HOMILY OF HIS EMINENCE CARD. WILLIAM JOSEPH LEVADA
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1168), the liturgical year is called by the Messianic phrase "the year of the Lord's favor” The term is taken from the passage of the Prophet Isaiah read at today's Mass and cited as the starting point for Our Lord's inaugural sermon of his public ministry at the synagogue in Nazareth, The International Theological Symposium on the Eucharist at which we have gathered in these days surely reinforces this beautiful image, and illustrates all the more for us how the Eucharist becomes the "daily bread" for which we pray to Our Father, letting us see all of time and history - including our own - under the sign of the Lord's favor, and leading us ever more eagerly through time and history to the heavenly banquet.
Today we commemorate St Anthony of Padua. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council reminds us that in the memorial of the saints in the annual liturgical cycle, the Church proclaims the Paschal mystery in those "who have suffered and have been glorified with Christ. She proposes them to the faithful as examples who draw all people to the Father through Christ, and through their merits she begs for God's favors." St. Anthony's preaching of the Gospel galvanized the lives of the faithful in whole regions of northern Italy and southern France. Recalling him in this Eucharist can illustrate how the saints lead us to see the whole history of the Church as happening in anno Domini, in the year of the Lord's favor.
At age 15 Anthony joined the Augustinian Canons in his native Lisbon, where he received an excellent knowledge of the Bible. But at age 25 he encountered the funeral procession of 5 early Franciscan friars, who were martyred in Morocco preaching to the Moors. One can almost picture him meditating on the Gospel we heard today, finally discerning that he too must go out on mission to preach the kingdom of God as Jesus commanded his first disciples to do. He joined the Franciscans, was sent off to Africa, but by fate or Providence the winds took his ship to Sicily, where he joined some Franciscan friars on the way to the famous chapter of the Mats in Assisi.
Assigned by St. Francis himself to the province of Romagna, Anthony soon demonstrated brilliance and persuasion as a teacher of his fellow friars and especially as a preacher. In Butler's Lives of the Saints, we read that "wherever he went crowds flocked to hear him; hardened criminals, careless folk, and heretics alike were converted and brought to confession." Anthony died at age 36, and was canonized by Pope Gregory IX less than a year later. When I visited the great basilica in Padova where his relics are venerated by thousands of the faithful each year, the most striking thing for me was the number of people going to confession, day in and day out.
Perhaps this beautiful legacy of St. Anthony as the apostle of conversion and the Sacrament of Penance can make its own contribution to our symposium on the Eucharist. In another passage of the Catechism (1436), entitled "Eucharist and Penance," we are reminded that "daily conversion and penance find their source and nourishment in the Eucharist, for in it is made present the sacrifice of Christ which has reconciled us with God." It recalls the words of the Council of Trent, which calls the Eucharist "a remedy to free us from our daily faults and to preserve us from mortal sins."
Next week we will join in the Statio Orbis of the International Eucharistic Congress, an event that we pray will have an abiding and overflowing effect on the whole Church. As Pope Benedict XVI stated in his Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis (20), "a love for the Eucharist leads to a growing appreciation of the sacrament of Reconciliation. Given the connection between these sacraments, an authentic catechesis on the meaning of the Eucharist must include the call to pursue the path of penance." Here the Pope refers to the first Letter to the Corinthians, in which Paul wrote "Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup" (11:27-8).
In calling the Church to a renewed catechesis about the sacrament of Reconciliation, the Holy Father provides a renewed apologia when he says, "We know that the faithful are surrounded by a culture that tends to eliminate the sense of sin and to promote a superficial approach that overlooks the need to be in a state of grace in order to approach sacramental communion worthily. The loss of a consciousness of sin always entails a certain superficiality in the understanding God's love. Bringing out the elements within the rite of [the] Mass that express consciousness of personal sin and, at the same time, of God's mercy, can prove most helpful to the faithful."
Today at Mass we will again pray before receiving Holy Communion, "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed." And die silent prayer of the priest that precedes Holy Communion offers yet another example of seeking forgiveness before encountering the Holy of Holies: "By the mystery of your body and blood, free me from all my sins and from every evil. Keep me always faithful to your teachings and never let me be parted from you."
Dear Brothers and Sisters, as we commemorate St. Anthony of Padua this morning at Mass, let us thank God not only for the "daily bread" of this Eucharist, but also for the great gift of the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation by which He continues to offer to his beloved people the sign and instrument of his great mercy, forgiveness and love.