Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Two Homilies from the Feast of Sts. Peter & Paul

The homilies of Pope Benedict XVI and Patriarch Bartholomew I, given at mass on the Feast of Sts. Peter & Paul at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. (At this same mass the new archbishops of the Church received the palium.)

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The Holy Father's Homily:

Your Holiness and fraternal Delegates,
Lord Cardinals,
Venerable brothers in the episcopate and priesthood,
Dear brothers and sisters

From the earliest times, the Church of Rome has celebrated the solemnity of the great apostles Peter and Paul as a single feast on the same day, June 29. Through their martyrdom, they became brothers; together, they are the founders of the new Christian Rome. They are sung of as such in the hymn of the second vespers, which goes back to Paulinus of Aquileia (+806): "O Roma felix -- Oh happy Rome, adorned with the crimson of the precious blood of such great princes, you surpass every beauty of the world, not by your own merit, but trough the merit of the saints whom you have killed with bloody sword". The blood of martyrs does not call for revenge -- but reconciles. It does not present itself as an accusation but as a "golden light," according to the words of the hymn of the first vespers. It presents itself as the power of love which overcomes hate and violence, founding, in this way, a new city, a new community.

By their martyrdom, they -- Peter and Paul -- are now part of Rome. Through martyrdom, even Peter became a Roman citizen forever. Through their martyrdom, through their faith and their love, the two apostles show us where true hope lies, and are the founders of a new kind of city, which must again and again form itself in the midst of the old city of man, which continues to be threatened by the opposing forces of the sin and egotism of men.

By virtue of their martyrdom, Peter and Paul are in reciprocal relationship forever. A favorite image of Christian iconography is the embrace of the two apostles on the way to martyrdom. We can say that their martyrdom itself, in its deepest reality, is the realization of a fraternal embrace. They die for the one Christ and, in the witness for which they give their lives, they are one. In the writings of the New Testament, we can, so to speak, follow the development of their embrace, this unity in witness and in mission.

Everything starts when Paul, three years after his conversion, goes to Jerusalem "to consult Cephas" (Galatians 1:18). Fourteen years later, he again goes up to Jerusalem to explain "to the most esteemed persons" the Gospel that he preaches in order so that he might not run the risk of "running, or having run, in vain" (Galatians 2:1f). At the end of this meeting, James, Cephas and John give him their right hands, thus confirming the communion that unites them in the one Gospel of Jesus Christ (Gal 2:9). A beautiful sign of this growing interior embrace, which develops despite the difference in temperaments and in tasks, I find in the fact that the co-workers mentioned at the end of the First Letter of St. Peter -- Silvanus and Mark -- were equally close co-workers of St. Paul. This having of the same co-workers makes the communion of the one Church, the embrace of the great apostles, visible in a very concrete way.

Peter and Paul met each other at least twice in Jerusalem; at the end their paths take them to Rome. Why? Was this perhaps more than just pure chance? Is there perhaps a lasting message in it? Paul arrived in Rome as a prisoner, but at the same time as a Roman citizen who, after his arrest in Jerusalem, as a Roman citizen appealed to the emperor, to whose tribunal he was brought. But in a more profound sense, Paul came to Rome voluntarily. Through the most important of his letters, he had already drawn close to this city interiorly: to the Church in Rome, he had addressed the writing which, more than any other, is the synthesis of his whole proclamation and his faith. In the opening salutation of the letter, he says that the whole world speaks of the faith of the Christians of Rome and that this faith, therefore, was known everywhere as exemplary (Romans 1:8). And then he writes: "I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I often planned to come to you, though I was prevented until now" (1:13). At the end of the letter he comes back to this theme, now speaking of a plan to travel to Spain. "When I go to Spain I hope to see you when I pass through and to be helped by you on my way to that region, after having enjoyed your presence for a little while" (15:24). "And I know that, having come to you, I shall come in the fullness of Christ's blessing" (15:29). There are two things made evident here: Rome is for Paul a stage on the way to Spain, that is -- according to his conception of the world -- towards the extreme end of the earth. He considers his mission to be the fulfillment of the task received from Christ, the bringing of the Gospel to the very ends of the world. Rome is along this route. While Paul usually only goes to places where the Gospel had not yet been announced, Rome is an exception. There he finds a Church whose faith the world speaks about. Going to Rome is part of the universality of his mission as one sent to all peoples. The way to Rome, which, already before his external trip, he had traveled interiorly with his letter, is an integral part of his task of bringing the Gospel to all peoples -- of founding the Church, catholic and universal. Going to Rome is for him the expression of his mission's catholicity. Rome must make the faith visible to the whole world, it must be the meeting place in the one faith.

But why did Peter go to Rome? About this the New Testament does not say anything directly. But it gives us some indication. The Gospel of St. Mark, which we may consider a reflection of the preaching of St. Peter, is intimately oriented towards the moment when the Roman centurion, facing the death of Christ on the cross, says, "Truly this man was the Son of God!" (15:39). At the cross the mystery of Jesus Christ is revealed. Beneath the Cross the Church of the gentiles is born: the centurion of the Roman execution squad recognizes the Son of God in Christ. The Acts of the Apostles describe the episode of Cornelius, the centurion of the Italic cohort, as a decisive stage for the entrance of the Gospel into the pagan world. Following a command of God, he sends someone to get Peter, and Peter, also following a divine order, goes to the centurion's house and preaches. While he is speaking, the Holy Spirit descends on the gathered domestic community and Peter says: "Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people, who have received the holy Spirit even as we have?" (Acts 10:47).

Thus, in the Council of the Apostles, Peter becomes the intercessor for the Church of the pagans who do not need the Law because God "has purified their hearts with faith" (Acts 15:9). Certainly, in the Letter to the Galatians, Paul says that God gave strength to Peter for the apostolic ministry among the circumcised, and to Paul himself, the ministry among the pagans instead (Gal 2:8). But this assignment could be in force only as long as Peter remained with the 12 in Jerusalem in the hope that all of Israel would adhere to Christ. In the face of later developments, the 12 recognized the time in which they too must go forth into the world to announce the Gospel to it. Peter who, following divine order, had been the first to open the door to pagans, now leaves the leadership of the Christian-Jewish Church to James the Less, in order to dedicate himself to his true mission: to the ministry of the unity of the one Church of God made up of Jews as well as pagans. The desire of Paul to go to Rome highlights above all, as we have seen, the word "catholica" ["catholic"] among the characteristics of the Church.

St. Peter's journey to Rome, as representative of the peoples of the world, is above all associated with the word "una" ["one"]: he has the task of creating the "unity" of the "catholica," of the Church made up of Jews and pagans, the Church of all peoples. And this is the permanent mission of Peter: to make sure that the Church never identifies herself with any one nation, any one culture or any one state. That it may always be the Church of all. That it may unite mankind beyond every frontier and, amidst the divisions of this world, make God's peace present, the reconciling power of his love. Due to technology that is now the same everywhere, due to the global information network, and due also to the linking of common interests, there are new modes of unity in the world, which have caused the explosion of new oppositions and given new impetus to old ones. In the midst of this external unity, based on material things, we have all the more need of interior unity which comes from the peace of God - the unity of all those who, through Jesus Christ, have become brothers and sisters. This is the permanent mission of Peter, as well as the special task entrusted to the Church of Rome.

Dear confreres in the Episcopate! I wish now to address those of you who have come to Rome to receive the pallium as the symbol of your rank and your responsibility as archbishops in the Church of Jesus Christ. The pallium is woven from the wool of the sheep that the Bishop of Rome blesses every year on the Feast of Peter's Chair, thus setting them apart, so to speak, to be a symbol for the flock of Christ, over which you preside.

When we put the pallium on our shoulders, this gesture reminds us of the Shepherd who puts the lost sheep upon his shoulders -- the lost sheep who by himself can no longer find the way home -- and takes him back to the sheepfold. The Fathers of the Church saw in this sheep the image of all mankind, of human nature in its entirety, which is lost its and can no longer find the way home. The Shepherd who takes the sheep home can only be the Logos, the eternal Word of God himself. In the Incarnation, he placed us all -- the sheep who is man -- on his shoulders. He, the eternal Word, the true Shepherd of mankind, carries us; in his humanity he carries each of us on his shoulders. On the way of the Cross, he carried us home, he takes us home. But he also wants men who can "carry" together with him. Being a shepherd in the Church of Christ means taking part in this task, which the pallium commemorates. When we put it on, he asks us: "Will you also carry, together with me, those who belong to me? Will you bring them to me, to Jesus Christ?" What comes to mind next is the order Peter received from the Risen Christ, who links the command, "Feed my sheep" inseparably with the question, "Do you love me? Do you love me more than others do?" Every time we put on the pallium of the shepherd of Christ's flock, we should hear this question, "Do you love me?" and we must ask ourselves about that "more" of love that he expects from the shepherd.

Thus the pallium becomes a symbol of our love for the Shepherd Christ and our loving together with him -- it becomes the symbol of the calling to love men as he does, together with him: those who are searching, those who have questions, those who are self-assured and the humble, the simple and the great; it becomes the symbol of the calling to love all of them with the strength of Christ and in view of Christ, so that they may find him, and in him, find themselves. But the pallium which you will receive "from" the tomb of Peter has yet another meaning, inseparably connected with the first. To understand this, a word from the First Letter of St. Peter may help us. In his exhortation to priests to feed the flock in the correct way, St. Peter calls himself a "synpresbýteros" -- co-priest (5:1). This formula implicitly contains the affirmation of the principle of apostolic succession: the shepherds who follow are shepherds like him; together with him, they belong to the common ministry of the shepherds of the Church of Jesus Christ, a ministry that continues in them. But this "co-" (in co-priest) has still two other meanings. It also expresses the reality that we indicate today by what is said today about the "collegiality" of bishops. We are all "co-priests." No one is a shepherd by himself. We are in the succession of the apostles thanks only to being in the communion of the college in which the college of apostles finds its continuation. The communion -- the "we" -- of the shepherds is part of being shepherds, because there is only one flock, the one Church of Jesus Christ. Finally, this "co-" also refers to communion with Peter and his successor as a guarantee of unity. Thus, the pallium speaks to us of the catholicity of the Church, of the universal communion of shepherd and flock. And it refers us to apostolicity: to communion with the faith of the apostles on which the Church is founded. It speaks to us of the "ecclesia" that is "una," "catholica," "apostolic," and naturally, binding us to Christ, it speaks to us of the fact that the Church is "sancta" us that the Church is holy, and that our work is a service of this holiness.

This brings me back, finally, to St. Paul and his mission. He expressed the essence of his mission, as well as the most profound reason for his desire to go to Rome, in Chapter 15 of the Letter to the Romans, in an extraordinarily beautiful passage. He knows he has been called "to be a 'leitourgos' of Christ Jesus for the Gentiles, serving the Gospel of God as a priest, so that the pagans become an acceptable offering, sanctified by the holy Spirit" (15:16). Only in this passage does Paul use the word "hierourgein" -- serving as a priest -- together with "leitourgos" -- liturgist: he speaks of the cosmic liturgy, in which the world of men itself must become worship of God, an offering in the Holy Spirit. When the whole world will have become the liturgy of God, when in its reality it will have become adoration, then it will have reached its goal, then it will be whole and saved. And this is the ultimate objective of St. Paul's apostolic mission and of ours. It is to such a mystery that the Lord calls us. Let us pray in this hour that he may help us carry it out in the right way, to become true liturgists of Jesus Christ. Amen.

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The Holy Father's Introduction to the Patriarch's Homily:

Brothers and Sisters,

The great feast of Saints Peter and Paul -- patrons of this Church of Rome and, together with the other apostles, pillars of the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church -- brings to us every year the welcome presence of a fraternal delegation of the Church of Constantinople which, this year, because of the opening of the "Pauline Year," is led by the Patriarch himself, His Holiness Bartholomew I. I address my cordial greeting to him as I express my joy of once again having the happy opportunity of exchanging the kiss of peace with him in the common hope of seeing the coming of the day of "unitatis redintegratio" -- the day of full communion between us.

I also greet the members of the patriarchal delegation, the representatives of the Churches and ecclesial communities, who honor us with their presence, offering with this presence a sign of the will to intensify the movement toward the full unity of the disciples of Christ. We dispose ourselves now to listen to the reflections of His Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch, words that we desire to receive with an open heart because they come from our dearly beloved brother in the Lord.

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Homily of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I:

Your Holiness,

Having again experienced, in November 2006, the joy and emotion of the personal and blessed participation of Your Holiness in the patronal feast of Constantinople, the commemoration of the St. Andrew the Apostle, the First Called, I set out "with a joyous step" from Fener in the New Rome, to come to you to participate in your joy in the patronal feast of Old Rome. And we have come to you "with the fullness of the blessing of the Gospel of Christ" (Romans 15:29), returning the honor and love, celebrating with our beloved brother in the land of the West, "the certain and inspired heralds, the coryphaei of the disciples of the Lord," the holy apostles Peter, brother of Andrew, and Paul -- these two great, central pillars of the whole Church stretched out toward heaven, which, in this historic city, also offered the ultimate shining confession of Christ and gave their souls to the Lord here through martyrdom, one on the cross and the other by the sword, and thus sanctified this city.

We greet, with the deepest and most devoted love, on the part of the Most Holy Church of Constantinople and her children throughout the world, You Holiness, desired brother, wishing from the heart "those who live in Rome beloved of God" (Romans 1:7), good health, peace, prosperity and progress day and night toward salvation "fervent in spirit, serving the Lord, joyful in hope, strong in tribulation, steadfast in prayer" (Romans 12:11-12).

In both Churches, Your Holiness, we duly honor and greatly venerate Peter -- he who made his salvific confession of the divinity of Christ, as much as Paul -- the vessel of election, who proclaimed this confession and faith to the ends of the universe in the midst of the most unimaginable difficulties and dangers. Since the year of salvation 258 we have celebrated their memory in the West and in the East on June 29. In the East we also prepare for this feast by a fast observed in their honor on the preceding days, following a tradition of the ancient Church. To strongly emphasize their equal importance, but also their weight in the Church and her regenerative and salvific work through the centuries, the East honors them in an icon in which they either hold a little ship in their hands, which symbolizes the Church, or they embrace and exchange the kiss in Christ.

It is indeed this kiss that we have come to exchange with you, Your Holiness, emphasizing the ardent desire and love in Christ, things which are closely related to each other.

The theological dialogue between our Churches "in faith, truth and love," thanks to divine help, goes forward despite the considerable difficulties that exist and the well-known problems. We truly desire and fervently pray that these difficulties will be overcome and that the problems will disappear as soon as possible so that we may reach the desired final goal for the glory of God.

We know well that this is your desire too, as we also are certain that Your Holiness will neglect nothing, personally working, together with your illustrious collaborators, through a perfect smoothing of the way, toward a positive fulfillment of the labors of dialogue, God willing.

Your Holiness, we too have proclaimed the year 2008 "Year of the Apostle Paul" on the 2,000 anniversary of the great apostle's birth. In regard to the events of the anniversary celebration, in which we have also venerated the precise place of the St. Paul's martyrdom, we are planning, among others things, a sacred pilgrimage to some of the monuments of the apostolic activity of the apostle in the East: Ephesus, Perge, and other cities in Asia Minor, but also Rhodes and Crete, the places called "good ports." Be assured, Your Holiness, that on this sacred journey, you too will be present, walking with us in spirit, and that in each place we will offer up an ardent prayer for you and our brothers of the venerable Roman Catholic Church, fervently asking the divine Paul's intercession with the Lord for you.

And now, venerating the sufferings and the cross of Peter and embracing Paul's chains and stigmata, honoring the confession and martyrdom and the venerable death of both for the name of the Lord, which truly leads to Life, we glorify the Thrice-Holy God and we supplicate him, so that through the intercession of Saints Peter and Paul, who are his protocoryphaei and apostles, he will, here below, grant us and all his children of the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church throughout the world "union of faith and communion in the Spirit" in the "bond of peace" and there above eternal life and great mercy. Amen.

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