Pope's Homily at Birthday Mass
I know "his light is stronger than any darkness; that God's goodness is stronger than any evil"
VATICAN CITY, APRIL 17, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the homily Benedict XVI gave Monday at a Mass marking his 85th birthday and baptism anniversary.
* * *
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate and the Priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters!
On the day of my birthday and Baptism, April 16, the liturgy of the Church points to threewhich indicate to me where the road leads and which help me to find it. In the first place, there is the memoria of Saint Bernadette Soubirous, the visionary of Lourdes; then, there is one of the more particular Saints of the history of the Church, Benedict Joseph Labre; and then, above all, is the fact that this day is always immersed in the Paschal Mystery, in the Mystery of the Cross and of the Resurrection, and in the year of my birth it was expressed in a particular way: it was Holy Saturday, the day of God’s silence, of the apparent absence, of the death of God, but also the day in which the Resurrection was proclaimed.
Bernadette Soubirous. The simple girl of the South, of the Pyrenees – we all know and love her. Bernadette in the France of the Enlightenment of the 19th century, in a poverty difficult to imagine. The prison, which was abandoned because it was too unhealthy, became, in the end – after some hesitations -- the family’s dwelling, in which she spent her childhood. There was no possibility of school formation, only some catechism in preparation for her First Communion. But precisely this simple girl, who was pure and genuine in heart, who had a heart that sees, was able to see the Lord’s Mother and, in her, the reflection of the beauty and goodness of God. Mary was able to show herself to this girl and through her to speak to the century and beyond the century itself. Bernadette was able to see with a pure and genuine heart. And Mary indicated to her the source: she was able to discover the source, the living water, pure and uncontaminated; water that is life, water that gives purity and health. And through the centuries, now, this living water is a sign on Mary’s part, a sign that indicates where the sources of life are, where we can be purified, where we find what is uncontaminated. In this our time, in which we see the world in so much anxiety, and in which the need of water bursts out, of pure water, this sign is that much greater. From Mary, from the Mother of the Lord, from a pure heart, pure, genuine water also comes which gives life, the water than in this century – and in the centuries that might come – purifies and heals us.
I think we can consider this water as an image of the truth that comes to us in faith: truth not simulated but uncontaminated. In fact, to be able to live, to be able to become pure, we are in need of having in us the nostalgia of the pure life, of the truth that is not distorted, of what is not contaminated by corruption, of being men without stain. See how this day, this little Saint has always been for me a sign that has indicated where the living water comes from of which we are in need – the water that purifies us and gives us life -- and a sign of how we should be: with all the knowledge and all the capacities, which also are necessary, we must not lose the simple heart, the simple look of the heart, capable of seeing the essential, and we must always pray to the Lord that we preserve in us the humility that enables the heart to be clear-sighted – to see what is simple and essential, the beauty and goodness of God – and thus find the source from which the water comes that gives life and purifies.
Then there is Benedict Joseph Labre, the pious mendicant pilgrim of the 18th century who, after several useless attempts, finally found his vocation of pilgrim as mendicant – without anything, without any support and not keeping for himself anything of what he received except that of which he had absolute need – pilgrimaging through the whole of Europe, to all the shrines of Europe, from Spain to Poland and from Germany to Sicily: a truly European Saint! We can also say: a somewhat particular Saint who, begging, wandered from one shrine to another and wished to do nothing other than pray and with this give witness to what matters in this life: God. He certainly does not represent an example to emulate, but he is a, a finger pointing to the essential. He shows us that God alone suffices, that beyond all thatin this world, beyond our needs and capacities, what counts, the essential is to know God. He alone suffices. And this “God alone” he indicates to us in a dramatic way. And at the same time, this really European life that, from shrine to shrine embraces the whole European continent makes evident that he who opens himself to God is no stranger to the world or to men, rather he finds brothers, because on God’s side, borders fall, God alone can eliminate borders because thanks to Him we are all only brothers, we are part of one another; it renders present that the oneness of God means, at the same time, the brotherhood and reconciliation of men, the demolishing of borders that unites and heals us. Thus he is a Saint of peace precisely in as much as he is a Saint without any exigency, who is poor of everything yet blessed with everything.
And then, finally, the Paschal Mystery. On the same day I was born, thanks to the care of my parents, I was also reborn by water and the Spirit, as we just heard in the Gospel. In the first place, there is the gift of life that my parents gave me in very difficult times, and for which I owe them my gratitude. However, it is not taken for granted that man’s life is in itself a gift. Can it really be a beautiful gift? Do we know what is incumbent on man in the dark times he is facing – also in those more luminous ones that might come? Can we foresee to what anxieties, to what terrible events he might be exposed? Is it right to give life thus, simply? Is it responsible or is it too uncertain? It is a problematic gift if it remains independent. Biological life of itself is a gift, and yet it is surrounded by a great question. It becomes a real gift only if, together with it, one can make a promise that is stronger than any misfortune that can threaten one, if it is immersed in a force that guarantees that it is good to be man, that for this person it is a good no matter what the future might bring. Thus, associated to birth is rebirth, the certainty that, in truth, it is good for us to be, because the promise is stronger than the threats.
This is the meaning of rebirth from water and the Spirit: to be immersed in the promise that God alone can make: it is good that you are, and it is true regardless of what happens. From this certainty, I have been able to live, reborn by water and the Spirit. Nicodemus asks the Lord: “Can an old man be born again?” Now, rebirth is given to us in Baptism, but we must grow continually in it, we must always let ourselves me immersed in God’s promise, to be truly reborn in the great, new family of God which is stronger than all the weaknesses and all the negative powers that threaten us. This is why this is a day of great thanksgiving.
The day on which I was baptized, as I said, was Holy Saturday. Then it was usual to anticipate the Easter Vigil in the morning, which would have been followed again by the darkness of Holy Saturday, without the Alleluia. It seems to me that this singular paradox, this singular anticipation of the light in a dark day, could be almost an image of the history of our days. On one hand, there is still the silence of God and his absence, but in the Resurrection of Christ there is already the anticipation of the “yes” of God, and on the basis of this anticipation we live and, through the silence of God, we hear his speaking, and through the darkness of his absence we perceive his light. The anticipation of the Resurrection in the midst of a history that evolves is the force that indicates the road to us and that helps us to go forward.
We thank the good God for this light he has given us and we pray that it will always be with us. And on this day I have reason to thank Him and all those who have always made me perceive the Lord’s presence, who have accompanied me so that I would not lose the light.
I am facing the last lap of the course of my life and I do not know what awaits me. I know, however, that the light of God is, that He is risen, that his light is stronger than any darkness; that God’s goodness is stronger than any evil of this world. And this helps me to go forward with confidence. This helps us to go forward and in his hour I give my heartfelt thanks to all those who continually make me perceive the “yes” of God through their faith.
Finally, Cardinal Dean, my cordial gratitude for your words of fraternal friendship, for all the collaboration in all these years. And a big thank you to all the collaborators of the 30 years in which I have been in Rome, who helped me bear the weight of my responsibility. Thank you. Amen.