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15 May - Holy Mass

in the Basilica of St John in the Lateran



A message of christian hope for the priests of the third millennium


The Lateran basilica, dear concelebrants, has opened her doors to welcome you as a mother opens her arms to draw all her children to herself. After a very long period of persecution the Bishop of Rome established his cathedral here. For this reason it is called the "mater et caput omnium Ecclesiarum". The Popes lived for almost a millennium beside this Basilica. We are gathered therefore, to-day, in a sacred place very closely linked to the pastoral ministry of the Successor of Peter.


1. The Value of this Encounter

You have come here to-day, dear priests, from various parts of the world during this Great Jubilee of 2000 to renew your apostolic commitment, from wherever divine Providence has called you to work in the vineyard of the Lord.

Next Thursday, 18 May, you will concelebrate Mass with the Holy Father and offer to him you filial devotion on the occasion of his eightieth birthday. These are therefore days of intense spiritual renewal leading to a deeper discovery of the greatness and the beauty of the gift that Christ has given us, by calling us to follow him closely and joint with Him in completing the work of Redemption.

For my part, on this first day of your jubilee pilgrimage, I would like to address some very simple words to you which come from the heart of one who, like yourselves, many years ago heart the mysterious but gentle voice of the Lord calling to put one's hand to the plough and work for the spread of the Kingdom.


2. In union with Christ

You have come to Rome to celebrate second millennium of the Incarnation of the Word of God. Our first thoughts go to Him who is the reason for our Christian life and even more so for priestly existence. Manete in dilectione mea (John 15,9) remain in my love. Jesus repeats this particular invitation to all of us every day, just as He once addressed it to the Apostles gathered together in the Cenacle.

Vital union with Christ is certainly the ideal for the life of every Christian. For us priests, however, it has to be a lived reality. Such intimate and close union with Christ has forged the life of holy priests in many every part of the world.

This internal strength which comes from contact with Jesus is the secret which sustained so many martyrs in their suffering and has brought comfort to so many of the Lord's ministers when tried at times by solitude, sickness or misunderstandings of every kind.

"Omina possum in Eo qui me confortat" (Phil 4,13), I can do all things in Him who gives me strength as St Paul tells each of us, if we live intimately united to Christ, just as the branch is united with the vine.


3. Loving the Church

Union with Christ, dear brothers, will lead you to love the Church which continues His mission of salvation in the world. The Church has begotten each of us for the life of grace. The Church is our Mother. She is a Mother whom we are to venerate, love and serve with filial devotion. Loving the Church means loving her Pastors, especially the Pope who is Pastor of the universal Church.

Your jubilee pilgrimage to Rome serves to kindle this flame of love. You come to realize more and more every day that you are part of the great Catholic family whose visible centre of unity is the Successor of Peter. During this Holy Year many of our faithful rediscover the maternal face of Church and drawn to live in deeper harmony with her.

"Sentire cum Ecclesia" was the charge given by St Ignatius in his Spiritual Exercises to the members of the Company of Jesus. "Have the ecclesial sense" is the message this Jubilee desires to communicate to all Christians and especially to us who are ministers of Christ and of His Holy Church.

Since the Church is our Mother we are obliged to love her, to support her and to defend her. How often have we not reminded the faithful of the famous saying of St Cyprian Martyr: "He does not want the Church for his mother cannot have God for his Father". This is true also for us who have received everything from our Mother, the Church.


4. Looking at History

Dear friends, having invited you to look on Christ and on his Holy Church, I would now like to conclude by asking you to look towards another horizon, the horizon of history.

During the course of twenty centuries before us, many have laboured in the Lord's vineyard. We are not the first. For this reason, in humility, we have to recognize the precious heritage left to us by our predecessors. Their experience can be helpful for us.Their writings can be a source of light for our journey and they can help us to appreciate the "nova et vetera" (cf. Mt 13,52). For us the Church's history will be a "magistra vitae", a teacher of life for our apostolic work.

I have said to you that we are not the first to have put our hand to the plough. Neither are we the last. Others will follow us and continue the work. The field in which the Church's missionary activity is carried out increases daily. Our task is to hand on the living flame of the Gospel of Christ, burning brighter than ever, to those who will come after us.

Just as in the Olympic games, we will hand on to those who follow us that light of faith which illuminates all men who come into this world (cf John 1,9).


5. The surprises of the sower.

This vision of history helps us not to be discouraged by difficulties for we know that the seed of God grows in the hearts of men - sometimes slowly. While it is also true to-day, just as in the parable of the sower, that some seed falls on hard ground or is choked by the thorns, it is nevertheless true also that some seed falls on rich soil and produces a hundredfold harvest (cf. Mt 13,23).

A serene gaze over the two thousand year history of Christianity allows us not to be disconcerted by difficulties and reminds us of the law of graduality by which the Kingdom of God grows according to the mysterious designs of Providence.

By meditating on the history of the Church, we can perceive more clearly how the Church is an intersection between the Grace of God and man's freedom. We can also perceive how man, by his works, can advance or delay the coming of the Kingdom of God. This perspective beckons us to take up our responsibilities if we desire to make a generous contribution to the building of the Kingdom of God. This same perspective spares us the surprise of the gospel sower who had sown good seed in his field but asked himself how tares had come to grow instead. He had not reckoned on that "inimicus homo" (cf Mt 13,25) who came to his field by night. He had not reckoned on the reality of man, nor on the mysterious drama of his liberty, as a work of the Evil one in this world.


6. The bark which goes on

With these few simple words of mine, I wished to draw your attention to four things: to Christ, to his Holy Church, to the past and to the future of human history. You will leave Rome quickened by a holy resolve to continue to be worthy ministers of Christ and generous proclaimers of His Kingdom. As at Pentecost, may the Blessed Virgin Mary be close to you and obtain for you the abundance of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The boat advances because you pull on her oars, but she will advance more quickly and more surely when her sails are swelled by the impetuous breeze of the Holy Spirit that blows from above. Amen.