Rome -- November 20, 2005
1. My dear brothers and sisters:
It is always gives me great joy to be with you in this parish church of St. John the Baptist al Collatino. Today, on the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of its liturgical dedication, that joy is joined to deep gratitude. Let us give thanks to our Lord, for allowing me to share these moments with you.
I recall quite clearly that Sunday forty years ago, November 21, 1965, when Pope Paul VI came to dedicate and inaugurate this church. At that time this neighborhood was still under construction; hardly any of the streets were paved, and there was mud everywhere. The Holy Father, who felt a special bond with this section of the city, was filled with joy by the warm reception you gave him.
After Mass in the parish church, the Pope went to the Safi School and the Centro Elis. St. Josemaría gave an address thanking the Holy Father for his visit and explaining the objectives of these centers of formation directed by Opus Dei. His words are still very timely. I would like to recall them now, giving thanks once more to our Lord because in these past decades they have become a reality.
After recalling the nucleus of the spirit of Opus Dei, sanctification of work, St. Josemaría presented some thoughts that are very appropriate for today’s solemnity. He said that in these centers young peoplelearn that sanctified and sanctifying work is an essential part of the vocation of a responsible Christian, who is aware of his dignity and knows that he has a duty to sanctify himself and help extend the kingdom of God precisely in and through that work, which contributes to the building up of the earthly city.
Those of you who are less young (I don’t say old, because there are no “old” people here—we are all young at heart) perhaps remember the Holy Father’s deep emotion, at the end of that unforgettable day, when saying good-bye to St. Josemaría Escrivá, who had accompanied him in the parish and the adjoining centers. He gave him an embrace and told him: “Qui tutto e Opus Dei!”Here everything is the work of God.
Indeed, the apostolic work then taking its first steps for the glory of God, was aimed at serving all souls in this neighborhood without any distinctions. This work seeks to help all the families here, offering many young people the possibility of receiving a professional formation in order to earn a living. Today, on coming here, when I looked at the buildings and saw the daily vitality of the neighborhood, and especially when I saw your faces, I felt the need to give thanks again to our Lord for the wonders that he has done in these years—wonders that he will keep on working if we all try to correspond generously to divine grace.
2. Next Sunday is the beginning of Advent, a time of preparation for Christmas. Today we are celebrating the solemnity of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, closing the liturgical year. What is the meaning of today’s feast? The Entrance Antiphon in the Mass sums it up very well: The Lamb who was slain is worthy to receive strength and divinity, wisdom and power and honor: to him be glory and power forever. It is only fitting that Jesus be recognized by all creation as Lord of heaven and earth, because, being the Eternal Son of God, he did not disdain to take on our flesh, to become true man, in order to die on the cross and rescue us sinners.
In the Gospel we have contemplated the scene of the final judgment. Our Lord, full of glory and majesty, will render judgment at the end of time in accord with each person’s deeds, dividing, as the Gospel says, the sheep from the goats. His judgment will not be subject to the criterion of the worldly success, but according to the divine measure of charity. Come, O blessed of my Father, he will say to the chosen ones, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me. And to the question about when all of this happened, Jesus will answer: Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.
My brothers and sisters: there is nothing truer than the words spoken by Christ, by the one who is the eternal Word of the Father, Truth Himself. Let us examine, therefore, our relationships with our neighbor, starting with our family, our friends, our colleague at work. Let us ask ourselves if these are marked by the generous service that Jesus taught us, or if perhaps they are marred by selfishness, by seeking our own benefit, or by indifference. And if we discover that everything in our life is not pure gold, that there is still much that isn’t clean, we should not become discouraged. It is always possible to rectify, and today we truly have a special grace to convert once again.
The kingdom of Christ will reach its full reality at the end of time. Nevertheless, it is already present among us, in the intimacy of our hearts, if we act as Jesus wants. But if we are trying to have Christ as our king we must be consistent. We must start by giving him our heart. Not to do that, and still talk about the kingdom of Christ would be completely hollow. There would be no real Christian substance in our behavior. We would be making an outward show of a faith which simply did not exist. We would be misusing God’s name to human advantage. And St. Josemaría continues, Christ should reign first and foremost in our soul. But how would we reply if he asked us: “How do you go about letting me reign in you?” I would reply that I need lots of his grace. Only that way can my every heartbeat and breath, my least intense look, my most ordinary word, my most basic feeling be transformed into a hosanna to Christ my king.
Our thoughts, intentions and deeds, our work, our daily tiredness in seeking our family’s welfare, all can and should be offered to God at Mass, in union with Christ’s sacrifice. Only thus will they acquire true value and help us attain eternal life, which in the end is the only thing that truly matters.
Let us not forget, however, that to serve others, for Christ’s sake, we need to be very human. If our life is less than human, God will not build anything on it, for he normally does not build on disorder, selfishness or emptiness. We have to understand everyone; we must live peaceably with everyone; we must forgive everyone. We shall not call injustice justice; we shall not say that an offence against God is not an offence against God, or that evil is good. When confronted by evil we shall not reply with another evil, but rather with sound doctrine and good actions: drowning evil in an abundance of good. Thus Christ will reign in our soul and in the souls of those around us.
3. In the first reading we listened to the prophet Ezekiel, who puts the following words in the mouth of the Lord: For thus says the Lord God: “I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. . . . I will feed them . . . and I will make them lie down. . . . I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the crippled, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will watch over; I will feed them in justice.”
I mentioned at the beginning Pope Paul VI’s visit here in 1965. He was the good Shepherd who was coming to meet with part of his flock. John Paul II did the same in January 1984, when he was received by our beloved Bishop Alvaro del Portillo, my predecessor as Prelate of Opus Dei. Go to them both with confidence in your spiritual and material needs, and remember also to pray for me a bit.
But I would like to emphasize something we should never forget. The fact that this parish belongs to the Diocese of Rome puts you in a very special position: your Pastor is the Pope, the successor to the Prince of the Apostles in the Roman See, and also the Vicar of Christ for the universal Church, his representative on earth. For this reason I think that you have a greater responsibility towards him, which should be shown by a more intense prayer and a more generous mortification for him and for his intentions. At the beginning of a new pontificate, more effort to help the Holy Father is expected from the people of Rome, not only in their hearts, but also with the warmth of their physical closeness.
We have also witnessed how Benedict XVI, from the first day of his pontificate, has fully identified himself with the task to which he has been called. It is he who is leading all Catholics in our Lord’s name, as the good Shepherd of his flock. And he is also the good Shepherd—with the help of his Vicar for the city of Rome, Cardinal Camillo Ruini—for the part of his flock that lives in the Eternal City. In his heart he harbors, as we saw in the homily of the Mass with which he began his Petrine ministry, the holy restlessness of Christ. “For him,” for the good Shepherd, the Pope said on that occasion, “it is not a matter of indifference that so many people are living in the desert. And there are so many kinds of desert. There is the desert of poverty, the desert of hunger and thirst, the desert of abandonment, of loneliness, of destroyed love. There is the desert of God’s darkness, the emptiness of souls no longer aware of their dignity or the goal of human life. The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast.”
In our beloved city of Rome, too, one can find these “deserts,” and we all have to strive to ensure they diminish. Who among us does not know of people with spiritual or material needs? Let us echo the Holy Father and be concerned about our neighbor, each in our own circumstances. Then, when Jesus calls us to his presence, we will hear his gentle and lovable voice saying to us: Come O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you . . . . as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.
Let us ask our Lady to always accompany us along the paths marked out by her Son, and which she has traveled before us. Paths of love for God and love for neighbor, two realities that are one, shown in specific deeds of fraternal service. Amen.