Thursday, January 26, 2006

Dio è amore

An excerpt from last night's homily for the Ecumenical Vespers at St. Paul's (Loggia translation):

Deus caritas est (1 Jn 4:8-16), God is love. On this solid rock leans the whole entire faith of the Church. Based particularly on this is the patient search for full communion between all the disciples of Christ: fixing our gaze on this truth, climaxing in divine revelation, the divisions, while maintaining their sorrowful gravity, appear surmountable and shouldn't discourage us. The Lord Jesus, who with the blood of his Passion has broken down "the wall of separation" of "enmity" (Ep 2:14), will not fail to grant to all who call upon him with faith the strength to heal each tear. But it always must start from this: Deus caritas est. I have dedicated my first Encyclical to the theme of love; it was published today and this happy coincidence with the conclusion of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity invites us to consider our encounter, and, even more so, the whole path of ecumenism in the light of the love of God, from the Love who is God. If, under the human profile, love has already manifested itself as an invincible source, shouldn't we say, then, that "we have come to believe in God's love for us" (1 Jn 4:16)? True love doesn't annul legitimate differences, but harmonizes them in a superior unity, which is not imposed from the outside, but takes its form from the inside, that is to say, together. As is the mystery of communion, that which unites man and woman in the community of love and of life which is marriage, so the Church is formed as a community of love, comprising in unity a multiform richness of gifts, of traditions. At the service of this unity of love is placed the Church of Rome which, according to the expression of St. Ignatius of Antioch, "presides in charity" (Ad Rom 1:1). In your presence, dear brothers and sisters, I desire today to renew the entrustment to God of my Petrine ministry, asking upon it the light and strength of the Holy Spirit, that it may benefit ever more the fraternal communion of all Christians.

The theme of love links in its depth the two brief readings of tonight's liturgical vespers. In the first, God's love is the force which transforms the life of Saul of Tarsus and makes him the Apostle of the Gentiles. Writing to the Christians of Corinth, St. Paul confesses that God's grace brought about in him the extraordinary event of his conversion: "Through God's grace, I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been in vain" (1 Cor 15:10). On one part is felt the weight of having been an obstacle to the diffusion of Christ's message, but at the same time there is the living joy of having encountered the risen Lord and of being illumined and transformed in his light. He maintains a constant remembrance of the event which changed his being, an event so important for the whole Church which, in the Acts of the Apostoles is referred to three times. On the road to Damascus, Saul felt the upsetting question: "Why do you persecute me?" He fell to the ground and, emotionally wrought, asked: "Who are you, Lord?," obtaining the answer which was the base of his conversion: "I am Jesus, the one you persecute." Paul understands instantly that which he would express in his writings, that the Church forms a single body of which Christ is the Head. And so, the persecutor of the Christians became the Apostle of the Gentiles.

PHOTO: REUTERS/Giampiero Sposito