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5/24/2009 7:38 PM
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Ascension Sunday Mass

Here is a translation of the Holy Father's homily at the Mass in Cassino today (5/24):

Dear brothers and sisters!

"You will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1,8).

With these words, Jesus bid farewell to the Apostles, as we heard in the first Reading. Shortly afterwards, the sacred author adds, "as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight" (Acts 1,9).

This is the mystery of the Ascension, which we solemnly celebrate today. But what do the Bible and the liturgy intend to communicate to us by saying that Jesus 'was lifted up'?

The sense of this expression can be understood not on the basis of a single text, nor even a single book of the New Testament, but in attentive listening to all of Sacred Scripture.

The word 'lift' is used in the Old Testament sense, which means installation into kingship. Thus the Ascension of Christ means, in the first place, the installation or seating of the Som of man, crucified and resurrected, in the kingship of God over the world.

There is, however, a more profound sense that is not immediately perceptible. In the pages of the Acts of the Apostles, it is said first that Jesus 'was lifted up" (v. 9), and then it is added that he was 'taken into heaven' (v. 11).

The event is described not as a voyage upward, but rather an action of God's power, which introduces Jesus into the space of proximity to the divine.

The presence of the cloud that 'took him from their sight' (v. 9) recalls a very old image of Old Testament theology, and inserts the story of the Ascension in the story of God with Israel, from the cloud on Sinai and over the tent of the Covenant in the desert, to the luminous cloud on the Mount of Transfiguration.

To present the Lord enwrapped in the clouds conclusively evokes the same mystery expressed in the symbolism of 'to sit at the right hand of God'. In the Christ who has ascended to heaven, the human being entered in an unprecedented and new way into intimacy with God - from then on, man always finds space with God.

'Heaven' does not indicate a place beyond the stars, but something much more daring and sublime - it means Christ himself, the divine Person who accompanies mankind totally and for always, him in whom God and man are forever inseparably united.

And we approach heaven, or rather, we enter heaven, to the degree that we get close to Jesus and enter into communion with him. That is why the solemnity of the Ascension invites us to a profound communion with Jesus who died and resurrected, and is invisibly present in the life of each of us.

In this perspective, we can understand why the evangelist Luke affirms that after the Ascension, the disciples returned to Jerusalem 'full of joy" (24.52). The cause of their joy was the fact that what had happened was not at all a separation. Rather, they now had the certainty that the Crucified and Risen Lord was alive, and that in him, the doors to eternal life were opened for always to mankind.

In other words, his Ascension did not mean his temporary absence from the world, but rather, it inaugurated the new, definitive and insuppressible form of his presence, by virtue of his participation in the kingly power of God.

It would fall on them, the apostles, made daring by the power of the Holy Spirit, to make this presence perceptible by their witness, by preaching and by missionary commitment.

The solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord should fill us, too, with serenity and enthusiasm, just as it did for the Apostles who left the Mount of Olives "full of joy".

Like them, we too, accepting the invitation of 'the two men dressed in white', should not remain gazing at the heavens, but rather, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we should go out and proclaim the salvific message of Christ's death and resurrection.

His own words, which close the Gospel according to Matthew, remain with us to comfort us: "And behold, I am with you always, until the end of time" (Mt 28, 19).

Dear brothers and sisters, the historical character of the mystery of Christ's Resurrection and Ascension helps us to recognize and understand the transcendental and eschatological condition of the Church, which was not born and does not live as a substitute for the absence of its 'departed' Lord. Rather, it finds its reason for being and its mission in the invisible presence of Jesus operating through the power of his Spirit.

In other words, we can say that the Church does not have the function of preparing for the return of an 'absent' Jesus, but on the contrary, it lives and operates in order to proclaim the 'glorious presence' in a historic and existential manner.

From the day of the Ascension, every Christian community advances its earthly itinerary towards the fulfillment of the Messianic promises, fed by the Word of God and nourished by the Body and Blood of the Lord.

This is the condition of the Church - the second Vatican Council reminds us - as it 'pursues its pilgrimage between the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God, announcing the passion and death of the Lord until he comes again" (Lumen gentium, 8).

Brothers and sisters of this beloved diocesan community, today's solemnity exhorts us to firm up anew our faith in the real presence of Jesus: without him, we cannot achieve anything effective in our life and in our apostolate.

It is he, as the Apostle Paul reminds us in the second Reading, who "gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ", namely, the Church.

And this, in order "to attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God", since it is the common calling of all to form "one body and one spirit, just as there is only one hope to which we are called".

It is in this light that my visit today must be seen, which, as your bishop recalled, has the purpose of encouraging you to constantly 'construct, found and rebuild' your diocesan community on Christ.

How? It is shown to us by St, Benedict himself who recommends in his Rule not to place anything ahead of Christ - "Christo nihil omnino praeponere" (LXII,11).

Thus I give thanks to God for the good that your community is realizing under the leadership of your Pastor, Father Abbot Dom Pietro Vittorelli, whom I greet with affection and whom I thank for the kind words that he addressed to me in the name of everyone.

With him I greet the monastic community, the bishops, priests, and religious present. I greet the civilian and military authorities, beginning with the Mayor whom I thank for his words of welcome upon my arrival in this Piazza Miranda - which will now carry my name, unworthy as I am of the honor.

I greet the catechists, the pastoral workers, the youth and those who in various ways attend to spreading the Gospel in this land that is so laden with history, which underwent great suffering during the Second World War.

Silent testimony to this are the many cemeteries that surround your resurrected city, among which are the Polish, the German and the Commonwealth cemeteries.

Finally, I greet all the residents of Cassino and nearby centers. To each one, especially to the sick and to the suffering, I extend assurances of my affection and prayer.

Dear brothers and sisters, we can hear resounding in our celebration the appeal of St. Benedict to keep our hearts fixed on Christ, not to put anything ahead of him. This does not distract us, but on the contrary, it impels us even more to commit ourselves to building a society in which solidarity is expressed in concrete signs.

How? Benedictine spirituality, which is well known to you, offers an evangelical program synthesized in the motto, 'Ora, labora et lege' - prayer, work, culture.

But above all prayer, which is the most beautiful legacy left by St. Benedict to his monks, and also to your local Church: to your clergy, largely formed in the diocesan seminary which for centuries was seated in the Abbey of Montecassino itself; to the seminarians; to all those who were educated in Benedictine schools and 'recreatories' and in your parishes; to all of you who live in this land.

Lifting up your eyes from every town and district in the diocese, you can all admire that constant reminder of heaven that is the monastery of Montecassino, to which you climb in procession every year on the vigil of Pentecost.

Prayer, to which every morning the bell of St. Benedict with its solemn peal calls the monks, is the silent path which leads us directly to the heart of God. It is the breath of the soul which gives us back peace in the tempest of life.

Moreover, in the school of St. Benedict, the monks have always cultivated a special love for the Word of God in lectio divina, which has now become a common patrimony for many.

I know that your diocesan Church, adapting the guidelines of the Italian bishops' conference, dedicates great attention to developing a deeper acquaintance with the Bible, and has even inaugurated an itinerary to study Sacred Scriptures, which is dedicated this year to the evangelist Mark, and which will continue over the next four years, and God willing, conclude with a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

May careful attention to the divine Word nourish your prayers and make you prophets of truth and love in a concerted commitment to evangelization and human promotion.

Another hinge of Benedictine spirituality is work. To humanize the world of labor is typical of the spirit of monasticism, and this, too, is the effort of your Community in seeking to be at the side of the numerous workers of the major industry present in Cassino and the businesses linked to it.

I know how critical the situation is for so many workers. I express my solidarity to all who are expereincing job precariousness, to those workers who are in 'cassa integrazione' [a form of unemployment insurance that tides the worker over until he can be rehired in his old job]] or who have been dismissed outright.

May the consequences of unemployment that afflict this region lead the responsible people in public authority, the entrepreneurs and others who are in a position to do so, to find valid solutions, with the contribution of everyone, to this job crisis, creating new jobs that can help safeguard families.

In this regard, how can we not recall that the family today has an urgent need to be better protected since it is being undermined strongly in the very roots of the institution?

I think likewise of the young people who find it difficult to get worthy employment that can allow them to start a family. To them, I wish to say: Do not be discouraged, dear friends - the Church will not abandon you.

I know that at least 25 young people from your diocese took part in the last World Youth Day in Sydney. Drawing on that extraordinary spiritual experience, be the evangelical leaven among your friends and contemporaries. With the power of the Holy Spirit, be the new missionaries in this, the land of St. Benedict.

Finally, your tradition also encompasses attention to the world of culture and education. The famous Archive and Library of Montecassino
hold innumerable testimonies of the efforts of so many men and women who have meditated and studied how to improve the spiritual and material life of mankind.

In your Abbey, one can touch with the hand that 'quaerere Deum', the search for God - that is, the fact that European culture has been a search for God and a willingness to listen to him. This is valid even in our time.

I know that you have been working in this spirit in the University and in your schools so that they may be laboratories of knowledge, of research, of passion for the future of the new generations.

I also know that in preparation for my visit, you had a recent convocation on education in order to arouse in all concerned an active determination to transmit to the young those irrenunciable values of our human and Christian patrimony.

In the cultural efforts today to create a new humanism, you rightly intend, faithful to the Benedictine tradition, to emphasize attention to those who are fragile and weak, to disabled persons and to new immigrants.

And I am grateful that you are giving me the occasion to inaugurate today the Casa della Carita, where a culture solicitous of life is being built with solid reality.

Dear brothers and sisters, it is not difficult to perceive that your community, this part of the Church which lives around Montecassino, is the heir and repository of the mission, impregnated with the spirit of St. Benedict, to proclaim that in this life, no one and nothing should be in first place ahead of Christ - and that is, the mission of constructing, in the name of Christ, a new humanity concerned with harboring and helping its weakest members.

May your patriarch and patron saint, with his sister St. Scholastica, help and accompany you. And may your patron saints protect you, especially Mary, Mother of the Church and Star of our hope. Amen.

After the Mass, the Holy Father introduced the Regina Caeli prayers with these messages:


Dear brothers and sisters!

Every time we celebrate Holy Mass, we hear an necho in our hearts of the words Jesus left his disciples at the Last Supper as a precious gift: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you" (Jn 14,27).

How much need the Christian community and all mankind have to taste fully the richness anx the power of Christ's peace! St. Benedict was a great witness to that, because he harbored it in his existence and he made it fruitful in works of authentic cultural adn spiritual renewal.

Because of this, the entrance to the Abbey of Montecassino and every other Benedictine monastery carries the word PAX: indeed, the monastic community is called to live in that peace which is the Paschal gift par excellence.

As you know, on my recent trip to the Holy Land, I considered myself a pilgrim for peace, and today, in ths land marked by the Beneditcitine charism, I have been given the occasion to underscore once more that peace is, in the first place, a gift from God, and therefore, its power is in prayer.

But it is a gift entrusted to human effort. The very energy necessary to realize it can be drawn from prayer. That is why it is fundamental to cultivate an authentic life of prayer to assure social progress in peace.

Once again, the history of monasticism teaches us that listening daily to the Word of God results in a great growth in civility, that it impels believers to personal and community effort to fight every form of selfishness and injustice.

By simply learning, with the grace of Christ, to fight and conquer the evil within ourselves and in our relations with others, we become authentic builders of peace and of civil progress.

May the Virgin Mary, Queen of Peace, help all Christians, in different vocations and life situations, to be witnesses to the peace that Christ has given us and left us as a demanding mission to realize everywhere.

Today, May 24, the liturgical commemoration of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Help of Christians - venerated with great devotion in the shrine of Sheshan near Shanghai - we observe the World DAy of Prayer for the Church in China.

My thoughts go to all the people of China. In particular, I greet with great affection the Catholics in China and call on them to renew on this day their communion of faith in Christ and fidelity to the Successor of Peter.

May our common prayer obtain an effusion of the gifts of the Holy Spirit so that unity among all Christians, as well as the catholicity and universality of the Church, may be ever more profound and visible.

In English, he said:

I greet the English-speaking pilgrims who have come here today to Monte Cassino.

From the heights of this mountain we contemplate with joy our risen and ascended Lord, who has taken his seat in heaven at the right hand of the Father. Where he has gone, we hope to follow.

In this place, where so many lost their lives in the battles that were fought during the Second World War, we pray especially for the souls of the fallen, commending them to God’s infinite mercy, and we pray for an end to the wars that continue to afflict our world.

May God pour out his blessings upon all of you and upon your loved ones at home.

At the end of his greeting in Italian, he said this:

On this Sunday, when we observe the World Day for Social communications, let us invoke Mary Help of Christians with filial confidence as we pray the Regina caeli.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 5/25/2009 2:42 AM]
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