Homily and Address on the Publication of the Instrumentum Laboris for the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, Nicosia, Cyprus (June 6, 2010)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
I greet with joy the Patriarchs and Bishops of the various ecclesial communities of the Middle East who have come to Cyprus for this occasion, and I thank especially the Most Reverend Youssef Soueif, Maronite Archbishop of Cyprus, for the words that he addressed to me at the start of Mass.
Let me also say how glad I am to have this opportunity to celebrate the Eucharist in the company of so many of the faithful of Cyprus, a land blessed by the apostolic labors of Saint Paul and Saint Barnabas. I greet all of you most warmly and I thank you for your hospitality and for the generous welcome you have given me. I extend a particular greeting to the Filipino, Sri Lankan and other immigrant communities who form such a significant grouping within the Catholic population of this island. I pray that your presence here will enrich the life and worship of the parishes to which you belong, and that you in turn will draw much spiritual sustenance from the ancient Christian heritage of the land that you have made your home.
Today, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Lord’s Body and Blood. Corpus Christi, the name given to this feast in the West, is used in the Church’s tradition to designate three distinct realities: the physical body of Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, his Eucharistic body, the bread of heaven which nourishes us in this great sacrament, and his ecclesial body, the Church. By reflecting on these different aspects of the Corpus Christi, we come to a deeper understanding of the mystery of communion which binds together those who belong to the Church. All who feed on the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist are “brought together in unity by the Holy Spirit” (Eucharistic Prayer II) to form God’s one holy people. Just as the Holy Spirit came down upon the Apostles in the Upper Room in Jerusalem, so too the same Holy Spirit is at work in every celebration of Mass for a twofold purpose: to sanctify the gifts of bread and wine, that they may become the body and blood of Christ, and to fill all who are nourished by these holy gifts, that they may become one body, one spirit in Christ.
St. Augustine expresses this process beautifully (cf. Sermon 272). He reminds us that the bread is not made from a single grain, but many. Before all these grains become bread, they must be ground. He is referring here to the exorcism which catechumens must undergo before their baptism. Each of us who belong to the Church needs to leave the closed world of his individuality and accept the ‘companionship’ of others who “break bread” with us. We must think not in terms of ‘me’ but ‘we.’ That’s why every day we pray ‘our’ Father, ‘our’ daily bread. Breaking down the barriers between us and our neighbors is the first prerequisite for entering the divine life to which we are called. We need to be liberated from all that imprisons us and isolates us: fear and mistrust towards others, greed and selfishness, unwillingness to run the risk of vulnerability to which we expose ourselves when we are open to love.”
The grains of wheat, once crushed, are mixed into the dough and baked. Here, Augustine refers to immersion in the baptismal waters followed by the sacramental gift of the Holy Spirit, which inflames the heart of the faithful with the fire of God’s love. This process unites and transforms a single isolated grain into bread, it gives us an evocative image of the unifying action of the Holy Spirit upon the church members, made so prominent in the celebration of the Eucharist. Those who take part in this great sacrament become the Body of Christ’s Church, so they feed his Eucharistic Body. “Be what you can see,” says St. Augustine encouraging, “and receive what you are.”
These strong words invite us to respond generously to the call to “be Christ” to those around us. We are his body now on earth. To paraphrase a famous remark attributed to Saint Teresa of Avila, we are the eyes with which he looks with compassion on those in need, we are the hands with which he seeks to bless and to heal, we are the feet that on which he walks to do well, and we are the lips by which his Gospel is proclaimed. However, it is important to understand that when we participate in his healing work, we are not honoring the memory of a dead hero in extending what he did: on the contrary, Christ is alive in us, his body, the Church, his priestly people. By feeding on Him in the Eucharist and receiving the Holy Spirit in our hearts we truly become the Body of Christ that we receive, we are truly in communion with him and with each other, and we truly become instruments, in witness to him before the world.
“Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul” (Acts 4:32). In the first Christian community, nourished at the Lord’s Table, we see the effects of the Holy Spirit’s unifying action. They shared their goods in common, all material attachment being overcome by love for the brethren. They found equitable solutions to their differences, as we see for example in the resolution of the dispute between Hellenists and Hebrews over the daily distribution (cf. Acts 6:1-6). As one observer commented at a later date: “See how these Christians love one another, and how they are ready to die for one another” (Tertullian, Apology, 39). Yet their love was by no means limited to their fellow believers. They never saw themselves as exclusive, privileged beneficiaries of divine favor, but rather as messengers, sent to bring the good news of salvation in Christ to the ends of the earth. And so it was that the message entrusted to the Apostles by the Risen Lord was spread throughout the Middle East, and outward from there across the whole of the world.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we are called, just as they were, to be of one heart and one soul, to deepen our communion with the Lord and with one another, and to bear witness to him before the world.
We are called to overcome our differences, to bring peace and reconciliation where there is conflict, to offer the world a message of hope. We are called to reach out to those in need, generously sharing our earthly goods with those less fortunate than ourselves. And we are called to proclaim unceasingly the death and resurrection of the Lord, until he comes. Through him, with him and in him, in the unity that is the Holy Spirit’s gift to the Church, let us give honor and glory to God our heavenly Father in the company of all the angels and saints who sing his praises forever. Amen.
Address of the Holy Father
Eleftheria Sports Center, Nicosia
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
I thank Archbishop Eterovic for his kind words, and I renew my greetings to all of you who have come here in connection with the launch of the forthcoming Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops. I thank you for all the work that has been accomplished already in anticipation of the Synodal Assembly, and I promise you the support of my prayers as you enter this final phase of preparation.
Before I begin, it is only fitting that I recall the late Bishop Luigi Padovese who, as President of the Turkish Catholic Bishops, contributed to the preparation of the Instrumentum Laboris that I am consigning to you today. News of his unforeseen and tragic death on Thursday surprised and shocked all of us. I entrust his soul to the mercy of almighty God, mindful of how committed he was, especially as a bishop, to interreligious and cultural understanding, and to dialogue between the Churches. His death is a sobering reminder of the vocation that all Christians share, to be courageous witnesses in every circumstance to what is good, noble and just.
The motto chosen for the Assembly speaks to us of communion and witness, and it reminds us how the members of the early Christian community “were of one heart and soul”. At the center of the Church’s unity is the Eucharist, Christ’s inestimable gift to his people and the focus of our liturgical celebration today on this Solemnity of the Lord’s Body and Blood. So it is not without significance that the date chosen for the Instrumentum Laboris of the Special Assembly to be consigned should be today.
The Middle East has a special place in the hearts of all Christians, since it was there that God first made himself known to our fathers in faith. From the time when Abraham set out from Ur of the Chaldeans in obedience to the Lord’s call, right up until the death and resurrection of Jesus, God’s saving work was accomplished through particular individuals and peoples in your homelands. Since then, the message of the Gospel has spread all over the world, but Christians everywhere continue to look to the Middle East with special reverence, on account of the prophets and patriarchs, apostles and martyrs to whom we owe so much, the men and women who heard God’s word, bore witness to it, and handed it on to us who belong to the great family of the Church.
The Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, convoked at your request, will endeavor to deepen the bonds of communion between the members of your local Churches, as well as the communion of the Churches themselves with each other and with the universal Church. This Assembly also wishes to encourage you in the witness of faith in Christ that you are bearing in the countries where this faith was born and developed. It is likewise well known that some of you endure great trials due to the current situation in the region. The Special Assembly is an opportunity for Christians in the rest of the world to offer spiritual support and solidarity to their brothers and sisters in the Middle East. It is an opportunity to bring out the important value of the presence and witness of Christians in the countries of the Bible, not only for the Christian community on a global scale but also for your neighbors and your fellow-citizens. You contribute in countless ways to the common good, for example through education, care of the sick and social assistance and you work to build society. You wish to live in peace and harmony with your Jewish and Muslim neighbors. You often act as peacemakers in the difficult process of reconciliation. You deserve recognition for the incalculable role you fulfill. I seriously hope that all your rights will be increasingly respected, including the right to freedom of worship and religious freedom, and that you will no longer suffer discrimination of any kind.
I pray that the work of the Special Assembly will help to focus the attention of the international community on the plight of those Christians in the Middle East who suffer for their beliefs, so that just and lasting solutions may be found to the conflicts that cause so much hardship. On this grave matter, I reiterate my personal appeal for an urgent and concerted international effort to resolve the ongoing tensions in the Middle East, especially in the Holy Land, before such conflicts lead to greater bloodshed.
With these thoughts, I now present to you the text of the Instrumentum Laboris of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops. God bless your work abundantly! God bless all the peoples of the Middle East!
Romana, No. 50, January-June 2010, p. 24-26.