Papal Homily at Close of Eucharistic Congress
"A Eucharistic Spirituality Is a Real Antidote to Individualism"
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ANCONA, Italy, SEPT. 11, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the homily Benedict XVI gave during the Mass he celebrated today for the close of the 25th Italian National Eucharistic Congress.
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Dearest Brothers and Sisters!
Six years ago, the first apostolic journey in Italy of my pontificate led me to Bari, for the 24th National Eucharistic Congress. Today I came to solemnly conclude the 25th, here in Ancona. I thank the Lord for these intense ecclesial moments, which strengthen our love for the Eucharist and see us united around the Eucharist! Bari and Ancona, two fascinating cities on the Adriatic Sea; two cities rich in history and Christian life; two cities open to the East, to its culture and its spirituality; two cities brought closer by the themes of the Eucharistic Congresses: In Bari we recalled how "we cannot live without Sunday"; today our coming together is under the banner the "Eucharist for daily life."
Before offering you some thoughts, I would like to thank you for your wholehearted participation: In you I spiritually embrace the whole Church in Italy. I address a grateful greeting to the president of the episcopal conference, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, for the cordial words he addressed to me also on behalf of all of you; to my Legate to this Congress, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re; to the Archbishop of Ancona-Osimo, Edoardo Menichelli, to the bishops of the metropolis, of the Marche and to the numerous people gathered from all parts of the country. Along with them, I greet the priests, the deacons the consecrated men and women, and the lay faithful, among whom I see many families and many young people. My gratitude goes also to the civil and military authorities and to all those who, in different capacities, have contributed to the success of this event.
"This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?" (John 6:60). Confronted with Jesus' discourse on the bread of life, in the Synagogue of Capernaum, the reaction of the disciples, many of whom abandoned Jesus, is not very far from our resistance before the total gift that He makes of himself. Because to really accept this gift means to lose oneself, to allow oneself to be drawn in and transformed to the point of living from Him, as the Apostle Paul reminds us in the Second Reading: "If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's" (Romans 14:8).
"This is a hard saying!" It is hard because we often confuse liberty with the absence of chains, with the conviction of being able to make do by ourselves, without God, who is seen as a limit to liberty. This is an illusion that is soon turned into delusion, generating unrest and fear and leading, paradoxically, to longing for the chains of the past: "Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt," said the Israelites in the desert (Exodus 16:3), as we heard. In reality, it is only in openness to God, in the acceptance of his gift, that we become truly free, free from the slavery of sin that disfigures man and the capacity to serve the real good of brethren.
"This is a hard saying!" It is hard because man often falls into the illusion of being able to "transform the stones into bread." After having put God aside, or having tolerated him as a private choice that must not interfere with public life, certain ideologies have aimed at organizing society with the force of power and the economy. History shows us, tragically, how the objective of ensuring development, material well-being and peace to all, doing without God and his revelation, has resulted in giving men stones instead of bread. Bread, dear brothers and sisters, is the "fruit of man's work," and enclosed in this truth is all the responsibility entrusted to our hands and to our ingeniousness; but bread is also, and even first "fruit of the earth," which receives from on High sun and rain: It is a gift to be requested, which takes away all arrogance and makes us invoke with the trust of the humble: "Father (...), give us this day our daily bread" (Matthew 6:11).
Man is incapable of giving life to himself, he is understood only from God: it is the relationship with Him that gives consistency to our humanity and renders our life good and just. In the Our Father we pray that His name be hallowed, that His will be done. It is first of all the primacy of God that we must recover in our world and in our lives, because it is this primacy that enables us to rediscover the truth of what we are, and it is in knowing and following the will of God that we find our true good -- to give time and space to God, so that He will be the vital center of our existence.
From whence should we start, as the source, to recover and reaffirm the primacy of God? From the Eucharist: Here God makes Himself so close as to become our food, here He becomes the strength on the way that is so often difficult, here he makes himself a friendly presence that transforms. Already the Law given through Moses was considered as "bread of Heaven," thanks to which Israel became the people of God, but in Jesus the last and definitive Word of God becomes flesh, comes to meet us as Person. He, the Eternal Word, is the true manna, he is the bread of life (cf. John 6:32-35) and to carry out the works of God is to believe in Him (cf. John 6:28-29). In the Last Supper, Jesus summarizes his whole existence in a gesture that is inscribed in the great Paschal Blessing of God, a gesture that He lives as Son as thanksgiving to the Father for his immense love. Jesus breaks the bread and shares it, but with a new profundity, because He gives himself. He takes the chalice and shares it, so that all can drink from it, but with this gesture He gives the "new covenant in his blood," he gives himself. Jesus anticipates the act of supreme love, in obedience to the will of the Father: the sacrifice of the Cross. His life will be taken from him on the Cross, but already now He offers it on his own. Thus Christ's death is not reduced to a violent execution, but is transformed by Him into a free act of love, of self-giving; he goes victoriously through death itself and confirms the goodness of creation which came from the hands of God, humiliated by sin and finally redeemed. This immense gift is accessible to us in the Sacrament of the Eucharist: God gives himself to us, to open our existence to Him, to link it to the mystery of love of the Cross, to render it a participant in the eternal mystery from which we come and to anticipate the new condition of full life in God, in the expectation of which we live.
However, what does this starting from the Eucharist to reaffirm the primacy of God entail for our daily life? Eucharistic communion, dear friends, tears us away from our individualism, it communicates the spirit of Christ dead and risen, it conforms us to Him; it unites us intimately to brethren in that mystery of communion which is the Church, where the one Bread makes of many just one body (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:17), carrying out the prayer of the early Christian community reported in the book of the Didache: "as this broken bread was scattered on the hills, and gathered became only one thing, thus your Church from the confines of the earth is gathered in your Kingdom" (IX, 4). The Eucharist sustains and transforms the whole of daily life. As I reminded in my first encyclical, "Eucharistic communion includes the reality both of being loved and of loving others in turn," for which reason "a Eucharist which does not pass over into the concrete practice of love is intrinsically fragmented" ("Deus Caritas Est," 14).
The 2,000-year history of the Church is studded with men and women saints whose life is an eloquent sign of how in fact from communion with the Lord, from the Eucharist a new and intense assumption of responsibility is born at all levels of community life; born hence is a positive social development, which has the person at the center, especially the poor, the sick and the straitened. To be nourished by Christ is the way not to remain foreign and indifferent to the fortunes of our brothers, but to enter into the very logic of love and of gift of the sacrifice of the Cross; he who is able to kneel before the Eucharist, who receives the Lord's body cannot fail to be attentive, in the ordinary course of the days, to situations unworthy of man, and is able to bend down personally to attend to need, is able to break his bread with the hungry, share water with the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned (cf. Matthew 25:34-36). He will be able to see in every person the Lord who did not hesitate to give the whole of himself for us and for our salvation. Hence, a Eucharistic spirituality is a real antidote to individualism and egoism that often characterize daily life, and leads to the rediscovery of gratuitousness, the centrality of relationships, beginning with the family, with a particular care for binding the wounds of the broken. A Eucharistic spirituality is the soul of an ecclesial community that overcomes divisions and oppositions and appreciates the diversity of charisms and ministries putting them at the service of the unity of the Church, of her vitality and of her mission. A Eucharistic spirituality is a way to restore dignity to man's days and, hence, to his work, in the quest for reconciliation with the times of celebration and the family and in the commitment to surmount the uncertainty of precariousness and the problem of unemployment. A Eucharistic spirituality will also help us to approach the different forms of human fragility conscious that they do not obfuscate the value of the person, but require closeness, acceptance and help. Drawn from the Bread of life will be the vigor of a renewed educational capacity, attentive to witnessing the fundamental values of life, of learning, of the spiritual and cultural patrimony; its vitality will make us inhabit the city of men with the willingness to spend ourselves on the horizon of the common good for the building of a more equitable and fraternal society.
Dear friends, let us leave the Marche land with the strength of the Eucharist in a constant osmosis between the mystery that we celebrate and our daily situations. There is nothing that is genuinely human that does not find in the Eucharist the right way to live it in fullness: hence, daily life becomes the place of spiritual worship, to live the primacy of God in all circumstances, within a relationship with Christ and as an offering to the Father (cf. Postsynodal Exhortation "Sacramentum Caritatis," 17). Yes, "man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4): We live from obedience to this word, which is living bread, to the point of entrusting ourselves, like Peter, with the intelligence of love: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God" (John 6:68-69).
Like the Virgin Mary, let us also become a "womb" willing to offer Jesus to the people of our time, reawakening the profound desire for that salvation that comes only from Him. Good journey, with Christ the Bread of life, to all the Church that is in Italy!
[Translation by ZENIT]