On John Paul I

"Humility Can Be Considered His Spiritual Legacy"

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CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, SEPT. 28, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave before praying the Angelus with the crowds gathered in the courtyard of the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo.



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Dear Brothers and Sisters!

Today the liturgy proposes to us the Gospel parable of the two sons whom the father sent out to work in his vineyard. One of them immediately says yes, but then does not go; the other at first refuses, but then, repenting, follows his father’s wishes.

With this parable Jesus emphasizes his predilection for sinners who convert, and he teaches us that humility is essential for welcoming the gift of salvation. St. Paul, too, in the passage from the Letter to the Philippians that we meditate on today, calls for humility. “Do nothing out of selfishness or vainglory,” he writes, “but humbly regard others as superior to you” (Philippians 2:3). These are Christ’s own sentiments, he who laid aside divine glory for love of us, became man and lowered himself even to dying on the cross (cf. Philippians 2:5-8). The Greek verb that is used here, “ekenôsen,” literally means that he “emptied himself” and places the profound humility and infinite love of Jesus, the humble Servant par excellence, in a clear light.

Reflecting on these biblical texts, I immediately thought of Pope John Paul I, the 30th anniversary of whose death is today. He chose Charles Borromeo’s motto as his own episcopal motto: “Humilitas”: a single word that synthesizes what is essential in Christian life and indicates the indispensable virtue of those who are called to the service of authority in the Church.

In one of the four general audiences of his very brief pontificate he said, among other things, in that tone that distinguished him: “I will just recommend one virtue so dear to the Lord. He said, ‘Learn from me who am meek and humble of heart.’ … Even if you have done great things, say: ‘We are useless servants.’ Alternatively, the tendency in all of us is rather the contrary: to show off” (General Audience of Sept. 6, 1978). Humility can be considered his spiritual legacy.

Because of this virtue of his, 33 days were enough for Pope Luciani to enter into the hearts of the people. In his speeches he used examples taken from concrete life, from his memories of family life and from popular wisdom. His simplicity was a vehicle of a solid and rich teaching that, thanks to the gift of an exceptional memory and great culture, he adorned with numerous references to ecclesiastical and secular writers.

He was thus an incomparable catechist, in the line of Pius X, his fellow countryman and predecessor in the See of St. Mark and then in the see of St. Peter. “We must feel small before God,” he said in the same audience. And added: “I am not ashamed to feel like a child before his mother; one believes in one's mother; I believe in the Lord, in what he has revealed to me.”

These words display the whole breadth of his faith. As we thank God for having given him to the Church and to the world, let us treasure his example, exerting ourselves to cultivate his humility, which made him capable of talking to everyone, especially the little and so-called distant. For these intentions let us call upon Mary Most Holy, humble handmaiden of the Lord.

[After the Angelus, the Holy Father greeted the pilgrims in several languages. In Italian, he said:]

Summer has come to an end and I will return to the Vatican the day after tomorrow. I thank the Lord for all the gifts he has bestowed upon me during this time. I think especially of World Youth Day in Sydney, the period of rest in Bressanone, the visit to Sardinia and the apostolic trip to Paris and Lourdes; and I think of the possibility of sojourning here in this house, where I am better able to rest and work during the hottest months.

An affectionate greeting to the community of Castel Gandolfo, with a heartfelt thank you to the bishop, the mayor and the various police departments. Thanks to everyone and goodbye!

[In English, he said:]

I offer a warm welcome to the English-speaking visitors gathered for this Angelus prayer. My special greeting goes to the students from Aquinas College in Australia and to the members of the Fatima pilgrimage from the Philippines. In today’s Gospel, the Lord asks us to reflect whether we are obedient to the Father in word alone, or truly committed to following his will in our daily lives. May his words inspire in us a spirit of genuine conversion and an ever more generous commitment to the spread of the Gospel. Upon you and your families I cordially invoke God’s blessings of wisdom, joy and peace!

[Speaking again in Italian, he said:]

As I offer best wishes to the students who have just begun the academic year, I express appreciation for the “Making Me Study is Good for Everyone” campaign of the St. Vincent de Paul Society. In the spirit of St. Vincent, whom we celebrated in yesterday’s liturgy, this initiative is proposed to prevent the poverty of illiteracy.

I wish everyone a good month of October, month of the Holy Rosary, during which, if it pleases God, I will go on pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady at Pompei on Sunday, Oct. 19. Have a good Sunday!

[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]