Benedict offers a little 'in house' chat

By  Catholic News Service
  • April 19, 2008

Surrounded by priests, bishops, cardinals, religious sisters and brothers, not to mention permanent deacons, it's no surprise that Pope Benedict's homily during a Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York would be a little "entre nous." 

The Pope decided to use the occasion for a pep talk for his ordained and vowed religious troops. Being the professor that he is, instead of rah-rah rhetoric, he adopted a spiritual tour of the architecture of St. Pat's.

 It was not a bad technique. St. Pat's is one of the most impressive churches in the United States, a soaring Gothic cathedral whose cornerstone was laid in 1858. Everything about it reaches heavenward, forcing eyes to lift and necks to crane up, up up. Its stained glass windows are sumptuous and full of colour; on a sunny day they brighten the inside of this massive temple with warm, tinted hues. It stands out, even surrounded and dwarfed by Manhattan's skyscrapers, as a constant reminder of the agelessness and beauty of faith.

Benedict's intent was to encourage the ordained and religious to be faithful and have hope in hard times. He recognized that even the few who labour in the vineyards can get tired, discouraged and lose heart.

In his architectural reflection, he turned first to those stained glass windows, pointing out how, from the outside, they appear dark, even dreary. But inside, it is a different story, as it is for those "inside" the church.

"It is only from the inside, from the experience of faith and ecclesial life, that we see the church as she truly is: flooded with grace, resplendent in beauty, adorned by the manifold gifts of the Spirit."

But he recognized that even for those "inside", "the light of faith can be dimmed by routine, and the splendour of the church obscured by the sins and weaknesses of her members." Add in the continual erosion of spirit caused by the constant obstacles posed by a secular society that isn't necessarily welcoming to faith, and even the most fervent can get dispirited.

But God's word can remind us of "the grace of the Holy Spirit lighting up the church and bringing sure hope to our world."

Secondly, Benedict remarked on the highly complex structure that a Gothic cathedral is, yet a temple whose proportions work in harmony, symbolizing the unity of God's creation. He used this is a jumping off point to urge all church "insiders" to set aside their divisions stemming from the many doctrinal and liturgical battles since the Second Vatican Council.

"For all of us, I think, one of the great disappointments which followed the Second Vatican Council, with its call for a greater engagement in the church's mission to the world, has been the experience of division between different groups, different generations, different members of the same religious family," he said. "We can only move forward if we turn our gaze together to Christ!"

Finally, His Holiness remarked on the heavenward lines of the Gothic cathedral, noting how all the various components of the church are very different and perform different tasks, yet they combine in unity to lead us in one direction.

"So let us lift our gaze upward! And with great humility and confidence, let us ask the Spirit to enable us each day to grow in the holiness that will make us living stones in the temple which he is even now raising up in the midst of our world. If we are to be true forces of unity, let us be the first to seek inner reconciliation through penance. Let us forgive the wrongs we have suffered and put aside all anger and contention. Let us be the first to demonstrate the humility and purity of heart which are required to approach the splendor of God’s truth. In fidelity to the deposit of faith entrusted to the Apostles (cf. 1 Tim 6:20), let us be joyful witnesses of the transforming power of the Gospel!"

 Whether it was the message or the messenger, the mood in the cathedral was bright. Benedict received numerous ovations and cheers at different points in the liturgy. In one of the few unscripted remarks of this visit, he warmly thanked all those gathered for their friendship and loyalty. He seemed truly moved.


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