Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Birthday

Before all else, for all the Moms among us, Happy Mother's Day... with all the love and thanks in the world.

To mark this "birthday of the church," B16 offered Pentecost Mass this morning in St Peter's. Fulltext translation to come; in the meantime, the AsiaNews summary:
"In the event of Pentecost, it becomes clear that multiple different languages and cultures are at home in the Church; in the faith, these can understand and enrich one another"....

The pope's homily - proclaimed during the solemn celebration in the basilica of St. Peter's, in the presence of dozens of cardinals and bishops and thousands of faithful - expressed a sort of manifesto of what the Catholic Church is.

The group of disciples that receives the Holy Spirit is the "new Israel", a "new creation", which speaks in "other languages". It is a community "constructed not by human will, but by the power of the Spirit of God . . . a community that at the same time is one and universal".

"The Church that is born at Pentecost", Benedict XVI further explains, "is not in the first place a particular community - the Church of Jerusalem - but the universal Church, which speaks the languages of all peoples. From this are then born communities in every part of the world, particular Churches that are all and always actualisations of the only and unique Church of Christ". In the ecumenical world and in some fringes of the Catholic Church, the preeminence of the particular Church is often emphasised, looking to the unity of the Church (and the pope) as a sort of optional association, a federation constituted externally. "The Catholic Church", the pope adds, "is not . . . a federation of Churches, but a unique reality: ontological priority belongs to the universal Church. Without being Catholic in this sense, a community would not even be a Church".
In the "federalist" view of the Church, Catholics are called "Roman" in order to limit the universality of this Church. Benedict XVI explains that the Rome cited in the Acts of the Apostles "was the symbol of the pagan world in general", and that in the vision of Luke "the power of the Holy Spirit would guide the steps of the witnesses 'to the ends of the earth' (Acts 1:8), all the way to Rome". The "Roman" character of the Church is therefore another sign of catholicity and universality: "the journey of the word of God, begun in Jerusalem, reaches its destination, because Rome represents the entire world and thus embodies the Lucan idea of catholicity. The universal Church is realised, the Catholic Church".

The Church created by the Spirit has peace as its characteristic. Benedict XVI returned to the Gospel of today's Mass, which recalls the appearance of Jesus in the Cenacle, and the gift of "shalom" (peace) offered by the Risen One. "'Shalom' is not a simple greeting; it is much more: it is the gift of the peace that is promised (cf. John 14:27) and won by Jesus at the price of his blood, it is the fruit of his victory in the struggle against the spirit of evil. It is therefore a peace 'not as the world gives', but as only God can give".

This gift brings with it the responsibility to spread it in the world, among all peoples. The pontiff recalls his recent speech to the United Nations as a sign of this lived responsibility. "But", he adds, "one must not think only of these events 'at the top'. The Church realises its service to the peace of Christ above all in its ordinary presence and action among men, with the preaching of the Gospel and with the signs of love and mercy that accompany this (cf. Mark 16:20)"....

After the Mass, at noon the pope went to the window of his study to recite the Regina Caeli with the tens of thousands of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Square. In his words before the recitation of the Marian prayer, Benedict XVI again emphasised the value of the feast of Pentecost. After some audio problems in the square, the pontiff describe the gift of the Spirit of God "as a cascade capable of purifying every heart, of extinguishing the blaze of evil and igniting in the world the fire of divine love".

"In this baptism of the Holy Spirit", he continued, "the personal and community dimensions are inseparable, the 'I' of the disciple and the 'we' of the Church. The Spirit consecrates the person and makes him at the same time a living member of the mystical Body of Christ, a participant in the mission of witnessing to his love".
He then exhorted the young people above all to "rediscover the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives". And he asked all to pray to the Virgin Mary, that she may obtain "again today a renewed Pentecost for the Church, which infuses into all, and in a special way into young people, the joy of living and witnessing to the Gospel".

Before the greetings in various languages, he made an appeal for peace in Lebanon, which after "the political stalemate" and the "verbal violence" now risks plunging into the violence of civil war. For months, Lebanon has been unable to select a new president because of the obstacles posed by the group Hezbollah, supported by Syria and Iran. The pope recalled that a compromise must now be found so that Lebanon, the union of so many different communities, may continue to live. And he added: "Bringing Lebanon to life is the task of all of its inhabitants". Benedict XVI asked all Christians to pray to Mary, Our Lady of Lebanon, that the country may have a future of unity and harmony.
PHOTOS: AFP/Getty(1,2); Reuters(3)