OFFICIAL VISIT OF THE SECRETARY OF STATE TO PERU
EUCHARISTIC CELEBRATION ON THE
Shrine of Saint Rose of Lima, Lima
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
"The Kingdom of Heaven is like a grain of mustard seed... it is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs" (Mt 13: 31-32).
In the Gospel passage which the liturgy presents to us for the Feast of St Rose of Lima, Jesus compares the Kingdom of Heaven to a mustard seed, one of the tiniest seeds but which nonetheless grows into a luxurious tree, even as tall as 3 metres.
The smallness of the seed and the subsequent growth of the plant with the flowers and fruits it produces are out of proportion. It is not very difficult to understand the teaching the Lord desires to impart to us with the use of this metaphor.
Indeed, just as there is no logical proportion between a tall tree and the very small seed from which it grows, there is likewise no logical proportion between the limitations of man and the miracles of holiness which divine grace works within him.
Are not the lives of the saints and the journey of the Church down the ages a constant testimony of this mysterious action of the Lord?
We are all like tiny seeds, but from our limitations God can draw marvellous miracles of goodness and love, as the human and spiritual history of St Rose eloquently expresses. This is holiness: a free act of the Almighty Creator, when he finds a faithful and humble response in the human creature.
But we can add another concept. In our time, we are rightly concerned that some Christians are enticed by the sects or seduced by the mirage of modern hedonism and a culture which, by stressing the autonomy of the human being, ends up proposing a humanism without God or even against God.
The Gospel text points out to us a way that we must follow. All pastoral and missionary action is useful for a more incisive apostolic action, but what counts most is that each one of us should be a good seed which can produce, thanks to divine help, an abundance of fruits.
Christians are therefore called to witness by their example to their convinced belonging to Christ and to his Church. Thus, they may become a leaven of holiness.
Jesus said this clearly when, in the same passage from Matthew's Gospel, he identified the Kingdom of Heaven not only with a tiny mustard seed but also with the leaven that causes the dough to rise. "The Kingdom of Heaven", he tells us, "is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened" (13: 33).
To have good bread it is not merely necessary to have new dough, even if it is fresh: what is necessary is the leaven which, when added to the flour, gives rise to an almost magic phenomenon: the mass of dough swells until the bowl can barely contain it. Indeed, this is caused by the force of life which is a property inherent in leaven.
A Christian author of the early centuries whose name was Origen wrote an interesting commentary on this short parable. He identified the three "measures of flour" mentioned in the Gospel with the human elements - body, soul and spirit -, which in order to ferment, that is, to be uplifted, need the Holy Sprit. Here too we can make a very timely application.
Today, the temptation of a modern brand of gnosticism which conceives of religion almost as an individual and private option to be lived in an intimist way is widespread.
But if it is also true that faith is first and foremost intimate friendship with Christ, then when this faith is authentic it cannot fail to be "contagious" to the point that it renews society and even creation, given that the whole of creation is part of the plan of salvation.
The Christian must not only be reconciled with being "good bread" but must also be the leaven of society.
This was the experience of Isabella Flores y de Oliva, known as Rose because of the fresh rose-coloured tint of her cheeks. Although she came from a noble family of Spanish immigrants who settled in Peru, she had no qualms about coming to terms with the situation when a series of misfortunes left her relatives in economic difficulties.
Since her adolescence, she had chosen to follow Jesus with ardent passion by enrolling in the Third Order of St Dominic and choosing Catherine of Siena as her model and spiritual guide. She was devoted to caring for the poor and to the ordinary daily work in her home of any girl, but in addition imposed an austere regime on herself, marked by extraordinary forms of penance.
At age 23, she would lock herself into a cell of barely 2 square metres which she had her brother build in the garden of their home and would emerge from it only to attend religious functions.
Like Catherine of Siena, she too was granted the mystical grace of participating physically in the passion of Jesus, who had chosen her as his Bride, and for 15 years she had to endure the harsh inner experience of God's absence, the spiritual suffering that St John of the Cross, the reformer of the Carmelites, described as the "dark night".
Thus, Rose's life was hidden and tormented but, docile to the Holy Spirit, she attained the loftiest peaks of holiness. The message she continues to communicate to the devout who call on her as their Patronness, not only in Peru and the Latin American Continent but also throughout the world, is clearly expressed in one of the mysterious messages she received from the Lord.
"Let all men know", Jesus entrusted to her, "that grace comes after tribulation. Let them know that without the burden of afflictions it is impossible to reach the height of grace. Let them know that the gifts of grace increase as the struggles increase. Let men take care not to stray or to be deceived. This is the only true ladder to paradise, and without the cross, there is no other way in which to ascend to heaven".
These words prompt one to think of the demanding conditions which Jesus imposed on his disciples.
"If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.... For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life" (Mt 16: 24, 26).
Therein, precisely, lies the paradox of the Gospel, the true wisdom of the Cross, the scandal of the Cross.
"The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (I Cor 1: 18). May St Rose help us to embrace the cross confidently as she did, even when it brings suffering and what seem to be apparent lack of successes.
And she said further: "No one would complain about his cross or about the troubles that may happen to him, if he would come to know the scales on which the crosses are weighed when they are distributed to men".
St Rose's short life - she died when she was only 32 years old - was marked by innumerable trials and suffering, but at the same time was totally imbued with love for Christ and with deep serenity. It can be said that in St Rose, the power of divine grace was perfectly expressed: the weaker human beings are and the greater the trust they place in God, the greater the comfort they find in him and the more they experience the renewing power of his Spirit.
The First Reading from the Book of Sirach urges us to live in humble and trusting abandonment to the Lord: "For great is the might of the Lord; he is glorified by the humble" (Sir 3: 19).
"In the day of your affliction it will be remembered in your favour" (Sir 3: 15).
On her Feast Day, St Rose reminds us that God is good and merciful, that he never abandons his children at the hour of trial and need; he asks us always to trust in him and to be simple and humble.
To his friends he says: "Come to me, all who labour and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart" (Mt 11: 28-29).
On one occasion, love for the Eucharist impelled her to embrace the tabernacle to defend it from the invasions of Dutch Calvinists who were besieging the city of Lima.
She also turned frequently to Mary Most Holy, invoking her with the title of "Queen of the Rosary". Indeed, as you know, it was precisely Our Lady of the Rosary who indicated to her the form in which she was to be consecrated to Jesus for ever: the Third Order of St Dominic.
Indeed, it happened that when her family became resigned to her refusal to marry, Rose was to enter the Monastery of Santa Clara. However, she was far from certain that this was the right decision and when, accompanied by her brother, she was leaving home to settle definitively in the monastery, she stopped in front of "her" Madonna.
She prayed so intensely that she felt herself become as heavy as lead; neither her brother nor the sacristan were able to lift her. And it was only when she promised Our Lady she would return home that the Virgin smiled at her and Rose was able to stand up easily.
It was this that convinced her that through the motherly love of the Virgin Mary she would be able to reach Jesus. Thus, she lived totally consecrated to Jesus and Mary; when she died, the last words on her lips were: "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, be with me always".
Dear brothers and sisters, I thank the Lord who has given me the opportunity to end my stay in Peru with this pilgrimage to the feet of St Rose, an outstanding daughter of your Nation, in this beautiful church where her relics are preserved.
After having had the honour to inaugurate the National Eucharistic Congress on Saturday, 25 August, this morning I was able to preside at the solemn celebration for its closure.
The Eucharistic Congress was a very important event, a time of grace and blessing for all. For this reason I would like once more to give thanks to the Lord.
I also feel a deep desire to thank God because during this visit I have been able to know better the depth of the faith of the Christian communities and the cordial hospitality of the Peruvian People.
At the time when I am taking my leave of your beautiful Country with this Eucharistic celebration, I invoke upon each and every one of you the protection of St Rose and the motherly help of Mary, so deeply venerated in every corner of the Country.
I ask you to remember me in your prayers, but above all for the Holy Father Benedict XVI, who is following with fatherly concern and affection the life and journey of the Church and the Peruvian Nation. May Peru persevere and grow in a firm faith that is full of joy, in harmony and peace under the benevolent gaze of the Lord of Miracles, the Blessed Virgin and St Rose.
The Lord of Miracles, the Blessed Virgin and St Rose are particularly close to those who are suffering as a result of the recent earthquake, whose consequences are still being acutely felt.
At the end of my visit, dear brothers and sisters, let us pray for the deceased, the injured, the families left homeless; let us pray for the entire People of Peru that united, they may be able also to overcome this trial, to build their future confidently, trusting always in divine help.
The words of the Lord have just been repeated: "In the day of affliction God will remember you" (cf. Sir 3: 15). With this sound hope, let us celebrate the divine sacrifice, source and summit of the life of the Church and of the world, redeemed by the Cross of Christ. Amen!