Tuesday, 16 - Eucharistic Concelebration
in the Patriarchal Basilica of St. Paul outside the Walls
Praise be Jesus Christ!
Dearest Concelebrants, Venerable brethren in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood!
1. The again and above all address you, beloved priests, who with your Jubilee pilgrimage to Rome are offering a festive and eloquent expression of that particular bond of faith and communion in the love uniting you with the Successor of the Apostle Peter and the entire College of Bishops, in continuity with and faithfulness to the apostolic mandate of Christ. Welcome!
At this moment my heart is stirred by the memories of four previous international pilgrimages to Fatima, Yamassoukro, Guadalupe, and last year to the Holy Land. We have come from those blessed Holy Places marking the salvific stages of the life of Jesus, and in particular from the Cenacle where our priesthood was born, in a certain way led by the Mother of the Redeemer, to the Church of Rome "where Providence placed the seat of the successor of Peter" (John Paul II, Bull of Indiction of the Jubilee, n. 2).
We have come as pilgrims of hope, to the City of the witness and martyrdom of the princes of the Apostles, Peter and Paul; we have come to the Church of Rome "founded and built by the two glorious Apostles", as St. Irenaeus says (Against the Heresies, III,3) and which "presides over the communion of charity» (Saint Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Romans) by divine will.
2. "To the eyes of the peoples He has revealed His justice" says the antiphon of the psalm (cf. Ps 97) we have just sung. And to continue we repeat: "All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. May all the earth acclaim the Lord, shout exultantly with songs of joy" (Ps 97: 4-5).
Today, with great joy, we are summoned by Christ here, near the remains of the Apostle of the peoples (Ac 17:21), to relive the old and ever-new encounter with the faith and the memory of Paul, in this sacred temple first erected by Constantine on the grave of the Apostle and martyr: he recalls, especially to us, venerable Brethren in the priesthood, that we are no longer strangers or guests, but fellow-citizens of the saints and members of the family of God, "built upon the foundation of the Apostles and the prophets, and having as our corner stone Christ Jesus"! (Ep 2:20).
The Lord, in this solemn Concelebration, offers us a special kairos in our pastoral ministry, divine in grace and mercy, transforming us from wanderers into pilgrims of the Eternal and High Priest, for a happy pause of contemplation and wonder at the beauty of being his sacred ministers.
We are, in fact, invited to rediscover the truth of our inner life which, marked by the indelible the character of consecration and filled with the sacramental grace of ordination, is for us the source of inexhaustible fecundity in the fulfilment of the mission we have received. Our life of piety, which is also a life of prayer and of penitence, is the living water that not only quenches our thirst, but transforms us into springs of water bursting forth for eternal life! (cf. Jn 15: 4-5; 7: 37-39). It is from our "being" priests that our pastoral action derives.
Peter and Paul call upon us today to reflect on the necessity of the specific holiness of our lives, in order to be effective servants of the Living Word (cf. 1 Cor 4:1) for the benefit of all men, in the fulfilment of the many duties of our sacred ministry.
The Apostle's words fully expressing his unconditional adherence to Christ must always resound anew and alive in us: "It is no longer THE who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Gal 2:20), "For me living is Christ" (Phil 1:21).
3. "He welcomed all those who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ, with all frankness and without impediment» (Ac 28:30-31).
With these words that we have just heard in the first reading, Luke provides a fine portrait of Paul's work of evangelisation, which manifests the universal mission of the Church. Jesus had specifically told Paul: "Therefore you must also bear witness to me in Rome" (Ac 23:11). The path that started in Jerusalem reached its aim: the apostolic and praying Church, together with Mary, was sanctified by the action of the Holy Spirit and became Catholic in Rome. By the gift of tongues, the Spirit of Christ transformed the punishment of Babylon, and enabled the Apostles to speak in all the languages to achieve the universality of His salvific work.
It is therefore no surprise to hear Peter, together with the other Apostles, affirm that "We cannot be silent" (Ac 4:20), and Paul who says fervently: "For me it is not a matter of boasting to preach Christ; it is a duty for me: woe upon me if THE did not preach the Gospel!" (1 Cor 9:16). This work of evangelisation we priests are called upon to undertake has a name: the sacramental action of Christ.
We know that the Word Incarnate also becomes sacramentally present in the Apostles, in the their successors and in all His priests "specially chosen, consecrated and sent to that the contemporary nature of Christ emerges, becoming His authentic representatives and messengers" (Congregation for the Clergy, Directory per the ministry and life of the priests, Tota Ecclesia, 31.1.1994, n. 7). The missionary dimension, the eternal mission of Christ (cf. Jn 20:21) is inherently present in holy orders.
Therefore, in the school of the faith of Peter and of Paul, let us learn to ensure that the supernatural and sacred character of our priesthood remains alive in our minds and our hearts. It would be foolish as well as presumptuous to arbitrarily ignore the instruments of salvation and of grace that the Lord Himself has deposited within us, making us ministers of His divine mysteries; and specifically, to try to offer to humanity thirsting for God our own personalities and partial visions. This is because, as we know full well, the priesthood is not merely a function to perform, or the carrying out of procedures and tasks appointed by the community. It is first of all a sacramental representation, in each of us, of Jesus Head and Pastor, so that we may become the "real, living and transparent image of Christ the Priest" (John Paul II, Post-Synodal Ap. Exh. Pastores dabo vobis, 11).
Therefore identification with Christ is gift and mystery: gratuity of God and mystery of the union with the life of Christ in His Church; but it is also a task, a personal responsibility to achieve our model in each one of us, that of the Good Shepherd who gathers his lost flock (cf. Jn 10:11-18), and goes to search for the lost sheep (cf. Mt 18:12-14).
This requires life of prayer, contemplation and sacrifice in order to take upon us the same sentiments as Christ, and to adjust our will to His. The fecundity of the ministry springs forth from the richness of interior life!
"It is simply impossible to live virtuously without the help of prayer", says Chrysostom (De praecatione, oratio I). "It is prayer that indicates the essential style of the priest", the Holy Father reminds us (John Paul II, Letter Novo incipiente, 8,4.1979, n. 10). We were born in the priesthood in the priestly prayer of Christ "in that evening full of mystery" (John Paul II, Letter to the priests for Holy Thursday 2000, n. 2) in that holy room in Jerusalem. We can always nourish and reinforce our ministry in incessant prayer, more humble and trusting, drawing upon the prayer of the Messiah.
4. «But then Jesus spoke to them: Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid" (Mt 14:27).
This reassuring exhortation by the Lord to the disciples, tired in the storm-tossed boat in the night and afraid before His miraculously walking on the water of Lake Tiberias, is up to day and relevant.
We have enough experience to know well that it is not our age, energy or mere human knowledge that makes our priestly ministry effective, but rather the dynamis Theou, "the strength of God for the salvation of all believers" (Rm 1:16). We are in Peter's boat, sometimes in the obscurity of difficulties, in the midst of the waves of obstacles, but we know that within us there is His life, exousía, His sacred power.
Aware of our limits and our miseries, let us not count on our poor strength. We shall shout like Peter "Lord save me!" And immediately Jesus will stretch out His hand grasping us (cf. Mt 14:31) and we shall hear His gentle, fruitful rebuke: "Man of little faith, why did you doubt?" Grasped by Christ! And so we must remain, letting ourselves be grasped by Him, like the Apostle who said: "I have been grasped by Christ Jesus" (Phil 3:12).
Let us therefore make a self-examination so that the grace of the Jubilee, which in these days is flowing abundantly over us like living water in a river bed, may extend more effectively to all the faithful entrusted to us in exercising our ministry. We, too have been called upon to go out to the lost men of this third millennium, as Jesus did with the disciples in the boat during the storm, and repeat to them " Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid" (Mt 14:27).
We cannot become an obstacle to the sacramental action of Christ, as if we were a mask making it difficult for men to recognise in us the loving and merciful face of Jesus, as if we were a wall blocking the way to our faithful to the Holy Door which is the Word Incarnate.
We can perhaps repeat with greater generosity the gestures of forgiveness and the offering of salvation, above all by dispensing the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist with renewed faith and a greater sense of responsibility.
Be converted in order to convert! (cf. St. Gregory Nazianzenus, Orationes 2,71), following the eloquent example of Paul, overcome by the wonder of an unprecedented encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus.
Let us be converted, first of all by regularly frequenting the sacrament of Reconciliation. Our union with Christ, Priest and Host, will make us become, as St. Ignatius of Antioch said, "wheat of God to be found as pure bread of Christ" (Epistola ad Romanos 4,1), for the good of our brethren.
We shall conclude these reflections by invoking the maternal intercession and constant patronage of the Queen of the Apostle and Mother of the Church, Mary, Mother of priests and of the peoples, star of the dawn of the third millennium, so that she may continue to guide us priests, her children, in order that, following the example of the faith and love of Peter and Paul, we may know how to be authentic missionaries of your Son, permeating ever more deeply the ground of our interior life with the spring water of the grace of the Christ's Eternal High Priesthood. This to the point of shedding our blood in the daily coherence of our splendid identity.