Ascension invites us into God's royal
Benedict XVI offers encouragement to
unemployed during Mass at Cassino on 24 May
On Sunday morning, 24 May , the Solemnity of the
Ascension, the Holy Father went by helicopter to Cassino, Central Italy.
Before presiding at Holy Mass in Miranda Square, the Pope was greeted by
the Mayor who announced that from that day the Square would be renamed
after him. The following is a translation of the Pope's Homily, which
was given in Italian.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
"You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come
upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea
and Samaria and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8).
With these words, Jesus took his leave of the Apostles,
as we heard in the First Reading. Immediately afterwards the sacred
Author adds that "as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud
took him out of their sight" (Acts 1:9).
This is the mystery of the Ascension that we are
celebrating today. But what do the Bible and the Liturgy wish to tell us
by saying that Jesus "was lifted up"? We cannot understand the meaning
of these words from a single text or from a single book of the New
Testament but rather by listening attentively to the whole of Sacred
Scripture. In fact the verb "to lift up" was originally used in the Old
Testament and refers to royal enthronement. Thus Christ's Ascension
means in the first place the enthronement of the Crucified and Risen Son
of Man, the manifestation of God's kingship over the world.
However, there is an even deeper meaning that is not
immediately perceptible. In the passage from the Acts of the Apostles it
is said first that Jesus was "lifted up" (v. 9) and then it says "taken
up" (v. The event is not described as a journey to on high but rather as
an action of the power of God who introduces Jesus into the space of
closeness to the Divine. The presence of the cloud that "took him out of
their sight" (v. 9), recalls a very ancient image of Old Testament
theology and integrates the account of the Ascension into the history of
God with Israel, from the cloud of Sinai and above the tent of the
Covenant in the desert, to the luminous cloud on the mountain of the
To present the Lord wrapped in clouds calls to mind once
and for all the same mystery expressed in the symbolism of the phrase,
"seated at the right hand of God". In Christ ascended into Heaven, the
human being has entered into intimacy with God in a new and unheard-of
way; man henceforth finds room in God for ever.
"Heaven": this word Heaven does not indicate a place
above the stars but something far more daring and sublime: it indicates
Christ himself, the divine Person who welcomes humanity fully and for
ever, the One in whom God and man are inseparably united for ever. Man's
being in God, this is Heaven. And we draw close to Heaven, indeed, we
enter Heaven to the extent that we draw close to Jesus and enter into
communion with him. For this reason today's Solemnity of the Ascension
invites us to be in profound communion with the dead and Risen Jesus,
invisibly present in the life of each one of us.
In this perspective we
understand why the Evangelist Luke says that after the Ascension the
disciples returned to Jerusalem "with great joy" (24:52). Their joy
stems from the fact that what had happened was not really a separation,
the Lord's permanent absence: on the contrary, they were then certain
that the Crucified-Risen One was alive and that in him God's gates, the
gates of eternal life, had been opened to humanity for ever. In other
words, his Ascension did not imply a temporary absence from the world
but rather inaugurated the new, definitive and insuppressible form of
his presence by virtue of his participation in the royal power of God.
It was to be up to them, the disciples emboldened by the
power of the Holy Spirit, to make his presence visible by their witness,
preaching and missionary zeal. The Solemnity of the Lord's Ascension
must also fill us with serenity and enthusiasm, just as it did the
Apostles who set out again from the Mount of Olives "with great joy".
Like them, we too, accepting the invitation of the "two
men in dazzling apparel", must not stay gazing up at the sky, but, under
the guidance of the Holy Spirit must go everywhere and proclaim the
saving message of Christ's death and Resurrection. His very
words, with which the Gospel according to St Matthew ends, accompany and
comfort us: "and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Mt
Dear brothers and sisters, the historical character of
the mystery of Christ's Resurrection and Ascension helps us to recognize
and understand the transcendent condition of the Church which was not
born and does not live to compensate for the absence of her Lord who has
"disappeared" but on the contrary finds the reason for her existence and
mission in the invisible presence of Jesus, a presence working through
the power of his Spirit.
In other words, we might say that the Church does not
carry out the role of preparing for the return of an "absent" Jesus,
but, on the contrary, lives and works to proclaim his "glorious
presence" in a historical and existential way. Since the day of the
Ascension, every Christian community has advanced on its earthly
pilgrimage toward the fulfilment of the messianic promises, fed by the
word of God and nourished by the Body and Blood of her Lord.
This is the condition of
the Church, the Second Vatican Council recalls, as she "'presses forward
amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God',
announcing the Cross and death of the Lord until he comes" (Lumen
Gentium, n. 8).
Brothers and sisters of
this beloved diocesan community, today's Solemnity urges us to
consolidate our faith in the Real Presence of Jesus in history: without
him we can do nothing effective in our life or our apostolate. It is he,
as the Apostle Paul recalls in the Second Reading, whose "gifts were
that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some
pastors and teachers, for the equipment of the saints, for the work of
ministry, for building up the Body of Christ", that is, the Church. And
this is in order that we "attain to the unity of the faith and of the
knowledge of the Son of God" (Eph 4:11-13), since the common vocation of
one and all is to form "one body and one spirit, just as you were called
to the one hope that belongs to your call" (Eph 4:41).
My Visit today fits into
this perspective. As your Pastor noted, its purpose is to encourage you
"to build, found and rebuild" your diocesan community ceaselessly on
Christ. How? St Benedict himself points out the way to us in his Rule
when he recommends that we prefer nothing to Christ:
"Christo nihil omnino praeponere"
I therefore thank God for
the good that your community is doing under the guidance of Fr Abbot Dom
Pietro Vittorelli, its Pastor, whom I greet with affection and thank for
his courteous words to me on behalf of all. With him I greet the
monastic community, the Bishops, priests and men and women religious
present. I greet the civil and military Authorities and in the first
place the Mayor to whom I am grateful for the welcome address with which
he greeted me on my arrival in this Piazza Miranda, which from this day
on will be called after me, although I do not deserve it.
I greet the catechists, the
pastoral workers, the young people and all those who in various ways see
to spreading the Gospel in this region, laden with history, which
experienced periods of great suffering during the Second World War.
Silent witnesses of it are
the numerous cemeteries that surround your rebuilt town: among them I
remember in particular those of Poland, Germany and the Commonwealth. I
extend my greeting, lastly, to all the inhabitants of Cassino and of the
neighbouring towns: I reach out to each one, and especially to the sick
and the suffering, with the assurance of my affection and my prayers.
Dear brothers and sisters,
at this celebration we hear resonating St Benedict's appeal to keep our
hearts fixed on Christ, to prefer nothing to him. This does not distract
us, on the contrary it is an even greater incentive to build a society
in which solidarity may be expressed by concrete signs. But how?
Benedictine spirituality, well known to you, proposes an evangelical
programme that is summed up in the motto: ora et labora et lege
prayer, work and culture.
First of all is prayer
which is the most beautiful legacy that St Benedict bequeathed to the
monks, but also to your particular Church: to your clergy, the majority
of whom were trained at the Diocesan Seminary, for centuries housed in
this same Abbey of Monte Cassino, to the seminarians, to the many people
educated at the Benedictine schools and "recreation" centres and in your
parishes, to all of you who live in this region.
In lifting your gaze from
every village and part of the diocese you can admire the Monastery of
Monte Cassino, that constant reminder of Heaven, to which you climb
every year in procession on the eve of Pentecost. Prayer, to which with
its sonorous tolling the bell of St Benedict summons the monks every
morning, is the silent path that leads us straight to God's Heart; it is
the breath of the soul that restores peace to us in the storm of life.
Furthermore, at the school
of St Benedict, the monks have always cultivated a special love for the
word of God in lectio divina, which today has become the common
patrimony of many. I know that your diocesan Church, in adopting the
guidelines of the Italian Bishops' Conference, takes great pains to
acquire a deeper knowledge of the Bible and indeed has inaugurated a
programme for the study of the Sacred Scriptures, this year dedicated to
the Evangelist Mark, which will continue over the next four years and
conclude, please God, with a diocesan pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
May attentive listening to
the divine word nourish your prayers and make you prophets of truth and
love in a unanimous commitment to evangelization and human advancement.
Another pivot of
Benedictine spirituality is work. Humanizing the working world is
characteristic of the soul of monasticism and this is also an endeavour
of your community that seeks to be beside the numerous workers in the
large industry present at Cassino and in the businesses connected with
I know how critical the
situation of many of the workers is. I express my solidarity to all
those who are living in a worrying and precarious plight, to workers on
redundancy pay or who have actually been discharged. May the wound of
unemployment that afflicts this territory induce the public authorities,
entrepreneurs and all who have means to seek, with the help of all,
effective solutions to the employment crisis, creating employment in
order to safeguard families.
In this regard how can we
forget that the family urgently needs better protection because this
institution is dangerously threatened at its very roots? Then I am
thinking of the young people who have difficulty in finding dignified
work that will enable them to build a family.
I would like to say to
them: do not feel discouraged, dear friends, the Church does not abandon
you! I know that at least 25 young people of your Diocese took part in
the last World Youth Day. in Sydney. In treasuring that
extraordinary spiritual experience, may you be Gospel leaven among your
friends and peers; with the power of the Holy Spirit, be new
missionaries in this land of St Benedict!
Lastly, attention to the
world of culture and education is part of your tradition. The famous
Archives and Library of Monte Cassino contain innumerable testimonies of
the commitment of men and women who meditated upon and sought ways to
improve the spiritual and material life of human beings.
In your Abbey the "quaerere
Deum" is tangible, that is, it is possible to feel that European
culture has consisted in the search for God and the readiness to listen
to him and this also applies in our day. I know that you work with this
same spirit in universities and schools so that they may become
workshops of knowledge, research and enthusiasm for the future of the
generations to come. I also know that in preparation for this Visit, you
recently held a congress on the theme of education, to inspire in
everyone a keen determination to pass on to the young the indispensable
values of our human and Christian heritage.
In today's cultural effort
which aspires to creating a new humanism, faithful to the Benedictine
tradition, you rightly intend also to pay attention to the frail or the
weak, to the disabled and to immigrants. and I am grateful to you that
you are giving me the opportunity to inaugurate on this very day the
"House of Charity" at which a culture attentive to life is being built
Dear brothers and sisters,
it is not hard to see that your community, this portion of the Church
which lives round Monte Cassino, is the heir and depositary of the
mission steeped in St Benedict's spirit to proclaim that in our life no
one and nothing must take priority over Jesus; the mission to construct,
in Christ's name, a new humanity under the banner of acceptance and
assistance to the weakest. May your holy Patriarch help you and
accompany you together with St Scholastica, his sister; and may the holy
Patrons and especially Mary, Mother of the Church and Star of our Hope
protect you. Amen!