Wednesday, April 19, 2006

A Year of Benedictions

A year ago at this hour, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected to the chair of Peter, taking the name Benedict XVI.

The Pope returned from his brief rest at Castel Gandolfo this morning to preside over the weekly General Audience in St Peter's Square. He departed from his usual thread of catechetical talks to offer reflections on the Petrine ministry in the church, his place in it and a meditation on the meaning of Easter.

Below is the Whispers translation of the Italian fulltext as recorded by the Holy See.

Dear brothers and sisters!

At the beginning of this General Audience, which takes place within the joyous climate of Easter, together with you I would like to thank the Lord, who after having called me exactly a year ago to serve the Church as Successor of the Apostle Peter -- thank you for your joy, thank you for your acclamation -- has not failed to aid me with his indispensable help. How quickly the time has passed! It has already been a year since, in a way which was for me absolutely unexpected and surprising, the Cardinals gathered in Conclave chose me to succeed the late, beloved Servant of God, the great Pope, John Paul II. I remember with emotion the first impact I felt on the central Loggia of the Basilica, immediately after my poor election, with the faithful who had come to this same Square. That encounter, which so many followed so closely, remains impressed in my mind and in my heart, and truly gave me a mode of experimentation for what I said in the courst of the solemn concelebration with which I solemnly undertook the exercise of the Petrine ministry: "I am greatly aware that I should not carry alone that which, in reality, I could not carry alone." And I always feel that, alone, I wouldn't be able to carry this charge, this mission. But I feel that, also, you all carry it with me: I am in a great communion and together we can carry forward the mission of the Lord. The heavenly protection of God and the saints irreplacably sustains me, and your closeness comforts me, dear friends, for you have not made me lack the gift of your indulgence and of your love. I truly thank from my heart all those who in various ways support me by their closeness or have spiritually followed me from afar with their affection and their prayer. To each, I ask you to continue to sustain me, praying that God may allow me to be a mild and firm pastor of his Church.

John the Evangelist tells us that Jesus, after his resurrection, called Peter to take unto himself the care of his flock. Who would've been able then to humanly imagine the development which would be marked in the course of centuries by this little group of disciples of the Lord? Peter, together with the apostles and then their successors, first in Jerusalem and then proceeding to the utmost ends of the earth, spread with courage the Gospel message in which the fundamental and unignorable nucleus is constituted by the Paschal Mystery: the passion, the death, the resurrection of Christ. The Church celebrates this mystery at Easter, prolonging its joyous resonance over the following days; singing the alleluia for the triumph of Christ over evil and over death. "The celebration of Easter according to a date of the calendar," Pope St Leo the Great notes, "recalls for us the eternal feast which surpasses all human time." "The current Easter," he then notes, "is the shadow of the future Easter. Because of this, we celebrate by passing from an annual feast toward a feast that will be eternal." The joy of these days extends itself to the entire liturgical year and renews itself particularly on Sunday, the day dedicates to recalling the resurrection of the Lord. In it, which is like the "little Easter" of each week, the liturgical assembly comes together for the Holy Mass proclaiming in the Creed that Jesus rose on the third day, adding that we await "the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come." It's indicated in this that the the event of the death and resurrection of Jesus constitutes the center of our faith and it's on this announcement that the Church is based and grows. As St Augustine recalls in an incisive way: "Let us consider, dearest ones, the Resurrection of Christ: in fact, as his Passion has signified our old life, so his resurrection is the sacrament of new life... You have believed, you have been baptized: the old life is dead, taken on the cross, buried in Baptism. The old was buried in that which you used to live: the new rises. Live well: live so that you may live, than when you die, you may not die."

The Gospel accounts, which refer to the appearances of the Risen one, routinely conclude with the the invitation to surpass each uncertainty, to face the event with the Scriptures, to announce with Jesus that from death has come eternal life, the source of new life for all those who believe. So it happens, as an example, in the case of Mary Magdalene (Jn 20:11-18), who discoveres the tomb open and empty, and immediately fears that the body of the Lord has been carried away. The Lord then calls her by name, and at that point a profound change takes place in her: her discomfort and disorientation are transformed into joy and enthusiasm. With solicitude, she goes to the Apostles and announces: "I have seen the Lord" (Jn 20:18). Behold: whoever encounters the risen Jesus becomes internally transformed; one can't "see" the Risen one without "believing" in him. Let us pray to him that he may call each of us by name and so convert us, to take the leap of courage and freedom which makes us shout to the world: Jesus is risen and lives forever. This is the mission of the disciples of the Lord of every age and also of our time: "If you are risen with Christ," exhorts St Paul, "seek the things that are above... think of the things above, and not those of the earth" (Col 3:1-2). This is not to say that we should estrange ourselves from our daily duties, disinteresting ourselves from earthly realities; it means rather to revive each human activity as with a supernatural breath, meaning to make ourselves joyous announcers and witnesses of the resurrection of Christ, who lives in eternity (Jn 20:25; Lk 24:33-34).

Dear brothers and sisters, in the Pasch of his only-begotten Son God reveals himself fully, his victorious strength over the forces of death, the force of his threefold Love. May the Virgin Mary, who is intimately associated with the passion, death and resurrection of her Son and at the foot of the Cross became the mother of all believers, help us to understand this mystery of love which changes hearts and makes us fully taste the joy of Easter, that we may be able to communicate it in our time to the men and women of the third millennium.

Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi