HOLY MASS DURING THE VIGIL
HOMILY OF CARD. TARCISIO BERTONE,
Esplanade of the Shrine of Our Lady of Fátima
Venerable Brother Bishops and Priests,
Jesus said: “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:3). In order to enter the kingdom, we must become humble, ever humbler and smaller, as small as possible: this is the secret of the mystical life. A serious commitment to the spiritual life begins when a person makes an authentic act of humility, moving away from the difficult position of one who always considers himself the centre of the universe so as to abandon oneself into the arms of the mystery of God, with the heart of a child.
Into the arms of the mystery of God! In him not only is there power, knowledge and majesty, but also infancy, innocence, infinite tenderness, because he is Father, infinitely Father. We did not know this before, nor could we have known it; it was only when he sent his Son to us that we were able to discover it. The Son became a child and so he could tell us to become children ourselves in order to enter his kingdom. He, the God of infinite grandeur, became so small and humble before us that only the eyes of faith, only the eyes of the simple are able to recognize him (cf. Mt 11:25). In this way he called into question the natural instinct of self-assertion that dominates us: “Become like God” (cf. Gen 3:5). Very well, then! God appeared on earth as a child. Now we know what God is like: he is a child. We had to see it to believe it! He came to address our overwhelming need to be noticed, but he turned it on its head by inviting us to place it at the service of love; to be noticed, yes, but as the most peaceable, indulgent, generous and serviceable to all: the servant and the last of all.
Brothers and sisters, this is “the wisdom from above” (cf. Jas 3:17). By contrast, the “wisdom” of the world exalts personal success and seeks it at any cost, eliminating without scruples those who are considered an obstacle to one’s own supremacy. This is what people call life, but the trail of death that it leaves behind immediately contradicts them. “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer”, as we heard in our second reading, “and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 Jn 3:15). Only someone who loves his brother possesses in himself eternal life, that is to say, the presence of God, who, through the Spirit, communicates his love to the believer, making him a sharer in the mystery of the life of the Blessed Trinity. Just as an emigré to a foreign country, even if he adapts well to the new situation, preserves – at least in his heart – the laws and customs of his people, so too when Jesus came on earth, he brought with him, as a pilgrim of the Blessed Trinity, the manner of life of his heavenly homeland which “expresses humanly the divine ways of the Trinity” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 470). In baptism, each one of us renounced the “wisdom” of the world and turned towards the “wisdom from above”, which was manifested in Jesus, the matchless Teacher of the art of loving (cf. 1 Jn 3:16). To lay down one’s life for one’s brother is the highest form of love, said Jesus (cf. Jn 15:13); he both said it and did it, commanding us to love as he did (cf. Jn 15:12). Passing from life as possession to life as gift is the great challenge that reveals – to ourselves and to others – who we are and who we want to be.
Fraternal and gratuitous love is the commandment and the mission that the divine Teacher left us, one that is capable of convincing our brothers and sisters in humanity: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35). At times we lament the marginal place of Christianity in present-day society, the difficulty of handing on the faith to the young, the decline in the number of priestly and religious vocations ... and one could list other grounds for concern; in fact, we often think of ourselves as the losers vis-à-vis the world. The adventure of hope, however, takes us beyond that point. It teaches us that the world belongs to whoever loves it most and is best able to tell it so. In the heart of every person there is an infinite thirst for love; and we, with the love that God pours into our hearts (cf. Rom 5:5), are able to satisfy that thirst. Naturally, our love must express itself not “in word or speech but in deed and in truth”, joyfully and readily placing our goods at the disposal of those in need (cf. 1 Jn 3:16-18).
Beloved pilgrims, and all who are listening to me, “share with joy, like Jacinta”. That is the invitation that this Shrine chose to highlight on the centenary of the birth of the blessed visionary of Fatima. Ten years ago, in this very place, the Venerable Servant of God John Paul II raised her to the glory of the altars together with her brother Francisco; they accomplished in a short time the long journey towards holiness, guided and sustained by the hands of the Virgin Mary. They are two mature fruits of the tree of our Saviour’s Cross. Reflecting upon them, we know that this is the season of fruits … fruits of holiness. O ancient Lusitanian stock, nourished by Christianity, with branches reaching out into other worlds and sprouting up there as new Christian peoples, upon you the Queen of Heaven has placed her foot – the victorious foot that crushed the head of the deceitful serpent (cf. Gen 3:15) – seeking out the little ones of the kingdom of heaven. Strengthened by the prayer of this night of vigil and with eyes firmly fixed upon the glory of Blessed Francisco and Jacinta, accept Jesus’s challenge: “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:3). For those like us, spoilt by pride, it is not easy to become like children. That is why Jesus admonishes us so severely: “You will not enter … ”! He leaves us no alternative. Portugal, do not resign yourself to forms of thinking and living that have no future, because they are not based on the firm certitude of the word of God, of the Gospel. “Do not be afraid! The Gospel is not against you, but for you … In the Gospel, which is Jesus, you will find the sure and lasting hope to which you aspire. This hope is grounded in the victory of Christ over sin and death. He wishes this victory to be your own, for your salvation and your joy” (Ecclesia in Europa, 121).
The first reading shows us how Samuel found a guide in the High Priest Eli. In his dealings with the boy, Eli displayed all the prudence required for the task of a true educator, one who is able to intuit the nature of the profound experience that Samuel is undergoing. No one, in fact, can decide the vocation of another; therefore Eli directs Samuel to listen humbly to the word of God: “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening” (1 Sam 3:10). In a sense we can interpret in a similar light this visit by the Holy Father, which has as its theme: “Pope Benedict XVI, we walk with you in Hope!” These are words that suggest both a collective confession of faith and adherence to the Church that is visibly founded on Peter, and also a personal apprenticeship of trust and loyalty towards the paternal and wise guidance of the one chosen by heaven to point out the sure way that leads there to the people of today.
Holy Father, “we walk with you in Hope!” With you, we learn to distinguish between the great Hope and the lesser hopes that, like ourselves, are always limited! At those moments when, amid the general defection back to the lesser hopes, we hear the challenging words of Jesus, the Great Hope: “Do you also wish to go away?”, awaken us, Peter, with your perennial response: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (Jn 6:68-9). Truly – as we are reminded by the Peter of today, Pope Benedict XVI – “anyone who does not know God, even though he may entertain all kinds of hopes, is ultimately without hope, without the great hope that sustains the whole of life (cf. Eph 2:12). Man’s great, true hope which holds firm in spite of all disappointments can only be God – God who has loved us and who continues to love us ‘to the end’, until all ‘is accomplished’ (cf. Jn 13:1 and 19:30)” (Spe Salvi, 27).
Beloved pilgrims of Fatima, make sure that heaven is always the horizon of your lives! People have tried to tell you that heaven can wait, but they have been deceiving you … the voice that comes from heaven is not like these siren voices, reminiscent of the legendary creatures who duped their victims into distraction before plunging them into the abyss. For two thousand years, beginning from Galilee, the definitive voice of the Son of God has resounded to the ends of the earth, saying: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1:15). Fatima reminds us that heaven cannot wait! Therefore we ask Our Lady, with filial trust, to teach us how to offer heaven to earth: O Virgin Mary, teach us to believe, to worship, to hope and to love with you! Show us the way towards the kingdom of Jesus, the way of spiritual childhood. O Star of Hope, as you anxiously await us in the unending Light of the heavenly homeland, shine upon us and guide us in the events of every day, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.