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Papal homily at the opening of the Synod

on Saturday, 01 October 2005. Posted in Pope Benedict XVI

"Tolerance that only admits God as a private opinion, but that denies Him the public domain, the reality of the world and of our life, is not tolerance, but hypocrisy."

Here are excerpts of the homily Benedict XVI gave at the opening Mass of the Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist, held in St. Peter's Basilica; on October 2, 2005:

... The reading from the prophet Isaiah (Chapter 5) and the Gospel of today put before our eyes one of the great images of the Sacred Scripture: the image of the vine... God created a vineyard — this is an image of His story of love with humanity, of His love for Israel, which He chose. The first thought of today's readings is therefore the following: to man, created in His image, God has infused in Him the ability to love and therefore the ability to also love Him, his Creator. With the song of love of the prophet Isaiah, God wishes to speak to the hearts of His people — and also to each one of us. "I created you in My image and likeness," He tells us. "I myself am love, and you are My image to the extent in which the splendour of love shines in you, to the extent in which you respond to Me with love."

God waits for us. He wants to be loved by us: shouldn't a similar call touch our hearts? In this very moment when we are celebrating the Eucharist, when we are inaugurating the Synod on the Eucharist, He comes to meet us, He comes to meet me. Will this find a reply? Or does this happen with us as with the vineyard, about which God says in Isaiah: "He expected it to yield fine grapes; wild grapes were all it yielded"? is our Christian life often not perhaps rather vinegar than wine? Is it self-commiseration, conflict, indifference?

With this we have automatically arrived at the second fundamental thought of today's readings. They speak first of all of the goodness of the creation of God and of the greatness of the choice by which he expects of us and loves us. But then they also speak of the subsequent story — of man's failure. God had planted very select vines and, in spite of this, wild grapes ripened. In what do these wild grapes consist? Good grapes which God was expecting — says the prophet — should have consisted in justice and uprightness. Instead, wild grapes bring violence, bloodshed, and oppression, which make people groan under the yoke of injustice.

In the Gospel, the image changes: the vine produces good grapes, but the tenants keep them for themselves. They are not willing to give them to the owner. They beat and kill his messengers, and kill his Son. Their reasons are simple: they want to become owners; they take over what does not belong to them. In the Old Testament, first of all, there is an accusation against violating social justice, for despising man by man. However, what appears in the background is that by despising the Torah, that right given by God, it is God Himself who is despised; man only wants to enjoy his own power.

This aspect is fully underlined in the parable of Jesus: the tenants do not want a landowner — and these tenants are also a mirror of ourselves. We men, to which creation, so to say, is entrusted to manage, usurp it. We want to be the direct landowners, and by ourselves. We want to own the world and our own lives in an unlimited way. God is our stumbling stone. Either we make Him a simple devout expression, or He is denied everything, He is banished from public life, thus losing all meaning. Tolerance, which admits God as a private opinion, but denies Him in the public domain, the reality in the world and in our life, is not tolerance, but hypocrisy.

However, wherever man makes himself the only master of the world and of himself, justice cannot exist. Only the freedom of power and interests can dominate there. Of course, one can send the Son out of the vineyard and kill him, in order to selfishly taste the fruits of the earth alone. But then, the vineyard will soon be changed into uncultivated land trodden by wild boars, as says the responsorial Psalm (Cf. 79:14)

Hence, we reach the third element of today's readings. The Lord, in the Old as in the New Testament, proclaims judgement on the unfaithful vineyard. The judgement which Isaiah foresaw became reality in the great wars and exiles carried out by the Assyrians and Babylonians. The judgement proclaimed by Our Lord Jesus refers above all to the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70. But the threat of judgement also concerns us, the Church in Europe, Europe and the West in general. With this Gospel, the Lord is also crying out to our ears the words which, in the Apocalypse, He addressed to the Church of Ephesus "If you will not repent, I shall come to you and take your lamp-stand from its place" (Rv 2:5). Light can also be taken away from us, and we are right to let this warning ring again in our soul in all its seriousness, crying out at the same time to the Lord: "Help us to convert! Give us all the grace of true renewal! Do not allow Your light in our midst to blow out! Strengthen our faith, our hope, and our love. So that we can bring good fruit!"

However, at this point we ask ourselves: "But isn't there any promise, any comforting word in the reading and in the page of today's Gospel? Is the last word a threat?" No! The promise is there, and it is the last one, the essential one. We can see this in the Alleluia verse, taken from the Gospel of John: "I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in Me, with Me in him, bears fruit in plenty (Jn 15:5).

With these words of the Lord, John shows us the last and true result of the story of God's vineyard. God never fails. At the end He wins, love wins... He, who in Cana changed water into wine, changed His blood into the wine of the true love, and thus changed the wine into His blood. He anticipated His death in the Cenacle, and transformed it in the gift of Himself, in an act of radical love. His blood is a gift; it is love, and for this reason it is true wine which the Creator was expecting. In this way, Christ Himself has become life, and this vine always brings good fruit: the presence of His love for us, which is indestructible.

In the Holy Eucharist, Jesus draws us all towards Him from the Cross (Jn 12:32) and makes us become branches of life which is He Himself. If we remain united to Him, then we will also bear fruit; then also from us there will no longer be the vinegar of self-sufficiency, of discontent of God and of His creation, but the good wine of joy in God and of love towards one's neighbour.

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