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Homily of Cardinal Leonardo Sandri,
to the Pontifical North American College
on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception


(Rome, 8 December 2010)

Dear Cardinal Levada,
Dear Bishops, Brothers Priests,
Dear Seminarians and Dear Friends,

I am very happy to share with the community of the Pontifical North American College the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. I warmly thank your Rector and all of you for your kind invitation and your welcome. And since I have spent some years of my diplomatic service in your beloved country – if I may – I would like to feel I belong in a small way to the great American family. And I also go in spirit full of joy and devotion to the National Shrine in Washington, defined as “a shrine of special significance to American Catholics, right in the heart of your capital city” (Benedict XVI, Teachings, IV, I, 2008, p. 577). It is there that today the whole Catholic community of the United States is gathering in spirit to confide to our Holy Mother its will to give glory to God who is the source of that beauty and holiness that shine out in the Immaculate Virgin; and to implore mercy and indulgence in Christ from God the Father. Mary is the certainty of this: in her, the obedient and faithful Virgin, the whole project of salvation is fully anticipated and is expressed in that purity and power of which God’s love in Jesus Christ is capable.

Our communion is spreading, in the meantime, to all the People of God, close as we are to the Successor of Peter, guarantor as Bishop of Rome of the unity of the whole Church in truth and in charity.

Thus we entrust ourselves to Mary Immaculate so that she may intercede for abundant divine blessings upon the Pope and the Bishops and upon all the priests and faithful, as well as upon the Church’s mission in the world and upon her ecumenical and interreligious commitment. Let us pray, however, that the nations collaborate in making humanity the one family of God.

I ask you to love the Eastern Catholic Churches, all present in your nation thanks to the welcome given to them by pastors and faithful. We are in need of the East in order to be Christians, since ex oriente lux. Our spiritual birth is in that East which coincides with Christ himself. We will acclaim him as “Oriens” in the major antiphons of the Christmas Novena.

May you be close with your prayers and solidarity to the Holy Land, to Iraq and to the whole of the Christian East. Last 25 November I celebrated Mass in St Peter’s Basilica for the victims of the terrorist attack in the Syrian-Catholic Cathedral of Baghdad. I recalled the last moments of the life of two young priests who protected their faithful around the altar of Christ, giving themselves up and dying in the attempt to save their lives. They were truly “alter Christus”, mingling their own blood with the Precious Blood of Christ.

So many people in the world recognize in the words “America” and “Americans” a special role of your country, a message in the face of the challenges to the present and future of the world. They are challenges that concern peace, progress and the fundamental rights of all; the right to freedom of religion and of conscience, as a guarantee of the respect due to the dignity of the human person, who in this way can respond to his or her loftiest vocation: participation in the divine life. Let us ask God and Mary Immaculate to bless your people and its lofty contribution.

The Word of God that has just been proclaimed has revealed God’s plan to us. Sin, which is opposition to his love, did not touch the Blessed Virgin. From her conception, the grace of Christ preserved her from original sin. Her entire existence was lived under the banner of pure divine light.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, we too have been loved in Christ and chosen before the world’s creation to be – in our turn – holy and immaculate: thanks to Christ we can be redeemed. He confronted the evil of the world and bore the burden of every sin upon his shoulders. With the vital force of the Cross and the Resurrection, he circumscribed evil and determined its definitive defeat. Every falsehood was disposed of by the innocence of God in Jesus Christ.

The Father conceived all things in light and in Mary Immaculate he urges us to say “yes” with our heart, our mind and our will, as happened at the Annunciation of the Angel, so that we may spread Christ’s light and innocence.

It is a “yes” to be repeated day after day after the example of Mary, who confirmed it in the darkest hour, at the foot of the Cross when foolishness and scandal had joined forces, deluding themselves that they could put an end to God’s love.

Let us also enter the vortex of God’s immortal life, in this new Advent which is given an impetus by the pause we are making with Mary. She lived perfectly in tune with the divine Word and now wishes to teach us to cherish those words in our heart (cf. Lk 2:19 and 51) so that we may spread the truth of the Gospel about God and about man (cf. Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini).

Believing and prayerful listening and safekeeping in the heart of Christ the Word of God is the essential path for you, during your stay in Rome.

The Holy Father Benedict recently addressed a letter to Seminarians. However, it also applies to us who are already ordained, since as priests we must become fathers and teachers among the People of God with hearts as enthusiastic, generous and faithful as those we had during our seminary years. At one point in this Letter the Pope emphasizes our priestly youthfulness. He says: “It is important for the priest, who is called to accompany others through the journey of life up to the threshold of death, to have the right balance of heart and mind, reason and feeling, body and soul, and to be humanly “integro” (in italian)”.

Let us allow ourselves to be fascinated by the integrity of the Immaculate Mother, who wishes to guide us on the paths of constant personal and liturgical prayer, of sacrifice, of fraternal life, of discernment with the spiritual directors, so that the gift of ourselves may be total. May body and soul, in the charism of sacred celibacy accepted with gratitude, prudence and immense humility, be consigned to the Lord and to the brothers just as, in the heart of the Eucharistic consecration we say in persona Christi: “this is my Body… this is my Blood”!

Let us pray for each other, dear brothers, that we may understand that the priesthood is not ours but Christ’s and finds its source and synthesis in the love “that gives all”. May Mary Immaculate be our teacher on the path of evangelical love: “[She] helps us to rediscover and defend what is inside people, because in her there is perfect transparency of soul and body. She is purity in person in the sense that the spirit, soul and body are fully coherent in her and with God’s will. Our Lady teaches us to open up to God’s action, to look at others as he does starting with the heart, to look upon them with mercy, love, infinite tenderness, especially those who are lonely scorned or exploited. ‘[W]here sins increased, grace overflows all the more’. […]. The evangelical law of love… drives the world forward”, having understood “that it is not worth condemning, complaining or recriminating; that it is better to respond to evil doing good” (Benedict XVI, Marian Prayer in Piazza di Spagna, Insegnamenti, V,2, 2009 pp. 672-673).

“What an immense joy to have Mary Immaculate as Mother! Every time that we experience our frailty and the suggestion of evil, we can turn to her, and our heart receives light and comfort. Even in the trials of life, in the storms that make faith and hope falter, let us think that we are her children and that our existence is rooted in the infinite grace of God. The Church herself, even though she is exposed to the negative influences of the world, always finds in Mary the star to guide her and to follow the route pointed out to her by Christ. Mary is indeed Mother of the Church, as Pope Paul VI and the Second Vatican Council solemnly proclaimed” (Benedict XVI, Insegnamenti, V,2, 2009, p. 667).

May Mary Immaculate also obtain for us faithfulness and courage from the Lamb Sacrificed and Glorified. May the One who will come in glory, after coming in the humility of Bethlehem, find us “watchful in prayer and ardent in charity”. Jesus Christ is the meaning of our life, we are his disciples and missionaries, as Pope Benedict reminded the young people and seminarians at St Joseph’s Seminary in New York: “Friends, again I ask you, what about today? What are you seeking? What is God whispering to you? The hope which never disappoints is Jesus Christ. […]. You are Christ’s disciples today. Shine his light upon this great city and beyond. Show the world the reason for the hope that resonates within you. Tell others about the truth that sets you free” (Benedict XVI, Insegnamenti, IV,1, 2008, pp. 653-654).

I would like to conclude, dear friends, with the words of Benedict XVI at the meeting with the Bishops of the United States on April 16, 2008: “I commend the Church in your country most particularly to the maternal care and intercession of Mary Immaculate, Patroness of the United States. May she who carried within her womb the hope of all the nations intercede for the people of America, so that all may be made new in Jesus Christ her Son.” (Insegnamenti, IV,1, 2008, p. 586).