TAKING OF POSSESSION
HOMILY OF CARD. ANGELO SODANO
Cathedral of St Aurea Martyr
Your Eminences and Venerable Brother Bishops and Priests,
The first words at the beginning of Holy Mass have already conveyed my greeting to you. I cordially repeat them to you now: peace be with you, pax vobis!
I offer each one of you here my warmest thanks for taking part in this Eucharistic celebration on the day on which I am taking possession of this important Cathedral of Ostia, reserved for the Cardinal Dean of the College of Cardinals since 1587, as willed by the great Pope Sixtus V.
I would also like to address a special word to the praiseworthy Augustinian Fathers who lovingly care for this church, which is linked to so many memories of St Monica and St Augustine's stay in Rome.
Having said this, I would like to give a message to you as it wells up from my heart on this Lord's Day.
This Sunday's Gospel transmits a first message to us through the figure of the sower. It is an invitation to accept the words that the Lord scatters generously among us through the ministry of his Holy Church. Above all, it is an invitation to make what has been received come to fruition.
The parable then gives us the key to understanding the mystery of good and evil that exist in the world, that is, the mystery of human freedom, which can be open or closed to the work of God's grace.
The same Gospel passage also gives us a sense of great hope by pointing out to us the hidden dynamism of the seed that is scattered throughout the world. It always grows, whether or not it is noticed by the farmer who sowed it in his furrows. This is its innate vitality.
Jesus reminded his disciples of it with the similar Parable of the Mustard Seed that "someone took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest seed of all, yet when full grown it is the largest of plants... so that the birds of the sky come and build their nests in its branches" (Mt 13: 31-32).
This is the Church: a tree that has put down roots in the depths of human history, later offering its branches as a safe shelter to all people of goodwill.
The Message of St Aurea
Brothers and sisters, our celebration is taking place in an ancient church of Ostia, dedicated to a martyr of the Roman persecutions: St Aurea. We do not know much about the life of this young woman who, like Agnes and Cecilia and many other witnesses of the faith, glorified God by offering their lives. With St Augustine we can repeat: "Did you say she is a martyr? You have said it all"; "Martyrem dixisti? Dixisti satis!".
A church soon sprang up here in St Aurea's honour. Historians claim that it was here that the funeral of St Monica, St Augustine's mother, was celebrated in 387.
Like every martyr, our saint reminds us of the power of the grace of Christ who sustains his Church from within, enlivening her with his Holy Spirit. So it was in the past, so it is today.
From the Proto-Martyr St Stephen to the martyrs of Communism and Nazism of the 20th century, there is a vast multitude of men and women who have given the world a truly edifying example through their fidelity to Christ and to his Church.
That grace which sustained the martyrs in their sufferings is offered to us too, every day, if we ask for it with faith. Even amid the greatest of difficulties, Christ repeats to us the words he addressed to the Apostle Paul, severely tried: Paul, ""My grace is enough for you, for in weakness power reaches perfection'" (II Cor 12: 9).
St Augustine's voice
This, my brethren, is also the testimony that comes to us from St Augustine, who had such close ties with this beautiful corner of our Italy. He sang of the grace that saves.
In his treatise on the City of God, De Civitate Dei, our saint sketched a realistic vision of human history. The forces of evil undoubtedly are active in it but the forces of good that are present, supported by Divine Almightiness, are stronger yet.
The famous sentence in Book XIV of his treatise has become proverbial: "Two cities have been formed by two loves (the city of God, which is Jerusalem, and the city of evil, which is Babylon): the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self" (XIV, 28).
Thus, although he knew how difficult the life of a Christian was in the society of his time, St Augustine addressed a message of hope to his contemporaries that is relevant for all times.
Also for those who have to act in very serious situations, the Saint of Hippo recalled the continuous presence of Divine Providence in human history. "It would be inconceivable", he wrote, again in De Civitate Dei, "for God to have wished to let humans reign unbound by the laws of Providence" (ibid., V, 11 and 19).
At the service of the Church
My brethren, with this vision of Christian hope, I have also accepted from Pope Benedict XVI the responsibility of being his Secretary of State, continuing on the path that our late Pope John Paul II had marked out for me. Likewise, I accepted to be Dean of the College of Cardinals, well aware of my limits and the burden of years that march on relentlessly for all.
The Pallium, which I received on the Feast of Sts Peter and Paul, will make me feel even closer to the Pope and to all my Brother Cardinals, and will spur me to dedicate all my energy to serving the Church and the Holy See in particular.
For my part, I will seek to advance serenely in the Lord, and if I am sustained by your prayers, I will always be able to repeat the words of the Apostle Paul: "In him who is the source of my strength, I have strength for everything" (Phil 4: 13).
Human life on earth is brief and each one of us has a mission to carry out here below. In this regard, the criterion that St Ignatius of Loyola left to us seems to me always to apply: "Work as though everything depended upon us and then trust in God as though everything depended on him".
May this also be the criterion of life for us!