EUCHARISTIC CONCELEBRATION FOR THE
HOMILY OF CARDINAL TARCISIO BERTONE
Auditorium in the Trade Fair district, Rimini
Your Most Reverend Eminence,
I thank you warmly for inviting me to preside at this Eucharist for the opening of the 2007 Meeting for Friendship Among Peoples. I cordially greet the Meeting's sponsors and organizers, the leaders and members of Communion and Liberation, the Authorities, guests and everyone present. I joyfully carry out the welcome task of bringing you the blessing and greeting of the Holy Father Benedict XVI, who has asked me to assure you of his spiritual closeness in the hope that this praiseworthy event, well-known and long appreciated by him, will be a real success.
More especially, at recent Meetings the human reality and constitutive dimensions of the human personality, people's thirst for knowledge and for happiness, was examined and weighed from various perspectives and viewpoints. On several occasions this led you to a deeper reflection on what binds man to his destiny and on his irrepressible longing for the infinite.
At this year's Meeting, the basic question you wish to ask concerns the truth, as the particularly evocative theme chosen suggests: The truth is the destiny for which we were made.
For every human being, thirst for the truth has always been a deep desire and demanding challenge. Indeed, man is by nature "curious": he is prompted to find answers to the many "whys" of life and to seek the truth.
In his magisterial Encyclical Letter Fides et Ratio, the late Pope John Paul II says in this regard: "It is the nature of the human being to seek the truth. This search looks not only to the attainment of truths which are partial, empirical or scientific.... Their search looks towards an ulterior truth which would explain the meaning of life. And it is therefore a search which can reach its end only in reaching the absolute" (n. 33). And a little earlier, he defines man simply but extremely effectively as "the one who seeks the truth" (n. 28).
In the current socio-cultural context, the truth unfortunately often loses its universal value to become a "relative" reference. Indeed, the term "truth" is often equated with the word "opinion" and is then necessarily declined in the plural: thus, a great many truths exist, that is, a great many opinions that are often very divergent.
One sometimes has the impression that in the atmosphere of relativism and scepticism which pervades our civilization, we have even reached the point of proclaiming radical distrust in the possibility of knowing the truth. Is it not true that we perceive, most convincingly, in this modern attitude to the truth all the intense scepticism that Pilate's disturbing question to Jesus contains: "What is truth?" (Jn 18: 38).
The then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, in a beautiful essay written a few years ago, referring to the Screwtape Letters, a successful book by the writer and philosopher C.S. Lewis, in which a senior devil, called precisely, "Screwtape", writes 31 letters to his nephew, "Wormwood", on how to seduce man - moreover, I know this book is very popular with you! -, as I was saying, Cardinal Ratzinger noted: "Today, it is not modern to question oneself on the truth. The young devil expressed to his superior concern that particularly intelligent individuals read the books of wisdom of the ancients in such a way that they might be on the track of the truth; Screwtape reassured him, reminding him that "the only problem that will never arise is that of the truth of what they read; rather, they will wonder about influences and dependences, the development of the writer concerned, the history of the effects of his work and so forth'. The result of such an operation is clearly an immunization against the truth" (Fede, Verità, Tolleranza, Siena, 2002, p. 195).
Returning to this topic a few years later at a meeting with students at the Lateran University, Joseph Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, said: "If the question of the truth and the concrete possibility for every person to be able to reach it is neglected, life ends up being reduced to a plethora of hypotheses, deprived of assurances and points of reference" (Address to Students, Pontifical Lateran University, 21 October 2006; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 1 November, p. 3).
On this 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time the Word of God helps us to reflect profitably on these very topics.
The passage of the First Reading from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah (38: 4-6, 8-10) recounts the experience of the Prophet who was in Jerusalem when the Babylonians were besieging it. He stated that there was no chance of resisting, for this would only lead to worse consequences, and therefore recommended negotiating with Nebuchadnezzar.
But the people and especially their leaders did not agree. They wanted to hold out and were ready to resist the seige to the bitter end. Indeed, considering Jeremiah a defeatist, they became furious with him. King Zedekiah did not dare to oppose the princes who desired to inflict a very harsh punishment on the Prophet and let them have their way. Jeremiah was then taken and thrown into a cistern. What a terrible and even paradoxical situation the Prophet found himself in! He spoke in God's Name but his followers were hostile to him; it even seemed that the Lord himself was no longer protecting him and had left him in his enemies' hands.
The Prophet did not proclaim a truth of compromise or convenience, an opportunist truth, but the truth in its entirety, a truth that corresponded with the divine will itself, even if it was uncomfortable. Those who listened to him listened to God, those who opposed him were opposing God.
Jeremiah, imprisoned in the cistern, reminds us of Jesus, who was to be put to death for having witnessed to the truth and to know the darkness of the tomb; but just as the Prophet was to be hoisted out of the cistern, Christ, rising from death, would emerge victorious from the tomb. Whoever is ready to serve the truth, who wishes to remain faithful to God, must be prepared to experience Jeremiah's lot personally, Christ's same destiny.
St Raymond of Peñafort wrote that those who desire to live fully in Christ suffer persecution. However, when Christians, St Gregory the Great commented, are enlightened by true wisdom, they are not afraid of the derision or unjust censure to which they are subjected. Theodoret of Cyr added that the fortitude with which Christ faced death must be an incentive to us to face life's trials courageously. When it seems that God himself has abandoned us, it is then that we must persevere in prayer; it is then, making our own the invocation of the Responsorial Psalm, that we repeat, full of trust and certain of being heard: "Lord, make haste to help me... bring me out of prison" (cf. Ps 141: 1; 142: 7).
Indeed, just as God went to Jeremiah's rescue by causing Ebel-melech to intervene to save him, he makes himself present with his providential help to those who are suffering and rejected because of truth and justice.
The Gospel passage we have just heard also brings us an important message. It asks us not to give in to compromises when the truth of our relationship with God is at stake. Jesus said: "Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division" (Lk 12: 51).
Did Jesus then come to kindle the flame of discord among men and women and even in families? How can that be if God is the God of peace and love and if Christ is our peace (cf. Eph 2: 14)?
In fact, the defence of peace, love, truth and good are at the root of a fight to the death between the Almighty and Satan, his true enemy, whose aim it is to destroy God's work and deprive man of his friendship. Since humanity was born, since the tragic event of Original Sin, Satan has been opposed to God and, were it possible, would like even to annihilate him, to establish his own kingdom of chaos, hatred and unhappiness. His aim is to attract man and subjugate him to himself. To do this, he must in any case separate man from God.
History unfortunately shows that scores of people have always fallen into Satan's snares; they delude themselves into thinking that they will progress and obtain happiness by following the deceptive suggestions of the Evil One, who spurs man to fulfil himself apart from, or even in opposition to, God.
But the result is failure and ruin, unhappiness and death. Jesus came to unmask the Devil's sly and artful strategy. He pointed out Satan to everyone as the one true enemy of God and man and engaged in the great battle of salvation against him.
The fire he came to bring to the earth is thus the fire of separation from the devil; the fire of truth that shows up the true face of Satan as the father of lies; the fire that makes it possible to distinguish clearly between good and evil, between truth and error; hence, it is a fire of "holy" discord that obliges each one of us to take a stance, to decide clearly whether to side with God or to be against him.
Knowing and choosing the truth is being with Christ. The truth - as the Meeting's theme emphasizes - is the destiny for which we were made. How timely are Christ's words today which we hear ceaselessly resounding within us as a constant challenge: "I am the truth" (Jn 14: 6)! Christ is the only One who can identify the truth with a person; he is truth personified, made human, and those who seek him fulfil themselves completely.
He says, "If you continue in my word you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free" (Jn 8: 31-32). In the Encyclical Fides et Ratio cited above, Pope John Paul II wrote: "Whoever lives for the truth is reaching for a form of knowledge which is fired more and more with love for what it knows" (n. 42).
Let us now ask ourselves with St Augustine: "Quid fortius desiderat homo quam veritatem? - What does man desire more ardently than the truth?". The whole of man's existence is marked by this question that finds a full answer in the encounter with Christ.
May the Meeting help our society understand that "the truth is the destiny for which we were made". May Mary, Mater Veritatis, obtain that we be tireless seekers of the truth that is Christ.