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Saturday, December 17, 2016

Mass with Cardinals on his birthday

At 8:00am this morning, in the Pauline Chapel in the Vatican Apostolic Palace, the Holy Father, Pope Francis presided over the concelebration of the Mass with Cardinals, marking the day of his 80th birthday.

Homily of the Holy Father, Pope Francis
for the Mass celebrated with Cardinals

At this time when vigilance becomes more intense along the path of Advent, in this moment when the Church, today, begins to sing the great antiphons (the O Antiphons), a powerful moment in which we draw ever closer to Christmas, the liturgy stops us for a moment.  It says: Let us stop, and read this passage from the gospel.  What does it mean to stop in this moment which will progress in increasing intensity?  Simply put, the Church wants us to remember: Stop, and remember.  Keep before you, stay focused on the path.  Memory: this deuteronomical attitude that strengthens the soul so much.  Memory which Scripture itself indicates as a way to pray, to meet God.  Remember your leaders, says the author of the Letter to the Hebrews (Heb 13:7).  Call to mind those first days ... (Heb 10:32): the same.  And then, in the same Letter, that group of witnesses in Chapter XI, who had travelled in order to arrive in the fullness of time: Make memory, look behind you in order better to go forward.  This is the meaning of today's liturgical celebration: the grace of memory.  We must ask for this grace: do not forget.

Our ability to not forget is a gift of love; love also helps us to always keep before our eyes so much good that we have received, and love looks at our past: at where we come from, our fathers, our ancestors, the path of faith ... And this memory is good for us, because it makes us even more intensely vigilant as we wait for Christmas.  A quiet day.  Memory that begins with the election of a people: Jesus Christ, Son of David, Son of Abraham (Mt 1:1).  The chosen people, who are journeying toward a promise with the strength of a covenant, successive covenants which have been made.  This is the journey of a Christian, our journey, it is simple.  We have been made a promise, we were told: walk in my presence and be blameless like our Father is blameless.  A promise that will be fulfilled, in the end, but that is also consolidated with every other agreement we have made with the Lord, an alliance of faithfulness; and it helps us to see that we were not the ones who chose: it helps us to understand that we have all been chosen.  Election, promise and alliance are like pillars of Christian memory, this process of looking back in order to go forward.

This is today's grace: to remember.  And when we listen to this passage of the gospel, there is a history, a history of grace; it is so great; but it is also a story of sin.  Along the way, we still find grace and sin.  Here, in the story of salvation, there are great sinners, in this genealogy (cf Mt 1:1-17), and there are saints.  Even we, in our lives, find the same thing: moments of great faithfulness to the Lord, moments of joy found in service to others, and some difficult moments of infidelity, of sin that helps us to feel the need for salvation.  This is also our surety, for when we are in need of salvation, we confess faith, we make a confession of faith:  I am a sinner, but You can save me, You can help me to go on.  This is how we keep going in joy and hope.

During Advent, we have begun to travel this road, waiting vigilantly for the Lord.  Today, we stop, we look within, we see that the journey has been good, that the Lord has not deluded us, that the Lord is faithful.  We also see that whether throughout history or in our own lives, there have been beautiful moments of faithfulness and difficult moments of sin.  But the Lord is there, with his hand outstretched to raise us up and say to us: Keep going!  And this is the Christian life: keep going, toward the final encounter.  This journey that is so intense, in watchful waiting for the coming of the Lord, the grace of memory never ends, the grace of looking within to see all that the Lord has done for us, for the Church, for history and for salvation.  This is how we understand because today the Church asks us to read this passage that can seem a bit boring, but here, we find the history of a God who wanted to journey with his people and to become, in the end, a man, like every one of us.

May the Lord help us to rediscover this grace of memory.  But it is difficult, boring, there are so many problems ... The author of the Letter to the Hebrews has a beautiful phrase for our lamentations; it is beautiful: Be quiet, you have not yet arrived at the point of giving your blood (cf Heb 12:4).  This is a bit of humour, on the part of that inspired author, to help us keep going.  May the Lord give us this grace.

At the conclusion of the Mass, the Holy Father offered the following greeting:

I want to thank you all for this concelebration, for being here with me today: thank you very much!  And you, Your Eminence, Cardinal Deacon, for your heart-felt words: thank you very much!

For a few days now, there is a word in my mind that seems to be difficult: getting old.  It's scary, a bit, scary ... Even yesterday, as a gift, Monsignor Cavaliere gave me a gift, Cicerone's De senectute - one more drop ... I remember what I said to you on 15 March (2013), in our first meeting: Old age is the seat of wisdom.  Let us hope that this will also be true for me.  Let us hope that this is how it is!

I'm also thinking - this day has come so soon, this day has come so soon - I have a poem in mind ... I believe it was written by Pliny: Tacito pede lapsa vetustas (Ovidio): with silent steps we come upon old age.  It hits you! But when we think about old age, it is a step in life that gives us joy, wisdom, hope, a new chance to live.  And there's another poem that comes to mind that I quoted to you on that day: Old age is tranquil and religious.  Es ist ruhig, das Alter, und fromm (Hölderlin).

Pray that my old age will be this way: tranquil, religious and fruitful.  And also joyful.  Thank you.
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