Pope Benedict XVI: June 2010 Archives

Though they suffered on different days, Saints Peter and Paul are known as one, as Saint Augustine reminds.

In first hearing and then reading the papal homily I noticed some very crucial points for us to reflect upon and to seriously consider: the real persecution of the Church today and the impact on Catholic identity exists not exclusively from outside the Church (a theme the pope has stated before now) but from the faithful's betrayal of the faith, of Truth. When secularism, not to be confused with secularity, infiltrates the Church the true message of the Gospel is obscured and our hearts are darkened.

As usual on today's solemn feast of Peter and Paul, Pope Benedict bestowed the pallium, the symbol of theological, juridical and fraternal communion between the pope and a bishop. It is also a symbol of the "fullness of charity and unity." In seeing the pallium we see, as Benedict says, a symbol of "the guarantee of freedom for the Church's Pastors and the Communities." Today, 38 archbishops from around the world received the pallium, including three archbishops from the USA and one from Canada. 

The Pope's exhortation and prayer upon giving the pallium:

To the glory of God and the praise of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of the apostles Peter and Paul, and of the Holy Roman Church, for the honor of the Churches, which have been placed in your care, and as a symbol of your authority as metropolitan archbishop: We confer on you the pallium taken from the tomb of Peter to wear within the limits of your ecclesiastical provinces.

And then

May this pallium be a symbol of unity and a sign of your communion with the Apostolic See, a bond of love, and an incentive to courage. On the day of the coming and manifestation of our great God and chief shepherd, Jesus Christ, may you and the flock entrusted to you be clothed with immortality and glory. In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Below is Benedict's homily for today's Mass (with my own points of emphasis).

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The biblical texts of this Eucharistic Liturgy of the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, in their great wealth, highlight a theme that could be summarized thus: God is close to his faithful servants and frees them from all evil, and frees the Church from negative powers. It is the theme of the freedom of the Church, which has a historical aspect and another more deeply spiritual one.

This theme runs through today's Liturgy of the Word. The first and second readings speak, respectively, of St Peter and St Paul, emphasizing precisely the liberating action of God in them. Especially the text from the Acts of the Apostles describes in abundant detail the intervention of the Angel of the Lord, who releases Peter from the chains and leads him outside the prison in Jerusalem, where he had been locked up, under close supervision, by King Herod (cf. at 12.1 to 11). Paul, however, writing to Timothy when he feels close to the end of his earthly life, takes stock which shows that the Lord was always near him and freed him from many dangers and frees him still by introducing him into His eternal Kingdom (see 2 Tim 4, 6-8.17-18). The theme is reinforced by the Responsorial Psalm (Ps 33), and also finds a particular development in the Gospel of Peter's confession, where Christ promises that the powers of hell shall not prevail against his Church (cf. Mt 16:18).

Observing closely we note a certain progression regarding this issue. In the first reading a specific episode is narrated that shows the Lord's intervention to free Peter from prison. In the second Paul, on the basis of his extraordinary apostolic experience, is convinced that the Lord, who already freed him "from the mouth of the lion "delivers him" from all evil", by opening the doors of Heaven to him. In the Gospel we no longer speak of the individual Apostles, but the Church as a whole and its safekeeping from the forces of evil, in the widest and most profound sense. Thus we see that the promise of Jesus - "the powers of hell shall not prevail" on the Church - yes, includes the historical experience of persecution suffered by Peter and Paul and other witnesses of the Gospel, but it goes further, wanting to protect especially against threats of a spiritual order, as Paul himself writes in his Letter to the Ephesians: " For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens"(Eph 6:12).


Indeed, if we think of the two millennia of Church history, we can see that - as the Lord Jesus had announced (cf. Mt 10.16-33) - Christians have never been lacking in trials, which in some periods and places have assumed the character of real persecution. These, however, despite the suffering they cause, are not the greatest danger for the Church. In fact it suffers greatest damage from what pollutes the Christian faith and life of its members and its communities, eroding the integrity of the Mystical Body, weakening its ability to prophesy and witness, tarnishing the beauty of its face. This reality is already attested in the Pauline Epistle. The First Epistle to the Corinthians, for example, responds to some problems of divisions, inconsistencies, of infidelity to the Gospel which seriously threaten the Church. But the Second Letter to Timothy - of which we heard an excerpt - speaks about the dangers of the "last days", identifying them with negative attitudes that belong to the world and can infect the Christian community: selfishness, vanity, pride, love of money, etc. (cf. 3.1 to 5). The Apostle's conclusion is reassuring: men who do wrong - he writes - "will not make further progress, for their foolishness will be plain to all" (3.9). There is therefore a guarantee of freedom promised by God to the Church, it is freedom from the material bonds that seek to prevent or coerce mission, both through spiritual and moral evils, which may affect its authenticity and credibility.

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The theme of the freedom of the Church, guaranteed by Christ to Peter, also has a specific relevance to the rite of the imposition of the pallium, which we renew today for thirty-eight metropolitan archbishops, to whom I address my most cordial greeting, extending with it affection to all who have wanted to accompany them on this pilgrimage. Communion with Peter and his successors, in fact, is the guarantee of freedom for the Church's Pastors and the Communities entrusted to them. It is highlighted on both levels in the aforementioned reflections. Historically, union with the Apostolic See, ensures the particular Churches and Episcopal Conferences freedom with respect to local, national or supranational powers, that can sometimes hinder the mission of the ecclesial Church. Furthermore, and most essentially, the Petrine ministry is a guarantee of freedom in the sense of full adherence to truth and authentic tradition, so that the People of God may be preserved from mistakes concerning faith and morals. Hence the fact that each year the new Metropolitans come to Rome to receive the pallium from the hands of the Pope, must be understood in its proper meaning, as a gesture of communion, and the issue of freedom of the Church gives us a particularly important key for interpretation. This is evident in the case of churches marked by persecution, or subject to political interference or other hardships. But this is no less relevant in the case of communities that suffer the influence of misleading doctrines or ideological tendencies and practices contrary to the Gospel. Thus the pallium becomes, in this sense, a pledge of freedom, similar to the "yoke" of Jesus, that He invites us to take up, each on their shoulders (Mt 11:29-30). While demanding, the commandment of Christ is "sweet and light" and instead of weighing down on the bearer, it lifts him up, thus the bond with the Apostolic See - while challenging - sustains the Pastor and the portion of the Church entrusted to his care, making them freer and stronger.

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I would like to draw a final point from the Word of God, in particular from Christ's promise that the powers of hell shall not prevail against his Church. These words may also have a significant ecumenical value, since, as I mentioned earlier, one of the typical effects of the Devil is division within the Church community. The divisions are in fact symptoms of the power of sin, which continues to act in members of the Church even after redemption. But the word of Christ is clear: " Non praevalebunt - it will not prevail" (Matt. 16:18). The unity of the Church is rooted in its union with Christ, and the cause of full Christian unity - always to be sought and renewed from generation to generation - is well supported by his prayer and his promise. In the fight against the spirit of evil, God has given us in Jesus the 'Advocate', defender, and after his Easter, "another Paraclete" (Jn 14:16), the Holy Spirit, which remains with us always and leads the Church into the fullness of truth (cf. Jn 14:16; 16:13), which is also the fullness of charity and unity. With these feelings of confident hope, I am pleased to greet the delegation of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, which, in the beautiful custom of reciprocal visits, participates in the celebrations of the patron saints of Rome. Together we thank God for progress in ecumenical relations between Catholics and Orthodox, and we renew our commitment to generously reciprocate to God's grace, which leads us to full communion.

Dear friends, I cordially greet all of you: Cardinals, Brother Bishops, Ambassadors and civil authorities, in particular the Mayor of Rome, priests, religious and lay faithful. Thank you for your presence. May the Saints Peter and Paul help you to grow in love for the holy Church, the Mystical Body of Christ the Lord and messenger of unity and peace for all men. May they also help you to offer the hardships and sufferings endured for fidelity to the Gospel with joy for her holiness and her mission. May the Virgin Mary, Queen of Apostles and Mother of the Church, always watch over you and especially over the Ministry of metropolitan archbishops. With her heavenly help may you always live and act in that freedom that Christ has won for us. Amen.

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The Pope's homily on the role of the Cross in our theology was a good reminder of who are as a people of faith: merciful, loving, and hope-filled. Sin and death don't have the last word in life. It is sad that we don't remember this more often, clergy and laity alike. This homily made me reflect back on an experience I had a few weeks back when I was told a priest in this particular parish preached that Catholics are "Easter people" and not a "Good Friday people." Sorely misguided. On June 5th in Cyprus Pope Benedict celebrated the Votive Mass of the Holy Cross (praying the various votive Masses is a good and noble tradition when there is no specific liturgical memorial that particular day) when he acknowledged the work of devoted priests, brothers, sisters catechists and the lay movements in preaching and teaching the Truth. In the face of difficult and sometimes evil situations the Pope encouraged his congregation (and us) to base their (our) lives on the Cross. For Christians, the cross is not a failure but the symbol --the reality-- of mercy, forgiveness, faith, hope and joy. And it is the goal of priests and religious to conform their lives to their Cross because it is at the foot of the Cross that we know the full power of the Trinity's love for us. Plus, the Pope reminds us that we are not the center of the faith, Christ is: it is His wisdom and salvation we communicate to others, not our own.

Here are excerpts from the Pope's homily:

Beguiled by the serpent, Adam had foresaken his filial trust in God and sinned by biting into the fruit of the one tree in the garden that was forbidden to him. In consequence of that sin, suffering and death came into the world. The tragic effects of sin, suffering and death were all too evident in the history of Adam's descendants. We see this in our first reading today, with its echoes of the Fall and its prefiguring of Christ's redemption.

As a punishment for their sin, the people of Israel, languishing in the desert, were bitten by serpents and could only be saved from death by looking upon the emblem that Moses raised up, foreshadowing the Cross that would put an end to sin and death once and for all. We see clearly that man cannot save himself from the consequences of his sin. He cannot save himself from death. Only God can release him from his moral and physical enslavement. And because he loved the world so much, he sent his only-begotten Son, not to condemn the world - as justice seemed to demand - but so that through him the world might be saved. God's only-begotten Son had to be lifted up just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so that all who looked upon him with faith might have life.

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The wood of the Cross became the vehicle for our redemption, just as the tree from which it was fashioned had occasioned the Fall of our first parents. Suffering and death, which had been a consequence of sin, were to become the very means by which sin was vanquished. The innocent Lamb was slain on the altar of the Cross, and yet from the immolation of the victim new life burst forth: the power of evil was destroyed by the power of self-sacrificing love.

The Cross, then, is something far greater and more mysterious than it at first appears. It is indeed an instrument of torture, suffering and defeat, but at the same time it expresses the complete transformation, the definitive reversal of these evils: that is what makes it the most eloquent symbol of hope that the world has ever seen. It speaks to all who suffer - the oppressed, the sick, the poor, the outcast, the victims of violence - and it offers them hope that God can transform their suffering into joy, their isolation into communion, their death into life. It offers unlimited hope to our fallen world.

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That is why the world needs the Cross. The Cross is not just a private symbol of devotion, it is not just a badge of membership of a certain group within society, and in its deepest meaning it has nothing to do with the imposition of a creed or a philosophy by force. It speaks of hope, it speaks of love, it speaks of the victory of non-violence over oppression, it speaks of God raising up the lowly, empowering the weak, conquering division, and overcoming hatred with love. A world without the Cross would be a world without hope, a world in which torture and brutality would go unchecked, the weak would be exploited and greed would have the final word. Man's inhumanity to man would be manifested in ever more horrific ways, and there would be no end to the vicious cycle of violence. Only the Cross puts an end to it. While no earthly power can save us from the consequences of our sins, and no earthly power can defeat injustice at its source, nevertheless the saving intervention of our loving God has transformed the reality of sin and death into its opposite. That is what we celebrate when we glory in the Cross of our Redeemer. Rightly does Saint Andrew of Crete describe the Cross as "more noble, more precious than anything on earth [...] for in it and through it and for it all the riches of our salvation were stored away and restored to us" (Oratio X; PG 97, 1018-1019).

Dear brother priests, dear religious, dear catechists, the message of the Cross has been entrusted to us, so that we can offer hope to the world. When we proclaim Christ crucified we are proclaiming not ourselves, but him. We are not offering our own wisdom to the world, nor are we claiming any merit of our own, but we are acting as channels for his wisdom, his love, his saving merits. We know that we are merely earthenware vessels, and yet, astonishingly, we have been chosen to be heralds of the saving truth that the world needs to hear. Let us never cease to marvel at the extraordinary grace that has been given to us, let us never cease to acknowledge our unworthiness, but at the same time let us always strive to become less unworthy of our noble calling, lest through our faults and failings we weaken the credibility of our witness.

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In this Year for Priests, let me address a special word to the priests present today, and to those who are preparing for ordination. Reflect on the words spoken to a newly ordained priest as the Bishop presents him with the chalice and paten: "Understand what you do, imitate what you celebrate, and conform your life to the mystery of the Lord's Cross". As we proclaim the Cross of Christ, let us always strive to imitate the selfless love of the one who offered himself for us on the altar of the Cross, the one who is both priest and victim, the one in whose person we speak and act when we exercise the ministry that we have received. As we reflect on our shortcomings, individually and collectively, let us humbly acknowledge that we have merited the punishment that he, the innocent Lamb, suffered on our behalf. And if, in accordance with what we have deserved, we should have some share in Christ's sufferings, let us rejoice because we will enjoy a much greater gladness when his glory is revealed.

Watch the YouTube clip on the teaching of Pope Benedict on the Cross

Pope Benedict XVI formal.jpgUnited with Pope Benedict in prayer for the needs of the Church, for the month of June we keep in heart and mind with the Pope the following:

The general intention

That every national and international institution may strive to guarantee respect for human life from conception to natural death.

The mission intention

That the Churches in Asia, a "little flock" among non-Christian populations, may communicate the Gospel well and give joyful witness to their faith.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.



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This page is a archive of entries in the Pope Benedict XVI category from June 2010.

Pope Benedict XVI: May 2010 is the previous archive.

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