Pope Benedict XVI- Homilies
Heart of God Throbs With Compassion"
Homily at Vespers Inaugurating the Year for Priests
H.H. Benedict XVI
St. Peter's Basilica - Solemnity of the Sacred Heart
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In a little while, we shall be singing in the Antiphon to the
Magnificat: "The Lord has welcomed us in his Heart Suscepit nos
Dominus in sinum et cor suum". God's heart, considered to be the
organ of his will, is mentioned 26 times in the Old Testament.
Man is judged according to God's Heart. Because of the pain his
heart feels at the sins of man, God decides on the flood, but is
subsequently moved by human weakness and forgives.
Then there is an Old Testament passage in which the subject of God's
Heart is expressed with absolute clarity: it is in chapter 11 of the
Book of the Prophet Hosea in which the first verses describe the
dimension of the love with which the Lord turned to Israel at the
dawn of its history: "When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out
of Egypt I called my son" (Hos 11: 1). Israel, in fact, responds to
God's tireless favour with indifference and even outright
"The more I called them", the Lord is forced to admit, "the more
they went from me" (v. 2). Nonetheless he never abandons Israel to
the hands of the enemy because "my heart", the Creator of the
universe observes, "recoils within me, my compassion grows warm and
tender" (v. 8).
The Heart of God throbs with compassion! On today's Solemnity of the
Sacred Heart of Jesus the Church offers us this mystery for
contemplation, the mystery of the Heart of a God who feels
compassion and pours forth all his love upon humanity. It is a
mysterious love, which in the texts of the New Testament is revealed
to us as God's immeasurable love for the human being. He does not
give in to ingratitude or to rejection by the People he has chosen;
on the contrary, with infinite mercy he sends his Only-Begotten Son
into the world to take upon himself the burden of love immolated so
that by defeating the powers of evil and death he could restore the
dignity of being God's children to human beings, enslaved by sin.
All this comes about at a high price: the Only-Begotten Son of the
Father is sacrificed on the Cross, "having loved his own who were in
the world, he loved them to the end" (cf. Jn 13: 1).
A symbol of this love which goes beyond death is his side, pierced
by a spear. In this regard, the Apostle John, an eye-witness, says:
"one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once
there came out blood and water" (cf. Jn 19: 34).
brothers and sisters, thank you because, in response to my
invitation, you have come in large numbers to this celebration with
which we begin the Year for Priests. I greet the Cardinals and
Bishops, in particular the Cardinal Prefect and the Secretary of the
Congregation for the Clergy with their collaborators, and the Bishop
of Ars. I greet the priests and seminarians of the various
seminaries and colleges of Rome; the men and women religious and all
I address a special greeting to H.B. Ignace Youssef Younan,
Patriarch of Antioch for Syrians, who has come to Rome to meet me
and to acknowledge publicly the "ecclesiastica communio" which I
have granted him.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us pause together to contemplate the
pierced Heart of the Crucified One. We have heard again, just now,
in the brief Reading from the Letter of St Paul to the Ephesians,
that "God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he
loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us
alive together with Christ... and raised us up with him, and made us
sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Eph 2: 4-6).
To be in Jesus Christ, is to be already seated in heaven.
The essential nucleus of Christianity is expressed in the Heart of
Jesus; in Christ the whole of the revolutionary newness of the
Gospel was revealed and given to us: the Love that saves us and
already makes us live in God's eternity.
The Evangelist John writes: "For God so loved the world that he gave
his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have
eternal life" (3: 16). His divine Heart therefore calls to our
hearts, inviting us to come out of ourselves, to abandon our human
certainties to trust in him and, following his example, to make of
ourselves a gift of love without reserve.
If it is true that Jesus' invitation to "abide in my love" (cf. Jn
15: 9) is addressed to every baptized person, on the Feast of the
Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Day for priestly sanctification, this
invitation resounds more powerfully for we priests, particularly
this evening at the solemn inauguration of the Year for Priests,
which I wanted to be celebrated on the occasion of the 150th
anniversary of the death of the Holy Curé d'Ars.
One of his beautiful and moving sayings, cited in the Catechism of
the Catholic Church, immediately springs to my mind: "The Priesthood
is the love of the Heart of Jesus" (n. 1589).
How is it possible not to remember with emotion that the gift of our
priestly ministry flowed directly from this Heart? How can we forget
that we priests were consecrated to serve humbly and authoritatively
the common priesthood of the faithful?
Ours is an indispensable mission, for the Church and for the world,
which demands full fidelity to Christ and in unceasing union with
him this to remain in his love means that we must constantly strive
for holiness, this union, as did St John Mary Vianney.
In the Letter I addressed to you for this special Jubilee Year, dear
brother priests, I wanted to highlight certain qualifying aspects of
our ministry, with references to the example and teaching of the
Holy Curé d'Ars, model and protector of all of us, priests, and
especially parish priests.
May my Letter be a help and encouragement to you in making this Year
a favourable opportunity to grow in intimacy with Jesus, who counts
on us, his ministers, to spread and to consolidate his Kingdom, to
radiate his love, his truth.
Therefore, "in the footsteps of the Curé of Ars", my Letter
concluded, "let yourselves be enthralled by him. In this way you too
will be, for the world in our time, heralds of hope, reconciliation
and peace!" (L'Osservatore Romano, English edition, see p. 5).
To let oneself be totally won over by Christ! This was the purpose
of the whole life of St Paul to whom we have devoted our attention
during the Pauline Year which is now drawing to a close; this was
the goal of the entire ministry of the Holy Curé d'Ars, whom we
shall invoke in particular during the Year for Priests; may it also
be the principal objective for each one of us.
In order to be ministers at the service of the Gospel, study and a
careful and continuing pastoral and theological formation is of
course useful and necessary, but that "knowledge of love" which can
only be learned in a "heart to heart" with Christ is even more
necessary. Indeed, it is he who calls us to break the Bread of his
love, to forgive sins and to guide the flock in his name. For this
very reason we must never distance ourselves from the source of Love
which is his Heart that was pierced on the Cross.
Only in this way will we be able to cooperate effectively in the
mysterious "plan of the Father" that consists in "making Christ the
Heart of the world"! This plan is brought about in history, as Jesus
gradually becomes the Heart of human hearts, starting with those who
are called to be closest to him: priests, precisely.
We are reminded of this ongoing commitment by the "priestly
promises" that we made on the day of our Ordination and which we
renew every year, on Holy Thursday, during the Chrism Mass. Even our
shortcomings, our limitations and our weaknesses must lead us back
to the Heart of Jesus.
Indeed, if it is true that sinners, in contemplating him, must learn
from him the necessary "sorrow for sins" that leads them back to the
Father, it is even more so for holy ministers. How can we forget, in
this regard, that nothing makes the Church, the Body of Christ,
suffer more than the sins of her pastors, especially the sins of
those who are transformed into "a thief and a robber" of the sheep (Jn
10: 1 ff.), or who deviates from the Church through their own
private doctrines, or who ensnare the Church in sin and death?
Dear priests, the call to conversion and recourse to Divine Mercy
also applies to us, and we must likewise humbly address a heartfelt
and ceaseless invocation to the Heart of Jesus to keep us from the
terrible risk of harming those whom we are bound to save.
I have just had the opportunity to venerate in the Choir Chapel the
relic of the Holy Curé D'Ars: his heart. It was a heart that blazed
with divine love, that was moved at the thought of the priest's
dignity and spoke to the faithful in touching and sublime tones,
affirming that "After God, the priest is everything! ... Only in
heaven will he fully realize what he is" (cf. Letter, Year for
Priests, p. 3).
Dear Brothers, let us cultivate this same emotion in order to carry
out our ministry with generosity and dedication, or to preserve in
our souls a true "fear of God": the fear of being able to deprive of
so much good, through our negligence or fault, those souls entrusted
to us, or God forbid of harming them.
The Church needs holy priests; ministers who can help the faithful
to experience the merciful love of the Lord and who are his
In the Eucharistic Adoration that will follow the celebration of
Vespers, let us ask the Lord to set the heart of every priest on
fire with that "pastoral charity" which can enable him to assimilate
his personal "I" into that Jesus the High Priest, so that he may be
able to imitate Jesus in the most complete self-giving.
May the Virgin Mary, whose Immaculate Heart we shall contemplate
with living faith tomorrow, obtain this grace for us. The Holy Curé
d'Ars had a filial devotion to her, so profound that in 1836, in
anticipation of the proclamation of the Dogma of the Immaculate
Conception, he consecrated his parish to Mary, "conceived without
He kept up the practice of frequently renewing this offering of his
parish to the Blessed Virgin, teaching the faithful that "to be
heard it was enough to address her", for the simple reason that she
"desires above all else to see us happy".
May the Blessed Virgin, our Mother, accompany us during the Year for
Priests which we are beginning to day, so that we are able to be
sound and enlightened guides for the faithful whom the Lord entrusts
to our pastoral care. Amen!
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