New batch of Swiss Guards take their Oath of Loyalty

Every year on the 6th of May, the Swiss Guards—the pope’s bodyguard—have their new recruits take an Oath of Fidelity.  This date also marks the anniversary of the Sack of Rome in which 147 Swiss Guards were slain on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica while defending the Holy Father.

First, the chaplain of the Guards reads the oath:  “I swear I will faithfully, loyally and honourably serve the Supreme Pontiff Francis and his legitimate successors, and also dedicate myself to them with all my strength, sacrificing if necessary also my life to defend them. I assume this same commitment with regard to the Sacred College of Cardinals whenever the See is vacant.  Furthermore I promise to the Commanding Captain and my other superiors, respect, fidelity and obedience. This I swear! May God and our Holy Patrons assist me!

Then, the new recruits each come up, place one had on the flag of the Swiss Guards and raise the other hand showing 3 fingers as a sign of the Blessed Trinity say,

I, …, swear I will observe faithfully, loyally and honourably all that has now been read out to me! May God and his saints assist me! 

As we celebrate the 7th anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI’s election to the Chair of Peter to be the Vicar of Christ and the Servant of the Servants of God, here is our Papa’s thoughts as he heard the ballots with his name being read:

As the trend in the ballots slowly made me realize that — in a manner of speaking the guillotine would fall on me — I started to feel quite dizzy.  I thought that I had done my life’s work and could now hope to live out my days in peace.
I told the Lord with deep conviction, “Don’t do this to me. You have younger and better (candidates) who could take up this great task with a totally different energy and with different strength.”
Evidently, this time he didn’t listen to me.

Then, after some of the shock had worn off, this is what he said in his very first homily as pope:

During these days of great intensity, we have chanted the litany of the saints on three different occasions: at the funeral of our Holy Father John Paul II; as the Cardinals entered the Conclave; and again today, when we sang it with the response: Tu illum adiuva – sustain the new Successor of Saint Peter. On each occasion, in a particular way, I found great consolation in listening to this prayerful chant. How alone we all felt after the passing of John Paul II – the Pope who for over twenty-six years had been our shepherd and guide on our journey through life! He crossed the threshold of the next life, entering into the mystery of God. But he did not take this step alone. Those who believe are never alone – neither in life nor in death. At that moment, we could call upon the Saints from every age – his friends, his brothers and sisters in the faith – knowing that they would form a living procession to accompany him into the next world, into the glory of God. We knew that his arrival was awaited. Now we know that he is among his own and is truly at home. We were also consoled as we made our solemn entrance into Conclave, to elect the one whom the Lord had chosen. How would we be able to discern his name? How could 115 Bishops, from every culture and every country, discover the one on whom the Lord wished to confer the mission of binding and loosing? Once again, we knew that we were not alone, we knew that we were surrounded, led and guided by the friends of God. And now, at this moment, weak servant of God that I am, I must assume this enormous task, which truly exceeds all human capacity. How can I do this? How will I be able to do it? All of you, my dear friends, have just invoked the entire host of Saints, represented by some of the great names in the history of God’s dealings with mankind. In this way, I too can say with renewed conviction: I am not alone. I do not have to carry alone what in truth I could never carry alone. All the Saints of God are there to protect me, to sustain me and to carry me. And your prayers, my dear friends, your indulgence, your love, your faith and your hope accompany me. Indeed, the communion of Saints consists not only of the great men and women who went before us and whose names we know. All of us belong to the communion of Saints, we who have been baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, we who draw life from the gift of Christ’s Body and Blood, through which he transforms us and makes us like himself. Yes, the Church is alive – this is the wonderful experience of these days. During those sad days of the Pope’s illness and death, it became wonderfully evident to us that the Church is alive. And the Church is young. She holds within herself the future of the world and therefore shows each of us the way towards the future. The Church is alive and we are seeing it: we are experiencing the joy that the Risen Lord promised his followers. The Church is alive – she is alive because Christ is alive, because he is truly risen. In the suffering that we saw on the Holy Father’s face in those days of Easter, we contemplated the mystery of Christ’s Passion and we touched his wounds. But throughout these days we have also been able, in a profound sense, to touch the Risen One. We have been able to experience the joy that he promised, after a brief period of darkness, as the fruit of his resurrection.
…
One of the basic characteristics of a shepherd must be to love the people entrusted to him, even as he loves Christ whom he serves. “Feed my sheep”, says Christ to Peter, and now, at this moment, he says it to me as well. Feeding means loving, and loving also means being ready to suffer. Loving means giving the sheep what is truly good, the nourishment of God’s truth, of God’s word, the nourishment of his presence, which he gives us in the Blessed Sacrament. My dear friends – at this moment I can only say: pray for me, that I may learn to love the Lord more and more. Pray for me, that I may learn to love his flock more and more – in other words, you, the holy Church, each one of you and all of you together. Pray for me, that I may not flee for fear of the wolves.

If you haven’t read this homily from Pope Benedict’s installation Mass, I encourage you all to do so.  The last paragraph where he speaks directly to us young people is especially quite moving.

As we celebrate the 7th anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI’s election to the Chair of Peter to be the Vicar of Christ and the Servant of the Servants of God, here is our Papa’s thoughts as he heard the ballots with his name being read:

As the trend in the ballots slowly made me realize that — in a manner of speaking the guillotine would fall on me — I started to feel quite dizzy.  I thought that I had done my life’s work and could now hope to live out my days in peace.

I told the Lord with deep conviction, “Don’t do this to me. You have younger and better (candidates) who could take up this great task with a totally different energy and with different strength.”

Evidently, this time he didn’t listen to me.

Then, after some of the shock had worn off, this is what he said in his very first homily as pope:

During these days of great intensity, we have chanted the litany of the saints on three different occasions: at the funeral of our Holy Father John Paul II; as the Cardinals entered the Conclave; and again today, when we sang it with the response: Tu illum adiuva – sustain the new Successor of Saint Peter. On each occasion, in a particular way, I found great consolation in listening to this prayerful chant. How alone we all felt after the passing of John Paul II – the Pope who for over twenty-six years had been our shepherd and guide on our journey through life! He crossed the threshold of the next life, entering into the mystery of God. But he did not take this step alone. Those who believe are never alone – neither in life nor in death. At that moment, we could call upon the Saints from every age – his friends, his brothers and sisters in the faith – knowing that they would form a living procession to accompany him into the next world, into the glory of God. We knew that his arrival was awaited. Now we know that he is among his own and is truly at home. We were also consoled as we made our solemn entrance into Conclave, to elect the one whom the Lord had chosen. How would we be able to discern his name? How could 115 Bishops, from every culture and every country, discover the one on whom the Lord wished to confer the mission of binding and loosing? Once again, we knew that we were not alone, we knew that we were surrounded, led and guided by the friends of God. And now, at this moment, weak servant of God that I am, I must assume this enormous task, which truly exceeds all human capacity. How can I do this? How will I be able to do it? All of you, my dear friends, have just invoked the entire host of Saints, represented by some of the great names in the history of God’s dealings with mankind. In this way, I too can say with renewed conviction: I am not alone. I do not have to carry alone what in truth I could never carry alone. All the Saints of God are there to protect me, to sustain me and to carry me. And your prayers, my dear friends, your indulgence, your love, your faith and your hope accompany me. Indeed, the communion of Saints consists not only of the great men and women who went before us and whose names we know. All of us belong to the communion of Saints, we who have been baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, we who draw life from the gift of Christ’s Body and Blood, through which he transforms us and makes us like himself. Yes, the Church is alive – this is the wonderful experience of these days. During those sad days of the Pope’s illness and death, it became wonderfully evident to us that the Church is alive. And the Church is young. She holds within herself the future of the world and therefore shows each of us the way towards the future. The Church is alive and we are seeing it: we are experiencing the joy that the Risen Lord promised his followers. The Church is alive – she is alive because Christ is alive, because he is truly risen. In the suffering that we saw on the Holy Father’s face in those days of Easter, we contemplated the mystery of Christ’s Passion and we touched his wounds. But throughout these days we have also been able, in a profound sense, to touch the Risen One. We have been able to experience the joy that he promised, after a brief period of darkness, as the fruit of his resurrection.

One of the basic characteristics of a shepherd must be to love the people entrusted to him, even as he loves Christ whom he serves. “Feed my sheep”, says Christ to Peter, and now, at this moment, he says it to me as well. Feeding means loving, and loving also means being ready to suffer. Loving means giving the sheep what is truly good, the nourishment of God’s truth, of God’s word, the nourishment of his presence, which he gives us in the Blessed Sacrament. My dear friends – at this moment I can only say: pray for me, that I may learn to love the Lord more and more. Pray for me, that I may learn to love his flock more and more – in other words, you, the holy Church, each one of you and all of you together. Pray for me, that I may not flee for fear of the wolves.

If you haven’t read this homily from Pope Benedict’s installation Mass, I encourage you all to do so.  The last paragraph where he speaks directly to us young people is especially quite moving.

AD MULTOS GLORIOSQUE ANNOS!!!

Seven years ago, I remember setting my alarm clock so that I could wake up early to watch a chimney atop the Sistine Chapel where the Cardinal Electors had just taken their second vote in the morning of April 19, 2005.  (I had stayed up late the “night” before keeping vigil to see if anything happened after the first vote.)  The results?  Black smoke.  No decision.  Peter’s Chair remained empty.

I went back to bed only to wake up a few hours later for daily Mass.  It had already been a couple of weeks since our beloved Bl. John Paul the Great had died, but I still hadn’t gotten used to hearing his name omitted in the Eucharistic Prayer (Lord, remember your Church throughout the world; make us grow in love, together with ________ our Pope, ___________ our bishop, and all the clergy.)

During his homily, the priest spoke of the solemn activity currently going on in the Sistine Chapel, beneath Michelangelo’s famous ceiling of the Creation of Man and before the stern warning of his Last Judgement.  He urged us to invoke the Holy Spirit to pray for the Cardinals as they perform their sacred duty.

After Mass, I went back home.  I was on chimney watch since the day before.  I turned on the TV around 9:00am.  Smoke was pouring out of the most watched exhaust pipe in the world.  The smoke was dark grey, much like all the other times.  Then, something happened.  It got lighter very quickly.  However, since the Roman sky was overcast, you couldn’t really tell the color.  However, it was clearly not black.

The clueless news casters were going on about the bells that were supposed to ring to accompany the white smoke.  It was near 6:00pm Roman time, but the normal Angelus Bells and the tolling of hour had not occurred on their normal schedule.  Then, as people still gazed up at the famous chimney.  The large bell in the Piazza San Pietro began to move, at first very slowly, then with its first clang of metal against metal, the entire Piazza burst forth in cheers, and their cheering was soon joined by the smaller bells in the tower.

Those bells who just weeks earlier mournfully announced the death of John Paul the Great, now pealed with thunderous joy, echoing the jubilant cries from Catholics all over the world:  HABEMUS PAPAM!  WE HAVE A POPE!

I was ecstatic!  I began to scream in my empty house and call my friends to share with them this happy news.  (Everyone I called was either in class or at work, so I remember leaving excited, semi-coherent messages on their voice mail—hopefully, they have long since been erased.)

As the Piazza and the Via della Conciliazione began to fill with people, I remained glued to the TV despite the fact that by this time I was late for work; I knew this was a historic moment, and I wanted to be a part of it as it happened.

After some time, the papal arms of Bl. John Paul the Great were lowered from that iconic middle balcony in the facade of St. Peter’s, the curtain was lowered, and soon the crucifix emerged followed by His Eminence, Cardinal Protodeacon Jorge Arturo Augustin Medina Estévez.

One thing that I think we Catholics know how to do exceptionally well is to mark special occasions with just the right amount of theatrics (the Brits learned it from us when England was Catholic).  Of course, this isn’t drama for drama’s own sake or for any entertainment value, but, much like the rituals in our liturgies, choreographed movement and intentional use of signs help to communicate something of what is taking place.

After Cardinal Medina Estévez spoke a greeting in various languages (which caught me and the news translators off guard), he announced to us a great joy—gaudium magnum—that we were no longer sedevacantists for a new pope had been chosen to sit on Peter’s throne and shepherd the flock of Christ on earth.  He was the first to introduce us to our new Holy Father, the gentle and intellectually brilliant Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  As the crowds waited to greet their Papa, they called out to him by his new name:  Benedict XVI.

His election honestly caught me by surprise, for I did not expect him to be elected since I had seen an earlier interview with him where he said that he hoped to retire soon, despite the fact that each time he submitted his resignation to Pope John Paul II (as is required of all bishops once they reach a certain age), JP the Great refused to accept it.  In the interview, I recalled Cardinal Ratzinger saying (I’m paraphrasing), “If the pope needs me, how can I say I wish to retire and write books?”  That was his intention, but it wasn’t that of God or his brother cardinals.

Personally, I had expected it to be Cardinal Rivera Carrera, the Primate of Mexico, or Cardinal Arinze of Nigeria who at the time was the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. 

In 2005, I was one of the coordinators of my parish’s youth ministry.  At a recent meeting, I taught the kids how a pope is elected, and we even had our own mock election (including skewering each ballot after it had been read aloud) .  I assigned roles to the kids who played prominent cardinals and explained the various factors one might consider in casting his vote.

Guess who the kids (playing Princes of the Church) voted for?  They picked Cardinal Ratzinger!

Yes, I was surprised when Cardinal Medina Estévez said, “…Sanctae Romanae Ecclesiae Cardinalem Ratzinger,” but I was delighted because I had complete confidence that Barque of Peter had a wise and experienced captain who would steer her safely through the storms that would come.

However, not everyone shared this joy.  First, there were the ones who viewed our new Papa as some sort of German tank (Panzerkardinal), a doctrinal Nazi who was a former (unwilling) member of Hitler Youth, a strict disciplinarian who ate heretics for lunch with a side of sauerkraut.  In their eyes, his election constituted a step back for the Church after the progress of Vatican II (ah, how quickly they forgot that, unlike most of his detractors, Joseph Ratzinger actively participated in the Second Vatican Council as a theological consultant to Cardinal Frings).  

Then there were those who sort of dismissed his papacy almost from its conception by classifying Pope Benedict as a “transitional pope” (remember that?).  He was merely a place holder, someone to keep the Chair warm, a buffer pope who would hold course until a new man could be groomed and elected who would lead the Church in the post-JP2 era.  Please.  The Cardinal Electors could have chosen anyone; if they truly wanted a transitional pope, I doubt they would have elected God’s Rottweiler German Shepherd.

Well, the time soon came when we had our first face to face encounter with our new Holy Father.  I admit that it was a little strange seeing him in the papal white; it was like he was wearing John Paul II’s clothes. But he had my loyalty and filial love the moment I saw him on that balcony, a sight I will never forget.

On that day, seven years ago, the shy theologian, in shock and still getting used to the cheering crowds, spoke these words heard around the world:

“Dear Brothers and Sisters,

After the great Pope John Paul II, the Cardinals have elected me, a simple and humble labourer in the vineyard of the Lord.

The fact that the Lord knows how to work and to act even with inadequate instruments comforts me, and above all I entrust myself to your prayers.

Let us move forward in the joy of the Risen Lord, confident of his unfailing help. The Lord will help us and Mary, his Most Holy Mother, will be on our side. Thank you.


Happy anniversary, Papa!  May your reign be long and glorious!

Pope Benedict’s birthday bash at the White House.

On his 81st birthday four years ago, Pope Benedict XVI visited President Bush who said in his address, “You’ve chosen to visit America on your birthday. Well, birthdays are traditionally spent with close friends, so our entire nation is moved and honored that you’ve decided to share this special day with us. We wish you much health and happiness — today and for many years to come.

Click here for archived videos and written speeches of Pope Benedict’s visit to the United States.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY POPE BENEDICT!!!
Today, our Papa turns 85!  Four years ago, he was with us in the United States on his first apostolic visit to these shores. 
On his 81st birthday, the Holy Father visited the White House where President Bush warmly welcomed him and where then Speaker of the House, the ever faithful Nancy Pelosi, with rosary in hand like any good Italian nonna, infamously bent down and kissed the Fisherman’s Ring in the traditional gesture of loyalty, obedience, and filial love to the Supreme Pontiff. 
I remember watching on TV this historic moment in the life of Pope Benedict and in the history of the United States.  It seemed like a beautiful spring day in Washington D.C., even the White House garden glowed with hundreds of yellow tulips to match the flag of Vatican City which that day stood proudly at the side of Old Glory.
On this special occasion four years ago, the crowds of people who gathered near the south lawn of the White house spontaneously erupted in joyful song to wish the Holy Father a very Happy Birthday.  Of course, it wouldn’t be a birthday party without cake.  So, after blowing out his candle, Pope Benedict ate cake with the bishops, diplomats, and politicians.  I wonder if it was an Italian Amaretto Cream Cake or a German Black Forest Cake? 
Now, four years later, we have all gotten older and the Pope Benedict has noticeably lost some of his stamina.  Instead of walking down the nave of St. Peter’s Basilica in Papal liturgies, he is rolled on Bl. John Paul’s moveable throne.  Also, you can see him using a cane at times to help him walk.  Though as his physical strength decreases, may his faith grow all the more stronger. 
After leading the Church through the desert of Lent, Pope Benedict is all the more aware that to dust he shall return.  In his homily at today’s Mass, he remarked,

"I find myself facing the final phase of my life, and I don’t know what awaits me. I do know, though, that the light of God is real, that he is risen, that his light is stronger than any darkness, that the goodness of God is stronger than any evil in this world.This helps me continue on with confidence. This help carries us all forward, and in this moment I thank from my heart everyone who constantly let me see the ‘yes’ of God through their faith.”

What gift should we give to the Successor of St. Peter who continually strengthens us in our faith?  I’m sure he would appreciate our prayers, and we can also offer acts of charity.  If you want, you can also email our Papa your birthday greetings at auguri.benedettoxvi@vatican.va

V/.  Let us pray for our Pope Benedict.   
 R/.  May the Lord preserve him, and give him life, and make him blessed upon the earth, and deliver him not up to the will of his enemies.
V/.  Thou art Peter,
R/.  And upon this Rock, I will build My Church.
Let us Pray.  
Almighty and everlasting God, have mercy upon Your servant, Benedict, our Sovereign Pontiff, and guide him in Your goodness on the way of eternal salvation; so that, with the prompting of Your grace, he may desire what pleases You and accomplish it with all his strength. Through Christ Our Lord.  Amen.

[Photo:  from LJWorld.com]

HAPPY BIRTHDAY POPE BENEDICT!!!

Today, our Papa turns 85!  Four years ago, he was with us in the United States on his first apostolic visit to these shores. 

On his 81st birthday, the Holy Father visited the White House where President Bush warmly welcomed him and where then Speaker of the House, the ever faithful Nancy Pelosi, with rosary in hand like any good Italian nonna, infamously bent down and kissed the Fisherman’s Ring in the traditional gesture of loyalty, obedience, and filial love to the Supreme Pontiff. 

I remember watching on TV this historic moment in the life of Pope Benedict and in the history of the United States.  It seemed like a beautiful spring day in Washington D.C., even the White House garden glowed with hundreds of yellow tulips to match the flag of Vatican City which that day stood proudly at the side of Old Glory.

On this special occasion four years ago, the crowds of people who gathered near the south lawn of the White house spontaneously erupted in joyful song to wish the Holy Father a very Happy Birthday.  Of course, it wouldn’t be a birthday party without cake.  So, after blowing out his candle, Pope Benedict ate cake with the bishops, diplomats, and politicians.  I wonder if it was an Italian Amaretto Cream Cake or a German Black Forest Cake? 

Now, four years later, we have all gotten older and the Pope Benedict has noticeably lost some of his stamina.  Instead of walking down the nave of St. Peter’s Basilica in Papal liturgies, he is rolled on Bl. John Paul’s moveable throne.  Also, you can see him using a cane at times to help him walk.  Though as his physical strength decreases, may his faith grow all the more stronger. 

After leading the Church through the desert of Lent, Pope Benedict is all the more aware that to dust he shall return.  In his homily at today’s Mass, he remarked,

"I find myself facing the final phase of my life, and I don’t know what awaits me. I do know, though, that the light of God is real, that he is risen, that his light is stronger than any darkness, that the goodness of God is stronger than any evil in this world.

This helps me continue on with confidence. This help carries us all forward, and in this moment I thank from my heart everyone who constantly let me see the ‘yes’ of God through their faith.”

What gift should we give to the Successor of St. Peter who continually strengthens us in our faith?  I’m sure he would appreciate our prayers, and we can also offer acts of charity.  If you want, you can also email our Papa your birthday greetings at auguri.benedettoxvi@vatican.va


V/.  Let us pray for our Pope Benedict.  

 R/.  May the Lord preserve him, and give him life, and make him blessed upon the earth, and deliver him not up to the will of his enemies.

V/.  Thou art Peter,

R/.  And upon this Rock, I will build My Church.

Let us Pray. 

Almighty and everlasting God, have mercy upon Your servant, Benedict, our Sovereign Pontiff, and guide him in Your goodness on the way of eternal salvation; so that, with the prompting of Your grace, he may desire what pleases You and accomplish it with all his strength. Through Christ Our Lord.  Amen.


[Photo:  from LJWorld.com]

In the Silence of Holy Saturday, the Shroud Speaks with Blood
On May 2, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI visited the Shroud of Turin, the traditional cloths which Joseph of Arimathea used to wrap Jesus body before laying it in the tomb. During this visit, the Holy Father gave an address which included a reflection on Holy Saturday (with my emphasis).  To me, this is one of the most powerful and poetic addresses that I have ever had the great pleasure to read from Pope Benedict.

Dear Friends, 
This is a moment to which I have been looking forward. I have stood before the Holy Shroud on various occasions but this time I am experiencing this Pilgrimage and this moment with special intensity: perhaps this is because the passing years make me even more sensitive to the message of this extraordinary Icon; perhaps and I would say above all this is because I am here now as the Successor of Peter, and I carry in my heart the whole Church, indeed, the whole of humanity. I thank God for the gift of this Pilgrimage and also for the opportunity to share with you a brief meditation inspired by the subtitle of this solemn Exposition: “The Mystery of Holy Saturday”.
One could say that the Shroud is the Icon of this mystery, the Icon of Holy Saturday. Indeed it is a winding-sheet that was wrapped round the body of a man who was crucified, corresponding in every way to what the Gospels tell us of Jesus who, crucified at about noon, died at about three o’clock in the afternoon. At nightfall, since it was Parasceve, that is, the eve of Holy Saturday, Joseph of Arimathea, a rich and authoritative member of the Sanhedrin, courageously asked Pontius Pilate for permission to bury Jesus in his new tomb which he had had hewn out in the rock not far from Golgotha. Having obtained permission, he bought a linen cloth, and after Jesus was taken down from the Cross, wrapped him in that shroud and buried him in that tomb (cf. Mk 15: 42-46). This is what the Gospel of St Mark says and the other Evangelists are in agreement with him. From that moment, Jesus remained in the tomb until dawn of the day after the Sabbath and the Turin Shroud presents to us an image of how his body lay in the tomb during that period which was chronologically brief (about a day and a half), but immense, infinite in its value and in its significance.
Holy Saturday is the day when God remains hidden, we read in an ancient Homily: "What has happened? Today the earth is shrouded in deep silence, deep silence and stillness, profound silence because the King sleeps…. God has died in the flesh, and has gone down to rouse the realm of the dead" (Homily on Holy Saturday, PG 43, 439). In the Creed, we profess that Jesus Christ was “crucified under Pontius Pilate, died and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day, he rose again”.
Dear brothers and sisters, in our time, especially after having lived through the past century, humanity has become particularly sensitive to the mystery of Holy Saturday. The concealment of God is part of contemporary man’s spirituality, in an existential almost subconscious manner, like a void in the heart that has continued to grow larger and larger. Towards the end of the 19th century, Nietzsche wrote: "God is dead! And we killed him!". This famous saying is clearly taken almost literally from the Christian tradition. We often repeat it in the Way of the Cross, perhaps without being fully aware of what we are saying. After the two World Wars, the lagers and the gulags, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, our epoch has become increasingly a Holy Saturday: this day’s darkness challenges all who are wondering about life and it challenges us believers in particular. We too have something to do with this darkness. 
Yet the death of the Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth, has an opposite aspect, totally positive, a source of comfort and hope. And this reminds me of the fact that the Holy Shroud acts as a “photographic’ document, with both a “positive” and a “negative”. And, in fact, this is really how it is: the darkest mystery of faith is at the same time the most luminous sign of a never-ending hope. Holy Saturday is a “no man’s land” between the death and the Resurrection, but this “no man’s land” was entered by One, the Only One, who passed through it with the signs of his Passion for man’s sake: Passio Christi. Passio hominis [i.e. “Passion of Christ.  Passion of Man.”].And the Shroud speaks to us precisely about this moment testifying exactly to that unique and unrepeatable interval in the history of humanity and the universe in which God, in Jesus Christ, not only shared our dying but also our remaining in death the most radical solidarity.
In this “time-beyond-time”, Jesus Christ “descended to the dead”. What do these words mean? They mean that God, having made himself man, reached the point of entering man’s most extreme and absolute solitude, where not a ray of love enters, where total abandonment reigns without any word of comfort: “hell”. Jesus Christ, by remaining in death, passed beyond the door of this ultimate solitude to lead us too to cross it with him. We have all, at some point, felt the frightening sensation of abandonment, and that is what we fear most about death, just as when we were children we were afraid to be alone in the dark and could only be reassured by the presence of a person who loved us. Well, this is exactly what happened on Holy Saturday: the voice of God resounded in the realm of death. The unimaginable occurred: namely, Love penetrated “hell”. Even in the extreme darkness of the most absolute human loneliness we may hear a voice that calls us and find a hand that takes ours and leads us out. Human beings live because they are loved and can love; and if love even penetrated the realm of death, then life also even reached there. In the hour of supreme solitude we shall never be alone: Passio Christi. Passio hominis.
This is the mystery of Holy Saturday! Truly from there, from the darkness of the death of the Son of God, the light of a new hope gleamed: the light of the Resurrection. And it seems to me that, looking at this sacred Cloth through the eyes of faith, one may perceive something of this light. Effectively, the Shroud was immersed in that profound darkness that was at the same time luminous; and I think that if thousands and thousands of people come to venerate it without counting those who contemplate it through images it is because they see in it not only darkness but also the light; not so much the defeat of life and of love, but rather victory, the victory of life over death, of love over hatred. They indeed see the death of Jesus, but they also see his Resurrection; in the bosom of death, life is now vibrant, since love dwells within it. This is the power of the Shroud: from the face of this “Man of sorrows”, who carries with him the passion of man of every time and every place, our passions too, our sufferings, our difficulties and our sins Passio Christi. Passio hominis from this face a solemn majesty shines, a paradoxical lordship. This face, these hands and these feet, this side, this whole body speaks. It is itself a word we can hear in the silence. How does the Shroud speak? It speaks with blood, and blood is life! The Shroud is an Icon written in blood; the blood of a man who was scourged, crowned with thorns, crucified and whose right side was pierced. The Image impressed upon the Shroud is that of a dead man, but the blood speaks of his life. Every trace of blood speaks of love and of life. Especially that huge stain near his rib, made by the blood and water that flowed copiously from a great wound inflicted by the tip of a Roman spear. That blood and that water speak of life. It is like a spring that murmurs in the silence, and we can hear it, we can listen to it in the silence of Holy Saturday. 
Dear friends, let us always praise the Lord for his faithful and merciful love. When we leave this holy place, may we carry in our eyes the image of the Shroud, may we carry in our hearts this word of love and praise God with a life full of faith, hope and charity. Thank you.

[Photo:  not mine, of course]

In the Silence of Holy Saturday, the Shroud Speaks with Blood

On May 2, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI visited the Shroud of Turin, the traditional cloths which Joseph of Arimathea used to wrap Jesus body before laying it in the tomb. During this visit, the Holy Father gave an address which included a reflection on Holy Saturday (with my emphasis).  To me, this is one of the most powerful and poetic addresses that I have ever had the great pleasure to read from Pope Benedict.

Dear Friends,

This is a moment to which I have been looking forward. I have stood before the Holy Shroud on various occasions but this time I am experiencing this Pilgrimage and this moment with special intensity: perhaps this is because the passing years make me even more sensitive to the message of this extraordinary Icon; perhaps and I would say above all this is because I am here now as the Successor of Peter, and I carry in my heart the whole Church, indeed, the whole of humanity. I thank God for the gift of this Pilgrimage and also for the opportunity to share with you a brief meditation inspired by the subtitle of this solemn Exposition: “The Mystery of Holy Saturday”.

One could say that the Shroud is the Icon of this mystery, the Icon of Holy Saturday. Indeed it is a winding-sheet that was wrapped round the body of a man who was crucified, corresponding in every way to what the Gospels tell us of Jesus who, crucified at about noon, died at about three o’clock in the afternoon. At nightfall, since it was Parasceve, that is, the eve of Holy Saturday, Joseph of Arimathea, a rich and authoritative member of the Sanhedrin, courageously asked Pontius Pilate for permission to bury Jesus in his new tomb which he had had hewn out in the rock not far from Golgotha. Having obtained permission, he bought a linen cloth, and after Jesus was taken down from the Cross, wrapped him in that shroud and buried him in that tomb (cf. Mk 15: 42-46). This is what the Gospel of St Mark says and the other Evangelists are in agreement with him. From that moment, Jesus remained in the tomb until dawn of the day after the Sabbath and the Turin Shroud presents to us an image of how his body lay in the tomb during that period which was chronologically brief (about a day and a half), but immense, infinite in its value and in its significance.

Holy Saturday is the day when God remains hidden, we read in an ancient Homily: "What has happened? Today the earth is shrouded in deep silence, deep silence and stillness, profound silence because the King sleeps…. God has died in the flesh, and has gone down to rouse the realm of the dead" (Homily on Holy Saturday, PG 43, 439). In the Creed, we profess that Jesus Christ was “crucified under Pontius Pilate, died and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day, he rose again”.

Dear brothers and sisters, in our time, especially after having lived through the past century, humanity has become particularly sensitive to the mystery of Holy Saturday. The concealment of God is part of contemporary man’s spirituality, in an existential almost subconscious manner, like a void in the heart that has continued to grow larger and larger. Towards the end of the 19th century, Nietzsche wrote: "God is dead! And we killed him!". This famous saying is clearly taken almost literally from the Christian tradition. We often repeat it in the Way of the Cross, perhaps without being fully aware of what we are saying. After the two World Wars, the lagers and the gulags, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, our epoch has become increasingly a Holy Saturday: this day’s darkness challenges all who are wondering about life and it challenges us believers in particular. We too have something to do with this darkness.

Yet the death of the Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth, has an opposite aspect, totally positive, a source of comfort and hope. And this reminds me of the fact that the Holy Shroud acts as a “photographic’ document, with both a “positive” and a “negative”. And, in fact, this is really how it is: the darkest mystery of faith is at the same time the most luminous sign of a never-ending hope. Holy Saturday is a “no man’s land” between the death and the Resurrection, but this “no man’s land” was entered by One, the Only One, who passed through it with the signs of his Passion for man’s sake: Passio Christi. Passio hominis [i.e. “Passion of Christ.  Passion of Man.”].And the Shroud speaks to us precisely about this moment testifying exactly to that unique and unrepeatable interval in the history of humanity and the universe in which God, in Jesus Christ, not only shared our dying but also our remaining in death the most radical solidarity.

In this “time-beyond-time”, Jesus Christ “descended to the dead”. What do these words mean? They mean that God, having made himself man, reached the point of entering man’s most extreme and absolute solitude, where not a ray of love enters, where total abandonment reigns without any word of comfort: “hell”. Jesus Christ, by remaining in death, passed beyond the door of this ultimate solitude to lead us too to cross it with him. We have all, at some point, felt the frightening sensation of abandonment, and that is what we fear most about death, just as when we were children we were afraid to be alone in the dark and could only be reassured by the presence of a person who loved us. Well, this is exactly what happened on Holy Saturday: the voice of God resounded in the realm of death. The unimaginable occurred: namely, Love penetrated “hell”. Even in the extreme darkness of the most absolute human loneliness we may hear a voice that calls us and find a hand that takes ours and leads us out. Human beings live because they are loved and can love; and if love even penetrated the realm of death, then life also even reached there. In the hour of supreme solitude we shall never be alone: Passio Christi. Passio hominis.

This is the mystery of Holy Saturday! Truly from there, from the darkness of the death of the Son of God, the light of a new hope gleamed: the light of the Resurrection. And it seems to me that, looking at this sacred Cloth through the eyes of faith, one may perceive something of this light. Effectively, the Shroud was immersed in that profound darkness that was at the same time luminous; and I think that if thousands and thousands of people come to venerate it without counting those who contemplate it through images it is because they see in it not only darkness but also the light; not so much the defeat of life and of love, but rather victory, the victory of life over death, of love over hatred. They indeed see the death of Jesus, but they also see his Resurrection; in the bosom of death, life is now vibrant, since love dwells within it. This is the power of the Shroud: from the face of this “Man of sorrows”, who carries with him the passion of man of every time and every place, our passions too, our sufferings, our difficulties and our sins Passio Christi. Passio hominis from this face a solemn majesty shines, a paradoxical lordship. This face, these hands and these feet, this side, this whole body speaks. It is itself a word we can hear in the silence. How does the Shroud speak? It speaks with blood, and blood is life! The Shroud is an Icon written in blood; the blood of a man who was scourged, crowned with thorns, crucified and whose right side was pierced. The Image impressed upon the Shroud is that of a dead man, but the blood speaks of his life. Every trace of blood speaks of love and of life. Especially that huge stain near his rib, made by the blood and water that flowed copiously from a great wound inflicted by the tip of a Roman spear. That blood and that water speak of life. It is like a spring that murmurs in the silence, and we can hear it, we can listen to it in the silence of Holy Saturday.

Dear friends, let us always praise the Lord for his faithful and merciful love. When we leave this holy place, may we carry in our eyes the image of the Shroud, may we carry in our hearts this word of love and praise God with a life full of faith, hope and charity. Thank you.

[Photo:  not mine, of course]

SAGRADA FAMILIA:  PASSION FACADE

On the final day of our novena to St. Joseph, I reflected on the Basilica and Expiation Temple of the Holy Family (Sagrada Familia) in Barcelona.  I can honestly say with out hyperbole that it is one of the few places that literally took my breath away.  I also talked about its holy architect, Servant of God Antoni Gaudí. 

During his Apostolic Visit to Spain in which he consecrated La Sagrada Familia and raised it to the status of a minor basilica, Pope Benedict called this extraordinary sanctuary, “a hymn of praise to God carved in stone.”  He also noted that “Gaudí, through his work, sought to bring the Gospel to everyone.  For this reason he conceived of the three porticos of the exterior of the church as a catechesis on the life of Jesus Christ, a great Rosary, which is the prayer of ordinary people, a prayer in which are contemplated the joyful, sorrowful, and glorious mysteries of the Lord.”

Recently, I’ve been talking about signs and liturgy.  Here Pope Benedict and Antoni Gaudí present us with another aspect of our sacramental and liturgical, the church building itself which is discussed at length in the document, Built of Living Stones, by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.  A church’s architecture, construction, and design play a significant role in the life of a Catholic because, it has the power to enhance the liturgy and inspire devotion to God and commitment to the Christian life.

Here is some pics that I took of one of those porticos, the Passion Façade which appears on the outside of the Basilica’s west transept.  Now, I wouldn’t say my personal aesthetic is modern, per se, but, Gaudí’s Passion Façade much like his entire Sagrada Familia, while although contemporary and groundbreaking, employs very traditional elements that are truly timeless.

I hope that these poor photos can do justice to the fruit of Gaudí’s prayer and skill, and that on this Good Friday, they fulfill the designs of this saintly architect:  to help people to meditate on the Passion of Our Lord and inspire greater appreciation for the sacrifice by which our ransom was paid and won for us eternal life.

After Rio, WYD could go to Africa

According to Zenit, in a recent meeting with World Youth Day organizers from Madrid and Rio de Janeiro, His Eminence Stanislaw Cardinal Rylko had this to say about the possibility of an African country hosting the next international World Youth Day gathering after 2013:  “We are very confident and determined to continue on this path because Africa really deserves it…and now we are convinced the time has arrived to organize this event in that continent.”  

Hail to the Fisherman!  May he rest in peace!

Last week, Pope Benedict XVI traveled to Mexico.  In commemoration of his first Apostolic Visit to their country, several latino artists came together to record the official theme song of his visit. 

Now, to commemorate the 7th anniversary of Bl. John Paul’s death, here is the theme song of his 1999 visit to Mexico—a country that seemed to have a special place in his heart and whose people joyfully showered him with great affection and filial love.

Here is my poor high-school-Spanish translation of the lyrics; if I made a mistake, please let me know.

Fisherman, Christ made you the fisherman
Tell us where to find Him
In order to be with Him, happy like you.

I go sailing without a rudder;
on the open sea, reason abandons me.
Barely I survive
as a lost child.
I am looking for something that is not within me
                              
Plus, you suddenly arrive
and your word, the beacon of white light.
Take me to a safe harbor
where there is a future
where exists a buler sky.

Your word is the hope
that many souls seek
Fisherman, you will be the wind of change

You will be the friend,
that leads to a new world
in your great infinite heart
in your great infinite heart.

Yes, it costs sometimes to continue
in the shipwreck and amid so much darkness,
i
n the midst of a sea that silences
and the faith that we lack.
I go in search for a little peace.

Plus, you suddenly arrive
and your word, the beacon of white light.

Take me to a safe harbor
where there is a future
where exists a buler sky.

Your word is the hope
that many souls seek
Fisherman, you will be the wind of change

You will be the friend,
that leads to a new world
in your great infinite heart

Your word is the hope
that many souls seek
Fisherman, you will be the wind of change

You will be the friend,
that leads to a new world
in your great infinite heart

Your word is the hope
that many souls seek
Fisherman, you will be the wind of change

You will be the friend..

At the Window of the Father’s House
Here is part of Cardinal Ratzinger’s homily at the Requiem Mass of Pope John Paul II who died 7 years ago today on the vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday.

Follow me! In October 1978 Cardinal Wojtyła once again heard the voice of the Lord. Once more there took place that dialogue with Peter reported in the Gospel of this Mass: “Simon, son of John, do you love me? Feed my sheep!” To the Lord’s question, “Karol, do you love me?,” the Archbishop of Krakow answered from the depths of his heart: “Lord you know everything; you know that I love you.” The love of Christ was the dominant force in the life of our beloved Holy Father. Anyone who ever saw him pray, who ever heard him preach, knows that. Thanks to his being profoundly rooted in Christ, he was able to bear a burden which transcends merely human abilities: that of being the shepherd of Christ’s flock, his universal Church…
Follow me! Together with the command to feed his flock, Christ proclaimed to Peter that he would die a martyr’s death. With those words, which conclude and sum up the dialogue on love and on the mandate of the universal shepherd, the Lord recalls another dialogue, which took place during the Last Supper. There Jesus had said: “Where I am going, you cannot come.” Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus replied: “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow me afterward.” (Jn 13:33,36). Jesus from the Supper went towards the Cross, went towards his resurrection – he entered into the paschal mystery; and Peter could not yet follow him. Now – after the resurrection – comes the time, comes this “afterward.” By shepherding the flock of Christ, Peter enters into the paschal mystery, he goes towards the cross and the resurrection. The Lord says this in these words: “… when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go” (Jn 21:18). In the first years of his pontificate, still young and full of energy, the Holy Father went to the very ends of the earth, guided by Christ. But afterwards, he increasingly entered into the communion of Christ’s sufferings; increasingly he understood the truth of the words: “Someone else will fasten a belt around you.” And in this very communion with the suffering Lord, tirelessly and with renewed intensity, he proclaimed the Gospel, the mystery of that love which goes to the end (cf. Jn 13:1).
He interpreted for us the paschal mystery as a mystery of divine mercy. In his last book, he wrote: The limit imposed upon evil “is ultimately Divine Mercy” (Memory and Identity, pp. 60-61). And reflecting on the assassination attempt, he said: “In sacrificing himself for us all, Christ gave a new meaning to suffering, opening up a new dimension, a new order: the order of love … It is this suffering which burns and consumes evil with the flame of love and draws forth even from sin a great flowering of good” (pp. 189-190). Impelled by this vision, the Pope suffered and loved in communion with Christ, and that is why the message of his suffering and his silence proved so eloquent and so fruitful.
Divine Mercy: the Holy Father found the purest reflection of God’s mercy in the Mother of God. He, who at an early age had lost his own mother, loved his divine mother all the more. He heard the words of the crucified Lord as addressed personally to him: “Behold your Mother.” And so he did as the beloved disciple did: he took her into his own home” (eis ta idia:  Jn 19:27) – Totus tuus. And from the mother he learned to conform himself to Christ.
None of us can ever forget how in that last Easter Sunday of his life, the Holy Father, marked by suffering, came once more to the window of the Apostolic Palace and one last time gave his blessing urbi et orbi. We can be sure that our beloved Pope is standing today at the window of the Father’s house, that he sees us and blesses us. Yes, bless us, Holy Father. We entrust your dear soul to the Mother of God, your Mother, who guided you each day and who will guide you now to the eternal glory of her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

[Photo:  by Mario Tama/Getty Images News]

At the Window of the Father’s House

Here is part of Cardinal Ratzinger’s homily at the Requiem Mass of Pope John Paul II who died 7 years ago today on the vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday.

Follow me! In October 1978 Cardinal Wojtyła once again heard the voice of the Lord. Once more there took place that dialogue with Peter reported in the Gospel of this Mass: “Simon, son of John, do you love me? Feed my sheep!” To the Lord’s question, “Karol, do you love me?,” the Archbishop of Krakow answered from the depths of his heart: “Lord you know everything; you know that I love you.” The love of Christ was the dominant force in the life of our beloved Holy Father. Anyone who ever saw him pray, who ever heard him preach, knows that. Thanks to his being profoundly rooted in Christ, he was able to bear a burden which transcends merely human abilities: that of being the shepherd of Christ’s flock, his universal Church…

Follow me! Together with the command to feed his flock, Christ proclaimed to Peter that he would die a martyr’s death. With those words, which conclude and sum up the dialogue on love and on the mandate of the universal shepherd, the Lord recalls another dialogue, which took place during the Last Supper. There Jesus had said: “Where I am going, you cannot come.” Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus replied: “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow me afterward.” (Jn 13:33,36). Jesus from the Supper went towards the Cross, went towards his resurrection – he entered into the paschal mystery; and Peter could not yet follow him. Now – after the resurrection – comes the time, comes this “afterward.” By shepherding the flock of Christ, Peter enters into the paschal mystery, he goes towards the cross and the resurrection. The Lord says this in these words: “… when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go” (Jn 21:18). In the first years of his pontificate, still young and full of energy, the Holy Father went to the very ends of the earth, guided by Christ. But afterwards, he increasingly entered into the communion of Christ’s sufferings; increasingly he understood the truth of the words: “Someone else will fasten a belt around you.” And in this very communion with the suffering Lord, tirelessly and with renewed intensity, he proclaimed the Gospel, the mystery of that love which goes to the end (cf. Jn 13:1).

He interpreted for us the paschal mystery as a mystery of divine mercy. In his last book, he wrote: The limit imposed upon evil “is ultimately Divine Mercy” (Memory and Identity, pp. 60-61). And reflecting on the assassination attempt, he said: “In sacrificing himself for us all, Christ gave a new meaning to suffering, opening up a new dimension, a new order: the order of love … It is this suffering which burns and consumes evil with the flame of love and draws forth even from sin a great flowering of good” (pp. 189-190). Impelled by this vision, the Pope suffered and loved in communion with Christ, and that is why the message of his suffering and his silence proved so eloquent and so fruitful.

Divine Mercy: the Holy Father found the purest reflection of God’s mercy in the Mother of God. He, who at an early age had lost his own mother, loved his divine mother all the more. He heard the words of the crucified Lord as addressed personally to him: “Behold your Mother.” And so he did as the beloved disciple did: he took her into his own home” (eis ta idia: Jn 19:27) – Totus tuus. And from the mother he learned to conform himself to Christ.

None of us can ever forget how in that last Easter Sunday of his life, the Holy Father, marked by suffering, came once more to the window of the Apostolic Palace and one last time gave his blessing urbi et orbi. We can be sure that our beloved Pope is standing today at the window of the Father’s house, that he sees us and blesses us. Yes, bless us, Holy Father. We entrust your dear soul to the Mother of God, your Mother, who guided you each day and who will guide you now to the eternal glory of her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

[Photo:  by Mario Tama/Getty Images News]

glorialaudes:

It was seven years ago, on April 2, 2005, that John Paul II passed away. Millions of people mourned his death, as the bells of St. Peter’s Square rang over and over again. To mark the seventh anniversary of his death, here is a portion of ROME REPORTS’ documentary “John Paul The Great: A Pope Who Made History.”

(via glorialaudes-deactivated2012091)

A Day of Decision
Here is a portion of Pope Benedict XVI’s homily (with my emphasis) for Palm Sunday 2012 which is also the diocesan World Youth Day celebration in Rome.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
 Palm Sunday is the great doorway leading into Holy Week, the week when the Lord Jesus makes his way towards the culmination of his earthly existence.  He goes up to Jerusalem in order to fulfill the Scriptures and to be nailed to the wood of the Cross, the throne from which he will reign for ever, drawing to himself humanity of every age and offering to all the gift of redemption…
[They] cut branches from the trees and began to shout phrases from Psalm 118, ancient pilgrim blessings, which in that setting took on the character of messianic proclamation: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is coming!  Hosanna in the highest!” (v. 9-10).  This festive acclamation, reported by all four evangelists, is a cry of blessing, a hymn of exultation: it expresses the unanimous conviction that, in Jesus, God has visited his people and the longed-for Messiah has finally come.  And everyone is there, growing in expectation of the work that Christ will accomplish once he has entered the city….
Here we find the first great message that today’s feast brings us: the invitation to adopt a proper outlook upon all humanity, on the peoples who make up the world, on its different cultures and civilizations.  The look that the believer receives from Christ is a look of blessing: a wise and loving look, capable of grasping the world’s beauty and having compassion on its fragility.  Shining through this look is God’s own look upon those he loves and upon Creation, the work of his hands.  We read in the Book of Wisdom: “But thou art merciful to all, for thou canst do all things, and thou dost overlook men’s sins, that they may repent.  For thou lovest all things that exist and hast loathing for none of the things which thou hast made … thou sparest all things, for they are thine, O Lord who lovest the living” (11:23-24, 26).
Let us return to today’s Gospel passage and ask ourselves: what is really happening in the hearts of those who acclaim Christ as King of Israel?  Clearly, they had their own idea of the Messiah, an idea of how the long-awaited King promised by the prophets should act.  Not by chance, a few days later, instead of acclaiming Jesus, the Jerusalem crowd will cry out to Pilate: “Crucify him!”, while the disciples, together with others who had seen him and listened to him, will be struck dumb and will disperse.  The majority, in fact, was disappointed by the way Jesus chose to present himself as Messiah and King of Israel.  This is the heart of today’s feast, for us too.  Who is Jesus of Nazareth for us?  What idea do we have of the Messiah, what idea do we have of God?  It is a crucial question, one we cannot avoid, not least because during this very week we are called to follow our King who chooses the Cross as his throne.  We are called to follow a Messiah who promises us, not a facile earthly happiness, but the happiness of heaven, divine beatitude.  So we must ask ourselves: what are our true expectations?  What are our deepest desires, with which we have come here today to celebrate Palm Sunday and to begin our celebration of Holy Week?
Dear young people, present here today, this, in a particular way, is your Day, wherever the Church is present throughout the world.  So I greet you with great affection!  May Palm Sunday be a day of decision for you, the decision to say yes to the Lord and to follow him all the way, the decision to make his Passover, his death and resurrection, the very focus of your Christian lives.  It is the decision that leads to true joy, as I reminded you in this year’s World Youth Day Message – “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil 4:4).  So it was for Saint Clare of Assisi when, on Palm Sunday 800 years ago, inspired by the example of Saint Francis and his first companions, she left her father’s house to consecrate herself totally to the Lord.  She was eighteen years old and she had the courage of faith and love to decide for Christ, finding in him true joy and peace.
Dear brothers and sisters, may these days call forth two sentiments in particular: praise, after the example of those who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem with their “Hosanna!”, and thanksgiving, because in this Holy Week the Lord Jesus will renew the greatest gift we could possibly imagine: he will give us his life, his body and his blood, his love.  But we must respond worthily to so great a gift, that is to say, with the gift of ourselves, our time, our prayer, our entering into a profound communion of love with Christ who suffered, died and rose for us.  The early Church Fathers saw a symbol of all this in the gesture of the people who followed Jesus on his entry into Jerusalem, the gesture of spreading out their coats before the Lord.  Before Christ – the Fathers said – we must spread out our lives, ourselves, in an attitude of gratitude and adoration.  As we conclude, let us listen once again to the words of one of these early Fathers, Saint Andrew, Bishop of Crete: “So it is ourselves that we must spread under Christ’s feet, not coats or lifeless branches or shoots of trees, matter which wastes away and delights the eye only for a few brief hours.  But we have clothed ourselves with Christ’s grace, or with the whole Christ … so let us spread ourselves like coats under his feet … let us offer not palm branches but the prizes of victory to the conqueror of death.  Today let us too give voice with the children to that sacred chant, as we wave the spiritual branches of our soul: ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel’” (PG 97, 994).  Amen!

A Day of Decision

Here is a portion of Pope Benedict XVI’s homily (with my emphasis) for Palm Sunday 2012 which is also the diocesan World Youth Day celebration in Rome.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Palm Sunday is the great doorway leading into Holy Week, the week when the Lord Jesus makes his way towards the culmination of his earthly existence.  He goes up to Jerusalem in order to fulfill the Scriptures and to be nailed to the wood of the Cross, the throne from which he will reign for ever, drawing to himself humanity of every age and offering to all the gift of redemption…

[They] cut branches from the trees and began to shout phrases from Psalm 118, ancient pilgrim blessings, which in that setting took on the character of messianic proclamation: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is coming!  Hosanna in the highest!” (v. 9-10).  This festive acclamation, reported by all four evangelists, is a cry of blessing, a hymn of exultation: it expresses the unanimous conviction that, in Jesus, God has visited his people and the longed-for Messiah has finally come.  And everyone is there, growing in expectation of the work that Christ will accomplish once he has entered the city….

Here we find the first great message that today’s feast brings us: the invitation to adopt a proper outlook upon all humanity, on the peoples who make up the world, on its different cultures and civilizations.  The look that the believer receives from Christ is a look of blessing: a wise and loving look, capable of grasping the world’s beauty and having compassion on its fragility.  Shining through this look is God’s own look upon those he loves and upon Creation, the work of his hands.  We read in the Book of Wisdom: “But thou art merciful to all, for thou canst do all things, and thou dost overlook men’s sins, that they may repent.  For thou lovest all things that exist and hast loathing for none of the things which thou hast made … thou sparest all things, for they are thine, O Lord who lovest the living” (11:23-24, 26).

Let us return to today’s Gospel passage and ask ourselves: what is really happening in the hearts of those who acclaim Christ as King of Israel?  Clearly, they had their own idea of the Messiah, an idea of how the long-awaited King promised by the prophets should act.  Not by chance, a few days later, instead of acclaiming Jesus, the Jerusalem crowd will cry out to Pilate: “Crucify him!”, while the disciples, together with others who had seen him and listened to him, will be struck dumb and will disperse.  The majority, in fact, was disappointed by the way Jesus chose to present himself as Messiah and King of Israel.  This is the heart of today’s feast, for us too.  Who is Jesus of Nazareth for us?  What idea do we have of the Messiah, what idea do we have of God?  It is a crucial question, one we cannot avoid, not least because during this very week we are called to follow our King who chooses the Cross as his throne.  We are called to follow a Messiah who promises us, not a facile earthly happiness, but the happiness of heaven, divine beatitude.  So we must ask ourselves: what are our true expectations?  What are our deepest desires, with which we have come here today to celebrate Palm Sunday and to begin our celebration of Holy Week?

Dear young people, present here today, this, in a particular way, is your Day, wherever the Church is present throughout the world.  So I greet you with great affection!  May Palm Sunday be a day of decision for you, the decision to say yes to the Lord and to follow him all the way, the decision to make his Passover, his death and resurrection, the very focus of your Christian lives.  It is the decision that leads to true joy, as I reminded you in this year’s World Youth Day Message – “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil 4:4).  So it was for Saint Clare of Assisi when, on Palm Sunday 800 years ago, inspired by the example of Saint Francis and his first companions, she left her father’s house to consecrate herself totally to the Lord.  She was eighteen years old and she had the courage of faith and love to decide for Christ, finding in him true joy and peace.

Dear brothers and sisters, may these days call forth two sentiments in particular: praise, after the example of those who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem with their “Hosanna!”, and thanksgiving, because in this Holy Week the Lord Jesus will renew the greatest gift we could possibly imagine: he will give us his life, his body and his blood, his love.  But we must respond worthily to so great a gift, that is to say, with the gift of ourselves, our time, our prayer, our entering into a profound communion of love with Christ who suffered, died and rose for us.  The early Church Fathers saw a symbol of all this in the gesture of the people who followed Jesus on his entry into Jerusalem, the gesture of spreading out their coats before the Lord.  Before Christ – the Fathers said – we must spread out our lives, ourselves, in an attitude of gratitude and adoration.  As we conclude, let us listen once again to the words of one of these early Fathers, Saint Andrew, Bishop of Crete: “So it is ourselves that we must spread under Christ’s feet, not coats or lifeless branches or shoots of trees, matter which wastes away and delights the eye only for a few brief hours.  But we have clothed ourselves with Christ’s grace, or with the whole Christ … so let us spread ourselves like coats under his feet … let us offer not palm branches but the prizes of victory to the conqueror of death.  Today let us too give voice with the children to that sacred chant, as we wave the spiritual branches of our soul: ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel’” (PG 97, 994).  Amen!

Always Faithful

As you probably know, the Holy Father is currently in Mexico on an Apostolic Visit with our brothers and sisters down south.  This made me think of the very first time that I had a personal encounter with Papa Benedicto. 

I took the photos above at Pope Benedict’s very first World Youth Day after having been chosen to as the Successor of St. Peter and the successor of World Youth Day’s founder, our beloved Bl. John Paul II the Great.

After morning catechesis, I decided to join thousands of other young pilgrims in lining the route that our still new Holy Father would take as part of the events to welcome him to Cologne, Germany.  On my search for the perfect spot, I came across the above group of young people from Mexico and decided to take a picture of their banner which read,  Mexico:  Siempre Fiel (Mexico:  Always Faithful).

When I first saw this back in 2005, I thought what an interesting statement to make to Pope Benedict as he passed in his Popemobile.  I took it to mean that these young Mexican pilgrims were somehow assuring the new Vicar of Christ that they and many of their countrymen are faithful to Holy Mother Church, that they have been faithful to Pope John Paul II, and that they would continue to be faithful to Pope Benedict. 

This sentiment of ongoing loyalty has a lot, I think, to do with the special relationship between Bl. John Paul II and the Mexican people.  Of course, our beloved JP2 connected with people wherever he went, but it seems to me that he had a particularly intimate connection with Mexico and Our Lady of Guadalupe. 

Whatever the reason for this unspoken bond, the people of Mexico were absolutely not shy about showing their great affection for their Polish pope.  A recent article from the Associated Press told of a tradition that young people of the Mexican city where the pope was staying would get up early in the morning and serenade the Holy Father at his temporary residence.  The young people started this special papal mananitas for Pope John Paul II and they continue it for Pope Benedict XVI.

Upon his arrival at the Guanajuato Airport, Pope Benedict gave his first address on Mexican soil in which he said,

"I am very happy to be here, and I give thanks to God for allowing me to realize the desire, kept in my heart for a long time, to confirm in the faith the People of God of this great nation in their own land. The affection of the Mexican people for the Successor of Peter, whom they always remember in their prayers, is well known."

And, he is also reported to have remarked, “This is a proud country of hospitality, and nobody feels like a stranger in your land.  I knew that, now I see it and now I feel it in my heart.

What I find surprising is that many people (yes, in the mainstream media) were genuinely surprised that the Mexican people actually love this nearly 85-year-old German man, just as they were surprised that young people would gather from around the world to hear his words and to express their deep affection for him.

Just three days ago, CNN published an article declaring, Pope’s visit overshadowed by predecessor’s legacy in Mexico.  The Miami Herald even said that Pope Benedict makes Mexicans “ache for John Paul II,” noting that the Holy Father’s upcoming trip “is drawing little excitement, underscoring the stark differences between this pontiff and his predecessor, John Paul II….”  (Yeah, tell that to the thousands of people who will wait hours just to personally greet Papa Benedicto and welcome him to their country!)  The Miami Herald even quoted Maria de las Heras, the head of a PR firm, who so optimistically concluded, Pope Benedict is the “antithesis of John Paul II.” 

Yet, today’s headline in the Chicago Sun-Times proclaims—I think with some astonishment and confusion—Pope’s arrival in Mexico sparks surprising emotion.

Surprising?"  Really?

I mean, you would have thought that Big Foot had just strolled out of some forest in the Pacific Northwest and ordered a Venti Mocha Frappuccino at Starbucks!

Surprising?  Well, that’s our Papa for you.  This brilliantly theological, and intimately pastoral German octogenarian has once again shocked mainstream journalists—perhaps its his particular Benedictine charism.  Now that their minds and preconceptions have been papally blown, these poor, clueless folks are left again wondering, “Why is this man relevant?  And to young people, for that matter!?” 

This only goes to show even further (as if you need any more evidence) that the secular media, the secular world doesn’t get it.  It doesn’t get who the pope is, whose chair he sits upon, and Who built our Church, the Church upon solid Rock.

Even though they don’t get it, the young people of Mexico do—and our Papa knows it, and responds with great paternal love and affection. 

Dear Young People,

I am happy to be able to meet with you and to see your smiling faces as you fill this beautiful square. You have a very special place in the Pope’s heart. And in these moments, I would like all the children of Mexico to know this, especially those who have to bear the burden of suffering, abandonment, violence or hunger, which in recent months, because of drought, has made itself strongly felt in some regions. I am grateful for this encounter of faith, and for the festive and joyful presence expressed in song. Today we are full of jubilation, and this is important. God wants us to be happy always. He knows us and he loves us. If we allow the love of Christ to change our heart, then we can change the world. This is the secret of authentic happiness.

This place where we stand today has a name which expresses the yearning present in the heart of each and every person: “la paz”, Peace. This is a gift which comes from on high. “Peace be with you” (Jn 20:21). These are the words of the Risen Lord. We hear them during each Mass, and today they resound anew in this place, with the hope that each one of you will be transformed, becoming a sower and messenger of that peace for which Christ offered his life.

The disciple of Jesus does not respond to evil with evil, but is always an instrument of good instead, a herald of pardon, a bearer of happiness, a servant of unity. He wishes to write in each of your lives a story of friendship. Hold on to him, then, as the best of friends. He will never tire of speaking to those who always love and who do good. This you will hear, if you strive in each moment to be with him who will help you in more difficult situations.

I have come that you may know my affection. Each one of you is a gift of God to Mexico and to the world. Your family, the Church, your school and those who have responsibility in society must work together to ensure that you receive a better world as your inheritance, without jealousies and divisions.

That is why I wish to lift up my voice, inviting everyone to protect and to care for children, so that nothing may extinguish their smile, but that they may live in peace and look to the future with confidence.

You, my dear young friends, are not alone. You can count on the help of Christ and his Church in order to live a Christian lifestyle. Participate in Sunday Mass, in catechesis, in apostolic works, looking for occasions of prayer, fraternity and charity. Blessed Cristóbal, Antonio and Juan, the child martyrs of Tlaxcala, lived this way, and knowing Jesus, during the time of the initial evangelization of Mexico, they discovered that there is no greater treasure than he. They were children like you, and from them we can learn that we are never too young to love and serve.

How I would like to spend more time with all of you, but the time has already come for me to go. We will remain close in prayer. So I invite you to pray continually, even in your homes; in this way, you will experience the happiness of speaking about God with your families. Pray for everyone, and also for me. I will pray for all of you, so that Mexico may be a place in which everyone can live in serenity and harmony. I bless all of you from my heart and I ask you to bring the affection and blessing of the Pope to your parents, brothers and sisters, and other loved ones. May the Virgin accompany you. Thank you very much, my dear young friends.

And as we never tired of chanting in Madrid for World Youth Day this past summer, proclaiming for all the secular world to hear, "Esta es, la juventud del papa!  Esta es, la juventud del papa!  Esta es, la juventud del papa!"  This is the Pope’s youth!  This is the Pope’s youth!  This is the Pope’s youth!

"Benedicto, hermano, ya eres mexicano"