall the first coming of the Lord in the flesh, already thinking of his final return and, at the same time, it means to acknowledge that Christ present among us makes himself our companion on the journey in the life of the Church that celebrates this mystery. This awareness, dear brothers and sisters, nourished by listening to the Word of God, should help us to see the world with different eyes, to interpret the different events of life and history as words that God addresses to us, as signs of his love that assure us of his closeness in every situation; in particular, this awareness should prepare us to receive him “when he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will not end,” as we will repeat in a while in the Creed. In this perspective Advent becomes for all Christians a time of waiting and hope, a privileged time of listening and reflection, allowing ourselves to be guided by the liturgy that calls us to go out to meet the Lord who is coming.
“Come Lord Jesus”: This ardent invocation of the early Christian community must become, dear friends, also our constant aspiration, the aspiration of the Church of every age, which longs and prepares for the encounter with its Lord. “Come today Lord, help us, illumine us, give us peace, help us to overcome violence,” come Lord, we pray in fact these weeks. “Lord, let your face shine upon us and we shall be saved”: so we prayed a moment ago with the words of the responsorial psalm. And, in the first reading, the prophet Isaiah revealed to us that our Savior’s face is that of a tender and merciful Father, who takes care of us in every circumstance because we are the work of his hands. “For thou art our Father, our Redeemer from of old is thy name” (Isaiah 63:16).
Our God is a Father willing to forgive repentant sinners and to receive all those who trust in his mercy (cf. Isaiah 64:4). We were estranged from him because of sin, falling under the dominion of death, but he had mercy on us and by his initiative, without any merit on our part, decided to come to us, sending his only Son as our Redeemer. Before so great a mystery of love, may our gratitude rise spontaneously and our invocation be more confident. “Show us, Lord, today in our time and in all parts of the world your mercy and give us your salvation” (cf. Hymn to the Gospel).
Dear brothers and sisters, the thought of the presence of Christ and of his certain return at the end of times, is very significant in this basilica of yours close to the monumental Verano cemetery, where so many of our dear ones rest, while awaiting the resurrection. How many times funeral liturgies are celebrated in this church; how many times the words of the liturgy resonate full of consolation: “In Christ your Son, our Savior, shines for us the hope of the blessed resurrection, and if we are saddened by the certainty of having to die, we are consoled by the promise of future immortality” (cf. Preface of the Dead I).
However, this monumental basilica of yours, which leads us in thought to that ancient one that the emperor Constantine had built and which later was transformed until it took on its present physiognomy, speaks above all of the glorious martyrdom of St. Lawrence, archdeacon of Pope Sixtus II and his right hand in the administration of the goods of the community. I came today to celebrate the Holy Eucharist to be united to you in honoring him in an all together singular circumstance, on the occasion of the Jubilee Year of St. Lawrence, convoked to commemorate the 1,750 years since the birth to heaven of the holy deacon. History confirms how glorious is the name of this saint, around whose sepulcher we have gathered. His solicitude for the poor, his generous service to the Church in the area of social welfare and charity, his fidelity to the Pope, which led him to want to follow him to the supreme test of martyrdom and the heroic testimony of his blood, spilt a few days later, are universally known events.
In a beautiful homily, St. Leo the Great thus comments on the atrocious martyrdom of this “illustrious hero.” “The flames could not conquer the charity of Christ; and the fire that was burning him on the outside was weaker than that burning within.” And he adds: “The Lord willed to exalt his glorious name to such a point throughout the world that from East to West, in the very vivid brilliance of the radiant light of the greatest deacons, the same glory that came to Jerusalem by Stephen also touched Rome by Lawrence’s merit” (Homily 85,4: PL 54, 486).
Coinciding this year is the 50th anniversary of the death of the servant of God, Pope Pius XII, and this brings to mind a particularly dramatic event in the centuries-old history of your basilica, which took place during World War II, when, precisely on July 19, 1943, a violent bombardment inflicted very serious damages to the building and the whole neighborhood, spreading death and destruction. Never will the memory be erased from history of the generous gesture carried out on that occasion by my venerated predecessor, who ran to help and console the harshly affected people, among the still smoking ruins. Nor do I forget that this basilica houses the urns of two other great personalities: exposed in the hypogeum for the veneration of the faithful are the mortal remains of Blessed Pius IX, while in the atrium the tomb is located of Alcide De Gasperi, wise and balanced leader for Italy during the difficult years of post-war reconstruction and, at the same time, famous statesman who was able to look at Europe with a broad Christian vision.
While we are gathered here in prayer, I want to greet all of you with affection, beginning with the cardinal vicar, monsignor vicegerente, who is also abbot of the Basilica, the auxiliary bishop of the northern sector, and your parish priest, Father Bruno Mustacchio, whom I thank for the kind words addressed to me at the beginning of the liturgical celebration. I greet the minister general of the Order of the Capuchins and the brothers of the community who carry out their service with zeal and dedication, receiving numerous pilgrims, assisting the poor with charity and witnessing to hope in the risen Christ to all those who come to visit the Verano cemetery. I assure you of my appreciation and above all of my remembrance in prayer.
I greet moreover the various groups committed to the animation of catechesis, the liturgy, charity, the members of the two Polyphonic Choirs, and the local and regional Third Franciscan Order. I have learned with joy that housed here for the past year is the “diocesan missionary laboratorium” to educate parish communities in missionary awareness, and from my heart I join you in hoping that this initiative of our diocese will contribute to inspire a courageous missionary pastoral action, which will carry the proclamation of the merciful love of God to every corner of Rome, involving principally young people and families. Finally I would like to extend my thought to the inhabitants of the neighborhood, especially the elderly, the sick, and persons who are alone or in difficulty. I remember each and every one in this Holy Mass.
Dear brothers and sisters, at this beginning of Advent, what better message to receive from Saint Lawrence than that of holiness? He repeats to us that holiness, namely, going out to meet Christ who comes continually to visit us, does not go out of fashion, on the contrary, with the passing of time it shines in a luminous way and manifests man’s constant tension toward God. May this jubilee celebration be, therefore, occasion for your parish community of a renewed adherence to Christ, of greater understanding of the meaning of belonging to his Mystical Body that is the Church, and of a constant commitment to evangelization through charity. May Lawrence, heroic witness of Christ crucified and risen, be for each one an example of docile adherence to the divine will so that, as we have heard the Apostle Paul remind the Corinthians, we also live in such a way as to be found “irreproachable” in the day of the Lord (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:7-9).
To prepare for Christ’s advent is also the exhortation we find in today’s Gospel: “Watch,” Jesus says to us in Luke’s brief parable of the master of the house who goes but whose return is not known (cf. Mark 13:33-37). To watch means to follow the Lord, to choose what he has chosen, to love what he has loved, to conform one’s own life to his; to watch means to spend every moment of our time on the horizon of his love without letting ourselves be overcome by the inevitable daily difficulties and problems. So did St. Lawrence, so must we; and we ask the Lord to give us his grace so that Advent will stimulate all of us to walk in that direction. May Mary, the humble Virgin of Nazareth, chosen by God to be Mother of the Redeemer, St. Andrew, whose feast we celebrate today, and St. Lawrence, example of intrepid Christian fidelity to the point of martyrdom, guide and accompany us with their intercession. Amen.[Translation by ZENIT]