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CHRISTIANITY
from issue no. 08 - 2004

Called to look upward


The sermon of the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, given on 23 May last, the Feast of the Ascension, in the Cathedral of San Pietro in Bologna


by Cardinal José Saraiva Martins


It is a great joy for me to be here, both because of the friendship that has bound me for years to your new dear archbishop Carlo Caffarra, and because I have many times read and heard spoken with much enthusiasm of Our Lady of Saint Luke, patron saint of the city and diocese of Bologna, of her beautiful sanctuary and of the well-known, even proverbial, devotion that the people of Bologna have for Her, whom they feel theirs and to whom they are honoured to belong.
The picture of the Holy Virgin of Saint Luke, co-patron saint of the archdiocese of Bologna

The picture of the Holy Virgin of Saint Luke, co-patron saint of the archdiocese of Bologna

If there is an image eminently widespread among the people of Bologna it is that of Our Lady of Saint Luke which, especially in the past, was visible everywhere. I learned with interest the pithy tales that speak of how the devotion entered the life of the people. One of them, for example, tells that the grocers put aside the so-called “scrap oil”, used to feed the lamp in front of the picture, and when buying oil housewives would ask for «the oil of Our Lady» (cf. F. Cristofori, La Madonna di San Luca negli scrittori dialettali, Arti Grafiche Tamari, Bologna 1977, pp. 3-4).
So a cult, a devotion with strong anthropological and cultural aspects.
Another, historically eloquent, indication of the importance of the cult of the Holy Virgin of Saint Luke, is the appearance of her image on the coins of Bologna, accompanied by the motto praesidium et decus (down to the early 16th century), a title that then entered the collect of the mass of the Bologna “proper” (cf. E. Lodi, I santi della Chiesa bolognese nella liturgia e nella pietà popolare, A.C.E.D., Bologna 1994, p. 93).
Learning and reflecting on these interesting aspects, my mind turned to a very fine remark that Don Luigi Giussani makes in the new edition of his latest publication Perché la Chiesa [Why the Church] and that I found moving: «God remains something incomprehensible, that no word or discourse can explain, if one does not introduce the figure of Our Lady… Without Our Lady we wouldn’t be able to understand anything of the Church» (L. Giussani, Perché la Chiesa, Rizzoli, Milan 2003, p. V).
One can apply this very well to the Church of Bologna as well. It would be incomprehensible without its beautiful Our Lady of Saint Luke.
The feast of the Ascension of Jesus into heaven, with which the celebrations in honor of Our Lady of Saint Luke closes, offers us a salutary message: a great call to look upward, to look beyond things.
«As he blessed them, he departed from them and was carried up into heaven» (Luke 24,51), we are told by Luke’s Gospel just read.
So it is precisely toward heaven that our gaze is projected today. The path of mankind, in fact, is not a wandering on the earth without a destination. On the contrary, we have a large horizon and a high destiny toward which we have begun our journey, and as sons of God, Christians, baptized, we must never lose sight of the supernatural aspect of our Christian life.
The Ascension of Jesus reminds us, that is, that we are «called to look upwards», and that not everything is accomplished nor everything finishes on this earth.
It is providential to remind ourselves of all this because, as the great Charles Péguy said: «Today – unfortunately – a real forgetfulness of eternity is spreading».
The shrine of the Holy Virgin of Saint Luke

The shrine of the Holy Virgin of Saint Luke

We are so assailed by earthly problems that we often lose sight of these truths of faith: celestial life, eternal life; yet it is the most important thing, the most serious. What would be the point of an existence full of years, if then everything has to finish in nothingness?
Sister Lucia, the only one of the three seers of Fatima still alive, by now almost a hundred, tells of the first apparition of Our Lady, on 13 May 1917, when the three poor children of Aljustrel were feeding their flock in the field called Cova da Iria. When they had got over their initial fear, after the White Lady had said: «Don’t be frightened, I shan’t hurt you», it was Lucy herself, encouraged by the sweet trust that the Lady inspired, who asked: «Where are you from?» and heard the answer: «I am from Heaven» (cf. Suor Lucia, Gli appelli del Messaggio di Fatima, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Città del Vaticano 2001, p. 116).
It seems to me a fine thing to listen again today to that reply of Mary’s as we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus, as part of the festivities of Our Lady of Saint Luke, which at bottom reminds us that heaven is also our “country”, which is no other than the great New Testament teaching: « … Non habemus hic manentem civitatem» (we do not have here our fixed abode) (Heb 13,14), but our real home «… in caelis est» (Phil 3,20), is in heaven!
An expression of a saint of our times (Josemaría Escrivá) comes to mind. It goes: « we must be… in heaven and on earth, always. Not “between” heaven and earth, because we are of the world. In the world and in Heaven at the same time! … Absorbed in God, but knowing that we are in the world» (J. Escrivá, Consumados en la unidad 27-03-1975, quoted by A. del Portillo Intervista sul fondatore dell’Opus Dei, Ares, Milan 1992, p. 77 ).
The Acts of the Apostles, read in the first Lesson, says: « …why stand you looking up to heaven? This Jesus, who is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come as you have seen him going into heaven» (Acts 1,11).
Certainly we look up to heaven not so as to forget the demands of the earth, but because that is our home: remembering it obliges us to test the steadfastness and the sincerity of our belief in the last things that await us at the end of human existence. Our whole life must aim at those ultimate goals. The Christian lives in the world looking up to heaven, without thereby turning away from the earthly realities that surround him. Indeed, the more we keep our eyes fixed on heaven, the stronger becomes our hope in the eternal happiness that awaits us there, the more active will be our commitment to helping our brethren so that they, too, may find their bearings on the path of time toward the crowning destiny that the risen Lord has prepared for us.
At bottom everything was already packed into the question they made us learn back when we learned the Catechism. I’m sure that many of us still remember it well: «Why did God make us? God made us to know him, love him, and serve him in this life and to be happy with him forever in the next» (Catechism of Saint Pius X).
The problem is that, often, mankind is afraid of the truths that require a serious moral commitment. The mystery of the future life is deep and serious and involves decisions in our daily life, at times demanding, at times devastating. Believing in the afterlife requires the acceptance of a final judgment on our life by God who knows everything, who sees into the depths of our being and of our conscience and will ask us to account for every action, thought and desire, even the most secret.
Cardinal José Saraiva Martins who presided at the Holy Mass, concelebrated with Archbishop Carlo Caffarra, in honor of Our Lady of Saint Luke, 23 May

Cardinal José Saraiva Martins who presided at the Holy Mass, concelebrated with Archbishop Carlo Caffarra, in honor of Our Lady of Saint Luke, 23 May

When mankind puts God aside, it is unable to achieve happiness, indeed it ends by destroying itself. Yet the heart of man was created good, but man is often distanced from his heart. Saint Augustine says so in one of his shrewdest expressions, in his fugitivus cordis sui (cf. Augustine, Enarratio in psalmum 57,1), man who runs away from his heart; even though desiring beauty, truth, goodness, justice, man runs elsewhere (cf. G. Tantardini, Convegni sull’attualità di sant’Agostino. Agostino testimone della Tradizione, supplement to 30Days, no. 4, April 2004, p. 6).
In the behavior and example of Our Lady we recognize ourselves chosen by eternity and we understand that we are called to be saints and sanctifiers, in the midst of the world, bearers, like her, of Christ and, like her, leaven of holiness. Let us not forget that, for us Christians, the opposite of saint is not sinner, but failure. Thus a Christian is either a saint or a failure. May Our Lady help us in this.
The people of Bologna have always rightly recognized the power of the miracles obtained by prayer to their Madonna. Among the many it is helpful to remember that connected to Blessed Bartolomeo Dal Monte, whom the Pope beatified precisely in Bologna on the unforgettable day of 27 September 1997. Blessed Bartolomeo, having returned from Vienna with a serious fracture to his left foot that was having difficulty healing, went on crutches to the shrine in April 1768, and after praying, returned home without any prop.
Perhaps no one in Bologna lacks, in their lives, a list of favours and miracles. But the greatest gift, that we must learn to seek from our Mother, is that of maintaining ourselves in the grace of God, of Christian hope in the eternal life. Even if at times pain, suffering, disappointments assail us and threaten to weaken our certainty, let us not be overwhelmed by dejection, knowing well that up in heaven there is the Heavenly Mother awaiting us, there is Christ the Redeemer in the unity of the Father and of the Holy Spirit.


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