Saturday, December 17, 2016

Pope Francis: Memory is the focus of 80th birthday homily

Memory was the focus of Pope Francis’ remarks following the readings of the day at a Mass of which he was the principal celebrant in the Pauline Chapel of the Apostolic Palace, along with the cardinals resident in Rome, who were assembled to give thanks to God on the occasion of the Holy Father’s 80th birthday. 

Memory – not merely recollection – of parents and forefathers, of friends and relatives who have gone before him, of the signs of a life well and fully lived – but most especially the memoria Dei, the “memory of God” that is present throughout salvation history and is the characteristic and the hallmark of Christian life. 

“In Advent we started this journey, of vigilant expectation of the Lord. Today we stop, we look back, we see that the journey has been beautiful, that the Lord has not disappointed us, that the Lord is faithful,” he said. 

“We also see that both in history, and in our own lives, there have been wonderful moments of fidelity and bad times of sin,” Pope Francis went on to say, “but the Lord is there, with hand outstretched to help you up and tell you: ‘Be on your way forward!’ – and this is the Christian life – going forward, towards the definitive encounter. Let not this journey of such intensity, in vigilant expectation of the Lord’s coming, take away the grace of memory, of looking back on everything the Lord has done for us, for the Church, in the history of salvation. Thus shall we understand why the Church does read this passage [the Genealogy of Jesus, Mt. 1:1-17] that may seem a bit boring – but here is the story of a God who chose to walk with his people and become himself, in the end, a man, like every one of us.” 

Pope Francis was the principal celebrant at Mass in the Pauline Chapel of the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican on the morning of December 17th. The Mass was that of the Saturday in the Third Week of Advent, and the concelebrants were the Cardinals resident in Rome. 

The reason for the extraordinary liturgical celebration was thanksgiving to God for the life of Pope Francis, who was born 80 years ago this day, on December 17th, 1936. The liturgy unfolded with the simple penitential settings of the season, and the readings were those of the day. The Dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, offered words of greeting in the name of all those present and of all the members of the College, saying, “The risen Jesus appeared to the disciples and addressed these well-known words to Simon-Peter: ‘Simon son of Jonah, do you love me more than these?’ And the Apostle immediately replied: ‘Yes, Lord, You know that I love you!’ It is with this love that Your Holiness today carries out His mission in the world. Then we know that we are close to you, especially today, on this beautiful day of your life. 

Cardinal Sodano went on to say, “Our prayer shall be with you always, well mindful as we are of what we repeat in the Holy Mass every day, and that is: that by communion with the Body and Blood of Christ, may the Holy Spirit unite us in One Body.” 

At the end of the Mass, Pope Francis offered thanks to the Cardinals present, saying, “For several days now, I’ve been thinking of a word that can seem ugly – no? – dotage. It is scary: just yesterday, [Office Manager for the Dept. for Relations with States in the Secretariat of State of the Holy See] Msgr. [Luigi] Cavaliere gave me [a copy of] Cicero’s De senectute - right? Really laying it on [It. una goccia in più]. Only, remember what I said to you on March 15 [2013], in our first meeting: ‘Old age is the seat of wisdom.’ Hopefully it is for me, right? Let us hope that it is so.” 

The Holy Father also recalled a line of the Roman poet, Ovid: “Tacitu pede lapsa vetustas [with silent steps, old age slips up on one] It is a blow! But also, when one thinks of it as a stage of life that is to give joy, wisdom, hope, one begins to live again, right? And I can think of another poem that I quoted to you that day too [from the German poet, Hölderlin]: Es ist ruhig, das Alter, und fromm, “Old age is quiet and religious”.

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